And you know about naked Thursday

 

Pretty soon television is going to be just one or two shows. Perhaps three shows, with four or five hundred actors in the cast. Itís coming.

Oh, 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.

Donít believe me?

OkÖ

Have 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.

As 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.

The 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.

Here are two more interesting examples of what I meanÖ

American 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.

Joey 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.)

Television 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.

The 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

Several 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.

It 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.

Seriously, 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 efforts.

No, 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.

Thatís faulty logic.

And 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.

I 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.

Next 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.

And we, the audience, are just so much better for that. Because we have choices. Donít we?

 

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com