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2012's TV lessons for 2013

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
updated 3:20 PM EST, Thu January 3, 2013
We hope showrunners are taking notes on
We hope showrunners are taking notes on "The Walking Dead's" approach to horror and "Homeland's" political suspense.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There was an abundance of well-done TV in 2012
  • From the mix of shows, there are seven themes we'd like to see continue
  • Those include more intrigue and a focus on talent and individuality

(CNN) -- You don't have to be an avid fan to acknowledge that 2012 offered some great TV.

Putting aside the national reality show that was the presidential election, there was escalating excellence on "Sons of Anarchy," "The Walking Dead" and "Parks and Recreation." There was the birth of "Girls," "House of Lies," "Veep" and "Luck" (RIP) and the redemption of "Dexter." For every hour of uncomfortably bad scripted or unscripted programming, there was something thought-provoking or, at the very least, entertaining.

We can only hope this trend continues as we look ahead to 2013. So if we could whisper a few of the lessons we've learned from TV this year into the ears of showrunners, here's what we'd say:

1. Keep the intrigue coming

One reason we're excited about the potential for FX's "The Americans" is because we're already addicted to Showtime's "Homeland" and ABC's "Scandal." We've had to wean ourselves off ABC's "Last Resort," seeing as it won't return next fall.

Those are all different shows with different objectives, with "Scandal" giving us sudsy twists, "Last Resort" offering seafaring suspense and "Homeland," at its best, tautly paced thrills. Despite their storyline divergences, they all appealed to our current collective interest in conspiracy, deception and tangled political drama.

"The Americans" teases us with the prospect of more of the same, except this time the focus will be on two KGB spies posing as married parents residing in the suburbs of Washington during the 1980s. We can hardly wait until January 30.

2. Oh, the horror

Between the imaginative insanity on "American Horror Story: Asylum" and the ruthless gore on "The Walking Dead," horror is ever-present on the small screen, and TV viewers are welcoming the thrills with open arms.

The trend looks to continue in 2013, as one of NBC's more anticipated shows is Bryan Fuller's take on the Hannibal Lecter legend. The drama "Hannibal" explores the psychiatrist and eventual serial killer's burgeoning consulting relationship with a young Detective Will Graham.

A&E will also try out a series in this genre, examining the early years of "Psycho's" Norman Bates with "Bates Motel." The series is executive produced by "Lost" mastermind Carlton Cuse.

When asked during a press call why horror is having such a renaissance with TV viewers, "AHS: Asylum's" Zachary Quinto said he thinks it could be because its a no-holds-barred approach to our societal fears.

"These shows that are able to be so bold and graphic and uncompromising, unflinching, stand to serve that purpose and be the sort of receptacle for all that collective anxiety," he said. "I think that's important, actually, in a social function, especially in a world that has as much anxiety as the one that we live in does. I think in some ways, it's exhilarating, but it's also a little bit scary that that reflects the world we live in as well."

The thing to note here, as Quinto did, is that cable is playing by a different set of rules when it comes to telling stories with a horror bent. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how NBC works through that with "Hannibal."

3. Talent trumps drama

We are not a nation in want of a singing competition, but "The Voice" has managed to blaze a trail through a crowded playing field.

All of the big three -- "The Voice," "The X Factor" and "American Idol" -- operate on essentially the same ground rules: Unknowns will audition, the famous will do the judging, and with help from the viewing audience, a singer will be crowned.

But here's where they differ: While "The X Factor" and "American Idol" still trade heavily on which personalities are seated at the judges' table and any potential drama, "The Voice" pushes competing and guest talent to the forefront. The coaches/mentors still have their squabbles, and there are still a few awkward auditions, but the very premise emphasizes singing ability above all else. With so many reality shows boiling down to bickering and fake tension, a competition show that fights (mostly) clean stands out.

4. Narrow is the new broad

Along with the rise of the antihero, thanks to shows like "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men" and newcomer "House of Lies," there has been a distinct lean toward individuality.

As TV viewing habits shift from a few shows watched by the masses to several shows that are each supported by a devoted few, we're also getting more nuanced, detailed and unique voices.

For example, the heart and irreplaceable point of view Louis C.K. brings to the character and story of "Louie" makes the FX comedy infinitely watchable. Lena Dunham's Hannah Horvath on "Girls," and really the entire cast, can be relatable, detestable and endearing all in one episode.

This was the year that Max Greenfield really came into his own, stealing many "New Girl" scenes as Schmidt.

This year also brought the arrival of Don Cheadle's immoral but surprisingly sympathetic Marty Kaan on Showtime's "House of Lies" and the hilariously horrid B.J. on "Ben and Kate." And has there ever been anyone on network television like Chloe, the title character from "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23?" You'd be hard-pressed to find more individuality than on top comedies like "Parks and Recreation" and "Happy Endings."

Granted, the "quirk" factor has been in overdrive on TV lately, but all attempts toward originality are welcomed by us.

5. Quality over quantity

We hate breaks between seasons as much as anyone who shifts their schedule around their TV-viewing plans, but not every story needs to be fleshed out for 22, or even 12, episodes and extended for seasons. In fact, there are quite a few series we can think of that should've given up the ghost several episodes ago.

Rather than forcing us to watch something beloved collapse under the strain of an increasingly stretched plot, miniseries like PBS' outstanding "Sherlock" or History's one-time-only "Hatfields and McCoys" offer only as many episodes as the story supports. And in doing so, the quality remains intact.

6. Don't be afraid to kill a character

As much as viewers may weep, showrunners everywhere should take note that virtually no one is safe on the most highly acclaimed dramas. "Game of Thrones," "Boardwalk Empire," "American Horror Story: Asylum," "Mad Men," "The Walking Dead" and "Homeland" have all been willing to sacrifice a character or three in the name of maintaining an unpredictable and affecting story.

7. Give good send-off

With many of our favorites headed into their series finales, including "30 Rock," "Fringe" and "Breaking Bad," we have to say we like where the road to the end is carrying us.

From Walter White's continued descent into darkness, to a final showdown with the Observers, to Liz Lemon's exploration of having it all -- complete with a Princess Leia costume to get married -- the creative teams are acknowledging that now's the time to raise the bar for excellence even higher. Here's to seeing both series, as well as others wrapping up in 2013, going out on top.

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