Scripted television programming is where I turn for sweet relief at the end of a stressful day. It’s what I think about when my mind trails off. I fret and fantasize about it. It’s my secret crack habit.
And now, I’m on entertainment withdrawal thanks to the writer’s strike. Yet, despite the pangs I suffer, I couldn’t be happier that someone slammed on the brakes.
The truth is, most of the shows I’ve been following were in need of a time-out. Take ER for example. Sure, you may have written the show off back in the 90s, but anyone who gave the 06/07 season (their 13th) a chance was rewarded with 23 solid episodes of drama and character progression. So why then, with the critics and fans finally back in their corner, did the writers turn the 14th season into a misguided knock-off of Grey’s Anatomy?
From the High School drama class dialogue and mis-matched love affairs to the cookie-cutter cast additions (Harold, dopey virginal intern, I’m looking at you), it quickly became apparent that the series had totally lost its voice. As much as NBC might want to keep this critical success afloat until its 15th season, the departures of key cast members (Goran Visnjic, Shane West and Laura Innes all left in 2007, with Maura Tierney and Mekhi Phifer apparently eager to follow suit) could easily dash their hopes of yet another chance at glory or redemption.
Desperate Housewives fared only slightly better. Like ER, its 06/07 season saw ratings soar, but then housewife Marcia Cross took an unplanned maternity leave and supporting characters were thrust into the spotlight to fill the dramatic void. Not even award-winning Felicity Huffman could turn Lynette’s cliched battle against cancer into compelling TV viewing.
What happened to staying the course and keeping the characters relatable? If not for Ugly Betty and 30 Rock’s stable second seasons, I’d have thought all the primetime writers in Hollywood had secretly conspired to undermine their respective shows before taking to the streets.
Which isn’t to say I don’t support their cause. With shows being sold on DVD, downloaded to ipods and broadcast online, it only makes sense they get a bigger paycheck that reflects the wider distribution of their work. They try harder than anyone to keep us entertained and that needs to be recognized.
Conan O’Brian and David Letterman couldn’t agree more. Both returned to late night tv two weeks ago having grown what have been dubbed “strike beards,” a by-product of all the time off the hosts have had during the strike. Without scripted monologues or jokes to deliver, Conan even strapped on a guitar to deliver a rousing musical number with the help of Max Weinberg and his big band. Already, things are more entertaining!
Those who get a kick out of ordinary people making extraordinarily huge asses out of themselves will surely rejoice over the return of reality tv giants American Idol and Big Brother in the coming weeks.
So don’t despair my friends. Until our beloved primetime shows make their eventual return, we’ll have plenty of unscripted amusement to distract us from our ordinary lives.
Or, worst case scenario, we can get out in the fresh air and enjoy some winter activities. My feeling is, when the writers finally do get what they want, they’ll bring their A games and deliver some of the best TV we’ve seen in a long while.
It’s a win-win.