Once the home of the new, fresh and exciting ER, NBC as of about ten years ago has gone stale in the realm of hour long drama. Even the venerable “Must-See-TV” has disintegrated into “Must-See-9:00p.m.-Thursday-TV.” It really seems like the attitude with the entertainment brass is to produce shows that deserve a lot more script tightening. What inevitably happens however is they throw a ton of production budget at an unprepared show, move it around the schedule wildly to see if they can grab an audience and then dump it before it builds anything more than a cult following.
Case in point, Freaks and Geeks. Clearly the network thought is was getting the new Wonder Years. What they got was an edgy, pointedly funny, nerdfest. It was too specific for a large audience to pick up on as quickly as the NBC needed it to, so they axed it. If they had used the same logic with another quirky, specific show we would have lost Seinfeld before the third episode. Only in the second and third season, did Seinfeld get some traction. But that was the old NBC model–wait and give a show with a good script time to prove itself and the ratings will come.
Now lets see where we are this season. We have a show called Knight Rider, which is NBC’s attempt to revive another kitchy show from the early eighties a la Bionic Woman from last season. Both of these shows were favorites of mine when i was growing up and I liked them for their action, yes, but more for their kitch value and suspension of disbelief. They didn’t take themselves too seriously. Ok maybe Hasselhoff did, but that was worth making fun of at least. These remakes however strip the fun from the shows and replace it with too earnest characters in far too many explosion filled action sequences. It doesn’t work. Who is buying it?
Antoher show I was hoping to like was My Own Worst Enemy. This show was greenlit without a pilot, which means that they were relying on the pitch form the producers and the casting of veteran film actor Christian Slater. I wish they had produced the pilot because a lot of the nuance this show lacks would have been discovered in that process, I am sure. Now, this show has some great sequences and a surprisingly good performance from comedian Mike O’Malley as Slater’s colleague, best friend and fellow covert agaent. The glitz that NBC has given this show, has done little to the give heart they also failed to give to the Bionic Woman. What they don’t seem to realize is that what you have to concentrate on are moments. In action dramas it is the poignant moments that pave the way for suspension of disbelief and allow the viewer to forgive plot incongruities. That doesn’t happen in Bionic Woman and as yet hasn’t happen on My Own Worst Enemy. I’m still watching and waiting, but not for long fellas.
Last season, forgotten amid the writers strike, but more likely the schedule juggling was a show that did accomplish this. It was called Journeyman and even though it was another recycled premise, that of Quantum Leap as a man unwillingly transported back and forth in time putting things right, it worked. It worked because it had grit and developed relationships between sympathetic characters. I haven’t seen an episode yet, but ABC has co-opted the premise once more with the new Life On Mars. We’ll see if they give that gripping, but oft canceled premise a chance.