Friday, March 9, 2012
Whatever Happened To Good TV?
I'm anxious for this Reality TV craze to be over. REALLY anxious. It's got to be over soon, I mean, it can't last forever. Of course, I've been saying this for the past ten years! TV crazes have always come and gone. There was the night time soap craze of the 70's and 80's: "Dallas," "Dynasty," "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest" to name a few. "Dallas" completely took over pop culture consciousness! I distinctly remember how much everyone talked about the Spring of 1980 cliffhanger where somebody shot J.R., the lead character of the show played by Larry Hagman. Even all of us kids were obsessed with finding out "Who Shot J.R.?" We hadn't even SEEN the episode, but we just needed to know "Who Shot J.R.?"
Later in the 1990's there was the "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" game show craze. Everybody watched it, and everybody was dialing up the pre-audition telephone test because they felt a duty to be a contestant on the show if they were able to answer the majority of the questions while watching from home. Even Regis Philbin's wardrobe with its shiny ties and suits were analyzed and copied. But at least the popularity of these two TV crazes didn't kill the basic format of the other shows on during that time period. There were still daytime soaps and family sitcoms, and there were still game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" (which is still on today and still uses its basic original format) . These crazes didn't hurt anybody, but Reality TV has killed the Writer.
Reality TV's simplistic and uninspired dialogue, and the plots that are acted out (yes, they ARE "acted out," as Reality TV is scripted, albeit poorly), are about as far from reality as any other fictitious TV show has ever been. But what's worse is that it prevents writers from being hired to actually write good TV. There are a handful of shows still trying to peep their heads out from under all this reality nonsense. I try to cheer myself up by watching "The Good Wife," a law drama in which the writing is excellent. Good writers actually sit down and think about how to make the plots and characters both thought-provoking and socially-conscious, and even when you think you've gotten the whole theme of the night's episode figured out, the writers manage to throw you a curve ball at the very end so that what you thought you knew and believed the show was trying to tell you was actually something completely different. Becoming a regular viewer of "The Good Wife" has helped make me feel better, but my most recent rental from Netflix actually made me feel worse.
From 1990-1995, a weekly, hour-long TV show named "Northern Exposure" had its run. It was about a New York City doctor named Joel who was transplanted to a small town called Cicely that was in Alaska. I felt a special kinship with Joel back then because I was a New York City girl who lived in Canada during that same time period! When I rented it from Netflix and watched it for the first time after many years, it really hit home how much we've been missing from TV. "Northern Exposure" could be a novel rather than a TV show. The characters are so well planned out. Maggie Malone was always my personal favorite. I used to pop kernels from a popcorn bag every night in a saucepan on the stove rather than buying the microwave version because that's how Maggie did it from her log cabin kitchen. I wanted to feel like she did. I long to live in a relaxed town and experience the easy lifestyle of Cicely, Alaska, escaping the fast pace and stressfulness of reality (or even Reality TV where they're always screaming and fighting). I can become so absorbed in her story.
One of the episodes on my Netflix rental was called "Nothing's Perfect." It centered around an older character named "Maurice" who was a former United States astronaut and was the wealthiest inhabitant of Cicely. In this particular episode, he orders a very expensive clock from Germany which is a one-of-a-kind treasure in both its rareness and beauty, but after showing it off to his friends, he discovers that it doesn't keep perfect time! Maurice is furious and wants his money back, but then he mulls it over. He tells us about how when he was a young astronaut, he thought he would live forever, but now that he's older, he knows that time is not something he can control. He wants to keep the clock to admire its beauty and to hold onto the small moments in life and to enjoy them and savor them while he can. Thus, this episode reinforces my disdain for Realty TV. If time is fleeting, and our moments are precious and few, why should we all be forced to waste it on Reality TV?