The (a) Problem With Episodic Television

Discussion in 'TV Show Talk' started by Huuge Hefner, Nov 1, 2016.

  1. Huuge Hefner

    Huuge Hefner New Member

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    The open-endedness. And how that feeds into the worst about humanity.

    I touched on this in a recent post, but it got me thinking what a real problem this is.

    There are two types of genius. One is the genius of someone like Orson Welles, who was a firebrand phenom, and a genius at nearly every facet of his medium. Writer, producer, director, actor, radio play mind-blower, nearly a century ago. A true renaissance man if there ever was one. A 'pan-genius'.

    Then there is the other, more common form of genius. I am going to use Greg Berlanti as the example. Sorry, Greg, my apologies for that. I have bashed him before for not being able to follow through, and for unexplainably wanting to shoehorn gay characters in stories where they actually do not need to be (as Seinfeld says, 'not that there's anything wrong with that'). But Berlanti is a true genius, and one of the most talented and prolific icons in Hollywood in this century. I have great respect for his accomplishments and his genius, as far as that goes.

    But it is not 'pan-genius". Instead, it is more 'idiot-savant'. More of a niche genius. His genius lies in the ability to come up with fantastic story idea concepts (rather than continuing ideas) and launch a fantastic show. Where he is not a genius is in coming up with an entire story arc that is any good, or being able to keep the quality up. He is actually pretty terrible at that.

    He produced 17 drama series that I am familiar with, all of which I watched and liked. Another 7 I am not familiar with. He has also been a writer on countless programs, including most of the ones he produced. He was also the showrunner for most of them. He's pretty amazing. His movies were somewhat mediocre.

    But of those 17 series, all of them (other than Blindspot, which I still like and am nearly a year behind on) started out with a real bang, then a year or two (or earlier) in, they got stupid or lame, and eventually fell completely off the table. All of them. You have to know when to say goodbye to a Greg Berlanti show, because you will likely have to cancel it before the network gets that chance.

    So Berlanti's a mogul because he can pitch a great show, and launch a great show. He gives the honchos in Hollywood exactly what they want. And they could really care less if a great show falls off the table in year two, like The Flash, or Supergirl (probably by ep 3) or in year 3, like Brothers and Sisters.

    Hollywood doesn't want something that will be good enough to last, just good enough to get Les Moonves's attention and a slot on the schedule.

    And this may not be Greg Berlanti's fault. That's the other big problem with TV and geniuses like him; pitching and launching a great show, then losing interest, phoning it in, hiring hacks to do the dirty work instead, and just cashing the checks for as long as they last, while pitching another great show that will also eventually go nowhere. Nic Pizzolato and Sam Esmail had the opposite problem, of staying too long at the party and thinking they could do it all on their own. Neither could.

    TV is not for genius like Tom Clancy or James Patterson, or Stephen King, or Orson Welles, all of who can tell an entire terrific story that has an incredibly great ending. It's for the Greg Berlanti's of the world. The idiot-savants who pitch, then fade in the third inning. Berlanti is perfect for this medium, which is why he's so successful, even with limited genius. He is everything they are looking for, and nothing of what we as viewers are really wishing for. This medium, as it exists, is also large enough to support the hacks, apparently.

    And of course the milieu of open-ended series with unknown amounts of episodes fosters that sort of niche genius, and makes folks who post on this forum wary of being burned, some to the point of them building up a cache of two seasons of a show before even beginning to watch it, hoping that this will increase the odds of it being worth their time.

    That is the curse of episodic television. It's a god-damned collaborative medium, and it takes more than one genius to make a good show and keep the quality up for multiple seasons, something that is exceeding rare, but would not be half so rare if people realized that and collaborated in the interests of art rather than greed.
     
  2. phrelin

    phrelin Hall Of Fame DBSTalk Club

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    Northern...
    Here's what simply cannot work particularly in the the era of NBC being as subsidiary Comcast and Comcast's management being judged on quarterly profit/revenue increases.

    The Supreme Court says corporations are people. Let's change your wording:

    "...If corporations ... collaborated in the interests of art rather than greed."

    Not in my lifetime. Even back in the time of radio only, the corporate objective was to make sure listeners heard the ads or there wouldn't be any money. The quality of content was irrelevant unless it correlated to increasing the number of listeners hearing ads.

    On May 9, 1961, newly appointed and very naive FCC Chairman Newton Minow gave his "vast wasteland" speech to the NAB saying:

    Despite the fact that the vast wasteland is much, much larger, it isn't different. There may be a "fewer more" good shows, but they too will be "very, very few." Those who run the business mostly still don't spend that day watching "without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract" them.

    Occasionally we get a "loss leader" from a network trying to attract attention - a "Mad Men" on an AMC trying to get people to become aware of the network's existence through critical acclaim and award chatter even though the count of desired viewers is not great. Once awareness is accomplished, the shift is to content designed to attract large numbers of viewers of a certain demo who like the "blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder", the demo that advertisers believe are more easily influenced by ads. So now we have "The Walking Dead" as AMC's showcase drama.

    In the time of radio and the time of early television, the stations and channels were licensed by a government that sought if not art, at least some minimum level of whatever. Minow was decrying the loss of that goal in 1961. He was wasting his breath before the National Association of Broadcasters, a room full of corporate bottom-line worriers.
     
  3. Huuge Hefner

    Huuge Hefner New Member

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    If you change my wording, it is not 'my wording' any more. It belongs to someone else. But along with many other things, that is beside the point.

