Premium for the People
Several people have remarked that it must be difficult to write about TV since the writers' strike started. While it can be a challenge, several interesting developments are on the TV horizon, developments that I believe will change the conventional TV landscape. For example, cable series are starting to migrate to broadcast TV, as in Showtime's Dexter coming to CBS and USA's Monk and Psych appearing on NBC.
While several network series find a second life on cable (CSI, Law & Order, and others), the migration of pay cable content to "free" TV is new. Dexter is the A-lister in this bunch. Will the critically acclaimed Showtime series starring Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) as a vigilante serial killer be cut to shreds in order to make it broadcast-ready? No, say network reps. Despite the gruesome subject matter, the violence and gore are not actually that explicit, they say. Minor editing should make Dexter ready for prime time and a much larger audience – an audience that has left TV now that most series have run out of fresh episodes since the writers' strike. This migration further dissolves what used to be a hard and fast line between "premium" content (cable) and plain, old-fashioned vanilla content on network TV. But not so fast: Monk and Psych aren't exactly high art. While award-winning actor Tony Shalhoub is marvelous as Adrian Monk, the detective with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the weak whodunit scripts simply don't match his performance. And Psych is just too silly to dislike. Also a detective series, this one stars James Roday as a gadabout who poses as a psychic to solve crimes, while in reality relying on detective skills picked up from his father (L.A. Law's Corbin Bernsen). Dulé Hill (The West Wing) plays his reluctant sidekick, Gus.
Dexter premieres Sunday, Feb. 17, at 9pm on CBS. Monk and Psych come to NBC in April, bumped from an earlier berth thanks to one of the most talked-about premieres in TV history, that of Quarterlife. "The first series created for the Internet" is migrating to TV as an hourlong drama. Quarterlife began as a series of eight-minute webisodes (36 total) on MySpaceTV.com, later moving to YouTube and other social networking sites before NBC picked it up for a traditional TV run. While many have heralded Quarterlife as an example of the egalitarian nature of the Internet, it's not exactly a Cinderella story. TV veterans Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (My So-Called Life, thirtysomething) are the creators behind the webisodes and subsequent series about a group of friends "at their quarterlife – the crucial years between 20 and 30 – when so many of life's important decision are made," press materials explain. What makes this series particularly fascinating is that it managed to exploit online social networking to build a strong, and faithful, audience prior to its TV appearance (see www.quarterlife.com). What will be really interesting to see is if Internet fans will follow the series to the TV screen, and how many new viewers (and from what demographic) will watch the show on the air.
Quarterlife has another interesting online connection in Bitsie Tulloch. Tulloch stars as Dylan, the wallflower in a group of aspiring creative types, whose vlog (video blog) spills a little too much dirt about her friends. Internet trolls may recognize Tulloch from the online sensation Lonelygirl15, the confessional vlog that turned out to be the creation of three fledgling filmmakers a couple of years back (Tulloch was Alex in 15 episodes). When the "hoax" of Lonelygirl15 was discovered, TV came calling, but the creators opted to remain a hybrid Internet-film project, they said at last year's South by Southwest Festival (see "SXSW Panels: Lonelygirl15: A Case Study"). While a Lonelygirl15 film does not appear to be in the works, the sensation is still alive and well on the Internet. This bodes well for Quarterlife. If it tanks on TV, it still has legs online – which makes the argument about the Internet being an unknown entity by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers seem kind of lame, doesn't it?
Quarterlife will have an eight-day launch from Feb. 18 to Feb. 26, before settling into its regular time slot on Sundays starting March 2. Check local listings for times.
And I haven't even gotten to the subject of Canadian TV coming to U.S. prime time, as well as the fate of the Oscar telecast set for Feb. 24.
As always, stay tuned.