Sunday, August 11, 2013

Random Thoughts on Television

This is an idea I got from Thomas Sowell, although he wasn't the first to use it.  Today's "random thoughts" revolve around the state of the TV industry. 

I notice that The Munsters is one of the more popular shows available for streaming on Netflix.  This doesn't surprise me.  After watching it, you appreciate the type of innocent, character-driven humor that's characteristic of many classic shows, but is virtually unheard of in the modern age. 

Is it just me, or has TV comedy gotten extremely mean-spirited of late?  When I was a kid Two and a Half Men would never have made it onto the air, much less become a hit. 

No show had more lost potential than Malcolm in the Middle.  A show about a gifted child from a working-class family was practically tailor-made for yours truly.  Yet with time the show got so dark I couldn't bear to watch.  It's no wonder the show seems to have floundered in syndication. 

Successful comedy writers will tell you that there's an important distinction between naughty and nasty.  Watch I Love Lucy or The Andy Griffith Show; you'll be surprised at some of the stuff you didn't notice when you watched as a kid.  The people who made the classics could be naughty, but they did it with style and subtlety. 

Friends was a huge hit but hasn't aged all that well; neither has SeinfeldFrasier, meanwhile, could've been made yesterday- or 50 years ago. 

Family-friendly shows like Home Improvement are widely derided for being trite and formulaic, but they hold up better over time than most of their contemporaries.  Shows that were "edgy" in the 90's have lost their edge over time- and edge was all most of them ever had. 

One of the things that strikes me about old TV shows is how much longer the production seasons were in the 50's and 60's.  The Patty Duke Show had more episodes in its three seasons than Community has had in four- and has been seen by far more people. 

I can't help but feel sorry for the people who make Community.  This is not a comment on the show's quality.  By any measure, it's one of the least-watched shows on television.  When the end-of-season rankings for this last year were released, Community ranked somewhere in the 90s.  This wasn't for total viewers; this was for the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that the show is supposed to be aimed at. 

A recent study indicates that the relationship between social media buzz and ratings for TV shows is tenuous at best.  If you ask me, social media are an echo chamber, a place where a handful of people can create a deafening amount of hype.  It seems like for every opportunity creators get to expose the public to their work through social media, they get a dozen opportunities to make themselves look like a jackass.  Why bother? 

In the long run, viewers are a better judge of a TV show's quality than critics or bloggers.  Most of what we call "classic" shows were not exactly critical darlings when they were first aired. 

What is it with shows aimed at kids and teens?  Shows like iCarly and Victorious are exercises in masochism.  Have you ever sat down and watched these shows?  It's just one lazy joke after another, one false note after another.  VicTORIous is especially irksome because the whole cast was made up of sitcom and Broadway veterans; you couldn't have asked for a better cast, especially a cast of all teens.  It makes me angry.  You only have to watch one episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete to know they could have done better.  I think these shows would've been funnier if they'd have ditched the scripts and had the cast improvise every scene.  Which reminds me...

Whose Line Is It Anyway? is back, and not a moment too soon.  It's still funny, and it's been renewed for a full season.  Note to you network executives: this is how comedy should work. 

We live in an age where being detached and ironic is the "big thing" in television.  Heaven knows how we'll look on this brand of humor ten years from now.  I'm already sick of it.  I can't help but think we'll see a gradual return to more earnest humor in the future. 

I have nothing against The Office, but the awkward humor angle has been done to death.  How many times can you see a guy be a complete moron before it gets old? 

I'm not even close to done yet, so I'll save my additional thoughts for another post.

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