There's A Lot Of Great Stuff Coming To All TV Platforms, Our Critic Says

Jan 18, 2017
Originally published on January 18, 2017 8:33 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Television critics from around this country are gathered in Pasadena, Calif., for the twice-yearly Television Critics Association press tour, which is of interest to us because it's when the networks and cable and streaming companies show critics their new TV shows, which means NPR's Eric Deggans has been getting an early look. Hi, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.

INSKEEP: He's at NPR West. So what are you seeing?

DEGGANS: Well, there's a lot of great stuff coming on all the television platforms - networks, online, cable. I'm excited about a lot of this stuff.

So the first show that I'm really excited about is FX's "Feud: Bette And Joan." This is from Ryan Murphy. He created "Glee" for Fox and "American Crime Story" for FX, and he's got this great, little, eight-episode series with Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange playing Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

INSKEEP: Wow.

DEGGANS: They famously didn't like each other, but they came together to make this classic camp movie "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?," and this little limited series tells that story. It's really great.

INSKEEP: It's the story of the making of a movie. That's what's happening here.

DEGGANS: (Laughter) That's part of it. But it goes beyond that.

INSKEEP: OK.

DEGGANS: Now, we've got another show, HBO's "Big Little Lies," executive produced by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. And it's about the lives of several mothers that are kind of torn apart by a murder, which is pretty interesting.

We've seen a lot of these streaming services come along, and they're doing a lot of original content that's really great. So Hulu has a version of "The Handmaid's Tale," starring Elizabeth Moss. You might remember her from "Mad Men" - really well done.

And Crackle - this is the website that was known as the home for Seinfeld's "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee."

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

DEGGANS: It has a version of the movie "Snatch" that is really good. Rupert Grint - you might remember him from the Harry Potter movies - is in it. It's really well done. There's a lot of stuff out there that's great.

INSKEEP: A lot of high-profile shows about women in that list, Eric.

DEGGANS: That's right. And, you know, Ryan Murphy, for example, said that his project, "Feud," was inspired by this organization he has that's called Half. He's really dedicated to trying to get half of the director slots on his TV shows to be filled by women. And FX, the channel that he's working with, is also committed to that, right?

So we're seeing a drive, I think, in the industry to try and create more opportunities for women. And we're seeing shows that star women, that star complex women - "Big Little Lies," again, executive produced by two of the biggest female stars in the movie business coming to television. So that's something that we've also seen here.

INSKEEP: Maybe hard to prove this one way or the other, Eric, but what's your sense? Do you think that when producers were putting together all these shows about women and thinking about this very moment that they were going to be presenting them in an environment just before a woman became president of the United States?

DEGGANS: I wouldn't credit Hollywood with being that smart (laughter).

INSKEEP: Oh, OK - or dumb, as it turned out to be. Yeah.

DEGGANS: Exactly. But I do think there was a drive to create more diversity. So last year, we saw a lot of great high-profile shows about black people, including "Insecure" on HBO and "Atlanta" on FX. And this year seems to be more about women. We're seeing a lot of high-profile, well done shows about complex female characters because, again, there's this push to create more diversity. And Hollywood has responded by looking towards women's stories.

INSKEEP: Is the sheer number of quality television programs going to be a problem for quality television?

DEGGANS: I think it might be. The - the thing that people who make TV are worried about is this idea that we have a common cultural conversation. And so when a show like "Seinfeld" really hits big or "Friends" really hits big, we're all sort of engaged in that watercooler conversation. And if there's so many great shows out there that everybody can gravitate to the one thing that speaks to them, then we don't have that common parlance anymore. And maybe we won't have big hits, like even "The Walking Dead" or "This Is Us" on NBC.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll catch as much as we can. Eric, thanks very much.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Deggans, our television critic. He joined us from NPR West. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.