Mr. Monk and the Niche Audience

In preparation for the series finale of Monk, Alan Sepinwall makes an important point about the show, which is that it helped to create a new kind of cable drama: the conventional show whose conventions have been abandoned by the networks.


As many people have noted, with the major networks’ banishment of light drama (for the most part) and the collapse of the first-run syndication market, cable took up the slack, presenting light mysteries and action shows that would have been running on NBC or ABC a couple of decades earlier, and appealing to audiences that found network fare unpleasant. (One key element of Monk‘s success is that it’s mostly a return to the non-violent mystery, without the blood and guts you see on forensic mysteries. Viewers who are turned off by gore — and who wonder why the networks aren’t more squeamish about that than they are about sex — can turn to Monk for a show that won’t have dismembered corpses all over the place.) Similarly, the family-friendly sitcom migrated from ABC’s TGIF to the Disney Channel.

There’s some question as to whether some of these shows are quite up to the quality level that they would need to survive on a network (and to sustain a 22-episode season instead of USA’s 13-episode runs). Monk was, and Burn Notice is, but some of the other USA-type shows sometimes come off as being graded on a curve: because they are comfort food, they can get away with being slightly B-list entertainments. This is even more clearly the case with the Disney Channel family comedies, none of which are really up to their predecessors’ level of professionalism in acting or production. But still, it’s good that someone keeps these kinds of shows alive, and USA’s direct challenge to NBC’s Jay Leno hour — by scheduling its dramas in competition with its NBC cousin — is a proud announcement that they, not NBC, are the real successors to the network that used to be awash in lightweight action/mystery shows.

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