DAVID BIANCULLI

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News, Comedy, Drama -- Broadcast TV's Shining Examples of Each
February 21, 2011  | By David Bianculli
 
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Except for sports, most broadcast TV genres just aren't as dominant, or even as good, as they used to be. But though cable has grabbed most of the ground and momentum, there are still islands of excellence where broadcast television proves, week in and week out, it still can present the best. Ladies and gentlemen, as Exhibits A through C, I give you: 60 Minutes for news, Modern Family for comedy, and The Good Wife for Drama...

The Good Wife, with its most recent episode, knocked me out. Not only did it advance several stories at once -- the legal case of the week, the political machinations of Peter's election campaign, Alicia's long-simmering uncertainty about her relationship with colleague Will -- but it gave Archie Panjabi, as investigator Kalinda, one of broadcast TV's sexiest scenes in recent memory.

Then, right after that, it gave her another one.

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The first had Kalinda dealing with a seductive job offer from a female FBI agent -- an offer delivered as that same agent, who has been after Kalinda for a while, strategically removed her shoe, extended her foot and aggressively placed it under cover of the restaurant tablecloth. Yikes.

Then Kalinda left that assignation to encounter Blake, a private investigator with whom she also has a tempestuous history.

Their hotel room scene together was a molten-hot tango of smoldering distrust: frisking one another, stripping to prove no one was wearing a wire, then kissing passionately after all the posturing foreplay. Except that, after all that, Kalinda hit Blake in the side with a baseball bat, crumpling him to the ground. Double yikes.

Broadcast TV has constraints that cable TV doesn't, but I don't remember seeing any one scene that sexy elsewhere on TV this season -- much less two in a row.

But what's most impressive about The Good Wife is what it shares with both Modern Family and 60 Minutes: Its overall intelligence, and its deep, talented roster.

The Good Wife is Julianna Margulies' show, and she's great as Alicia -- a stone face of withheld reactions, for the most part, unless her brother squeezes them out of her. But it's also a show where you could happily follow, or even give the lead to, a ridiculously long parade of other players.

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Without complaint, it could be Chris Noth's show, zeroing in on his political fortune as ex-con Peter Florrick. Or it could be Alan Cumming's show, embodying the spirit of The West Wing as Eli, Peter's super-savvy campaign manager. It could be Josh Charles' show as law partner Will, or Christine Baranski's show as fellow partner Diane. Scott Porter as Blake, and Matt Czuchry as Cary, are fascinating as unblinking adversaries -- and Panjabi, as Kalinda, already has stolen enough scenes to earn a spinoff.

So, for that matter, has Michael J. Fox, after two appearances as devious attorney Louis Canning. And the judges... well, I could keep going and going, and raving and praising, but that's precisely the point. The scripts and the acting are equally superb in The Good Wife -- more than enough to qualify it as A Great Drama. Watch it Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

As for the other shows I mentioned, 60 Minutes is televised Sundays at 7 p.m. ET on CBS, continuing a tradition of not underestimating the audience that it has maintained for a mind-blowing 43 years. Sunday's episode was a perfet example of the show's usually perfect blend.

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For breaking news, there was the national scoop of the first TV interview with Sen. Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who earned the state seat previously held by Democrat Ted Kennedy. Lesley Stahl profiled him about his new book, which contains very personal insights about childhood physical and sexual abuse -- but got to the heart of his independent political stance as well.

On the international scene, there was Bob Simon's explanation of how a fruit vendor's frustration in Tunisia led to the current waves of revolution rocking the Middle East. Then there was Scott Pelley's look at the history behind the movie The King's Speech -- not only interviewing stars Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, both of whom are up for Oscars this weekend, but the grandson of the speech therapist played by Rush.

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A big bonus there: He shared with 60 Minutes the original copy of the speech given by King George VI, complete with markings for stutter-avoiding pauses.

One wonderful story after another, delivered by one skilled TV reporter after another. On broadcast TV, there is no equal to 60 Minutes, and never has been.

And, finally, there's Modern Family, shown by ABC Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET.

Rather than belabor the point about the intelligence (what a smart, funny comedy it is!) of this series, and its remarkable cast (is there anyone on this show who can't, or hasn't, made you laugh out loud?), I'll just beg you to watch it, if you aren't already.

