Late May is always a time of culmination in the television world. It marks the end of the network television season, and the time when the networks announce their plans for next season. The past week, however, seemed to contain more finality than usual. Given that the network model (affiliates, 25-odd episode seasons, dedication to the school year calendar, a financial system based on commercials and mass audiences) has finally turned the corner from sick to dying, this probably shouldn’t be a surprise. While this season may not feel like a period, it was definitely a semi-colon.
Unusually, The Dilemma and I agree… I thought the Lost finale was among the best in television history for a drama, and actually made the last season better in retrospect. But, in addition to summing up a great show, it seemed to mark the end of an experiment. When it started, in 2004, the television networks had just begun to feel the heat from cable… HBO was in their Golden Era, and even basic cable was starting to generate some decent original material. One of the ways that the networks tried to compete was by taking more chances and putting more expensive event shows on the air. Lost was the most successful (and probably most expensive) of these. The experiment is over, however. Networks have now decided to fill their schedules with spin-offs and reality shows. A show with the budget and patient nurturing of Lost will probably never be seen on network again.
The Ghost Whisperer
Obviously, I never saw one second of this show, although I did find it comforting to know that J-Love’s spectacular tits were still out there. But it was last of the spiritual shows that the networks came out with in the aughts to try to draw in evangelical viewers. Thank god Obama put that shit to rest.
Another remnant of the nighmarish Bush years also bought the dust. Never saw more than the first season (mostly for personal taste reasons), but know a lot of people who loved it until recently. Fair enough. But there’s no way you could convince me that a big part of its popularity didn’t stem from Jack Bauer standing in as a psychic balm for the evil George Bush was committing. Kind of a mix of the previous two shows… a combination of the neo-con politics and high quality/budget shows whose times have passed.
Law and Order
Much like the Beatles, it’s not fair to blame L&O for all the horrible offspring that continue to pop up in its wake (however, it can be blamed for SVU in a Wingsesque way). It continues to be a comforting late-night watch; every episode is exactly the same, but oddly compelling. All shows in the future will be a rip-off of Law and Order, but I’ll still miss Jack McCoy.
It’s sad when one of your namesakes passes from your life. Much like David Simon with Treme, Cowell will return at some point but to expect that it’ll be the same is unrealistic. As with 24, I didn’t watch American Idol after the first season. OK, sometimes I’d watch the early, try-out episodes, but once it got to people singing crappy cover songs on an overlit stage, I was out. But there’s no denying that Simon Cowell was meant for the job that he possessed, and that he created a television archtype that will define a generation. Much like the moral gunslinger in ’50s westerns, or the grizzled but honorable detective in ’80s cop dramas, the biting, sarcastic, knowledgeable head judge is nearly impossible to avoid. Eventually, all these talent judging shows will burn out, but much like Marshall Dillon and Cagney & Lacey, Cowell’s legacy will live on.
The Tyra Show
Can’t say this means much, except for the end of a Golden Era on The Soup.
How fitting is it that at the end of this week where network television took another step toward the great abyss, one of its biggest creations passed away. Diff’rent Strokes is an artifact from a different time. The jokes were absurdly obvious, the racial politics hopelessly outdated (a paternalistic rich white man saves two black children), and the storylines simple and cliched. They loved the Very Special Episode, such as this one about child molestation:
It was the type of show that doesn’t exist anymore, a show that all generations watched together, a show that was able to turn a cute kid into a household name. I’m not sure that Coleman’s years of fame outweighed all the doubtlessly horrible years that followed. But hopefully he’s up there sharing a crack pipe with Dana Plato and ass-raping Mr. Horton.