Saturday, September 24, 2011

TV PREMIERE WEEK SUCKS: THE MUSICAL! and OTHER THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT PRIMETIME TELEVISION LANDSCAPE

I've been thinking about what I am going to say about this premiere week on basic television, the time of year where most of the season's new shows as well as the season premiere of most shows are aired. It's a hotly awaited time for TV viewers and critics all across the nation, and I think there is only one truly appropriate way to discuss such a think as Premiere week. And that is of course, through a song.

(Opening of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" begins)
So, accompanied by the CBS Orchestra (Not Really, but go with it) and the Pissed-Off TV Viewers of America, I present, my song about Primetime Premiere Week. Everybody ready?

(Song stops)
It's, the most, disappointing time, of the year.
(Song starts again)
It's right after the Emmys, all the commercial we've seen
Expectation are raise, for the upcoming year.
Then we sit through this crap, and wonder who's the bastard
That actually put this S*** on the air!
It's the most disappointing time, of the year.

(What the hell is this crap?!)
(What happened to Charlie Sheen?)
(Where's my Matlock!)

There's X-factors, broke girls, and Ashton Kutcher?
(What the fuck! This guy can't f***ing act.)
Followed by Remakes of shows that sucked to begin with
Oh, how creative, a new cop show, that's what we need?
Cause not enough shows use only initials you see?
(NCIS, CSI, SVU, GLEE, put on something you can spell at least!)
It's a really suckyass time of the year!

We've got funny comics, that you've never heard of?
(What did Whitney Cummings kill Sarah Silverman or something)
(Who's Sarah Silverman)
We got new actors on TV shows that used to be good
But now they're all stupid and the end should be near
But no, there's one full last season of crap to endure!
(This singer can't rhyme s***)
(Well, it's better than this crap on TV!)
It's a really disappointing time, of the year.

(What so new about "The New Girl)
("New Girl," I thought it was "Good Girl"! Does it suck like that one?)
No, no, that's Zooey Deschanel she's funny?
(Song stops)
(REALLY!)
Well, the show sucks, but so does everything else.
(You got that part right!)
(Song continues)

There's mothers we'll never ever meet
(What, I've been waiting five years, what do you mean we'll never meet her!)
And there's vampires and witches and supernatural beings
(Is that what that Glee show is?)
(No singing) No, but that's even worse.
There's PANAM stewardesses and girls who kick ass
(How about kicking the writer's ass, maybe write something good?)
And the weird guy on "Big Bang," who's a genius douchebag
(This is what they put on TV nowaday)
No, this is the good stuff on television. You don't even want to see this crap!

(CURTAINS OPENS ON "KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS" EPISODE)
(Oh God!)
(Why would you do that?)
(I'm gonna puke)
It's the most they can come up with
It's the best they can do
It's the worst possible s*** that anyone's ever thought of
Is there anything worth watching on this stupid thing anymore?

(Long silence)

I guess that's a no.

It's, the, most, disappointing time,
Of the YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(What's all this crap!)
(Where's the clicker)
(Why is this good girl such a P****)
(What do you mean they cancelled "Monk")
(Bring back "Friends")
(Bring back "The West Wing")
(God, this is worse than "Lost!")
(I can't understand this show?)
(This is supposed to be funny; I haven't laughed once!)
(When are they gonna cancel "The Middle!")
(Where's my "Arrested Development" DVDs?)
(Oh, for Christ's sake, I'm just gonna watch cable!)
RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!
(Song ends)

Okay, thank you, thank you. Hope you liked it. Okay, not all of it was bad, (The premiere week wasn't all bad, not the song wasn't all bad. Song wasn't my best, I'll admit it.) but this is a general sense I get watching premiere week on TV. Most TV shows have fairly lousy pilot episodes, and then they're based mostly on the ratings instead of quality whether or not a show is gonna stay on for the rest of the season, or sometimes for a second episode, and a season premiere will usually be a big clue as to whether a show is still at the top of its game (Which for some shows, isn't much to begin with) or whether a show will start to go downhill for whatever reason(s). It's even more of a tenseful week for TV than Sweeps week. There is one thing that I"m finding odd about television lately. I was thinking about it when reading Tina Fey's book "Bossypants," recently, and she had some critical about many TV producers and networks and the kind of shows they've been producing. She was talking about how many of the TV shows she'd seen on TV and also about how her show, "30 Rock," a three-time Emmy Winner for Best Comedy Series, was never a ratings hit. She stumbled on a couple points that kind of intrigue me, one involved TV producers continually looking for shows with young, good-looking actors and actresses, thinking that they're going to find the next "Friends," not realizing that you can go through every successful show ever made, and no other show has an entire cast of young, attractive-looking people in them. As fas as I can remember she's right about this. I worry about that with TV dramas half the time, casting a bunch of good-looking people. It doesn't really work, outside of "Friends," which Fey argues rather convincingly in the exception. Sure, there's occasionally show with a well-known good-looking character, but not an entire main cast. Quick, other than John Travolta, name the cast of "Welcome Back Kotter"? Gabe Kaplan, that's one, who played his wife? Come back to it, who played Horseshack? Oh, Ron Palillo, somebody got it. Who played Epstein? It's on the tip of your tongue isn't it? Okay, maybe that's too old of a show. Name "The Golden Girls"! You got all them, didn't ya? Hey, I love Bea Arthur, but she wasn't a looker at any age. Go ahead, you name a show with a bunch of good-looking actors, I'll find a regular actor/actress that isn't exactly centerfold material.

