Is network television dead?

Rhimes, Bellasario, and Wolf

law and orderWith all of the streaming, cable, and other options of TV viewing, I’ve wondered if network television is dead. 2021 has brought three MORE hour-long spinoffs of established shows. And the majority of all of these programs are from the same production house.

At least, Young Sheldon (CBS, Fri, 8 pm ET) is a 30-minute comedy replacing Big Bang Theory on the schedule. I’ve never seen it, BTW.


Two or three years ago, I came across a survey of shows that started since 2015 that teens were watching. Much to my surprise, one of the popular selections was Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, Th 9 pm ET), a medical soap opera that started in 2005 by Shonda Rhimes. She’s had some other successful such as Scandal (2012-018), and How to Get Away with Murder (2014-2020), as well as the often terrible Grey’s spinoff. Private Practice (2007-2013).

For the next spinoff, she set Station 19 (ABC, Th 8 pm), a piece about firefighters, in Seattle, just like Grey’s. This allowed more opportunities for crossovers. For instance, Chandra Wilson as Dr. Miranda Bailey has appeared on Station 19 at least a dozen times. Dr. Bailey is married to Dr. Ben Warren, now a firefighter on Station 19, who’s appeared on Grey’s at least 30 times since his character moved from the hospital program.

My daughter began watching Station 19 on her own. Later she learned that Okieriete Onaodowan (Dean Miller) played Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in the original production of the Broadway musical Hamilton, which made her quite excited.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service

She discovered reruns of NCIS (CBS, M, 9 pm, 2003-). It is actually a spinoff of JAG (1995-2005). As the parent, I had to check out what the daughter was watching. It wouldn’t have been my first pick.

It was the vision of Donald P. Bellisario, who often has his protagonists as current or former members of the United States armed forces. Tom Selleck’s character in Magnum, P.I., Jan-Michael Vincent’s character in Airwolf; and Albert “Al” Calavicci in Quantum Leap are some examples.

There is also an NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS, F, 9 pm, 2009-) that my daughter has no interest in. Ditto with NCIS: New Orleans (2014-2021), which just left the CBS schedule. But now there’s an NCIS: Hawai’i (CBS, M, 10 pm, 2021-).

Dick Wolf

The rest of the shows are the aegis of Wolf Films. That is to say, Dick Wolf, the executive producer. The two FBI shows Tuesday nights on CBS, FBI (8 pm, 2018-) and FBI: Most Wanted (10 pm, 2020-) are joined in 2021 by FBI: International (9 pm, ET). “Elite agents of the FBI’s International division as they travel the world with the mission of protecting Americans wherever they may be.” I saw one episode of the eldest show.

Chicago owns NBC Wednesdays. Chicago Med (8 pm, 2015– ), Chicago Fire (9 pm, 2012- NBC), and Chicago P.D. (10 pm, 2014– ). At least once, the stories leaped from one show to the next.

But Wolf is best known for being the executive producer of the Law and Order franchise. The original ran from 1990-2010. I used to watch the Lenny Briscoe (the late Jerry Orbach) seasons. The quirky Criminal Intent (2001-2011) I’ve actually just discovered. There are a few more series.

Special Victims Unit (NBC, Th 9 pm, 1999-) is the longest-running scripted drama on television, surpassing Gunsmoke (1955-1975). The show became a personal issue a couple of summers ago, before COVID when my daughter was watching it at the family timeshare. Her parents had watched it with her at home, but others were less comfortable about her viewing it.

The sound effect

The newest entry in the brand is Organized Crime (NBC, Th 10 pm, 2021-). Despite starring a character who started on SVU, Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, it has a very different feel. It does the famous Chung Chung sound effect exactly once per episode. Having watched it a few times because it crossed over with SVU, I now know that it is a vile program.

Characters are crossing over all of the time in the Wolf universe. And actors on one Wolf show will end up as a different character in another Wolf program. A discussion of those phenomena would be lengthy.

A Dick Wolf quote: “TV is not about ideas. It’s about execution. And writing and casting. That’s why most of TV drama’s biggest stars have been character actors, not romantic leads.” His shows, as well as some of the NCIS line, and Grey’s Anatomy, are constantly available in syndicated reruns, likely more profitable than the latest offering from Netflix.

Diahann Carroll as Julia was a big deal

“Are you just trying to be fashionable?”

