Kenneth Burns: Fall is here, and that means more bad TV

Oct. 19, 2013 @ 11:29 PM

I love this time of year. And not just because of pumpkins and apples, crisp mornings, beautiful leaves.

I love this time of year because it’s when television shows fail.

Sorry, I think that came out wrong.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m mesmerized by pop culture, especially television. And now is when the broadcast networks introduce their new series. And many of them fail.

And I’m fascinated by the spectacle that is television’s fall rollout season, failures and all.

Maybe especially the failures.

Each autumn, I make it a point to check out all of the new shows, or as many of them as I can stand. I meticulously program the DVR to record every series premiere, an endeavor so complex you would think I majored in computer science, not English.

And then I start watching.

First and foremost, I watch in hopes that I will discover new shows I enjoy. Sometimes, incredibly, this happens.

This season, for example, I really like “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the ABC series about a band of dashing operatives and their electronic doodads. It’s exciting and amusing.

The 2012-2013 season also had some winners. It gave us ABC’s “Nashville,” the fine drama about the country music business. “Nashville” is set in my hometown, and I’m here to tell you that the show successfully captures many truths about Music City. Including the fact that most of the city’s important political decisions are made not at the polls, but in a private room at some fancy steakhouse. Or so it always seemed to me.

Last season also gave us the CW’s “The Carrie Diaries,” a prequel about the heroine of the HBO sitcom “Sex and the City.” I was a big “Sex and the City” fan (I try not to think about the movies), and I dutifully tuned in to the new show, not expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised. “The Carrie Diaries” is a well-written 1980s pastiche with an appealing star, AnnaSophia Robb.

Two shows. The 2012-2013 broadcast television season yielded two decent new shows, out of dozens.

Friends, those are not good numbers. If I performed like that at my job, I wouldn’t last long.

But this is, bafflingly, the way broadcast television works. Unfathomable amounts of money are spent on shows that are likely not to be very good, and that probably will get canceled.

This season’s first cancellation was ABC’s drama “Lucky 7,” about people who win the lottery. It got canned after two airings. I never saw it.

The second cancellation was the CBS sitcom “We Are Men,” which also lasted only two episodes. I watched some of it because it starred Kal Penn and Tony Shalhoub, actors I like. But I stopped watching after it became clear that most of the gags were premised on contempt for women. Delete.

I’m surprised television’s pilot system is still such an inefficient mess. Cable is giving broadcast incredible competition with great shows like “Mad Men,” but the networks continue to plod along with dreck.

Sometimes the networks try to follow cable’s lead, and fail, as with shows like “Pan Am” and “The Playboy Club,” from a few years ago. Those 1960s-themed series successfully recreated everything about “Mad Men” except the unforgettable storytelling and the wonderful acting.

Still, I’m happy that there are a few shows I like. Now in its fifthseason, the CBS legal drama “The Good Wife” remains some of the best television I’ve ever seen. I’m glad PBS recently treated us to another series of “Foyle’s War,” about a sad-eyed, quietly righteous detective.

I’m also fond of the CBS show “Blue Bloods,” which stars Tom Selleck as the New York City police chief. He’s a man of faith who solves problems with honor and integrity. How that got on TV I’ll never know.

Kenneth Burns is Community News Editor of The Mountain Press. Call 428-0748, ext. 212, or send e-mail to kburns@themountainpress.com. Twitter: @KennethBurns.