Let's be careful out there
-The burn-off of Arrested Development's last four episodes in a marathon programmed opposite the Olympic opening ceremonies.
-The merger of UPN and The WB into a single new network called The CW.
-The blink-and-you'll-miss-it run of The Book of Daniel on NBC, not to mention even briefer appearances for the Heather Graham vehicle Emily's Reasons Why Not and the revival of Jake in Progress.
-The news that the Bocho-ized Commander-in-Chief is going on hiatus during February sweeps.
-The efforts of fans to raise money to finance a second season of Firefly.
Is there a common thread in these bits and pieces? Only that a really good show is still hard to find. I liked Book of Daniel and will be sad to see it go, but it was hardly great television. Commander was fun before Rod Lurie was shunted aside. It was engaging because it was goofy and broad, because its feminism was so earnest and obvious, because it had heroes and villains. Now it's just a run-of-the-mill political thriller and no one is watching (not that I mean to imply cause-and-effect here, mind you; no one is watching because it's on opposite Idol). Everyone knew that Arrested wouldn't have a long run, that it was more or less a miracle that it made it to a third season. And I've never been surprised that it has missed its shot at mass appeal. It's too clever by three and a half and hard work to get. I never thought it was very mainstream entertainment; its sensibility is too sophisticated for network prime time. And why shouldn't we be satisfied with a few dozen episodes of a good show? That should be enough. The British version of The Office had only fourteen episodes.
I never got into Firefly so I can't say it excites me that there might be more of it. But the idea of patronage funding television series production is nothing less than delightful. I wish the My So-Called Life fans had come up with that ten years ago. That said, the likelihood of reassembling the cast and crew of a long defunct show seems slim.
Then there's The CW. Much has been said about its name, which apparently might be changed before the netlet launches next fall. Commentators have also dwelt on which shows might make the cut or not when two networks become one. Everyone is rightly drooling over the prospect of a Gilmore-Veronica night. What interests me more is the extent to which having one fewer network will diminish the number of watchable programs in prime time. Who knows if Veronica Mars would have made it to air on The CW? It was a small show with only a bit of buzz that earned its high profile through a whole season of good storytelling and word of mouth. With half as many programs seeing the light of day, that means the chances of a good one making it to air are less than they used to be.
Here's one more:
-American Idol's ratings are way up at the point in its run when you'd figure they'd be petering out.
I like Idol once the competition gets started, but I feel dirty after watching even five or ten minutes of the audition episodes. The humiliation of the wannabes and the goofballs is just too much. But I have caught a couple of these eps and with E in charge of the ffwding it's just about bearable. She is somehow able to know which contestants will be bad and which will be good by the patterns of editing and mise en scene even in very fast ffwd and she stops to watch only the contestants who are going to make it to Hollywood. Seeing it this way, at least half the fun comes from marveling at her advanced TiVo skills.
Finally, when it seems there's nothing on worth watching there's always TV on DVD. The first season of Hill Street Blues is now available so that we can watch it again and see how it holds up after 25 years.