Thursday, May 15, 2008

That's Entertainment

I used to work in the entertainment industry and to this day I still doing understand it. It all seems like such a waste. Gore Vidal talks about a conversation he had with Jackie Kennedy where they talked about all the money the campaign spent on opposition research to dig up dirt they knew they could never use. “All that money,” she lamented, undoubtedly knowing hundreds of better ways to spend it. I guess I feel the same way about entertainment. I like to watch TV and movies and I really appreciate it when they spent a fair amount of money on it and it turned out good. So why waste it all?

I watch a lot of cable shows that I enjoy like Eureka, the 4400, the L Word and Psych and as much as I enjoy them, the topography of British Columbia is starting to get to me. I know these kinds of shows are set in places like Santa Barbara and Washington State or weirdly enough the heart of West Hollywood (not exactly a lesbian mecca but I digress). But they end up looking exactly like what they are: shot within blocks of each other. I know it’s about cutting costs but we can tell! Paul Monette wrote about feeling instantly comfortable when he moved to Los Angeles and later on a picnic with friends where Lassie had been shot, he realized why. It was the land of his TV childhood. I suppose if I ever go to Vancouver, it will feel like returning to the womb, if that is what my 30s can be called now that 50 is the new 30.

But speaking of the 4400, it has been ignominiously cancelled. Now we will never know what the future had in store for the human race. The same goes for the secret organization that built Jaime Sommers now that the Bionic Woman has been cast onto a digital garbage heap somewhere. And they had just introduced the hot son of Beau Bridges who barely had time to take his pants off and get comfortable.

Unfortunately, changing a show isn’t enough to save it these days. Back To You fired an eleven year old girl and replaced her with an even more adorable ten year old (off to a lifetime of broken relationships and therapy for you grandma!) only to find out that FOX did not want to go Back To You after all. Moonlight on CBS transformed their vampire hero who solves crime into a mortal who solves crimes. Groundbreaking! I guess I won’t miss that one after all, even though it appears it has been replaced by foxy Simon Baker as a fake psychic who helps solve crimes (ummm.. Psych II?). I hope he at least has the courtesy to take his shirt off more often than that James Roday. But the real crime is the end of Women’s Murder Club, a not great show, but still a satisfying one. Like Sprite. You wouldn’t choose it outright but on a hot day if it is over ice, it can hit the spot.

To me, it all seems like such a waste. What is the point of getting emotionally invested in a show, only to watch it disappear before your very eyes. Why can’t my love for TV be like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward? Why do the networks keep giving us John Doe and Journeyman and Playing It Straight and then pulling a Love Story on us and expecting us to keep coming back? No wonder ratings are continuing to fall on the networks. At least with a cable show, they give you the whole season of Rome or Deadwood before they give up on it.

And the worst part is the waste. What a waste of money and talent and time and effort. It is one thing if everyone tries their best and you end up with Jezebel James, but Back To You is a great sitcom with the top talent in the business. Yes it doesn’t have the ratings of American Idol, but guess what FOX, neither does anything else on television. So the answer is to cancel a great show and keep another Bataan death march of a season of According To Jim, living proof that the devil is still willing grant immortality in tinseltown in exchange for a human soul or two. Or maybe it is proof that this is actually Hell itself.

So now we will never know why Journeyman was a journey man or what kind of sandwich Claire was always eating on Women’s Murder Club (I suspect a sensible PB&J because it can sit in a purse for hours without going bad). Those secrets will be kept locked away upstairs along with Bonnie Hunt’s other daughter and Richie Cunningham’s older brother. There was a rumor that Showtime wanted to bring Arrested Development back but with a smaller cast. As much as I miss one of the greatest shows ever, why would you want to play Sophie’s Choice with that cast? I guess some things are just better left in the realm of the unknown.


Jonathan said...

You know I agree with nearly everything in your blog, but can I lament that the sitcom died years ago, and I for one want it back! BACK TO YOU - although not an amazing or even great example of the classic 70s-90s sitcom - was enjoyable, guffaw inducing, and played well on most of its cylinders.

What is particularly grievous about the whole cancellation and its audacity of hope to be successful is that BACK rested on the shoulders of TWO former sitcom giants. By juxtaposing the best of the last two great sitcom (FRASIER's Kelsey Grammer and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND's Patricia Heaton) - the whole thing felt like a benefit concert trying to save something long dead. Sure, it was damn funny, but even they knew this was over. You could hear the studio audience even confused. Should we be laughing just because the light tells us to?

FOX basically killed the Sitcom's last hope for survival. Sure, more sitcoms will come out (and end up on the CW!) but until reality and hour long dramedies run dry, we won't get little live stage shows on TV for sometime. Maybe the problem is that kelsey and patricia were just too expensive - maybe the next sitcom needs to be brand new without dinosaurs from the past.

We can dream. RIP, BACK TO YOU, but more importantly, dreams of the heyday of sitcom - when Mary, Rhoda, and Maude ruled the air.

Pinwiz said...

I'm sorry that you had bad luck with your shows this season, but that's the way things go. Personally, I've been very lucky this year because all of my shows are returning for the first time in ages.

You ask "Why should I get invested?" We get invested because we need narratives like that, and often the ride towards the end is way better than the final destination. How many shows have we watched for years just to watch them fall apart horribly? Hell, we do that with most every season of a reality show.

The act of consuming storytelling is its own reward, and you're still getting another season of Old Christine. Things are still good.

Bart said...

Derek, as someone who knows how these things work, I'm surprised you overlooked the obvious: money. It's not about you. It's about teenyboppers who will spend money on all kinds of things that would not interest you. You're in the wrong demographic. They're not programming for you. Indeed, they probably intentionally do things to make you NOT watch. It isn't about culture, quality, couth, or even entertainment. It's about money. That's why tabloid shows make money and network news does not.

Compare or contrast with cable networks which hungrily lap up floor sweepings and cast-offs. They get their money through subsciptions. So they try to do good, creative work for a broader (read: more mature) audience, awards and recognition which the legacy networks gave up on long ago.

"Back in the Day," when there were only three networks, they were the 500 pound canaries who chirped at will, made profits (because there was little competition) and did good work and garnered Emmy Awards when it meant something.

Along came Fox and MTV and "My Three Sons," "Ozzie and Harriet" and even the folks in Hooterville were sent packing in favor of "Bevis and Butthead" and others of its ilk. I shudder to think how low they can go.

Sorry for the lengthy rant, but you struck a nerve. I agree with you, as I almost always do. You know your stuff. You're a very bright guy. You have a future. I may have no talent myself, but I can always spot it. You have it. You will make a difference, just as you are already with "Derek and Romaine."

Best regards, Bart