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"NYPD Blue" opener: The misery continues
New movie genre: Reclusive authors anonymous
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When TV shows outstay their welcome
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January 5, 2001
'NYPD Blue' opener: The misery continues
By ROGER ANDERSON Scripps Howard News Service
Tuesday night we all have the pleasure of tuning in to the new season of that Emmy-winning misery fest, "NYPD Blue."
"Blue," as network announcers style it, is but one of the many drama series that never tire of inflicting positive characters with negative life developments. Really, it’s almost a TV epidemic.
There was a time in television not that long ago when a lead character on a drama didn't have too much to worry about. Sure, there would be numerous close shaves and worrisome eventualities during the course of the hour, but it was a universal law that at the end of the show Cannon or Mannix or Quincy or Ironside or whoever it was would be in the pink, as would all the hero's loved ones.
It's different now. Consider "Blue's" poor Andy Sipowicz. Is there anything mortal man could endure that he hasn't endured? His grown son died trying to stop a holdup. His second wife died in a courtroom foyer, felled by a criminal's bullet. His beloved partner (played by Jimmy Smits) succumbed to congestive heart failure. An alcoholic himself, he has gone off the wagon once or twice (though not as many times as you would expect given all the tsuris he has to go through).
And now his toddler son, left in his care when the missus went bye bye, has apparently come down with some life-threatening disease.
Nor is it necessary to be a male character on one of these shows to come in for your share of bad personal news.
Take the Lucy Knight character on "ER," for instance. This unfortunate young woman (as portrayed by Kelli Martin), having garnered a few raspberries from the critics, was summarily knifed to death at the end of the '99-00 season. The reasoning by the show's writers seemed to run as follows:
Since the character isn't doing the show any good by being on it, kill her off in a violent fashion, make it plain beforehand that this will occur and enjoy a nice feast of heightened ratings at least for an episode or two.
You'd think Dr. Carter (Noah Wylie), who managed to survive the same attack and subsequent surgery, would be given a little respite by the show's scenarists, especially since he was also
carrying around a lot of guilt over his failure to help his pal Lucy - but no. On the contrary, his use of the narcotic painkillers prescribed for his injuries escalated into a full-blown drug addiction, with the privileged young physician shooting up under his watchband to escape detection and then having to absent himself to rehab for a while.
The Diane Russell character on "NYPD Blue," played by Kim Delaney, doesn't have a lot to sing about, either.
First she was shown to be an alcoholic. Having wrestled that plot development to the ground by turning her into a faithful attendee at AA meetings, it came out that her family was extraordinarily dysfunctional, the tip-off coming when her mother ended up shooting her father to death after years of abuse.
Is that all? Heck, no. Worse came to worst when the Jimmy Smits character, who had become her husband while all the rest of this stuff was going on, died on her.
All of this probably constitutes one major reason why a Dick Wolf TV "product" like "Law & Order" is so popular with viewers: "Just the facts, ma'am" television in its purest form, the show doesn't ask viewers to vicariously suffer the torments of the damned in order to get from commercial to commercial.
This is not to say that the "L&O" characters are immune from misfortune. Characters have suffered accidents, deaths, illness, family tragedy, to say nothing of being banished to Staten Island. But Wolf's people seem to take pride in limiting these catastrophes in the most minimalist manner imaginable, with a couple of lines of dialogue and a camera setup or two. And at the end of the day the focus is on the malefactors and the justice that does or doesn't catch up with them.
Andy Sipowicz would be smart to seek a position partnering with "Law & Order's" crusty Det. Lenny Briscoe. He might still have to suffer, but not quite so publicly.
Roger Anderson is arts and entertainment editor at Scripps Howard News
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