Monday, March 3, 2008

American Life Television: Sunday Night

American Life Television claims to be "for baby boomers and their babies". The Wife and I are neither but we love it anyway. On Time Warner Cable it's on channel 153 and for some reason the channel guide has the NBA League Pass logo instead of the actual logo. They really should do something about that.

There's a continuing cycle in cable television. In the beginning stations start out with cheap reruns of shows and then gradually find a niche or a successful show and build from there. When I watched A&E in 1990 it showed The Second Hundred Years and other shows I'd only read about in Television encyclopedias. Then came Biography and look at it now. The same thing for the Sci-Fi Channel a few years later. They used to buy up any sci-fi show they could find, an all the better if it only lasted nine episodes. Now there is American Life Television.

Every night on American Life is theme night and Sunday night is "Greatest Dramas Night" or as I like to call it "Pretentious 80s NBC Television Night". Back before television got really good about ten years ago there were a few outposts of "culture" that critics and people who watched a lot of TV would point out as important and necessary to save every year when schedules came out. I've never liked these shows.

First off is Hill Street Blues which was a about a "typical" police precinct in a "typical" big city. There were good cops who were somber and filled with self-doubt and the bad cops who were caricatures. And remember when Daniel J. Travanti was a big star? I haven't thought of that guy in years. Go on, click on the link, I know you're dying to find out what happened to him.

Next up is L.A. Law which I watched consistently for a little while. It had a nice technique of having multiple continuing storylines at different stages so, for example, the Susan Dey story might be starting while the Corbin Bernsen and Jill Eikenberry stories were in the middle and the Blair Underwood storyline was reaching it's climax. I watched L.A. Law for a few months until I missed a few episodes and forgot about it. Still, I remember some cringe-worthy "very special episodes" about drunk driving ("I only got off because I'm a lawyer, there's something wrong with the system.") and the Rodney King beating. It might have been a great show if it hadn't of taken itself so seriously.

The final show is St. Elsewhere. I know this is a kind of sacrilege but I can't stand this show. It is that brand of realism where realism is equated with bad things happening. One of the few episodes I watched had a painful reconciliation between father and son ending in the son driving home, falling asleep at the wheel and getting in an deadly accident. I bet they were really proud of that one.

The irony of course is that these shows which were considered so advanced now seem clunky and cheap compared to the best shows of he past ten years like The Sopranos, Law & Order, Rescue Me, West Wing and Lost (and that doesn't include shows I haven't seen but people tell me are great like The Wire, Battlestar Gallactica and The Gilmore Girls) which is why they are on Channel 153 with the NBA League Pass logo.

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