Depending on your perspective, television is either experiencing a new Golden Age of quality programming or suffering through its darkest period since its invention.
On cable networks, intelligent and sophisticated shows such as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead enjoy widespread critical acclaim. But on the conventional networks, fluffy reality series continue to rake in massive audiences.
This dichotomy may just be an example of how the TV-production industry has responded to a fractured marketplace. It also raises questions about what audiences really want to see.
Here in Manitoba, the fall 2012 crop of new TV offerings also runs the gamut from inspired to banal. As Free Press TV critic Brad Oswald couldn't quite get around to previewing all the season's new shows, I've taken the liberty of offering summaries of my own:
YOU'VE GOT MAIL!
THIS TV adaptation of the popular 1998 Meg Ryan rom-com takes place not in Manhattan's Upper West Side, but in equally affluent Winnipeg South Centre.
Facing the intense pressure of her backbencher job in Ottawa, rookie MP Joyce Bateman takes refuge online, using her computer to communicate with the outside world.
In an effort to get better acquainted with the objects of her desire, Bateman emails 1,500 people. But she fails to to hide their addresses, which leads to widespread animosity when their true identities become known.
PROGNOSIS: Despite the weak premise, this one's going to remain on CPAC until at least 2015. After that, it's anyone's guess.
SIX FEET UNDER
ON his way back from Dauphin to the City of Winnipeg, Stan Struthers discovers the Manitoba economy has suddenly died. Taking the reins of the provincial coffers, the unlikely finance minister undertakes a task no one else wanted -- staving off a billion-dollar deficit while larger, more aggressive provinces eat away at his market share.
As Stan settles into the job, the ghosts of previous finance ministers come to haunt him as he tries to get out of the red. And he doesn't get much help from the rest of his dysfunctional political family.
PROGNOSIS: After 13 years, it's somewhat amazing this show still enjoys such popular support. But never underestimate the power of a proven vehicle during the all-important ratings period.
THIS lighthearted sitcom stars Mayor Sam Katz, a likeable, populist everyman with a talent for sales but a penchant for getting into trouble. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur, Sam decides to enter into politics, only to discover it's not that easy to juggle the competing demands of his private and public lives.
The show's central comic device involves the Winnipeg mayor's real estate in the tony Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. But nothing bad ever actually happens, as every mishap is defused by "aw, shucks" antics of the always-affable mayor.
Prognosis: Now into its eighth season, this series shows no sign of letting up.
WHO WANTS TO BE
ONE THIRD OF A MILLIONAIRE?
EVERY new TV season needs a reality series, and there's nothing more compelling than this ambitious concept created by the Manitoba New Democratic Party, the same people behind last year's Esker-nominated Hoop & Holler Cut.
Michael Balagus, who served the chief of staff to former premier Gary Doer as well as current Premier Greg Selinger, has just left his provincial gig with $346,869 in his pocket and a world of love for his fellow Manitobans.
In a device reminiscent to Ben Stein's Money, which aired for six years on Comedy Central, Balagus will challenge contestants to claim his cash. This won't be a trivia contest, but a test of physical skill: After passing a physical, contestants will jump out of airplanes and use their skill with a parachute in an attempt to land on a golden target.
PROGNOSIS: This late addition to the fall schedule is bound to receive a bumpy ride.
HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA
FACED with the NHL lockout, the creative minds at CBC Sports are taking their cameras on the road, exploring what's happening in bars and living rooms across the country this fall without top-tier professional hockey.
To their surprise, the CBC cameras discover families spending quality time together, friends engaging in meaningful conversations and a drop in alcohol consumption. This is all profoundly boring.
PROGNOSIS: Cancellation by January at the latest.
A documentary of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2012 Canadian Football League campaign -- through the lens of J.J. Abrams.
PROGNOSIS: As far as playoff chances go, what do the numbers mean?
WELCOME BACK KHADR
CANADIAN Public Safety Minister Vic Toews reprises the teacher role made famous by Gabe Kaplan in the 1970s, in this hybrid intelligence drama/slapstick comedy.
After a decade at Guantanamo Bay, convicted war criminal Omar Khadr is repatriated into a Canadian prison, expecting more humane treatment in his ostensible home country. But Khadr must endure the scrutiny of the prison educator, Toews, who is in no mood to tolerate any shenanigans from this most unwanted new pupil. Hilarity ensues.
PROGNOSIS: That information is classified.