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Who put these shows on the air? And why?

Jeff Simon

It’s an amazing list.

Cutting out some of the more obscure items from the smallest TV networks, here are the TV shows listed on the TV Series Finale website that are either dead or not long for this world:

“Looking” (HBO), “Hart of Dixie” (CW), “Allegiance” (NBC), “Mulaney” (Fox), “Ground Floor” (TBS), “Melissa and Joey” (ABC), “Derek” (Netflix), “Atlantis” (BBC America), “LeAnn and Eddie” (VH1), “Benched,” (USA), “Happyland,” (MTV), “Red Band Society” (Fox), “Covert Affairs” (USA), “Jessie” (Disney), “A to Z” (NBC), “Anger Management” (FX), “Bad Judge” (NBC), “Boardwalk Empire” (HBO), “Cougar Town” (TBS), “The Game” (BET), “Gracepoint” (Fox), “Hot in Cleveland” (TV Land), “Justified” (FX), “Manhattan Love Story” (ABC), “Members Only” (ABC), “The Millers” (CBS), “Mission Control” (NBC), “The Newsroom” (HBO), “Nurse Jackie” (Showtime), “Parenthood” (NBC), “The Queen Latifah Show” (syndicated), “Selfie” (ABC), “Sons of Anarchy” (FX), “Two and a Half Men” (CBS), “Utopia” (Fox) and “White Collar” (USA).

What I find so amazing about the list is the relative anonymity and negligibility of so much of it – to me, anyway. The question I have trouble answering with more than half of it is: Who the devil ever watched this stuff?

A couple of corollary questions are: Who put some of these shows on the air? And why?

You can easily pick out the popular shows that are simply disappearing from attrition. They’re the raisins in the oatmeal. They’re shows that have actually had an audience and an honorable run. People could meet in some place larger than a tanning bed and watch “Hart of Dixie,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Hot in Cleveland,” “Justified,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Cougar Town,” “Parenthood,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Two and a Half Men” and “White Collar.”

Yes, it was more than a little absurd for, say, TBS to hope that Courteney Cox’s past could survive the one joke of “Cougar Town” after a broadcast network rejected it, but one never knows.

“Two and a Half Men” had a huge 12-year run despite its major star going kerflooey two-thirds of the way through. Charlie Sheen’s next series – the FX network’s doomed “Anger Management” – was sitcom shrapnel whose sole purposes were to appeal to whatever fans Sheen might have left and to prove to showbiz executives that Sheen was still employable.

Sheen, after all, is Martin Sheen’s son. Something good must have rubbed off on him sometime.

“Hart of Dixie,” “Parenthood, “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy” will actually be missed by audiences who couldn’t possibly be more disparate. Is there, after all, a living soul in America whose taste is catholic enough to allow all four to be “appointment TV” for one person?

What I find so remarkable about the list is the quantity of unmitigated hopeless dreck on it – the huge number of series whose greenlighting and airing seems to violate all possibility of common sense.

There’s an immense irony here. The enormous productivity and loosening of venues of current television – all the new cable and Internet networks people have trouble keeping up with – is both the reason for a new Golden Age of Television and a new tidal wave of garbage, too.

One look at the list and you can see plain as day that while too much may be made elsewhere for people now to keep up with – even with DVRs and the new social acceptability of binge-watching – far too much rubbish is being allowed on the air.

Let me confess that I don’t know enough people in the world to encompass all possible audiences for all of those shows. So let me openly invite passionate fans and adherents to the shows on this list to jump into the online News’ comment section and tell the world briefly about your favorite show’s virtues.

No one, for instance, needs to explain to me how Netflix decided to allow Ricky Gervais to make “Derek.” If I were a Netflix executive and Gervais walked into my office eating a macaroon, I’d probably say “yes” before he even sat down. And then I’d ask him how he likes his coffee.

The same was obviously true at TV Land, when someone told their honchos about the four women who had said yes to being part of “Hot in Cleveland.”

But what has been obvious for too long now is how many godawful sitcoms are put on the air for reasons of 1) relatively unpunishing costs and 2) shameless demographic pandering.

It isn’t the waste of money that’s so appalling; it’s the waste of talent. It’s the number of hugely talented people who are ground through the system like so much chopped meat.

Some of them survive the obstacle course and persist long enough to find stardom in a conspicuous place, if not always a worthy one (Taraji P. Henson, for instance, on “Empire”).

But writers, actors, directors, etc., by the hundreds pass through garbage on the way to the dumps of American show business.

No one’s going to convince me that they all deserve oblivion.

What’s desperately needed are more TV executives smart enough to follow the Grant Tinker aesthetic – just make good television shows, tell people they exist as often as need be and hold on to them long enough for them to find an audience.

And if “The Newsroom,” for instance, was never exactly a smash hit, so what? Even those who won’t remember it fondly will smile a little at all the lovely arguments the show started.


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