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'Another Great Year For TV': David Bianculli On The Best (And Worst) Of 2015

Jonathan Banks (left) and Bob Odenkirk star in the AMC series <em>Better Call Saul,</em> which tops David Bianculli's 2015 10-Best list.
Ben Leuner
Courtesy of AMC
Jonathan Banks (left) and Bob Odenkirk star in the AMC series Better Call Saul, which tops David Bianculli's 2015 10-Best list.

When it came to new programming, broadcast TV didn't impress critic David Bianculli much this year. But if you add in cable and streaming services, then the story changes.

All told, cable and streaming made it "another great year for TV," Bianculli tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. The year was so good, in fact, Bianculli says he could have made a Top 20 or even a Top 30 list, but in keeping with tradition, he has narrowed it down to 10 — OK, fine, 11 — picks:

1. Better Call Saul (AMC)
"I didn't expect it to be that good."

2. Fargo(FX)
"In its second season, it rebooted from the first, and I loved everything about the program."

3. Justified (FX)
"Good finale. Excellent final year."

4. The Good Wife (CBS)
"The only show from broadcast TV on my Top 10."

5. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
"He went out very strong, not just in the last day, but in the last year."

6. Mad Men (AMC)
"I think it ended beautifully."

7. The Walking Dead (AMC)
"It's a genre show, but it's a really well done one."

8. Louie (FX)
"Those really aren't TV shows so much as little mini movies and [ Louis C.K. is] one of the few TV auteurs that we have through TV history."

9. The Man in the High Castle (Amazon)
"About what would have happened if the Nazis and the Japanese had won World War II and taken over the United States and it's this alternative history stuff that's beautifully realized — great production values and very creepy. ... Once you've stopped watching [it stays] with you with images for weeks and months — that's, to me, a really good show."

10./11. Tie between Episodes (Showtime) and Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
"I think [ Episodes] gets overlooked every year and it makes me laugh out loud more than just about anything else that I watch."

As for the brand new stuff? Bianculli liked Mr. Robot (USA) and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore(Comedy Central) but advises viewers to steer clear of Sex Box (WE).

Interview Highlights

On changes in late night television

I think [ Stephen Colbert's] transition was seamless. People wanted to know what he would be like without the faux character of the arch-conservative and he was fine. He sings well, he plays, he's enthusiastic. He's not as much of a fanboy as say, Jimmy Fallon, but all of those seem to work. I think he's found a place and he's going to just grow and he's doing fine. I haven't been as caught up with Trevor Noah [on The Daily Show] yet, I like some of his new correspondents, but I don't feel like he has the gravitas ... I like the outrage of his predecessor, and I also like the outrage of John Oliver [ Last Week Tonight] over on HBO.

On how broadcast and cable TV are adjusting to the changing TV landscape with streaming

I think that cable is doing a much better job both in what they're scheduling and in how they're presenting it. Broadcast TV right now seems lost. ... What they did this year, it seems to me, was to double-down on trying to reach the broadest audience, you know, the whole idea of broadcasting, and I don't think that's the way to succeed. The shows that they brought out, there wasn't a really great program or even a very good program in the entire fall season batch. And I think that what they've got to do is go for very specific audiences and shows and get a few million people at a time to really like something and build that consensus. That's what cable is doing well, and it's the way streaming got on the map in the first place.

On the Netflix model

All that Netflix wants is for people to keep subscribing to Netflix. So if you have one show that will keep you happy — it's the same thing as the HBO/Showtime model — if people don't churn, if people don't walk away, then you're making money off them every single month, and you have 10 different shows that reach 10 percent of the audience, then you're not going to have any churn.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.
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