COMMENTARYPost-strike, why is everyone so happy?
New episodes are too few, and the ax still awaits some of the better shows
By TIM GOODMAN
San Francisco Chronicle
Feb. 15, 2008, 5:49PM
In the post-strike world of television, fans seem to be hiding their disappointment about lost episodes, truncated seasons and mothballed shows. It's almost as if there is irrational exuberance over all these lists popping up and when favorite shows are coming back and how many episodes there will be. Not to crank up a jeremiad here, but shouldn't viewers be a little more annoyed?
Of the shows that do come back this season, none will manage more than nine new episodes. It's one thing to get only five of the expected eight episodes of Lost but quite another to learn that there will be reruns stinking up March, when the whole point of holding the series until January was to avoid interrupting the story (interruption = lost viewers). It's better than nothing that fans of great comedy — and there's precious little great comedy on television — will get five more episodes of 30 Rock and six more episodes of The Office. Except half of the 10 previous 30 Rock episodes seemed to appear randomly — which didn't help in a momentum-killing strike season — and, frankly, five more are not enough. Only eight episodes of The Office have aired (four were an hour in length). Fans were promised 30 episodes this season.
NBC said Heroes wouldn't come back until the fall, where it will be "launched," which sounds suspiciously like a do-over. Fox is delaying 24 until January 2009. Does such loyalty still exist among television viewers?
Not to be ungrateful about the resumption of writing, but shouldn't there be a greater sense of foreboding in the industry, and in your living room, right about now?
As networks announced when series would return and how many episodes there would be, it began to seem a lot like May (when they announce the fall schedule and everything smells like a hit) instead of February (when everybody knows the ugly truth). February is a sweeps month (so much for that), so maybe the truth is being swept under the proverbial rug?
Though some series are clearly a casualty of the strike, with networks deciding against restarting production because the costs outweigh the anemic ratings, a definitive swing of the ax has yet to happen (but it will, and probably within a month). But it gives off the whiff of hope where precious little exists for shows such as Bionic Woman, Journeyman (NBC); Big Shots, Cavemen (ABC); Cane (CBS); K-Ville (Fox); Life Is Wild (CW); and others.
Even where series went back into production, there are no guarantees. Why? Because the viewing audience has proved mighty fickle throughout the strike, virtually ignoring new series, including Welcome to the Captain on CBS and even this week's sputtering and lackluster premiere of Jericho, the miracle series that was canceled and brought back after a famous fan protest.
So even though an abundance of shows is returning to the air, it's no guarantee they won't be killed off by May.
More cynically, a number of freshman series that were doing well or moderately well in the ratings — Pushing Daisies, Private Practice, Dirty Sexy Money (ABC); Life and Chuck (NBC), among others — have been postponed until fall. Do you know how far off fall is in the TV business?
An argument can be made that those series are being protected by the network and they will provide the core of the programming next season because this year's development process was essentially torched by the strike. And yet, an argument can also be made that freshman series that were barely on the air won't make appealing sophomore candidates. And what happens if shows that are being developed this year test well? How about this: "What do you mean where's Life? Oh, that. Um, we lost it."
Which is all just a very cynical way of saying, "There will be blood — lists of returning shows or not."
Post-strike returns, number of episodes and month in which you can see them:
ABC: Boston Legal (eight episodes, April), Ugly Betty (five episodes, April), Desperate Housewives (seven episodes, April), Grey's Anatomy (five episodes, April), Lost (six more pre-strike episodes, five additional, April), Brothers & Sisters (five episodes, April).
CBS: The Big Bang Theory (nine episodes, March), CSI: Miami (eight episodes, March), Cold Case (five episodes, March), Criminal Minds (seven episodes, April), CSI: NY (seven episodes, April), CSI (six episodes, April), How I Met Your Mother (nine episodes, March), Ghost Whisperer (six episodes, April), Moonlight (four episodes, April), NCIS (seven episodes, April), Numb3rs (six episodes, April), Rules of Engagement (six episodes, April), Two and a Half Men (nine episodes, March), Without a Trace (six episodes, April).
Fox: Bones (four pre-strike episodes, two new, April).
NBC: 30 Rock (five episodes, April), ER (six episodes, April), Law & Order: SVU (five episodes, April), Law & Order (five episodes, April), Medium (six pre-strike episodes, seven new, April), My Name Is Earl (nine episodes, April), The Office (six episodes, April), Scrubs (five episodes, April).
CW: Aliens in America (eight pre-strike episodes, currently airing), Everybody Hates Chris (12 pre-strike episodes, currently airing), The Game (eight episodes, March), Gossip Girl (five episodes, April), One Tree Hill (five pre-strike episodes, six more, currently airing), Smallville (five episodes, April), Supernatural (four episodes, May).http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/tv/5545883.html