It's AMC's presentation of "Mad Men" that's new and a wee bit radical, not the show itself, which has been the most overrated TV show of the summer.
What you're watching is a Madison Avenue advertising firm circa 1960, a place where sexism, hypocrisy, anti-Semitism ("Have we ever hired any Jews?" one exec is asked. "Not on my watch" is the smirking answer) and contempt for the public are alive and well.
It's a 1950s world, i.e. the world before the ascension of Jack Kennedy and Martin Luther King, before Bob Dylan and the Beatles, before Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
Everyone in the show looks like they're auditioning to be worthy of a New Yorker short story by John Cheever or John Updike or John O'Hara -- and failing miserably.
But AMC's presentation of this rarified world of men and their crystal liquor decanters is brilliant.
I find the people on "Mad Men" monumentally uninteresting -- cookie cutter executives, secretaries and "rich girls."
It's the basic subject -- advertising -- which is terrific. And, beyond that, AMC embedded the opening show in an incredibly creative setting. Each very real ad for the show was introduced by some sort of information relating to it.
If, for instance, AMC was about to show you a string of unrelated commercials on a long ad break, the title card would tell you that it was the Dumont Network that invented the very idea of multiple sponsorships for TV shows. Each of the "Mad Men" sponsors was likely to be introduced by a similar quick flash of info related to an individual sponsor's TV advertising history.
In other words, here, at last, was one of the biggest and most fascinating and most pervasive of all American subjects -- advertising -- suddenly taken with the utmost seriousness on TV, not just by TV.
But wait a minute, you say. Isn't the show about what cynics, hypocrites, sexists and crumb bums the Mad Avenue guys are?
No, it's what cynics etc. they were, once upon a time, eons ago, when Dwight David Eisenhower was still president and small children played in the backyard with Davy Crockett coonskin caps on their heads. Kudos, nevertheless, for discovering a huge subject that deserves major treatment despite everyone's obvious fears.
It's really a very safe first serious look at the biz. And, in fact, so flattering, I would think, to the very real world of current Madison Avenue that they might start paying serious attention to the AMC network.
Just as "The Kill Point" on Sunday nights is shrewdly calculated to get us all to take seriously Spike TV -- the "guy TV" version of the Lifetime network -- as a source of original programming, not just a testosterone-dipped outlet for endless "Godfather" reruns, ultimate fight championships and junk programs.
Spike TV's "The Kill Point" -- which is opposite HBO's irretrievably lost and bewildered "John From Cincinnati" -- is about as straightforward and as far from "John's" creative writing course imagineering as you'll ever find. It's set in Pittsburgh, a macho, no-nonsense city far from California surfside.
The show is nothing but a tense hostage situation -- a bank robbery gone very wrong -- and everyone affected by it and drawn to it. It's a show so macho that its title comes from an ultra-tough comment made by the lesbian SWAT-team leader who is one of the first to get to the bank.
John Leguizamo is the lead bank robber, a disgraced Iraq War vet. Donnie Wahlberg is the wily police negotiator who combs his hair like someone auditioning for a part on "Mad Men" (even though the setting is nothing if not contemporary).
There isn't much happening on "The Kill Point" that you haven't seen before (most recently on ABC's promising but yanked "Nine"). That's entirely unlike AMC's sudden foray into presenting advertising itself as a subject -- but "The Kill Point" sure is efficiently and well put together.
Elsewhere in July's outcroppings of "Guy TV," we have the head-to-head competition of "Mad Men" on Thursday evenings, a nifty slice of nothing special on the USA network called "Burn Notice." The idea here is that we're following a spy (Jeffrey Donovan) given his "burn notice" by the CIA, i.e. suddenly, unexpectedly cashiered out, left with nothing. So he turns into a do-gooder in Miami, juggling his ex-girlfriend, n'er-do-well brother (Seth Peterson, the n'er-do-well brother on "Providence"), demanding mother ("Cagney and Lacey's" Sharon Gless) and old friends.
Donovan played a prig on "Crossing Jordan" and is, in general, a familiar TV face. Familiarity is the whole point of the show, except for one thing.
What makes the show at all watchable are the voice-over wisecracks inserted into things when the familiarity quotient gets thoroughly ridiculous.
They're almost as cheeky as a good beer commercial. But then, we know which of the two involved more creativity.