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Bad TV: A tale of a Golden past, and a “straight to DVD” present

There are few things that stick out, in terms of informal family functions, more than primetime TV blocks.  TGIFridays were rich and held a lot of value in conversation at the cafeteria on the following Monday. Black sitcoms, which reminded me, my siblings, and my cousins of our innate potential, were coupled with dinners that my mother still managed to put a lot of love into, despite being constantly fatigued from swing doubles and the oppressive onslaught of bills stuffed into the mailbox.  Somewhere, in the middle of a photo album, is a picture of me doing the “running man” dance, emulating Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  It’s one of the few things I don’t immediately cringe to death recalling from childhood.  I can see the fun and carefree nature in it.  

It’s not an embarrassment.  It’s a reminder: Be Open.  Be Free.

Some of those shows were nearly as impactful as grade school teachers.  

Thank God for that standard of TV show.  And yet…curse God all the same.  When you know how good it gets, this barren wasteland of network programming has got to tear your heart apart.  

See, TV is not the implied 5th family member anymore (presupposing something along the lines of a nuclear family).  It’s not even the dog.  It’s the mistress mommy, or daddy doesn’t like to talk about.  Maybe not even that.  Just one fling on a business trip.  You’ll never see him or her again.  Showrunners, networks, and producers are just not interested or mandated to bring back the glory of Friends, Family Matters or Sex and the City…or even The Wire.  

The reasoning can be easily deduced: it takes a lot of time in a low attention span economy.  Many mediums have gone the same way.  As a musician, my development has taken place as the development and story of an album gave way to disjointed singles released every 3-6 months, seemingly at the behest of labels trying to see what would stick.  I can still remember being at a college party and getting so excited to hear a single by some band I deemed honorable at the time.  I asked her if I could take over the party playlist via her iPod.  I figured if she dug this band, we had similar interests, and maybe I could expose the entire house to some deep cuts from the same band.  

Nope.  Spoke too soon.  The only tracks she had of that band were the obvious singles.  Hell, that was the case for every artist on the iPod.  I remember feeling confused; and immediately regretful of my offer to DJ.  

This is tv now.  

To be fair, you don’t need to be an insider to understand some of what an insider would point to as the cause for the shift from enduring TV to a 10-episode shot in the dark with about as much character development as a children’s fable: Streaming services have them running scared.  Hell, even the streaming services are running scared, as they’ve announced downsizing or merging of their TV and movie wings of production to emphasize quality and de-emphasize quantity.  

Networks don’t want to sink money into more than three seasons, at the absolute most, only to find out they put a ring on a clunker.  That’s understandable.  I suppose it’s simply self-preservation to stop hemorrhaging money wherever you can!

My question is this: How is it a sound strategy to, as a rebuttal, make objectively bad TV?  Turn on the tv any random weeknight, and any newer show will just about drive you to throw your plate at the screen (maybe that’s just me…I’m a bit…much).  The premise of each of them is much like…the redheaded stepchildren of the great grunge bands of old.  You know…bands like Puddle of Mudd.  Absolute milquetoast, boiled, unseasoned…nothingness.  Just imagine the plot of King of Queens rehashed over and over and over with actors further down the totem pole.  Even when the nail casting, the writing is so bad, they find a way to make Cedric the Entertainer bland.  That’s an impressive feat.  Watch Kings of Comedy and understand how hard it must be to make him about as funny as a public square beheading during the French Revolution.

Is this how we hold onto the viewers we have left?  Is this how networks plan on acquiring new eyes?  

God help us if it is.  It’s scary money.  

In the music industry, I’ve heard it said that there would never be the likes of Michael Jackson or the Beatles again; and although there are many factors for that, I have to imagine dropping fly-by-night, on-trend singles are perhaps part of the problem.  

Likewise, the TV industry is doing something similar.  Some insiders even admit that it’s all a play on the algorithm.  If a show does alright in the ratings, they’ll still cancel it and bring in a new show, similar to the original one, for a smaller budget.  

If you love the brand name product, you’ll love the Great Value version, right?

Wrong.  Ratings remain poor for even network staples like award shows.  

So, unless we can tease an onstage slap out of at least one celebrity every time an American sits down on the TV screen, I suggest a change in course.  


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