Saturday, January 21, 2023

The End of New Amsterdam and the Twilight of Network TV for a Gen Xer


Scott D. Parker

One of my favorite TV shows ended its five-year run on Tuesday and I’m wondering if it’ll be the last great network show I watch.

New Amsterdam

Like Castle, New Amsterdam had me at the trailer. The show starred Ryan Eggold (whom I knew from The Blacklist) as Max Goodwin, the new medical director at New Amsterdam, the oldest public hospital in America (based on the real Bellevue hospital). Eggold’s performance on The Blacklist stood out, especially when he was in the same show as series star James Spader, but with Max, Eggold had a role to which he could bring his considerable charm and humanity. It didn’t hurt that he had Max’s mantra as a north star: How can I help?

If you watch the trailer, you get what the series was about: helping people despite the massive forces standing in the way. Over five years, and through a pandemic, Max and his colleagues kept running up against seemingly insurmountable odds. Sometimes they’d win, other times they’d lose, but they kept trying, striving to do what they can.

New Amsterdam ran on Tuesday nights on NBC right after the massive hit This is Us. My wife watched that show from the jump and, like many viewers, often ended episodes with tears in her eyes. I didn’t watch that show, but New Amsterdam proved to be my weekly dose of heartwarming tears.

Storytelling-wise, the writers of New Amsterdam often used a very small story—often a single patient—to tell a larger tale. Like all good TV shows, the supporting cast each had their time the spotlight. A particular favorite was Tyler Labine's Iggy Frome, a psychiatrist, who often ran up against the pillars of big medicine just as much as Max did. A season 5 recurring theme for Iggy was the crumbling of his marriage and having to come to terms with himself before reaching out to his ex-husband and asking him for a simple date, to try again.

Sandra Mae Frank's Dr. Elizabeth Wilder was the Chief of Oncology. The actress is also deaf. She became a love interest to Max in the last season and I found it wonderful not only to see how a deaf surgeon navigated the world of the hearing in the operating room but also how the writers showed a burgeoning love often in silence and sign language.

I enjoyed seeing Jocko Sims's chief surgeon come to terms with things he could not easily fix--like his personal life as well the relationship with mostly absent father--and how Jocko imbued Floyd Reynolds with deep grace and understanding. And Janet Montegomery's Lauren Bloom, a character who grappled with addiction and showed how the messiness in life can be dealt with, but that it's hard and it takes one day at a time, one decision at a time, and the struggle never ends.

The writers and directors brought all their resources to bear in fun way, sometimes using time-honored tropes quite effectively. They did so for the finale episode, adding a nice twist that pulled all the tears from my eyes. [I’ll add my thoughts about the finale at the bottom of this post.]

But what really got me thinking about the end of New Amsterdam is what it might signal for me as a viewer: Would this be the last network TV show I watched on a regular basis?

Network TV for Generation X

Born in 1968, I remember when there were three networks, PBS, and a local UHF station here in Houston. By the time I got to middle school, we had two more local stations, but that was it. Every fall, the three networks would roll out their Saturday morning cartoon lineup, showcasing them in specials that aired the previous night. There'd be articles in the local papers for the new fall TV shows (including a side-by-side grid) and big splashes on TV Guide. I remember scanning all those resources and then making a schedule for what I'd want to watch.

This practice pretty much continued through the publication history of Entertainment Weekly and the birth of the internet when information was much easily found. I'm always game to see what the Big 3 had planned.

With the birth and rise of streaming TV, however, things began to change. Netflix would drop every episode of a new show and you could binge them all in a weekend. Other services followed suit. It was a different way to watch TV. Not wrong, mind you, but different. Just because I grew up in the weekly format doesn't mean I don't appreciate having all episodes of a season at my fingertips. Ever since last summer, my family has been watching the entire run of Friends, an episode a day at dinner, something that would have been difficult prior to streaming. But there is something to having a week to think about and digest plot elements and revelations of any given episode. I remember when Lost was airing, the morning after, a group of us would discuss the newest episode over coffee. It was quite fun.

Things change and I change with them. That's how life is, but I will say I dug when Disney+ opted to drop episodes of its Marvel and Star Wars TV shows on a weekly basis. Sure, it meant the company would secure subscriptions for a longer time, but it was fun to think and read about what the latest revelation about Wanda (WandaVision) or The Mandalorian or Andor might mean.

As Fall 2022 approached, I did my usual thing that I've done all my life: I scanned what was returning and what new shows would debut. New Amsterdam was top of my list even though I knew going in it would be its last. And a shortened 13-episode season at that. It was, however, the only returning show I watched and cared about. The only other network show I watched live--SyFy's Resident Alien--wouldn't be returning until 2023.

That left the new shows. As I read about them and watched previews, I experienced something foreign to my experience: none of the shows appealed to me. Granted, I'm a middle-aged guy now so that might be a thing, but you'd think the shows at CBS would be in my wheelhouse. Some of them probably should be. I'm looking at NCIS or FBI, but for whatever reason, I just never started.

