Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"I'm pretty in Cincinnati. I'm not pretty in a general sense."

I quote, of course, ABC's wonderful new sitcom "Sons & Daughters" (which, I think, has the potential to become the next great show).

Much has been made of the show's freshness and its great cast and its central humanity. But much has also been made of the show's HUGE cast (if you look over to the left, you can see all 16 regulars). To my knowledge, this is the biggest regular cast ever recruited from the outset for a television series (much less a sitcom).

Most critics feared that the huge cast would prove impenetrable and would be something that doomed the series from the start. But a cursory scan of the Internet (I know, hardly a representative sample) shows that people didn't have any problem understanding the relationships.

When Hill Street Blues hit the air, there was a big fear that its multiple characters and storylines would be too difficult to follow. The same was said of ER when it was new, since those stories moved by at a rapid pace, and the hospital was filled with lots of secondary characters the viewer had to keep track of.

And, indeed, Hill Street Blues was never a mega-hit. Arrested Development, with nine regulars, never took off. And plenty of other shows have juggled many characters and haven't found favor with audiences (even if they prove to be dense, novelistic works like The Wire).

But this is changing. And I really do think ER was the turning point (NYPD Blue came on a year before with a largish ensemble, but didn't have the seismic impact ER had). ER proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that audiences would follow fast-paced weekly stories (that started and ended within an episode), serialized storylines (that stretched over many episodes or seasons) and many, many characters. ER solidified the trend that Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure started and put it in a mundane setting (a hospital). And we were off to the races.

From there on out, stories only grew more and more complex. Some series started out fairly simple (The X-Files), only to gain byzantine mythology. Others started with small casts (The Sopranos, Buffy) but ended up ballooning out by their very nature as serialized storylines. And people didn't mind. People increasingly embraced this.

Now, look at some of the biggest hits on TV. Every reality show asks you to invest in more than ten individuals or teams. Desperate Housewives features four separate families and a variety of others who come and go from the story. The hospital of Grey's Anatomy is full of interns, secondary players and patients who come and go. And, of course, Lost features a HUGE cast.

Even sitcoms are getting in on the fun. My Name Is Earl has a small regular cast but is building up a stable of supporting players. The Office's cast of regulars is huge and it's cast of recurring characters is just as big.

All of which brings me back to Sons & Daughters. Tentatively, I hope, the huge family at the center of the show ends up being a BENEFIT for the show. Most people nowadays have some variation on a family that sprawls in all directions with step-s and half-s and ex-s. Sons & Daughters captures this feeling perfectly, and with audiences' increased willingness to follow these sorts of storylines, I think it could take off.


Moses said...

Good jog writing as much as you did on Sons & Daughters without mentioning the illustrious Carrie.

moses said...

Also, good job. But I bet getting some exercise was pretty nice too.