10 November 2008

Bring back the classics

Sometimes I wish I had a few million dollars to blow and a gift for screenplay writing, so I could start my own television network. I assure you that the old line networks would be out of business within a year. There are so many stories to tell, and tell well, over the air that it is sad, especially when compared to the unwatchable garbage that masquerades as television programming these days.

Old school teevee was simply more properly acted, directed, produced, and choreographed. Maybe it's just nostalgia, but that is my opinion.

All good television programming (and fiction in general) is fundamentally storytelling, and more precisely telling stories that entertain and hold an audience's attention. But it should not insult that audience's intelligence. It should uplift, inspire, even educate. It should tell interesting and engrossing stories that netherless remain firmly rooted in reality and plausibility.

Some people prefer to indulge in fantasy and that is their right. But it does not serve the mind well to remain in the realm of the unreal for extended periods.

But all fictional programming is fantasy, right? Sure, in essence. But there is programming that is unapologetically and unambiguously fantastical, and then there is storytelling that is clearly grounded in fact and realism and can make one forget for a time that what the audience is seeing and hearing is actually a photoplay produced for their benefit.

The programs that have acknowledged this rule of art have been the remembered artistic triumphs of the small screen.

But what types of programs are these?

Comedy tends toward the ridiculous and the extreme, simply by its nature. So no offense to comedy, but dramatic programming has it beat with regards to believability.

And no, so called "reality shows" don't make the cut under this definition. Any six year old should realize by now that the "reality" of these programs is a false one.

Again, programming should be realistic and entertaining, but also uplifting. Little hope can be expected in this regard from the current network offerings.

We are treated to a constant onslaught of lookalike, feelalike police procedurals (thanx, CBS), pithy and pathetic melodramas, crude and frankly disgusting situation "comedies", truly banal "unscripted" programming, insipid soap operas, flights into fantasy (that means you, Ghost Whisperer and Heroes), rip-offs and send-ups of genre programming in true parody form, and other such tripe.

Not to mention the crap that passes for intelligent media discourse these days. (Of course, with morons at the helm who are devoted disciples of the Church of Obama, that's not saying much.)

No wonder people don't watch television anymore. With insults like these, it's truly possible that the faux Obama-McCain danceoff bouncing around YooToob these days may actually be more entertaining to the mindless sheeple.

Here's what I'd do if I were president of one of the major broadcast networks.

You see that ratings are dropping, that television (not just a single network, all of television) has been bleeding viewers in absolute terms for twenty years. You ask yourself, "What did we stop offering twenty years ago that made people bolt?"

Cuz the Internet didn't exist back then, so that excuse is shot. You come to realize, "Hey! Maybe our programming overall has gotten worse since then."

Given the sordid reality that there just isn't the talent in Hollywood anymore to create programming of equal caliber to that which existed in the past, you come to the conclusion that the old programming must be recycled.

"Oh, you mean reruns? Or remakes of old shows? We get plenty of that already. There are whole networks dedicated to the phenomenon." Not quite, kemosabi.

Reruns of Cheers and Seinfeld won't cut it, obviously, since we get too much of that high-starch diet already. The best loved programs are often those which are overlooked and forgotten, or at least long out of mind.

In the distant past when videotape was expensive, programming was often taped for broadcast, then the tape would be reused for future programming, thus erasing older programming by taping over it. The term in the industry is "wiping."

It was a tragedy, because countless hours of good and classic programming has now been lost due to the economic considerations of the industry forty years ago. Of course, who could foresee an aftermarket in DVDs then?

But from what has survived, we take what we have.

Some brave souls air the original Star Trek now and again. It would be wise to continue this practice.

People have forgotten real acting and directing, however. (William Shatner is not known for his, ah, subtle performances.) What of those lost classics that remain only as fading memories in the minds of old viewers?

Classic TPiR? The Edge of Night? The Defenders? Playhouse 90?

This would be perfect from an advertising standpoint, also. While 18-35 viewers may be susceptible to advertising's lure, it is not easily forgotten that older viewers are generally more affluent and thus have, ahem, more disposible income.

C'mon, network dickhead suits - bring back the classics! For once, consider your viewers before inflicting your harebrained ideas on what you think we like upon our weary souls.

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