Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Rant about Cable Television Shows

Despite the fact that I occasionally write television spec scripts, I am one of those people who inherently doesn’t like television. However, I have to admit I obsess over certain shows when they get good.

And when I heard all sorts of people talking about how Dexter was nine kinds of awesome, my curiosity was roused. So I tried watching the critically acclaimed show and couldn’t get any further than Disc 1 of Season 1.

Let me tell you, Dexter is not nine kinds of awesome. It is like half of awesome, and not the awe part. It is some.

Here is my problem – people who develop original programming for cable really love breaking their own arms patting themselves on the back for creativity. “You can do things in this show you can’t do on normal television!” they exclaim. “We advocate complete creative freedom! We believe in quality more than anything else!” and that is just not true.

They believe in objectionable content. Nudity, sex, violence, whatever you can’t show on regular television.

And here is the tricky part, the show has to convince the viewers each week that this excessive amount of objectionable content is not gratuitous, that it is indeed necessary to the plot.

The only way to work around this is, of course, to have the entire premise of the show based around sex and/or violence. The main character is a serial killer. The main character is a Mafioso. The main character is Larry David.

The problem with a premise like this is that the longer the show continues, the less plausible it becomes. The classic example of this is Murder She Wrote . After 12 years of solving a crime a week, no one ever caught on that you should not invite this woman to your birthday party, because a guest was going to mysteriously die. And, yet, week after week they did this.

So you have a premise of a show where someone dies every week. Or someone gets raped every week. Or someone gets tortured every week. And the writers have to go out of their way to conform to the formula even when the storyline or the character development makes it reasonable to deviate from the show formula. It creates monotony, fatigue, and boredom.

Because the mantra is “This is something you can only get on pay cable,” somehow this means that you can’t do anything that could appear on just any old television station. You can’t have a show like Friends, you have to twist it into a show like Friends with Benefits.

So when I see shows like Dexter, all I see is marketing and formula. I don’t see creativity. I don’t see something interesting. I just see plain old television.

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