Mental, I Hardly Knew Ye

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 14 2009 11:56 AM

Mental, I Hardly Knew Ye

According to the Live Feed , the broadcast networks launched more than a dozen new TV shows this summer, and not a single one of them took off. Among the most spectacular failures: ABC's space drama Defying Gravity and its retro pro-am sports contest The Superstars ; NBC's The Listener (a crime show), The Philanthropist (a globe-trotting do-gooder drama), Merlin (a British import), and Great American Road Trip (a reality contest); Fox's "scripted psychological procedural" Mental ; and CW reality show Hitched or Ditched .

I haven't seen a single episode of any of these eight shows and not because I'm a TV lightweight. I've been a shut-in all summer, killing my eyesight by soaking up new shows like Drop Dead Diva , Make It or Break It , and Royal Pains and returning favorites like Burn Notice , The Next Food Network Star , and The Closer .

It's one thing not to have watched the networks' new summer shows, but it does seem weird that I hadn't even heard of most of them. Well, The Superstars I knew because I was a big fan of its original incarnation; The Philanthropist was on my radar because a screener came in to the office (if I'd known that Law & Order alum Jesse L. Martin and The Wire 's Michael Kenneth Williams Omar! were series regulars, I'd've given it a shot), and I heard about Merlin in the British press. Oh, and some sci-fi nerds I follow mentioned Defying Gravity on Twitter. Still, I had no idea of the shows' time slots or stars or selling points.

I suppose there are lots of explanations for my ignorance of network programming. Among the most obvious: Hulu and its ilk chipping away at "appointment viewing," the "they all look alike" quality of reality shows, and the rise of the mid-major cable networks. But I put the brunt of the blame on the failing print media. I read the newspaper carefully each morning, but I do so on an electronic device that doesn't even include the TV listings. I subscribe to TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly , where I take viewing suggestions from very brief capsule write-ups. I don't even look at TV Guide 's listings pages they're just recycling-in-waiting as far as I'm concerned. Between recommendations I get from magazines, blogs , and Twitter feeds, and my DVR's season pass recordings, I have more than enough shows to fill up my viewing hours without looking at an old-school "what's on tonight" grid. If the networks can't make a TV geek like me aware of their new shows, what hope is there?

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Photograph of The Philanthropist star James Purefory courtesy of Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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