Should We Mourn the Death of the Network TV Drama?
I can't say I disagree with this article at all. I'm barely able to find a single drama on broadcast that is worth sitting through, let alone investing an hour a week for a year in. A show I was really looking forward to, "Agents of SHIELD", turned out to be a shining example of everything that is wrong with broadcast television. No brain and no soul. On the other hand, cable has given us "Breaking Bad", "The Sopranos", "Game of Thrones", "Mad Men" and like the article says, this is where writers want to go because they won't get network executives crawling all over them and focus-testing every aspect of the series to hell and back.
George R.R. Martin said: "Characters don't need to be likable, they just have to be interesting. People who are scumbags can engage our sympathy."
King Joffrey Baratheon is a hateful douchebag who I cannot wait to see die, but you can't say he isn't interesting. Is Skye interesting? Is she likable? Not in the slightest as far as I'm concerned. Are the lead characters of NCIS or any of its clones memorable? I've seen a few episodes, but I couldn't tell you any of their names. But I doubt I will ever forget Tony Soprano or Walter White.
Not that there aren't exceptions to every rule. Showtime famously decreed that Dexter Morgan couldn't die which led to an ending that nobody liked. Meanwhile "Supernatural" is a show on broadcast which does just well enough to keep being renewed while mostly staying out of the eye of the suits and thus the cast and crew are given the freedom to do what they want and have a great time doing it.
I have friends who don't like live action drama and when I asked them why, they said they felt the medium was very limited. I of course soon realized their recent experiences with it were confined to the crap on network, even the shows they somewhat enjoyed were toothless fluff. I've always held the belief that drama needed to not just have teeth, but fangs as well; when it bites, it has to hurt. William Shakespeare understood that, and so do the likes of David Chase, Vince Gilligan, and George R.R. Martin.
It wasn't always like this, once upon a time shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", "Babylon 5", "Hill Street Blues", "Homicide" and the like pushed the envelope of what you could do on television, and those shows had teeth. But the market has changed, with the rise of cable and Netflix, I don't think any of those shows would survive on network today; I don't even think they would have been initially pitched to network today. I often wonder what would happen if Joss Whedon sat on "Firefly" for a few years and pitched it to the Sci-Fi Channel or A&E.
All the passion has gone to cable, it is no coincidence that the quality has followed. Broadcast might still be in more homes, but "Agents of SHIELD" is losing viewers by the hundreds-of-thousands every week; how fitting as it is the embodiment of the broadcast drama.