Network Television: Where Have All the Men Gone?
By Bob Moser
With rerun season upon us, Iíve had time to reflect upon the television shows which are now in reruns for the next month. I have heard a few news stories on the radio lately Ė no small irony that they were on radio Ė that televisionís appeal to American males 18-34 years of age is precipitously waning. I know I have been watching less, and would you like to know why. Television sucks.
Now granted I canít speak for the quality of programs for those of you reading this article in other countries, but on these shores we have damn poor choices when it comes to idiot-box entertainment. According to Nielson Media, the folks that track this sort of thing, male viewership in the coveted 18-34 year old demographic is down Ė way down. According to their statistics, the major networks have lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 7% of the male audience this season, as opposed to the typical shifts of 1% - 2% either way. Some programs like the FOX Networkís The Simpsons have dropped in the ratings up to 23%, which seems odd, because according to the reports I have heard; apparently the only two types of programs that young men are watching are sports and cartoons. The networks of course claim that Nielsonís statistics can not be true - after all they have valuable advertising revenue riding on the line. Strange how bad news is unbelievable but good news is never questioned. Well, Iíve got news for them; itís true. Aside from two or three programs, I could pretty much take or leave television. And guess what corporate network CEOís Ė Iím white, middleclass, male and 33 years old. Those statistics almost put me out of the coveted demographic, but Iím not quite dead yet.
As a public service to the networks, and hopefully to you the reader, Iím going to comment on the shows that I watch, or in some cases used to watch, and give some ideas on how these shows could be improved.
I myself only watch network television for two reasons. One is that the last time I had cable there was very little reason I could find to pay for what was being offered and two is that I would rather spend my money on comics and other cool stuff that is more entertaining. All that being said I will only comment on network shows broadcast in the United States.
After all that vitriol it seems an irony that the week begins with the best night of television. So Ė letís start on a positive note and work our way into the negativity.
I have been watching this show for about as long as I can remember and will probably watch until one of us is in the grave. Not much room for improvement. The first and best infotainment program ever created. If itís a rerun Iíll watch Futurama unless it has been preempted for football or the jackass programmers at FOX canít decide to leave it where it was in the schedule.
Itís the best damn primetime cartoon on network television since The Flintstones. Sometimes itís up, sometimes itís down, but usually you canít go wrong with The Simpsons. Truthfully I watch this show everyday of the week because it reruns before primetime on a local channel. Itís that good. As an aside, it pisses me off that Family Guy Ė a much funnier show Ė was dropped from the network, but they do that a lot at FOX to make room for all their crappy ďrealityĒ shows.
In America this is the funniest show with a black man ever put on network television and the reason why is that the humor has nothing to do with the color of his skin. The show is about family, faith, respect and making sacrifices for those you love - really quite a positive show without being preachy or boring like that damn 7th Heaven crap. At one point FOX was apparently thinking of dropping Bernie Mac from the lineup, but I guess its survival goes to show that even Yale MBAs can make a good decision when they try.
Without a doubt the best damn show on television. Alias is a worthy heir to the misdirected and ultimately unwatchable X-Files, which used to hold my attention in this timeslot before its cancellation. This show has it all: action, adventure, ass-kicking and a kick ass hot chick kicking lots of ass. Even the dream episode from a few weeks ago Ė which could have been really hokey Ė was surprisingly good. If you arenít watching this show then you should see a doctor and have your head examined.
Itís time to settle down with a good book, comic or otherwise.
Given the choices of a junior-high gross-out contest, ďrealityĒ shows that resemble reality about as much as a Salvador Dali painting, sitcoms targeted to my parents or grandparents generation or a football game that runs so late that I couldnít even finish watching it if I wanted, Iíll settle for nothing. If Iím lucky there will be something good on public television (PBS).
This is the wifeís night to watch Gilmore Girls Ė which is a decent enough show, but a little too chick for my taste. I used to watch Enterprise on Tuesday nights, but for some reason the execs at UPN thought it was a good idea to compete with Smallville Ė which says to me that they must have had an advanced preview of Smallvilleís current season. If I want to watch TV Iím once again forced into the intellectual embrace of PBS.
I used to watch Smallville on Wednesdays, but given the direction of this season I have thrown up my hands in disgust and run to Enterprise. Good old stable Star Trek. I told you the execs at UPN must have had a preview of Smallvilleís current season. Enterprise may recycle storylines from the past four incarnations of the series, but at least theyíre going somewhere new with the show and for the most part itís entertaining. On the other hand Smallville has gone from being a show about a teenager learning to responsibly deal with incredible superpowers and turned into a show about Lana bitching at Clark every other episode even though the dude is constantly saving her ass. The show has become less than a chick show; now itís a teeny-bopper show full of those ďwill theyĒ - ďwonít theyĒ teen angst moments. Blech, leave the reindeer games to the kiddies. I guess their new demographic is 14 year-old girls. The only redeeming quality left for Smallville is the Lex Luthor subplot. We all know the guy is going to turn rotten and evil, which makes it all the more interesting to see what eventually pushes him over the edge.
