My wife and I sat down to watch TV together last night for the first time in months. That’s partially due to the fact that we’ve been insanely busy for the past few months and took a day off yesterday, so we had more time. It’s also due to us primarily watching DVDs and online streams of TV shows and movies…
(Together this year we’ve watched a lot of Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, and M.A.S.H. We stream the Vicar of Dibley off of Netflix, too… btw, BBC power, baby! Love the girl power and the irreverence.)
We used to have shows that we watched together… like Pushing Daisies, for one. While Amy and I have different tastes when it comes to humor (I could watch Monty Python and Family Guy till I laugh myself sick; she considers it drivel…), we agree basically on what makes a TV show/series good:
Strong, nuanced character development.
Snappy, witty writing.
(and, it helps if the show addresses/comments on real-world issues… although it can do so without an overt agenda.)
So back to last night… Thursday night used to be the creme de la creme of TV-watching nights. The pinnacle for which every comedy show reached, especially NBC.
Now? It’s Parks and Recreation.
AWFUL… just AWFUL. Sleeping (w/o dreaming) would have been more entertaining. Hee Haw reruns would have been more humorous. Amy Poehler (who I’ve never found very funny anyway) was particularly drab, in a role that basically did nothing but try to copy the Office, and it did so badly.
It wasn’t just NBC. In our disgust we flipped around to other channels, trying to find something of worth… and found a drama with inane dialogue and with only sexual content driving the plot, a reality show with NO content, and another bad comedy. Thursday night, and NOTHING to watch.
Meanwhile, networks cancel shows like Pushing Daisies, and Arrested Development.
I know that ratings and advertisers control the airwaves, but the networks should have some power, too, and networks should know that earning viewers is like starting a movement, and movements take time to build momentum. M.A.S.H. ran for 11 seasons and is considered one of the most successful sitcoms in history, yet was a ratings dud its first year. Seinfeld struggled in the early years. In fact, VERY few shows, drama or comedy, that ended up successful, started immediately that way. I don’t think the Office did either!… but the Office was innovative to the American market; nothing like it had ever been done before (and become popular)… that was part of its appeal (the mock-interview format, Steve Carrell’s character that drove the show’s humor, etc.)
But instead of having the same “let’s try something new” attitude, the approach is always “let’s imitate what works,” or “let’s interject as much superfluous drama / shock-value into the show as possible to gain viewers.” Hence Parks and Rec’s bad attempt to copy the Office. As long as the goal is for shows to “become successful NOW,” this will stay the same… but in the meantime, the shows with actual CONTENT get flushed.
(Meanwhile, NBC, you’re in last place in ratings. Maybe there’s a connection?)
Reality TV has increased the problem– for most of them, ALL of the allure for these shows(e.g. Big Brother, the Bachelor, etc.) is in the clashing of borderline personalities and in the overt sexual content. NO need for writing; just get people to fight and shack up as much as possible.
There are exceptions (30 Rock in my opinion is still going strong; J.J. Abrams and Aaron Sorkin’s shows are good typically)…. but the trend is definitely downward in quality, and has been so for years. Now it’s up to Youtube to be our primary entertainment.
We need a cultural Renaissance; a resurrection of the television medium. We need writers to step up to the plate and deliver original material, and for networks to stop playing Russian roulette with their new shows, to show some foresight and ability to judge what is the “real deal” from the putrescence. (E.g., Pushing Daisies? Good! Parks and Rec, BOO!!)
For now Amy and I will remain content with the purchasing/Netflixing of DVDs, of old shows, the few good shows out now, the BBC, and the internet.