Sunday, January 26, 2014

TV: The Habit Is Old

So this week, we get a lot of empty emotions lip synched badly.

No, we're not outing anyone for mouthing to pre-recorded vocals on tonight's Grammys.


We're talking about the upcoming State of the Union address.  It'll be carried on all networks and it is the only Constitutionally mandated speech a president has to give.

Our problem isn't the carriage, it is news.  Our problem is that it's not treated as such.  Instead, it's treated as holy gospel, as pearls tossed to swine.

It will be broadcast live, which is fine.  But it will then be parroted immediately after by various talking heads and this parroting will then move to written text while also continuing on the airwaves.

There will be no examination.

Imagine if the networks did actual news and responded to public speeches with an immediate analysis of What Lies Were Told This Time?

Some gasp and say that would be so unfair to Barack?

A few others, smarter on how to project maturity, will insist that would be disrespectful to the office itself.

We can't imagine anything more disrespectful than fawning and silencing critical thought.

Yes, journalistic legend I.F. Stone noted "all governments lie."  But he also noted, "The fault I find with most American newspapers is not the absence of dissent. it is the absence of news. With a dozen or so honorable exceptions, most American newspapers carry very little news. Their main concern is advertising."

And if you doubt that, check out the 'analysis' that each network will carry follow the State of the Union address and the Republican response.

Or just focus on the third sentence in the Stone quote: Their main concern is advertising."

Focus on that and look anywhere at TV.

Or look at the thousands fleeing TV watching.

The main concern of the networks is advertising.  This is how they make money.

But they don't make a lot of money these days because they don't deliver a lot of viewers.

A movie like Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas leaves you with a rush at the end, a delirious high.  In the aftermath, you glow from the power of genuine film making. TV's never going to match that but it's had its golden moments.

These include I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Happy Endings, All In The Family, Will & Grace, Soap, The Golden Girls, Friends, The New Adventures Of Old Christine, Good Times, Laverne & Shirley, Murphy Brown, The Nanny, Police Squad, News Radio, Martin, Roseanne, Three's Company (Suzanne Somers era only), Just Shoot Me, Newhart, Bosom Buddies, What's Happening!!Designing Women, Gimmie A Break, Square Pegs, Duck Factory, Throb . . .

The common theme of the shows is energy and life.  Three's Company, for instance, was never going to match the layers in Murphy Brown, but what carried the shows was the energy.  When Nell Carter and Telma Hopkins worked their magic, little else mattered.

TV can do more than sitcoms.  But the sitcoms hold up.  The zip of Dynasty seems to have faded away by the time the series traveled to syndication.  The same with Kojack and assorted other hourly programs. Curiously, Remington Steele, MacMillan & Wife, The Rockford Files and Columbo managed to hold on to their spark in syndication.

When those shows and more were in production and airing, there were many other shows on the air -- the bulk of them now forgotten.  And, more and more, it seems the now forgotten includes the bulk of what the networks now air.

The Winter Olympics will soon be upon us and, with them, the grumbling heard every four years.

'Why do they have to be on network TV?'

While it's true that the sports in the Winter Olympics can be dubbed 'softer' than the summer events, the real reason there are more objections to the airing of the Winter Olympics is that the Summer Olympics only interrupt reruns.

Any show with life will be missing during those February weeks.

Revenge, Scandal, The Mindy Project, The Big Bang Theory, The Crazy Ones, etc. will all vanish or air repeats.

The only real winner here is NBC which has nothing except Sean Will Save The World that qualifies as worth watching.

And while NBC has only one show, it's not like the others have much to point to.

Nowhere is that more true than at CBS.  And while CBS is a ratings winner, it's also true that their programs are more habit and far less event TV.

NCIS will air new episodes opposite the Winter Olympics because . . .  Well because it always airs.  Always airing made it a hit.

It's not a good show or even an okay one, but viewers know, like a genital wart, NCIS will always be there.

And more and more, that's what the networks have settled for -- habit programming for habit viewers.

The habit is old
You don't need it anymore
Go on and kiss it goodbye
-- "Love You By Heart," lyrics by Carly Simon, Libby Titus and Jacob Brackman and music by Carly, first appears on Carly's Spy album

They watch -- the smaller and smaller number -- simply because it's on.

TV offers fewer and fewer reasons to rush in front of a TV to turn it on, less and less things worth recording to watch later.  Instead it offers NCIS and its offsprings.

From 'news' to entertainment, more and more TV is dead on delivery.

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