Television changes. It adapts to the times, harbors evolving viewership and, most importantly, serves up what sells. For the last few years, it seemed network executives were slow to adapt, but fear not: The years of “CSI,” “American Idol” and nothing else seem safely passed.
The end of this TV season proves two things: that creativity remains alive and well in network boardrooms (it simply went on break for a while), and that America’s taste in television, while painfully simplistic at times, is eclectic above all else, resulting in a wide variety of shows of varying quality that have made this as vibrant a time as any in TV history.
It’s the end of an era at NBC. With the departure of “Will & Grace,” the last of the sitcoms that made NBC the ruler of primetime in the late ’90s, is gone. Among the most socially important shows in TV history – owing to a premise that created gay characters just as funny, stereotypical, flawed and lovable as their straight counterparts – “Will & Grace” had recently fallen prey to repetitive, uninspired, outdated writing. But, the finale was one of the more quirky, off-the-wall finishes ever, employing flash-forwards instead of flashbacks to truly bring some closure to the twisted ballad of Will and Grace.
Also finishing a long run on NBC was “The West Wing,” another once-popular show that recently fell on hard times. But with the first change of presidential power in the show’s seven-year run, it finished strong and will be remembered still as one of the more clever fictional takes on the American presidency of its time. “ER,” which dominated the ratings in the late ’90s, returned with its strongest season in at least five years – though no one seems to have been paying attention.
Elsewhere, we have NBC’s two Thursday comedies, “My Name is Earl” and “The Office.” Both shows picked up steam as the season wore on – “Earl” because of its upbeat, do-the-right-thing undercurrent and “The Office” because of its spurts of random existentiality and clever, dark hijinks, which were derailed a bit by a clich