With the arrival of the new year, it’s time to suggest some resolutions for the television industry. Yes, there are programs and creative impulses worth celebrating, but let’s face it, there are also some trends that are less than encouraging, to say the least.
Casting blandness. Too many shows, especially on broadcast, are casting for looks, not for presence, skill or charisma. The result is an interchangeable array of bland faces, especially among guys. (There appears to be special fondness for a certain kind of white everydude with dirty-blond hair and stubble.) Of course, forgettable characters are rarely the fault of the performer, but when blah writing meets tame casting, the results are snore-inducing. TV providers need to take chances on actors who have something special to offer — and don’t look like they were churned out by a factory specializing in human knockoffs.
Bogged-down dramas. Why are so many cable and streaming dramas running so long? Of course, a show can go past 42 minutes if it really needs to. But in the realm of ambitious TV, too many episodes head toward the 50- or 60-minute mark not because they have to, but because they can. Of course writers shouldn’t feel locked into rigidly enforced running times that hinder great storytelling. But they don’t seem to realize that those extra minutes need to be justified. Long episodes not underpinned by discipline, focus and taut structure often make for draggy seasons — and even promising dramas can devolve into interminable slogs.
|Joey Guidone @salzmanart|
Missing medics. Why can’t TV make a really good new medical drama? Every year, by-the-numbers doctor dramas stumble down the pike, but despite the explosion of TV production, refreshingly smart, innovative takes on this sturdy genre have been all but impossible to find. True, we’ve also got a couple veteran medical dramas that get the job done, but “House” and “ER” have been off the air for years. How long do we have to wait for a replacement?
Serial stumbles. Just a few years ago, serialization was a dirty word in television, in part because it didn’t sell well in syndication. Thanks to the rapid rise of streaming, serialization has become all the rage, but it’s clear that some writers don’t know how to use it well. It can make a good story richer, more exciting and more thematically dense — but too many dramas are aping “Scandal” and “Breaking Bad” without the acting, pacing, characterization and overall skill that Shonda Rhimes and Vince Gilligan bring. Without characters to care about, shows begin to feel like bowls of story spaghetti, with strands and subplots leading everywhere and nowhere.
Big swings. As television embraces a wider array of voices, topics and storytelling styles, some networks appear to be stuck in another century, at least when it comes to many of the new one-hour dramas they’ve unveiled recently. Pale, insipid imitations of forms and genres we’ve seen before, and underdeveloped star vehicles, are not going to cut it any more. Word of mouth and social media matter more than ever — they can turn a show with a minor media profile into a hit, as well as ensure that a tame or messy big-budget program is dead on arrival. Viewers aren’t dumb, and they can sense when there’s a lack of commitment to a premise or when a show reeks of by-the-numbers execution. I’m not advocating for more shows that are frantically loud or desperately controversial — we already have enough of those — but inspired execution, smart risk-taking and true creativity are more likely to get noticed in this crowded TV landscape. Networks that want to stay relevant are going to have to take more chances.