Mr. Coogan's So-Called Television Column

One of the big news stories to come out of the television industry last week was that ABC’s latest hit series, Grey’s Anatomy, was going to be making its permanent home in the timeslot on , Sundays at 10 p.m. (EST) right after Desperate Housewives.

It was supposed to just be holding down the fort until Boston Legal made its triumphant return to finish the rest of its freshman season. Instead, Legal will go on hiatus and come back for an ungodly 27-episode season this fall for the 2005-06 campaign.

As much I love Boston Legal, after seeing the first three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, it is a perfect companion to Desperate Housewives.

That’s the show’s only problem.

Huh? Did I say that right?

How could pairing a new show looking for viewers like Grey’s Anatomy with an established hit like Desperate Housewives possibly be a problem? After all, Housewives is the only serial, scripted television series on the air now that draws more than 20 million viewers every week. Anyone affiliated with the show following Desperate Housewives is probably either doing a dozen consecutive cart wheels, getting drunk on tequila, thanking the God of their choice or some combination of the three.

The problem is that both shows go so great together because they primarily appeal to the same audience:

Women.

Now, of course, let’s get something straight to here. I am a male. I am a male that listens to sports talk radio or watches sports themed television for at least two hours every day, even when they often address the same topics over and over again. Also, between the Internet, radio and semi-occasional ESPN televised game, I probably watch or follow half (or more) of the baseball games the Boston Red Sox play every year. I’m a glutton for punishment.

Despite these obviously glaring character flaws, I still find Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy to be well-done shows that are certainly worth tuning into every week.

But I have a feeling Oprah Winfrey, the cast of The View and their respective studio audiences probably think the exact same thing. While well done, it appears the producers primarily have entertaining women in mind when developing these series in mind and that’s why they go so well together.

That’s also why neither one of them are the perfect series.

Now that Desperate Housewives is a television phenomenon, it isn’t really necessary to break it down too much. It’s obvious that the women (the Desperate Housewives) are the stronger, deeper, more interesting characters where as the males play second fiddle and are largely one-dimensional. Carlos Solis is stern and overprotective; Rex Van De Kamp is weak and ineffective; Tom Scavo is sweet and hunky; Mike Delfino is mysterious and hunky and Paul Young is mysterious and…just plain creepy. Whether it’s a “satire” or not (as creator Marc Cherry noted in his cameo appearance on last night’s season finale of Arrested Development), that doesn’t mean the male characters need to be that shallow and one-dimensional.

Grey’s Anatomy can relate…

The series is set at Seattle Grace Hospital and the series dropped the viewers in with the rest of the surgical interns, fresh out of medical school looking to establish their careers as surgeons. But as the pilot notes, out of every 20 interns who start out in the program, only between 25 and 40 percent of them actually go on to successful careers as surgeons. So, the competition is intense, their jobs are remarkably stressful and they are all absolutely terrified every minute of the time they are there. All of these aspects are beautifully shown in the scripts and in the performances by the actors.

The “Grey” in Grey’s Anatomy is Meredith Grey, played by Old School‘s Ellen Pompeo, who’s not only trying to walk in the gigantic foot steps left by her uber successful surgeon mother, but she’s also trying to conceal the fact that the same mother whose health is failing rapidly due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Interestingly, Meredith appears capable to live up to her mother’s legacy as she appears the most prepared to be a good doctor, but she’s also a bit timid, shy and less willing to take part in the cut-throat environment established to weed out the best interns from the worst.

Pompeo does a bang-up job playing Meredith. She has really grasped onto this part and is able to play a woman who, while she is prepared to excel in her chosen profession, hasn’t come even close to grasping how tough it was going to be to get to that point.

The other primary females in the cast are Sideways‘ Sandra Oh, who plays Cristina Yang and Roswell‘s Katherine Heigl, who plays Izzie Stevens. These two are particularly significant because they are on Meredith’s intern team and are all supervised by the same mean, nasty resident, Miranda Bailey (played by Chandra Wilson).

Cristina is the more interesting character as Oh comes off with the same anger and brutality she exerted on Thomas Haden Church’s character at the end of Sideways. She comes of as so competitive and driven to succeed that she’s also bitter and emotionally and socially detached as well. But even through the first few episodes, it’s been enjoyable to see that wall breaking down around her slowly but surely as she allows herself to be a little more human and little less like a combination of The Terminator and Meredith’s mother at her peak. Oh has done a great job of letting Cristina become a little more human and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue.

Izzie is strictly a secondary character compared to Meredith and Cristina, but she’s also not a wasted character either. She comes from a poor background and had to rely on modeling to get to the point where she is at this point in the show. She isn’t as soft spoken and sensitive as Meredith is but it is very easy to see the similarities between the two. But Heigl, like Pompeo and Oh, does a fabulous job of explaining how overwhelming it is being a surgical intern, especially in the beginning. But all three manage to do without having to rely on a lot of unnecessary scripted dialogue. It can be seen in their facial expressions and their physical reactions in extreme situations.

But even though the show is primarily about new, young surgical interns and their attempt to adjust to the new life that has fallen on top of them like a ton of bricks, it also doesn’t strictly follow the doctors from patient to patient or from tragedy to tragedy either. There are some fairly interesting romantic subplots between male and female characters and also some political drama within the hospital giving the show a more serial feel, instead of watching the young doctors develop be what makes viewers tune in week after week.

Overall, Grey’s Anatomy provides a satisfying viewing experience as the main characters are likable and easy to support and the situations created, both in and out of the hospital rooms, are interesting enough to want to follow week after week.

The only problem is even though Grey’s Anatomy is a quality show with great performances by the actors and good storylines, we’re still missing something…

What could it be?

Oh yeah, we have to get back to this.

Men.

Grey’s Anatomy one significant flaw is that largely falls into the same trap as Desperate Housewives in that the female characters are the strongest and most central to the series where as the male characters are one-dimensional and their entire being can be summed up in a couple of general adjectives. Derek Shepherd (played by Patrick Dempsey) is sweet and hunky; George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) is sweet but unsure of himself; both Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington) and Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) are arrogant and obnoxious and Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) is the wise, father figure.

So, what happens is despite the good things Grey’s Anatomy brings to the table, it also brings a softer, sweeter feel that doesn’t really need to be there and will likely turn off male viewers, the more sought after demographic in the television industry. Grey’s Anatomy may be getting great numbers in total (over 17 million viewers for the episode that aired April 10) but with the show going in a complete saccharin direction, they are leaving out the interest it may have for men.

It’s hard to argue against the success both Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy has experienced to this point. But I still have to ask:

What if the male characters were developed more in these series?

What if there were more storylines centered around the men?

What if males liked Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy as much as they liked 24?

Well, we would all know if ABC executives cry after they ejaculate.

— Coogan

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