Tube Talk: Basic cable dramas worth checking out

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

While AMC continues to generate attention and earn big ratings with original dramas like The Walking Dead, Mad Men and Breaking Bad (which returns with the final episodes of its final season this summer), A&E and Sundance Channel have been earning rave reviews for their originals, Bates Motel and Rectify, respectfully.

Unfortunately, Bates Motel and Rectify were timeslot competitors, both airing Mondays at 9 p.m. Central, and both concluding their first seasons May 20. Thankfully, we live in the age of DVRs, On Demand and online streaming. (Locally, on Comcast, Sundance is a standard definition channel, but Rectify is available in HD through Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand, so if you have an HDTV, you might prefer to watch it On Demand.)

The good news is that A&E has already renewed the addictive psychological thriller Bates Motel for a second season, and Sundance has also renewed the engagingly slow-paced and thought-provoking Rectify — which had a six-episode first season — for a 10-episode second season.

Bates Motel — from Lost producer Carlton Cuse and starring Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland) — has been getting AMC-like attention and reviews and pulled in record ratings for the network. The slow-burning Rectify, from producers of Breaking Bad, has an equally talented, albeit slightly lesser-known, cast, is Sundance’s first original scripted drama series and has already set a very high bar for the network’s upcoming originals.

While it will be a long wait for new episodes of either series, we still have AMC’s Breaking Bad to get us through the summer, and A&E’s original summer series The Glades and Longmire return Memorial Day, Monday at 8 p.m. Central and 9 p.m. Central.

Just as Bates Motel has a Pacific Northwest vibe to it, The Glades — starring Aussie actor Matt Passmore as a Chicago cop transplanted to small-town Florida — takes full advantage of its sultry location, so much that you can almost feel the humidity through your TV.

Based on the novels by Craig Johnson, Longmire — from the producers of The Closer and starring Robert Taylor (also from Australia), Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) and Lou Diamond Phillips (Wolf Lake, La Bamba) — centers on a widowed sheriff trying to rebuild his life by protecting and serving his Wyoming town.

Basic cable channels used to reserve their original fare for the summer. Now that they’re delivering great drama year-round, it’s comforting to know that cable networks are still giving audiences quality first-run entertainment over the summer when broadcast networks tend to pad their schedules with mindless reality shows and repeats.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to

From the May 22-28, 2013, issue

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