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October 3, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Remotely confused by television

Programming more complicated than in the 1990s.

Where have you gone “Must See TV”?

The question isn’t an indictment of the quality of 21st-century television shows. It’s merely a question my mind ponders each time I pick up the remote and search for a program I recognize. The same puzzled sensation also hits me when someone raves about a show they watch online.

Entertainment viewing nowadays is like walking into a buffet. In those restaurants, I’ll either wear myself out, trying to sample every item at every food station (even those circles of unidentified deep-fried somethings) or stick to the old standbys — roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, a salad and apple pie. Either way, a smorgasbord of choices completely disconnects my brain’s responsible-eating lobe.

Last week, the networks rolled out their new fall lineups, and the Primetime Emmy Awards were distributed.

News from the two converging events left me staring at my viewing plate, wondering where those “Must See” Thursday nights on NBC have gone. The ’80s roster featured “The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” “Night Court” and “Hill Street Blues.” By the ’90s, “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Friends” and “ER” moved in.

We knew exactly where and when to find Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.

As I glanced through the list of last week’s Emmy winners for the best dramas and comedies, as well as the nominees, I realized I’d only seen two of the 12 shows, and neither took the top prize. Loyal viewers locate those programs on a, well, smorgasbord of “platforms,” including cable and network channels — AMC, PBS, Showtime, HBO, CBS, ABC, FX and NBC, as well as on Netflix via the Internet. The latter platform produced “House of Cards,” a Best Drama Series nominee and the first Web-based show to receive such an honor. Winners and nominees in other categories came from those outlets, as well as A&E, USA, The History Channel, Sundance Channel and Lifetime.

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