Men Of A Certain Age: How To Kill A Good Idea   Leave a comment

September 2, 2011

Some of Television’s Decision-Makers Are Still Tone-Deaf

There’s a story about Bruce Springsteen’s early career. The fact that his first album releases weren’t huge sellers could have doomed his career. But Columbia Records stuck with him and in 1975 the release of Born To Run catapulted his career into the stratosphere. Springsteen was not alone. While I was at A&M Records, the label had signed the British band Humble Pie, and enjoyed great success with their music. One of the later players with Humble Pie was a young man named Peter Frampton. His first four albums showed steady growth but it was his fifth album, Frampton Comes Alive, where it all came together to make him a worldwide star. These are but two examples of artists who had all of the talent but it took a little time for the mass audience to find them. And aren’t we glad they did. This brings me to the topic at hand.

The decision by the cable network TNT to cancel the Ray Romano series Men of a Certain Age is Springsteen or Frampton with a difference. Romano has already proven that audiences like him by virtue of the acclaimed comedy series Everybody Loves Raymond that ran for nine years on CBS and continues in syndication. In Men of a Certain Age, TNT had a series with a thoughtful, talented cast—the easily recognized stars of Romano as Joe Tranelli (recovering gambler, and divorced owner of a party store), Scott Bakula as Terry Elliott (a single, infrequently employed actor on the verge of something else), and Andre Braugher as Owen Thoreau, Jr. (son of a Chevy dealer and constantly overcoming his domineering father).

There was a generally lesser-known but nevertheless talented supporting cast, loaded with surprises. Some of the faces we had seen before in various productions, but others appeared to be new. Included were Penelope Ann Miller as Tranelli’s divorced wife; Lisa Gay Hamilton as Thoreau, Jr.’s wife; Jon Manfrellotti as Tranelli’s bookie;  Emily Rios as Maria, and Little JJ as Deshaun, both playing totally believable teenage clerks in Tranelli’s store; Braeden Lemasters as Albert, Tranelli’s anxiety-prone son; Shelly Desai as the somewhat less-than-all-there clerk Carlos; Richard Grant as Braugher’s overbearing father; Brian J. White as the arrogant-cum-super confident car salesman; Melinda McGraw as actor Terry’s serious love-interest; Sarah Clarke as another love interest; the “fantasy” woman that the party store owner, the under-employed actor, and the car dealer owner-in-waiting mentally drool over; and on and on. The fact that so many characters came to life instead of being simply window dressing speaks to the quality of the ideas behind this show.

The conversations that Tranelli, Bakula, and Braugher had about their lives were our conversations. My conversations. I can clearly relate to the angst and joy and concerns, and terrors they are going through. The scripts, plot-lines, and settings were all first-rate. From first episode to what will apparently be the last, you were hooked. The fact that TNT chose to terminate this beautiful series is a testimonial to the lack of commitment executives have in over-abundance today. The ratings and the audience Men of a Certain Age attracted cannot have come as a surprise to the network. Did you believe that you were going to get teens and twenty-somethings to switch en masse from MTV and inane-reality programming to Men of a Certain Age? Really? One would have assumed that you would understand that this was a series created to reach an obvious audience that can clearly relate to it, and then in time watch the demographics creep ever downward as a more and more youthful audience discovered it, all the while retaining the early adopters. And, there is no question that the series would have legs in reruns and syndication.

Those watching The Real World and Montel will not get Men of a Certain Age. At least not today. But a sizable audience did get it and an even larger audience would find it. Smart television is just that. Unfortunately, smart television is burdened with stupid decisions by short-sighted decision-makers. If the executives at TNT had been at Columbia Records, Bruce Springsteen might still be playing bars in Asbury Park, New Jersey. That, in itself is not horrible. What’s horrible is that the rest of the world would never have gotten to experience the music that Springsteen has brought to us over the past 35 years. Maybe USA or A&E will consider reviving Men of a Certain Age. Ok, I can dream can’t I?

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2011

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Posted September 2, 2011 by Jazzdavid in Popular Music, Television, Uncategorized

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