Thursday, May 3, 2007

Judgment Day Coming for the 2007-08 TV Season

In about two weeks the networks will hold their "upfront" presentations where they announce next year's schedules. When they do, the fate of several shows I watch will swing perilously in the balance. Will they be picked up? Should they be picked up? Here is a quick rundown:

"Gilmore Girls"
The chatty mother-daughter team and their circle of oddball friends and relatives have two more episodes remaining in this uneven seventh season. With stars Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel not yet signed for next year, an eighth season is in doubt.

Argument For Coming Back: Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino left the show after the sixth season, and watching the first part of the seventh season made me wonder if the new writers had ever actually seen the show before. Lorelai (Graham) got married to the terminally-irresponsible Christopher on a whim in Paris without telling her daughter Rory (Bledel). The Lorelai we got to know for six seasons would never have been bullied by Christopher, never would have rushed into a marriage so soon after ending an engagement with Luke, and certainly would never have gotten married without telling Rory less than a season after resolving their semester-long estrangement.

The writers started to find their footing once they jettisoned Christopher, but it has only left them with a few episodes to settle the will-they-or-won't-they with Luke, not enough time for a satisfactory conclusion.

Argument for Saying "Goodbye": While the second half of this season was improved, those episodes did not come close to measuring up to the show's heyday under Sherman-Palladino. And, other than the Lorelai-Luke question, most of the show's characters have reached a satisfying place in their arcs. Rory is graduating from Yale, Sookie has a husband and two kids (with one on the way), the Inn is successful, and Lorelai's parents are, well, Lorelai's parents. There does not seem to be any hanging threads that need sewing or snipping.

Verdict: Entertainment Weekly reported a few weeks ago that there has been talk of a 13-episode half-season to wrap up the show. That sounds about right. Sherman-Palladino has said that since the first season she has known what the last episode of the show should be. I hope she comes back to write it.

(NOTE: A couple of hours after I posted this, a friend emailed me a link to an Entertainment Weekly article that announced that "Gilmore Girls" will not be returning next year. It's a shame. It deserved a more thought-out conclusion to its run.)

The wacky doctors, nurses, sadistic janitor and sweaty lawyer at Sacred Heart Hospital are winding down their sixth season in yet another impossible time slot. Will they be given a seventh season in a scheduling trauma ward? Or, will Zach Braff be forced to find out once and for all if he is a movie actor and director to be reckoned with?

Argument For Coming Back: "Scrubs" is not only one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, it has maintained its quality for its entire six-year run. (I wrote a Valentine to the show in this space in March.) So, why not let creator Bill Lawrence unleash 24 more tales spiraling around the show's central couple, J.D. and Turk? (What, you were thinking a guy and a girl? Have you seen the show?)

Argument for Saying "Goodbye": The flip side of the show not being caught up in the will-they-won't-they of J.D. and Elliot is that there are no plot points unresolved (except, of course, for the little matter of J.D.'s ex-girlfriend Kim, played by Elizabeth Banks, lying to him about having a miscarriage earlier this season). The characters develop and grow, but there are no traditional cliffhangers. Oh, and I guess at some point a network has to cancel a show that nobody is watching, not that NBC has noticed the last several years (thank goodness).

Verdict: I hope "Scrubs" comes back, but not if the show is renewed without Zach Braff, which, I've read, is a possibility.

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"
Aaron Sorkin's ode to talkative neurotic writers, talkative neurotic producers and talkative neurotic network executives was pulled from the schedule during its initial season just as Danny (Bradley Whitford) started dating pregnant Jordan (Amanda Peet), Matt (Matthew Perry) was moving towards a resolution with Harriett (Sarah Paulson), and Sorkin was figuring out that he needed to make the plots about more than the battles of producing a comedy show.

Argument For Coming Back: Sorkin's writing is consistently more interesting than most of what makes its way to the primetime airwaves. And, although the ratings were lower than hoped for, the show did very well with wealthy viewers, which is very attractive to advertisers. Oh, and any show that features a character asking Lauren Graham (playing herself) to give his phone number "to the girl who plays your daughter" deserves a reprieve, no?

Argument for Saying "Goodbye": Of course, Sorkin's writing is consistently more frustrating in its lack of accessibility, too, which drove away a big chunk of the large opening night viewership. Also, while the demographics of the ratings were good, the show costs a ton. NBC could air a season's worth of "Deal or No Deal" for the price they pay for an episode of "Studio 60" (an exaggeration, but not by much). And, any show that features as many speeches about the way things Ought To Be deserves to be silenced, no?

Verdict: I enjoyed every minute of "Studio 60," so I will miss it immensely when it's gone. And, it will be gone.

"Veronica Mars"
The critics darling about the daughter of a sheriff-turned-private eye who never let being a student get in the way of following in her father's footsteps is back after a "Pussycat Dolls"-induced hiatus and will wrap up its third season with a handful of stand-alone episodes.

Argument For Coming Back: The titular sleuth (Kristen Bell) is one of the most compelling characters on television. She's smart, tough, and is not the least bit afraid to use her looks to get what she wants. And, the very qualities that make her a good investigator cause her great trouble in her love life. Her relationship with her father Keith (the pitch-perfect Enrico Colantoni) provides an emotional heart for the show, letting the audience have something to care about besides the case Veronica takes a season trying to solve. How many shows put a father-daughter relationship ahead of a girl's love life?

Argument for Saying "Goodbye": As interesting as Veronica and her dad are, the story lines they have been asked to make work have gotten increasingly less interesting. The first season was a triumph, with Veronica trying to figure out who killed her best friend, who also happened to be her boyfriend's sister. The second year was more muddled, centering on a bus crash that killed some of her classmates. This season had Veronica moving to college. Seemingly in an effort to improve ratings and make the show more accessible, the plots became more simple and ordinary. I'm afraid to think about where a fourth season would go in the quest for viewers. Veronica becomes a Laker girl?

Verdict: While the show's numbers were up slightly from last season, the ratings for "Pussycat" were significantly better. It looks like a sea of bustiers will push out a college gumshoe with a cool cell phone.

"30 Rock"
Sure, it's been picked up for next year already. But if Alec Baldwin gets his way and is allowed to leave the show, I fear that Tina Fey the writer will have as hard a time doing a show without him as her Liz Lemon character had trying to do "TGS" without Tracy Morgan's Tracy Jordan in the season finale. Let's hope Baldwin cools down and by next year is ready to don Jack Donaghy's power suit again and continue to give one of the funniest performances on television.