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Z on TV
Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
'The Affair,' the best TV dramas of the year and 'The Great American Novel'

I was never one of those critics who measured television against literature, theater, film or any of the other forms of entertainment and art that have traditionally been considered more serious or elevated.

In fact, for decades, I have been arguing about the importance of television in its own right as an enormous cultural force: the principal storyteller of American life, even in its silliest and most debased genres (like reality shows).

But as I joyously wallowed in the wealth of great TV drama this year, one thought kept flashing across the scoreboard of my brain: This is absolutely the stuff of the the Great American Novel that all those English department professors were talking about back in the late 1960s and early ’70s when I was studying literature.

The idea of the novel migrating to TV is not a new one. “The Wire,” to name one series, has been there and gone.

But I have never seen such complicated and profound aspects of American life so consistently, wisely and engagingly...

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A brilliant byproduct of Sarah Koenig's storytelling in 'Serial'

Earlier today I wrote about my frustration and annoyance with the final episode of Sarah Koenig's "Serial." (Read that here.)

She promised journalism and instead ended the podcast series tap dancing like someone on methamphetamines - telling us first how she would feel about the young man convicted of the crime if she were a juror, then how she would feel about him as a "human being walking down the street next week" - whatever that might mean. But not as a journalist.

OK, fine. The series was still a triumph, as I said, in the way it made a moribund medium, the podcast, red hot - reminding us that great content is great content in any delivery platform or system.

For those who haven't been following, you should know that the weekly, non-fiction account of a Baltimore murder involving students at Woodlawn High School is the media hit of the fall. At the center of the series are Hae Min Lee, who went missing in 1999 and whose body was found a few weeks later in Leakin Park, and her...

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In the end, 'Serial' leaves me frustrated, even annoyed

I love the energy and even excitement that Sarah Koenig pumped into the podcast genre and radio storytelling with "Serial," a 12-part series on a Baltimore murder from 1999.

But as I listened to the final segment today, I couldn't help but feel frustrated and even annoyed by the ending.

For those who haven't been following, the weekly, non-fiction account of a Baltimore murder involving students at Woodlawn High School is the media hit of the fall. At the center of "Serial" are Hae Min Lee, who went missing in 1999 and whose body was found a few weeks later in Leakin Park, and her former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murder, sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.

Sarah Koenig, a former Sun reporter, is host and executive producer of the series, from the producers of public radio’s “This American Life.”

Down the home stretch of the 12th episode, which became available today, Koenig said the magic words I have been waiting to hear for weeks, "What do we know? Not, 'What...

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Army-Navy TV ratings up 7 percent over last year

The TV ratings for Saturday's Army-Navy game in Baltimore were up 7 percent over last year, according to CBS, which televised the game.

CBS said it was the highest-rated Army-Navy game in 15 years.

Nationally, the game drew a rating of 4.5 and share of 10, compared with a rating of 4.2 and 9 share last year.

In the Baltimore market, the game drew a 9.5 rating and 20 share, according to CBS. 

Navy won the game by a score of 17-10.

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CBS a little late and a lot lost in Ravens telecast

I knew it couldn’t last forever.

After two weeks of mostly praising CBS for its Ravens telecasts, Sunday’s coverage of Baltimore’s 20-12 victory over Jacksonville was dismal. And the problems went well beyond the booth team of Tom McCarthy and Adam Archuleta.

The most basic job of any live sports telecast is to show viewers the whole event, but CBS couldn’t even deliver that to its audience.

Baltimore viewers missed the opening snap of the second quarter Sunday. The telecast came out of a double-pump-quadruple-pimp promo for two of the “CSI” series to show Joe Flacco standing five yards behind the line of scrimmage looking downfield for a receiver.

Sometimes, locally owned or affiliated stations are responsible for “clipping” the network this way. But the promos were not for CBS-owned WJZ, they were for the network series.

Maybe one missed snap doesn’t seem like that big a deal to you by itself. But it is representative of how deep a backseat the viewing pleasure of the fan takes to...

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Watching the Ravens on CBS is a lot easier to take this year

One of the happier and more unexpected stories of the Ravens’ season has been the improvement in the CBS telecasts of the games.

Last week, the network’s second string team of Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Jenny Dell turned in a perfectly solid performance, and the same goes for this week’s effort by Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein and Chris Fischer in a 28-13 Ravens win.

I don’t even know what string they are, but it doesn’t matter because they did good work. After complaining endlessly last season about Sean McManus dissing Baltimore viewers with what I considered cut-rate staffing of Ravens games, I have to admit he’s treating viewers here probably better than we deserve given the economics of the business.

Not many markets outside of Baltimore and Miami carried the Ravens-Dolphins game. Heck, I probably would have been watching the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals game if I hadn't been reviewing the Ravens.

And, yet, we got a crew with three decent professionals in...

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