Where are the Characters?

James Hess asks:

Why is it programs like "Diagnosis Murder", "Monk", "Columbo", etc.,
which are based on memorable characters, are so few and far between? It
seems to me that if a network executive were honestly interested in
creating and producing a ratings winning series they would a) focus on
mysteries, b) focus on a character that appeals in an off-beat manner
to the masses, and c) is built on good writing.

For one thing, all the examples you cited skew very old in terms of audience demographics. (yes, even MONK).  While I happen to agree with your take on what makes a good show, procedurals are the rage now with audiences. In a procedural, it’s the procedure that’s the star, not the characters… which is why there can be three identical versions of CSI set in different cities. And why we have shows like MEDICAL INVESTIGATION,

But character isn’t missing from TV… there’s plenty of character in NYPD BLUE, THE SHIELD, LAW AND ORDER: SVU,  BOSTON LEGAL, THE SOPRANOS, WITHOUT A TRACE, etc. There just aren’t as many  single-lead mystery shows as there used to be.

There’s LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT. There’s MEDIUM. There’s HOUSE, MD.  And coming up, there’s BLIND JUSTICE.

What I think you’re really commenting on is how few quirky, light-hearted, whodunits with single leads. Now there’s only one, MONK… but Hallmark Channel is taking a crack at it with MACBRIDE, JANE DOE, and MYSTERY WOMAN. And USA is bringing back KOJAK. So the genre isn’t completely dead…

4 thoughts on “Where are the Characters?”

  1. Re: “memorable character” shows that “skew very old” –and yet, shades of the Fonz.
    ABC must have been banking on the Baby Boomer and Beyond crowd when they chose to air the “Happy Days Reunion” right smack in the middle of the February Sweeps.
    I didn’t see a ratings demographics breakdown (or the show itself), but according to Lisa deMorae’s “Winners and Losers” column in today’s Washington Post, “Happy Days” crushed the big league competition across the board to such an extent that they all suffered “series lows” for the season.

  2. These reunion shows of old series have proven to be very popular over the past few years. Ever since the Carol Burnett Show special a while back killed in the ratings, the networks have been mining their old shows for gold.


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