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Give all six of the leading adult players their props: Ed O'Neill (as Jay) is drier than dust, Sofia Vergara (as Jay's younger wife, Gloria) is a spit-take spitfire, Ty Burrell (as Phil) has a perfect self-deprecating deadpan, Julie Bowen (as Phil's wife and Jay's daughter) is an alluring mix of uneasy insecurity and effortless sex appeal...

And last but certainly not least, there are Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet (as, respectively, Jay's gay son Mitchell and Mitchell's significant other, the needy and showy Cameron), seen at the top of this column with Cameron in his alter ego Fizbo clown costume. Ferguson and Stonestreet, as Michaell and Cameron, may well be the funniest TV couple of the decade.

All three shows are brilliant. And -- here's a statement I can't say a lot -- you don't need cable to watch any of them.

 

4 Comments

 

Neil said:

Just one quibble, DB. You wrote: "On broadcast TV, there is no equal to 60 Minutes, and never has been."

I'd take issue with the word "broadcast" in that sentence. I doubt there's been an equal to 60 Minutes anywhere on TV, including free and pay cable. At least not in the USA. Maybe on the BBC or CBC or another country's airwaves. But not here.

Though not always perfect, 60 Minutes stands alone.

Comment posted on February 21, 2011 5:45 PM


Davey said:

I agree with Neil about the "broadcast" limitation. I can't think of any cable news show that even lives in the same universe as 60M, or that even deserves an unqualified designation as "news". However, I can't agree that 60 Minutes stands alone: Frontline and Independent Lens, on PBS are very different formats, but the CBS program's equal in terms of quality, seems to me.

As for the Good Wife, it does have one large flaw: the idiot children, whose serial missteps serve only as irrelevant irritations. I faithfully watch the show, but can't agree that it stands out from the crowd as clearly as 60 Minutes does.

Comment posted on February 22, 2011 1:08 PM


Neil said:

At the risk of turning this into a dialogue with Davey, let me amend my earlier comment.

I did consider Frontline when I wrote the comment. But it's a different kind of program. It's long-form investigative journalism, picking a single topic and dissecting it in depth. And they do an admirable job, often producing fascinating television.

60 Minutes is a newsmagazine, and as DB said, it blends breaking news, investigative pieces, celebrity profiles and the occasional historical piece (and commentary, such as it is, when you throw Andy Rooney into the mix).

There are a few other PBS programs that are excellent in their own right. NOVA and American Masters pop to mind. (Independent Lens may also qualify, but due to when it's scheduled out my way, I don't often view it.) But it's not really an apples-to-apples comparison to equate them to 60M, which competes in a commercial universe in a different format.

[I guess I really should have added 'commercial' to 'broadcast network TV,' so my intentions would have been clear. I agree completely that Frontline bows to no one, and I've raved often about 'P.O.V.' and 'Independent Lens' -- but on the commercial networks, 60 Minutes reigns supreme. Then comes Sunday Morning, also on CBS, and then everyone else. -- DB]

Comment posted on February 22, 2011 1:48 PM


Eileen said:

There is only one 60 Minutes, and even after all these years it's still at the top of its game.

I don't watch The Good Wife, but I just might start after your raves. The people I know who watch it just love it, so I may join those late to the table.

Modern Family is great. Look how far "Al Bundy" has come. Years ago when I watched Married with Children, I just loved Al. I figured this was a one shot deal for Ed O'Neill. Is my face red!! Same for "Peg Bundy". The ever talented Katy Segal was just perfect as Al's bubbleheaded, sex crazed, lazy wife Peg; again, I couldn't picture Katy in any other role. Wrong! She's just terrific in Sons of Anarchy.

I'm glad to see that both of them landed so nicely on their feet. They are multi-talented, and both seem to be great people. Good for them, and good for the viewing public. Nice guys & gals do finish first.

[Dear Eileen -- You're too smart and tasteful not to try 'Good Wife.' Report back. I promise you'll love it, or your money back. Remember, though, this website is free... -- DB]

Comment posted on February 22, 2011 7:32 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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