While My Television Gently Weeps

It’s official. Or at least as official as it’s going to get. One more excellent show headed down the tubes, and for what? Another reality competition results show or, God help us, more According to Jim? Sweet. That’s good television. Who needs Sports Night and Firefly, or Arrested Development and Veronica Mars? Surely not me! What I really need is another hour of Deal or No Deal because FUCK! I love seeing bimbos opening briefcases!

But as easy as it would be to rage against the network execs here — and they certainly have a track record to consider — America is at fault, too. That may sound pretentious, but Pushing Daisies lost in its time slot to Knight Rider. KNIGHT RIDER. What is wrong with this country? Maybe we need an entertainment meltdown to get people’s heads on straight, to make them sit up and take notice of how shitty things have gotten — hey, it worked for politics.

16 thoughts on “While My Television Gently Weeps”

  1. television is a dead medium. It is an intermediary input on the way to streaming digital entertainment sales and DVD sales. For many people news events (such as presidential elections) and sporting events are the only reason they even use a TV set any more instead of a computer. How many of your employed friends can you name that are serious about more than 2 or 3 choice series?

  2. I don’t know that it’s a dead medium, but it might need a new business model. If a show has an absolutely fanatic base but doesn’t pull the ratings, maybe you just need to put up a Paypal button. Pushing Daisies pulled 5 million visitors each week. If you got $2 from each of them (or maybe $10 from 20% of them), how much of your production costs does that cover? Enough to make up for reduced ad revenue? And if that’s too similar to going direct to digital, maybe the good writers need to start working on the internet then. And when the networks crater because they are bleeding talent, maybe they will realize what they need to do to stay relevant. Maybe it won’t make financial sense, but when has that stopped anyone in this country?

  3. Futurama’s already moving in that direction. It got unjustly canned, and after fans bitched about it for a few years, people from the same obviously Very Smart Company that canned them in the first place decided to get the band back together and turn out four straight-to-DVD movies. The only thing they’re missing here is net distribution, but again I guarantee you if this scenario repeats itself in two years (or even right now – the details for the straight-to-dvd deal were worked out in April 06, before net distribution really took off) this would be iTunes or $new_hot_internet_distributor release only.

    Granted, part of the impetus for the whole deal was Comedy Central (riding the wave of success it had with syndicating Futurama) ponying up an offer for 16 new episodes, so a show like Pushing Daisies with only one season out might not have this chance. But particularly for shows with low overhead – low-key shows without lots of special effects or big stars demanding bigger paychecks, or animated stuff like Futurama – I can definitely seeing the networks going digital-only, and leaving the airwaves for, like tuck said, sports, politics, and lowest-common-denominator feces like “Who Wants to Marry My Dog.”

    It’s still going to be in the hands of the networks, though, because as cheap as Futurama, et al are to produce, it’s all relative – still several orders of magnitude too expensive for a couple college kids with good ideas to go out and make. Especially when you factor in the costs of distributing full video to hundreds of thousands of people.

    Or, as services like Verizon FiOS become more popular (and the cable companies are forced to follow their lead into fiber to the home lest they completely lose their marketshare) extra channels could be used along with the internet to catch the long tail. When you’ve got enough bandwidth to the house for a good thousand channels without breaking a sweat, it’s hard to imagine the big four (NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox) following the lead of ESPN & CSPAN and creating multiple branded channels. Sure, 80% of the programing on NBC2 would be Scrubs & Friends reruns, there would definitely be a place for a new quirky show. Without the pressure to draw in millions of people from day one like on the main channel, these shows could be given a little bit longer to succeed – because shit, if you’ve already paid for a bunch of episodes of a show, why not move it to Fox2 instead of canceling it and losing that part of your investment? (Firefly, I’m looking at you.

    Really, this is already happening – AMC’s Mad Men would never have been given a chance on a major network, and yet it’s ridiculously popular. FX and USA and a handful of other ones also have successful (for cable-only) shows that have found a small but devoted audience.

    Who knows? With TV signals moving to digital, maybe an ABC2 could even be broadcast over-the-air, letting the five people out there who watch tv but haven’t pony’d up for cable join in the fun.

    TV, and the networks, will still survive – for a while anyway – because the cost to produce a show is still prohibitively high for anyone who’s not a multinational. The broadcast TV of the 80’s and 90’s may be on its way out, and the networks will have to adjust to that fact, but even if their role as broadcasters of entertainment may be faltering, their production of entertainment will be around for at least another decade, and probably a lot longer.
    That being said, there’s no argument that the way people consume entertainment in 2015 will bear very little resemblance to the way they consumed it in 2005.

