/// The Season of Broadcast Disconnect

June 18, 2012  |  Media Week

Perhaps no series is more emblematic of cable’s summer slate than the HBO vampire drama True Blood . A gory bouillabaisse of sex, death and escapism, Alan Ball’s gleefully erratic swamp opera seems to share a strand of DNA with nearly every show on cable. Overstuffed and overheated, fleshy and flashy, True Blood embodies all the things that makes cable appointment viewing during the sultry months. Crammed with more antiheroes than FX’s Sons of Anarchy , Blood can be as brooding and self-reflexive as Breaking Bad . And the ghoulishness isn’t limited to drama—the moral turpitude of Blood ’s Bon Temps has infected reality series like A&E’s Storage Wars , Lifetime’s Dance Moms and truTV’s Southern-fried repo farce Lizard Lick Towing . If True Blood is a metonym for cable’s summer slate, broadcast’s goofy roster of empty-calorie fare puts one in mind of Count Chocula. It’s a sugary slurry of competition series and hook-up shows studded with the occasional marshmallowy nugget of drama. The networks’ summer offerings aren’t meant to serve as a meal; rather, they exist to sort of tide viewers over until it’s time for the autumn repast. Given cable’s lowly beginnings as a warehouse of crummy old movies and repeats of creaky detective series, the sheer amount of original content now available is stupefying. AMC’s Breaking Bad is arguably the finest TV show since David Simon typed the “–30–” at the bottom of the final script of The Wire ; more so than the (deservedly) fawned-over Mad Men , Vince Gilligan’s unsparing portrait of dissolution offers the sort of high-grade drama once reserved for the likes of HBO. Though sharing dimensions of a standard sitcom, comedian Louis C.K.’s idiosyncratic FX series is almost impossible to classify. Set to return for Season 3 on June 28, his autobiographical comedy Louie is a profoundly human meditation on what it’s like to be a sentient being in post-everything America. Of course, neither series is everyone’s cup of chamomile. Breaking Bad rarely gets within shooting distance of the 2 million viewer mark and Louie is lucky to deliver half that. If either show premiered on a broadcast network, they’d be canceled during the first commercial break. Which isn’t to say that cable doesn’t have its share of reach vehicles. USA Network now boasts more popular original dramas than any other net

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The Season of Broadcast Disconnect

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