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TNT's "HawthoRNe": Is Cable TV Trying Too Much AND Too Little?
June 16, 2009  | By David Bianculli

There is much to salute about TNT's HawthoRNe, the new drama series premiering tonight at 9 p.m. ET -- first and foremost, that this program about a dedicated nurse stars Jada Pinkett Smith, making it one of the still-rare weekly series centered around a black lead. But there's much to regret, too, in how ordinary, rather than extraordinary, its first installment comes off..

The triumph is that Smith's role is part of the sadly short continuum of solo starring roles by black women. Start in 1950, with Ethel Waters as the first of three actresses to play the role of the maternal maid in ABC's Beulah. Jump to 1968, with Diahann Carroll playing a widowed nurse and single parent in NBC's Julia. Then to 1974, with Teresa Graves as a sassy undercover cop in ABC's Get Christie Love -- the first drama, rather than a sitcom, to he headlined solely by an African-American woman.

And then, what? I adored Regina Taylor's role as Lilly Harper in NBC's 1991 civil rights drama I'll Fly Away, but, like Cicely Tyson opposite George C. Scott in 1963's East Side/West Side on CBS, she was a co-star (with Sam Waterston), not a solo lead. Most other meaty dramatic TV roles for black women, similarly, have been part of equally strong ensembles.


So HawthoRNe (how I hate that cutesy upper-case RN), with Smith as both star and executive producer, is significant, without question. Two things, however, bother me.

One is that Smith's Christina Hawthorne is such a noble, flawless character, she may as well be Julia 2.0, 40 years after Diahann Carroll's picture-perfect registered nurse. This was acceptable in the days of Marcus Welby, M.D., when TV medical practitioners were god, but not more recently, post-St. Elsewhere, when they've been flawed.

The other troublesome aspect is that this series comes from John Masius, who was Tom Fontana's writing partner ON St. Elsewhere. He broke the mold then, but is settling for filling the mold now. HawthoRNe is not a bad series, but it's average. And if cable TV is going to pick up the ball that broadcast TV is dropping, it shouldn't do average.

TNT, this year, may be overreaching, and trying to add too many new series without making each of them distinctive and outstanding. FX and AMC, so far, have maintained the proper balance by presenting few original series, but making each of them count. For TNT, less may be more -- and Hawthorne, at first glance, adds to TNT's total, but not to its luster.




Davey said:

Saw the trailers (or whatever you call them for TV shows). Won't be watching. It was all noble poses, tortured heroism, bad and cliched writing. This series looks like the antithesis of House -- all icky "uplift" and hallmark moments instead of crabby realism about what people are like. I have to wonder why this isn't on Lifetime.

(2nd try to get past the crummy captcha)

Comment posted on June 16, 2009 1:03 PM

Davey said:

Off topic, re the Best Bets: Will the Welles films be cut/edited? Interrupted? Colorized? If any of the above is the case I'd rather just rent/buy the DVDs. (No, TCM is a cinema lovers' dream: Movies are unedited, uninterrupted, no commercials, no colorization. That's why TCM is one of the very best cable networks, period. -- David B.)

Comment posted on June 16, 2009 1:07 PM

John Q Citizen said:

Don't let Will Smith's Scientology friends in the media hear you say that. Plus I'm sure there are PC concerns too. You are only allowed to be critical of devout conservative efforts and MTV. Who will they blame if this vanilla show fails? not me.

Comment posted on June 16, 2009 1:08 PM

maggie in nj said:

Not to change the subject, but I *really* want to know how many Digital Converter Boxes you had to hook up this weekend.... (It was my first weekend since finishing the book, so I spent my time with friends and alcohol instead. But I do have a mess in store, and will have to reroute 8 sets of my 12-set TV wall downstairs. Sigh. -- David B.)

Comment posted on June 16, 2009 1:49 PM

marcille said:

Can we say, Where's the african-american men? Oh, they have one -- he was just accused of abuse. Thanks, Jada...

Comment posted on August 17, 2010 9:56 PM
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