Saturday, October 15, 2011

WHAT'S "GOOD ON TV?!" A CLOSER LOOK AT NETWORK TV, AND SUBTLE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN, DECENT, GOOD, VERY GOOD, GREAT, AND CRAP.

I jumped in on a conversation with facebook friend and fellow blogger Jennifer Meachem (The Rambling Reviewer http://theramblinreviewer.blogspot.com) the other day. She was discussing how disappointed she was in premiere week on TV being a bunch of reality shows. (If anybody caught my "Premiere Week," blog, I hated it so much I wrote it as a musical number.) I jumped in and defended reality shows, noting how there's a drastic difference between good and bad reality shows. But, something else wasn't right, and it took me a while to figure it out, but then I thought, "Wait a minute, I only have basic channels, and I always manage to find the good shows on TV!" I don't think it's that hard, but maybe it is for some people. I continued to think about this as channel 8.2 on digital switched some time last week from some Spanish channel to METV, which was a whole channel of classic TV shows, all the ones that I grew up on when I was young, and watched Nick at Nite back in the '90s. All in all though,  two things I took from that. One, if there's absolutely nothing else one, that's now my go to channel (Especially for my 6:00am "Love, American Style," which is guaranteed to be better with than the News) and two, TV hasn't changed all that much, at least quality-wise. Some shows are good, some are very good, some are great, and some are decent. Not that different from TV today, even with reality TV. Except now, for some reason, some shows are complete crap, and despite popular belief, the crap category is hardly limited to just reality shows. Well, there's been crap on television since the beginning to, but you also have to recognize that TV is just about 65 years old, and it took a long time for people to realize what-the-hell was actually going to work on television, and what exactly can you do with it. The novelty of moving picture in the living room was the appeal, the fact that there happened to be talent and art on there was secondary until they figure out what exactly to do with it. By my calculations, after the '70s, when shows such as "All in the Family," "M*A*S*H," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and a few others would forever alter how we look at what TV could do. So, basically, "The Beverly Hillbillies," is decent, any show that came on after 1970's that was as good and/or worse than that show was crap. If for nothing else, because we know better now.
But now I'm rambling a bit here. I don't want to discuss shows of the past, and least not in this blog anyway. To me, there's seems to be a greater difference between shows that are worth watching, and going out of one's way to watch, and those that frankly are in some cases, just plain unwatchable. And, most of the time, the ratings seem to indicate that not only are we watching the unwatchable crap more often, but I'm wondering now if people can't tell the difference. Maybe I just see things differently, but if that's the case, I want to know how everything else sees it. Well, since I apparently can only assume certain hypothesis based on the evidence, I'm gonna tell a couple of the ways that I decide what to watch on TV. Now, first of all, let's completely forget about cable here for a second. First off, I don't have cable. Second,  I know on cable, you have a strange combination of shows that are some of the most inventive and creative of all-time, as well as lower levels of crap that make "The Jerry Springer Show," look like it's filled with MENSA candidates, but they don't run on the same schedule as basic TV.  Seasons aren't set in stone with dates and times, and often occur circular-scheduled, similar to British TV schedules actually, and for most intensive purposes, they're not really competition for the major networks, who compete against themselves. Let's also not consider hulu.com and other streaming tv outlets for this scenario. They're most helpful 'cause now we're not always limited to the watch-only-one-show-at-a-time-when-it's-on standard, but there is still preferences and we do still compare what's on.) And this leads to the main way I look at TV:  The multiple choice question!

The multiple-choice question:
To me, failing this question gives me serious doubts about one's ability to tell the difference between good tv and bad tv. Let's start with eight o'clock, primetime, let's say Monday. You have choices, you can watch
A. ABC
B. CBS
C. NBC
D. FOX
E. CW
F. It all sucks, put on PBS, at least you'll learn something (Or get some sleep).
G. Don't watch anything.
H. What we used to call UHF channels, but are basically reruns on some of the local channel.  (aka My Network TV, now)

Okay, now this time happens to be a good example of how this works. Checking TVGuide.dom, for this Monday's current schedule, which doesn't differentiate too much from what one would typical find their on any random monday, we have

ABC: "Dancing with the Stars"
CBS: "How I Met Your Mother"
NBC: "The Sing-Off"
FOX: "Terra Nova,"
CW: "Gossip Girl,"
PBS-IF EVERYTHING ELSE SUCKS: "Antiques Roadshow"
MYTV-"Law & Order: SVU" Rerun.
DWA-Don't watch anything.

Anybody that comes up with an answer that's not "How I Met Your Mother," should start to worry. Let's map this out, a little more clearly.

"Dancing with the Stars," is a CRAP-rated show. It's amateurs, dancing. Usually people who are moderately famous at best, and those are somewhat famous and talented, we frankly feel sorry that couldn't get a better role. (Poor Marlee Matlin).

"The Sing-Off," probably the least important of these singing talent shows, has some talent though, and barely gets a DECENT rating, but has nothing else to distinguish it, is completely forgettable, and offers absolutely almost no cultural importance.

