You may recall a few weeks ago that I wrote about the dirty little secret that television critics can’t watch everything.
I mentioned that I hadn’t gotten around to watching “Justified,” an FX series that some of my friends swear by.
A few weeks later, I got a pleasant surprise – a package from the publicist for Sony Pictures Television with DVDs of the first two seasons of “Justified” and a nice note about how she read the column and determined that my taste in TV and that of the publicist were similar.
So I plopped in the pilot of the series starring Timothy Olyphant of “Deadwood” fame and absolutely loved it.
If I didn’t have to watch about 40 pilots of new fall TV shows over the next few weeks I probably would binge on the first two seasons of “Justified” episodes.
I may do it anyway because the early indications are this isn’t going to be a strong fall TV season, especially when it comes to comedies. I couldn’t make it past 10 minutes of most of them. I lasted five minutes for Sean Hayes’ new NBC comedy. I did like a few of the dramas, including CBS’ “Hostages,” but it looked like it should have been a movie instead of a series.
But I digress.
My point is that watching the earlier seasons of “Justified,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” or any series that you heard a lot about but were too busy to watch should be on your list of things about television that you should get done before the summer ends, the Emmys are given out, and the new programs premiere.
Here are five more things to do before the fall TV season officially begins in about a month.
1. Join Netflix, which is usually free for the first month, and watch “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey before it gets some Emmys. It’s a remake of a British series with a compelling storyline about a politician who will stop short of nothing, including murder, to gain power.
You’ll also be able to watch the new season of “Arrested Development” featuring funny cameos by Channel 2 anchor John Beard, and the critically acclaimed prison series, “Orange is the New Black.” As a bonus, all of you who have joined “Breaking Bad” in its final season can watch the earlier seasons, including the last one that has been recognized by my colleagues in the Television Critics Association as Program of the Year.
I also got hooked via Netflix this summer on old episodes of “Freaks and Geeks,” the short-lived NBC series with a cast that includes future stars James Franco, Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini, who was nominated for an Emmy this year for her role as one of Don Draper’s married conquests on “Mad Men.”
And then there are the movies the service offers. If you try Netflix for a month, your life – or at least your TV life – may change forever.
2. Now that you know how to stream, go online and watch some episodes of the best series produced by Buffalo writers, including “St. Elsewhere,” “Homicide” and “Oz” from Tom Fontana; “Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue,” “Deadwood” and even the underappreciated “Luck” from David Milch; “Murphy Brown” from Diane English; and “21 Jump Street” and “Hardcastle & McCormick” from Amherst’s Patrick Hasburgh.
I’d head to Hulu first because I know “St. Elsewhere” and “NYPD Blue” episodes are available via that free streaming service. But a quick Google search indicates there are other ways to stream old shows for free.
You may be surprised by the number of future stars that appear in the old shows – Denzel Washington was one of the stars of “St. Elsewhere” – and by what storylines caused controversy back in the day. It is hard to believe that many ABC affiliates didn’t carry the “Blue” pilot in 1993 because of content concerns that are laughable by today’s TV standards.
I expected the success of all of those Buffalo writers would lead to a generation of new Western New York writers inspired by them. But so far, it hasn’t happened.
3. Take the year you were born, add 12 years so you’re at an age that you might have become more aware of what you were watching, grab a DVD, go online, or head to WBBZ and Channel 2’s digital channel to watch an old series to remind yourself how much television has changed and how much you have changed.
In my case, that would bring me to 1960, when my TV favorites were “Maverick,” “The Rifleman,” “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Bachelor Father,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Bonanza” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”
In hindsight, all those sweet family series may have made people of my generation unprepared for real life and the crises that were ahead.
It was so comfortable growing up in the 1960s and thinking family life would be so easy because your parents loved each other forever or dad would find ways to make it work if he had the misfortune to be a widower. And it also was reassuring to know the good guys always came out on top in westerns.
4. Prepare for the new school year by reading a book about TV that either helps you better understand how much luck plays in whether a show is a big hit or a big miss or explains the creative process. I recommend Bill Carter’s “Desperate Networks.” Carter documents how “CSI,” “Lost,” “Seinfeld” and others became accidental hits.
I also recommend Alan Sepinwall’s “The Revolution Was Televised,” which deals with the creation of “The Sopranos,” “Oz,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “The Shield,” “Lost,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “24,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” The first must-read chapter is on “Oz,” the HBO series created by Fontana that the author believes led to “The Sopranos” and many of the ground-breaking series after it. He adds that Fontana never gets the credit he deserves for leading the way.
If the books inspire you to watch episodes of the classic series referenced, even better.
Finally, I recommend the funny, heartwarming autobiography of the late Gary David Goldberg, “Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, the same dog and a lot less hair.”
Goldberg was best known for creating “Family Ties,” but my favorite series that he created was the little-watched “Brooklyn Bridge.” Perhaps that was because it was set in the mid-1950s in Brooklyn when I first became aware of TV and life, as well as the heartbreak of sports when the Dodgers left Ebbets Field for Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. That move prepared me for my future life as a Bills fan.
5. Watch YNN, Fox Sports 1, OWN, NY1 or some cable channel you’ve never tried or even knew existed. As I’ve documented before, most cable subscribers watch only 10-20 channels and don’t even consider turning on the other 980 channels.
If you’re a Time Warner subscriber, it would be worth it to give YNN a try. That is especially true if you’re a sports fan because the 24-hour channel does spend more time covering fun and games than the network affiliates. Just don’t expect YNN to rely on personality as much as the local news stations do. In a way, that is one of its attractions. You should also check out NY1, New York City’s version of YNN that is carried here and gives us a good view of the controversial mayoral race, what’s happening on Broadway and what the New York Times considers newsworthy and why.
Fox Sports 1 is years away from being a legitimate contender to ESPN, but it will be worth a look during the NFL season because it is using most Fox experts on its new shows. Besides, ESPN is a little too full of itself these days.
OWN, which stands for the Oprah Winfrey Network, made a splash with Lance Armstrong’s confessional interview to Oprah, and this past week she had Lindsay Lohan try to explain herself. But most WNYers still would have as much trouble finding OWN as MSNBC staffers have finding Buffalo on a map. So give it a try.
One old TV ad slogan for Alka-Seltzer should come to mind when going around the cable guide: “Try it, you’ll like it.” Or maybe you’ll just get indigestion like the guy in the ad.