Jack Myers' Think Tank: As 'The Sopranos' Ends, What's The Next Big Programming Breakthrough?

This weekend HBO premieres the first of the final nine episodes of "The Sopranos." This landmark series promises to go out with a bang. Perhaps several bangs as two families square off, loyalties are frayed, and conflicts turn to gunshots.

The series picks up four years after Johnny "Sack" Sacramoni is caught flat-footed in his New Jersey backyard as FBI agents close in, while Tony Soprano races off into the woods.

It's truly amazing how quickly we are once again caught up and engaged as the saga continues to unfold. When "The Sopranos" began eight years ago (1/10/1999), it ushered in a new era of television drama. Today, both broadcast and cable networks, pay and commercial, air quality dramas that represent a new golden age of television. From FX's "The Shield," also premiering its new season this week, and "The Riches" and "Rescue Me," to USA's "The 4400," to "C.S.I," "Friday Night Lights," the "Law & Order" franchise, to "Boston Legal," not to mention HBO's "Six Feet Under," "Deadwood" and "Rome," plus Showtime's "The Brotherhood" and "The Tudors," television owes a debt of gratitude to "The Sopranos." I've mentioned just a handful of the many exceptional dramas now available on network television that probably would not have been considered by network programmers before the success of David Chase's legendary series.



Where, though, does television go from here? Will Donald Trump ultimately break ratings records by also having his head shaved on "The Apprentice" finale? Will there be breakthroughs in human-based family and emotionally laden prime-time soap operas? Will there be more interstitial programming such as the minisodes being launched by Fox during commercial breaks? Will variety competition advance to new lengths? Will user-generated programming ultimately be packaged into advance versions of "America's Funniest Videos" that put the concept of privacy into a permanent deep sleep?

And how about virtual worlds like Second Life and Kaneva, and social networks like MySpace? Will they become not only outlets for personal creativity but sources for completely new forms of television and video content?

What's coming next for television? What's the next breakthrough in programming? Where will it come from? What are the programs out there now that are paving the way for the next "Sopranos"? Send your thoughts on the next big programming breakthrough by adding your comments to my TV Board blog.

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