Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Quality Matters... Doesn't It?"

Doesn’t it?

(Added for heightened significance.  Or is it heightened desperation?)

“You do ‘quality’ work and the results will reflect it.” 

That’s the “Perceptual Model”.  And in some cases, it unquestionably applies.  Physical exertion, for example.  You work more assiduously shoveling the snow, your sidewalk and driveway will be clearer, versus, “That’s good enough.  I’m going inside before I freeze off my ognyotkas.” *  (“ Not an actual body part so don’t bother looking it up.”)  (* The ognyotkas in question are not “gender specific.”)

You toil more dilligently and there are less leaves on the lawn, there is fresh food on the table rather than microwaved meals cooked in three-and-a-half minutes. Finishing the list with a hybrid physio-intellectual example, the more effort and concentration you put into studying for your exams, the better grades you ultimately receive.

(I hope.  Otherwise, I overdid it studying for my exams.  Nah, it was fun.  Although if my grades had not reflected the effort… nah, I’d have studied harder the next year.)

But then, you cross into the creative arena… and it’s different.

For one thing, it’s no longer about exertion.  Taking sitcoms, for example, the writers on shows with lower qualitative intentions did not necessarily go home earlier than the ones who were trying to excel.  Uh-oh.  I made two reflexive “judgments” in that sentence, did you notice?  Believing there is a “one-size-fit-all” set of “qualitative intentions”, and what do we mean when we say “excel.”

Is there only one target – the “quality” target – that matters?  And is there only one way of defining “quality”?

I’ll be honest with you. 

Wait.  You can hold on a little for “honest”, can’t you?  Thank you.

In the early seventies before I came here, when I watched The Mary Tyler Moore Show in Toronto and I heard Lou Grant growl at Mary, “You’ve got spunk… I hate spunk!” I knew, not only that this was a series I was going to enjoy, I also believed – there were signals throughout the episode – that it was a “quality” series.   

What did I mean by that?

No witches.  No genies.

Instead, Mary was an insistently character-driven comedy.  The jokes came from a smarter and funnier place.  To me, that made it definitively “quality.”

An attribute the TV viewing audience seemed to appreciate. 

There was a time when the “quality” shows were the most popular shows on television.  Mary.  All In The Family.  The Bob Newhart Show.

Great shows.  Great ratings.

At that point, I could put my nagging concerns about snobbery aside and believe that “quality” was collectively recognizable, and it had demonstrable value.

And I believe that today.  Reflected, not entirely subtly, in my recent pronouncements.

From “The Other Colors Of The Rainbow” 9/2/16):

“Imagine a writer for Laverne and Shirley writing for Taxi.”

A point, accurate in the context I was writing about, but simultaneously – considered in retrospect – dripping with condescension.

Laverne and Shirley consistently kicked Taxi’s butt in the ratings, so there went the correlation between “quality” and success.  Of, at least, my definition of success.  The audience – which in that three-network universe meant the mass audience – was proclaiming, with their viewing preferences that, to them, Laverne and Shirley was superior.

And yet…

Two examples from personal experience…

Example One:

Both Taxi and Laverne and Shirley were shot on the same studio lot – Paramount – and when the writers from both occasionally crossed paths…

WARNING:  Embarrassing sentence fragment coming up.

… they treated us like gods.

Okay, that’s too much.  But, using an example for which I have zero credibility, it was like we were the varsity football team and they were intermural lacrosse.

At least that’s how it felt.

Example Two:

A writing team I met, recently hired for Cheers, had worked previously on (the more highly rated) The Jeffersons?   They behaved like liberated parolees.  Nobody aspired to go in the other direction.  Nobody.

What were those writers saying?

That they believed we did “quality” work.  Those accorded acceptance into the ranks felt they had arrived at the pinnacle.  As I did, a few years earlier.

But were we right about that? 

Or merely patting ourselves on the back?

The question remains, which I brought up but am unable to answer…

How exactly do you define “quality”?


And also, before?

1 comment:

Frank said...

I still watch Taxi and bet it's a lot more watched in syndication than Laverne and Shirley.