Saturday, January 26, 2013

Get Out the Popcorn

It's here, it's finally here! For those of you who could barely contain your hunger, who had to do with reruns and Christmas specials and endless teasers, who willingly ceded the remote in prime time and looked magnanimous to the rest of your family, it's time to revert to form. Kick the others off the couch, wire the clicker to your palm like a suicide bomber and tell the others to stand back. For these are the weeks that the new mid-year TV season kicks off in earnest.

It used to be so much simpler. Everything started shortly after Labor Day, went for 13 or 26 weeks without interruption, and then you could regain your life. Now, with HBO and Netflix and Hulu, all bets are off, and it's hard to know when to book your spring vacation. Shows start in November, in March, in July. They skip a few weeks or months, or even an entire season ("go on hiatus" in TV jargon). The reasons range from talent issues (see Charlie Sheen), to not wanting to punch above their weight ("The Vampire Diaries" conveniently was on hiatus during sweeps week in November of 2011, the period when ratings are determined. That way, their numbers wouldn't speak ill of the un-dead.).

Still, January has emerged as a coming out party for many. And so if you are a fan of "Downton Abbey" or "Girls," it's time to get out the popcorn. Added to the new seasons of these popular programs are first-time offerings that the networks are hoping will catch fire with viewers. Be it the crime/paranormal thriller "The Following" or the medical/paranormal thriller "Do No Harm," the edgy comedy "1600 Penn" or the edgy comedy "Legit," the hope is that they will become water cooler must-sees (in an era where the water-cooler has been replaced by a latte bar or a Twitter feed).

Even if these series and their ilk don't succeed, at least they are escapist fare of some stripe. To be sure, these traditional shows are made of the whole cloth that is scripts and actors and sets. It's an expensive route that the networks are less and less happy about investing in, seeing as how the chances of success are so long. And so if you look at the 48 new series that are premiering in the month of January alone, you find that approach is the road less taken. The road more taken, and it is low to be sure, are the fully two-thirds of the total are denizens of the vast and cheap wasteland that is reality television.

And to be clear: these are 32 additional reality shows that have never seen the light of day until this month. That total doesn't include "American Idol" or "The Amazing Race," "Top Chef" or "Duck Dynasty." Those continue unabated towards Perez Hilton's door. No, these are brand new ones, shows that (thankfully) didn't exist until now. But since all it takes is a bunch of uninhibited live-out-loud citizens or has-been celebrities, a handful of mini cams and an army of production assistants to wade through hours of footage looking for embarrassing moments, even if you throw in an A-list host or two, these cost a relative pittance to make. And so "Extreme Smuggling," here we come.

That means that you can get to know Elura and Michele, "two fast-talking, no-nonsense attorneys who run a successful mediation business" on "Staten Island Law." On "Container Wars," you can watch "buyers gamble on shipping containers full of liquor and World War II antiques." You can root for your favorite out of "eleven fierce competitors from across the nerd spectrum" on "King of the Nerds." And while I don't know the exact angle, one can imagine that working out the kinks in long term relationships is not the focus on "Starter Wives Confidential."

It's possible that somewhere in that haystack is a needle of gold, but don't count on it. After all, the bar for success isn't another "West Wing" or "The Wire;" it's "Jersey Shore" or "Real Housewives of Orange County." The only saving grace is that since these almost all run on cable, they aren't floating around free in the air and drifting out to space. As such, the odds of another species somewhere plucking them out of the ether is slim, since they would then decide there really is no intelligent life out there in the cosmos.


Marc Wollin of Bedford watches almost no TV. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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