Diahann Carroll.TV GuideWhen Diahann Carroll played the title role in the sitcom Julia in 1968-1971 on NBC, it was a very big deal in America. She was the first black woman to star in her own network program not playing a maid. She was the first black star of a scripted show since the controversial Amos and Andy a decade and a half earlier.

With the number of television outlets now, it may be difficult to imagine how rare it was any for any blacks on TV who weren’t maids or other marginalized roles. The trick with the show Julia is that a black person was expected, by various factions, be all things African American, an impossible task. Julia was a middle-class, attractive, professional woman (nurse) and didn’t speak like folks from the “ghetto.”

She was a single mom, which irritated a number of people who felt an emasculation of the black family. (Conversely, read What Diahann Carroll meant to black single moms like me.) Julia was a war widow raising her pretty perfect, cute “little man” (Marc Copage as Corey).

The show actively eschewed social issues at a time in America when there was war, racial divide, and assassinations. When “Julia” talked to her potential employer and told him on the phone about her race, he quipped, “Have you always been a Negro, or are you just trying to be fashionable?”


Carroll was acutely aware of this tension. In a 1968 interview, she said, “With black people right now, we are all terribly bigger than life and more wonderful than life and smarter and better—because we are still proving. For a hundred years we have been prevented from seeing ourselves and we’re all overconcerned and overreacting. The needs of the white writer go to the superhuman being.” In other words, what would be later dubbed The Magic Negro.

Still, our household watched it. Every black person I knew watched it, because “WE” were on the screen in a positive light. “Julia” was beautiful, talented, and poised when “WE” had hardly been represented at all. It was just as most African Americans watched the short-lived Nat King Cole Show a decade earlier, my parents told me.

Julia was ranked seventh by Nielsen among the most popular show in its first season. In its second season, it was ranked twenty-eighth. It may have been canceled not because of her race but because it was a tad bland and the creative team wanted new horizons. Still, it was a major step for television.

Before and after

Diahann Carroll had already been making major strides. She was featured in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black casts, such as Carmen Jones in 1954, and Porgy and Bess in 1959. She was the first African-American woman to win a Tony for lead actress in a Broadway production, for the Richard Rogers musical No Strings.

Later, Diahann Carroll starred as Dominique Deveraux – great name, that – in the nighttime soap operas Dynasty and its crossover, The Colbys. I’ll admit I did NOT watch. But I did see her as recurring characters on A Different World (1989-1993), and Grey’s Anatomy (2006-2007).

Diahann Carroll, born Carol Diann Johnson in NYC on July 17, 1935, was a trailblazer in the entertainment industry. When Tyler Perry opened his new movie studio in Atlanta, he named one of the sections after the illustrious actress, even before she died October 4, 2019.

Elie Wiesel, Jesse Williams, JEOPARDY!

“…trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.”

elie wieselSaturday, I was watching the previous Monday’s game show JEOPARDY! while checking my email on my tablet – and they say I can’t multitask! – when I read that Elie Wiesel had died. I believed his powerful witness to our inhumanity to each other was a necessary reminder of our need for addressing persecution, wherever it may take place.

I mentioned aloud the news of his passing, and someone asked who he was. I was about to try to assemble my thoughts when this JEOPARDY! showed up on the TV screen: “‘Night’ is this author’s autobiographical work about a 12-year-old enduring Nazi camps.” I paused the DVR recording to say, “THAT’S who Elia Wiesel was.”

One of my favorite quotes of his was this: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Also this: “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”

It was a bit startling how that TV clue about Elie Wiesel popped up nearly simultaneously with that news item.

jesse williamsAs you may know, Jesse Williams, who has been on the long-running ABC-TV nighttime medical soap opera Grey’s Anatomy since 2009, gave an impassioned speech at the BET awards last month. Williams has been involved in Black Lives Matter, as well as other activism, a fact I wasn’t aware of until recently and was receiving BET’s Humanitarian Award.

The latter part of the address:

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.”

Lots of comments on social media, pro, and con. From the latter, someone started an online petition “to fire Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy for racist rant,” which early on, had about 10,000 signatures, In response, another person devised a counter-petition, “Don’t let the racists win! ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, don’t fire Jesse Williams,” which had over 20,000 signatures, including mine. In fact, there were at least 10 other petitions in support of Jesse, with anywhere from a dozen to about 1,000 signatures.