The Future of Network TV

So what's next? Network TV is not going away, but perhaps that majority of its viewers are. The Boomers are slowly dying and us Gen Xers are now in middle age. Millennials grew up in the 1980s and 1990s so they remember what it was like to be in front of a TV on Thursday nights (or set the VCR) but for Gen Z, the ones born in the late 1990s, I don't think network TV barely registers. My son, now twenty-one, rarely watched anything on "live" TV after he stopped watching Blue's Clues. His network is YouTube and streaming. When he moved out of the house, I made sure to load the apps of the local TV stations on his smart TV. "It's for the weather at least," I told him. He just showed me his phone. "I get the weather here."

And he gets his TV there, too.

Now that New Amsterdam is gone, network TV is now the place I watch Stephen Colbert every night. And football until the Super Bowl and then golf on Sunday afternoons without football. If you throw in ESPN, it's also the place I'll catch NBA games, but I think you're seeing the trend. Network TV might become the place for live events where scripted TV shows are things I'll catch on a streaming service.

Might network TV have lost a viewer? Unlikely. Come next fall, I'll still read about the new shows. There might be another New Amsterdam, a new This is Us, or a surprise sitcom that comes out of the blue. I will always be curious to see what network TV has to offer.

But it has been a fascinating realization that the end of New Amsterdam likely marks a point in my lifetime of TV watching.

What about you? Do you still watch network TV or are all your favorite shows on a streaming service?

The New Amsterdam Finale with Spoilers

One of the tropes the writers used in the finale was to give each character their origin story via flashbacks. We see how Max, Elizabeth, Iggy, Lauren, and Floyd each found their way into the practice of medicine. I'll add that I kind of hoped for a flashback to Anupam Kher's Dr. Vijay Kapoor but, as my wife suggested, perhaps the show and the actor didn't part well. Ditto on both accounts for Freema Agyeman as Dr. Helen Sharpe, Max's previous love interest.

In one of those tricks via editing, you see Max's last day at New Amsterdam with his young daughter, Luna, as they try and get out of the hospital. Max has resigned the position of Medical Director in order to spend more time with Luna. There is, of course, a major emergency that will harness the powers and abilities of all the staff and it forces Max to miss the mermaid parade yet again (it's something Luna always wants to attend but they kept missing it because of Max's job, thus the resignation).


The editing trick is where you see what is presented as the next medical director, a young woman who showed up and has to deal with whispered rumors about her. Halfway through the show, as Max's edict of "How can I help?" has been uttered more than once, I looked over to my wife and said, "If the final four words of this entire series isn't 'how can I help?', then the writers will have missed a golden opportunity."

They didn't, but they went one better. My wife figure it out first and suggested it: "I think that new medical director is Luna all grown up."

Boom! That is exACTly what it was. Some writer I am. I didn't even see it coming (although, to be fair, I rarely try and guess stories while I'm in the middle of them because in that moment, I'm a viewer/reading rather than a writer).

Turns out, Luna's origin story was Max's last day at New Amsterdam. And it is she, looking directly at the camera, who speaks those famous four words: How can I help? Cut to black and cue the tears.

Oh, and props to the writers for not showing us older versions of the same characters. I first thought I might've wanted to see a gray-haired Max, to see him be proud of his daughter, but then realized my error. And here's the veteran writer tip: you don't have to see Ryan Eggold in old person makeup to know he's proud of his daughter. If you've written characters well, stuff like that is understood and doesn't always have to be shown. Besides, New Amsterdam no longer belonged to Max. It's Luna's story now.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Beau recommends Laird Barron


This week, Beau takes a look at Laird Barron's Black Mountain

When a small-time criminal named Harold Lee turns up in the Ashokan reservoir--sans a heartbeat, head, or hands--the local mafia capo hires Isaiah Coleridge to look into the matter. The mob likes crime, but only the crime it controls . . . and as it turns out, Lee is the second independent contractor to meet a bad end on the business side of a serrated knife. One such death can be overlooked. Two makes a man wonder.

A guy in Harold Lee's business would make his fair share of enemies, and it seems a likely case of pure revenge. But as Coledrige turns over more stones, he finds himself dragged into something deeper and more insidious than he could have imagined, in a labyrinthine case spanning decades. At the center are an heiress moonlighting as a cabaret dancer, a powerful corporation with high-placed connections, and a serial killer who may have been honing his skills since the Vietnam War.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The joys of the slush pile

It's my first post of 2023 and I'm going to spend it looking backwards. 

Maybe it's not the right time of the year for that. You, surely, want to hear about my resolutions and goals for 2023. You want to hear about why I think this year is going to be the best year ever. And, shit, it might very well be, but that's not what this is about. 

Three years ago I started as an Editor for venerated crime fiction site Shotgun Honey. But on January first, my watch ended. 

I have no idea how many stories I read over the course of those three years. A lot, I'm certain. One thing about Shotgun Honey: as soon as they open, writers come out swinging. 

