DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

DC Critic Takes a Look at the New Fall TV Season

Watching TV then ... 
... and watching TV now
DVR. OnDemand. Streaming. 800+ channels. Watching on giant home screens. On computers, laptops, and tablets. Even on your phone.

There is no doubt that the way people are watching television is changing. But some things still remain the same. Even though more shows are beginning in mid-season and summer than ever, fall is still the biggest time for introducing the most new shows. And that means viewers must decide which of the new offerings are worth their time.

Many people turn to TV critics to help with that choice and, earlier this week, Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever appeared at the Newseum to offer his 2014 picks and pans.

Stuever explained his process for rating shows. "Some of it is my thoughts and my tastes and reactions, but I really look at - is the show good at what's it's trying to be. That is the Golden Rule - is a show good at what it's trying to be," Stuever told the audience at the Inside Media taping.

So what shows are the best at being good at what they are trying to be this year?  Stuever singled out 4 examples.

Madame Secretary (CBS)

"People have wanted a new West Wing. It's an appetizer for The Good Wife and it hits the same audience."

Transparent (Amazon)

"I really do like this show. Jeffrey Tambor (as a father changing to a woman) has the most self-absorbed adult children. I think this is Amazon's best effort so far."

Gotham (Fox)

"The pilot captures exactly what it is trying to be. It's an origin story and it's riffing on the whole Batman story."

Black-ish (ABC)

"-Ish is an interesting way to put a show together. It's on after Modern Family. It's remedial about race, but after the summer we've had, I think America is ready for something remedial about race."

OK, so there are some hits. What about sure misses? Stuever singled out 2 - Scorpions on CBS ('It gets stupider and stupider and then it implodes") and NCIS: New Orleans ("gumbo from a can").

Of course, Stuever readily admits that his judgments could be wrong. "I put a caveat on the whole fall season because I've only seen what they (the networks) will let me," Steuver said.

Stuever believes TV is becoming more reflective of our diverse American society. "You sort of see the fruits of everyone else's hard work over the last 3 decades to have TV shows that look like the viewers who watch them." he said.

To support his contention, Stuever pointed to ABC on Tuesday night, which is being called "Shonda Rhimes Night" since the new show How to Get Away with Murder (starring Academy award-winner Viola Davis) will be joining hits Grey' s Anatomy and Scandal in the lineup. All 3 shows are being produced by Rhimes, a black female TV executive.

"You've never had 2 black women back to back as stars in a show," Stuever said."Before, blacks could be best friends, but rarely the stars."

The critic also provided insight into how he goes about doing his job. He has a computer and a TV at his desk in the Post building. He also watches TV at home. "Organization is the key to any job. I try to look way ahead and then I try to look up close. I have to make instant decisions right away. Sometimes I have to decide if I want to review a show based on 5 or 10 minutes. But I take as many notes now as I did when I was a features reporter," he explained.

Stuever said that some of the show previews are sent to him as a computer link with an encrypted password. Others arrive on DVD. "It's about 50/50 now," he said.

Of course, with all the new channels and new shows out there, the job can get overwhelmingly at times. Such was the case with the PBS Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts. "I had to binge watch it to review it. I loved it, but just like in college, I let it sit on my desk all summer," he said with a laugh.

Then there are always people who can't believe a person can get paid for watching TV.  That is especially true when groups of young students tour the Post building. "I can see what they are saying - 'see that guy. That man gets paid for watching TV all day," Stuever said.

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