From Usatoday.comCan TV Be Saved ? (joss whedon mention)
By Robert Bianco
Monday 12 April 2004, by Webmaster
It’s time again for USA TODAY’s Save Our Shows survey. For the seventh year, we want your opinion on which TV shows in limbo deserve a second chance. But it’s not just the shows that need saving. It’s the networks.
Save Our Shows Survey : http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/save-our-shows.htm
By every measure, critical and commercial, this has been a dismal season for broadcast TV. From long-running series that ran out of gas to promising newcomers that were never allowed out of the garage, the seasonal race has stumbled from one disappointment to the next. If network TV were a reality show, the title would be I’m a Viewer: Get Me Out of Here.
Launching series is a tough business, as the networks’ cable competitors are now discovering. HBO has yet to come up with a drama that can hold The Sopranos audience, and every original scripted series on basic cable lags in the ratings behind wrestling and repeats from the Law & Order factory.
If we’re lucky, we’re merely in the midst of one of TV’s periodic creative slumps, and relief is only a hit away. But slumps can sometimes lead to collapse - particularly when the people in charge make the wrong turns. Like, say, sacrificing the industry’s long-term health for a quick reality fix.
What should the networks do? Here’s a 12-step program to save them from sinking - and from themselves.
Salvage what little is worth saving
Look on the bright side of this sorry situation: There’s no need to spread your votes around. Of the series on the USA TODAY Save Our Shows ballot, I’d rescue Arrested Development, It’s All Relative and Whoopi (just because it’s willing to imagine a sitcom world that extends beyond sex, dating and parenting). As for the campaign to save WB’s already canceled Angel, if nothing else, the fight will remind networks that good shows still do have loyal viewers.
When you find something good, stick with it
The tone this season was set early on by NBC’s treatment of Boomtown. Here’s a show that could have been nurtured into a signature series, as the network wisely did with Hill Street Blues and Cheers. Instead, NBC cut the show’s order, reworked it, dumped it in a terrible slot and canceled it after two episodes. A similar fate befell ABC’s Karen Sisco and Fox’s Wonderfalls- which Fox gave up on before it even aired. Why should viewers commit to a series when the networks won’t? Such treatment sends a chilling message to viewers and the creative community alike, and makes it even harder to get the next innovative series off the ground.
For heaven’s sake, stop fidgeting
People expect to find shows in the same time slot every week, which is why it’s called a "schedule." Instead, viewers barely know what the networks are showing from hour to hour, let alone week to week. (Does anyone know where, or even if, Scrubs is airing these days?) Whatever tactical advantage a network may hope to gain by these constant shifts is pretty much lost when everyone else is shifting at the same time. Unless, of course, the goal is simply to annoy viewers. In that case, it seems to be working.
Trash has always been with us and always will be. But the networks used to have the good taste to at least pretend to be embarrassed by it. Now they revel in their bad behavior, promoting each new outing as the grossest, raunchiest or sexiest yet. (Compared to The Swan, those When Animals Attack specials look like the Golden Age of Fox reality.) Perhaps it’s time to ask whether the networks and their affiliates, who have been granted access to our homes through government license, should be using that gift to develop programs that trick parents into thinking their daughters are getting married or, worse, turn TV into procurers on an electronic temptation island? The idea that power carries with it responsibility may be old-fashioned, but that doesn’t make it wrong.
Re-evaluate or restructure the business
Every season, it’s the same deadly dance. Advertisers want young male viewers, so the networks chase after an audience that isn’t interested in their shows - and chase away the audience that is. Economically, a business that can’t make money from the people who are actually eager to be its customers is a business that makes no sense. And artistically, an art form that allows its standards to be set by teenage boys is an art form, and a culture, in deep trouble.
Beg the best writers to come back
Four years ago, networks hosted what was, collectively, the finest group of writers ever to work in dramatic television: David Milch (NYPD Blue), David E. Kelley (The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public), Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel) and Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (Once and Again). Now, Milch has moved to HBO; Sorkin has left Wing (leaving a shadow of a show behind him); and Whedon, Herskovitz and Zwick have had their shows canceled. As of now, only Kelley will be represented on network television next season, and he has been reduced to dragging life out of a Practice spin-off. Whatever it takes to bring these writers back to broadcast television - such as letting them do something they’re passionate about - the networks need to do it.
Recruit better replacements
While they chase away their best writers, the networks give multiple chances to dull, predicable hacks who can be counted on to churn out dull, predictable shows. There must be better writers out there, as the nation’s lively theater scene would seem to indicate. If those writers aren’t coming to the networks, perhaps its time for the networks to go looking for them. Yes, I know: That will mean leaving your offices in L.A. and New York. You’ll survive.
Find a few good women
Is it any wonder so many female viewers embraced Sex and the City? Where else could they turn? Network comedy was once dominated by funny women, from I Love Lucy through Mary Tyler Moore, Kate & Allie, The Golden Girls, Designing Women, Murphy Brown and Roseanne. After ignoring the form for too long, the four networks finally have made a few tentative steps back to female-centered sitcoms with such shows as Whoopi, Less Than Perfect, Hope & Faith and Life With Bonnie. But none has become the kind of reviving hit the genre needs. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the genre; it just means the networks haven’t paired the right stars with the right writers.
A little variety, please
No, that’s not a call for a new variety show, though that might be nice. It’s a warning that too many shows look too much alike - and most of those shows look like Law & Order or CSI. So far, the clones have worked, but we can’t be far from that "one thin mint" too many. Ask the people who used to make Westerns what happens when you push viewers into overload. They usually don’t just turn against the last clone to arrive; they reject the entire genre it represents.
What TV really needs is a mass executive exodus. Among the current crop of network presidents, some have taste, a few have some sense of showmanship, and a few more have some dependable grasp of what works for their network. But only CBS’ Leslie Moonves combines all three of these necessary qualities - and even he seems to be overextended as more of the Viacom empire comes under his supervision.
To be fair, as the networks have been swallowed by media conglomerates, network presidents have less power, and less accountability, than they once did. (We’ll see if upcoming executive shifts at ABC fix the core problem: there are so many layers of manangement involved in every decision, it’s like a ship with 10 captains and no rudder.) The networks appear to be at war with themselves, with one group of executives supporting a show and the rest doing their best to subvert it. How else to explain the odd treatment accorded Karen Sisco or Wonderfalls?
So here’s a suggestion for the networks’ overseers. Enough with the lawyers, accountants and news wunderkinds. Recruit your presidents from the entertainment world, let them do their job and replace them if they don’t.
Keep working on diversity
While the situation is better than it once was, black and Latino audiences still by and large have to turn to sitcoms or cop shows to see themselves - and Asians aren’t even accorded that much visibility. It’s long past time we saw their lives explored more fully on TV.
Show some respect
Many of the worst problems would disappear if the networks would stop airing shows they know are awful, and stop yanking shows they know are good - both of which they do with frightening regularity. It shows a lack of respect, not just for the audience, but for the history and reputation of the networks themselves.
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