A dramatic comeback
As scripted shows rise, reality gets old
NY Daily News - 10/24/04
David Bianculli is The Daily News' TV critic.
There's a major reason to celebrate this TV season.
That's because the pendulum finally is swinging in the right direction: Reality shows are starting to die, and scripted programs are alive and very well.
"The Swan" returns tonight at 8 on Fox, but if the trend of other sensationalistic reality shows continues, the ratings this time - as for other worn-out-their-welcome unscripted series - may be more fitting for an ugly duckling.
Meanwhile, first-year scripted shows have been embraced by viewers with the greatest fervor in 10 years - roughly when NBC gave us "ER" and "Friends."
This year, it's ABC that has provided the much-needed one-two punch, thanks to the addictive excitement of "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost."
They're the two best shows of the new season, and viewers have accepted them both.
"Housewives," last week's third- most-popular program, has maintained the comic, dramatic and sexy mix of its fabulous pilot, and clearly is the big-buzz show of 2004.
Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria, Felicity Huffman, Nicolette Sheridan - they're all doing great work and providing a great hour of television.
"Desperate Housewives" proves that broadcast TV, even with all its constraints, can spark water-cooler conversation when it does everything right.
The same is true of "Lost," which ranked sixth last week. This show's characters and mysteries keep getting deeper and more fun to watch.
When Terry O'Quinn's character was revealed, after a month of shows, to be a paraplegic until being mysteriously healed after the crash, it was as startling a question mark as that polar-bear-in-the-tropics twist.
It's another major victory for first-year dramatic series - and you may as well add ABC's "Boston Legal" and CBS' "CSI: NY" to the list, too.
Quality drama is being revived in a big way - and there's more good scripted drama right around the corner.
"House," a medical drama debuting Nov. 16 on Fox, is very good, and ABC's midseason slate included not only the return of "Alias" (though no longer on Sundays, now that "Housewives" has usurped that time slot) but an enjoyable private-detective drama, "Eyes."
At the same time, the stock of reality TV shows finally is starting to fall. On network TV, there's been substantial, usually deserved slippage.
The latest editions of ABC's "The Bachelor" and NBC's "Last Comic Standing" haven't matched the success of earlier versions (so much so that the finale of "Standing" was relegated to Comedy Central).
NBC's revolting "Fear Factor" remains popular, sadly, but many other reality shows have slipped.
And of the newest batch of reality series, more have the smell of instant misfires than of sudden successes.
Fox may catch another big curiosity wave with its upcoming "My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss," but its "Rebel Billionaire" and the putrid-sounding "Nanny 911" already smell bad just from the on-air promos. Meanwhile, NBC has presented one installment of "The Biggest Loser" so far - and one was enough to dismiss it entirely. Conversely, NBC's "The Apprentice" has held its own this season, and CBS' "Survivor: Vanuatu" has done even better.
Why? Because these are good shows - and now that unscripted TV no longer is a novelty, the cream is rising to the top, and some of the new reality shows are getting creamed.
This is very, very good for television.