Interestingly (to me), there was a question, with a photo, on the TV game show JEOPARDY! on May 5, 2016: “Seen here, former Philly high school teacher Jesse Williams as Dr. Jackson Avery on this TV drama.” NO one got the question correct, or even rang in. I suspect that would be different now.

Pinterest and other things

When the Mets had an 11-game winning streak, I had to root for them.

LPG artI finally found a use for Pinterest. I’ve had an account for a while. People follow my Pinterest page, but I don’t know why, because there was literally nothing there, since I didn’t know what to do with it.

I’ve seen other people put what seemed to me to be random photos, irrespective of things such as copyright or context.

Then I realized that I can never find pictures my sister posts on Facebook, that my eldest niece, Rebecca Jade, gets lots of pictures taken of her, and that the Daughter is starting to experiment with the camera (it’s her piece on this page).

Maybe I should have put them on Instagram, which I don’t have, and don’t have the inclination to learn at this time; or some other platform, such as the “cloud”, which has burned me before with music I had, but lost.

I’m not going to make a great retrospective effort, but I’ll use Pinterest as time and inspiration allow.


Someone asked what to do to help the folks in Nepal after the massive earthquake: this article has some suggestions.

There are now eight music videos posted on YouTube from First Presbyterian Church in Albany, seven from various First Friday performances, and one from a recent worship service.

I was a Yankees fan from way back, but when the Bronx Bombers were going to play the New York Mets in the Subway Series, and the Mets had an 11-game winning streak, I had to root for them. They lost but rebounded the next day.

Flipping through the channels, I caught part of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Here’s President Obama and Cecily Strong, from Saturday Night Live.

I saw the end of an episode of the ABC-TV show Grey’s Anatomy, and I figured McDreamy would buy the farm the next episode. Then he did. The fan base is all upset, but the show has done such egregious crap before (the shootings in the hospital, the plane crash)… whatever.

This coming Sunday, MeTV is airing the MASH finale, along with new interviews with members of the cast and production team. Like half the US, I watched it. I found it lugubrious and overlong, and I haven’t seen it since. I’m thinking about watching it again for the first time in over 30 years.

I probably need to do a lot more short posts like this, for time reasons. I’ve had posts I want to write, but have not had the opportunity.

Grey Anatomy’s ’80s Music; Stephen Colbert to CBS

The longtime president of Union College, Eliphalet Nott, was previously the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Albany.

greys-anatomyI noticed that Grey’s Anatomy had been using songs familiar to me, but by different artists from the originals. What I hadn’t sussed out is that the program will feature all ’80s covers for the remainder of season 10. Here’s a list of recent music.

For instance, Episode 14 included [LISTEN to all]:
Don’t You Want Me by Young Summer, originally by the Human League.
Man in the Mirror by J2, featuring Cameron The Public, originally by Michael Jackson.
All Through the Night by Sleeping at Last, originally by Jules Shear, popularized by Cyndi Lauper.
Don’t You Forget About Me by Wind & The Wave, originally by Simple Minds.

This is part of a collaborative effort between Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas — what they call the ’80s Covers Project.
My buddy Alan David Doane was musing about the limitations of the Stephen Colbert caricature on Comedy Central as a right-wing blowhard: “His ‘character’ gets in the way of providing the value and insight Jon Stewart delivers every day [on the Daily Show]… It was an amusing conceit that has proven limited in its capacity to entertain and enlighten, and this [then] current brouhaha seems to be the point where everybody has finally gotten as tired of it as I have always been.” It was always thus for me as well. I got the joke; I just didn’t think it was particularly funny over time.

When David Letterman announced his retirement from his CBS Late Night show, and Colbert was selected to replace him, I was hoping we’d then see the real Colbert. It will be so. Mark Evanier wrote quite a bit about all this HERE and HERE (what about Craig Ferguson, whose show follows Letterman) and HERE (why not Jon Stewart) and HERE. Also, Stephen Colbert hits back at Bill O’Reilly.
I had to be rooting for Union College as it defeats Minnesota for the college hockey national championship. Not only was it a much smaller school, and an underdog against a perennial power, but it’s located in Schenectady, NY, in my metro area. Used to walk through the campus all the time in 1978.

Moreover, the longtime (1804-1866) president of the college, Eliphalet Nott, was previously (1802-1804) the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Albany, my present church home.
Killing off a major character could be fatal to “The Good Wife”. I hope not, because it’s one of the few programs I actually watch and my favorite drama.

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