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TV Worth Watching Begs: Networks, Please, Renew These Shows
April 23, 2009  | By David Bianculli

Last year at about this time, ABC renewed Pushing Daisies, one of the best shows in its entire lineup -- then yanked it prematurely once the new season began. This year, with the announcements of next year's prime-time schedules only weeks away, there's still time for the networks to make some smart moves -- and some TV-improving renewals -- and, this time, stick with them. But will they?


Some good news is obvious already. NBC struck a two-year extension on the deal with DirecTV to share costs on the production of Friday Night Lights, so we'll have that fabulous show for a few more reasons, with Coach Taylor reassigned to a much lower-rent high school operation. That's terrific -- even if, by the time the episodes get to NBC, they're slightly used goods.

Fringe, on Fox, is a sure bet to return, and a quality show that deserves it. And one of the best new shows of the season, The Mentalist on CBS, also is by far the most popular among all new series, so its renewal is assured. Quality, in this case, has risen to the top of the ratings -- but that doesn't always happen. Quality TV shows, like orchids, can be hothouse flowers that need a lot of nurturing and patience.

Each network, right now, has some shows on the bubble that are likely to develop more in a sophomore season, or be better than most other things coming down the cost-crunched pipeline. If, that is the networks exercise taste and patience -- neither of which, of course, is in strong supply these days.

At ABC, that includes new shows Better Off Ted and Castle, and the still-delightful Scrubs, pulled from NBC's Death Row this season.

At CBS, The New Adventures of Old Christine is such a funny show, the only reason I can imagine CBS might not renew it is that no one at the network's Black Rock headquarters is actually watching it.

At NBC, two veteran shows, My Name Is Earl and Medium, aren't as tired as they should be after this much time, and have earned the right for another year.

And at Fox, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has presented enough inventive surprises and twists to keep the story going. If Fox doesn't renew the show, some cable network should.

But there are two shows TV Worth Watching is begging to see come back -- even if rescued by another network. NBC's Life is one. Fox's Dollhouse is another.


Life, staring Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi, is almost certainly a goner at NBC. The 10 p.m. Leno decision saw to that, since there are few places to put Life, and its ratings are too modest to argue for its return by any measure other than quality.

Yet the show and the performances are so good, I hate to see it go. The season finale -- which could well be the series finale -- was unexpected and understated enough to provide a haunting coda to the year. But I want more. This is actually the kind of show that would work on Fox (quirky character in the lead) or CBS (self-contained murders, cleverly solved) equally well. Someone, please, let Life live.


Then there's Dollhouse. The latest Joss Whedon series hasn't done that well in the Friday night limbo slot where Fox stuck it, and isn't a good bet for renewal. But last week, the return of Prison Break drew significantly fewer viewers in the same time slot, especially among the younger demographic, so maybe the executives at Fox -- smart and tasteful ones, as TV executives go -- will rethink, and renew.

That would be wonderful, because Dollhouse really kicked into a higher gear the last several episodes, and a second season would be sure to mature significantly. Season two was when Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel deepened and blossomed, and Fox never let Firefly get to a second season. Please, please, don't make the same mistake with Dollhouse.

Or, if Fox lets it go, someone else should pick it up. These shows shouldn't die prematurely, as Daisies did.




Ellen said:

I agree with you about "Life" being that good of a show. I haven't felt so strongly about a TV show in years.

Comment posted on April 23, 2009 9:19 AM

T said:

I, apparently, am one of five allegedly video-discriminating people in this country who doesn't share a passion for "Friday Night Lights."
And I think such rejection has been genetically built into me over years as a defense mechanism. Too often, really good hour-long series have been put on the schedule, only to have styrofoam-brained network executives pull the show too early and without an even-marginal reason.
Get involved, they ask us. We do. Become fans. Become emotionally and intellectually indebted. Then they tell us to get lost.
In real life, rejection is awful. TV is several arms-lengths away, but it still makes no sense to make yourself vulnerable when the people in charge are suit-wearing fruit flies. (Hmmm. Using the same reasoning, it might explain why I'm not dating right now. I prefer to think it's because of The Book, but... -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 23, 2009 9:23 AM

Raked said:

I completely agree with Dollhouse. I don't think I really need to spend time on that argument.