"Gossip Girl"- Okay, first off, anybody that choose the CW answer is going to be wrong. Just get that out of the way to begin with. "Gossip Girl," is a CRAP show. It's a mellowdramatic soap opera that aims for the stupid 12-year old girl market, I should underline "Stupid," 'cause smart ones will know to stay away. It one thing to aim for a market, it's another to aim for the lowest in the marketplace.

"Terra Nova,"- New show, so we do have to give it a look, only to find, the Jurassic Park special effects are in use, to recreate "Land of the Lost," for those who liked "Lost." Concept slightly better than "Lost," so currently, this is a DECENT, but there's room for movement on both sides, this show can either go up or go down, but not a show that's worth going out of your way to see, as of yet. (While many shows can also go up and get better, it's proper to assume any show that goes down, will remain down. [See: "Jumping the Shark" concept])

"...SVU," is a RERUN, and it's on a UHF-type channel, that's different from the channel that airs new and regular episodes of the show (All shows with this delineation, will from here of in be referred to as the variable "X") . This doesn't get a rating. Watching "X" Rerun is = to Turning TV off. Remember this equation.

"How I Met Your Mother," is a show that does vary in it's rating, however, it's always remained between GOOD and GREAT, (Currently at VERY GOOD) throughout most of it's run, and either way, at GOOD, it clearly ranks a show worthy or being watched, and easily is the best choice among the option.

Now, you're all looking at me going, how can you just simply claim that? Well, I don't. I see in "How I Met Your Mother," a show that constantly plays and reimagines what a sitcom can be, one that play with structure of jokes, structure of it's timeline, and even reinvents the kind of comedy that can be done in a 3-camera sitcom, and on top of that, it's consistently been funny, and more importantly, it's got places to go. It's not just simply how good a show is, there's also, questions of how many possible good directions the show can take in the future. This is a more important note with newer shows, but "How I Met Your Mother," has one of the strongest ratings in regard to this for sitcoms. There's a few other things to look at when you're judging a projection of a show, and what the strengths and weaknesses that may include, but this show has the highest ratings to begin, is close to the highest in terms of forecasting a show into the future, and based on history, "HIMYM," seems most likely o use that strength to it's most use.

Now, I do this kind of quick analysis, with every hour or half-hour of television, and to me, it's completely logical, and you can do an analysis like this, or something similar, with any kind comparison you want to make, do one network at a time, and see there lineup, you should be able to make the same determination, and you can compare similar shows, and make these determinations, and I think they're easy. I don't know if other people do though, when I often see people getting, these most simplistic of tv viewing situations wrong. I can't explain how or why precisely with every tv choice I make, because that would take too much time to write, and it would be exhausting, but I do make these quick decisions. Sometimes I can see how people could get confused. Take the singing-competiton subgenre of reality shows. "American Idol," to me, is a DECENT show, at it's best, it can be GOOD, but that's very rarely. Right now, "The X-Factor,"  is bordering on the CRAP-DECENT line. While "The Voice," it's no contest, is easily the best of these shows, and the only one worth watching, getting a VERY GOOD-GREAT rating. Some people could look at those three shows, and sees how they're all similar and possibly indistinguishable from one another. I see hundreds of differences that distinguish them, and it's easy if you can tell what's good and what's not.

So, some of you I guess might be wondering, what am I going to do, start writing TV reviews now, on top of my weekly film reviews. Frankly, I hate TV reviews, and generally I hate people who review tv shows, especially these premiere week shows. Honestly, I think most of the TV reviewers that I have read are crap, and are usually show fetishists that are going to like only certain TV shows no matter what, instead of analyzing shows based on whether they're good.  However the real reason is that, it's too early to review TV shows. They're anthologies, they're not movies that end in two hours. This would be like writing a review on Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities," reading the first two lines, feeling the book is confusing, and then deciding to write about how the whole book is confusing, based on those first couple lines. It doesn't make much sense. Some shows have a tendency to take years before they really get good or sometimes great. I tend to only like to talk about TV shows specifically if a show is either finished, or if it's been on long enough to where we can start to make certain points and have legitimate analytical discussions on the show. (I wrote a blog about two months ago, where I compared "Two and a Half Men," and "The Office," and how both shows could remain viable even after their main character leaves the show, for example.)

But saying that, there is a lot of good on television. It's not always great, few shows are, and sometimes it seems like  most of it tends to get cancelled. It's in every genre, sitcom, drama reality, reality-competition, etc. etc., you can even dissect daytime TV if needed, if the same way, and I think sometimes people may need a little bit of help in finding that good. So, from time to time, I'm occasionally post a blog where I will showcase "Good on TV?", and try to explain exactly why it is good. I'll admit, oftentimes, the answer to that multiple-choice question is Don't Watch Anything. So, maybe I'll talk about a few things that aren't good as well. (There's a "?" there for a reason.) But, let's not just simply overly dismiss or overly praise anymore, either shows, genres, or lineups or networks, we're going to basically take closer looks at certain programs, new, current, and maybe even older ones. This can cover a lot of areas, and I don't plan on this being a regular blog, however, TV is the single most readily available entertainment source out there. You can also watch, there's always something on, and many times, some of the greatest artistic achievement occur on TV. I think it's more than worthy of something more than a simple "Cheers," or "Jeers," rating, for each week's programming. Let's not trivialize it like that anymore.
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