I'm a little worried. If you watch “The Good Wife” on Sunday nights – or on your DVR – you should be, too.
When you peruse all the “cancel or renew” tip sheets on the Web devoted to keeping daily, sometimes hourly, watch on the fates of network TV shows, you'll find “The Good Wife,” somewhat incredibly, listed on something cheerily called “the bubble” – a misleadingly fizzy word for TV shows that are dangling over a cliff and poised to fall.
It's up there with “The Mentalist” and “CSI: NY.” At least one of them, it's said, has to go to make way for what's coming next season on CBS. If an upcoming show called “Golden Boy” (of which more at another date) is a hit, two might even have to go.
So today's game is called “What I'd Do If I Were CBS Honcho Les Moonves.” Come, play along with me.
It seems to me that a fully functional TV network wouldn't just keep all three shows, it would put on permanent furlough anyone even mentioning aloud the possibility of consigning “The Good Wife” to oblivion.
I've been saying for quite a few years now that if you look at the full length and breadth of cable television, we are clearly living in a second Golden Age of television. Precious few conventional network shows, on the other hand, have been among those adding to the shine of this particular Golden Age.
“The Good Wife” is one of them. It may not be on the Olympian prime-time level that “The West Wing” once occupied, but it's not all that far from it.
It's a show you don't cancel until the cast needs walkers to get around the set and its child actors have gone to grad school (if they aren't already having kids of their own). Yes, I suppose it might also be bubbleable if the quality falls so precipitously that the cast was afraid to come to work without shin guards and kneepads. But that hasn't come close to happening.
If there are any weaknesses at all in the show's metric profile (i.e., its ratings), consider this an illustrative example of the place where numbers become totally inadequate.
I submit that no metric reading that's even vaguely accurate has been possible for the last three months.
For one thing, the competition – especially on cable – has been too stiff. I've been putting “The Good Wife” on my DVR for months now and catching up later.
For another thing, CBS' Sunday schedule is utterly unreadable in any coherent numbers game. Football has knocked “60 Minutes” regularly into the next time slot, thereby doing the same to “The Amazing Race” (or “Undercover Boss”) and then “The Good Wife.”
Plus, the monumental incompatibility of those shows when put together is absurd. For all the popularity of each, none of them is a natural lead-in for the next. Only “The Good Wife” and “The Mentalist” go together with any common sense.
Every show, then, has to fly on its own merit and fan base. In the case of “The Good Wife,” its ridiculous incompatibility with all of its lead-ins, has made it an orphan – one with a big trust fund, perhaps, but still an orphan.
And that is a grotesquely foolish thing to do to a television show that is this good. It is also an illustration, as I've said, of where ratings begin to become useless. You can't get an intelligent rating on a show like “The Good Wife” when its audiences are so often pushed and pulled and conflicted.
The subject of what will renew and what will be canceled is best illuminated by the shows that have already been canceled or are likely to be.
Canceled already are “666 Park Ave.,” “Don't Trust the B---- in Apt.23,” “Last Resort,” “Made in Jersey,” “Partners,” “Emily Owens, M.D.” “Ben and Kate,” “The Mob Doctor,” “Animal Practice,” and, apparently, “Do No Harm.”
Likely to go, it's speculated, are “Happy Endings,” “Vegas,” “1600 Penn,” “Deception,” and “Up All Night.”
In that whole combined list, I'd only regret the disappearance of “Vegas” (what can I say, I liked the cast). Nor would it be bad to have a show co-created by Nicholas Pileggi (whose wife Nora Ephron so unexpectedly died last year). I'm a bit sorry, too, that ABC's “Last Resort” couldn't get a viable audience.
Its premise – a rogue nuclear sub that became its own unpredictable nuclear power under the sea – was fascinating and the show was competently done.
“Deception” remains watchable, if never close to good.
The rest is either garbage that I made the mistake of sampling once or twice, or garbage that I wouldn't touch in a hazmat suit.
And that's where the game of “Let's Pretend to Be Les Moonves” gets interesting.
That's an awful lot of garbage from all four broadcast networks. Other TV shows, remember, were canceled to make room for it all.
Television, then, is a viciously heedless and wasteful business. It gobbles up huge pots of money and, even worse, extremely talented people and throws them into high-risk situations where they're all expendable.
The very idea that, say, “The Good Wife” could be endangered because something like CBS' next “Made in Jersey” needs a 60-minute berth on the schedule is obscene, no matter how much money might be made because of differing contractual arrangements. That is clearly throwing the baby out with the bath water.
And that, all too often, is what TV does.
As a business, it often disposes of whole orphanages, just for the water rights to a desert. (All right, I carried that metaphor too far.)
“The Good Wife” is simply not an expendable show. It has been, from the beginning, a minor miracle in which a show that spun off from the Eliot Spitzer debacle proved to be so well-cast and so smart and well-performed that it was almost too good for any award they could possibly give it. (You can almost picture midlevel network executives thinking that no show that smart should even be allowed in prime time.)
Consider the landscape of current television. “Scandal,” in a matter of mere weeks, has frantically concocted an assassination attempt on a president, revealed his election to be the result of Ohio voter fraud, watched him saunter back into the White House, caught his assailant and then watched the Prez declare his intention to divorce the first lady – until, that is, she had their baby, in which case he was by her side in the delivery room encouraging her to push with every contraction.
On “The Good Wife,” Alicia's husband has spent a season-plus running for governor. Despite their problems – and his philandering reputation – she showed up one day for a quick nooner on his campaign bus.
When his campaign director came to the door for a meeting, she emerged from the bus in disarray and, with a wicked smile, assured him “it's just the wife.”
As enjoyable as “Scandal's” breathless careening has been to watch, I'd gladly trade the whole show thus far for that tiny little moment on “The Good Wife.”