But Scrubs... I'm a huge fan. I love the show. But it's time to go. If it's renewed, it's without some of the main characters (including possibly Zach Braff), and I just think it's run its course. They'd turn it into a show about the interns, and that just will be low quality and kill the show we've all come to love. Glad ABC brought it back, but let it be for its final season.

Oh, and surprised you didn't mention the CW at all. People are weeping over the unknown future of Privileged and Reaper. (I'm not, I guess. Privileged never got me, and Reaper lost me, though I'm still watching. And while I love Everybody Hates Chris, that's a show, like your take on Scrubs, that I feel really has run its course. For me, though, Scrubs still works. -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 23, 2009 9:44 AM

R. Orr said:

I'd like to see one other show added to the list. I enjoy Life and Dollhouse, but Chuck is a simply delightful show to watch - and I think it deserves at least one more season.

I love television - and yet am increasing tired of being bombarded with new series that last no more than 8-10 episodes before they are yanked and replaced by another new series. It's frustrating and it makes me hesitant to watch shows like Dollhouse, Castle, Life, etc...I don't want to invest time into tv shows that have a short life span. I love stories that are long, complicated, and involved (ie. Lost, BSG - and I'm so thankful these shows weren't cancelled prematurely). But I'm losing faith that network executives can give us quality programming that can really give us stories worth investing time in. (I enjoy Chuck a lot, too, and have watched every episode. But I feel NBC just has too few time slots left, post-Leno, to beg for everything -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 23, 2009 12:15 PM

Vandermint said:

NBC's "Kings" deserves a mention. It's probably way too expensive to have a prayer, but it's the best new show I've seen this season, and there's so many fascinating ways a show like that could evolve. I know it won't be back, but it (and Ian McShane) should.

I love Joss Whedon. But I want him to get a chance to move on to something that moves his soul, and it's clear (to me) that Dollhouse doesn't.

Comment posted on April 23, 2009 2:27 PM

shauna said:

And what's going on with Bones? Such a fantastic show, but it looks like they're trying to kill it with all these crazy time slots. (Bones, by all indications, is safe. Fox just has a lot of holes to fill as American Idol shrinks, with fewer contestants, and hours. -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 23, 2009 3:36 PM

Russ said:

Thank you, David, for recognizing and pronouncing LIFE's greatness. It has been one of my two favorite shows for the past two years (along with the now-retired BATTLESTAR GALACTICA). I hope to see more of Detectives Crews and Reese next year and hope this show can migrate to another network, if necessary. NBC never gave it any promotional support, not knowing the great piece of work it possessed. They were too busy promoting Bionic Woman (canceled), My Own Worst Enemy (canceled), and Knight Rider (canceled). No wonder NBC is a ratings wasteland.

Somebody, please renew LIFE for a third season!

Comment posted on April 24, 2009 4:12 AM

Luke said:

Can't agree enough with you about Life. The season finale was awesome and it'll be real bummer if that last we see of Charlie Crews.

For Dollhouse it took me a while to get into even though I love all things Whedon. I now think that it worth saving if possible.

Better Off Ted is by far my favorite new sitcom of 2009. I hope that Ted and the gang get a chance for more wacky hijinks.

Comment posted on April 24, 2009 10:47 AM

Patrick Horn said:

It is the best show on TV. Where do I sign up to help bring it back?

Comment posted on May 24, 2009 1:15 AM

Gina said:

Join the twitter community #bringbacklife and tweet all your friends! Write to the USA Network and ask them to air this program! Email the LA Times TV reporter - mary.mcnamara@latimes.com. If she gets enough letters she'll write a column. We need to get noise out there! Fellow LIFErs unite! (I'm leaving the email address intact, because this is such a worthy, albeit probably fruitless, cause -- but my take on this is, if any columnist's fervor hinges upon the opinions and quantity of readers, that's not a very passionate columnist. I'm just saying. And not because anyone wrote in to ask me to.-- David B.)

Comment posted on May 26, 2009 10:01 PM

Miserable Tom said:

Life is my all time favorite show and I am very disappointed with NBC for canceling the show. I don't understand their reasoning at all and I'd love to meet up with their marketing/promotion department to tell them what I think of their marketing skills 'cause getting a show like Life canceled that takes serious skills in screwing up.

Comment posted on August 3, 2009 9:33 PM
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