Beyond the Big Four

Keri Russell Photo by Craig Blankenhorn FX

Make no doubt about it: the Big Four (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) have some great programming on their airwaves. In the last decade or so, though, other networks have been catching up to them. The CW is on the verge of turning the Big Four into the Big Five. And basic cable networks like USA, FX, TNT, TBS and even SyFy have programming that, in many instances, surpasses the programming available on the main networks.

These days, making do with streaming services isn’t going to cut it, not if you want to avoid spoilers and stay up to date on all of your favorite shows and specials. And thanks to the growing demand for television accessibility, there are deals all over the place., for example, has a great rundown of the packages available through DirecTV service.

Another reason to opt into a cable and/or television services package is that most of the companies that offer them have finally gotten hip to the mobile revolution. Most have finally started to offer account and programming access via mobile devices. Some will even allow users to remotely tap into their services, like the shows they’ve saved on a DVR or that are available On Demand. Many customers have dropped at least one of their streaming subscriptions because these cable services have rendered them mute!

So what’s so great about the programming on the basic and premium cable networks? One big argument to be made is the fact that basic and premium cable networks aren’t beholden to the FCC rules regarding decency. While there are still a few rules (no f-bombs, for example), they are far less strict than those that govern the networks. Partial nudity, swear words and even subject matter are more diverse on the basic and premium cable channels. These channels can also buy shows and specials that push boundaries more freely than those offered on the networks, which have a tendency to lean as close to family-friendly as they can.

Which shows are most worth your time? We thought you’d never ask! Here are some of our favorite basic and premium cable series that you should check out immediately.

“The Americans,” FX

Keri Russell has come a long way since “Felicity.” Her ability to blend stoicism and emotion would make “The Americans” an incredibly compelling show even if it didn’t have one of the best twisty-turny plots in recent television history.


Julia-Louis Dreyfus is fantastic on this show about the inner workings of Washington D.C. Some have said that the cast is the best comedy ensemble on television. And the fact that the show has managed to keep its awesomeness even after the show creator left for another project is a feat unto itself (“Gilmore Girls,” “The West Wing” or “Charmed anyone”?).

“Silicon Valley,” Comedy Central

This is a show that nobody expected to be good and, once they were proven wrong, keep waiting for it to jump its own shark. So far that hasn’t happened, and the show just keeps getting better. It puts together episodic one-off and season-long arcs in ways that few other shows have ever been able to accomplish while also making us laugh until our sides hurt.

“The Expanse,” SyFy

Billed as the best science fiction show since “Battlestar Galactica” (the modern remake, not the problematic original), “The Expanse” stars Thomas Jane and is an excellent blend of comedy, drama, conspiracy theory and an examination of what it means to be human.

“The Librarians,” TNT

Noah Wyle, Christian Kane, Rebecca Romijn and John Larroquette co-star in this ensemble fantasy dramedy that just got renewed for its fourth season. A plucky little show that blends humor and drama in surprising and wonderful ways, this is a great binge choice on rainy afternoons.

“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” TBS

You loved her on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Catch her wonderful snarkiness and humor on her own show on TBS. Samantha Bee puts current events and trends into hilarious perspective, even when the subject matter is something as provocative as the Trump presidency.

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” HBO

For fans of Samantha Bee who also miss Jon Stewart’s presence on Comedy Central, tuning into John Oliver’s show is absolutely the next best thing. A showman and hilarious commentator in his own right, John Oliver fills the holes Jon Stewart left in our hearts brilliantly while also building new spaces just for himself.

The basic and premium cable networks have been churning out content for a while, and they get better all the time. From shows like “Sex and the City,” “The Closer” and “Burn Notice” to what’s available to now, trust us, there really is something out there for everyone.