Friday, October 8, 2010

What makes for good TV?


Everyone who knows me is aware that I watch very little television anymore. I was born in front of the TV just in time for Primetime and I didn't move until I was 23, when I joined the Navy. (A tough time to do it, too, because Babylon 5 was in the middle of its run! I missed a lot of critical episodes.) Since being in the Navy, I found I didn't need TV at all. When my dad came to visit me, he had to buy a TV for me because I didn't have one. Lately, I've started watching it a little, mostly educational stuff like Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, and Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, and some History Channel and Science Channel stuff.

My roomy watches a lot of TV, and sometimes I sit in the living room with my computer so I can write stories and such, and he's watching almost everything they put on cable now, so I get to see a lot of shows in a bystander sort of way.

One show he introduced me to was Burn Notice. OMFG, that's the best show I've seen in a long time!

OTOH, you'd think something like Ghost Whisperer would be good TV, what with Jennifer Love Hewitt showing off her cleavage all the time. She's talented, the others on the show are talented, and it's got a topic I find a little interesting. But I don't watch it, and the roomy doesn't watch it anymore either. Why?

The main beef I had with Ghost Whisperer was that, story-wise, it was a one-trick pony. There's one big name (and one big rack) drawing crowds, and she's in practically every scene. Okay, it's ABOUT Melinda, but it still comes off to me as Hewitt trying to say "See? I can act! Wait, look at these! See? I can act!" I would hope that Hewitt isn't intentionally trying to steal all the scenes, or that she's not jealous of all her costars, but come on, how about we develop some other character once in a while? How about we give another actor a chance to shine; besides just Jaime Kennedy, I mean.

On the other hand, Burn Notice has a main character who gets the most face-time, but the other three main members of the show get nearly equal development. We know almost as much about Fiona, Sam, and Madeline as we do about Michael. Michael is NOT in every scene. Jeffrey Donovan isn't giving off those camera-hogging vibes.

But the cast of Burn Notice COMBINED doesn't have the star-power that Hewitt does. Are the big names "doomed" to be on camera too much, or are there other shows who have had a big name in the lead role, but give somewhat equal time to the rest of the cast?

I'm going to go with NCIS. NCIS is Mark Harmon's baby. He's the only big name (no offense to David McCallum) in the show, he produces it, and he's the main character. BUT, we don't really focus too much on him. There are SEVERAL characters we know almost as well as we do Gibbs: Tony, Kate/Ziva, Tim, Ducky, Abby... we even get to know a lot about Jimmy, Leon, and Jenny, and they didn't have a lot of camera time.

NCIS has as more regular characters than Ghost Whisperer, and we know more about them. They're developed. They get their time in the sun and we get to see them shine, despite Mark Harmon's star-power outweighing the rest of the cast. Ghost Whisperer would not be struggling to hold viewers and forcing Hewitt to show more and more skin if they'd just develop the characters more, and give the other actors a chance to show what they can do, nor would they have to have crazy story lines about switching bodies and adding a kid who's endangered in every episode.

Home Improvement is another good example. Though it was Tim Allen's show, and he was initially the only one with star power, the other cast members got a lot of development and some may outshine Allen in the near future.

Maybe in the past year or so Ghost Whisperer cleaned up its act and I'm not aware of it because I don't watch it, so maybe it's unfair to pick on them. How about I pick on William Shatner's new show, Stuff my Dad Says?

Shatner is probably the biggest name on TV right now (with me at least), and the people filling out the cast of his show are all somewhat unknown. Hewitt's star-power doesn't hold a candle to his. Shatner is playing the main character of a TV show, and in the one episode I've seen so far, he's mostly hogged the spotlight. I don't know that they've got enough material for the show to last past its sample-sized season of 5 shows, but if Shatner is the only character that gets developed, I'm not going to watch it, and I find William Shatner at least as entertaining as Jennifer Love Hewitt's cleavage.

Right now I'm waiting for Burn Notice to start back up next month, and I watch Stargate Universe because it was pretty gripping throughout the first season, and that's about it. I haven't even seen Family Guy for a couple years. As I look back at some of the TV shows I enjoyed most throughout my life, I find that the ones that developed the whole cast tended to be the ones I liked.

If you need further proof that having multiple developed characters is a good thing, take a look at sci-fi shows. Rarely does a sci-fi show have a single person in the spotlight the whole time. They're almost ALL designed to develop multiple characters. Look at the flop Enterprise. Scott Bakula was the only big name in the show, the action centered around him almost exclusively, and the other characters got little development. Only because it was Star Trek did it survive as long as it did. (That and getting Jolene Blaloch to show off for us so many times.) The other Star Treks may not have developed ALL the characters, but they developed SEVERAL of them, and that's why they lasted as long as they did. Anyone who watched was able to find someone they could identify with. When it's just one person doing everything, that's not much of an audience to identify with.

Scifi shows have a hard time getting an audience, so they have to pull out all the stops, and that means developing all the characters. Even those horrible "reality shows" know that much!

Hopefully more people will watch Burn Notice get TV right.


1 comment:

  1. "Eastbound & Down", baby! THAT is the Best TV show ever!!

    Bonus: it also includes the amazing cleavage of beautiful actress Katy Mixon!)


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