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Friday, September 28, 2007


This week, a new TV season has just gotten under way. This means welcoming back my returning series and deciding which all-new series pilots I'm going to sample to determine whether I want to watch the show. As every TV series that I commit to represents 30 minutes to an hour out of my week, and I have a lot of other stuff I'm into with my work, I have to be very careful in selecting new shows. What helps me immensely in this endeavor is that I've always been a well-informed viewer. I have the impression that most people treat television as "a disposable medium," something that you just turn on, look at, and turn off, to which you pay no other attention. Most people don't actually bother to learn anything about television: Who makes it, what kinds of decisions go into it, why and how things get on the air and what happens to them along the way, things like that. We know, for example, who writes our favorite books, who records our favorite music, even in many cases who directs our favorite films. But TV? From much of the public, television doesn't seem to get the same kind of attention. Quick, what's your favorite show? Okay, now: Who are its producers? Who are its writers? Can you follow their work to other shows that they may do? I'll bet you can't. Television is the single most powerful cultural influence on the planet. But I'm convinced that a lot of the rubbish that has gotten on the air, and continues to get on the air, is at least in part the result of people treating the medium itself as rubbish.

I've never been like that. I remember occasions when people have accused me of being too caught up in something as "passive" as television, as if I were just sitting like a lump and staring hypnotically into a screen, and being spoon-fed a lot of electronic pap. I wish I could go back and slap them for that. There has never been anything "passive" about my TV viewing. I'm probably more "active" when I watch something than 90 percent of the other people in the audience. Not only do I pay better attention to the medium itself, as I described above, but as a storyteller I watch for concept, plot, subplot, subtext, theme, characterization, dialogue--all the craft of telling a story. And I read TV Guide every week to be better able to identify and find shows of quality. If more people watched television the way I do, a lot of fine series that died before their time might have lived (just last night I was watching one of my DVDs of the 1980s Twilight Zone--one of the best-kept secrets in all of television), and the creative standards of the medium might have been raised.

Of course, there's a lot to recommend the creative standards of the medium right now. Hal Linden, the star of Barney Miller, used to say that the most remarkable thing about TV was not how bad it was, but how good it was. What he meant was that given everything that goes into getting a show on the air at all, it's extraordinary that there is even such a concept as quality television. Today, enormous strides have been taken in terms of content and storytelling. There is some amazing writing being done for the small screen. There are certain shows that I watch and consider myself lucky and privileged to be on the receiving end of such creativity. For instance, my three current favorites: Heroes, Dr. Who, and Desperate Housewives. Amazing stuff! Also Nip/Tuck, Lost, Kyle XY, Eureka... When I see things like this actually getting onto networks' schedules and finding receptive and appreciative audiences, I'm convinced that we are truly in a golden age of television. The people behind all these shows truly know how to tell great stories. There is terrific popular art being made in this medium today, and we need to learn to appreciate it.

At present, my viewing schedule is divided into a Summer Season, which is just ending, and a Fall Seaon, which is just starting. There is some overlap between the two, as some of my summer shows have either not finished yet or are just wrapping up (Eureka). This summer just ended was one with a couple of surprises. I had expected it to be lighter than it turned out to be. However, The History Channel brought out The Universe, an excellent documentary miniseries about astronomy and astrophysics, which was irresistible; American Movie Classics started Mad Men, the most twisted, perverse, and intriguing cable series outside of Nip/Tuck; and Sci Fi Channel started an all-new version of Flash Gordon, which I was enthusiastic about at first but am weighing whether I'm going to continue watching if it has a second season. I ended up with more summer television than I had planned on, but by and large they were hours well spent. As of this week, I have sampled the new fall series Dirty Sexy Money (a show that I wish had a different title; it's a little embarrassing) and find it interesting in a vein similar to Soap and Desperate Housewives. I don't know if I'm going to be making this an appointment show yet, as if I pick it up there may be a conflict with Nip/Tuck, but the pilot was worth the look. The fall series in which I'm most interested, which from what I've been seeing in TV Guide has the best chance of becoming one of my weekly appointments, is Pushing Daisies. I'll make my call about that one when its pilot airs next week.

For my Summer Season, I have one optional show. I call it "optional" because it's really an appointment show, but I have a friend who gets me DVDs of the episodes in advance, so by the time it actually starts airing I've already seen the whole season. This is my present number-one series, Dr. Who. If it's on Sci Fi and I feel like watching it, I'll tune in, but I can miss it without feeling the loss because I've actually already seen it. It's good to have friends with connections...

Anyway, the following is my own carefully selected viewing list:

FALL SEASON (September to May)

Desperate Housewives (ABC)

Heroes (NBC)

Nip/Tuck (FX)

Lost (ABC)

Smallville (The CW)

Supernatural (The CW)

Potential fall pick-ups: Dirty Sexy Money, Pushing Daisies (both ABC)

SUMMER SEASON (May to September)

The 4400 (USA)

Kyle XY (ABC Family)

Eureka (Sci Fi)

Mad Men (AMC)

Meerkat Manor (Animal Planet)

Dr. Who (Sci Fi, optional)

Flash Gordon (Sci Fi, continuation undecided)


All My Children

General Hospital


First half hour of Jay Leno

I should probably also note that I have been looking at The Days of Our Lives lately, but that is a very conditional show for me. If it didn't star an incredible specimen of young male beauty named Brandon Beemer and former All My Children player James Scott, I would not have started looking in on it. But really, you've got to see Brandon Beemer to believe him (his character's name is Shawn Brady; he's a recast from a boy named Jason Cook), and even then you may not believe what you're seeing. Check him out in the Days of Our Lives section of Shrine to the Soap Hunks, which is in my Blog links.

Whatever you're watching this season, try to watch good stuff and have fun doing it!

PS. A couple of other quick notes before I close out this Blog: Sci Fi Weekly reports this week that the Star Trek film to be released for Christmas 2008 has cast the history-making role of Lieutenant Uhura. The Communications Officer of the 23rd Century Enterprise will be played by Pirates of the Caribbean star Zoe Saldana. I have to admit I'm very ambivalent about the idea of doing a recast of the 1960s Star Trek and possibly reworking Gene Roddenberry's original vision for the Trek universe (actually this latter possibility truly makes me shudder), but elaborating on that right now would be a whole other Blog, which is best saved for another time. I'm sure we'll be talking about this again.

Also, as if I needed something else to do on the computer, I've joined a new Listserv this week, a Yahoo! Group that I simply could not resist: Rod Serling's Twilight Zone of Imagination. When I found out there's an E-mail List for Rod Serling fans and Zonies, I was on board faster than Donna Douglas running from the gargoyle doctors. (And if you are a true Zonie, you must know what I was just referring to.) We are definitely going to be having a lot of Twilight Zone talk here at The Quantum Blog over the holidays. In the meantime, if you'd like to get in the Zone, go to

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