FOR THOSE WHO MAY have found this space a little grumpy during 1992, we feature a new (and probably short-lived) attitude in the first column of 1993: Enthusiasm.
Maybe it has to do with watching too many college and NFL football games over a 10-day period, or maybe it has to do with surviving an encounter with the flu that brought about disturbing images from the “Alien” movies.
At any rate, that enthusiasm is about broadcast television–and, more specifically, the future for one-hour series on television.
Interspersed between all those football games were lots of shiny on-air promotions for science fiction and/or action adventure series like “Space Rangers,””Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,””The Untouchables,””Kung Fu: The Legend Continues,””Time Trax” and “Babylon 5.”
And that’s just part of it. There’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the held-over two-hour pilot that will air on NBC in February; “SeaQuest,” the NBC series from Steven Spielberg that–taking a page from its syndicated brethren–has a full 22-episode order for next fall; and of course “Baywatch,” proof to the world that Southern California is indeed home to the dumbest people on the planet.
SOMETHING GOOD IS actually happening here. Not all the dramas on television look like a cross between “Beverly Hills, 90210,””thirtysomething” and “Northern Exposure.” Maybe there’s actually room for a world in which people don’t come home from work and immediately start discussing their feelings.
Instead, they can blow some green slimy thing into 20 or 30 pieces or beat the snot out of a bunch of ninjas.
As usual in TV, these shows are too numerous, too similar and arriving in too-close proximity. Since many of them are syndicated, the expectations will be a little lower, yet even so not all of them are going to succeed. (As proof, consult your “Battlestar Gallactica” video library.)
Such programs are a gamble, and invariably someone is going to take a bath. For broadcast TV to succeed right now, there are going to have to be some spectacular failures. Some of them will make it, however, and television needs a few of them to do so.
If this fall’s humdrum performance by the networks has demonstrated anything, it’s the need for diversity–a quality difficult to maintain in a medium known for what scientists like to call convergent evolution, where survivors tend to breed offshoots that look just like them.
As a result, the fall lineups presented too many shows modeled after something else, too many chatty ensemble dramas with attractive-but-otherwise-indistinguishable characters who really belonged (and wanted to be) at West Beverly High or Cicely, Alaska. Remember those Color-Forms toys, where you’d slap a new outfit over a cutout and he became someone else? Television can no longer afford to program by that method.
There have been some noble failures in the pursuit of diversity in recent years, from a commercial if not a creative standpoint, starting with “Twin Peaks” and “Cop Rock.” More recent efforts, such as the medieval drama “Covington Cross” and probably “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” face the same fate but weren’t without their artistic merits.
The survival of new forms of one-hour entertainment fare is critical to stem the tide of reality series and news magazines, already dangerously close to reaching their saturation point. Also, with the networks able to own more of the shows they produce, they may have greater incentive to invest in marketable hours with which they can recoup much of their investment from Europe and elsewhere.
Whatever you may think about it, the whopping premiere numbers for “Dr. Quinn , Medicine Woman”–a CBS in-house production–indicates a taste for something different. Indeed, accepting Jane Seymour as a frontier doctor is about as different as television gets.
If nothing else, it may point to a desire again for escapism, which would seem to bode well for at least some of the new sci-fi series. After all those ensemble dramas and reality shows, it’s time for some strong medicine.
MORE QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS: Random thoughts, without an entire column in them, at the start of calendar year ’93:
What does NBC know now about putting comedies from 8-9 p.m. Friday–against established ABC and CBS sitcoms–that it didn’t know last June when it decided not to air comedies in that hour, for the very reason the ones it’s putting there aren’t going to work?
On the same point, here’s a pop quiz, and be honest: How many NBC executives can say–right now, and without consulting local listings–where all their shows are scheduled beginning Feb. 4?
What would “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” have done in the ratings if it had a title people could write without giggling?
Now that Joshua Brand and John Falsey–the producers of “I’ll Fly Away, “”Going to Extremes” and “Northern Exposure”–are down to just “Northern Exposure,” what the heck are the Emmy awards going to do for nominations in 1994 ?
Have the number of stories about David Letterman outnumbered his show’s nightly audience yet?
Since the combined rating and share for the three Amy Fisher movies was a 52. 9/82, would NBC consider dumping Michael Jackson and using Fisher for its Super Bowl halftime show?
Does it say anything to a group like Viewers for Quality Television, by the way, that the week after NBC announces “I’ll Fly Away” is through for the season as of February, the three Fisher movies reached about 80 million viewers? Did “I’ll Fly Away” total 80 million viewers during its two seasons on the air? Gee, do we really only have to write 51 more of these and 1993 is over?