Several staples of the current TV landscape will be taking their final bows within the next year, leaving a vacuum of power open for some new hits to come along and dominate the next decade of water cooler television. Here is a look at seven major types of shows that modern TV cannot go a full season without. It’s the ciiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiife…
1. THE DICK SHOW
A well written, critically acclaimed, and likely controversial series on a cable network, either pay or basic. This show slides its intelligent content under the radar of a mainstream audience by providing enough testosterone poisoning to give non-geek men an excuse to geek out over something; the kind of show that can make being a high school chemistry teacher look bad-ass. The lead will be a conflicted anti-hero at best or a not-so-conflicted asshole at worst. Either way, he’s likely to be a douche, and also probably vaguely racist or homophobic enough to make half the viewers feel better about their own prejudices and hang-ups, but not enough to lose the other half.
The vibe of the protagonist and likely of the series overall will be rather misogynistic, because a guy who uses, resents, or even outright vilifies women is just such brave, edgy and groundbreaking content. There won’t be a lot of women on this show, and those that do appear are likely to be a shrewish wife (probably on the verge of separation or even a full-blown ex, so that we have a good divorce to milk) or a childish, unstable, 40-year-old girl who only gets away with the maelstrom of shit she leaves in her wake due to her intoxicating sex appeal. Bonus points if we get a daughter or younger sister whose sexuality makes the hero uncomfortable. If we are graced with an honest-to-God sympathetic, complex female character, she will be the only one, and don’t expect her to have a storyline of her own, at least one that doesn’t revolve around a man.
2. THE IN-JOKE
An intelligent, quirky sitcom that is so specific in the tone and style of its humor that people either get it and absolutely love it or completely fail to see the appeal. It will likely feature a B or C-List comedy veteran with a small but devoted following in a supporting role and virtually or completely unknown actors as the leads. Expect half the casting budget, however, to go to the show’s breakout character, played either by an established comedian fresh off the success of another long-running series or a cherished dramatic actor looking to prove his comedy chops by shaking off the image from his last major role.
This show will be a critical darling, but once it hits its stride and the possibility of 7-10 seasons on the air becomes a reality, efforts will be made to dilute the premise and draw things out. However, despite narrative stalling, stunt casting, and plotlines being repeated with a minimum of variation, it will continue to coast on the staying power of the loyal (read: addicted) audience it garnered during its early days when its success was still deserved. Yet, even those who jumped ship long ago will tune back in for the series finale, just to see how everything ends, despite it being painfully obvious for years.
3. THE MYTHOLOGY SHOW
A well-conceived but poorly planned high-concept series featuring an ensemble of at least nine people. Its characters will be distinct and fresh, and one or two will take a foothold in the pop culture landscape for decades to come. The series will hit the ground running with a fascinating and intense two-hour pilot followed by at least half a season of solid, dynamic episodes that develop mythology and character history extrapolated from material outlined in the series bible. Sadly, a lack of long-term planning will see the show drift further and further off course, meandering this way and that and losing at least half of its initial fanbase when that source material runs dry and the lightning in a bottle fizzles out.
By the third season, expect half the characters to have either become caricatures of themselves or completely derailed and unrecognizable from who we met in the pilot, while the other half fade into the woodwork, having been bled dry of what little potential they had and hanging around despite their irrelevancy either because the writers can’t think of a good way to write them out or because the showrunners just like the actors and can’t bear to let them go. If they still get storylines of their own, they will be connected to the main plot only in the most peripheral capacity if at all.
It’s even money as to whether or not there will be some grand central mystery at the heart of the series, but if there is, we won’t get any answers until the very end because the writers haven’t thought of them yet. Expect a series finale that will completely enrage half the fanbase and leave the other half sobbing incoherently into their Tumblr accounts.
4. THE MAYFLY
Everything about this show is perfect: the concept, the writing, the cast, the music; everything. Which is why if it manages to make it to May sweeps, it will go no further. This show is a victim of its own exceptional quality. While a lot of shows get canceled early on because they just plain sucked or didn’t have the substance and entertainment value to back up their ambition (Hi, John From Cincinnati. How you doing?), this one-season wonder is canceled specifically because what makes it so damn good does not appeal to the lowest common denominator. It will go down in TV history with the same kind of tragic reverence as a beloved celebrity that died young. If the show is in the science fiction arena, expect fans to cosplay as the main cast for decades to come, either at conventions or their annual—or possibly monthly—marathon screenings at their homes. This is also the kind of show that, should you start dating a fan, you will be forced to watch in its entirety before they will even consider you as a potential long-term partner. And God help you if you find a single fault with it.
