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Summertime And The Cable Is Boring
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Summertime And The Cable Is Boring

Television

Summertime And The Cable Is Boring
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Originality or the lack of it isn't just a problem on the big screen. Summertime has brought a bumper crop of glossy dramas to cable TV, including its highest-rated series, TNT's "The Closer." They're the kind of shows that would not seem out of place on the broadcast networks. And that, says commentator Andrew Wallenstein, is the problem.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Congratulations, cable. Channels like TNT, USA and FX have never been more powerful, or more boring. If I see one more show with an established actor cast as a quirky detective, I'm going to scream. TNT has a four of them.

There's Kyra Sedgwick as a detective on the "The Closer."

(Soundbite of television show, "The Closer")

Ms. KYRA SEDGWICK (Actor): (as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson) We owe a lot to our boss. It's the one thing that unites the LAPD.

WALLENSTEIN: And Jason Lee as a detective on "Memphis Beat."

(Soundbite of television show, "Memphis Beat")

Mr. JASON LEE (Actor): (as Dwight Hendricks) Way we do it down here is detectives don't take the basics like 10-15s.

WALLENSTEIN: Or Angie Harmon as - wait for it - a detective in "Rizzoli & Isles."

(Soundbite of television show, "Rizzoli & Isles")

Ms. ANGIE HARMON (Actor): (as Jane Rizzoli) I treated a senior federal agent like a perp. I tackled him in a creek.

WALLENSTEIN: All are so formulaic, so bland, so broadcast. Have we forgotten what cable used to be? Just think back to one of cable's most incredible discoveries, like the then-little-known Michael Chiklis as the rough-edged cop on the FX series "The Shield."

(Soundbite of television show, "The Shield")

Mr. MICHAEL CHIKLIS (Actor): (as Detective Vic Mackey): You want to get off the dead bangers list, you're going to play by the rules. First one is we still make the rules.

WALLENSTEIN: What passes for "The Shield" today? Well, it's clearly had an influence on TNT's "Dark Blue," a fluffier take on undercover cops.

(Soundbite of television show, "Dark Blue")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as Character) One's a little spicy. (Unintelligible).

WALLENSTEIN: That might be better titled "Powder Blue" or "Periwinkle."

(Soundbite of television show, "Dark Blue")

Unidentified Man #1: (as Character) I mean, do you (unintelligible) like 15 of those bad boys.

WALLENSTEIN: The reason cable isn't as scrappy as it used to be is that it became a victim of its own success. They're courting advertisers just as big as the broadcasters at this point. And since their schedules are also filled with older broadcast shows in syndication, like "Cold Case," "Law and Order," "NCIS," they need to promote similar fare.

Take USA, which airs reruns of the Fox drama "House." It's not a coincidence that one of its original series, "Royal Pains," is also a medical whodunit, albeit one that makes "House" seem as dark as "Schindler's List."

(Soundbite of television show, "House")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as Character) I have a rash.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (as Character) A rash? Where?

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as Character) For my sake, I hope you practice doctor-patient confidentiality.

WALLENSTEIN: Cable hasn't entirely lost its artistic streak. AMC is keeping the flame burning with the likes of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad." But "The Closer" and "Royal Pains," they get like three times the ratings.

And you wonder why cable cleaned up its act.

SIEGEL: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at the "Hollywood Reporter."

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