The news of showrunner Glen Mazzara leaving The Walking Dead over creative differences with the network last week is hardly a surprise: Hell on Wheels just hired its third show runner in three years, and the tense Breaking Bad and Mad Men negotiations of recent memory are ugly blemishes for a network with an increasingly unstable relationship with its creative minds. Many have suggested that AMC merely stumbled upon these amazing series and will fade as quickly as they appeared – their recent dips into reality television with Small Town Security and Comic Men certainly won’t be viable replacements, nor will the much maligned, rain-soaked The Killing. They have three interesting pilots on the horizon (including a sci-fi series called Thunderstruck) but if AMC’s reptuation continues to sour, they’re going to have a hard time replicating the success of the last three years.
I really wanted to like The Newsroom, but the self-righteous tone, constant Republican criticism, and awful female characters turned off many critics (including myself) from the get-go, lacking in ideological nuance and realistic characters. Sorkin didn’t take the criticism lightly, replacing many of the writers and adding conservative consultants to his staff for the second season. It remains to be seen if the show will ever become as compelling as The West Wing or Sports Night (his best show, in my opinion), but one thing was clear: 2012 was a humbling year for Aaron Sorkin, who’d been riding on his Hollywood goodwill from penning The Social Network and Moneyball. Will it be able to recover and become the great cable drama about news it purports itself to be? We’ll see what direction the second season takes (which may tackle the 2012 election) when it premieres in June.
Fans of comedy shows had a lot to love on the Big Four in 2012 – but there was also a lot of frustration. Sub-par comedies like Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family continue to dominate the airwaves, while creative shows like Community and Happy Endings fight through schedule changes, hiatuses, and small audiences to keep their heads above water. Promising shows like Bent were cancelled far too soon, while networks threw their support behind stinkers like The Neighbors, Guys With Kids, and Partners (… let’s not even talk about Work It! or Rob).
With networks so focused on ratings (especially the advertising g-spot known as the 18-34 crowd), there are less and less risks being taken with network comedies. Even low-concept shows like Ben and Kate (the best new show of the fall) and Don’t Trust the B In Apt. 23 are struggling to garner the support of networks, who are taking a severe approach to the business of comedic television. But as long as audiences are giggling along to the anal rape jokes of 2 Broke Girls and tired “storyline” of How I Met Your Mother, there isn’t a lot of hope for the future of shows like Parks & Recreation, even with critical acclaim. If networks don’t start rethinking their business models, we’re going to see more moves like Cougar Town moving to TBS, and the revival of Arrested Development by Netflix in 2013.
Is Parks and Recreation the best show on television? It’s certainly the mostheartwarming, with an ever-evolving cast of hilarious characters and relationships. And of all the relationships on tv comedies and dramas, there isn’t a better on-screen pairing than Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope, two people whose contrasting personalities don’t always have to lead to drawn out misunderstandings and spats of insult-flinging (a low form of comedy many other shows are willing to degrade their characters with). Like every other relationship on the show, Ben and Leslie’s relationship feels layered and sincere – seeing them celebrate her city council victory was one of the most touching moments I’ve ever seen in a comedy – and who doesn’t want them to get their happy ending?
Just because Jersey Shore is ending, doesn’t mean we’re starting to see the end of the reality TV era – there are dozens of My Babies’ Mamas, Dance Moms, and whatever a Honey Boo-Boo is to come along and replace them. They’re cheaper than real television (both in scripting, production, and casting), and somehow, people are still buying into the idea that what happens on-screen is reality. Singing competitions are reduced to shows like X Factor and The Voice, where constant rule changes are the norm, and the celebrities ‘judging’ overshadow anybody who enters or wins.
But the worst is the Real Housewives and Basketball Wives model, shows that are not only degrading to the female race in their misogynistic constructions and portrayals (although some of it comes from the “personalities” of these deplorable, self-centered characters), but encourage the celebrity of idiot caricatures, who undoutably stand to crash and burn personally and publicly when the cameras and paychecks go away (look at Teen Mom or Octomom doing porn to pay rent, for great examples of this). But as a society, we continue to eat up the Shahs of Sunsets, Storage Wars, and Survivors of the world, so don’t look for any channel to shy away from the formulaic faux drama of reality television to go anywhere in 2013… with closing profit margins for cable channels and networks, its only going to continue.