  4. allow myself to weigh in as one of those people that only watch tv through the internet. Though, I hear, this is nothing like TV on the Radio. Or Video Killing the Radio Star.

    I digress, but only partially.

    The major thing that TV has to compete with isn’t really YouTube or Hulu and what not, though they think it is. The problem they will have is with video podcasting and p2p sharing.

    The thing that will almost always amazing me about the internet is that it is truly a place in which people can share things to their hearts desire. Have a idea you want the world to hear? Start a blog! Like an artist? Share them online! Miss your favorite tv show? Don’t worry, someone has the torrent!

    And, with the proliferation of blogs out there, and the large number (read: ditriech) of people that read these blogs and share this information with people, how many people listening/reading would it take before something becomes internet famous. Again. But this time, without the help of a major company. All it takes is one loyal fanbase.

    Case in point. Joss Whedon could write a musical about an angry bumblebee and _everyone that reads/write cofabg_ would probably see it (along with thousands of other people. But who are we to judge?). What if the next guy is someone like Andy Samberg, who just puts out awesome shit (like Samberg does via the SNL Digital Shorts which are all amazing) but finds a way to throw product placement in.

    Then it gets shared via bittorrent, and uploaded to YouTube with its parodies and whatnot. and this guy (lets call him ‘Alan Johnson-Baker’) makes shittons of money based on being stupid with his friends.

    I don’t know, I could be completely wrong, but i think that @Zero Dutch hit on something. The way we view things has totally changed, and in the next 10-15 years more people will be getting news/tv/information via their (at that point two, because everyone will have two monitors and only the zip-like dorks will have 4) monitor and not their television.

    And what a wonderful world it will be Gentlemen.

  5. Blogs & the great series of tubes we call home are great for creating & maintaining fan bases, but they can’t create content. Youtube is great for watching cats do stupid things or people light themselves on fire, but nobody ever produces anything close to a conventional full-length TV episode, let alone a full season. Dr. Horrible was amazing and, I guess to some degree (if only the chatter it created on said blogs) groundbreaking, but it still barely added up to a regular drama, let alone a movie, or as stated, a full series.

    p2p has already revolutionized content distribution, and I’m hoping that networks et al will use it to lower costs and hopefully pass those savings on to consumers in terms of lower priced content or even fewer ads (although knowing them, probably not.)

    So we’ve got commentary, fandom, distribution, and a sort of pseudo-content production, but nothing real, nothing that will draw people in. We’ve got a ton of people writing columns & articles and a few dedicated and talented souls writing short stories and even a novella here and there. But there are no epics, no novels produced on the internet.

  6. see, this is why i think that the journalism market, insofar as magazines and other print media making massive cuts will help my vision of the Tubez of Justice (as I like to call them. Why? We can get into that at a later date) because it gives more of this “talent” to the internet. Also, and more importantly, it brings money to these people (Like AMC who (whom?) I’m sure we all love.) so that they can still produce these stellar works that they were before, but in the free market that is known as the Internet (brought to you by Al Gore and the Green Party)

    This, actually, isn’t a bad thing, because without Radio, we don’t have Pirate Radio. We don’t have college radio stations. Without newspapers we don’t have the 5th season of “The Wire”. Nor do we have alternative newspapers.

    I honestly believe that it will all work out. Soon, the most creative of us that aren’t already writing for cofabg, will somehow be on the internet and somebody, somewhere will figure out how to perfectly monetize it. Then the creativity will flow elsewhere, and the money will follow.

    Alls I’m saying is that in two years, the interent will be a vastly different place now, and more people (like the Whedons) will be able to make money from it than would seem likely right about now.

  7. I totally agree. Journalism and television, though, are two completely different markets. That’s like saying advances in saw technology will bring woodworking to the masses, soon we’ll all be making our own cars.

    Print media is in for a lot of trouble, because the stuff online that’s being produced for free is occasionally (although rarely) of the same quality. It doesn’t take a lot of overhead to go out and do some first hand reporting.

