Studio 60, critics v. viewers

1 11 2006

I was actually going to wait until this was official, but after watching a couple of episodes last night, I had to blog my rage. Over the weekend reports emerged that the cancellation of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” was imminent, and I was almost tearing my hair out!

Usually I would write some poncey diatribe about intelliigent televisions struggle to find an audience, and the knuckle draggers who keep it that way, but I find those sort of posts make me out to be a snob, and alienate me from the common man, the average viewer.

Anywho, I often wonder about the gulf in opinion between critics and viewers, and I found an article from a journalist in Oregon who has nailed the difference using better and less offensive terminology than my vocabulary will allow. Especially this paragraph:-

let’s talk about the role TV plays in most people’s lives, how it differs from the role played by other entertainments (movies, books, etc.) and how this alters their expectations of and demands for what they see on the screen.

Unlike me, the vast majority of TV viewers watch prime-time TV in their living rooms or bedrooms, sometimes clad in their underpants. Their day is over, the hassles of work and life momentarily receding while darkness falls and the reflected light of dreams begins to rise in the subconscious. The mental wheels are slowing down, the brain craving something less like intellectual challenge, and more like reassurance.

The glowing screen becomes a portal to dreamland. The characters become more attractive versions of ourselves, our family and friends, all of them enacting fantasies of the life we’d like to be leading, or resolving the problems that bedevil us. Thus, the sort of narrative complexity and character nuance I look for — and which we all look for in movies, novels and elsewhere — may actually be the opposite of what many TV viewers are looking for.

So basically what he is saying is that people aren’t stupid, but even the smartest people aren’t looking to be educated by TV after they have come home from a long day at the office, and they certainly don’t view TV in the same high esteem they do movies and books. Click here for the full article, it is all good.

However, in this alternative article which I also found over the weekend, the writer suggests that no tears should be shed if Studio 60 is cancelled, because there is still a lot of good TV that started this season, shows that have united critics and viewers alike. He points to the dearth of quality on his recent trips to the UK and Ireland.

Across the channels in Britain and Ireland, I found a plethora of shallow, air-headed programs. There are countless game shows and home decorating programs in prime time. There is the inanity of celebrity-obsessed chat shows. Both Irish and British TV seems to rely heavily on formulaic evening soap operas, all derived from Coronation Street and EastEnders, to keep viewers watching. The number of well-made, serious-minded and entertaining dramas is disappointingly low.

The final installment of Prime Suspect aired while I was there and got tons of attention and praise, as it deserved. But Prime Suspect stood out because it was such a rare example of quality, and it served as a reminder that when the very first Prime Suspect aired, in 1991, British TV was the very model of excellence. Now it has declined into utter mediocrity.

Man, hes got our number. Although the US system of “survival of the fittest” has its flaws and allows many gems to slip through the cracks, it is still far better than the UK’s “leave it on the air until all its viewers are blind, senile or dead” strategy. Anyway, reports of Studio 60’s demise were exaggerated, NBC still say they have yet to make a decision on whether to give the show a full season. If you haven’t watched it, catch it while you still can. Episodes 5 & 6 were excellent. the first dealt with the pull of reality TV and its legions of viewers, v trying to establish yourself as a credible TV channel for high-income viewers. The 2nd dealt with a subject I think about quite a bit, whether a black comedian needs to have his jokes written by black comedians. The point they are making is that even Matthew Perry’s quite liberal character can’t bring himself to write some of the lines that black writers can get away with, without feeling guilt for writing them.

They don’t really draw a conclusion but anyone in the UK that can remember the BBC sitcom “The Crouches” would suggest that the writer would need some experience of the race he is writing about, however good he is.

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