I've come to the conclusion that network television is in a rut.
On one network, NBC, it seems that there's only one successful formula--cops and lawyers. Four different variations on Law and Order, not only running on their regular nights but apparently used to fill space with reruns whenever some other show winds up in the rating cellar.
On another network, CBS, it's cops and science. Three versions of CSI, one variant that puts it in a military setting (NCIS), one that makes it psychology (Criminal Minds), and one that makes it mathematics (Numbers). Again, the CSI shows appear to be used as space-fillers in an emergency.
ABC, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have a successful "franchise" of any kind. Desperate Housewives is its big hit...but if there's a way to spin that off into other shows, they apparently haven't found it yet.
On Fox, the "franchise" is "reality"...largely based around American Idol. But I don't see the appeal to this show at all--quite frankly, there are better performers among my high-school senior's drama club...most of whom have no intention of going professional. Fox's one other notable show, House, seems to be taking a cue from CBS--forensic medicine, for lack of a better term.
WB? It's all teen angst, all the time. UPN? Other than shows aimed at the black, urban market, I can't see a strategy. No wonder these two are merging next year.
Situation comedy seems to have fallen into one of its periodic declines. (When Two and a Half Men is touted as TV's biggest comedy hit, you know you're in a decline.) And I don't think there's a Norman Lear or a Bill Cosby waiting in the wings these days to resuscitate it.
Seven years ago, I had high hopes that Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing would introduce new subjects and venues for TV drama. But it took that whole seven years for ABC to come up with Commander-in-Chief, a washed-out variation on its prececessor. And I wasn't really thinking then of a whole string of political dramas...I was hoping that the range of topics on Sorkin's show would lead some producer, somewhere, to find material in some other business or profession or concept.
Is the journalist so reviled in this day and age that there's no interest in a series about a reporter? (Make him a blogger if you want to make it "relevant" and "hip".) I thought NBC might be going somewhere with The Book of Daniel--surely there's room for an examination (serious, comedic, serio-comic) of the life of a member of the clergy beyond the platitudes of Seventh Heaven? Have Enron and Tyco and their ilk so turned us off that a series set in a major corporation has no chance?
For the record, I like the original CSI, the original L&O (and spin-off SVU), Criminal Minds, Numbers, and--to a lesser extent--Commander-in-Chief. But, at least recently, none of them has become for me what The West Wing once was, an "appointment"--a time when I would make a point of being in front of my set for the latest episode, when I was annoyed when it was pre-empted for a "special", or when I was disappointed when a real-life event conflicted with it.
I wish I had more "appointments" with my TV these days.