Sunday, July 30, 2017
WHAT'S WRONG WITH TV TALENT SHOWS? HISTORY AND ANALYSIS OF GENRE, AND WHY DON'T THEY SHOW OFF THE "TALENT" LIKE THEY SHOULD. A really big show.
So, I have this friend of Facebook, I'm not gonna give her name, but every once in a while, like every two or three months or so, she posts something about some reality show that she hates, usually a "Talent show" as she calls them. You know, I've explained many times and ways that I can consider reality shows art, or utter crap, depending on the show and the subgenre and there really are a ton of them, way more than we realize; "Reality" is just a catch-all word for anything that isn't easily definable into an Emmy category, and half the stuff that is definable, but that said, I typically stand up for that talent shows. I mean, I can understand a ton of reality television and it's not like every talent show is good, lord knows I never thought "American Idol" was good, but ultimately the really annoying thing about that show and others like it is, just how popular and influential it was...- (Or still is/might be, since that's coming back, ugh!) but the subgenre itself, there's not too much to really complain about, even within the context of reality. Now, the most popular one now, and the one that she complains about the most is "America's Got Talent", and, eh, sure Piers Morgan is still a useless excuse for a human being but he's not on the show anymore and sure they have way too many judges and...- all the other stuff, but you know, it's still a talent show, basically. Find people, amateurs in their field, have them perform their material, it's a longshot they'll even be famous but it's a shot but it's a forum and a medium for talented people to get fame and exposure, and because of that, I can't really complain about them too much. If there was a reality show for hopeful young screenwriters and/or bloggers, I'd probably tryout. (There were a couple for filmmakers, but none of them stuck; "On the Lot" was the best of them, if you're curious) Not because I like the genre or because I want to be on them, but it's a route to my possible, future career paths, you take it. I seriously doubt everybody who's been successful on or from these shows ever wanted to be on there, but it's a stepping stone nonetheless. And they can be good shows; "The Voice" started out really good, then it stopped doing that around season three, "So You Think You Can Dance" that's a good show, "Last Comic Standing" has it's moments and there's comics that have become famous from that show, and "America's Got Talent", (Shrugs) I'm from Vegas, I can't bash it too much, Terry Fator came from it, and he's one of the biggest stars on the Strip, and there's a few other Vegas mainstays that have come from there and other shows. Hell, I loved watching "Star Search" as a kid, that was always a good show. A very good show in fact, that's a fun show to seek out on Youtube to kill time.
That said though, it's not like I don't get what she's talking about. I see clips of these shows more often than I watch them, and yeah, some of them are just unwatchable. The only one that got into the Reality-Competition Emmy category this year was "The Voice", and that just gets in 'cause of popularity more than anything else. I mean, okay, "American Ninja Warrior" involves talent, and yeah, you need how to cook and sew to be on "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" respectively, (Well, design at least, maybe not sewing) but when they become esoteric and specific, I don't consider them talent shows. I mean, it's what it is, it's a talent, you find people on stage, you see them perform, they get judged for their performance, whatever they're doing, singing, dancing, comedy, magic, sideshow whatever-the-fuck, hell, Chuck Barris had this figured out when he did "The Gong Show"! It's a talent show, how do you screw this up? The average elementary school can put on a decent talent show, why is it that over the last fifteen or so years of talent shows, basically owning the Primetime television landscape, have, basically all of them, done a little something to screw this genre up a bit?
I mean, this might seem like it's taken over television and yeah, it has, but it's not a new genre by any means; it's been around since the beginning of television. Hell, before television. In America, "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" was the "America's Got Talent" for it's day. It premiered on radio before switching to television, and it was basically the gimmick that Mr. Godfrey's scouts were finding talent from across America and bringing them to America's living rooms, and the in-studio audience would determine the winner based on an applause meter. I mean, yeah, that's simple and cheap now, but that was cutting edge of technology at the time, and yeah, why not? Can't be any worst than the audience judging on "America's Funniest Home Videos". (Seriously, why did they always just pick the damn kid; he was never the funniest one!)
