WE Enters The Demanding Domain Of Scripted Series With 'The Divide'

Yet another basic cable network enters the original scripted programming arena tonight with the premiere of “The Divide” on WE TV.

This eight-episode series, which could return for future seasons, has for convenience by many been classified as a legal drama. But with a racially charged primary storyline about a white man convicted of the murder of most members of an African American family and the aftermath involvement of a group known as the Innocence Initiative that seeks to overturn the conviction, it proves to be so much more as it plays out. It’s a big show full of big ideas, and as such it has become both a high-profile and progressive first effort for WE and also a possibly problematic one. I say that because as rich and atmospheric and thought provoking as “The Divide” turns out to be it is also a bit slow moving at the start and it takes a while to clarify certain aspects of its narrative.

That’s not a problem for people who don’t mind giving a series several episodes (or hours) to state its business, but that isn’t really the way the world works these days, except for shows that appeal to the most durable binge-viewers. Many critics I have spoken to about this show have said largely the same thing: “The Divide” is good on the whole, and even great in parts, but it took time to figure out exactly what was going on, and they weren’t sure they would have stayed with it if it weren’t their job to do so.

Whether or not that proves to be a problem remains to be seen. Another issue here may be that “The Divide” is something very new for WE – a network that after years of aggressively branding itself as a destination for women is now trying to broaden its appeal and attract men. (WE no longer stands for “women’s entertainment.” It’s now just a word, or a thing, like TLC and VH1 and the new letters-only names of so many old basic cable channels.)

Getting back to the show itself, and with the above concerns in mind, a network could do much worse than showcase a series like “The Divide” as its first scripted effort. This project was actually developed by WE’s sibling network, AMC, which passed on the show as it was first delivered but also kept everyone involved (including the actors) under contract and encouraged them all to try again (my words, not AMC’s). Apparently the version that will be seen starting tonight is much better than the original version delivered to AMC.

Somewhere in the process, and remaining in the corporate family, the show migrated to WE -- a move that is already proving beneficial for the network in publicity value alone. As a viewer I haven’t paid very much attention in recent years to the original programming on WE -- with the exception of “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” only because the amazing Joan Rivers seems more relevant in her eighties than ever before. Otherwise WE has long been easy to overlook and its shows have rarely been top of mind, in part because it hasn’t had a critically lauded scripted show to call its own, or even a big breakout reality effort on the order of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” or TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” unless one counts “Bridezillas.”

Today could well be remembered as the day that began to change, in the way that everything began to change for their networks when “Mad Men” debuted on AMC on July 19, 2007 and “Rectify” arrived on Sundance on April 22, 2013.

It’s impossible to predict how “The Divide” will do, but in terms of sending positive signals to viewers and the television industry, a quality original series like this one is going to do a lot more to advance WE than all those “Law & Order” and “CSI: Miami” reruns. That’s not to say the ratings will be as strong as they are for those shows, but the returns in every other way should be greater



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