Monday, October 1, 2018

"Looks The Same But Is Actually Everso Different"

In that regard, baseball and television are distinctively similar.

Unlike in past eras – including quite recent past eras – baseball is now almost exclusively about hundred-mile-an-hour fastballs, home runs and strikeouts.  (If batters miss the hundred-mile-an-hour fastballs, it’s strikeouts, and if they hit them, it’s home runs.)  

In a recent 3-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers hit an astonishing seven “solo” home runs, meaning home runs with nobody on base.  The reason nobody was on base was because nobody hits singles anymore, believing, paraphrasing the banditos in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,

“We don’t need no stinkin’ singles!

although that’s the way baseball’s previously always been played – getting runners on base, and strategically “bringing them around.”  Nobody does that anymore.  

So, although baseball is fundamentally the same – in that “Whoever scores most, wins” – it unequivocally isnot.

To which I say a big “Ditto” for television.

True, television is still shows, and audiences watching them – some of them actually on their watches – meaning, television remains programming coming to you rather than plays and movies that physically require you to come to them.  (And how long will audiences accept that?  “You mean we have to go someplace to see it?”  That certainly won't last.)  

Although experientially essentially the same, television radically changed when the “Financial Wizards” initiated a contrasting “Business Model.”

A brief summary of the difference – because you probably know this already – though you may perhaps be lesscognizant of the consequences.

Throughout the “Food Chain”, commercial television production process is totally motivated by fear. Sponsors, afraid of negative reaction to the shows they’re affiliated with – through (organized) boycotts of their products by offended viewership– order the networks providing those shows to “Offend nobody.” 

The scared network executives, fearing the loss of advertising-derived revenue, tell the program providers, “Offend nobody.”  And the program providers, fearing immediate unemployment and its consequent impoverishment… deliver programming that offends nobody.

And making surethey offend nobody in case the program providers accidentally forget, there’s the networks’ scrutinizing “Standards and Practices”, whose existence has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with protecting the money.

Lesson Learned:  Everyone wins when you scrupulously “Watch what you say.”  (If you exclude winning Emmy Awards, which, during the last awards ceremonies, the still content-suppressed networks, in the prime-time “Drama” and “Comedy” categories, won nothing. 


Then came, first cable, and then the various streaming services, whose revenues derived, notfrom subsidizing commercials but from accumulated subscriptions, based primarily on a disseminating “Word of Mouth”, as in, “Do you watch…?  (INSERT FAVORITE CABLE OR STREAMING SHOW HERE.)  You don’t? It’s terrific!  They’ve got… (INSERT FAVORITE FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT COMMERCIAL TELEVISION – SEE:  ABOVE CRYSTAL CLEAR EXPLANATION – IS STRUCTURALLY UNABLE TO PROVIDE.)  

The “Winds of Change”, however, did not equally help everyone.

I’ll use me, as an example. Though it may not be justme.

Writing exclusively for network TV (with one “Public Television” exception), I rarely if ever felt confined by the looming shadow of the networks’ “Standards and Practices.”  Why?  Because, overall our general values were essentially in sync.  (I had a “Taste Dust-up” concerning a hilarious allusion to “burnt children” once, but otherwise, I was fine.)

You know me.  Can you really hear me saying,

“I want the freedom to include more overt sexuality into my storylines!”


“How do you expect me get laughs without cursing?”

On the whole, I felt creatively unhobbled by the networks’ limiting parameters.  Meaning twothings.  (One of which got me a nice house.)  One, I could comfortably succeed within those limiting parameters.  (That’s the “nice house” part.)  And two, you will not soon (or ever) hear me say, “Can you imagine what I’dhave come up with, given the freedom writers comfortably enjoy today?”  I’m more likelyto say, “Bring back the limiting parameters.” (Which got me the house, plus continued employment.)  Nah.  You want to feel like you could write anything.  Even though, in reality, due to training and/or temperament, you can’t.

Comedy, particularly,has changed.   My Cousin Herschel used to say, “There are two kinds of bald people – those withhair and those without”? Now, according to some veteran comedy writers, “There are two kinds of comedy – the kind you laugh at and the kind that you don’t.”

Truth be told, there’s been a seismic redefinition of “Comedy.”  Once, “Drama” and “Comedy” worked starkly disparate sides of the street.  Now the two genres are intimately closer – adjacent hotel rooms, with a connecting doorway.

No question, television is definitely different. 

Leaving the practitioners who did it the old way only to chronicle how.

Tomorrow:  An (uncharacteristically irate)“Representing” Rejoinder.  

Be there, or miss out on the “fireworks.”

1 comment:

JED said...

I found this post and the previous one very interesting and I am looking forward to the fireworks tomorrow. Not being in the entertainment industry, I am not able to discuss this very meaningfully. But I am a consumer of the entertainment product. While it's easy to say, "I know what I like," that's not really true. There is a lot of entertainment I don't realize I like until I try it. I used to say I hate opera. But then I listened to excepts and realized that it is really good. I don't know if I would ever spend the money to go to the theater to listen but there is some tremendous music there. And seeing the staging and acting is a treat - even if I don't understand what is going on.

But one thing I've never quite understood was how poetry has changed. I used to enjoy reading and hearing poetry when it had some rules. It seemed to me that the restrictions, like words needing to rhyme once in a while or the meter needing to be a certain way, the writer think about what they were writing before just throwing some words on a page. Modern poetry has become what I would imagine if someone sat down at the piano and just started hitting notes at random. That's not something I want to spend time on.