It’s been extremely difficult for me to find the desire, time and patience to get invested in a scripted drama these days. There’s been a dizzying array of quality shows that have been launched in recent months on the myriad array of streaming services and the few linear channels that still choose to invest in trying to compete with them. With so much at stake for their billion dollar investments, it’s very clear that the resources of Comcast, Paramount and Warner Discovery have chosen to steer the majority of their efforts to their respective subscription services, effectively reducting the likes of USA and TNT, who once produced the most popular scripted dramas on cable and, in some weeks, all of television to reservoirs of reruns and live sports rights.
Disney’s in a bit more of a confusing state. For as relatively successful as Disney+ has been, it has done so with the filter of the MCU and Star Wars brands, not to mention Disney branding, driving much of the success they have had. Despite some recent efforts to broaden its portfolio, Disney+ is still essentially a family-friendly recepticle. Hulu has had some hits on their own, but they continue to struggle for subscription competitiveness even within their own company, and with the recent self-inflicted policy moves of its new corporate leader does not have its own future clearly shaped at this point.
But unlike their competitors, they also have FX in their portfolio now. If I’m a little biased about them, forgive me. As many of you know, they gave me the best decade-long run of my professional life and opened up opportunties for me to interact with true genius and unprecedented success that few see in their time. And since I left more than a decade ago they’ve continued to identify quality, passionate storytellers through a commitment to those qualities that I had the privelage to help create and those who were strictly creative who have been there since have only reinforced and strengthened.
And in THE OLD MAN, they have just launched–and yes, dropped–something that is a reminder that despite the proliferation and splintering of the media landscape, even those of us that have been doing this a while longer than others can still marshall the resources to produce something epic.
Jeff Bridges, is captivating and brilliant as Dan Chase, a one-time CIA operative with a dark past. Having lived off the grid for three decades, in the opening episode Chase kills a would-be assassin and must hide from a host of FBI counterintelligence agents, led by the superbly talented John Lithgow. Bridges and Lithgow are now in their 70s, and Bridges in particular has had some serious health issues of late, having battled both cancer and COVID during the shooting of the series, which was commissioned nearly three years ago.
In episode two Bridges rents a room from a divorcee played by Amy Brenneman, who while not quite as old as her male co-stars isn’t the sizzling twenty-something beauty who broke through in NYPD BLUE and won acclaim with JUDGING AMY, a series she also developed and produced. And yet, in yet another role as a single, determined character with challenges, she is radiant and shines as strongly as she has in decades. She is attracted to Bridges’ character and isn’t afraid to make the first move, and we quickly learn they have more in common than first blush would allow.
Yeh, I’m hooked.
And when you look at the team behind the scenes, it’s no surprise I am. The show comes from a team headed by Warren Littlefield, who merely cemented NBC as the go-to destination of the 1990s as its entertainment president and in his second act has gone on to be a prolific independent producer who has helped define both FX and Hulu with much-rewarded works like FARGO and THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Littlefield turned 70 last month himself, but is clearly as sharp and prolific as he was when he greenlit FRIENDS, ER and SEINFELD.
And he is continuing to produce for his one-time junior NBC executive John Landgraf, who is still in charge at FX despite the recent changes in ownership and the chaos above him, John just had a milestone birthday himself, and he has outlasted most of the competitors he has rallied against, sometimes to the point of exasperating tenacity. He has championed his network and vision for 17 years and has fought, albeit parochiacally, to be certain that while the world changes and younger, theoretrically more energized people and more auspiced streamers emerge as competitors a good idea, executed by talented creatives, can still be impactful.
The definition of what is a hit these days is indeed complicated. The premiere episode, admittedly launched head-to-head with the climactic game of the NBA finals, didn’t even attract 1 million viewers. But as part of the FX on Hulu strategy, it dropped on that platform over this past weekend. It will likely be seen by millions more over the next several weeks; the scheduling strategy and limited number of episodes all but assures a 35-day “total television” audience that will be much, much larger.
And it’s quite likely that the 2023 Emmy Award nominations will include many of these performances among them.
So while this is a wonderful reminder that the network, its leadership and its talents are still very much at their peaks, no matter what the calendar says. As someone who isn’t quite as young as he once was, I can more than identify with those realities. I’ll be certain to watch this to conclusion, but I do have one complaint–and yes, I do realize as this is based on a pre-existing novel there wasn’t much they could do about this.
“Old” has certain pejorative implications that I’m a tad uncomfortable with, and I suspect many others mentioned herein would agree with my stance. As long as our health is strong and our brains are intact, we can indeed be supreme at our crafts.
You can call the show “old”. I’d rather we be referred to as “seasoned”.
Until next time…