That was the first point she made, was one that I hadn't been thinking about. She mentioned that her intention with "30 Rock," was to try to make the most popular show on TV, and not the cute cult little Indy show that nobody watches but wins all the awards. We wanted to be "Home Improvement." "Home Improvement"? I hadn't even thought about that show in years, yet, that was about the most popular show you could find on television in the '90s. Don't believe me, go check the People's Choice Awards. The series has more wins than any other show won the Favorite Series Award four times in a row, and Tim Allen won the Favorite Male TV Actor, an unprecedented eight years in a row; he won for every year the show was on. Actually, there's something else weird happening on basic TV. It seems many of the networks have basically chosen to air only programming that instead of trying to be the best show on TV, or th emost popular, they only air television that's devoted to a specific demographic. To some extent, this has always been the case. I always used to think of the Friday Night Lineup having nothing but "Family-friendly" sitcoms on the old ABC, TGIF lineup, which traced all the way back to the early '70s with shows like "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "Room 222". My recollections of the lineup include "Full House," "Family Matters," "Boy Meets World," "Perfect Strangers," and if that wasn't bad enough, "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." (Well, actually "Boy Meets World," kinda got better as it went along.) Frankly their wasn't anything else on TV Friday nights is what the lineup so popular, and frankly by most studies, nobody watched TV Friday nights. But I don't think this really started until FOX came into the picture. People might not remember when FOX first went on the air, but before, there used to only be three channels, ABC, NBC and CBS. FOX, lucky to be a fourth major network, was willing to put almost anything on the air, and the common joke was that they did. "Married with...Children," being the first show, which because they had nothing to lose, stayed on the air despite bad ratings until one viewer complained about the content in season three, and then the show became a major hit. It's a show that showed and spoke to a very specific audience, which for lack of a better term, I'm going to refer to as Lower Class audience. FOX, along with other shows that also leaned towards a lower-class as well as a more urban African-American audience like "Martin," "The Simpson," "Herman's Head," "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," and "Living Single," many of them good shows, filled out a more niche market that most networks weren't trying to get. (I'd should also add "The Arsenio Hall Show," which, while syndicated, often aired on FOX affiliated stations, successfully gained a late night audience without stealing an ratings or audience from "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," the then reigning, and often, lone winner of that timeslot.) Slowly though, more networks started adjusting their programming towards very specific audiences. CBS for awhile, stuck to a more family-friendly based lineup of drama series and sitcoms, except for "Murphy Brown". ABC, kinda following on the footsteps of "Married...with Children," aired "Roseanne," "Grace Under Fire," the aforementioned "Home Improvement," and a few other shows based around working lower-class union families. But, now there's entire major networks that seem to be devoted to finding an audience of 12-year old stupid girls. Yeah, CW, I'm thinking about you, which formed after combining the two failed networks UPN and WB a few years both of which also aimed for younger audiences, and why not? Technically, teenagers have the most disposable income of any group in the country right now. They've long since taken over the Hollywood movie industry, and now they've taken over a basic TV channel. That's not to say that their opinions aren't valid, but I can't remember the last time I thought about looking to one for advice on what to watch on TV. Other networks have retained certain standards they've set as a unique brand for their network. CBS is the only network that is insistent on keeping alive the 3-camera sitcom, headlined by their Monday Night lineup of "Two and a Half Men," "Mike and Molly," and "How I Met Your Mother" (The latter, while being a three-camera sitcom, does take an unconventional non-studio audience approach to it.)  NBC, has reality TV, bad ones at that, Law & Order, or some other cop show varient, and the Thursday Night Lineup, long-been the standard of quality on the network, is now filled with critical, award-winning sitcoms, that aren't that popular. That's another thing, these shows aren't exactly popular to begin with. Those teenage girls that rule CW, they may be a large enough subsect to make shows in their little subsect popular and strong, but take "Gossip Girl," for instance, probably the biggest show in that sphere for the last few years, and it's a good week if that show ever breaks the top 100 in the Neilsen Ratings. Granted their are more channels, cable especially, which I don't particularly mind if they aim for specific audiences. I don't want ESPN to go after, I don't Home & Garden TV's audience or something stupid like that. I get that, you have to pay for it, some of it should be specialized. In a sense, I don't even particularly mind that we're at a point where if the ratings are good in a certain important age group or demographic that those shows can be considered hits. Except, I don't think a lot of these shows are trying to be "Home Improvement." That's a weird thing to say, that's probably what makes "30 Rock," such a great show, that while it does get a core audience, it's not trying or aiming for it. They're trying to make the most popular show on TV, and do it the best way they know how. Frankly, I wish more shows would try to be "30 Rock," but what's the problem with making the best show they can, or the most popular one they can? Why aren't we suddenly just aiming for a specific audience so much. Filling every show with things we think the audience seems to like. CSI-type closeup on inner organs or good-looking early 20-somethings, or I don't know, what's big now, musicals about high school that make "Saved By the Bell," seem like a show about realism? I know a good show when I see one, and the intended audience of that show doesn't particularly matter much to me. What audience was "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," aiming for? I don't know. Working single women in their 30s, I doubt it. Or any of those great shows, seemed to just want to make really good shows, and hopefully people watched them, trusting that the audience if the show connects with the people making it, then the audience will eventually connect with and come around to it. That's how it used to be, but now, if you don't appeal to at least a certain core audience, it's not really worth it, and frankly, it's basically dumb luck if a show happens to be big like "Two and a Half Men," is now or "CSI," "NCIS," "Seinfeld," "Cheers," or "Home Improvement," used to be. One of the recent Super Bowls, currently holds the record for the most watched broadcast on American TV. It probably got about less than half the entire American Television audience. The old record holder is the last episode of "M*A*S*H", which held the record for almost thirty years, but when that record was set, over 60% of Americans were watching it. I doubt anybody could tell you what were the key demographics of that show are.
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