When I was a kid, I was a hopeless TV addict. My mom called me a “TV bug”. If anyone wanted to know what was on TV at any given hour of any given day, they could ask me. I was a walking TV Guide (which I subscribed to). That’s what happens when you have no other interests.
Today, only a TV savant could possibly know everything on TV. We’re at something called ‘peak television’ today, drowning in content. Netflix alone is going to spend $8 BILLION on content this year, producing 700 series worldwide. This year’s Emmy winner for best comedy was a show (The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, which airs on a streaming service from Amazon … yes, THAT Amazon) that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with.
Yes, these are golden days for TV – unless you’re a traditional TV network.
Consider this year’s Emmy nominations. There was one network drama nominated and one network comedy. HBO won 23 Emmys this year; NBC won 16 (half from Saturday Night Live), CBS won 2, ABC won zero. ZERO. Even something called Starz won more Emmys than ABC.
There clearly is a bias built into awards now for prestige cable productions, I believe. Game of Thrones won 9 Emmys this year for what my sons have assured me was a terrible season. (I don’t watch it; I got so confused about who was killing who and for what reason that I quit after one season.) Emmys are pretty much irrelevant, but the sad showing of the networks shows just how far the networks have fallen. Hamstrung by regulations that prevent salty language and even saltier sex, the networks look like they are designed for the great, grey mass of middle America that likes its dramas predictable and its comedies unchallenging.
Take a look at the ABC lineup (don’t actually watch any of the shows, just the lineup). Multiple family comedies, one for everyone. There’s the Jewish family (The Goldbergs), the black family (Black-ish), the Asian family (Fresh off the Boat), the family with a handicapped kid (Speechless), the blended, doesn’t-exist-anywhere-in-real-life family (Modern Family), a new show about single parent families called, creatively, Single Parents, the poor family (The Conners, formerly Roseanne), and something called The Kids are Alright, which is, I guess, about some alright kids.
Over on NBC, a marginally hipper network, there is an entire evening of episodic dramas whose only distinction is that they are set in Chicago – Med, Fire and P.D. I will give NBC credit for having the only two network comedies left worth watching, the hilarious Superstore and the one-of-a-kind The Good Place.
Over at Fox, what little time they have that is not devoted to a show featuring chef Gordon Ramsey (Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef, Masterchef Jr., 24 Hours to Hell and Back, Kitchen Nightmares, The F Word) is devoted to exhausted cartoons like Family Guy, the now tragic The Simpsons, and a bunch of semi-cool shows with attractive young people solving crimes or saving lives. Their lone saving grace: Bob’s Burgers, the best comedy on TV.
No network epitomizes the sorry state of network TV than does CBS – also the most watched network.
Consider the lineup. The utterly exhausted Big Bang Theory (12th season!). The 16th (!) season of NCIS. A reboot of the old series, The FBI. A reboot of the old series Magnum, P.I. A reboot of the old series Murphy Brown. A reboot of the old series S.W.A.T. A reboot of the old series McGyver. A reboot (9th season!) of the old series Hawaii Five-0.
Yes, network TV is mostly mediocre to lousy. But I still hold out hope that there might be a decent comedy in the sitcom slag heap, something like a Superstore or a The Good Place. So I sampled a few new comedies in the past week. (In case you’re wondering how I found the time to sample these shows, I watch everything on PVR which makes a 30 minute show about 20 minutes, IF I make it all the way through. Also, I have nothing else to do. Anyway, here is what I found.)
I thought a show called The Cool Kids, about a bunch of troublemaking seniors, might have potential because it was co-created by Charlie Day, who co-created and stars in the rude, crude and often hilarious It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I made it about 15 minutes in before the braying laugh track chased me away.
I tried The Neighborhood, a comedy starring a black comic who grandly calls himself Cedric the Entertainer (I’ll be the judge of that). It’s about a white guy who moves into a black neighbourhood, with, shall we say, predictable results. How predictable was it? I knew what the last line of the show would be, word for word. I made it all the way through this one, but it will be my last visit to this neighbourhood. Then I sampled Happy Together, about a youngish couple who bring the hottest pop star in the world into their home (don’t ask). I think I made it all the way through, but to be honest, I barely remember anything about it.
With much trepidation that I tried out the return of Murphy Brown, starring the mummified Candice Bergen. Almost every line in the show seemed designed not for laughs, but to elicit knowling applause for its anti-Trump storyline. It was dreadful, painful even. But they were all preferable to the premiere of Single Parents. The opening minutes entered around a bunch of single parents taking their children to their first day of Grade 1. The kids, of course, were all smart mouthed and clever, the kind of kids you just want to slap. When one of the dads said something mildly derogatory about another child, his kid upbraided him, telling him what he said was “disempowering”.
I turned it off at the three-minute mark. Not a great way to start a new TV season.