Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"An Ice Cream Flavor of Lesser Popularity"

My TV viewing options are dwindling.

When it came on, I liked The Good Wife. Courtroom drama. My favorite. Then, late in the first season, the leading lady (married) kissed her boss in the law firm (not her husband.)

And I stopped watching.

Regular readers are aware of my disinterest in the personal escapades of real life celebrities. You can imagine, then, my level of enthusiasm for the entanglements of characters who are made up.

So I’m off The Good Wife. It’s back to reruns of Law & Order, which, until they ran out of stories, stuck single-mindedly to the police work and the legal wrangling.

I was an early supporter of The Big Bang Theory, an energetic ensemble comedy, where the characters regularly talked about, I believe it’s physics, and the network didn’t make them stop, for fear of being ahead of the Heartland. And me.

Hardly groundbreaking in its concept – Four Nerds and a Babe – The Big Bang Theory, nonetheless, felt funny, youthfully exuberant, and – on the “coat of paint” level at least – different.

Disappointingly, the series rather rapidly evolved it into “The Sheldon Show”, Sheldon being one of the four formerly co-equal nerds, recently elevated to headlining centrality. With its structural balance out of whack, the series became narrowly focused and boringly repetitive.

So I stopped watching it.

Modern Family? Smart and funny the first season, wins an Emmy for Best Comedy. Second season, it already feels mustily familiar. It’s like a “Benjamin Button” comedy – a promising youngster, looking prematurely old. Though still capable of surprising moments, in their rhythm and storytelling, this year’s Modern Family episodes feel grindingly the same.

I’m getting ready to stop watching it.

“Hey, Smart Guy, if you think you can do better

I know, Italics Man. Sniping from the Cheap Seats. Not classy. But maybe that isn’t the point of this post. Maybe that was just the preamble.

My point is more in this direction. There’s a good chance that the things that make these formerly appealing series no longer interesting to me are precisely the things that are growing those series’ audiences. And they are growing. So, for whatever reasons my enthusiasm for those series has waned, I’m wrong. Or at least, as I described in an entirely different context,

I’m right. But for a tiny amount of people.

This possibility does not surprise me. For a person who for decades threw the dice at the table of mainstream entertainment, I have never enjoyed the benefit of a mainstream sensibility. And don’t think for a second that is not a liability.

My first series, I put my money on a comedy western, when there had not been a successful western on the air for over a decade.

It lasted one season.

I advised the Charles brothers, who created Cheers, to focus on the bar stories rather than the relationship between Sam and Diane. I thought they’d be more interesting. Fortunately, the Charles brothers didn’t listen to me.

I once cast an actor as the lead in a series I created, who would have been perfect if the series had been broadcast on the radio. I entirely overlooked the Ted Danson “Watchability Factor.” By the way, I passed on Ted Danson for the starring role in my western.

I talked recently about a show’s recipe, the importance of the right ingredients and their relative proportions. I spoke of this in the context of choices, emanating from the show creator’s natural proclivities.

Today, I’m coming from the other direction. You can put the show together the way you intended to, the components, a resonating expression of precisely what you had in mind.

And the audience can still go,


How does that work? It works like ice cream.

Maple walnut is an entirely viable flavor. There is most likely a tub of it in every ice cream emporium in the country and neighboring Canada. People walk in, they check out the choices. Maple walnut has potentially the same shot at popularity as any other flavor.

But it doesn’t.

Invariably, it’s chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.

Maple walnut?

Down in the ratings.

You can confect the most transcendent example of maple walnut the world has ever tasted, propelling maple walnut lovers into paroxysms of ecstasy.

“This is amazing maple walnut!”

It’s a bull’s eye! A revelation! A life-altering, frozen cow-product delight!

For eleven people.

The general public?

Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.




If you choose to think along those lines.

But there is nothing you can do about it.

It is simply the way it is.


Neal... said...

Aha, but now, doesn't this tie in with your post of yesterday? The glory of the lack of gatekeepers is that you can do stuff that, for want of a better word, is good but not something within mainstream taste, and still find a decent, viable audience? Today the best maple walnut ice-cream can be found anywhere and you don't have to put up with one that's just an afterthought.

Of course the downside is that people get more and more restricted in the things they like, because of what's put in front of them, and your chances of coming across an exciting new flavour, or acquiring a taste for something different are restricted and life gets increasingly bland 'because it's what people want'.

TV or ice-cream, don't we need people in the heart of the system who may not share the mainstream view all the time, who are prepared to get in front of as many people as they can and say 'you can have that olf thing any time, here, this is great -- try this...?'

Paloma said...

I completely agree with what you said about The Bing Bang Theory. I still watch it, cause i just love Jim Parsons, but they are making it so Sheldon-centric soon it's gonna feel just repetitive and boring. That may sound contradictory cause i love the guy, but too much of a good thing can't be good right?

Also, Earl, ive been meaning to ask you something. If im not mistaken you wrote the Becker episode "Lucky Day", didnt you? that episode is probably my favorite out of all the seasons, the "rubber band theory" is something you really believe in? I just identified so much cause i can be like that. how did you came up with the story? im just curious.
if im terribly mistaken and you didn't just ignore the whole thing and leave me with my embarrasment.

James said...

A little like going to a restaurant and finding that your favorite dish has been dropped from the menu.

Earl Pomerantz said...

I generally don't remember how I come up with story ideas. It usually has to do with what's going on at the moment. Or a life concept I believe in, and I finally found a story idea to go with it. You might notice I rarely write with specificity about my sitcom writing. I was too focused on the job to remembre what happened. Or too petrified. Either way, there's a lot of blankness there. Not good for a blog writer. But I never knew I'd become one.

Max Clarke said...

By the way Earl, today is the birthday of Lorne Michaels, who had something to do with a guy named Hart, some sort of comic duo. Will think of Hart's last name shortly.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Then again, it might also be that you like being out of step with the general audience. I am going through a similar period, where I keep coming up with tv and stage ideas that sound completely saleble... and then proceed to write them not as every else would write them, making them absolutely unsalable. Is it the fact that I am not in tune with common taste? Or do I, for some subversive reason, do not want to do things the way they are supposed to be done?