Waiting for TV’s Great Leap Forward

Stuck in the limbo of new episodes of my favourites on the horizon but not yet within reach, I’ve been feeling some uncharacteristic sympathy for the TV industry lately. I’m sure it will pass soon enough, like last night’s indigestion, but in the meantime, it’s made me ponder the difficult task it has in recapturing an enthusiastic audience after a lackluster fall and the writers strike disruption. I won’t even think about the possibility of an actors strike for fear of extending this discomfiting empathy.

With a truncated pilot season due to the strike, Fall 2008 is predicted to be something of a mulligan for Fall 2007. Networks will attempt to relaunch some of this season’s series that neither really caught on nor really got a chance to catch on because of being cut short by the strike. They’ll still also launch some new series that will fight to grab an audience before they can grab the remote. Thanks in part to the strike, though, they’ll experiment with fewer pilots in an attempt to streamline the bafflingly inefficient process, and this gives me both hope and trepidation.

I recently talked to someone who was admonished by TV insider types for only giving a show one try before deciding it wasn’t for him, an attitude that happily causes my sympathy to dissolve. Because guess what? That’s all you get out here in the real world. If you’re lucky. Most viewers will hit that remote before the first commercial break if you haven’t grabbed them.

I knew House was the acerbically twisted show for me a minute into the introduction of Hugh Laurie’s character with the line: “Brain tumour. She’s gonna die. Boring.” I knew Pushing Daisies was the whimsically twisted show for me with the first-minute death and resurrection of Digby, the dog who was “3 years, 2 weeks, 6 days, 5 hours and 9 minutes old … and not a minute older.”

Some current favourites, like The Office and 30 Rock, had enough humour and character in them to counter my initial doubts and make me stick with them until they found their firmer footing. Very occasionally I’ll come back to a disappointing show if I hear of its improvement. No amount of lunatic fan raving would get me into Jericho after being lukewarm on the premise, but I did go back to Grey’s Anatomy after a tedious start (and then broke up with it again after a couple of seasons, but that’s a different point).

So again, my sympathy comes from series creators having to deal with fans like me, who aren’t going to give them a month of my TV viewing time to settle in. They’ve got 60 minutes, if that, and even I couldn’t tell them what I’m looking for in my next TV obsession.

After the misery of this chaotic, underwhelming season, maybe it’s not sympathy for the industry I’m really feeling. Maybe it’s simply a selfish hope that they’ll get it right next season and save us from the indifferent new series and reality fare we’re currently stuck with. Even as I’m waiting for the next episodes of the real House and Pushing Daisies, I’m ready for the next House or Pushing Daisies to come along. Canterbury’s Law and Miss Guided just aren’t doing it for me. Don’t even get me started on Moment of Truth or American Gladiators.

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