You gotta remember, in the infancy of television, they're literally, serving for content to throw on the wall, so as long as anything and everything was gonna make the air, why not just preserve whatever acts are going on through history. Movies did that too. I mean look at this:
This is "Gus Visser and His Singing Duck"; it's in the National Film Registry. No, seriously. It's because it's one Theodore Case's early short film experiments involving the creation of Sound for moving pictures; this was made two years before "The Jazz Singer". A guy, Gus Visser who was by every other account made, a fairly forgettable and unimportant vaudeville performer, and one that's, not really that good a singer, performing with his singing duck, that also cannot sing, even for a duck. Once we found out that we record film, we recorded anything and everything, and television, in many way is the big prime example of that. Talent shows, sure there's a contest aspect to most of them, but when you really get down to it, it's just people performing.
Really, to look for the real inspiration for a show like "America's Got Talent" or "Star Search", "Arthur Godfrey's..." in America, or "Opportunity Knocks" is the UK, are probably decent places to start, but I think the real predecessor however, is "The Ed Sullivan Show". Yeah, Ed Sullivan. I know, Beatles, Elvis, Topo Gigio, all the famous comics and musicians, blah, blah, blah, have you, ever watched a full episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show"? Hell, I can't even find one on Youtube; there's hundreds of clips from the show, and he's not in most of them. He's listed on any reasonable historian's list of the most important and influential Variety Shows and hosts of all-time, but that's sort of the thing, 'cause when you look back at the show, you wonder, "Why?!" I mean, every other person I can think of that had a similar Variety show at that time, and his time was over two decades long btw, but still, Steve Allen, Flip Wilson, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Jack Benny, goddamn boring-as-hell, Lawrence Welk, eh Johnny Carson, Jack Paar, even, they were all people famous as artists themselves, usually as a musician, a comedian, or maybe an actor if you were really pushing it, but they were entertainers. Ed Sullivan was not an entertainer; he was a journalist. His background was in sports and entertainment reporting, and he had a syndicated column, but still, he's more comparable in the entertainment at that time to somebody like Dorothy Kilgallen than anybody we'd traditionally consider a "host" of a Variety show. But he was the host, and the show eventually had his name in the title, the show he helped create by the way, and he would introduce the acts, and point towards them, and the camera would go to them, and they'd perform, maybe he'd talk for a second, not really anything funny, but a decent interviewer, and then, introduce the next act the same way. I'm actually kinda amazed he lasted so long as was so popular, there's nothing really special about the guy, or interesting. Sure there's dozen backstories about the show and his fights with some artists and S&P and whatnot, but I honestly couldn't tell you the appeal of the show, except it had a bunch of acts on it. Sure, we're not talking the amateurs and wannabes like the other shows we're talking about here, but in every other aspect I can think of, "The Ed Sullivan Show" is just a talent show. Here's so and so, let's see them do their talent! Thank you, and repeat. You laugh, but unless you want to count "Gladiators 2000", it's not like Ryan Seacrest or Carson Daly are much more than that as hosts either. Or, for that matter, Ed McMahon on "Star Search".
Actually, I keep bringing up "Star Search" in this thing, and, yeah, even today I tend to consider that one to be the premiere "talent show", that's the one I always think of, when I think of a talent show. I mean, basically all the other shows are derivatives, some a little more focused. "American Idol" and "The Voice" just do singers, there's a few dance shows, there used to be the one for the Comics, I'm sure there's shows about talented kids out there, and the spokesmodel-, uh-um, I guess, "American Next Top Model-, no, they don't speak on that. The eighties were weird, people thought being Vanna White was an actual plausible career path, just ignore that one, but why does that one still seem better than the rest, but other than that. I mean, it was a contest and there was a prize money at the end for winners at the end of the year, but somehow it never seemed like that was important. Like, let's show you an average "Star Search" competition.
I can't find a full episode of "Star Search" either, at least not on one video, but this is a pretty decent representation of the show as a whole. It starts, Ed McMahon comes out, announces each performer as they compete against each other, and the judges announce the score, and then they move onto the next battle. And that's why I picked that, and not because it's Beth Hart knocking a Melissa Etheridge song out of the fucking park. (If you don't know who either of those two are, go do some research on what good music is.)
