After watching documentaries in class last week about Philo Farnsworth’s invention of television and the development of radio, I started thinking about current or future involvment of “suits” in the creation, production and distribution of television.
I just wonder how this influences the quality of the TV we injest. It seems to me that the noble pursuit of technology, as in Armstrong’s quest to enlighten the populace, gets watered down and homogenized for easy consumption by the masses and quality gets lost or is an afterthought along the way toward the profit margin.
When executives put themselves into the creative mix it is usually the sign that creativity has ended and the business of making the product dance for its supper begins. Like Sarnoff holding FM down with his thumb for ego and bottom-line’s sake, how much good television are we missing from the shows that don’t make the cut after pilot-season.
It doesn’t surprise me anymore when good or great shows are pushed out to make way for reruns of American Gladiator. Sportsnight is a great example of a show that was ritualistically killed off with the old “schedule shuffle.” Similarly, Arrested Development, a quirky and niche-humoured show on Fox was shuffled about and survived only as long as its 3 year run due to intense fan support and critical accolades.
A lesser known show called Action with Jay Mohr of CBS Gary Unmarried ‘s was a stunning and funny look at the undoing of a Hollywood producer. It was biting and clever and should have been given a shot by the Fox network. It lasted, however, only through its initial order of 13 episodes–why? There was a great cast and good writing, but it was controversial and off-color, so it got canned for not appealing to a lower common denominator. Now on cable there is a show with a very similar theme that has become a huge critical and commercial success. Its called Entourage.
Maybe with a generational shift and awareness of past mistakes in programming, executive influence will be seen by the networks as stunting. Evidence of that can be seen in the hands-off approach NBC’s The Office has gotten. Ultimately, I think we will get less quality when there is a bottom-line, pencil-pusher sitting there waiting to kill something with an original voice that might alienate the ad-revenue guy sitting next to him if that guy starts rolling his eyes. Then CBS Chairman, Les Moonves, can just give another horrible, base show like Big Brother to his wife, Julie Chen.