Mr. TV: The Good, The Bad

It’s more fun, of course, to pick apart the bad stuff on TV. There is always plenty to choose from, after all. But since one of my resolutions for 2010, and beyond, is to accentuate the positive, let me optimistically begin this final column of 2009 by highlighting the good news on the small screen this past year. Fortunately, there was a lot to highlight.

The next time someone suggests the half-hour sitcom is “dead,” tell them to check out ABC on Wednesday for a glimpse of Modern Family, which I think will give NBC’s overrated 30 Rock a run at the Emmys. Family love and dysfunction have never been this perfectly portrayed, including the comic high point of the series, gay couple Cameron and Mitchell.

As long as you’re watching Modern Family, make it a point to get to ABC at 8:30 p.m. for lead-in The Middle, which is happily reminiscent of recent classic Malcolm in the Middle. Although Patricia Heaton as frustrated mom Frankie is less cantankerous than Jane Kaczmarek as equally frazzled Mom Lois, 11-year-old Atticus Shaffer is the new Dewey. The resemblance is eerie.

CBS, as always, has the most consistently solid lineup, including Monday’s relocated The Big Bang Theory, Tuesday blockbuster NCIS, bona fit leadout (and spinoff) NCIS: Los Angeles and legal drama The Good Wife. Although greedy CBS is likely to eventually extend the NCIS franchise to a third scripted hour (a la CSI), right now Tuesday is flawless. One night earlier, the cast of The Big Bang Theory makes up the most satisfying sitcom ensemble since Seinfeld and Friends. And Fox’s Glee on Wednesday proves there is room for something unique in the scripted department.

It is never easy for an actor to deviate from a role for which he or she is known. But what I personally liked about Edie Falco on Showtime’s Nurse Betty was how quickly you forgot she was ever on The Sopranos. Kelsey “Frasier” Grammer on ABC’s short-lived Hank had no such luck.

In the personality department, young Taylor Swift was amazingly poised in that now-classic Kanye West moment at The Video Music Awards, Celebrity Apprentice contestants Joan Rivers and Annie Duke gave us the best catfight since Krystle and Alexis on Dynasty, and Ellen DeGeneres shocked the masses (myself included) by announcing she would inherit the empty American Idol judging seat from Paula Abdul.

Daytime syndication, meanwhile, has the biggest new talk show hit in seven years in Dr. Oz from Sony Pictures Television.

Bitter Kanye West, of course, is the “loser” of the year considering his childish (and insane) behavior at the aforementioned VMAs. West’s appearance on NBC’s The Jay Leno Show resulted in tremendous sampling for the stripped talker. But with barely 5 million viewers per evening at present, Leno is the biggest flop of the current season.

CW clinker The Beautiful Life was, of course, the first official cancellation. But spring variety show The Osbournes Reloaded was so bad, Fox aired only one episode. Fortunately for daughter Kelly, a third-place finish on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars proved the party girl can actually do something well. Heading into the summer, we were bombarded with nonscripted nonsense like ABC’s Dating in the Dark, which should have never had its lights turned on in the first place, and The CW’s Hitched or Ditched, which was ditched by the audience from the get-go.

As I say every year, it never pays for a network to remake a classic, and not even still-spicy Heather Locklear can save Fox’s doomed Melrose Place. And last, but certainly not least, are failed freshman medical dramas Mercy and Trauma, (NBC), and Three Rivers (CBS).
After 15 long years of NBC’s ER, which ended last April, we needed a break, not this mediocrity.

Speaking of a break, there will be no issue of Mediaweek for the next two weeks. So, I would like to wish everyone a Happy Holiday season and a wonderful New Year. See you back in 2010.