Sunday, January 06, 2013

TV: Recess is over

You remember recess from school.  It was play time.  You broke from the schedule and did what you wanted.  It was a lot of fun and a taste of freedom.  Made you realize how much better life would be if you weren't on someone else's schedule.  In the changing TV landscape, overpaid suits working through old issues decided to program similarly.  The results were not pretty.


Take Hulu where they were left to promote Family Ties as must stream media.

No offense but Family Ties?  Yes, it actually has one classic episode (season's three's "Love Thy Neighbor," written by Michael J. Weithorn, Alan Uger and Rich Reinhart, where Jennifer tries to compete with Mallory for a guy's attention, contains Tina Yother's cry of "I'm fine and I'm not a little girl. Waiter, my bike!") -- but it's not really a lure.  The show's been in syndication for years now and it wasn't all that in real time as it fawned over Alex Keaton and sidelined Jennifer (Yothers) and Mallory (Justine Bateman).  If you weren't charmed by Michael J. Fox and were immune to the greed of Alex Keaton, the show was just tired and grating.

Despite its lackluster status, Hulu had to promote it as if it were Finding Nemo because they've had so little in the last weeks to offer as ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all went on vacation and gave their viewers a lengthy recess.

In the past, holiday fare has often crowded out regular programing in December.  But in the past, holiday fare wasn't available at your local Wal-Greens on DVD.  Meaning, just how special is the second or third showing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in one month?

Considering all the money that Christmas special has raked in from repeated showings since 1964, from videocassette and DVD sales, you'd think the networks would be all over themselves each year attempting to create a new animated special.  We don't mean one of those ridiculous sequels.  The specials that last were originals: Rudolph, Frosty, etc.

But that would require preparing for the future and the network suits today can't think beyond tomorrow's overnights.

The lack of long range planning goes a long way towards explaining why networks are in trouble and stuck there.

When you're bleeding viewers every year, do you encourage them to go away?  Do you give them an extended recess?

We waited and waited for the Water Cooler Set to address this topic last month.

Who were we kidding?

The Water Cooler Set is scared of their own shadows.  They have a pack mentality and are unable to offer an original thought.

Which is a shame because this most likely does not end pretty.

What broadcast TV is doing currently in December is what cable has long done: Take a hiatus.  Broadcast TV in the fifties was expected to work and did, programming seven nights a week.  Today it really can't handle six nights.  And in 2012, December became hiatus month?

If the Water Cooler Set was capable of thought, maybe the network suits could picture something beyond tomorrow's overnights?

In film, as Ann and Stan pointed out in the year-in-review, the films that used to be staples are gone, the ones that deal with the family, that deal with family issues, the On Golden Ponds, the Ordinary Peoples, those are gone and few have even noticed.  Broadway, as well, now has little room for the observations of life and is now basically carnival barker and juke box 'musicals.'

As the broadcast networks send the audiences away, it will have an impact on the future of TV.  It will impact what airs and what doesn't air.  Already, there have been disturbing developments that the Water Cooler Set couldn't be bothered with.

Harry's Law, starring Kathy Bates, delivered an audience -- especially for NBC, it delivered an audience.  It's second season average was higher than all but one episode of Smash.  But  Harry's Law got the axe last spring and Smash was brought back.  NBC's Parenthood also got renewed and Harry's Law's second season average was higher than the 12 episodes of Parenthood NBC's broadcast so far this season.  NBC's new drama Chicago Fire?  It has yet to have an episode with as many viewers as the season average of Harry's Law.

Now when Kathy Bates did a guest spot on Two and A Half Men as Charlie (Charlie Sheen's character), the Water Cooler Set couldn't stop yammering.  But that was a 'trendy' topic.  Dealing with actual TV issues?  Unless critical thought comes in the goody bags the networks handed out, don't hold your breath waiting for the Water Cooler Set to discover it.

Now maybe you're okay with that.  Maybe, for example, you think Broadway was created for Jersey Boys and film invented for the questionable talents of Michael Bay?

If so, get ready for a million more (bad) attempts to re-invent Lost combined with a lot of niche shows that appeal to those who make big purchases.  Just don't expect anything that challenges.  (Niche shows, as a rule, confirm the audiences internal prejudices while reassuring them that they are a rarefied class.)  Look for 'event' TV that's the equivalent of what you're getting from Broadway and film currently.

It is amazing to us that as TV digs its own grave further and further, there is no outcry from the Water Cooler Set that is supposed to be the critic, the watchdog.  There is just a rush to play Kook Kidz and act like they're part of whatever HBO fad has currently caught their fancy.

TV is not going away.  Maybe they think it is?  Hulu was lucky to have Hot in Cleveland and Happily Divorced (from cable's TV Land) the last few weeks or it really would have had nothing.  And that's true of the people who Tivo or buy episodes from iTunes or Amazon or what have you.

No matter how it's delivered, you currently do depend on TV to foot the bill, to greenlight the show, to air it so that you can watch it on whatever platform you choose.  That may change.  Maybe some web show will actually break out in the near future and not be an anomaly but an actual trend?  Maybe not.  If or until that happens, you're left with TV.

So maybe it's time for the networks to stop strip mining and start building?

If the networks are at a loss, we'd suggest that they start by finally making an Easter special out of Du Bose Heyward and Marjorie Hack's The Country Bunny And The Little Golden ShoesBack in a 2005 book discussion, Kat noted this 1939 classic, "The Country Bunny is a Sally Field type, plucky and feisty.  She wants to be one of the Easter egg carriers.  Each year, there's a contest and the fastest bunnies are selected to deliver the eggs.  Although the Country Bunny is one of the fastest, she is told that it's too bad she has so many children or she could be one of the five selected."  In 2010, The New Yorker noticed the book and observed that "it has never been out of print" which is quite an accomplishment for any children's book -- especially one dating back to 1939. Even a network suit should grasp you can grow an audience via a special based on that.

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