I'm taking a sick day today. Most of you out there know that a grown woman with children doesn't actually get sick days the way most people think of them. Still, I don't have to answer to anyone for about three hours today...so that constitutes a sick day.
More on that at my humor blog: http://itcanonlyhappentosarah.blogspot.com
I was watching TV last night. It's premier week for most of the networks, so there's a lot of great new TV to watch. Something struck me last night: I am not wrapped up in TV shows like I used to be.
When I was a kid, I watched three shows religiously. Don't laugh.
Emergency, Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons
Now, mostly I watched those because that's what my parents allowed me to watch. In the days of three channel TV programming, there wasn't much out there to watch. These days, you can spent hours and hours on the couch watching...well, reruns of those shows, I guess. The magic about those shows was that, while they are sequential (You can tell where you are in the "Emergency" series by the length of Randy Mantooth's hair.) they can really be watched in any order. Maybe Little House not so much, because toward the end of the series there were more two part story lines. But those shows, you can sit down right now, watch an episode and not be lost at all
When I got older, I watched the following shows
Dallas, Falcon Crest
The attraction for me for these shows was the endless cliff hangers. Story lines didn't end after the last commercial break. you HAD to tune in the next week. Remember the summer of "Who Shot JR?" I do.
When I got into college, my heart turned to thoughts of romance...and sex. So of course, I never, ever missed "MOONLIGHTING. Different from the shows of my childhood, "Moonlighting" was episodic...you could miss a week. But the "Will they/won't they" storyline, the undercurrent of the episodes, was something I could not miss. Of course, they ruined the show completely when Bruce Willis crashed through Cybil Shepherd's glass coffee table in a passionate embrace for the ages. And they brought in Mark Harmon to try and save the show, which didn't happen. But I digress.
I think most scripted shows today follow the basic template of Moonlighting. Attractive guy/attractive girl. One of them is all business. One of them is a scamp. They work together in some high stress high drama job. Sound familiar? Like half the scripted shows on TV?
Quite possibly the most perfect example of this formula was "JAG." That show was interesting the first season on NBC. My husband loved it. Then it got canceled and CBS picked it up. And set the beautiful Catherine Bell next to David James Elliott. And magic happened. For nine more seasons, their three most popular seasons AFTER they declared their love for each other (but didn't do the dead, take note TV writers...) people tuned in for the drama, for the action, and to see if this was the week these two wonderful characters would finally...ya know. For the record there was never an onscreen love scene between these two. The writers kept these characters beautiful and heroic to the very end, and we love, love, loved it.
The other kind of scripted show out there is the ensemble show. Big dramas that don't really focus on one character. These are the shows that are dying by the scores, and are therefore the focus of this fairly unfocused blog.
I used to watch "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" religiously. Every Sunday I hunkered down for a long night of ABC viewing. Then they moved "Grey's" to Thursday night opposite "CSI" another favorite. I have not watched one second of "GReys'" since. And I can't get into it now because this is one of those dramas that if you miss a couple episodes, you may as well give up. And, the minute "Housewives" drove off the rails with more bodies turning up on Wisteria Lane (I've lived in the 'burbs most of my life...I have yet to find a body anywhere in my neighborhood.) I gave up on that show, too. What do I watch on Sundays now?
Mad Men is the anomaly in my TV viewing week. It is the one scripted drama I make sure I'm watching every single week. I've left parties early to see Mad Men. I've lied about illness to get out of family gatherings to see Mad Men. Why is this the one TV drama I watch, when all others have faded away?
Because it's WELL WRITTEN. It doesn't pander to special interests, to revisionist historians, to today's adjusted social mores. I never feel like I've been preached to after I've watched Mad Men.
Don't get me wrong. I completely support scripted TV. HBO and Showtime have some of the best stuff out there. The big networks, however, have forgotten how to cultivate an audience. Moving CSI: New York to Friday nights isn't going to make anyone happy. And I'd be more excited about new shows if any of them was really new. But if one more rogue lawyer show pops up, I'm going to howl.
And that's the point, isn't it? The death of originality. TV producers don't want to give an original concept for a show more than 8 weeks ("Scoundrels") to make a splash. Only 10 million people watched it? Cancel it! Put on some lawyer show! Better yet, can we get some skanky semi ethnic twenty somethings to be skanky? Because that seems to be working really well for cable. Oh wait...how about a foul mouthed old person? that's it! A lawyer show with skanky twenty somethings and a foul mouthed old person. GOLD!
As writers, it's also the death of original fiction. If it doesn't fit a pigeon hole, it doesn't get published. Book publishers, like TV producers, aren't going to take a risk. They can sell a name. Like TV can sell a Law and Order or a CSI, book publishers can sell a Steele, a Roberts, a Grisham or a Sparks. They don't have to work at it. it just sells. Basic rules of grammar? Original plot? Interesting voice? Forget it. Name on the book. If you don't have that name on the book, it isn't going to get a look.
Is this the death of original fiction? Is it true that the reader today only wants a cookie cutter book that is the same as the last book they read?
Or is today's reader just biding their time until the book equivalent of "Mad Men" shows up?