Sunday, July 28, 2013

TV: Appreciation

Gratitude, some TV networks execs would argue, is in short supply these days.

We'd argue the deficiency on gratitude comes from the suits themselves.


Take CBS which always manages to screw up something.

Under The Dome is a so-so show.  It's actually a creative disappointment thus far.  But pairing Steven King and Stephen Spielberg raised enough interest that over 13 million people watched the first episode.  A smart network would build on that.  To be clear, 13 million would be amazing numbers these days for a broadcast show during the fall season.  For one airing this summer, it verges on once-in-a-lifetime.

It could be CBS' Lost with a little sprucing up.  It could be.

But it won't.

CBS issued a cry like the sirens and people responded only to find themselves crashed and crushed against the rocks.  That's what tends to happen whenever CBS stands a shot at improving their demographics.

How did the network destroy Under The Dome?

They don't understand the 21st century at CBS.  They're Luddites convinced that people must watch TV on TV only.  That's why they have the least traffic of any of the big four (CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox).  In fact, there are weeks when The CW has more traffic to entertainment programming that CBS does.

Most of the programs the tired network airs are not going to be streamed, CBS refuses to stream.  With Under The Dome, they streamed the first two episodes and then quickly switched to "clips."

When ABC had the mega-hit Lost, they were able to air it each week on TV and also stream it online.  It never harmed the show's ratings.  But CBS is convinced that if they offered online streaming, they'd lose viewers.  All they've lost is credibility.

They have their rating hit but they also have a growing online chorus carping about the show because the network stopped streaming it.  What does this mean?  It means it's a mutt like Two and a Half Men.  It may deliver ratings but it lacks cachet.  The critics aren't talking about it.

Granted, the critics talk about a lot of crap.  Lena Dunham is untalented and unattractive and the fact that only one million people bother to follow her crappy HBO show (Girls) makes her the equivalent of a YouTube fad two years after.  The critics have a ton of problems.

But its pedigree meant that Under The Dome could have gotten major weekly 'water cooler talk' (so-called critics gushing in print and online).  CBS ensured that won't happen.  Under The Dome is popular but it is not "cool" or "trendy" and that's due to CBS' actions.

We're all responsible for what we do.

We called out the Whiteness of Orange Is The New Black July 14th.  We were a minority opinion.  We're fine with that.  We're not part of an echo chamber.  And our readers were appreciative.  Ty said the biggest complaint coming in on that piece was about  The Washington Post hailing Orange Is The New Black as the best TV prison show ever.  Yeah, that is way too much for a show that features the Queen of Bland as the lead.  But readers also wanted to note that July 18th saw Yasmin Nair calling out the Whiteness of the show in "White Chick Behind Bars: Netflix's Orange is the New Black gets an 'A' on queer issues, a 'C' on race and an 'F' on class" (In These Times) and they wanted to note this observation by Matthew Wollin (Pop Matters), "Most troubling, the premise insulates Chapman within an enclave of whiteness, relegating darker inmates to the status of comic relief and, of course, instructional occasions, at least for the first few episodes. While Burset (Laverne Cox) and Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) are initially charismatic and compelling, it’s soon clear that they’re in place to guide Chapman -- and us -- though her distressingly self-centered awakening."

Readers were also appreciative when we called out The Water Cooler Set's nonsense regarding Arrested Development. (TWCS claimed subplots weren't possible because the shows couldn't be shot weekly, we pointed out -- and used My Three Sons as the best example -- that filming a sitcom allowed you to shoot in any order and you didn't have the constraints that TWCS was insisting existed).  They rushed in e-mails citing this Jason Bateman Rolling Stone interview where Bateman makes just that point about the shooting schedule.

We're grateful for our readers and thrilled that, whether you agree with us or not, you're here each week willing to explore what TV might mean.  Ty cites the avalanche of e-mails for last week's "Media: The wall-to-wall so-called 'discussion'."  Trish, Bailey and Claudio Moreno, you should really consider taking your conversations online.  Ty showed us your e-mails and we encourage you strongly to start websites.  Blogger/Blogspot is a free web hosting platform. Just hit the "home" button or the "page up" button and the top right hand corner has the link for "Create Blog" and it's really easy.  We encourage those three to share their writing.  We encourage that of all of readers.

You show up each week not because we're going to tell you what you want to hear or what everyone else is saying, you show up to consider and determine.  We appreciate that and we encourage you to take it online because the answer is always more voices speaking their truth, not less voices or, even worse, a chorus of voices singing from the same hymnal.  And if you do start a site, be sure to e-mail about a piece you've written so that we can give you a link here (the e-mail address is and if you're writing about our writing -- Ava and C.I. -- you can also shoot it over to to give Ty a break).