5. THE HORROR, THE HORROR
A series steeped in the supernatural, likely overlapping with the horror genre if not a bona fide member. The show will have enough blood, gore, and demonic bad-assery to compliment its target audience with a smaller but steady contingent of straight men, but its true audience is adolescent and college age girls…and their mothers. And what is the chief product served up to this rabid fanbase? Men. Hot, ripped, angel-faced men who are allergic to shirts. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. This gory softcore porn is the best kind of guilty pleasure, and the writing may even be halfway decent for a few seasons, but shows such as this are like milk; they’re creamy and satisfying while fresh, but once they go bad, they’re like a mouthful of ashes; the longer you put off throwing them away, the worse they’re going to smell when you finally do.
6. THE TEEN DRAMA QUEEN
Every now and again, a teen show comes along that is meaningful, intelligent, entertaining, and really speaks to that raw, dark pain that comes with growing up. This…is not that show. This show is trash. It may even at points be well written trash, but it’s trash. It is bright, shiny, and does not even remotely resemble what high school is actually like, which admittedly may be part of its appeal. The story tends not to be very important, and thus any attempts to be original are either half-assed or fall completely flat, but that’s fine, because people aren’t tuning in for the writing. People are tuning in to watch teenagers with receding hairlines and customer loyalty points at the local Botox salon make googly eyes at each other for forty-five minutes at a stretch. While there are always a few teen dramas on TV at any given time, this one is the queen bee, the belle of the ball, the leader of the pack. This show is the genre’s flagship for as long as it’s on the air unless it has the hubris to stray too far from its formula, in which case, a better written dark horse just might usurp the crown.
Odds are, if you’re over the age of twenty, you’ll have never heard of a single actor on this show, with the exception of the one-dimensional parent characters, whose rocky marriage will survive a predictably executed extramarital affair, or the young teacher who’s hip and “gets” the kids but is still professional enough to know what’s best. That’s okay though. The function of this show is to launch the next generation of heartthrobs whom you will only recognize because you see them on the cover of US Weekly every time you get your oil changed. But that’s fine. You’ll get to know them when you’re good and ready, probably when you see a movie they shot during the hiatus between Seasons 2 and 3. You know, the one where they showed some boob or, if it’s a guy, ass (though not dick; never dick) for little more reason than to avoid getting pigeonholed as a teen drama actor. Yeah, good luck with that. And finally…
7. RYAN MURPHY’S HOT HONEYED WRECK
This show could be set in either a high school or adult venue. It can be any genre, any length, any premise. Pretty much all bets are off. There’s only one thing we can know about it for sure.
Ryan Murphy will fuck it up, and here’s how.
First, he’ll get an idea, and it will be a great idea, truly inspired. Even if it retreads content we’re familiar with, it will do so in a fresh and original way. However, knowing that a pitch full of plot holes, inconsistencies, and an overall lack of direction and follow-through would be a hard sell at best, Murphy will tone everything down and actually write responsibly, resulting in a tight, funny, even occasionally touching script full of flawed but ultimately likable characters in an interesting situation. As one might expect, it’ll sell. The suits will love its marketability and the creative team will love the content. What can go wrong?
Success. Success can go wrong. Very, very wrong. See, the show will premiere strong, finding its audience immediately, and critical acclaim as well as commercial success won’t be far behind. So, Murphy ends up making the network a fuck-ton of money, which leads them to thinking, “Hey, the guy must be doing something right. Let’s just leave him alone to do his thing so we can keep lining our pockets.” And that is when everything goes to hell. Without the network breathing down his neck, Murphy will take his cart blanche to do the show his way, i.e. free himself of all the constraints that made his initial half-assed, ADHD concept palatable to begin with. Stuff will start getting really, really weird and campy. Characters will behave only as consistently as is convenient for the idea du jour that Murphy wishes to impulsively shoehorn into the narrative, and continuity…what continuity?
In short, Ryan Murphy will create a smart, quirky, enjoyable show, seduce his audience into falling in love with that show, and will then proceed to drive his creation over a fucking cliff. Name one Ryan Murphy original that hasn’t gone down this exact road. No, go on. I dare you.