At the end of the summer, NBC appeared primed for a ratings resurgence behind a slew of high-profile new shows, many of them receiving sparkling reviews from critics. However, a month and a half into the fall season, viewers are still low and the clock has already expired on a character that could have been the next Jack Bauer. Now it looks like the Peacock is set to send the revered Aaron Sorkin packing. Now it’s up to a nerdy Asian kid and his gang of super friends to save NBC’s new prime-time offerings before the network converts to inexpensive reality shows hosted by the likes of Howie Mandel and Bob Saget. But is “Deal or No Deal” really the best show NBC has to offer? Here’s a look at what needs saving and what needs changing among the network’s latest offerings.
Friday Night Lights
No new show epitomizes this fall’s ratings/review paradox as well as “Lights,” a drama focusing on the Texas-based Dillon High School varsity football team and the football-centric town that surrounds it. “Lights” is smart. It’s brilliantly cast. Its dialogue is sharp and characters don’t say exactly what’s on their minds. And apparently those are all things American television viewers want no part of at 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights.
Despite garnering glowing reviews, even from the Washington Post’s Tom Shales who likes new shows about as often as the Vatican elects a new Pope, “Lights” struggles in the ratings. Last Tuesday’s episode languished behind an “NCIS” rerun with just a 2.6 rating among the sought-after 18-49 year-old demographic.
Perhaps it’s the 8 p.m. time slot, or the jerky, documentary-style camera technique or maybe potential viewers can’t grasp that the show’s depth exceeds that of anything not on HBO. The show may be about a Texas town steeped in football and religion, but its themes and characters are at once universal and original. The players serve a purpose outside of their pads, with pressures from home and school and social circles. They are both local celebrities and scapegoats for other townsfolk eager to overlook their own problems.
If you appreciate sports, you’ll like it (especially the realistic football sequences). If you can appreciate a savvy drama that deals with the true complexities of the human condition, you’ll think it’s the best show on television right now. And you’d be right.
“Heroes” is pretty much the antithesis of “Friday Night Lights.” With a few exceptions, characters are shallow and underdeveloped. The dialogue is often groan-worthy. The show is entirely plot-driven, but because of the wide array of characters, it’s extremely slow developing. And, oh yeah, it’s wildly popular to the tune of 14.7 million viewers and 6.3 rating among viewers 18-49.
I get the appeal of “Heroes,” and I’m not enough of an entertainment snob to snub it for its sophomoric foibles, but it is extremely disappointing to see a terrific concept by Tim Kring realized so poorly. For a show dependent on its plot, it has more than its share of holes (such as when Ali Larter’s Mr. Hyde-meets-the-Incredible Hulk character spends all night burying two men in the desert while her son sleeps undisturbed in a car 10 feet away). Please go deeper with these characters. Focus each episode on one or two of them and develop them into something interesting. There are hints of it with a heroin addiction, a fraternal divide, and a benevolent criminal husband, but there’s been no real substance yet. I’ll keep watching, because I’m interested in the mystery A-bomb set to blow up New York City and I’m curious to see how the lame tagline “save the cheerleader, save the world” will make a lick of sense. On the plus side, the show did bump “Friday Night Lights” by 2 million viewers when NBC used it as a lead in on Monday night this week. If they can save “Lights,” that would be a heroic feat indeed.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
“Studio 60” AKA “The West Wing Goes to Hollywood” AKA “Studio 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.” AKA … well you get the picture. NBC wouldn’t renew Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme’s baby, so they dressed their baby up a little different and brought it back … and for a lot of money. The schtick of “Studio 60” is the same as “West Wing,” complete with Sorkin’s signature long tracking shots, insider’s lingo and you-had-best-pay-attention pacing. What’s not there is the audience. The most anticipated new show this year by critics, “60” has been a ratings disaster and rumors have NBC set to pull the plug.
Ironically, the show may be a victim of one of its own themes. In the show, Amanda Peet’s character snubs a highly sought after reality show and pursues an HBO-caliber, high brow drama. She tells the drama’s writer, dubious about the ability of her network (NBS, a fictionalized NBC) to attract an intellectual audience, not to worry. Back in the real world, NBC’s highbrow shows are flailing and the network’s execs say they’re switching to a game-show heavy primetime lineup. Ouch. No wonder “60” is on the chopping block.
Aside from the rampant idealism and the characters’ knack for finding the perfect solution to every problem, the show makes for fun, lighthearted viewing. If you liked the “West Wing” you might want to give this one a shot, and you might not have much time left.
“Kidnapped” has already been canned. I really should not have had to write that sentence, but alas, the thriller was the first new show to get the ax this season. Ratings were very low for the big-budget drama starring Jeremy Sisto of “Six Feet Under,” despite high marks from critics. This sound familiar?
Aside from the itty bitty plot hole that no one in New York City seems to have noticed a shootout/abduction in broad daylight (perhaps the NYC press was too busy bashing Alex Rodriguez), the show is a winner from a quality stand point. Lines are snappy, bad guys are mysterious, motivations are veiled, and good guy Sisto has no problem playing the bad guy. This could have been NBC’s version of “24,” with Sisto bouncing onto a new case next season, while his arc continues to evolve each year. He’s got the Jack Bauer aura (you know, the “Breaking that guy’s arm was morally questionable, but damn was it cool” aura) and the auxiliary characters have purposes larger than answering Bauer’s distressed cell phone calls and letting moles blow up C.T.U. (Again!).
They’ll wrap production at episode 13 and that’s that, but I hope someone else has the foresight to snap this show up.