As ‘Psych’ ends, an appreciation for non-prestige dramas that get little attention but plenty of fans


James Roday as Shawn Spencer, Dule Hill as Gus Guster. (Alan Zenuk/USA Network)

“Psych” aired its series finale Wednesday night after eight years. That might mean something to you, though it’s just as likely that it doesn’t at all. A USA network drama about a fake psychic who solves crimes with his best friend, “Psych” is the epitome of one of those inoffensive, non-prestige cable dramas that actually does very well for the network while never getting an outpouring of mainstream attention.

Why is that? Well, it obviously couldn’t match the emotion of “Mad Men” or gritty intensity of “Breaking Bad” or violence of “Walking Dead” or the [insert critically-adored criteria here] of [insert beloved cable drama here]. But why should that matter? Shouldn’t a solid, well-done show that ran for eight seasons be rewarded at some point, or hey, even have an award show nomination tossed its way? (Sorry, People’s Choice doesn’t count.)

Can you imagine "and the Emmy goes to...'Rizzoli & Isles'"? (Jennifer Rose Clasen/TNT)
Can you imagine “and the Emmy goes to…’Rizzoli & Isles’”? (Jennifer Rose Clasen/TNT)

These days, not a chance. There’s just too much competition in the “prestige drama” category all over the TV map. Even besides high-profile options such as “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead” there are FX critical favorites “The Americans” and “Justified.” Plus, smaller choices (SundanceTV’s “Top of the Lake” and “Rectify,” BBC America’s “Orphan Black”) that get lavished with praise and nominations. Nearly everything on HBO or Showtime, and some new offerings on Starz, automatically get entrance into the Prestige Club.

As a result, there are a ton of quality dramas left in the dust, even if they’re not what critics prefer. Like “Psych,” they can quietly churn along for years, doing quite well and getting renewed season after season. Think TNT’s stable of crime and action hits (“Rizzoli & Isles,” “Falling Skies,”); Lifetime’s soapy choices (“Drop Dead Diva,” the long-running “Army Wives”); and USA’s successful crop (“Royal Pains,” “Covert Affairs,” “White Collar”); even ABC Family’s surprisingly compelling dramas (“The Fosters” and “Switched at Birth”).

Even if these shows can’t get attention from the mainstream or award shows in these times (it used to happen — remember when Kyra Sedgwick won for TNT’s “The Closer”?), at the least the ratings should provide some comfort: For example, TNT’s detective show “Rizzoli & Isles” is routinely one of the top cable shows of the week, regularly beating out “Mad Men” and its average of 2-3 million viewers.

And at the end of the day, being under the radar can have its own advantages in the current, crowded landscape: Shows like “Psych” can operate in their own little world, going out on a high note without worrying about intense scrutiny from a very demanding TV culture.

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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