Monday, November 06, 2006

Desperate Networks

You really can't ask for a better insight into the mess that is network TV than Bill Carter's book, "Desperate Networks."

I just finished it over the weekend and I highly recommend it to anyone who questions how certain things get on the air and how some great TV almost doesn't.

Carter, a veteran New York Times TV writer, looks at the big four of CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox and how they have developed their strategies over the past half-decade (mainly by blind luck, it seems). He gives details about the incredible struggles to get shows like "Lost," "Desperate Housewives," "American Idol," "Survivor" and others on the air, and gives you insight on the people running the asylums.

It's interesting to think about the domino effects that various decisions at the networks had on the face of TV. Imagine if "Lost" had gone to NBC, for example. Imagine if ABC had gone with its original choice to put "Desperate Housewives" on the graveyard of Friday nights. Not only does it lose that hit, it likely never would have been able to launch its top show, "Grey's Anatomy," which debuted after "DH" on Sundays. (The network executives who believed in "DH," such as Susan Lyne, believed it would fill the void among women viewers left by the departure of "Sex and the City" in the same timeslot on HBO three years ago; they were proven right).

I think the saddest part of the book is the fall of NBC, once the top network and now in fourth place. So mis-managed by former "Today Show" boss Jeff Zucker, NBC is still struggling despite launching some of the best new shows - quality-wise - of the season. NBC President Kevin Reilly is taking a lot of the blame unfairly; after all, he developed "My Name is Earl" and kept "The Office" from cancellation. Zucker was the one in charge when "Friends" was coming to an end and did little to fix the schedule with anything more than band-aids.

Carter gives you insight into all four networks and does so fairly. He doesn't intentionally paint anyone as a hero or villain, but gives you the facts to let you decide on your own.

YO, NBC.COM: One thing that NBC has done which hasn't endeared itself to me is the treatment of "Kidnapped."

Fine, it bombed in the ratings, in large part to viewers being turned off in large part to Fox's clearly inferior "Vanished," which aired first. But why not let it play out on Saturdays? Worse, I tried for an hour on Sunday to find the new online episodes which would wrap up the storyline and found nothing but these two-minute recaps. Don't advertise running the full show if you aren't putting it there, and don't make it so difficult to access.

DRIVING HOME A WINNER?: Fox has ordered the new series, "Drive" from producer Tim Minear ("Firefly," "Angel," "Wonderfalls"). The show revolves around a group of Americans driving for their lives in a cross-country race, sort of like "Cannonball Run" meets "Death Race 2000."

Anything by Minear is usually interesting, so I will tune in, but Fox's treatment of his shows has been less than stellar, so I won't be getting too attached.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: So how cool was it last week when Bellick drilled T-Bag with the sign on "Prison Break?" (Fox, 8 p.m.) I mean, who do you pull for in that fight?

Tonight sees the continuation of that, the apparent recapture of Lincoln, Michael and Sarah re-uniting and the FBI closing in.

On much-maligned NBC, TV's best new show, "Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.) picks up with Hiro questioning his courage and Niki recovering from her fight with her ex. Claire also learns about the homemade DVD of her suicide attempts and who has it. Last week's big reveal of Eden working for Claire's dad was the first twist the writers introduced that didn't knock my socks off, since most people expected it. Still, no show this season has been more interesting to watch. In three weeks, the show will rewind six months before the pilot as we see the characters first learn about their powers, and we meet Mohinder's dad.

"Studio 60" (NBC, 10 p.m.) follows with the first part of a two-parter in which Tom (Nate Corddry) is arrested by John Goodman and must get sprung from jail in time for the show. "Studio 60's" future was not helped last week when a new episode of "Friday Night Lights" ran in this timeslot on a trial run and did significantly better. Good news for "Lights," bad for "Studio 60."

Thanks, CBS, for finally adding me to the DVD screener list. They addressed me as "TV Critic." I prefer "all-knowing TV viewer," but the gesture is appreciated.

Anyway, tonight's new installment of "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (CBS, 9:30 p.m.) is another solid effort in a pretty solid show. Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) continues to flirt with her son's teacher (Blair Underwood). "Christine" doesn't re-invent the comedy wheel; in a lot of ways, it's fairly conventional. What makes this show a winner is the continued brilliance of Louis-Dreyfus, arguably the best comedic talent on TV. She lifts what could be mundane material in another actress' hands and raises it to a new level.

"Christine" follows all-new episodes of "How I Met Your Mother," "The Class" and "Two and a Half Men."


Zodin2008 said...

We couldn't find "Kidnapped" on either but it seemed that they will be adding the first unaired one next week; I hope so but I am not incredibly hopeful at this point. I am like you and don't understand why it couldn't have just played out Saturdays so the few of us who cared could have a conclusion.

This going to be another "Reunion" or "Invasion" situation for me and I hate being left hanging. When networks treat ongoing story arc shows like this so badly, it will further alienate TV viewers from tgrying shows like this in the future and rather stick with those damn dull procedurals like "Criminal Minds".

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your blog. I'm in complete agreement with your disdain for NBC's treatment of Kidnapped. A show with such great acting and a compelling storyline deserves the full support of its network. Just wanted to let you know that the full episode of Kidnapped that should have aired on 11/4 is available on the NBC website. Click on the show in the box where all of the NBC shows are listed and it will come up. Ellie's dad makes an appearance in this episode and let's just say that sparks fly.

Phillip Ramati said...

Thanks, anon, I'll try looking again.

Zod, what made NBC's treatment of Kidnapped particularly annoying is that the network at least seemed willing to wrap up the storyline by filling out the order for 13 episodes, and therefore not leave it a cliffhanger. That's what makes not finding it online all the more frustrating.

Zodin2008 said...

I completely forgot to also give a thumbs up as well for the Bill Carter book which I thoroughly enjoyed sitting by a pool in Mexico back in July. An excellent read and a MUST read for anyone who's a fan of Television, networks, and the lengths they will go to create and protect hits. Plus, all the politics involved in the process.

Actually, one of the things I like so much about "Studio 60" is that it has touched on this topic a lot...but alas, the ratings indicate that it's just too 'smart' for the average person out there to graspth it.