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Why 'Men of a Certain Age' Should Be Sent to a Home -- For Terrific, Underappreciated TV
July 18, 2011  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment
 
men-of-certtain-age-peabody.jpg

The same year it earned a Peabody Award, and the same week it was handed a second Emmy nomination for Andre Braugher as Outstanding Supporting Dramatic Actor, Men of a Certain Age was awarded by TNT Friday by being given its pink slip.

After two excellent seasons, the series, starring and co-created by Ray Romano, is no more. But like many terrific TV shows before it that suffer a premature death, it deserved, and earned, a different fate.

It deserved to be shipped off to a home...

Specifically, a home where all intelligent, entertaining television series should go when they die. Either to be have their lives extended by ordering new episodes, or, at least, embracing and welcoming their body of work and gathering quality TV, and a love for it, in one convenient place.

mad_men_peggy.jpg

I'm not talking about networks who have made, and continue to make, their reputations by making a point of presenting daring, smart TV shows. AMC, for example, with Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. FX, with Rescue Me and Louie. HBO and Showtime, and so on.

I'm talking, instead, about a place to go for shows, from those networks and others, that don't continue to make the cut -- but that deserve a better fate.

Currently, satellite television's DirecTV is the best example of this: It cut a deal to extend NBC's Friday Night Lights by two seasons, and last week began production of new episodes of Damages, starring Glenn Close, after FX opted to let it go. DirecTV also recently reran, in high definition, every episode of HBO's Deadwood, and currently is recycling HBO's The Wire and importing a gritty Australian crime series, Underbelly.

But DirecTV, reportedly, is about to change its focus somewhat. Meanwhile, there's been no real replacement, for years, for Trio's "Brilliant...But Cancelled" showcase (or, for that matter, for Trio), which proudly presented shows that either were killed prematurely or that never got past the pilot stages.

I suggest it's time for an entire network where TV brilliance, recent and vintage, is celebrated, and treated properly. That could have been, and should still be, TV Land, but that network long ago abdicated its throne through a mixture of horrendous programming choices and a counter-intuitive desire to chase the same youthful demographic as every other cable network.

Imagine a network where you could go to revisit recently cancelled series -- series that deserved a longer run, that is. If the network's a cash cow, they could extend the series. If not, the network could at least present it with pride, pairing it with others of its quality ilk.

24_pushingdaisies.jpg

Think of the shows that would be on such a network right now. Not only Men of a Certain Age, but AMC's Rubicon. FX's Lights Out. NBC's Life. And, of course, ABC's Pushing Daisies.

These shows would be presented intact, as a TV equivalent of Turner Classic Movies. No commercials interrupting the programs, only between presentations. Classic series -- going all the way back to, say, East Side, West Side and Route 66 and He & She -- would be presented without edits, and without speeding up the tape or film to cram more ad time into each hour.

Shows also could be presented, a la TCM, by a host, or by an enthusiastic roundtable -- or could gather cast reunions and do interstitial interviews to put shows in context, as producer Paul Brownstein once did for E!'s cable-premiere showing of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

So I have two questions for you.

One: Which shows would you most like to see on such a network? Quality shows, whether recent or dusty, that had too short a run, and that deserve a second chance, or at least a comfortable second home? (The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, by the way, would be a prime candidate for this.)

Two: What should such a network be called?

I'm having a problem with this one. I like the idea of a "Phoenix" network, because these are shows that, one way or another, would rise from the ashes. And I like putting some sort of qualitative description in the network title, too, like Excellence or Masterpiece or Quality.

But the Phoenix Masterpiece Service, while it might sound good in full, would cause real problems with TV listings pages and services.

Who wants to list, much less watch, a network with the initials PMS?

 

28 Comments

 

Christina said:

So many times this website has set me up with a show that would have never caught my eye on its own. So, I give it a try with one episode, and I become a bit interested. By the second or third episode, I'm completely smitten. We last one, maybe two seasons, but just when I think this is going to be a long term thing, the network dumps them. And with a heavy heart, I delete yet another season pass.

So I wonder, is it better to have watched and lost, than never to have watched at all?

