Tuned In: A toast to TV

And some resolutions for networks and audiences


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New year, new TV shows, new resolutions. It's time for network executives -- and viewers -- to resolve to make the TV viewing experience better in 2014.

How? Perhaps these tips will help:

ABC

Even though NBC gets more bad ink, ABC is having its own ratings troubles. The network has been unable to launch any full-fledged hits in recent years, settling for middling successes.

Creatively, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (8 p.m. Tuesday, WTAE) has been a disappointment after a strong pilot episode. Subsequent installments have played more like a generic 1980s action show and less like the smart, clever, cheeky Joss Whedon series viewers expect.

On the positive side, ABC's "Nashville" (10 p.m. Wednesday) has found its creative footing in its second season with soapier, cheesier plots. The show is less realistic but a lot more fun.

In the comedy realm, ABC continues to struggle in its ability to develop funny shows and properly place them on its schedule. Viewers, possibly scared off by one too many unfunny comedies like "Back in the Game," need to make a resolution to watch ABC's "The Goldbergs" (9 p.m. Tuesday), a family comedy that's really blossomed in its first season.

Now if only ABC programmers would slot "The Goldbergs" after "Modern Family" instead of trying to again put a 20-something comedy in the 9:30 p.m. Wednesday slot, which has failed at least twice before ("Happy Endings," "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23") and will probably fail again when the network premieres "Mixology" (9:30 p.m. Wednesday starting Feb. 26) about -- wait for it -- young friends who hang out at a bar.

CBS

Give CBS credit for trying something new with its failed "Hostages" (series finale airs Jan. 6), a serialized show on a network known mostly for procedural dramas.

But give the network demerits for even attempting the "How I Met Your Mother" pilot spinoff, "How I Met Your Dad." "HIMYM" has gone on far too long, which makes a second series using a similar conceit even more unnecessary than usual.

Kudos to the producers of CBS's "The Good Wife" (9 p.m. Sunday, KDKA-TV), the best scripted drama on a broadcast network. Fans of character-driven storytelling who are not watching are missing out on some seriously good writing, acting and even comedic moments.

Fox

Fox needs to resolve to never order a sitcom as terrible as "Dads" again. What a waste of talent and air time.

But the network gets credit for sticking with quality, low-rated newcomer "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (8:30 p.m. Tuesday until Feb. 4 when it moves to 9:30 p.m., WPGH) and attempting to give the show a boost by airing it in a one-hour block with "New Girl" after the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

Viewers who haven't tried "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" should give it a shot. It's from the writers of "Parks and Recreation" and includes winning interplay between stars Andy Samberg ("Saturday Night Live") and Andre Braugher, showing his comedic chops.

NBC

NBC continues to have success with "The Voice," but a network can't survive on one hit alone. While "The Blacklist" (10 p.m. Monday, WPXI) seems likely to have longer legs than the eroding "Revolution," NBC still needs to find some more successful series.

Thursday night is the biggest problem area. Network executives were unhappy with narrow comedies (such as "Community," which returns for a new season at 8 p.m. Thursday), but their efforts at broader comedies "Sean Saves the World," "Welcome to the Family" and "The Michael J. Fox Show" have been even more of a failure with NBC losing to The CW for the first time ever in the Thursday night 18-49 demo rating on Nov. 21.

PBS

If anything, there is now an embarrassment of riches on American television thanks to all the scripted shows on cable. Add to that PBS's renewed interest in scripted drama.

It kicked off with the success of "Downton Abbey" (returning at 9 p.m. Jan. 5, WQED-TV) on "Masterpiece Classic," and now the public broadcaster has extended its scripted offerings with non-"Masterpiece" shows that include "Call the Midwife," "The Bletchley Circle" and the terrific contemporary comedy-drama "Last Tango in Halifax."

The CW

Applause to The CW for taking a chance with "Reign" (9 p.m. Thursday, WPCW), a soapy period drama about Mary Queen of Scots. It's more "Gossip Girl" than "The Tudors" but only by a little bit, and the show has helped to broaden the network's appeal beyond fans of teen drama, superheroes and the supernatural.

Cable

Some observers suggest the Golden Age of Television -- or Second Golden Age of Television, depending on your age/point of view -- that began with "The Sopranos" is over because so many cable dramas now look alike.

The point gets proved with series like Showtime's "Ray Donovan," which feels too familiar, and disproved by series like HBO's dark but humane "Getting On."

If there's one area where all TV shows, broadcast and cable, suffer from a sense of sameness, it's producers' seeming ease with killing off leading characters. Just look at "The Walking Dead," which introduces new characters for the express purpose of killing them down the line. Producers have taken what was once rare and shocking in prime time and made it commonplace.

After decades of predictability that ensured series regulars would never die, TV producers have flipped to the opposite pole since the late 1980s by too cavalierly killing characters to the point that TV death is now as predictable as it is in real life.


TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.

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