Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Network TV Is Dying or Gasping for Breath

Television has established a firm footing in the homes of millions of Americans and, thanks to the lack of Internet services around the country, it still remains a major force in entertainment and news. But network executives see the writing on the wall and it isn't pretty. In fact, it reminds me of the writing I saw on a wall in the Cambridge section of Boston years ago when the Weather Underground was very active in the area. It wasn't pretty and it was pretty scary in its reference to those lovely little porcine creatures some like to take on planes with them.

While the upfronts feature an incredible number of inane attempts to capture the loyalty and viewership of legions of Americans, another force has been steadily chipping away and creating for itself a new audience. The force, of course, is the Internet and it doesn't take anyone with a fairly good wi-fi connection to see why CBS has seen (partially) the light and is offering a subscription service for some of its programming. Yes, my friends, the "Tiffany Network" as it was affectionately called in the era of William Paley, is looking for lucre and, while not really seeing the future, it is trying to catch up to some of the visionaries who are in the fast lane.

Who or what could I possibly have in mind? Consider for a minute what is being offered. Sure, Shonda Rhimes is churning out winners each time she comes up to the plate. Look at her efforts and you can appreciate why the woman is so powerful and has the ear of any TV executive worth their salt. She owns Thursday nights, doesn't she? Or, does she just own TV, period? The woman knows what audiences want and it's well-scripted programs, not production-heavy reality TV. Being swallowed by a snake isn't even a good attempt and P. T. Barnum might have blushed at that insipid attempt at grabbing ratings.  It failed and it did so in grand dismal style. Oh, Discovery Channel you have so disappointed lately. Enough.

Turn your attention to the shows that are ripping through the ratings and capturing a new type of viewer; those wonderful Internet streaming shows. If you've watched "House of Cards," or "Orange Is the New Black," you see the power of good writing and fine acting. No, it's not the bumbling "South Beach Tow" type of writing I'm referring to and I can't imagine who develops those scripts. I think it must be a very ill-advised high school English class' efforts at scriptwriting.

Networks, meanwhile, are desperately trying to mimic Shonda's success with show after show featuring a "strong" (I use that advisedly) female politician in an untenable position where the entire world is at risk each week. The poorest showing, in my opinion, of this crop of wannabes is "State of Affairs" featuring the tireless efforts of Katherine Heigl. Do you buy her in this role? I can't. Katherine, I think you need to form a production company and work with other creative types, including leading actors. Something went wrong with the upfronts on this one but, perhaps, they just had to fill a spot with a "name."

Five seasons of "Damages" by the incredible writing team of Glenn and Todd Kessler was probably sufficient for the series. It used a technique that everyone is copying--nonlinear narrative. I remember when I first saw "Last Year at Marienbad" and I wanted to tear my hair out because the plot was so convoluted with its switching to present day and then the past and never helping you piece it all together. I still bristle but I intend to tame this bit of celluloid mystique and I'm watching it again and again and, maybe, yet again.

Glenn Close was the perfect Patty Hewes and the plot twists in "Damages" kept you primed for more because it was bright or intelligent or whatever you want to call it. Unfortunately, the show was switched from FX to Dish and I couldn't watch it. Don't have access to Dish, but the show is over now and in lamenting that loss, I think that some other shows should fold up their tents and call it a day.

Right now, I am anticipating renewing my membership for Netflix just so I can watch "House of Cards" and maybe some other goodies they are sending my way. I have a large monitor on my PC, an adequate sound system and I just hope my wi-fi is up to the task. I'm also looking forward to seeing what Amazon's new film efforts will brew up for my enjoyment. You see, both of these outlets see that I don't want people throwing food at each other or endlessly engaging in meaningless ladies' room gossip. I have a functioning brain and they know I want to use it.

Bring on the shows, my creative minions, and I will gladly dance to the tune as long as it is creative and treats me like an adult and not a skinny, taller version of a pubescent womanchild with loads of extensions.


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