“Empire” deserves props for leading viewers onto the hip-hop dance floor, away from the operating rooms and police stations where the majority of TV characters clock in for increasingly repetitive routines. Now come two new series that dare to crash nontraditional workplaces.
Crackle’s “The Art of More,” which starts streaming Thursday, explores high-end auction houses, where it’s considered murder to overbid for a Picasso. Starz’s “Flesh and Bone” pulls back the curtain on the ballet world, where gut-wrenching surgery consists of an emotionally scarred dancer ripping off a damaged toenail.
Treading new ground doesn’t necessarily guarantee compelling drama, especially if the writers aren’t confident about their footing.
“The Art of More” too often tries to paint Russian mobsters and scarred war veterans into the action, an intrusion that feels about as natural as the “Sons of Anarchy” gang shopping for antiques.
“Flesh and Bone” soars when it focuses on the trials and ankle twists of competitive dancers, but there are too many gratuitous shots of ballerinas who apparently left their leotards in the wash and help pay the bills by partnering with a stripper’s pole. The soft-core porn overtones suggest that the writers’ room was infiltrated by Playboy employees who defected from the company in the wake of its no-nude policy.
Sticking to authentic, original story lines can lead to success, but it also can alienate viewers too accustomed to crime and medical procedurals to consider a career change.
Here are 10 shows that boldly went where few shows have gone before — with mixed results.
The Paper Chase (1978-79; 1985-86)
Premise: Earnest students jump through hoops at a rigid law school.
Happy hour: An ambitious scholar turns to alcohol after John Houseman’s Prof. Kingsfield tells him he’s got to make it the old-fashioned way and earn it.
Job report: Houseman’s performance ensured his status as the Hannibal Lecter of academia.
Bay City Blues (1983)
Premise: Steven Bochco’s follow-up to “Hill Street Blues” followed a minor league baseball team. Dennis Franz and Sharon Stone were part of the largely unknown roster.
Water-cooler talk: A bed-wetter tries to hide his need for rubber sheets from judgmental teammates.
Job report: Pulled from NBC’s lineup after just four episodes.
Nothing Sacred (1997-98)
Premise: An inner-city priest tackles abortion, homosexuality and a worldwide shortage on communion wafers.
Cafeteria service: A power struggle could determine the fate of the soup kitchen.
Job report: Bad attitude, according to the Catholic League, which insisted on the show’s excommunication.
Premise: Life behind bars for inmates and security guards is examined through an unflinching lens.
Career man: A naive attorney (Lee Tergesen) slowly becomes a formidable lifer, committing murders, spurring racial wars and defecating on a former cellmate. Despite his best efforts, never gets a company mug.
Job report: High marks for tapping into J.K. Simmons’ sadistic side more than a decade before he gave us all “Whiplash.”
Six Feet Under (2001-05)
Premise: A family of walking dead tries to find a second life through running a funeral home.
Work hazards: A character meets his maker after being crushed by frozen bio-waste from an airplane.
Job report: Much deserved praise for early season, but legacy hurt by HBO’s hesitation to pull the plug.
Mad Men (2007-15)
Premise: The times are a-changin’ at a 1960s ad agency under the command of white males and fully stocked minibars.
Executive retreat: A stint at a spiritual outpost teaches Don Draper how to turn the world on with a Coke and a smile.
Job report: Beloved by all, with the possible exception of the accounts executive whose foot was severed by a tractor mower.
Bomb Girls (2012-13)
Premise: Canadian counterparts to Rosie the Riveter show their patriotic stripes at a World War II munitions factory.
Office romance: The floor matron is impregnated by an immigrant worker, greatly decreasing her chances to be featured on the next recruitment poster.
Job report: Short life stateside suggests Americans still aren’t ready to embrace anything Canadian unless it contains the word “bacon.”
Masters of Sex (2013- )
Premise: Researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson put human sexuality under the microscope, if only to avoid dissecting their own intimacy issues.
Office space: Masters temporarily moves his operations into a brothel — strictly for the interviews, of course.
Job report: Still worth studying, although some fans don’t like the Showtime drama’s occasional choice to fudge with facts.
Mr. Selfridge (2013- )
Premise: An impossibly optimistic businessman (Jeremy Piven) brings the department store concept to early 20th-century England, where the cosmetics department tries in vain to push fish-and-chips-scented cologne.
Punching the clock: The staff is terribly late for an in-store lecture by explorer Ernest Shackleton due to a major delay on the subway.
Job report: Well received, but will never be PBS’ Employee of the Month until “Downton Abbey” retires.
Mozart in the Jungle (2014- )
Premise: A new conductor threatens to bring disharmony to a New York orchestra.
Field trip: A rehearsal in a Manhattan alley is instrumental in the musicians’ progress.
Job report: An underappreciated composition that took the stage before most people knew Amazon was creating its own shows.