May 21, 2013



MOTIVE:  Thursday 9PM on ABC – Change the Channel

It’s a paradoxical truth that when TV’s “summer” begins, cable networks get adventurous and creative, and the US broadcast networks get generic.  (And Canadian.)  There may be some bright spots this season–certainly CBS’s Stephen King miniseries Under the Dome sounds like it could break the mold–but for the most part, the network summer will be made up of bland procedurals like ABC’s MOTIVE, which had a “preview” last night in advance of its official launch on Thursday.

The gimmick of Motive is that we’re told who the week’s killer is before the opening credits.  We then follow the cops, headed by Detective Angela Flynn (Kristin Lehman, Billy Campbell’s campaign manager/girlfriend from The Killing), as they circle their way around to what we already know, and only at the end do we discover–you guessed it–what the motive for the crime was.  For this concept to have any dramatic interest, the motive would have to be notably surprising and unexpected.  In the premiere, neither was true.

The episode, written by series creator Daniel Cerone and directed by Bronwen Hughes, had a high school music teacher killed in his home by one of his students.  The reason, it turned out, was because the teacher had seized the teen’s “journal” of potentially violent craziness (good call on that one).  But the circumstances were ludicrously contrived, because the killer didn’t go to the teacher’s house with any intention of committing murder–it was sheer coincidence that he and a friend were “creeping” in the teacher’s house when the guy came home drunk, and then another coincidence that the kid was the one person in the world who the teacher’s fierce guard dog already knew and trusted.  Then he was only caught because he acted like an idiot after the crime, trying to pin it on his friend when he wasn’t even under suspicion yet.  It was all random and dull.

Apart from its other problems, Motive also overuses the visual cliche of having the events of the crime bleed into scenes of the investigation, familiar from every CSI clone on the air, and with the exception of Lehman, the cops are so far almost interchangeable.  (Lauren Holly, from Picket Fences, turns up as a Medical Examiner, but she doesn’t have anything to do either.)  Lehman is quite likable as a cop who’s also the cool mom of a teen son–when he gets speeding tickets, she enters him in a drag race so he can get it out of his system–but it’s not nearly enough to make the show worthwhile.

The changing economics of TV require the networks to air more original programming year-round than they did in the old days, but those same economics are responsible for these licensed, low-cost international series.  (Although Orphan Black demonstrates weekly that a show can be low-budget and Canadian and still wildly entertaining if the talent and imagination are there.)  The 2012-13 season hasn’t even officially ended yet, and it’s already going to be a long summer.




About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."