The state of TV in America

I love TV. I know that as an ‘intellectual’ I’m supposed to hate it, but I’m also a creative and I love the form immensely. Shows like ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Wire’, ‘The Shield’ are truly wonderful works of serialized fiction. Some game shows like ‘Survivor’ are beautiful visually (have you seen Survivor lately?) and fun to watch from a strategy perspective. But today isn’t about TV reviews. It’s a short musing about what I feel is happening in the TV business.

Networks are clueless (as most big media houses are these days) about how to make their audience happy. First off, they seem to choose shows not based on quality but on thier ability to appeal to the largest audience. That means that most shows are dumb, and easy to follow. I find that most shows I tend to love these days are on networks that seem to care a bit about quality (AMC for example with the now cancelled ‘Rubicon’ and their so far non-cancelled ‘The Killing’, or FX with ‘Archer’ or ‘The League’). That’s problem one and I know that its expensive to put on TV shows and you can’t cater to long tail viewers. I get that.

What I also get but find to be a huge problem is cancellations. It seems to me that more and more, networks cancel shows before they allow them to get into a stride and capture an audience. Its a well known fact that ‘Seinfeld’, considered one of the most successful shows of the 90’s was almost canceled many times in it’s first couple of years until they placed it after ‘Cheers’ and tuned it up a bit. You can read in many places about shows that were cancelled before they should have been (‘Firefly’, ‘My so Called Life’, ‘Sports Night’, etc..).

So when a network has a new show what am I to do? 5-10 years ago I would have watched it and hoped for the best. Now? I tend to wait. In a time where everyone seems to watch on DVR or Netflix, there is almost no need to see a show in its timeslot because nobody is talking about it the next day (like we all used to). What you want to be sure of is that you are able to see all the episodes, in order. So I wait it out a bit and see if a show makes it to its second season before I decide to give it a shot. Then I rent the first season from Netflix (or if they don’t have it I *gasp* download the torrents) and I catch up. It’s much safer to watch tv that way.

Of course if everyone did it the way I did then everything would be cancelled. What’s the answer? I’m not sure but I think part of it is that we have to understand that moving to an on-demand world is a good first step. Maybe loosing the cost of having to maintain a huge broadcast network with affiliates, etc. and moving exclusively to digital distribution across the internet may help?

For music, we are seeing that a band can self produce and distribute and still maintain quality. We’re seeing that start to happen ion publishing as well. I wonder if TV can do the same thing? I know it’s way more expensive to make a TV show than a song so I fear that maybe we will loose out on production values if the networks stop funding big shows. That wouldn’t be good. But there is an answer somewhere out there and it doesn’t seem that anyone is looking for it.

Edit : Just came across this interestingly relevant post (and comments) on reddit.

You can do it

Is this where we are headed?
I am discouraged today. I’ve actually felt this way for a number of years now. It’s been so long I can’t even remember when it began, but that’s not really important. What is important if for you to know why I feel this way. It’s important to me that you read this and think about what I’ve said and do something, anything, as a result. Comment, pass this along, tell others in person… I don’t care, just do something. Because the lack of anyone doing anything is what has me so discouraged.

If you look back at this blog and other places where I post things (facebook, my news feed, twitter, etc.) you will see that the majority of things I post about are things that are wrong with the world (particularly America) politically and socially. I know ‘wrong’ here is biased towards my own beliefs but I really feel that my perspective is general enough that any reasonable person exposed to the things I post would feel similar to how I do. But in all this time I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt that anyone has responded in a serious way to anything I’ve posted.

And this is what discourages me. Every day I read or learn something new that makes me want to scream out in anger or frustration. Every day I have to take a moment and ask myself, what can I do to make the world a place where things like this don’t happen again? So I post, and I donate to causes and I participate in politics by voting, and I genuinely think about how things affect the greater good. But it doesn’t change anything. And that inertia tends to make me more depressed. So I start to just give up and say ‘fuck it, if people would rather care more about mindless shit, then they deserve to get what they get’. We deserve the America we live in right now. The one where our liberties have been eroded in the name of security. The one where we can’t afford to educate our children because of wars we’re fighting for possibly flimsy reasons. The one where we have floods and tornados and odd weather every day and yet we deny that global warming is real. And on and on.

But I can’t sit back and do that anymore. In the last 2 years myself and many of my close friends have had their first children. So now instead of just saying “I’m dead in 60 years, it can’t get that bad”, we’re all now forced to say “what kind of world will our children inherit? And what about their children?”. Now things matter even more, and yet, I can see no change at all.

So what do I want? What would a perfect world be like from my perspective? What would I want you to do? It’s simple really. I want two things. First I want many people (many of the people I know) to take 10-15 minutes a day to read things that I (and other trusted friends) post and talk about. I want this because I don’t post things that are time-wasters. In my perfect world you all would trust that. Second I want you all to be motivated by the things I post to actually do something on your own. Maybe write about what you read, or talk to friends and family, or vote for candidates that support views that coincide with positions you read about, or maybe even debate with me the merits of what I post. In short I want you to take some time to react to what I post.

I can see why you don’t. We are constantly barraged with stimulus. And most of it has the effect of making us feel ok. Why allow ourselves to willingly feel bad about our world when we can so easily feel good about it? We are wired to suppress bad feelings and our media, our very lifestyle enables us to follow that path so easily. So I know it’s hard. But it’s so important to fight that urge to take the ‘soma’ and take a look at the world without our rose colored glasses. You don’t need to do it all the time, just once and a while. Please, I am literally begging you. We as a society are already failing because of ambivalence. Don’t let us fail completely!