    And I agree with you on all your points.

    Maybe a helicopter view might be that art and commerce are at opposite ends of this struggle, and that this is how it's always been, even before media existed.

    Artists suffer. Not at their own hand, as is commonly thought, but at the hands of those who hold these opposite interests. And artists only survive if they sell out, in some manner, at some level, to those with the opposite interests. Selling out is the exact opposite of what they want to do. It is soul-killing for an artist to sell out.

    Same as it ever was. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
     
  4. Huuge Hefner

    Huuge Hefner New Member

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    It has never been different, as you know, and it will never change, as you know.

    And this is why whenever my news department would get a little big for their britches, I would always have to remind them that the only and single reason they were even there at all, was to give the advertisers some way to separate the commercial breaks from each other.

    And that has never been different, and that will never change, until PPV streaming buries linear TV for good. And even in that medium, having to sit through a T-Mobile commercial at the head of a streamed program is pretty much exactly the same thing. The only place it is different is if you whore yourself out up front, and just hand them your money in a subscription. And then it is not really very different. OITNB is not there as a gift for your viewing pleasure, it is a means to and end. A quid pro quo way to lift your wallet.
     
  5. phrelin

    phrelin Hall Of Fame DBSTalk Club

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    Northern...
    From a historical standpoint the economics are still not unlike newspaper and periodical publishing back in the early 1920's. You would buy or subscribe to a newspaper or a magazine which, from the publisher's viewpoint, hopefully is filled with ads as well as content. But basically you could ignore the ads. The difference is that it's harder to ignore ads on TV and they chew up time.

    And back in those days there were some periodicals that had no ads - there was a membership fee. Some of them could get pricey. Their content was likely either more focused to a narrow audience or the content was "of a better quality."

    Our current "media" situation isn't all that different.

    What will be interesting is to see how the subscription + ads content multi-channel evolves and which of the membership fee content channels survive.
     
  6. Huuge Hefner

    Huuge Hefner New Member

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    Commercials on radio are even harder to ignore, which may have led to its downfall. Yes, we still have radio, but the heyday is long gone.

    First, there is no transport control for radio (there have been attempts, but lame ones). So you can't pause, FFWD or rewind. If you could, you would be doing that blind.

    With TV, you can mute, go make a sandwich or walk the dog, and keep an eye on when the show comes back. Or, pause, FFWD or rewind in most cases. But with radio there are no cues of any kind as to when the commercials are over. This is why I started to record radio I wanted to hear, using an app that segments it and puts it on an iPod. But it meant I had to be motivated and actively involved. Most of the time we are passive and not motivated. But sitting through commercials is hell on earth. Especially in a political year.

    But as Napster has proven, if content is not paid for, it disappears. So we have to pay somehow. Or just turn the darned thing off and write a book or compose a song. And what is that? Ironically enough, it's content.
     
  7. James Long

    James Long Ready for Uplink! Staff Member Super Moderator

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    Satellite radio has done that ... with special receivers that have "DVR" type functions as well as on demand streaming of content. I am surprised that there isn't a mainstream audio recording box - but I do not see a heavy demand.

    In the video world there are a lot of DVRs available ... but only one company has broken through with a stand alone system (Tivo). Most systems are tied to a single provider (cable or satellite). There are dozens if not hundreds of other recording solutions for OTA but most of them could be considered "lame" compared to Tivo or a satellite/cable DVR.

    Perhaps if radio was sold as a package there would be a better market for a "radio DVR". SiriusXM is sold as a package and they have a "radio DVR".
     
  8. Huuge Hefner

    Huuge Hefner New Member

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    I must be naive. I figured that my disclaimer against absolutism (which is apparently needed in every post here) would be enough for others not to distract with obvious comments that only support what I've already said. The key word is 'lame'. I paid $450 for that transport technology in 2005 from Sirius and it was the worst mistake in a tech buy ever. Worked poorly or not at all for a few weeks, and then started working more poorly as they frantically sent updates from the hip to fix it. Eventually it stopped working all together. My iPod was 4 years old at the time, and could run rings around it, so it was not like that sort of tech was something from the future, it was something they had no idea how to implement.

    I replaced it with a $29 sat radio that has been working flawlessly for over a decade.

    A lot of vodka under the bridge, so maybe that tech works now, but there seems to be no trumpeting of that fact.

    A few DVRs have 'broken through', depending on your definition of that term. Some were gone quickly, but others (ReplayTV) are remembered fondly. In fact, DTV bought that tech, and some of that DNA might even be in the DVR you have today (if a sub).

    Tivo was pretty good at first, even if hampered by a 9GB drive size, which is why it was a PVR (P for personal) rather than a DVR at that time. But it got kind of terrible. What it had going for it at that time was that it was still better than the alternatives (once Replay was gone). But also remembered even more fondly is the poor lamented DTivo that preceded the current DTV DVRs; Tivo nailed that one. Tivo languished yet again, after losing that big client, but the latest models are impressive. I might get one and wean myself off of the POS that DTV has.

    Here is an example. I turned my DVR on tonight and changed the channel to a non-subbed channel just to shut it up and not accidentally view spoilers. It would not go there, so I grumbled and picked a show and started watching. A full two minutes in, it finally, FINALLY, switched to the non-subbed channel.

    The microprocessors are so cheap and slow, and the interface is so bloated with useless apps and features, that the response is deplorable. I am gonna go out on a limb and assume the coding is not the most efficient, either. These DVRs were snappy and reliable in 2011, until eventually, they weren't.
     

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