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Television Shows Defying the 'Vast Wasteland' Tag


Recommended by Jim, one of our Internet Branch contributors.

Check our other Fave Five lists, too!

The Closer

closer.jpg As this is bring written, The Closer has gone through three seasons on TNT and remains not only one of the most successful programs on cable but, in a critical sense, on TV in general. Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) is a trenchant interrogator for the LAPD, whose individual quirks leave her personal life in disarray. What makes this show work, though, are those in supporting rolesdetectives Provenza, Flynn, Sanchez and Tao, plus the rest of the cast. After the first show I said to myself, "Ummm, I'll give it another week." Then after the second episode, I thought, "Maybe one more week, then that's it." However, by the end of the third program, I was hooked. The Closer is well-written, crisp and witty, and sensitive when it needs to be.

Northern Exposure

exposure.jpg Northern Exposure was one of those quirky dramedies, like Picket Fences, Due South or even the current rage, Pushing Daisies. It's a traditional fish-out-of-water theme with Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), a native New Yorker, setting up practice in Cicely, Alaska to work off his college scholarship. The supporting actors are familiar for their guest appearances on other shows todayBarry Corbin (also Brenda Leigh Johnson's father on The Closer), Janine Turner, John Corbett, Darren E. Burrows, among others. They make the culture clashes that much more effective, touching and amusing. Northern Exposure is all that Men in Trees strives to be.


wings.jpg It's tough picking situation comedies when there is so much from which to choose. Do you favor Cheers, Frasier, Barney Miller, Taxi, Mary Tyler Moore or either of the Bob Newhart shows? I'm going with the Nantucket-based Wings and its tiny Sandpiper Airlines as one of my favorites, in part for providing initial exposure for comic actors Tony Shalhoub (Antonio, taxi driver) and Thomas Haden Church (Lowell, mechanic). They and the overall show were LOL funny. I only wish air travel today could be so enjoyable.

Dharma & Greg

dharma.jpg Dharma & Greg ran for five years on ABC, but you never knew if the sitcom would make it to the next season. Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson were great in the lead roles as the unpredictable, free-spirited wife and her uptight, attorney husband. Their parents, hippies and socialites respectively, always made things laughable, as did characters like Greg's secretary, Marlene (Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons). One could say Gibson sure needs some Dharma in his life in his current role as FBI Agent Aaron Hotchner on the gory and gruesome Criminal Minds.


maverick.jpg Thoughts of Maverick prompt a real nostalgia trip, back to when the TV schedule featured Rawhide, Have GunWill Travel and a dozen other Westerns in primetime. James Garner made a name for himself as Bret, the wise-cracking gamblerso much so that it was a major disappointment to tune in only to discover a new episode built around his brother Bart (Jack Kelly) or cousin Bo (Roger Moore). Though both "relatives" were fine performers, the show couldn't survive Garner's departure for the movies after its fourth season. It faded quickly in 1961.