Tuesday, September 20, 2005

TV, Marsha and other freaks

I'm watching TV and that obnoxious woman's face appears: Martha, of course, she's hosting a new reality show, which is a knock off of another reality show, which is a spin off of another reality show. Sigh.

The commercial shows her saying: "My first rule of business is..." and I immediately think to myself: "don't get caught?" or "don't go to jail?" or “cover your ass better?” Of course by this point I've already reached for the remote to put the mute on her sorry ass.

That people seek whatever entertainment where they will has never bothered me. Even if my airwaves are cluttered with a bunch of nonsensical twit-level-stupidity broadcasts, it doesn't bother me. Usually they are more or less confined to their hour or drama, then decent programming returns. Except for hockey.

Not that I dislike hockey, I like it some, but I wish it could be scheduled every week, like clockwork, in it's own 2-hour slot. I was in seventh heaven last year while hockey was on strike. They wouldn't mess up my regular programming every second or third week. Unfortunately, a lot of shows came to an end, Jag and Tru Calling for example, and I was left with watching reruns, or excellent discontinued series on Space.

This year I am well served with all the new TV shows firing up. Lest Fox delete most of their entries before Christmas, I'm watching just about everything that is new, in order to be left with something to watch when the new year rolls around and they cancel a solid half.

I am almost tempted to make guesses at which shows will stick and which won't. But I still cannot fathom the minds of those that decide it all: the dreaded Nielsen families! I have already said my piece on statistical analysis so I won't revisit. Suffice to say that cable networks, or more so, satellite and digital access have the capability to run metrics on what their subscribers watch and when. No hand-written survey bullshit, high-tech stuff would give the very results required. Hell they can even tell what you are recording.

What puzzles me most is why the network executives still get to manipulate what we watch. If it were straight up statistics, that would be one thing. But sometimes, really good shows go upon the chopping block. But sometimes they survive.

Alias for example, not a show I was watching when it first came out, the networks tried to kill it, several times. Yet, the fans followed the show all over the grid and the network was, in effect, forced to continue it. Anything that survived a Network onslaught deserves, at least, my respect. As an added bonus, a friend of mine told me that it was good. Now I watch.

How does a network kill a show? Simple really. They move it around the scheduling grid, from timeslot to timeslot, once or twice and that usually takes care of it. It’s low and deceitful and extremely effective. The big three will do this: ABC, NBC and CBS. It’s actually an excellent indicator that a network is going to cancel a show. Watch for it: a show that is good gets pulled out of primetime into Saturday or Sunday night, then dumped back to primetime will almost invariably be retired. At this very moment, they are trying to kill The West Wing. They have been trying to kill it since last March.

On a positive note, a cancelled show, assuming it fits their mission, will be picked up by Space who will run them forever because they are brilliant, and because the price is low since the shows are now persona-non-grata with the big networks.

If a network wants to keep a show, they’ll do exactly the opposite. They will literally weld the show to a timeslot and come hell or high water (ref. Rita) they will not move it. In some extreme cases, they’ll have the show twice in a two-week timeframe to make sure everyone saw it. Fox does this on a regular basis, but then they also have the nasty habit of nuking shows outright and will not even acknowledge that the show had actually existed.

This mirrors real life in many ways. You think you have a bead on things, ala Nielsen families, but then some mysterious force comes about to fuck up your life, ala network executives. It’s only mysterious until you figure out the ploy, or the reasons behind it.

Usually it’s a human component. The director has creative differences with the network. The actors or actresses are being too bitchy and get killed off. For example, an actor upon seeing that his show is making millions and millions more than originally thought possible, wanted to renegotiate a cut of this cake, knowing full well that his talent is a major contributing factor. Instead of caving, the network will simply move the show around a little and mess with the stats (see NT: A New Day, Shiny New Project), nuke the show and to hell with the actor.

Some might argue that the network takes all the risk with the investment, while this is true of investment money up front, if the show gets canned, the actors and crews are now out of work. Everyone shares in the risk, so it seems fair to me that everyone should also share in the success.

Now one would think the network would be interested in keeping a good and revenue-generating show and simply renegotiate with the actor. But it would set a dangerous precedent, whereby they open themselves up to future renegotiations into their bottom line. Might as well take a hit now, loose the show’s good revenue, but quash this uprising. Makes better sense now doesn’t it?

Many a show has gone down in flames because of this kind of thinking.

Executive stubbornness extends beyond TV series and into movies as well. Miramax, for instance, almost killed The Lord of the Rings, by demanding that a single movie be made instead of the two originally proposed by producer Peter Jackson. It’s a testament to New Line Cinema’s president that Lord of the Rings made it into three distinct movies, thereby bucking the trend of executive malfeasance.

I read a while back that someone was trying to implement a stock investment system for movies. I haven’t followed up on it. It would have allowed the public at large to invest in a potential movie production and reap the dividends if the movie made money. A similar system could be set up for TV shows. But then, we’d have to trust the networks not to screw us up. Yeah, and I trust network executives, any executives really, about as much as the government, which is, not at all.

So my relaxation at home is, yet again, dependant on far-away politics involving bean counters and executroids full of themselves.

I’m just hoping that the series I like best will stick around for a while.

As a lark, here is the list of all the shows we will try to watch in our household; some are returns, some are new, and several, if not most, will be dumped by yours truly. But let’s see in a few months how many are still available Canadian broadcasts:

Cold Case
Commander in Chief
Criminal Minds
CSI: Las Vegas
CSI: Miami
Ghost Whisperer
Hot Properties
Joan of Arcadia
Killer Instinct
King of the Hill
Las Vegas
Night Stalker
Prison Break
Shield (The)
Simpsons (The)
Sopranos (The)
Tru Calling – has been cancelled
Without a Trace
West Wing (The)

In italics: I will be chagrined if I miss this show.
In bold: I will be in physical pain if my wife misses this show.
Note on Charmed and Sopranos, I do not have HBO and the Canadian distributors seem allergic to slotting these 2 shows properly, otherwise, they’d become bold and italic respectively.


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