[Dear Christina -- I say it's better to have watched and lost, and I love the way you put that. Then again, I am quite gun-shy about dating again at the moment, so I get your point, and your analogy. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 9:17 AM


Sophia said:

My So-Called Life

Acme Quality TV

[Ah, named after the old Wile E. Coyote mail-order firm. Brilliant! -- DSB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 9:33 AM


Stewart said:

For programs that were originally shown on commercial TV, I wouldn't even mind commercials, as long as the program is shown in its entirety, at the speed intended. But those hosts and roundtables are a great idea.

As far as the shows go: "Frank's Place", "Doctor, Doctor", "Days and Nights of Molly Dodd", "Paper Chase", "St. Elsewhere", "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", "Kate & Allie", "East Side/West Side", "That Girl", "Harry O", "Pushing Daisies", "Karen Sisco", "Eyes", "Brooklyn Bridge", "Buffalo Bill", "The Bob Newhart Show", "Slings & Arrows", "Northern Exposure", etc.

I also love the clips of old variety shows on YouTube. Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Dinah Shore, Garry Moore, etc. It would be great to see those shows in (what remains of) their entirety.

I still hope someone will revive "Men of a Certain Age".

[Fabulous list. Sigh, sigh, sigh: Molly Dodd... -- DB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 10:03 AM


Paul I. said:

Great idea. I'd program "Once and Again" for starters. The demise of that show was frustrating to say the least.

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 10:21 AM


Anonyms said:

Great idea but if this requires payment as in cable, those like myself who are amongst the now long term unemployed and living now solely on social security, will not be able to be a loyal viewer.

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 10:22 AM


patti said:

I'm lost as far as the name for the network. I do like your Phoenix idea. The show I long to see again and this new network would be the ideal place is "Frank's Place".

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 10:24 AM


ceolaf said:

You've mentioned the ones that matter to me.

Friday Night Lights. The best couple on TV, ever.

Rubicon. Great pacing.

Deadwood. Best dialogue ever? Incredible cast. I watched with wonder and joy every week.

John From Cincinnati. Pacing, again. Building towards a real story, rather than trite little episodes. Of course, David Milch means great writing and dialogue.

Heck, we could just call it MilchTV. A network for shows that trust their audience. Shows that are patient and complex. Writing that challenges the viewer to keep up.

We could call the One Task, because it would be full of shows that you dare not try to multi-task through.

But we would need another network, too. There are those shows that lost it along the way. Shows that looked like they would be this good, this smart, this thoughtful, this challenging, but didn't quite keep at that level. Battlestar Galactica (2004) is my prime example. Season 1 was that good and smart. The rest of it was just as well acted and produced. But the basic story and the issues at play were never that good again.

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 10:54 AM


Eileen said:

From your great commentary, is there time on your schedule to run a tv network? You'd be the Robert Osbourne of the "everything old is new again" channel. And that would be all good.

I visualize a station called "Resurrection". People would tune in thinking it was a site for werewolves and vampires, but would be so pleasantly surprised that they would stay the course.

Of course on the schedule would be Pushing Daisies, one of the most delightful shows of recent years. I'd love to see new life for New Adventures of Old Christine which really died much too prematurely. I loved Providence, Life with Bonnie and Cybil, among others. And your mention of the "oldies" -- I wouldn't even know where to begin with some of those great 60s shows, both comedy and drama.

My niece works in programming for WE, and their schedule is pretty dry right now; I'll have to speak with her. Imagine the advertising campaign when "Women's Entertainment takes on Men of a Certain Age"!

[Believe me, Eileen, the last thing I was thinking about when suggesting this network, and a host, was adding to my own workload. But hey -- a TVWW Network would make sense, doesn't it? Which is why it'll never happen. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 11:05 AM


Alex F. said:

Good column, as always--but I have to say that as much as I enjoyed Men of a Certain Age, I thought it ended with a sense of completion. The big character arcs felt resolved, or at least brought to a natural grace note, and while I'd gladly watch more, I think the two seasons will stand alone well as a self-contained whole.

As for the questions...

The show I'd most like to see rebroadcast is FX's "Lucky" with John Corbett. A fantastic, dark, funny half-hour "dramedy" about a gambling addict and professional poker player. It's not even available on DVD, so the episodes seem entirely lost to the world!

