Mewsings from Lowecat (aka Indianacat)

My rants, ravings, and overall 'mewsings' on life, the universe, and everything.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Disappointments in TeeVee Land

In case you didn't know already, I grew up with television. I've seen it grow from just a few channels on the VHF/UHF bands and three networks, to the cable/satellite providers with mega channels and hi - def signals of today. My parents were of the radio age, when the great serials like 'The Green Hornet', 'The Lone Ranger', 'Superman', and others ruled the airwaves. Thanks to early AM/FM car radio (WGN especially) and many vinyl recordings, I got to enjoy those serials of old.

One of the things that radio and television have in common is storytelling. With radio, you had to use your imagination to picture what was going on. There were no elaborate sets, no costumes, no faces of actors and actresses. You imagined the action as it happened.

When television came along, that changed. Suddenly, the way things looked became a little more important than storytelling, though that was still the foundation. While the foundation remained relatively sturdy, the walls and ceiling were fabricated of skinny bods on the girls, the men had to be hunks, and good looks were the norm. Sex appeal became a watch word in teeveeland.

Bruce Springsteen put out a song in the early 80's when cable started to get more popular and offer more outlets that seems as apt today as it did back then. The song had a refrain of "Fifty Seven Channels and Nothin's On." Add a couple of zeros behind the 57 and you'll be in today's world.

Recently, The LA Times printed a story about how hard it is for dramatic television to keep viewers. This came after the news that several good - and not so good - shows got axed from their networks. If you haven't read it, here's the link. Check it out. I'll wait.,0,7051380.story

Welcome back. Yes, that little gem inspired this blog. I'm disappointed that 'The Chicago Code', like 'Terriers', was axed before it's first year was over. Both were showrun by Shawn Ryan, of 'The Sheild' fame. Both were excellently written, with a great ensemble cast. I liked both shows. And no, that's not the reason they were canceled, thank you very much!

It's not just the fact that people multi-task while watching television that caused these shows to fail, and I doubt that it was the lack of storyline. Hell, as I tweeted to Kurt Sutter the other day, people have been multitasking in front of the television set for years! I remember my mother, both grandmothers, and aunts would iron clothes while watching the soaps on television. If you've ever watched 'Back to the Future', the McFly family watched teevee and ate at the same time!

You'll note the article mentioned a two year old study from Ball State University (here in IN) about multitasking television viewing. The article indicates that with the Ipad and Iphone making social networking even more convenient than laptops, the situation has grown, not diminished.

Hello, McFly! (head knock). Anyone home! It's never kriffin' left!!!!! People have ALWAYS multitasked while watching teevee. Sure, when television first came out, people gathered around it much like they used to gather 'round their radio sets, giving 100% of their attention. Or so TIIC would have us believe. However, you can't tell me that Grandma or Mom wasn't knitting, sewing, or doing something while watchin' the tube, just like they did in the days of radio. We can all count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we've been truly riveted to the television. JFK's assassination, the moon landing, 9/11 are the most memorable.

OK, so people interact on the internet during television. So what? Doesn't it still come down to the storytelling? I think so. Yes, I multitask while watching some shows, but that's because they're designed for that. There are some things that one can do other things and NOT lose track, or can rewind the DVR to have something repeated.

But if I'm invested in a show, I'll stop and watch. My attention will be on that program until the end. There are a few that meet that criteria for me. 'Sons of Anarchy', 'Justified', 'Hawaii Five O', 'Law and Order SVU/LA', 'Flashpoint' and 'Chicago Code', fill that bill beause the STORY gets me from the start.

The article also sneered at recaps. Some of these shows have 'previously on . . .' recaps that don't tune me out. 'SOA' is good at showing the viewer things that not only happened in the last episode, but in previous seasons' that relate to the current story being told. That's really good use of a recap and other shows could profit from it.

The problem with television viewing isn't the fact that we are multitasking as viewers. Part of the problem is that the powers that be continue to cling to the early 20th century method of ratings. To them it's all about how many people are actually viewing the show at the time it's shown?

It's like trying to use an abacus against a computer program designed to run numbers. The abacus will eventually come up with the result, but the computer program will have gone into REM sleep by the time the abacus gets there.

The execs, the advertisers, and all the other ratings genuises all have to move into the 21st century and count not just the DVR watchers (whether commercials are skipped or not. Frankly, if a commercial is interesting, I'll rewind and watch it. If it's annoying or freaks me out, like the cellular service commercial that glorifies stalking I'll skip it in a heartbeat), but the internet downloaders. Only then will they have a true reading on the viewership. Also those who have access to Video On Demand. Ever since the VCR became available to the public, we've had the power to watch what we want, when we want. It's even more true today, but the bean counters continue to cling to their abacii!

The bottom line is that story is what will grab me, and keep me coming back. If a favorite actor or actress is involved, that's a plus. Or, if the idea is interesting enough, I'll check it out, and if it hooks me, I'm loyal to a fault. That's why I pine for shows that have gone before they should've, like 'Terriers', 'The Forgotten', and 'Moonlight' (the vampire one, not the 80s detective show).

Some of the shows on television just lie flat. They don't tell a story that grips me. It's hard to invest my time in them. I got lost in Lost from the get go. The retooled 'V' held no interest to me, it seemed to have none of the 'ooph' of the 1980's mini series. 'Flash Forward' held me with the story idea, but sometimes seemed to get tied up in knots.

There is so much drek on tee vee these days that it leaves me shaking my damn head. Reality and contest shows abound. They're cheap to produce, since no one has to hire cast and writers to make it work. I have a theory as to why they continue multi year runs when well written, conceived programs fall by the wayside.

It's that multi-tasking thing. The reality shows get ratings because people can do other things and not lose out. They don't HAVE to pay attention to the story!

What a concept.