Imitation is the sincerest form of television.
Reality TV is the worst imitator. Success of one show invariably leads to a copycat. Sometimes several. I’ve long since given up trying to discern the differences between all those “money for crap” shows out there. Auction Hunters. Storage Wars. Auction Wars. American Pickers. Pawn Star$. Storage Hunters. Storage Wars – Texas. Pawn Queens. Canadian Pickers. Hardcore Pawn…
And honestly, there seems to be more cable reality shows about killing alligators these days than…well…gators.
Dramatic TV is not immune to commandeering the creative bandwagon (then selling the ill-gotten goods on Pawn Star$). Back in the 1950s, Gunsmoke led the stampede of primetime westerns which – in 1959 alone – accounted for 26 primetime series.
In the 1970s, Dallas opened the door to a dozen glamorous, shoulder-padded primetime soaps. In the new millennium, it’s been the forensics show – with CSI and its spinoffs leading the charge of rubber-gloved, white-coated scientists microscoping stray fibres of carpet that’ll provide the key piece of evidence to bring down the bad guy.
Sigh. I liked it better when cops just shot the perp while he was standing over the corpse.
The new NYC 22 (which debuted on Global April 15th) will no doubt cause déjà vu in TV viewers. It’s the tale of new police officers patrolling the gritty streets of New York’s Harlem district. Or as the promotional tagline says: “Six rookies. One job to do”.
Over on Global (and ABC) we find just five rookie cops and the same job to do on Rookie Blue, which is set on the gritty streets of somewhere-or-other (It’s Toronto, but they don’t like to get specific for American audiences). The show hits the generic streets for a third season later this summer.
Not that there’s room for originality anymore within the cop genre. Commit crime. Solve crime. Repeat. Same goes for the ‘law & order’ genre. If we’re in a courtroom, it’s been done before. And probably done by producer David E. Kelley, whose latest drama, Harry’s Law, marks his fifth go-round with lawyers.
That’s right. Five. And that only counts the ones he got on the air.
Harry’s Law, which stars Kathy Bates, is best described as a grittier version of Kelley’s previous hits The Practice and LA Law, with a little bit of Ally McBeal/Boston Legal eccentricity thrown in.
Kelley’s form of self-theft can be a pretty predictable recipe. Start with a good-looking cast of interchangeable actors (many of whom don’t survive the first season), throw in a couple of eccentrics and buffoons, add some offbeat, multiple storylines on “hot button” topics, a pinch of sex, and voila: You’ve got yourself a pile of steaming hit.
To be fair, TV imitation is never that easy. Networks have been trying to come up with the next Friends for years with little success (though Happy Endings and its fast-talking, too-clever three girls/three guys formula comes close). And it wasn’t until Family Guy in the late 1990s that anyone was able to approximate the success of The Simpsons.
Of course, The Simpsons is really just borrowing the formula set out with The Flintstones. Which itself was really just an animated variation on The Honeymooners. Which probably had its origins in radio now that I think of it…