Last night, Modern Family won Outstanding Comedy at the Primetime Emmy Awards. Why not, right? It’s funny, it’s quirky, and it’s got a chubby, gleeful gay guy. What more could the Hallmark crowd ask for?
Not to sound too sarcastic. Modern Family is terrific. It’s fabulous, actually. But, every year, we see the dwindling appeal of network TV. The folks who win with laugh-track-scored shows seem to have picked up a pity award, like Jon Cryer in Two and a Half Men. Even he admitted a mistake had been made.
Sure, Modern Family pulls it off, but comedies are a little more jumbled. The formula becomes scrambled, because scripts go out the door, and Whitney is just so bad in so many ways.
In comedies, shows like New Girl, Happy Endings, and Community can survive. Shows like Entourage can’t, or at least not for too long.
Now, we have the introduction of the Showtime, FX, AMC, or HBO and the hour-long drama.
The real litmus test of a great television show now is whether it keeps you hooked on a week-to-week basis. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Homeland. Game of Thrones. Downton Abbey.
Although they could all win Best Picture at a different awards show, they have instead re-shaped television. They’ve been fighting the good fight. As strong as their plots are, they exist to make you return.
They don’t just show people selling meth, or ads, or liquor… instead, they’re equivalent. They’re as addictive as their substances.
As a result, you’ve had nothing filth like Pan Am and The Playboy Club, which have tried (and failed) to build off Mad Men‘s success, but those shows were too stupid to figure out the formula. They tried to take that 1960’s, Kennedy Era style and make a lot of money off it. They assume that dudes and chicks like Jon Hamm because he looks good in a suit, but that’s not why.
But, they just come off as impostors.
They watch Mad Men because it’s damn good television. They like Jon Hamm because Don Draper is incredible. They like Roger Sterling because… well, who doesn’t like Roger Sterling. They even like weasels like Jesse Pinkman (Breaking Bad) and Pete Campbell (Mad Men) because their actors just play their parts so damn well.
They like Bryan Cranston because they realize now how good he was playing the dad in Malcolm in the Middle.
Through superior scripting and premier cinematography, we’ve come to hold television to the laurels we always should have.
Shows like CSI and Two and a Half Men only survive because their mothers corporations have a liability to keep them there. The Emmy’s have a duty to prop them up.
But, it’s over. There’s no going back. HBO is HBO. Showtime is Showtime. And, really, how good is AMC?
Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, and Boardwalk Empire have also learned well from The Godfather: Part II and The Empire Strikes Back. They seem to understand that your second season – your sequel – is far more important than your first.
They know that the second season has to be the darkest. It has to be cold. It has to end with you feeling like all hope is lost. In Breaking Bad, Jesse got hooked on heroin. In Boardwalk Empire, Jimmy split from Nucky and got himself killed because of it. In Mad Men, it really looked like Don was leaving his family, and he became estranged from Roger.
The second season was by far the show’s best. It was gripping television. Every week, it looked like Vince might get Aquaman, and then it looked like he wouldn’t. You legitimately worried about the young actor’s welfare, and his dwindling resource bank. You worried about Eric Murphy.
But, at the end, it all worked. You realized this show would never tease us with the possibility of real disaster. You understood that Vince would always have a life we all dream of. Even when he got close to losing it all, you knew he never would.
Television has made the jump. The networks haven’t.