Most of the stories, I think, were okay. Some were good. A few were excellent. A surprisingly small amount were out and out bad (though when something is a stinker - the kind that makes you close your laptop and go give the dog a few pets? that hangs around in your head a bit). We published the good ones and cherished the excellent ones, but the thing I didn't know about being an editor? Each and every story sticks with you. Not the plot. Not the names of the characters of the specific twist at the end, not even the aesthetics of the story. It'd take a superhuman memory to remember all those details. But every single story I read as an editor taught me something. Every single story added to the membrane in a writer's brain, the fatty muscle between the ocular fibers and the ether in which creativity breeds itself in to a new form each day that says, "see? This is how that works," or, "Oh, this isn't working because of what happened here" until the writer can recognize the structures and patterns and techniques subconsciously. 

That seems obvious. Writers learn by doing and by reading. But the thing about a slush pile (especially a near never-ending slush pile like Shotgun Honey has) is that there's a LOT of reading. An amount of reading that can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. If that seems like a complaint, it's not. It was an opportunity. A challenge. And an education. My writing is better because I read so many stories. Because I read so many good stories. Because I read so many stories that didn't quite work. 

And, ultimately, that's the reason I stepped aside.

My life is really busy. I've got a wife. A kid. A dog. A house. A job. Family. And hobbies other than writing and reading (someday I'm going to do posts on the Zen of painting Warhammer and the storytelling rules you learn playing Dungeons and Dragons). But I made it work for three years. And I could have made it work for more. But if being an editor is a constant education, an always repeating exposure to what works and what doesn't work about storytelling, it's also not fair to hoard that knowledge for myself. 

It was time for me, in a lot of ways, but that also means it's time for someone else. I've come to truly believe that anyone who wants to improve as a writer needs to read a slush pile; that nothing will make you sharper about story and more certain of aesthetics, and more aware of the power of structure than reading a whole lot of stories that do things well and reading even more stories that don't. After long enough you'll be able to recognize whether or not a story is going to work within the first sentence. And after that, you'll learn to be on the lookout for those marvelous, rare, stories that show you a sentence that doesn't seem like the rest of it is going to work, and then the joy when it comes together to pummel you in the face. 

I have no idea whose name will be on the editorial masthead of Shotgun Honey when they reopen later this year, but I'm certain, whoever they are, that when they eventually leave, they'll be a better writer than when they started. The lessons of the slush pile are myriad and contradictory, but when enough time, they become one of the most powerful educations a writer can have. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Ed Aymar delivers NO HOME FOR KILLERS


E. A. Aymar

Available February 1

“Blends Shakespearian tragedy with street savvy for an engrossing and entertaining novel like none other you’ll read…a benchmark in noir fiction.”

– James Grady, legendary creator of Condor and author of This Train

E. A. Aymar releases another thriller, NO HOME FOR KILLERS, and once again proves he has talent and heart. He has the remarkable ability to craft fast paced, intense reads highlighting his pitch-perfect dialog and complicated, compelling characters. As well, his storytelling does not turn away from the ugly and the profane, indeed Aymar handles dark subject matter with sensitivity and sincerity. His use of such subjects is purposeful, often underlining Aymar’s bigger picture, the story of violence and the control it has on so many lives. Ed has a lot to say.

NO HOME FOR KILLERS introduces us to the Peña family. Markus Peña, jazz musician, social activist and brother to Melinda and Emily, is found murdered in the early part of our story. Former social worker Melinda, traumatized after years of trying to save the fragile and weak, and Emily, a justice seeking undercover vigilante, come together to find out who committed this crime. As his sisters work to discover who killed him and why, they uncover many ugly truths about their brother and revisit dark family secrets and pain all while trying to outwit and outrun brutal criminals.

Previously Aymar delivered the smart and kick-ass female led THEY’RE GONE, a book acclaimed by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and named one of the best books of 2020 collections by the South Florida Sentinel. 2019 saw THE UNREPENTANT, the tale of desperate eighteen-year-old Charlotte as she runs from an abusive home only to end up kidnapped and forced into an even darker life, set atop the finalist list for several awards including Foreward Indies, Readers Favorites, Next Gin Indie and the Anthony. THE UNREPENTANT also graced the Amazon bestseller list. And his Dead Series, I’LL SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD AND YOU’RE AS GOOD AS DEAD, amassed rave reviews from crime and thriller readers.

Ed doesn’t just write, he continues to sharpen his craft and finds the time to help new writers, as well. His column, “Decisions and Revisions,” appears monthly in the Washington Independent Review of Books. He is a former member of the national board of the International Thriller Writers and, for years, was the managing editor of The Thrill Begins, an online resource for debut and aspiring writers. He is also an active member of Crime Writers of Color, the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Plus, he runs the Noir at the Bar series for Washington, D.C., and has hosted and spoken at a variety of crime fiction, writing, and publishing events nationwide. He manages the popular and well-regarded monthly newsletter called Crime (Fiction) Works featuring upcoming top crime fiction novels, interviews, and monthly prizes for subscribers. Click HERE to sign up!

Ed loves writing. It’s clear. And with the passion and talent he puts into every project you know you're going to be THRILLED.