Yep, MBC. That's for Mongo Broadcast Company. I was never a typical child growing up. At 33, I wonder how I ended up like I did? During my childhood, I watched television for about as many hours as most kids my age, but the style of programming was truly different. yes, I spent my early years watching Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company but beyond that, I didn't stick to the normal kiddie fare. I remember getting up for afternoon kindergarten and watching The Price is Right before hopping the bus for school. At the age if five, I could probably figure out the pricing on items in the grocery store better than people four times my age. Instead of watching family shows in the evening, I was brought up on the classics of British television like, Benny Hill,Monty Python, and Dave Allen. It was customary for kids my age to be in bed before nine in the evening, but there I was up until 11 watching Hill Street Blues, hart to Hart, andSt. Elsewhere. I truly did grow up with television.
But something happened. Gone are the days of good scripted television. Hollywood seems content on catering to the lowest common denominator. Why else would shows like American Idol get more viewers than a presidential debate? What happened to good television? In the 90's we had Friends, Cheers, and Seinfeld, but today we're content with watching someone eat snakes and sing badly as a form of entertainment. It's like Hollywood saw the numbers that Jerry Springer got and realized that if they put those people on a show and call it a competition then it's legitimate.
Don't tell me naive and don't understand the nature of television. I watched every episode of M*A*S*H including the series finale during its original broadcasting. Don't tell me that todays producers are holding a chicken trying to keep it quiet, when I know full well that it's a quality show that they are smothering to death. Don't get me started on FOX. I've seen more good shows get slipped by to the junk pile on that network so they can try and imitate other networks with their reality ripoffs. Trading Spouses>, anyone? Well, guess what? The God Warrior is here to bring your injustices to light.
Suspension of Disbelief
Ok, let's start with one of the most popular shows out there, LOST. I actually like this show and can't find much wrong with it, now that they've gotten back on track with the mystery. For awhile, they were headed towards X-Files territory. I mean the last few seasons of X-Files.. The ones where Mulder wasn't even around. LOST tried to boost its appeal by adding two "beautiful" people in the form of Nikki and Paulo who garnered much bile from the stomachs of the viewers. Why? We've been through two seasons of well developed and well written characters who have been grimy and in need of a shave for more than 108 minutes and all of a sudden two flawless looking poeple come be bopping into the mix. It's just sad that the writers finally got rid of them only after they had to resort to breaking the fourth wall with the audience to mirror our displeasure. Mind you, this is a good case.
The bad case is the sitcom that supposedly exists in our reality but doesn't follow any rules. I'm talking about According to Jim, Still Standing, and their like. These shows would have us believe that poor schlubs like Jim Belushi and Mark Addy are capable of getting women like Jami Gertz and Courtney Thorne Smith to marry them. To their credit, the same could have been said for The Honeymooners. Still, marriages like this don't exist in nature. Secondly, the idea that these sitcom families live in these huge houses with plenty of square footage on the salaries that the characters claim to have is ridiculous. A dental assitant and a department store employee don't make that kid of dough. Now, I can believe that the Huxtables lived in that New York City Browstone and Fraiser Crane's Seattle Bachelor pad that he shared with Niles and their father is not out of the question given both titular characters' careers. But what happened to shows that really portrayed what it was like to work as a blue collar joe? All in the Family? Married with Children? Do those ring a bell?
The Five Shows you never got to watch
Every year the schedule gets flooded with new shows that try to eek out an existence. They all have to compete for their chance against fellow newcomers and seasoned veterans. The chances for any one pilot to have more episodes ordered is about as good as the chances that Cliff Claven will lower the cuffs on his trousers and stop showing off those pearly white tube socks. Here are five shows that never really got the chance to shine, even though they had at least a season run.
1. Firefly: We all knew about Buffy and Angel even if you didn't watch them. However, Joss Whedon served up this sci-fi tale of mercenaries with meager means quite well. It even got a feature film made after it was cancelled. It nailed early space travel right. Even better than any retro Star Trek offering from UPN, this show had wit, flawed heroes, and kick ass acoustic guitar music a la Snuffy Walden. The fact that FOX shuffled the order of the episodes and then finally blew out the airlock didn't deter most people from embracing the show on DVD.
