soon television is going to be just one or two shows. Perhaps
three shows, with four or five hundred actors in the cast. Itís
the networks will hide the fact. Slightly different show titles
will mask the idea on the schedule for the network. Different
people in lead roles, which in turn will make for the few hundred
regulars in the cast. But itís coming.
you heard of the program Law & Order? Well, thatís
a silly question. Is there any way you haven't heard of it? After
all, itís on just about every night covering two or three dozen
networks. There are three versions of the show on television right
nowÖ Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. About
a week ago or so I was reading this article about actor Jerry
Orbach. It appeared in several places, with the basic headline
for each column insinuating that Orbach will likely leave Law
& Order following this season, after twelve years with
the show. What you had to keep reading to find out, all the way
near the end of just about any article I saw, was that Orbach
was going to leave Law & Order to work onÖ Law
& Order. Or, more specifically, the fourth installment
of the program, currently being called Law & Order: Trial
by Jury. And that is where the slight nod and wink comes
into play for this article, the idea of one show appearing as
several on the schedule.
I sit to write this, Law & Order will occupy five
hours of NBCís primetime line-up over the next seven days (Wednesday,
April 7, 2004 thru Tuesday, April 13, 2004). There are two shows
on Wednesday and one on Friday of the original series, with Law
& Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order:
Criminal Intent airing one show each on Sunday and Tuesday
respectively. So, while Detective Lennie Briscoe may not be part
of the Law & Order cast next year, I donít think
itís really true to say that Orbach is leaving.
same thing is happening all over television. The explosion of
reality programming has led to strange ideas and copycats. Dramas
have been following the Law & Order model, with CBS
currently airing CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI:
Miami, and planning to have other spin-offs next year. I
think Las Vegas was one being discussed if I recall correctly.
are two more interesting examples of what I meanÖ
Idol Ė The most amazing, and to be honest and fair a brilliantly
designed part of the show, is how it needs to have two broadcasts
each week. ABC still canít believe how it killed the Who
wants to be a millionaire? goose a few years ago by airing
it five nights a week. But, by having a performance show that
is followed by voting and then a selection show to broadcast
the results, American Idol presents two distinctly
different shows each week.
Ė Guess what? Friends will in fact be back next season.
Granted it wonít be Friends as everyone truly knows
it. But it hasnít been Friends as everyone knows it
for quite some time. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) will have his own show
next year. And, letís be honest, his appearances are the only
reason to watch Friends now anyway. The other five
storylines crashed years ago. And if youíre not convinced of
this, then please try and tell me one new thing that has happened
to Ross or Rachel (David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston) since
he said her name at the weddingÖ Iím waitingÖ still hereÖ I
rest my case. When Friends leaves itís 8pm time slot
on Thursday after this season, can you guess where Joey
supposedly will premiere? (I know. Go figure.)
is so bad now that you canít even tell what time shows start anymore.
Some at 8:59pm, others at 9:32pm. Itís all about that magical
dollar, and running a few minutes short or long, when done properly,
can be worth millions. Funny thing is, the shows donít seem any
longer. Iím convinced the half-hour American Idol show
that features the voting results is actually five minutes of show
and twenty-five minutes of commercials. During the months that
ratings are tabulated, we get special movies, brand new episodes,
and redesigned broadcasts of Who wants to be a millionaire?
with an outrageous top prize.
results of these sweeps weeks set ad rates. Do advertisers actually
think that these special events that draw in large audiences truly
reflect what we are watching when they arenít broadcasting them?
And why does it seem like after four weeks of new episodes the
audience gets to watch nine or ten weeks of reruns? Iím just askingÖ
seasons ago, Joey was talking to Rachel about moving in with him.
One of the positive reasons was, of course as she would be aware,
naked Thursday. Well, as television battles against decency charges
they are at the same time formulating everything to look exactly
like everything else. Iím not against naked Thursday mind you.
Or naked Friday and naked Monday if the truth be told. I just
would like to know itís coming so I can either tell the children
not to watch or set my VCR. The reality though is that television
has left its best stuff in the past, and creatively it's not giving
any signs of coming back. Everyone is looking to copy the successes
instead of developing something original.
reminds me of the Disney debate I have been harping on lately.
As they close down some animation offices, and plan on doing computer
animation and no hand-drawn efforts in the future, people are
saying itís because thatís what the market wants. Of course, the
fact that Disney hasnít had a hand-drawn movie with a good story
since the run over a decade ago that included Beauty &
the Beast, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid
doesnít matter. The fact that Disney has been churning out not
only original releases with poor stories, but also over-mining
the vault for sequels doesnít matter. The fact that A Bugís
Life, Toy Story and Finding Nemo do have
great stories doesnít matter. Itís hand-drawn against computer.
if Disney had a hand-drawn feature with a good story, people would
spend hundreds of millions on it. Trust me. Winnie the Pooh sells
more merchandise than just about anything else on the planet,
and he hasn't been in any major movie release to a theater in
quite some time. But thatís too easy to say. And this whole subject
would mean Disney admitting that it has been churning out inferior
instead of admitting it or realizing it, the lead reason must
be because Finding Nemo was done with computers and Treasure
Planet wasnít, so audiences want computer animation.
the same thing is happening to television. The thought process
goes that because people have cable television, they have more
options, and network programming is going to attract less viewers
because everyone is spread more thinly over hundreds of channels
instead of just three. Well, there is a bit of truth in that.
But explain to me how American Idol is drawing 30 million
viewers each week while no one paid attention to Star Search
with Arsenio Hall. Itís because hundreds of options or not, American
Idol is well-run and Star Search stunk. If you create
a good show, people in general will watch. Not always, but generally.
However, making copy after copy after copy, with or without a
twist, is not necessarily the answer. Occasionally it works, but
at least look for story and quality.
personally have given up on American Idol. I donít like
the talent currently on the show, don't like the way I could tell
you right now what Randy is going to say three weeks from today,
and there are some other minor things that bother me. It doesnít
mean I donít appreciate how well they have placed the show, sought
unique revenue streams, and managed to connect with the public.
year Law & Order will be airing all over the place,
with meetings set up for network programmers to discuss if they
need a fifth or sixth edition. Joey will start its run,
and if successful, just watch as people begin to throw money at
the other five main actors to come back to network television.
we, the audience, are just so much better for that. Because we
have choices. Donít we?