If You're So Smart, Why Are You Writing a Column?


Chicago Tribune TV critic Maureen Ryan pens the real-world version of the classic Onion Op/Ed "I Can't Believe The TV They Make Me Watch" by Bud Dalrymple, Viewer. If you've been staying up nights wondering "Whither HBO?" Ryan's got what you're looking for, a weirdly detailed and concerned investigation of which shows on the premium cable channel have jumped the shark, which ones are being canceled before they jump the shark, which ones may have jumped back, and whether all of this might endanger Charles Francis Dolan's greatest creation by causing a disruption in HBO's schedule that may occur as early as the 2008 elections:

"Big Love" is watchable and its cast is first-rate, but it's not, in myopinion, a must-see program… [A] show about one man and his multiple wives the program that's going to draw in the female viewers who were addicted to the ultimate thinking-woman's romantic comedy, "Sex and the City"?

"Rome" is terrific, but it's so expensive that one wonders how long the network will keep it going. "Entourage" has the buzz that HBO covets so much and it's a delightfully diverting treat, but it's no "Sopranos" and it will no doubt run its course in another two or three seasons.

Most shocking of all is the network's decision to let the contracts of its "Deadwood" actors lapse, which effectively means that the show is not coming back after its third-season finale. Not coming back. Ever. Let that stunning fact sink into your brain.

It's like Admiral Nelson poking a hole in his own ship just before the battle of Trafalgar.

Allowing "Deadwood" to wither, in favor of an as-yet-unseen new surfing series from "Deadwood's" creator, David Milch, is a disastrous decision, and it sends a worrying signal at a crucial time for HBO. Not only will the show go into 2007 without that critically acclaimed, buzz-worthy program in its arsenal but one of the most original, poetic and well-acted shows on TV will die a premature, entirely unwarranted death. I've seen the first few episodes of the show's third season, and the death of "Deadwood" is truly a dagger in the heart of any fan of quality drama…

Wouldn't it make more sense to shoot a fourth season of "Deadwood," allowing an orderly transition during the crucial year of "The Sopranos" exit, then allow Milch to turn his attention to a new show?

Hmm, come to think of it, maybe that does make more sense, Maureen; but it was either John Maynard Keynes or Bil Keane who observed, "In two or three seasons, we are all dead." I haven't been an HBO subscriber for many years, so I can't speak about Deadwood except to note that I'd much rather watch a show about surfing than a show about cowboys. But in this crazy, hill-of-beans, DVD, TiVo, On Demand, Vongo world, is anybody still thinking about this kind of seasonal schedule/destination viewing stuff anymore? I don't know, maybe it makes sense: HBO still has to get people subscribing, and there's only so much you can do hosting Royce Gracie fights or showing The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants four times a day. Presumably HBO gets most of its subscription money from people buying it as part of some bigger cable package. The Sopranos at its peak scored 13.4 million viewers, still far less than a hit show on a broadcast network attracts—and by all accounts the networks themselves are dying a slow and boring death. Maybe some reshuffling of programs (which I think translates into keeping the programs the Trib's critic likes) might make some difference, but right now I wouldn't want to be running HBO's business model, which consists mainly of paying a lot of money to be the first forum for content that makes a lot of its profit in other media.

Courtesy of ArtsJournal.

Forget Deadwood saving HBO: Can it save the Democrats?

TV critics are always ripe for parody.

Back in aught-five, I stood up for the clumsy, mindlessly inclusive cable packages we, the real Bud Dalrymples, have no choice but to endure.