Quality Television – Becoming a Distant Memory?

Originally published on TV.com on June 05, 2008:

After a period of mourning for the of a great show, people are slowly beginning to band together not just to protest the insanity of quality shows being canceled at will and for no obvious good reason while less-than-quality shows continue to survive in the world of Network , in spite of said low-quality shows having less than the quality shows that were canceled. Since it’s obvious the networks in general simply do not listen to their viewers (or care, for that matter), a group is forming in support of as a whole.

About a month ago I was able to do some catching up on the shows I had recorded on – one of them happened to be Boston Legal, and when the character Alan Shore (brilliantly portrayed by ) got to his closing arguments on a particular case, I was incredulous at how the writers had pretty much written exactly what had been on my mind for quite some time, so thanks to those writers, here are pretty much my for this week (slightly edited to fit this venue):

“I remember the movie “Network” by Paddy Chayefsky. It depicted the extremes and perversities that television would resort to for the sake of ratings. It was a film that was way ahead of its time and yet, now it seems dated given the depths to which television has sunk. I doubt even Chayefsky could ever have imagined putting contestants on a program to eat worms or raw animal parts or women humiliating themselves to marry fake millionaires. One network made a deal with O.J. Simpson to do a Special on how he might have killed his ex-wife.

Television is a noble beast, isn’t it? Well, the shame is, it once was, and to many it still should be. Television took us to the moon. It let us cry together as a nation when a beloved president was assassinated. Its unflinching and comprehensive coverage in Vietnam served to end that war. Television gave us Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Rod Serling, Ernie Kovacs. We had shows like “The Defenders”, “All in the Family”…and how about current events?

One could argue that the steep decline of TV began with a show called “A Current Affair”, which introduced Tabloid Journalism. There used to be standards of excellence in television. I’m not talking only about Emmys and Peabody’s, but not so long ago, broadcasters had a real sense of responsibility. They took their statutory obligation to operate in the public interest very seriously. Now the networks look for our guilty pleasures and morbid curiosities and pander to those with the hope that they’ll get us addicted.

Once you get people hooked, you’ve got ’em, and you have to get people hooked, because everything today is ratings, demographics, market share, money. Even the news divisions are now profit centers, which mean that if good-looking, white-toothed anchors have better TvQs than credentialed journalists, you get the eye candy, and if positive coverage of the war in Iraq reaches more households, you get FOX news. In fact, today you can switch back and forth between the right-wing news and the left-wing news. Whatever happened to Huntley and Brinkley, John Chancellor – to news that was just the news? Now we have Partisan Junk, appealing to the lowest common denominator…

The most memorable part of the movie “Network” was when Hoard Beale started shouting on National Television, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore”, and the country joined in with him. You need to join in now. You need to go back into that room and say you’re not gonna sit quietly and let these networks assault decency for profit, you’re not going to stand for the exploitation of the disenfranchised, you’re sick of the networks debasing a medium they’re supposed to be guardians of. Don’t take it anymore. Please, please get mad as hell…and don’t take it…anymore.”


Pretty powerful stuff and right on the money! I applaud the writers for taking the risk of having that particular dialogue on Network Television, especially with the more recent ‘shake ups’ on Quality Shows being canceled unceremoniously and with no rhyme or reason. Quality Television has been pretty much on the decline for quite some time – more so in the more recent times, as evidenced by the cancellation of great Quality Shows like , Moonlight, Men in Trees, New Amsterdam, Women’s Murder Club, and yes, even Jericho.

Viewership has also changed drastically – ask anyone and everyone you know how much time they actually have to sit in front of their television screens and simply just watch television. Or better yet, ask them if they think there are ANY quality shows worthy enough to take time out of their fast-paced busy lives to pay undivided attention to that magical glowing box.

I bet you’ll find that most people do what myself and all my friends family and acquaintances do – either record to watch later at their convenience, whether it be DVR or TiVo or the old-fashioned VCR, or download episodes off the internet, or watch them online when they have time. My guess is that 99% of them do just that…there are, of course that 1% who watch the ‘old fashioned way’…like my parents and grandparents, who don’t feel the need to morph into the current century of ‘new-fangled electronics’.

The Networks have adopted this ‘instant gratification’ mantra – if a show doesn’t have the viewership that the Networks feel they should have right out of the gate, that show is doomed. They don’t have the patience to allow a show to ‘settle’ and have the audience grow over a period of time. No, they can’t do that, because they don’t have what it takes to actually ‘invest’ in a show – they want a cash cow now, not a show that will actually bring more viewers to them in the long run.

Sad state of affairs for something that was so incredulously miraculous when TV first came into fruition. Add to that the archaic way that Nielsen Ratings works (and you cannot tell me that it works, because it obviously does not), things have to change – drastically – if the Networks want to survive in the current and future technology explosion…and attract or even keep their viewers watching their Network.

Don’t let Quality Television become just a distant memory – we want all our voices to be heard, because we do matter, and we do count.

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