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April 08 2004

Wonderfalls takes the fall in tough TV season. Creator and executive producer Todd Holland talks about howthe change of entertainment in general isn't for the better.

The quote from Holland that closes the article breaks my heart.
I agree with you Chasa. How scary it must be for writers now, feeling that they can't be creative b/c the network will yank your show before it's had a chance to even catch an audience. I'm afraid that all creativity will be lost. Writers have to make a living and they may start to feel that innovative storytelling doesn't pay the bills anymore.... Entertainment is in a very sad state right now...
What Todd said. Damn. Tim Minear discussed exactly the same disturbing trend in his Succubus interview last night. Scripted fiction-based TV is on life support, and the old lady ain't looking too good....

Truly, we've lived to see a golden age come and go, friends. *fervently clutches Angel/Buffy/Firefly box sets* Thank god for DVDs.
And thank god for pay cable. I'd pay for that just as I'd pay for DVD's.

And let's not forget books.
"I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we've got something here."

-- Movie Producer Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) in Robert Altman's "The Player"

The new breed of "reality" series is the holy grail for the Griffin Mills of the world. There are no actors and no agents, and therefore, no salary demands to jack up the production costs. After each series, you dump the cast and start fresh. There are no writers, per se--once the original concept is set up, all you have to do is tweak the format for maximum entertainment. You still need people behind the camera, but let's face it, you don't need a Tarantino to direct reality TV. In this case, the editor is more important than the director. Subtract all those salaries, and you've eliminated 75% of the usual costs associated with scripted TV. Your bottom line is in fantastic shape. What sane TV exec wouldn't go for it?

Of course, once you fall into this mentality, you've stripped away any chance to nurture a BUFFY or SEINFELD-style franchise, something that would earn your network the BIG money. The Survivors and the Bachelors play well on first go-round, and the nets rake in the ad bucks--but that's about it for profits. Reality shows have no value in reruns. There's no syndication money. You'll probably never see them on DVD. There's no ancillary merchandise. (Okay, maybe a "Survivor: Barbados" T-shirt.) But today's TV execs from the major networks don't pay much attention to anything except ad dollars, and they can't afford the patience to nurture a series for a potential big score. Remember, Seinfeld was a miserable ratings failure its first three years. So was Cheers and Hill Street Blues. As has been said quite often lately, if any of these series were put on in today's market, they would have been gone after four episodes.

The only refuge for the talented writer/creator like Joss, Minear, Fuller, or Milch is cable, where the subscriber base and DVD sales give the execs the luxury to wait out a series' growing pains and cash in when the fan base catches up. Curb Your Enthusiasm started just as slowly as Seinfeld, but is now a big money-maker for HBO; the Sopranos and Sex in the City rake in unimaginable profits.

And for the poor TV viewer, starving for audiovisual creativity, who can't afford cable or DVDs? I can offer you no solace, my friends. Unless you're perfectly willing to sit through The Swan 3 and Big Brother 6, maybe you should turn off your TV and go back to reading and music. Start off with the Harry Potter and Tolkein books. That should keep you busy for awhile, and who knows? You might not miss your TV so much, after all.
Great if chilling quote, cji. I love "The Player." One thing: I believe that some of the reality shows have in fact been released on DVD. Paris Hilton's show definitely has. I can't imagine why anyone would want to buy it. I also can't imagine that reality show DVDs will make the kind of profit that Whedonverse or HBO DVDs have. But then again, in a link recently posted about the Lycos Top 50, Paris Hilton was the #1 search "item" on Lycos. Oy.
i liked the simple life......probably wont buy the series on dvd but i did watch the show, it was funny.
"It's funny" is the reason most people have given me when I've asked them why they watch reality TV.

My initial response has been: Yeah, it's funny to watch people be humiliated, held up for scorn and mockery, or denigrated for perceived negative physical attributes not of their choosing. It's funny to see how malicious, petty and greedy people can be when the promise of money is dangled in front of them. It's funny. Ha ha. Show me a reality show where this isn't the case, and I'll show you a reality show that's a scripted TV drama in disguise, with 'regular people' instead of actors.

I love "Monty Python". I enjoy Ween and Frank Zappa. I adore Joss's black wit. It's safe to say I don't lack a sense of humor (which has been known to be, actually, quite wacky on occasion), or an appreciation of humanity's foibles. So why don't I like reality TV? Is it just that it's too mean-spirited? I've got a cynical streak, but these kinds of shows repulse me. Do I lack the reality TV-loving gene? (Not that I mind being deficient, if that's the case.)
One of the most disturbing things about reality TV shows is that they're there primarily as (poorly disguised) exercises in product placement. They're financial boons for the the networks not just because they're cheap to manufacture, but because various corporations and advertisers are courting them for hugely mutually profitably branding opportunities. It's "synergy" at its most brazen, and we really shouldn't be shocked given that the media's power has fallen into fewer and fewer different hands.

It's not the best of times to be an artist interested in working in television.

[ edited by keever on 2004-04-09 01:15 ]
It isn't just you. I find most of those shows to be mean-spirited. The shows are designed and edited to bring out and show the worst in people or play upon their fears and insecurities, which just isn't funny to me. It's pathetic. Add to that that most of "reality" television is full of second takes, re-editing, off-camera discussions about how a "cast" member should be behaving, reacting, etc., and it's not even real, but it is cheap--and that's all that counts these days.
From a prophetic 1999 interview with actor John Malkovich about the meaning of the film "Being John Malkovich":
"...I think it's about the need to escape yourself for 15 minutes that everyone feels. But what it's really about is something more sinister. It's the idea that we now lead virtual lives. We live our joys and sorrows and foibles through the lives of public people. It's about the end of art. Because art has to take its cue from life."
The last four posts beautifully capture the essence of reality tv.
Yeah, it really is truly incredible at a time when the US is directly engaged in open warfare in Iraq, the kind of thing about which artists usually have quite a lot to say, that the networks are all pumping out this a-political un-reality bilge.

Like the article says: "Anything you don't nurture and feed, withers. Our imaginations, our dreaming spirits, are in danger of giving up."

But I actually think it's worse than this. Such a disconnect between global political realities and art - one of the processing mechanisms by which we make sense of the world - is going to lead to real trouble in the long term.
No kidding. I've said it before, I'll say it again - if I WANT to watch people being stupid and petty and malicious (which I don't), I'll just go outside on any given day of the week, sit on a bench and watch it happen. Do I need "reality" tv? No. Insanity.
It's sad to say, but there are times these days when I look at what's going on -- this irresolvable-with-aggression, cross-cultural embroglio with pop culture distractions shellacked on top for the media-conditioned masses -- and feel like Angel in "Reprise" when the doors open at the end of his elevator ride.

"Home Office". Has a nice ring to it. Maybe it should be the name of a reality show....

[ edited by Wiseblood on 2004-04-09 04:10 ]

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