A few months ago, I wrote a piece asking "What's up with network TV?"
In that entry, I wrote this:
"So much of what is shown in prime time, presumably for adults, is unwatchable, unless you're heavily medicated, which is why I guess there's so much advertising on network for pharmaceuticals. Even worse, the glimmers of hope that occasionally appear end up getting canceled prematurely because of mediocre ratings early on, which has everything to do with how much control advertisers have over network television. Quality shows that may need a little time to catch on frequently get a quick axe."
At that time, in April, I was bemoaning the premature cancellation of NBC's "KINGS," an imaginative, high quality, cable-style drama that should have revolutionized the failing network. Now, we are on a kind of death watch around here, religiously watching the remaining episodes, which just get better and better as the various characters evolve or devolve according to their arc.
Simultaneously, we've been watching on dvd, the entire series of "NORTHERN EXPOSURE," a show from the early 1990's. I'd never even seen one episode at the time, even though people who knew me then were always telling me that I would love it because of its off-beat spiritual and psychological underpinnings. But I was too busy in the early Nineties actually pursuing my own off-beat spiritual and psychological underpinnings to follow the evolution of "Dr. Joel Fleishman," the shows main character.
But here's the thing. The show didn't really hit its stride until the third season. (The episode from the third season we watched last night, in fact, won an Emmy for its excellent writing.) The show started as an eight-episode summer replacement series on CBS in 1990. It returned for seven more episodes in spring 1991. Then, by its third round in 1992, Northern Exposure became a regular Emmy and Golden Globe contender.
CBS, in other words, gave the show a chance!
By 1992, the ensemble cast had really gelled, and the characters' growth and changes over time had become compelling, and the writing stood the test of time. This kind of investment in quality doesn't seem to happen anymore on network television. No different than the manipulations of the stock markets by day traders and hedge funds that appeared in force in the 90's, networks became penny-wise and pound foolish, going for the instant bucks of reality shows that perfectly fed into the immediate gratification needs of a depressed populace being fleeced and lied to by the denizens of Wall Street and Washington on a regular basis. But programming that could actual uplift viewers to a higher place and be entertaining at the same time - in other words, shows that people actually had to watch to be enriched by, rather than stare at in a Xanax-induced haze - was deemed "not profitable enough."
Needless to say, this kind of addiction to short-term profit - this infection, to call it what it is - also caused, as we all know, the demise of any real news programming on network that was based on actual news.
Anyway, I highly recommend Northern Exposure and Kings, folks, if you have any time or energy left after working two jobs and trying to get your kids into private schools thanks to the demise of our economy and collapse of our public infrastructure caused by the malfeasance of the types who brought you "Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire?"