Wednesday, June 26, 2013
THE STATE OF NETWORK TV: IN LIGHT OF "NCIS" TAKING OVER #1 IN THE NEILSEN'S, WHY IT'S TIME FOR NETWORK TV'S STRUCTURE TO DIE.
You know something, network TV sucks right now. I'm usually the one who's out there, defending television to the nth degree, even arguing in favor of some of the most brainless of TV programming. There are easy arguments of course, that could disprove that statement, like a random episode of "Parks and Recreation" for instance, and normally, I'm the first one to jump in, having to remind people that for every "Seinfeld", there was an "Inside Schwartz" on TV too, and despite the rise of reality television, it's not like "My Mother the Car", was so much more substantial than "The Bachelorette"... and so on and so forth, but you know what, for this piece, I'm not bothering with all this history and technicalities today. Network TV, it just sucks! I can spice it up if I wanted to, but you know what, I'm tired of doing that, and really, I shouldn't have to. It isn't just because of the availability of cable TV either. That's a bullshit excuse; there's just as much crap on cable as it is basic, but we forgive the, whatever reality dating show with some musician's glorified groupie VH1's putting on nowadays, because no matter how bad that is, you still have to pay to even be able to watch that, (Unless you're looking for it and find it on the internet, and frankly that's just depressing.) basic network TV is just-, is just...- I'll be honest, especially during summer, I'm not even really bothering right now. I want to, believe me, but- I just saw a wonderful opening segment to "So You Think You Can Dance" where the entire cast and staff did a live long-take Steadicam shot musical number, all through the production studio, to "Puttin' on the Ritz"; it was beautiful. Shortly after that though, I switched the channel to whatever was on Create, which has become my go-to channel when whatever's on PBS doesn't interest me enough, and frankly left the room shortly thereafter. The TV's still on, but I'm not watching.
Most reality shows suck, every drama is a variation on a doctor/cop detective/mystery-of-the-week show, except they're no longer crusty yet benign detectives, they're hot fit young men, or sexy-, excuse the slang, cougar-like creatures in typically male-dominated roles, or supposedly male-dominated, or whatever. Network TV as a whole, is just a vacuous mess right now. A couple weeks ago, "NCIS" dethroned "Sunday Night Football", to become the number one show of 2013, by the way, that marks the first time, since '03, that a scripted series actually won the Top spot, and that was "CSI..." that year. I haven't watched a single episode all the way through of "NCIS", and can't really understand why anybody does. But, really what-the-hell else is there to watch? I've literally been able to count on one, maybe two hands what I watch on a regular basis, and maybe 2 or 3 more, that I can understand people watching, and the rest.... You know, I don't even bother with decent shows anymore. I raved about "The Voice" plenty of times last year, they made a stupid decision to let the audience vote have influence, something I've bitched about many times regarding reality TV, 'cause I think that's stupid, and now, I've quit watching it, entirely. They did it wrong, and now, as far as I'm concerned, the show's jumped the shark and I'm done with it, until they change it back. And you know something, why aren't even, the reality shows better than they are on Network? Except for "Shank Tank," and "The Amazing Race," they're all either unwatchable, or a pale imitation of a better show. Gordon Ramsey is a complete year presence, in my life now. All year long, Gordon Ramsey is on TV. I try to watch NBC, but I get more and more confused by their programming. If you find the connecting thread from "The Bigger Loser" to Amy Poehler to "Hannibal" let me know. It didn't used to be this, through-some-crap-on-there-and-they'll-watch-it attitude before; there used to be a pattern and a rhythm to a lineup, that would make, even shitty shows feel like it's in the right place. CBS, is the only channel that has that right. A rhythm and feel to their network, most of the shows are eh, but, and I talked about this before, they make sense together, and quite frankly, much of their product, even the bad, is relatively enjoyable.
Somebody posted, this article, uproxx.com, "20 Fascinating Nielsen Fact that'll Blow Out Your Brainhole", let me post the link, 'cause there's some good ones, and many of them show, just how little we're bothering to watch television nowadays, especially network television, and how little of it is really lasting.
The real thing it details though is that fewer and fewer people watching a show, are constituting it as a hit nowadays. It's not just that, more people are watching cable, it's also that there's nothing else on network. There's a reason the most exciting I've been to watch TV lately, was to watch "Project Runway" on Hulu.com, and "Arrested Development" on Netflix. (BTW, next year, Neilsen's are counting internet downloads. There aren't even summer reruns anymore, really.
