For the past few years, the mini-series/made-for-TV movie Emmy race has been completely dull. It was HBO or PBS taking top honors and that was accepted as commonplace because both networks are known for their superior productions. This year though a funny thing happened on the way to the Emmys in that things finally got interesting. In addition to HBO and PBS, the BBC, FX and History Channel all had equally strong entries and given the hype around tonight’s “Coma,” (airing locally on A&E), we could be witnessing a new television trend.
Yes, mini-series/made-for-TV movies have been around for eons, but it has been very rare to see this much excitement around them. A&E’s “Coma,” is looking to capitalize on the blockbuster success History Channel’s “Hatfields & McCoys” had back on Memorial Day. The three-day, six hour long mini-series shattered all expectations and now holds the record for the most watch cable broadcast of all time (and the second and third place slots as well). While “Coma,” probably won’t slide into any of those records, it still will stir up a buzz.
Based on the Robin Cook novel and the subsequent 1976 adaptation starring Michael Douglas (and directed by “Jurassic Park” creator Michael Crichton), “Coma” follows Susan Wheeler, a med student at an Atlanta hospital who begins to realize something isn’t quite right after a number of patients having minor surgery end up comatose. Of course, she decides to investigate and that’s where things begin to get strange.
Cook’s novel was a big deal when it first came out as it opened the doors on a debate about the true meaning of the mantra “do no harm.” However, many of the latest reviews (including the below one from The Washington Post’s Stephanie Merry) have pointed out the ethical issues raised take a back seat to what A&E was probably looking for; a good old fashioned thriller with a strong cast.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary — no alien invasions or even commentary about the health-care industry. It’s simply a well-reasoned, four-hour argument for why surgery should be avoided at all costs.
“Coma” has a lot of the same formulaic elements that “Hatfields & McCoys” had going into its record breaking run. They have a strong network platform, a holiday weekend timeslot, a distinguished cast (that includes Richard Dreyfus, Geena Davis and James Woods) and more importantly the ability to play off History’s coat-tails. It’s also worth noting that A&E and History are under the same corporate umbrella so you can bet there’s a lot of network synergy going on behind the scenes to ensure success.
In an interview with T.L. Stanley for Los Angeles Times, David McKillop, A&E’s executive vice president of programming called the decision to green-light the project a “no-brainer,” but made it clear this wasn’t just about getting something on air.
“People are really responding to event TV, but it has to be quality.”
McKillop is right, as “Hatfields & McCoys” was done correctly and with an eye on detail. After the debacle that was “The Kennedys,” History Channel didn’t want to make the same mistake twice, so it hired the right people to make a solid program. Brought to fruition by the powerhouse team of Ridley Scott and (his now late) brother Tony, the pair’s pedigree alone should be enough to get viewers to tune-in.
If done in the same manner as “Hatfields & McCoys,” we could very well be witnessing a new era of television where the allure and spectacle of the “mini-series,” returns to its heyday; or at least to the point that it keeps things interesting on Emmy night.
“Coma” begins tonight at 9 p.m. on A&E.
So what’s your take New York? Are you fan of mini-series? Will you be tuning in tonight? Hit the comments and let us know.
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