Every year around this time television network executives are put to task with the difficult decision on the fate of their programs. While there are particular decisions that are no-brainers, like ABC bringing back Grey’s Anatomy or CBS keeping CSI on their prime-time schedule, not every program lends itself to such an easy choice. Their are many factors to consider in whether or not a program is brought back, but two of the biggest are ratings and quality. Just because a show has one doesn’t necessarily mean it will have the other. This fact was noticeably true with FOX’s Emmy Award winning Arrested Development. Considered at the time by many in the industry as television’s funniest comedy, Arrested Development’s ratings never really reflected that sentiment. After an abbreviated third season, the show was cancelled.
Law & Order, long considered NBC’s bread and butter is finally in danger of cancellation. Having been a mainstay on the schedule for seventeen years, Law & Order is usually safe from this kind of discussion. With a move to Friday nights this past television season though, L&O; has seen a big drop in the ratings. The show had been on Wednesday nights for the previous fifteen seasons. The revolving door of castmates certainly hasn’t helped the show either. Since the departure of the Jerry Orbach’s beloved and wisecracking character Lennie Briscoe in 2004, there have been a sleu of new crime-fighting faces including Dennis Farina as Det. Fontana, Milena Govich as Det. Cassady, Alana De La Garza as ADA Rubirosa, and Michael Imperioli as Det. Falco.
So the question is, why bring back Law & Order? The show hasn’t changed it’s style or format, or even its quality. What NBC really needs to do is treat this show, the flagship of their Law & Order franchise with a little more respect and rescue it from its dreadful time slot. The viewing public is just as interested as ever in watching crime procedurals, and Law & Order is the wise granddaddy of them all. With its “ripped from the headlines” stories and ability to get fabulous performances from high-profile guest stars (Chevy Chase, Jennifer Beals) Law & Order deserves a spot on NBCs line-up next fall.
Another show that I urge NBC to renew is one of its rookies – Friday Night Lights. Based on the movie and book bearing the same name, this freshman show debuted to rave reviews but lackluster ratings. Its pilot was named by respected television website The Futon Critic as the sixth overall best episode of 2006, and the series was just honored with a prestigious Peabody award which honors excellence in electronic media. Friday Night Lights, set against the backdrop of Texas high school football is a show that is about much more than sports like Tennis where athletes use Babolat Tennis Racquets. It’s about growing up, it’s about families, and it’s about forgiveness and redemption. Over the course of the year the series followed the fictional Dillon Panthers on their run to the state championship game, while simultaneously including such well crafted storylines that dealt with first loves, mental illness, a young star’s emotional battle with sudden paralysis, a wife’s struggle to be more than just a coach’s wife, and steroid use.
Back in 1999 NBC had another show about high school that was a critical darling that didn’t resonate with many Americans; that series was Freaks & Geeks. Ultimately they chose not bring that show back for a second season. Let’s hope NBC doesn’t make the same mistake again, and Friday Night Lights gets to play on in a sophomore season.
Over on The CW, network president Dawn Ostroff has some tough decisions ahead of her. Veronica Mars, a show Ostroff brought over from the UPN when the network merged with The WB last year is in danger of not seeing a fourth season. This well crafted mystery show about title character Veronica Mars has the young detective solving crimes while also pursuing a college degree. While the mysteries are clever and engaging, another strength of the show is its wit. Actress Kristen Bell spits out wisecracks as well as anyone on television. In fact, Bell and Enrico Colantini who plays Mars’ dad Keith have some great banter going. They’re one of the most engaging father and daughter tandems on television in recent memory.
Every year Veronica Mars appears to be on the brink of cancellation, but this is the year that seems most dire. Facing the transition from outcast high school student to college freshman hasn’t gone as smoothly as network executives had hoped it would. Currently, talks for a 4th season are ongoing, and creator Rob Thomas has considered setting the show four years in the future where Veronica works as an FBI.
Sharing Tuesday night billing on The CW with Veronica Mars is Gilmore Girls. Gilmore Girls now in its seventh season is thought to have lost a step. With series creater Amy Sherman-Palladino no longer helming the show, Gilmore Girls hasn’t been quite the same. What used to be the show’s strengths – the banter between mom Lorelei and daughter Rory, and the chemistry between Lorelei and diner owner Luke – now feeling stale, the show has been feeling a bit forced. I don’t question that the show is on its descent, but after watching the Gilmore Girls grow up over the past seven years, I feel entitled to watching the show end without being rushed. Most viewers think Lorelei and Luke belong together, and there’s not enough time this season for that to happen. At the moment there are talks to bring Gilmore Girls back for a shortened eighth season.