We're happy to note things that apply here.  For example, in the dog days of summer, a feature like "TV on the Web" might be appreciated.  USA Today offers this feature.  And some may find it helpful.

We don't particularly for various reasons.  First of all, it's really not television on the web.  It's trailers and YouTube videos.  Second of all, it's highly sexist.

"Top Picks," for example, is nine screen snaps of videos -- only one of which features a woman.  Some may argue that they were dependent upon what was 'put out' recently.  When you're including Johnny Carson videos, there's nothing 'recent' about your offerings.  Jerry Lewis apparently picked the "Comedy" section -- that's the only explanation for nine offerings with no acknowledgment of women.  Women fair a little better in "Drama" where clips featuring Anna Paquin and Julia Stiles allow and in "Animated" with  two of the nine screensnaps of videos emphasized featuring women.  "Entertainment" again features the Vevo screensnap of a woman (and eight clips of men).  "Family" features only one woman (Amy Poehler doling out advice).  In "Tech," Kris Jenner is the sole female screen snap.

We were asked by a USA Today friend if we could promote this feature.  We've provided a link.  But we can't really 'promote' it because we don't agree with it.  We don't agree that it's acceptable for USA Today to promote "TV on the Web" (or whatever they want to call it) in their sexist manner. In what world would these ratios be acceptable because they aren't.

And let's talk 'tech' so we can be at least as savy as Kris Jenner,  USA Today's website is a nightmare.

We're using the latest edition of Windows -- that's Windows 8.  In another version, USA Today's site might work just fine.  In Windows 8, nearly any time you try to do something, you're taken to another USA Today page.  You have to use the "back" button to get back to "TV on the Web" page.  It's a hassle.

So is finding solid viewing choices in the summer.  NBC's Crossing Lines is not a great series but it's not a bomb either and Donald Sutherland's made some surprising twists and turns in the role of Michael Dorn -- enough to keep each episode fresh.   ABC's Motive has been more successful and pairing it with veteran summer series Rookie Blue has allowed ABC to have a strong Thursday night line up this summer.  But with Under The Dome imploding, the show to note has been ABC's Mistresses.

The Monday night melodrama (Stan and Ruth cover each Monday night episode in their Tuesday posts) has inspired discussions online and offline.  With everyone wanting Savi (Alyssa Milano) to open up that envelope (revealing whether she's pregnant by her husband or by her one night stand), this Monday night episode should be a high rated one (last hour of prime time on ABC).  And Milano, Rochelle Aytes, Yunjin Kim and Jes Macallan have established an easy and believable chemistry that some casts need a full season to arrive at (and still others never reach that point).  The ratings for the series demonstrate a second season is in order and that ABC was smart to go with the show that had started-and-stopped several times in the last years before ending up at the network.

As the press releases (from ABC) regularly note, Mistresses is on stronger footing nearly every week and, last week, beat CBS' Under The Dome in its number of women viewers.  (If that surprises you, you haven't been reading Marcia -- start here and here.)   Mistresses has talent in front of and behind the cameras but ABC isn't forking out the huge dollars that a King-Spielberg production requires. An NBC exec bemoaned to us last week that NBC hadn't thought to air Deception (their attempt at Scandal) this summer where it might have stood out more and offered a comparison.  Under The Dome, he said, was the film Clear and Present Danger while Mistresses was the film Speed.  How so?

In 1994, Clear and Present Danger ended up the number 7 film for the year with domestic ticket sales of $122 million while Speed ended up number 8 with domestic ticket sales of $121 million.  He'd rather have been  Fox with Speed than Paramount with Clear and Present Danger, he explained, because Speed made more money -- when you factored in production budget and print and advertising costs, Speed was the money maker and Clear and Present Danger the bloated corpse.

We see his point.  And we'll note that he agrees the mini-series is a format that should be staging a comeback and that NBC will be offering one on Hillary Clinton (starring Diane Lane in the lead role) as well as getting the religious mini-series A.D. (they beat out the History Channel).  We're glad about that.

TV is dying, we hear from time to time.  And there's always a scapegoat offered.  But what's rarely noted is the reality that TV dies when it over-copies.  When everyone wanted to be Law & Order or CSI, TV was in trouble because one-note television is never going to be able to reach a large enough audience to justify its costs.  (Something the soaps should have grasped when they all began aping Passions.)  TV needs variety.  That means sitcoms (remember when we had to regularly take on the false claim that sitcoms were dead and over?).  It means TV movies, it means a mini-series, it means summer offerings, it means a variety show, you name it.

TV always seems exciting when its breaking with the pack.

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