×

A Few New Year’s Resolutions to Promote Better Television

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.

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • Jo Jo Rabbit Once Upon a

    Why Younger Actors Could Be Crashing the Oscar Nominations

    Tatum O’Neal was only 10 years old when she became the youngest actor to win an Oscar in 1974 for her work alongside her father, Ryan O’Neal, in “Paper Moon.”  Besides O’Neal, the only other young Oscar winners have been Anna Paquin, who at age 11 went home with the supporting actress Oscar for “The Piano” [...]

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Tom Hanks Mr Rogers A BEAUTIFUL

    Tom Hanks' Portrayal of Mister Rogers May Put Him Back in Oscar's 'Neighborhood'

    Sony recently hosted a SAG-AFTRA screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the Marielle Heller-directed drama starring Matthew Rhys as a magazine writer who befriends Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. While the screening didn’t include a guild Q&A with cast or the film’s creative team, the audience was greeted with a video message from [...]

  • Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese,

    Martin Scorsese and 'The Irishman' Enter Oscar Race With World Premiere at NYFF

    Even with its three-hour run time and a short 28 days in theaters before it’s available on Netflix, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is likely to be a major contender at the Oscars. The 57th New York Film Festival opened on Friday night with the world premiere of the epic real-life mob drama. Scorsese and his [...]

  • Brad Pitt Once Upon a Time

    How Much Does Hitting the Awards Season Circuit Really Matter to Stars Like Brad Pitt?

    “Do you want an Oscar?” That’s the first question one top awards consultant asks any potential contender when they first start talking. Everyone is wondering how Brad Pitt would answer that question these days. He recently raised eyebrows and made headlines when he proclaimed that he would not be campaigning this awards season. “Oh, man. I’m [...]

  • Renee Zellweger'Judy' film premiere, Arrivals, Samuel

    'Judy's' L.A. Premiere: Renée Zellweger Takes Another Ruby Step Toward the Oscars

    Renée Zellweger continues to follow the yellow brick road to the Oscars. The Los Angeles premiere of Judy on Thursday night in Beverly Hills kept the Academy Award winner on track for a possible second win come February. “We’re just so happy we’re able to share it with you tonight,” Zellweger said to the crowd [...]

  • Barry Bill Hader

    Emmys 2019: Clear Favorites and Top Challengers for This Year's Winners (Column)

    If this felt like the longest, most expensive Emmy campaign in history, you might be right. For one thing, the 2019 Primetime Emmys will be held Sept. 22, which is the latest the ceremony has taken place since 2013. That also happened to be the last year of TV’s quaint, pre-streaming era, before outlets like [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content