Wait, what did I miss here? Why does this seem so different from, say the "America's Got Talent" clip I posted at the top of this post? I mean, there's several things, there's one performer, not two, there's no categories separating them, we're not learning about the contestants in one, in the other they just go into their act after they're introduced, and in the other they talk to the Judges...- Say, why do we talk to the Judges? I mean, that's something new. New-ish. I mean, "The Gong Show" was more about the judges' reactions too, but let's just be honest, that show was basically the punk rock rebellious version of a talent show. I know there's a few people who became famous as performers from that, outside of the show, but not a lot. It wasn't the focus of the show; in fact, as a predecessor to some of these shows, it was usually better and more entertaining when the acts were bad. That's the judge's reaction we were looking for, the judges on "Star Search".... Actually, I-, I know they have segments in the middle of "Star Search" when they announced the judges, and occasionally they cut to them, but only occasionally, and not like, the gratuitous way "AGT" cuts to the judges and audience for reactions whenever they can, but the judges were usually random each week and weren't that relevant. They didn't talk or anything, they pressed their score into a keyboard.
Which actually, makes more sense. What other universe do you know where the Judges of a contest, just give advice and talk to the contestants? You don't see the figure skating or gymnastics judges make a long speech about why they scored a floor routine a 9.75 instead of a 10, or any other sport for that matter. They did try to bring back "Star Search" at one point, in the early 2000s when they boom really started, and it was awful. And one of the reasons was that it was about the judges, not the performers, or the performances, but about the judges and how and why they gave their star score. (And they also had a stupid audience judge, which was only used on the original "Star Search" as a tiebreaker) This is probably the core reason why these shows get such derision nowadays, and deservedly so, they're not really a talent show that's focused on the talent, it's focused on the judges. That's not inherently bad, like, the situation and circumstances, the framing of the situation matters, but, like I said, they didn't promote acts on "Star Search", or foreshadow future performers, and it wasn't about the judges, who really didn't matter. It was, a talent show done, pretty much the way you would expect to see one done, if you were watching a local one put on live. Larger scale, generally better more established acts, but yeah, why isn't that acceptable? Are we that bored, that have to be manipulated by expressive judges that we can't just see somebody perform and have that basically be the appeal?
I mean, just compare them, to then and now? Let's find a decent matching variable, uh.... Oh, here we go, we'll have to go with "The Voice" winner here, that's an even better example.
So, here's a Junior Vocalist battle on "Star Search" between Tatyana Ali and Alisan Porter, because, yes, Curly Sue beat Ashley Banks on "Star Search" 'cause that's kind of the surrealism that keeps the show interesting 20 years afterwards. But also, here:
here's Alisan Porter, auditioning for "The Voice" last year. Now, say whatever you want about the performance, but it's the framing that's I want to discuss. Cause essentially, it's the same thing, singer performs, judges judge, and the show goes on. But "Star Search" focuses on the performer and performance, "The Voice," is about the judge's reaction to the performance. Now, "The Voice" has a conceit where it makes sense, and makes it far superior than it's competition, but still, the judge's react and then we find out about the person performing and their story involving their "journey" into getting there, and sure, if you know about Alisan Porter's past, which, believe it or not I did know about before she made this comeback, suddenly it's not so much she can sing, it's who she's gonna sing for, what's making her sing, why is she singing, isn't it so great that she can sing so well, and now she's gonna be on this other great singer's team of singers.... Again, they're better at layering all this drama onto this than "AGT" is, or some of the other shows, but, why do they need to do that at all? I mean, that's the whole conceit of "The Voice", the judges know nothing and they turn their chairs for a great singer, but essentially, that's just "Star Search". We know nothing about them, except they performed and they're talented, let's judge the talent.
So, imagine this formula, was on a regular television? A sitcom or drama series for instance, there's this group of main stars and talented people come in and out of these main stars' lives, and throughout the show, we see these stars performing, and doing well and coming in and out of these stars lives, and they each have a story to tell and share, and then, at the end of the night, we're stuck with the judges and their reaction to everything these other people did. This isn't that out there by the way, I mean, there's still "Guest Star of the Week" shows even today that are essentially like that if the talent was just acting, think "The Love Boat" or certain seasons of "Law & Order: SVU", but when it's only about seeing what they do, at some point, somebody's gonna ask, "Hey, we got all these talented people doing talented things coming in, why do we need the Leads; let's just have a show where the guest stars just show off all their talents? And then somebody says, "Well, what do we do with the lead guys then, they're contractually obligated to be on this show?" "This show? They can announce the guests and point to them when it's their turn?"
(Shrugs) Maybe Ed Sullivan was on to something, just point and show the performances and people would watch? At least, that might be the best way to fix these shows today. Let's face it, reality is more-or-less "contrived reality" as it is, and that's fine in it's own way and circumstances, but it's, probably not the best way to show off the talent in a talent show.