Todd VdW is getting South Dakota Dark back up and running, and he has a new post about two CBS hits: NCIS, which “appropriates a lot of hip elements from OTHER shows and sands them down until they’re basically palatable to a more mass audience,” and The Mentalist, the latest in a long line of CBS shows where the hero spends all his time crime-solving and has little time for emotion, romance, or anything else associated with puny humans.
NCIS, incidentally, is a show that disproves the theory that the creator/showrunner’s departure is harmful; Don Bellisario left last year after a bitter dispute with star Mark Harmon (every dispute involving Bellisario is by definition bitter; he’s not known for being a particularly lovable person), but the show is doing better than ever in the ratings. Of course, part of the essence of the CBS type of procedural drama is that it can do just fine without original creator. In the last few years, Bellisario established a good formula for NCIS, based on the introduction of some humour and character quirks into the procedural format, but with that formula in place, the show is probably better off with a less high-pressure showrunner. (To use a baseball analogy, a team sometimes does better when a hard-ass manager is replaced by a nicer guy. The likable new manager takes the strong talent base built up by Billy Martin or whoever, but improves morale, leading to a pennant-winning season. I think part of what transplanted Aussie showrunner Shane Brennan has done with NCIS is to retain the strength of Don Bellisario’s formula while allowing the writing and performances to be more relaxed and fun.
But we shouldn’t talk about Bellisario’s list of credits (a very impressive list, by the way; who else has been turning out scripted hits for over twenty-five years?) without mentioning Tequila and Bonetti, about a New York cop forced to move to California and work with a dog as his partner. And Mariska Hargitay, but mostly the dog.