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TinotopiaLog → Cultural Production and Audiences (25 Jul 2004)
Sunday 25 July 2004

Cultural Production and Audiences

Nicole and I have been working our way through the Freaks and Geeks DVD set lately, and as a result we’ve been marveling (once again) at how the TV industry kills off good ideas. Interestingly enough, when you search for Freaks and Geeks on Amazon, the second result — under the Freaks and Geeks DVD set — is the complete series of My So-Called Life, a not-too-dissimilar show that was cancelled despite rave reviews.

Both of these excellent shows were moved around on the schedule a number of times so that people couldn’t find them — MSCL, a show targeted at teenagers, eventually wound up on Friday nights, when nobody watches TV — and then cancelled due to low ratings. The TV networks never seemed to consider the possibility that not many people watched the shows because they were on a different night, and at a different time, every week.

I’ve got a lot more to say about TV scheduling at some point (see the second half of this for a pale version), but today I came across a month-old book review in The Atlantic that adds another clue.

The review is of a book called Screenwriting for a Global Market, pertains mainly to movies, not to TV, and it would be an understatement to say that it’s a pan. But it goes on to examine Hollywood’s increasing focus on appeal to foreign audiences:

Here, alas, is the virus laying waste to modern Hollywood movies. What do, say, the Batman and Matrix pictures have in common, besides banality? Just for openers, insipid, infrequent dialogue. Why take the trouble to bang out good lines—supposing one can—if they’ll only be mistranslated for their real target markets, abroad? Both these movies could have been silents if they weren’t so loud. They’re overbearing, carelessly told, and gang-written into incomprehensibility. Small wonder they were tepidly welcomed in the United States. Americans at the movies are guilty of the same mistake in the early twenty-first century that grown-ups made at the movies in the 1980s: supposing that the pictures are made for them.

Foreign TV these days is depending less and less on American sitcoms to fill time, so I don’t think that this is much of what causes American TV to be so awful: in fact, the target audiences for American TV shows seem to be getting narrower and narrower all the time. I think TV is so bad simply because the TV companies are totally unwilling to take risks; but it’s an interesting article nonetheless.

Posted by tino at 19:07 25.07.04
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