NBC Has The New Season's First Big Winner With 'The Blacklist'
It really isn't that much of a stretch to suggest that “The Blacklist” already belongs in the company of television's best dramas. All of a sudden, CBS’ “The Good Wife” isn't the only basic cable-worthy drama series on broadcast.
“The Blacklist” has soared in the ratings -- recently making history (according to NBC) when its September 30 episode became the first broadcast network show to add more than 6 million viewers to its total audience when Live +7 numbers were factored in. That was the second episode of the season, which retained 98 percent of the Live +7 audience for its premiere the week before. Ratings for the episode also grew by more than 5 million viewers in Live +3, another record for a broadcast series. Of even more importance, this episode of “The Blacklist” retained 100 percent of its premiere week ratings in Live +7 among adults 18-49.
Everything about the success of “The Blacklist” makes perfect sense, so much so that development executives at every network should study it very carefully. If it were a designer outfit it would be totally “on trend” (as they say on Lifetime’s “Project Runway”). It’s very adult in its approach to entertainment, very graphic in its depiction of violence, very inventive in its exploration of psychotic and sociopathic behavior, and very often somewhat horrifying to watch -- all qualities that television viewers young and old simply can't get enough of these days, provided the program they are watching maintains high production values at all times -- which “The Blacklist” most certainly does.
I will stop short of declaring that “The Blacklist” makes for fine family viewing in these increasingly dark and twisty times, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the same families that assemble to enjoy such shows as AMC's “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad” and Showtime's “Dexter” are happy to have it around, especially because two of those three adult series have recently concluded. Which brings me to another point: Like “The Good Wife,” NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” and Fox's soon-to-return “24” before it, “The Blacklist” is one of those rare programs that is forcing broadcast television to grow up. That's easier said than done with the antiquated restrictions of the FCC and the clamor of pressure group extremists working in tandem to prevent this, but it has to be done if broadcast is to survive.
Getting back to the many qualities that make “The Blacklist” so special, I should place the performance of James Spader at the top of that list. He's one of those actors that people are happy to see in just about anything and he has significant multi-generational appeal in that he is old enough to be a veteran but not so old as to be legendary. The former “Boston Legal” star has found a second great role of a lifetime in Raymond “Red” Reddington, a scary-smart criminal mastermind and, when the series began, one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives. In the first episode Reddington turned himself in and agreed to assist the authorities in apprehending extremely dangerous criminals and terrorists, many of whom are unknown to the feds, in exchange for immunity. His one enduring caveat: He insists on working closely with a pretty young FBI profiler named Elizabeth Keen, though he refuses to reveal why he is so interested in her. Keen (played by Megan Boone) is at the center of two ongoing mysteries that pulse in the background of each episode: Reddington's fascination with her and a seemingly dark secret surrounding her husband.
But it's the creeps of the week -- each one more dark and sinister than the last -- and Reddington’s ultimate manipulation of them that power “The Blacklist” along. Their names alone can be spine-tingling: The Freelancer, The Stewmaker, The Courier. Like the protagonists on any number of procedural crime dramas, Keen and her colleagues solve interesting cases and apprehend bad guys every week. Like the protagonist of “Dexter,” Reddington often steps in at the last minute to dole out his own deadly brand of justice, with crowd-pleasing results.
Just as one couldn't wait to watch Spader as Alan Shore on “Boston Legal” serve up closing arguments that were thrilling to observe, part of the huge fun of “The Blacklist” comes from waiting to see what happens when Reddington confronts each episode's evildoer. It's as if he is hell-bent on tearing apart an uncomfortably wide-spread, super-secret society of human monsters. There had better be a lot of them out there, because it looks as though “The Blacklist” is going to be around for awhile.