Network TV shows whose quality exceeded their platform
When the big four networks – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – create their original content, it’s an understatement to say that their hands are tied behind their backs. Since they are broadcast on television, their content must fit within very strict parameters in order to be broadcast. This often leads to shows that are forgettable and waste a lot of potential. But sometimes there is a ray of light in the darkness.
Over the past two decades, these channels have created very high quality series. And when a team is able to create something great within the confines of network television, it should be celebrated. Let’s take a look back at shows whose quality has surpassed their platform and become staples of American television.
The Good Place – NBC
This NBC original series is perhaps one of the most groundbreaking half-hour comedies to hit the market in the 21st century. The four-season series manages to be concise, poignant, and hysterical despite its inherent relationship with death. This Michel Schur (The office, parks and recreation) comedy follows the exploits of the recently deceased Eleanor, her exploration of the afterlife, and the friendships she makes along the way. Schur and his team did a brilliant job of bringing this comedy to life without alienating potential fans who have strong beliefs about the afterlife.
As with most of these productions, what sets this show apart from its network counterparts is the overall writing and performances. The structure and context of the series exposes audiences to complex philosophical theories that most network shows wouldn’t dare touch. The creators perfectly prepare their audience to explore these ideas by creating an exciting cast where each character, including those with limited screen time, fulfills a unique role. However, The right place‘s the greatest achievement may well be that he knew when to stop. Many successes like this would go on to drag on for seasons until the fervor died, but Schur and his team knew that their welcome should not be overstayed.
24 – FOX
This early 2000s Fox series redefined the way television as a whole portrayed action on the small screen. 24 caught Keifer Sutherland at the peak of his powers as he delivered a nuanced performance as the series’ protagonist, Jack Bauer. This agent of CTU, a fictional government counterterrorism agency, is by no means a hero. While Bauer certainly fights to preserve life and peace, Bauer’s tactics aren’t what audiences would have seen from a typical network hero before his release. He is a complex and tortured individual who often loses and whose actions result in the loss of innocent lives. The show’s structure was its strongest hook, as each season unfolded in one day. With each episode being a “daytime” hour of the season, the series became one of the first truly binge-worthy series for modern streaming audiences.
Born out of post-9/11 fears, this TV show is truly a product of its time. The series certainly has aspects that haven’t aged well, like its depiction of torture and its negative portrayal of Muslims. There are characters and directorial choices that comment on these problematic undertones, but nonetheless, they’re still there and need to be considered, even if the rest still makes it one of network television’s best shows.
Lost – ABC
Although infamous for its lackluster ending, many forget how impactful and amazing it is. Lost was in its infancy. The ABC series followed the aftermath of the fictional Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crash on a remote island. The show’s six seasons showcased an incredible cast of characters and the creative talents of director JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof. Many in the entertainment industry claim that the cast of actors should have embarked on fantastic careers, but were embarrassed by the success of the series, as the public saw them only as the survivors of the island. mysterious.
The series’ narrative was so complex that during original broadcasts, a bar at the bottom of TV screens reminded audiences of what happened in previous episodes and even seasons. Although the story’s ending ultimately left fans incredibly disappointed, they still recognize the brilliance of the early seasons. If the show had stuck its landing, unlike Flight 815, it would certainly be considered one of the best shows of all time.
Friday Night Lights – NBC
It doesn’t matter whether viewers love football or not, every person who loves TV must watch Friday night lights. This Peter Berg spin-off of the 2004 film features some of the best on-screen talent television has to offer. Not only did the show’s writing give way to stunning performances from show leads Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, but it also featured big stars like Michael B. Jordan, Jesse Plemons and Minka Kelly. However, what set this series apart from other shows on the network was the directing style, cinematography, and topics it explored.
On paper, Friday night lights should have been a soapy teen drama, but thanks to its next-level cast and production crew, it was transformed into a deep sociopolitical drama. In a recent episode of Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, Jesse Plemons explained how the showrunners encouraged his actors to drive their characters’ stories and challenge the writer’s ideas. This collaborative environment has allowed the series to explore topics such as economic disparities between different parts of the same city, which many American viewers relate to. What brings fans back to this series is just that, its relatability. Fans know people like these characters, have encountered issues like the ones they overcame, and are constantly inspired by their drive to succeed.
The West Wing – NBC
Saving what might be considered the best for last is Aaron Sorkin’s The west wing. This NBC series is certainly one of the best ever produced and by far one of the most influential. This series could be said to be the pinnacle of the network television formula, as it produced intricate storytelling and jaw-dropping performances season after season as part of the old-school broadcast cast. Additionally, the seven-season political television show forever changed the way Americans talk about politics. For the best or for the worst.
Like all the shows mentioned, there are aspects of the show that haven’t aged well, many of which Sorkin has acknowledged over the years. However, when watching or re-watching the series, fans should remember the time when this series was created. The late 90s and early 2000s had a different socio-political atmosphere and when it came out, this series was by far the most politically progressive show Americans could watch. While the political views of both parties have evolved since the show’s release twenty years ago, certain themes will forever permeate and resemble America’s best intentions.
What has aged well on this series is the slew of Emmy award-winning performances and nominations. From Alison Janney’s CJ Cregg to the late John Spencer’s Leo McGarry, everyone in this cast is firing on all cylinders. Especially Martin Sheen as the best fictional president ever written, Josiah Bartlet. Since Sorkin’s dialogue is so musical, no one ever misses a beat. From an acting perspective, the amount of information each actor had to absorb during filming each week is unimaginable. Still, there’s never a scene where the cast underdelivers in a scene. If anyone hasn’t watched this series yet, thankfully it’s available to stream on HBO Max.
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