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Save This Show: Why 'Men of a Certain Age' Must Get Another Season

July 11, 2011

by Maureen Ryan

I posted my Emmy prediction story Friday, and you may have been surprised by the amount of attention I gave to 'Men of a Certain Age' in that piece.

The real surprise is this: The TNT show, which concluded its terrific second season last week, is in danger of cancellation. And I'm terrified it could die before it gets a realistic shot making an impression on TV viewers.

Despite recently winning a Peabody Award, 'MOACA' may not return next year, which is why I'm hoping that if the show gets some Emmy nods on Thursday, TNT executives will have one more reason to give the drama a third season.

To say it deserves to stick around is the understatement of the year. 'MOACA' is without question one of the best shows on television, and this lovely, bittersweet drama dying now would be like 'Friday Night Lights' going away after its first season. It's simply unthinkable.

If you consider yourself a fan of quality television but you haven't given 'MOACA' a shot, you really owe it to yourself to do so. Like so many of my favorite shows -- 'FNL,' 'Party Down,' hell, even 'Battlestar Galactica' -- it tells the story of characters who are torn between resignation and hope, between reality and aspiration. And it does so with so much humor, compassion and wry intelligence that I always come away from feeling a kind of glowing recognition. "It's a perfectly calibrated meditation on keeping hope alive in the face of realistic disappointment" or "This show gets it" are not the kind of things a network can put on a poster. But everything that transpired in the wonderful second season makes me glad that 'MOACA' exists -- and desperate for it to get another chance to work its low-key but effective magic.

Another season will give those of us who love 'MOACA' a chance to change people's perceptions of the show (and I've come to realize just how misunderstood the drama is in many quarters). And airing the third season all in one go, which the network will do going forward if 'MOACA' continues, would give this underhyped show a chance achieve the kind of momentum that it needs with the media and the public. The way the most recent season aired, in two 6-episode bursts separated by several months, each run was over before some people even realized 'MOACA' had returned.

But 'MOACA' has faced obstacles aside from problematic ratings. I still come across people who think that a show starring Ray Romano wouldn't be their cup of tea or who think they have to be male or in the title age group to relate to 'MOACA.' That is not the case, and Romano's performance is every bit as good as one you'd find on HBO, Showtime or FX.

The fact is, I'm starting to think I'm part of the problem. I'm of half a mind to tell you to forget everything I've previously written about 'MOACA.' It was too limited.

Of course, the show's premise is certainly the same as it's ever been -- three friends facing 50 deal with their families, their love lives and various job pressures -- but, as is the case with the best programs, the emotional richness of 'MOACA' can't be conveyed in that short description. And of course, I wouldn't want to take back the sentiments that many critics have expressed -- that 'MOACA' is a finely wrought, wonderfully acted, poignant and funny meditation on the challenges and triumphs of everyday life.

But if you haven't seen the show, or haven't watched it lately, toss out your preconceived notions of what it is and who might like it. Syfy's 'Battlestar Galactica' wasn't anything like the '70s TV show that preceded it, and 'FNL' wasn't a glorification of Texas football culture, to name two shows that overcame perception issues regarding their content. And far from being difficult or hard to relate to, 'MOACA' is one of the most inclusive and warmly appealing dramas out there (I'm not a man, but I often think 'MOACA' was made expressly for and about me). Like 'Friday Night Lights' and 'Parenthood,' it's a compassionate and perceptive a look at modern life, and whatever age you are, you're likely to find that it's full of insight and laconic wit.

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself. Most 'MOACA' episodes are available here (and I recommend 'Go With the Flow,' 'Let the Sun Shine In' or 'A League of Their Owen' if you want a one-episode sample of the show). I certainly applaud TNT for putting the show's episodes online, but I'd applaud the network even more if it brings back 'Men' for a third season, because I truly believe that this is a show that deserves another shot at success. I say that not just as a fan of the show but as someone who realizes that TNT is not running a charity.

From a marketing perspective, I actually think that 'MOACA' comfortably fits into the TNT brand. TNT is a proudly mainstream network, and it became successful by rolling out a series of inclusive and generally recognizable shows. And even if Joe, Terry and Owen don't fit neatly into a pre-existing genre or format, they certainly aren't the McMansion types you often see on the broadcast networks or the pay cable dramas; they're eminently relatable people who work hard for a living. And 'MOACA's' central concept may not be as simple and sexy as "Aliens invade!" or "Cops catch bad guys!," but I don't think a marketing campaign that highlights the show's critical raves would be a bad idea.

The fact is, regardless of the show's moneymaking possibilities, the adventures of Joe (Romano), Terry (Scott Bakula) and Owen (Andre Braugher) bring a whole different level of prestige to TNT.

I am on record as not being a fan of former NBC executive Ben Silverman, but I can't forget the fact that while he was at NBC, he didn't allow 'FNL' to die, as so many executives would have. He (and other executives) found a way for 'FNL' to continue via a partnership with DirecTV, and if that's the only good thing Silverman did in his career, that's enough.

'MOACA' deserves that kind of Hail Mary pass -- if nothing else, it'll be the kind of show that TNT can point to when it's looking to attract talent to the network. "Hey, we don't just have Spielberg's alien drama," executives can tell creative types. "We have a Peabody-winning show that appears on many critics' Top 10 lists!" I know season 2 of 'MOACA' will be on mine.

Eight months ago, I was hoping against hope that FX's 'Terriers' would live to get a second season. It didn't, and though that cancellation was (and is) hard to take, in my heart of hearts I always knew the numbers for that show were just too low to make additional seasons viable. But I truly believe that 'MOACA' isn't one of those niche shows that has no hope of growing. I'm all for a television landscape that includes weird concepts, anti-heroes and unsettling darkness, but this show is not about those things. It's just a well-made, thoughtful, funny drama that just needs a regular spot where people can find it, and it needs to be on long enough for people to sample its many charms.

And truth be told, canceling the drama could do real harm to TNT's reputation. 'The Closer,' the network's flagship drama, is finishing out its run soon. Does TNT want to be known as the cable network that kept a quality drama like 'MOACA' on the air, or as the network that used to have that Kyra Sedgwick cop show and that really good drama starring Ray Romano?

Yes, Ray Romano. He's giving a performance of exceptional quality on 'MOACA,' as are Bakula and Braugher. Put away your 'Everybody Loves Raymond' memories and give 'MOACA' a chance. I hope TNT executives will continue to do that as well.

I'm not one of those people who thinks that network executives don't have souls. Call me crazy, I'm convinced that some of them do. If that theory is correct, there's no way TNT's brass can cancel this show. This is the moment in which executives should say, "The hell with it. This show represents the best we can do. And we're keeping it around because the best we can do is pretty damn great."

I'm just sayin'.

Courtesy of AOLTV.com