Okay, put this in perspective the highest rating syndicated show right now, is "The Big Bang Theory", a great show, truly great, and it's reruns in syndication, are getting higher ratings on a regular basis than CW and NBC, the entire networks, okay. We get two, maybe four episodes of that, before the primetime lineups start at eight, and look at what we get! Same old TV dramas, a few are good, most aren't, bad reality television, that doesn't end, and a few decent sitcoms- I mean, you become disappointed. You know, when I think back on things like old reruns of "I Dream of Jeannie" for instance, I mean it was dumb, but you always felt like, they were trying to create the best show possible. That's why the show's lasted so long in reruns. Now, it's not create the best show, it's create the show the demographic likes or wants to see, and frankly, I'm starting to believe that TV, has left me. Network TV-, it can't possibly be good for anybody, to watch nothing but the primetime network lineups anymore. I have literally, started just stopped watching it. Even the stuff that's good, and even admirable, like a "So You Think You Can Dance", I can only take so much of it. A very few, beacon of lights are on Network TV, a decent amount of dwarf stars that still shine without realizing they've already blown up, and the rest is unwatchable crap, that's makes me feel dumber as I watch it.
Frankly, if anybody out there, still just sits in front of the TV and watches nothing but network shows, what are you doing? If "NCIS", is really the best they can do anymore to capture the masses, why are you watching? Isn't life short enough? Do you realize how hard it is, to get yourself up, to watch television, only to be disappointed, and to do that, again and again and again. And I want to sit through the crap, and hopefully find that good show, at least before they cancel it, even if it isn't a hit. Television is an art form, and a medium that can flourish, and it should be treated as one, by really going out of your way, to put on the best product possible. I don't care what genre it is, put on "Candid Camera," or "America's Funniest Home Videos", but put it on, leave it on, if it's good, and get people to watch it. This damn specializing of TV series for a specific audience is annoying as hell. Good is good, no matter what age or demographic you are, and there's gotta be better out there. I'd say that it can get much worse, but I'm afraid I'd be wrong.
You know what, it's time to revamp network TV. I wasn't gonna write this, but you know what, the more I think about it.... Let's reinvent Network television, and start using the British model of TV. Fewer episodes of every show, let's start right there. 22 episodes a year, is now, an option. The other options should be 6, 9, and 13. And instead of regular year-long season, air the shows, in rotation, the way cable does it. a season of "Dexter", then a season of "Weeds", then a season of "Homeland,"... let's do that with Network TV now. If you want to create a show like "Fawlty Towers" and have it only be 12 episodes, total, do it. You wanna take, a season off like "Louie", or "Curb Your Enthusiasm" once in a while, then do it. Make it more pressing to actually watch the TV shows. To many of them, are already serialized to the point where you can't miss an episode anymore, let's narrow the episodes, and air them in runs. Then, re-air them, for people to catch up if they want. Cable does it, British TV has always done it, telenovellas do it on the Spanish stations, let's do it, now. It'll be jump start to creating better TV, 'cause it'll make the product better and more intimate. A Spanish soap opera is like that. One season, like a miniseries, and then another. It's working on PBS, "Upstairs, Downstairs", "Downtown Abbey," "Call the Midwife", "Mr. Selfridge", they've got it. I don't even like half the shows on PBS, but dammit, they are more interesting than the rest of the channels. They can re-air whenever they need to, they can build up a new season, for months.... There's no anticipation to watch anything on network TV, it's just on right now. Whatever inspiration it began with, even the popular and semi-watchable reality shows, has been beaten out of most of those shows at this point, what better way to get it back. The first network, that dares try to completely reinvent the structure, it gonna come out bloody, but it's gonna be for the good. It's gonna force us to air quality television, or get off the air. It's gonna force us to watch it it. If it's working that well for cable, why can't it work for network TV? It's already all screwy, by not airing reruns, and one extra reality shows, after another.
They're going through two reality shows per cycle/per year. Why? Couldn't they just rerun the last cycle to begin with? It's not like everybody caught it the first time, and the best reality shows tell great full stories that do deserve to be seen multiple times, to get the full story. (That's why they're so popular in marathon reruns on cable.)
There are two ways to recapture the greatness of primetime network television. One is to make/air better television. If they ain't gonna do that on their own with this structure, then it's time to change the structure completely. I know we can do better, and that television, is still the special and amazing artform it's always been, but if they don't start changing on their own, we gotta make 'em. This proposed change, is just the first one, but it will make a vast difference. Newer shows, will get stronger and better, and even older shows, will become better, if they choose to adapt. And I say, that when I can't even bother to sit through "good" network TV, then I say, enough is enough. It's time for a change.