2. Sports Night Everyone claims that this show was excellent, yet why did it only last two seasons? One was because Sorkin decided to go with the sure thing in The West Wing It was heralded in a time when the uncertainty of National Security. While most people were still bitter about the 2000 election and recount fiasco, we could all turn to a more familiar administration on television. One that didn't have trouble pronouncing the word, "nuclear." Yet, Sports Night was like most Sorkin fare, too smart for television. It was a half hour sitcom. The audience didn't want to have to think and this was a show that required it. Much like number three.
3. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Ok, yes, it's another Sorkin show. Again, it was supposed to be a comedy in nature. After all, it was sending up Saturday Night Live. But most people found the preachiness to be getting a little thin on Sorkin's Part. Actually, the pilot episode offers the most accurate depiction of what killed the show. Judd Hirsch's character goes on a complete Howard Beale rant during a live broadcast causing his removal from the "show within a show." It would mark a return to the type of "show within a show" that made you proud of television. However, the real show stepped away from that mantra and began to be more about attacking right wing politics and religion. It should have made the same alottment for the left as well. Best Moment: A parody of To Catch a Predator has Chris Hansen waiting for Santa Claus, armed with letters about sitting on his lap and giving gifts to children.
4.Murder in Small Town X What's that you say? A reality show in my Top 5? Yes. I didn't get to watch as much as I should and I found myself lost as much as everybody else. However, the reality/game show gave viewers a smarter plot and concept. A group of people are forced to live together and solve a fictional murder in a fictional town. Think The Truman Show meets CSI with the element of a Choose Your Own Adventure book and Ghost Hunters style of camera work. Each episode ended with two choices for a clue. One lead to a clue, the other lead to the murder and death. The group had a tribal council style vote on which two people would get sent out. Regardless of how you felt about either, only one would be coming back. The show got axed due to ratings, not acclaim, and of course FOX opted to not renew it. Another blunder by the fourth network. Ironically, the only connection anyone had to the show after its finale was that the winner of the show, Angel Juarbe, Jr., was killed on September 11th. He was a New York City Fireman who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
5. Too Something This show lasted not even a single season but has been copied several times since. Ever seen, The Big Bang Theory? Two and a Half Men? Granted, Two and a Half Men is a better show but it follows the absurd style of humor that this show made great. Can anyone else say, "Self High Five?" The networks couldn't understand it and even held a contest to try and rename the show which ended up New York Daze? . Ultimately, genius was dismissed and the leads went on to other projects....one of those leads being, Portia de Rosi.
What to do, now?
We just got through a writer's strike and hopefully, that will be the start of something. I highly doubt it. Now that the writers get those theoretical dollars from digital distribution, it just means more money, not better television. Look, stop relying on the cheap and easy game/reality show to fill the schedule. Start looking at what made this landscape great. Also, stop remaking every damn British show that comes down the pike. It worked for The Office but don't expect lightning to strike every time. If you are going to have a reality show, how about one where all the hosts have to compete. Let's put Joe Rogan up against Jeff Probst in a bug eating contest. And for the love of St. Elsewhere stop spinning off shows. I can't handle anymore Law & Order and CSI shows. I really don't care anymore.
Here's an idea. Let's rectify that horrible adaptation of The Running Man and make a good show that sends up reality/game shows. You can tap into the producers sleazy nature and the value of advertising and market share. Just don't make it like the Governator's offering. The movie is a stand alone fun filled romp, but no where near the original material that Stephen King laid out.
How about this? This might already be in the works as a feature film, but I think Stephen King's The Dark Tower would make an excellent show in the vein of LOST. Each book could serve as a season, perhaps two depending on the installment. It's sci-fi, it's western, it's drama. A very good opportunity for HBO or other cable outlets.
Take a look at what cable is doing and figure out how to do it as well. Shows like The Shield and Deadwood have proved that you don't have to be on the Big Three to be well written and widely recognized. The Emmy's have proven that. Cable is not just for The Sorpranos anymore. There are consistently great shows on FX and HBO. One of my new favorites is
That's it. My entire diatribe on the state of television has come to an end. This is a medium that can be saved, but it's up to the producers as well as the writers to make it back to the glory days of May Day Malone and Mary Richards. Just Don't Stop Believin' and you'll be all right. If not, we'll switch off faster than the black out from The Sorpanos. Capiece?