My too-late-to-make-a-difference advice to the producers of Smallville would have been to make season three Clarkís summer road trip with him doing a tour of the DC Universe. He could have visited any number of cities meeting and possibly inspiring the future superhero careers of any number of characters. Anything would have been more interesting than going back to Smallville after only one episode in Metropolis. My advice to the producers for season four is to have Clark leave Smallville, go to college and meet somebody with superpowers that isnít crazy or evil. And while I am dispensing advice, the Superman editors at DC need to stop trying to shoehorn the television show into the comicsí continuity. If the people who watch the show are not already buying comics they will never know that there is any connection between the two and longtime readers of the comics will only get pissed because you are trashing their prized continuity. In the long run itís just not worth it.
As you can see, I had a lot to say about Smallville, but damn it I hate having to leave a show because itís not living up to its potential.
The West Wing
Although I still watch this show because I enjoy politics both in reality and fiction, itĎs beginning to lose my interest. Although the politics of the characters doesnít have much to do with it, it would have been nice to see the Presidency stay in the hands of the Republicans with John Goodman taking the lead role for a few more episodes. I thought that the kidnapping of President Bartletís daughter was resolved too quickly and the tension could have played out with the White House staff for a few more episodes. Over all a good show, but I often donít feel obligated to pay close attention or set aside time to watch.
Law & Order
Much like The West Wing, I often donít feel obligated to pay close attention or set aside time to watch Law & Order. My chief complaint with all the Law & Order shows and their multitude of bastard offspring is that they send a message that the legal system is infallible. BullshitÖ I live near enough to Dallas to know better than that. Yep, if we was to have us a Law & Order type show here in Texas they woulds have to call it Crime & Chaos. The city of Dallas is currently under two major law enforcement scandals, and those slackers in Dallas County have at least one. The city scandal you may have heard about in the national news involves fake drugs planted at local businesses which resulted in dozens of mostly Hispanic business owners being incarcerated for cocaine distribution. The only problem was that when the ďcocaineĒ was tested it turned out to be either ground gypsum or billiard chalk. The only reason the drugs were ever properly tested is because a few of the accused spent their childrenís college funds to hire a decent lawyer and fight the charges in court. The case was investigated for two years by the FBI, who determined that the officers involved were not guilty of any wrong doing. The city is now forced to wage its own investigation after two years of the feds apparently sitting in a dark room playing with themselves. The lingering questions are; where did the hundreds of thousand of dollars in payments of city money to informants go, who produced the fake cocaine in the first place and how did an entire legal system allow dozens of people to be sent to prison without evidence? Thereís lots more to tell, but I donít want to bore you with further details.
Oh goody, more fake reality shows, sitcoms and police procedure programs where they always get the right guy. Oh Dr. Richard Kimbell where are you and your one armed man? Actually I usually set aside Thursdays for shows on PBS like Frontline or POV. Man can not live on mindless prattle alone.
Once again the only saving grace is public broadcasting, which is fine for a news junky like me because two really well produced programs air on Fridays. Now with Bill Moyers breaks news stories that the for-profit networks either ignore or only get wind of way after the lion has pounced. Washington Week is also a quality show that comments on American politics and current affairs, but as opposed to the jock mentality of the for-profit networks or their troglodyte cousins on the cable news channels, Washington Week doesnít use talking-head pundits, they actually use real honest-to-goodness journalists that cover the stories they are commenting on. WOW, what a crazy concept, they have people who actually know what they are talking about instead of a for-profit provider of puerile public policy. That line of alliteration I could not resist. Stan Lee eat your heart out.
To sum up network televisionís Saturday offerings I will quote the immortal words of the animated critic Phil Sherman, ďIt STINKS!Ē No longer on the public market and being the old married man that I am; the wife, child and I stay home for a couple of DVD movies and some popcorn. I wouldnít have it any other way.
So there you have it Ė the good, bad and oh so gross-out ugly of American network television. What is the solution to the vast wasteland that has become TV? Well for starters, network executives could come up with new shows without constantly plagiarizing from their competition. How many ways can you marry a millionaire anyway? What ever happened to the old days when the networks actually tried to produce more than a handful of quality programs? Maybe I am just getting too old for television, but I remember when they used to produce what were called prestige programs. Does anyone else remember Roots, Shogun, The Thorn Birds or Lonesome Dove? Apparently the current crop of network executives donít, but then again I guess they only put out programs that people want to watch, on the other hand if the current Nielson ratings are any indication - maybe not?
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