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Ready to taste the pudding

Another Television Critics Association meeting in Pasadena, Calif., has come and gone. Over three weeks, information about the new television season was pitched to 223 critics from around the country.

Here's the opportunity to meet the stars of the new network shows and listen to producers, (who are also the writers), speak earnestly of the creative process of building characters, plots, and situations. Almost all of them will tell any critic, "I just want to make an entertaining show [that] people can come home from work and watch."

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Many a network producer seems to fear their work might be mistaken for something vaguely prosocial or, heaven forefend, enlightening.

Still, there are prosocial messages – many of these writers are more thoughtful then they want us to believe.

After all, television dramas (and a handful of comedies) are, at bottom, about the struggle between good and evil. That's what makes them gripping, what sets the best of them apart from mere melodrama, which is more about exaggerated and simplistic emotions than it is about motives or ethics.

Something important has to be at stake, or we won't care. And what is at stake, after life and limb, are truth, justice, and love.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And even when a show doesn't quite work, or it needs better timing, its plotholes filled, or some humor to temper its too-serious shading, it still may be trying to tell us something that does matter.

I feel ennui set in when a producer says, "I just want to entertain you." But I've learned to look past him to the pudding.


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