And the network name? How about "Last Call"? "Retrovision"? "Elysium"? "Revival"? (Okay, that sounds like a Christian ministry network. This is hard!)

[Hard, but funny. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 11:19 AM


Dana said:

- Terriers, formally at FX deserves to be in that home!

- The network should be called eternity.

[Ha. See Alex's comment below... -- DB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 11:30 AM


Davey said:

We already have such a network, at least potentially -- it's called PBS. If its management could get its head out of its youknowwhat and figure out what century this is, it could improve its programming, win much bigger audiences, and get more public support by picking up top-quality orphaned and rejected shows from the networks. I think the move would generate the resources they need to keep it going.

This route would let them gradually build up a stable of creators who could unleash their talents on something beyond the 40-minute, constantly interrupted constraints of commercial television. Which is exactly what they're supposed to exist for, and what they used to do to some extent. The irony is that that's exactly what they do do for other commercial offerings, as long as they're from Britain, Australia, or Canada.

Should such a dream ever come to pass, I would hope they ignore your wish for the old shows. Route 66, for example, was junk then and still is. We already get enough empty nostalgia from PBS.

PS -- going on the third try to get this post entered. I thought you were going to dump this evil "character enter" setup for something that works????

[Sorry. We ARE working on fixing things... but glacially. I think we're talking about two different networks here. I don't want PBS showing old series either -- I want PBS showing great NEW stuff. That's why a channel of classic shows, new and old, should NOT be on public TV. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 3:03 PM


Ed Quigley said:

Excellent but sad topic. A few shows that jump right out for me, besides the ones mentioned above, are Arrested Development, Firefly, Sports Night, Fawlty Towers (cancelled by Cleese but still prematurely cancelled), Veronica Mars (my wife still isn't over that one) and Dead Like Me. I know there are more especially some British programs whose runs were woefully short but that's a good start.

[Great choices all. Thanks, Ed. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 3:07 PM


pjlyall said:

WHATEVER it's called (Turner Classic Television? ted??), i'd be watching! can't believe Men was cancelled, what were they thinking?

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 5:43 PM


amber said:

west wing. arguably only the first 4 seasons count. but that was the best show on tv. hands down. made me cry and want to be a better person. jed/leo best love affair ever depicted.

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 5:48 PM


Mac said:

This is the number one topic why the blog should have a forum function because as the days go by, I could think of many. Two recommendations with an actor and time frame in common: Frank Converse,1967. The shows: "Coronet Blue" and "N.Y.P.D". "CB" had a little "Fugitive",a little "Prisoner"and exlemplified paranoia before paranoia was cool (after that Summer of Love, paranoia would strike deep and into your life it would creep).The early days of TV Land showed a couple of episodes, but in horrid time slots.N.Y.P.D.,with an episode of NYPD Blue after would be interesting contrast. Having just read the wiki on CB, it's interesting that this show has ties to the most obvious of shows to get the TCM-for-TV treatment: "The Defenders".

[Yes! The Defenders! And The Senator! -- DB]

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 5:55 PM


LarenR said:

The show I'd love to see more of (or at least see again) is Sports Night. Aaron Sorkin's first TV show, it had his trademark rhythms and wit, but with less gravitas and agenda than The West Wing. It had a solid cast with great chemistry.

The show's problem was that no one knew how to classify it. It was a dramedy before that was a word. This was summed up perfectly in the tagline from one ABC promotion I remember: The best drama on TV is a 30-minute comedy.

And what should we call this network? The Always Great, Always Ignored Network. It's a mouthful, but the acronym sums it up: AGAIN!

Comment posted on July 18, 2011 6:23 PM


Laurel G. said:

I would nominate Firefly and Wonderfalls. I would call the network, "What You Oughta Be Watching! - WYOBW!"

[Trips off the tongue AND jumps out in the listings, right? -- DB]

Comment posted on July 19, 2011 8:15 AM


Lynne said:

Arrested Development of course...

Comment posted on July 19, 2011 8:48 AM


Zin said:

Freaks & Geeks, Brooklyn Bridge, Pushing Daisies, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Sports Night.

Phoenix Studios?

[I like Phoenix Studios. The initials would be PS -- like an afterthought... -- DB]

Comment posted on July 19, 2011 10:38 AM


Phil Jones said:

Why would Andre Braugher be nominated as a supporting actor? All three of them are on about the same.