    But even in this, print media’s not gone. You remember when AMC’s print media employer went under – she had to beg for money to keep following McCain around. That sort of stuff will still keep (a leaner, meaner, and far more lonely w/r/t competitors) print journalism around for the immediate future. Think about blogging this time around – most of the big name bloggers were working for print media. The otherwise-employed bloggers (including us) didn’t manufacture news, we regurgitated it, added commentary, and pushed good stuff to the top – but we didn’t make any of it.

    There are other places too – some of the great works of investigative journalism came after a Newspaper or print magazine basically paid the writer to pursue the story for years without any results – tens of thousands of man-hours going into the research. That’s not something you can do a couple hours a day after work and on your lunch break. You can’t produce 24 television episodes that way either.

  8. PS: That’s how print media will survive, by the way. Not by beating bloggers at their own game, but coopting it – hiring people to blog for them, and put corporate funding, advertising, and other resources behind it. I’m sure Sully’s site makes a lot of money – but there’s a reason he blogs for the Atlantic anyway.

  9. Here’s the thing. No, wait, before I forget.

    Hi Andy! This is what happens when you post something that both Dutch and I a) like and b) disagree on. Don’t worry. Doesn’t happen often. “B” that is.

    Anyhoo, you’re right. And, I know, that sounds strange coming out of my font. But I’m also right. Journalism, or corporate journalism as it will soon be known (I hope!), will be funded, mostly, by corporate entities. But (and gorrammit I had a post written in my head about this) what will become more importaed is the localized news that is better and quicker than the gerneral news that becomes localized.

    You’re right. WaPo will start hiring bloggers left and right in about a year or two. But will you or I (if, natch, we are both in the district) subscribe to these blogs long if they arent as good/funny/relevant to our interests as DCist or We love DC or the various local blogs that have cropped up in each neighborhood of the district it seems?

    My guess is no, people will subscribe for a while, realized they are getting nothing new, and de-subscribe (except myself, seeing as i read blogs as a badge of honor to a degree) and go back to what they were reading before.

    Blogs have, and will continue to, change the way we view not just news, but the neighborhoods we live in Life is going to be different in petworth because of PoP, in anacostia because of And Now, Anacostia, and in shaw because of, well, In Shaw.

    This won’t be the only reason by any means. But it will have a lot to do with it.

    The internet is an awesome place. And we are just now sorta getting a control of it. So I, for one, and waiting to see what we do with video technology on the Tubez

  10. It’s already begun. WaPo hiring bloggers, that is. You hit the nail on the head w/r/t local coverage – nobody does it better than people who live there, and the WaPo was too busy being a national paper to put a lot of money into it anyway

    But yeah, the Post has a few writers who only blog, and a lot of regular writers who also blog. The ones I read are exclusively Politics, and for work, but through the election, I read a few non-corporate bloggers for commentary – but only corporate bloggers for news. Because they’re the ones that have it.

    Think about the trouble Sully had trying to get answers from the McCain campaign on a variety of issues. Part of it was that they didn’t want to talk about those issues, but another part of it is that he’s not really a journalist – he’s a commentator. When they go to leak a new cabinet post, the Obama transition doesn’t call up Sully or Kos or Escaton: they call up Ben Smith or one of another journalist cum bloggers.

    And really, a lot of it is neutrality, too. Journalists at least try to keep their personal biases out of their writing. Most non-corporate bloggers blog because of their biases – which makes for interesting commentary, but unreliable news.

    But moving back to the original point, when video entertainment moves entirely to the net, a major corporate player will be behind it, not a bunch of counter-culture kids in their garage with a low-end HD camcorder.

  11. I think we’ve moved well beyond the scope of this post at this juncture. But it’s ok. Because I sorta expected it at this point.

    Anyhoo, my main point before was that video will be different. We just don’t know how yet. And, in actuality, case in point is The Man Himself.

    Pres. Elect Obama will be the first digital age president. He’ll be the first with a youtube account. He’ll be the first with a twitter account. Facebook, Myspace, all that web 2.0 (?) crap. But where he’s changing the game, right now, is print media. Because, if he wanted to, he doesnt have to say another word to WaPo or the NY Times or whoever. He can twitter it and wait for everyone else to pick it up.

    I don’t know why I said that. I just like the idea of a President that talks to me (personally i guess) directly.

    Anyhoo, non-corporate bloggers are the best part about this whole new thing we have going (and, i know you didnt say anything bad about them) . Its because Sully _can’t_ get the facts from the McCain campaign (or, to be honest, that he says he can’t) that people like us take him to be impartial. Especially when they are an ObamaCon. Not having all the fact (and, sadly, im letting some of my thanksgiving post through right now) is what lets us know that “hey, i am going through the same shit that you are.”

