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Shows the literati loves but hardly anyone watches: Damages

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March 1st, 2009

From The New York Times:

“DAMAGES” may be all about Glenn Close as the she-devil lawyer Patty Hewes, but no one would ever sue her for not sharing the spotlight.

Now in its second season, the series has a gushing flow of talent: big names in major roles (this season William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden have joined a returning Ted Danson) but also familiar faces in smaller parts. They’re rewarded by a project that’s not a huge hit, but which is intricately detailed and widely regarded as high quality. The show has become a haven for HBO alumni: the “Deadwood” star Timothy Olyphant is wooing Ellen Parsons, the lawyer played by Rose Byrne, while two members of the “Wire” ensemble — Clarke Peters (who played wiretapping ace Lester Freamon) and John Doman (the magnificently abusive police official William Rawls) — are reunited here as schemers battling Patty.

Among non-HBO stars, Darrell Hammond, the “Saturday Night Live” player who joined the series this year in a recurring role, plays every line with grim-lipped determination. Mario Van Peebles, an actor who’s also directed “New Jack City” and three “Damages” episodes, is a cynical F.B.I. agent who recently helped drive the series regular Uncle Pete (Tom Aldredge, a veteran Broadway actor) to attempt suicide. Another theater fixture, Philip Bosco, has returned as the bluff Hollis Nye, Ellen’s mentor.

[...]

The supporting character who may be the most intriguing, however, also has one of the smallest roles: Tom Noonan as the police detective Victor Huntley. In a TV world overrun by eccentric, all-knowing or all-screwed-up crime solvers — on shows like “The Closer,” “The Mentalist” and “Monk” — Mr. Noonan’s Huntley may be the most elusive, sly, down-to-earth cop in prime time.

I've watched every episode of Damages that's aired so far and I find it to be good, not great, and less good this year than last year.  But like everyone else's opinion, my opinion is subjective.  Even last year,  I thought, it was a poor man's 24, using 13 episodes to arc out what could've been done better in six or seven episodes.    Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a good show (just not a fabulously great show).  But there is a grouping of shows, some no longer on the air, some that still are -- some that are  truly great, and some that are merely good that the literati and Internet digerati slobbers over, despite the fact that not many people watch them.   Here's a very brief (and incomplete) list:

Damages is almost certainly on the list because of the perceived star power. 30 Rock perhaps shouldn't be on the list, one way more people watch it (even before ratings picked up this year) and as an insider-y view of  the business that perhaps destined to get more literati and digerati drool on it just by its very nature.  There are no doubt others, but some shows that I know people would want to put into this list I would exclude for a variety of factors.

A good example of this would be NBC's Life.  It has received some critical praise and it has relatively few viewers, though ironically it may have too many viewers to make the list above -- despite its impending cancellation, it has more viewers than every show listed above other than 30 Rock, of course like 30 Rock, its on a major broadcast network and 30 Rock is the only show that can make that claim in my brief list and 30 Rock's numbers, particularly among the advertiser coveted 18-49 demographic are much, much better than Life's.  But 30 Rock is still on my list while Life isn't because my perception is that the amount of coverage it gets is outsized compared to its actual viewership.  A claim I'd make about all shows on the brief list above that can't be made about Life.

I'm toying with the idea of producing some sort of Slobbering Index that somehow compares actual viewership to the number of stories about the shows on the Internet via Google news.

Despite some mockery of the slobbering, I recommend reading the above article in the NYT, especially if you're a Damages fan.  I particularly agree with the author on the subject of  Tom Noonan's portrayal as the cop you rarely if ever see on television.  Unfortunately, Noonan doesn't have a big role on the show.

While I do think its true that Damages is on the above list because of perceived star power, and that those perceptions should perhaps be adjusted when considering the actual viewership (Damages gets less than half the viewership in its initial broadcast than a midnight airing of a years-old episode of  That's So Raven on the Disney channel), I hear that the DVD sales for the show made the executives at FX  happy, but I have unfortunately not been able to dig up any useful numbers on Damages DVD sales.

 
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