[It's their choice - and the choices usually have to do with strategic advantage, compared to other potential nominees. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 19, 2011 10:51 AM


Linda said:

I was about to write and just say "Amen!" when I saw that you gave us homework, Professor! Ok...I'll play along...

Shows that I'd like to put on the network? The list is far too long but to name a few: Life (as you mentioned); EZ Streets; Brooklyn Bridge; Jack & Bobby (I'm still mourning that cancellation); Frank's Place; The Unusuals; Ed (lasted longer than most but still!); The Middleman; Sports Night; Studio 60; Terriers; Mercy; Boomtown; Eli Stone -- did I mention Jack & Bobby? And, while it doesn't really need anyone's help, I'd like to add Law & Order to the list because, well, do I need to say why?

The name of the network? How about Quality Interrupted?

[Ooooh, you watch a LOT of good TV, Linda. Brooklyn Bridge, Jack & Bobby, and, another sigh, EZ Streets... -- my, my. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 19, 2011 12:14 PM


Stewart said:

"Lucky" is a great call. It additionally starred Craig Robinson from "The Office" and Billy Gardell, now on "Mike and Molly". Someone should at least rebroadcast that one.

"Titus" would be a good addition too, along with anything starring Bonnie Hunt.

Comment posted on July 19, 2011 3:48 PM


Omer said:

Mentioning Tom Cavanaugh and "Ed", why not the short-lived CBS show about the music business, "Love Monkey"?

Comment posted on July 19, 2011 4:22 PM


Dave said:

Add me to the list for SportsNight -- one of the single greatest sitcoms ever. Firefly. Frank's Place. Taxi. Police Squad (either you loved it, or hated it -- no middle ground with Leslie Nielsen and sight gags). And reserve a place now for Burn Notice when it goes off-air.

Names: I like AGAIN, noted above. ReView? How about just "Phoenix"? PlayBack?

[Oooh. ReView... That one's cool... You guys are so clever. And Frank's Place. AbsoLUTEly. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 19, 2011 4:43 PM


Mary said:


Worst Week - I loved it!

Small Screen Channel

Comment posted on July 20, 2011 10:43 AM


Mary said:


Boomtown
Absolutely Fabulous
Jack & Bobby
Worst Week
Studio 60
Terriers
Once & Again
Sports Night
Studio 60

Small Screen Collection Channel

Texas Forever!

Comment posted on July 20, 2011 4:59 PM


Mara said:

I am a bit late to this discussion, but I was distracted... I agree with many of the suggestions here, and can think of nothing to add but The Comeback. It was a brilliant and painfully hilarious satire of reality television that was ahead of its time and only lasted for one season on the Sundance Channel. I think it was superb, and I wish it had been given more of a chance.

And while I'm on the subject of Lisa Kudrow, why no recommendation of Web Therapy on the 19th? I watched the shortened on-line version, and it was very funny and had some fantastic guest stars. It is another one of those awkward faux reality shows, but I think it will be a very funny half hour on an otherwise ho-hum TV night.

And I am disheartened about the cancellation of Men of a Certain Age, but after years of disappointments like this (that were well delineated here), I've almost come to expect it. But it still stings, and I will carry those characters around with me for awhile...

[Welcome to the discussion, however tardily. As for the Web Therapy question - it got crowded out and just missed the cut on premiere night, but may well appear in summer weeks to come. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 25, 2011 10:24 PM


Bryan Simpson said:

David, typically when a show is canceled I say good riddance. But I agree with your list, especially Rubicon. Rubicon was the 24 for non dummies. It tried to do something different and payed for it.

The BBC recently canceled a show called Survivors, depicting a group of strangers who meet after surviving a flu like epidemic that wipes out 99% of the world. Well acted and fully realized characters with thoughtful stories. Check it out on Netflix streaming.

Your Phoenix station is a great idea for TV snobs, but, for now, I'll settle for the two series above.

 
 
 
 
 
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Lee
Seeing Life With Bonnie again would be wonderful! Ernie Kovacs and The Smothers Brothers would also be worth viewing. As for the network's name? How about "GoodTV - where all the good shows have gone!"
Jun 27, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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