    Let me put it another way. Back before cofabg got “small” , most of external, non-facebook hits came from a comment I left on one of Mark Cuban’s posts about whether or not comments should be allowed or used or something on blogs. What I said (generally, because I cannot remember my exact words) was that ‘if you are man enough to say it on your blog, then you are man enough to take criticism.’

    To be honest, that’s my biggest problem with Sully, but that’s beyond the point. The point is, that with this revolution (and I’m sure this was said before every other revolution) is that the people in charge have to listen to us more. Because we all have a stake, a voice in it now. if we are not allowed that voice and/or stake, then we’ll go somewhere else, where we can voice our opinions.

    The reason I think that non-corporate video will surpass corporate video is because of two reasons. 1) The fact that there are HD cameras and such now. 2) Instant feedback.

    Do you think that Fox would have canceled firefly knowing what it knows now?

    Actually, chalk that, they might have. But they’d have a better view if people knew that their voice mattered.

    Shorter ditriech: We are changing the world. It will be awesome. Come with us if you want to thrive.

  12. 1) Nobody thinks Sully is impartial. We don’t even think he’s impartial. We read him because he’s hella smart, agrees with our worldview, and when he doesn’t it’s in a well-at-least-he’s-right-on-the-big-stuff sort of way (see: progressive taxation)

    2) Fox probably did a shit ton of focus groups and figured that Firefly wasn’t worth saving. And from a bottom-line perspective, they were probably right. Serenity (and the DVD’s) did very well, but it’s easier for a (relatively) low-budget movie to tap into the long tail than something on network TV. Doesn’t matter how many DVD’s it sold, twice that many people a week turn into “Who Wants To Feed My Infant Daughter Rat Feces.” And despite the web support for shows like Firefly, the tubez are notoriously unreliable. Snakes on a Plane took the internet by fucking storm and everybody loved it, and it was going to be the first meta-marketed blockbuster ever. And on opening weekend, nobody went to see it. And after that, nobody else went to see it, because it was terrible. The tubes also adopted Howard Dean in 2004, and look where he went. Internet support != real world success.

    3) I’m not arguing that non-corporate bloggers don’t have a place; they do, they’re great, and they’re not going away. But neither are corporate bloggers. Because they’ve got the money.

    4) There have been cheap HD cameras for a while, and ridiculously cheap non-HD ones for nearly a decade. Back in the late 90’s smart, creative people were filming shorts & using computers to finish them and turning out polished finish products. And yet there aren’t any good examples of homebrew TV series, because it takes more than two guys and a camera to make them. It takes a staff of dozens, if not hundreds, and months and months of work. Even if they start handing out HD cameras for free, it won’t make people any more willing or able to do the sort of coordination that a project on that scale takes. It’s well-nigh impossible for 50 people to get together, all following somebody else’s orders (because 50 people all trying to run a tv show is a recipe for clusterfuck) to work – for free – for nine months to put together a homebrew tv show. And so we’re left with shorts.

    Think about it this way. There’s been extremely low-cost architecture software out for years. And yet it’s been mostly limited to enthusiasts remodeling their homes and a few dedicated, talented and trained individuals building entire houses from scratch. But a bunch of guys from the internet have yet to get together and build themselves a shopping mall or an office building. It’s just too expensive, and the cost of the design software is irrelevant. A full blown tv show takes a similar sort of capital outlay.

    You’re right about instant feedback, though – it’s going to revolutionize the way TV shows are designed. But it will be used by the networks, not by bloggers creating their own content. And I’m not even sure this is a good thing. It’s all well and good to know what people think, but it’s no way to write a script. Otherwise you end up with a show like Entourage. Everybody loved the rich-celebrity-bachelor-porn, and so they kept making it. And it got old, and dull. Because they concentrated on the superficial instead of trying to build an actual plot into it.

    If the creators of Lost had listened to bloggers (who are mostly single, horny men) the series would have been nothing but Evangeline Lilly walking around in a bikini on the island, and nothing of what was great about the show ever would have happened.

    Think about where artists like Picaso or Dali would have ended up if they catered to public feedback instead of their own visions. They would have been churning out fucking velvet Elvises instead of masterpieces.

  13. and all without the influence of alcohol. on my end anyway.

    hey, you think there’s a connection?

    naw, never mind.

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