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Old 11-15-2018, 06:09 PM
JB99 JB99 is offline
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Is Television Deliberately Terrible?

Over the last twenty years technology has driven a shift in TV-viewing patterns. We used to watch shows self-contained weekly episodes, but now we tend to binge serialized stories and entire seasons of TV. In the course of watching and re-watching shows, I've noticed that some programs were just never meant to be 'binged.' I'll start with a show I like (eg cop shows or sitcoms) and as I watch them I get progressively more frustrated. I think the flaws and weaknesses in the show get magnified when you watch them back-to-back. When we had to wait a week between episodes, it was easier to overlook how formulaic and repetitive these things are. Then I read an article that mentioned how cop shows are deliberately made formulaic so that busy housewives can follow them even when they are distracted with some other task.

This was kind of an epiphany for me. I had always assumed that the goal of making a TV show was to make the best show possible. In my mind, this means every TV show should aspire to be 'Breaking Bad' or 'Game of Thrones.' If a show was bad, (repetitive, formulaic, etc) it was probably because the production was inept. It never occurred to me that these shows were deliberately aiming low.

So I thought that was interesting until I was in the hospital the other day watching daytime TV. Their was some kind of stupid house-flipper renovating show, and I was thinking 'Who actually watches this?' I mean, it's not like there's some kind of dramatic reveal or cliffhanger ending to compel us to watch. Same things goes for the 'Price is Right.' That show just baffles me.

Then it clicked in my head. Those kinds of shows are deliberately crafted for hospital waiting rooms. They don't play serialized dramas during the day because that's not what the target audience wants. They deliberately make these shows as bland and inoffensive and forgettable as possible, because places like hospitals and dentists and old folks' homes want something mindless to occupy people without requiring conscious thought or emotional investment. It's like the TV equivalent of elevator music.

Has anyone else noticed this? Am I correct in my thinking here?

Last edited by JB99; 11-15-2018 at 06:10 PM.
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Old 11-15-2018, 06:13 PM
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Old 11-15-2018, 06:27 PM
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I heard the same story when they cancelled Leslie Neilson's Police Squad. The show was just so good and so innovative that you really had to concentrate to get it, and people don't want to actually have to watch TV when they watch TV. It's too much work.

I don't think that's altogether true. Once of the best TV series of relatively recent vintage to me was HBO's Rome, and that was cancelled because it was too expensive. They say Game of Thrones was gained from Rome's budgetary mistakes, but I wouldn't know. I don't watch Game of Thrones.

In my opinion, it's the writing that counts, first, last, and always. The technical crap is uninteresting to me. A good story is what matters.
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Old 11-15-2018, 06:28 PM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
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Most waiting room type situations play the news from what I've seen, either CNN or fox news.

Is some TV designed to be inoffensive? I'm sure it is.

But TV itself has gotten a lot better in the last 20 years. Shows that were considered incredible in the 90s are fairly unremarkable in today's marketplace (NBCs lineup for example). There is so much more competition that shows have to be good just to survive.

I'm sure some TV is deliberately bland and inoffensive (one thing I look for is how much military worship they try to throw in. The more military worship, generally the more bland the TV show is) but for the most part TV is much better than in the past.

Music on the other hand. I don't think music got better.
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Old 11-15-2018, 06:48 PM
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I heard the same story when they cancelled Leslie Neilson's Police Squad. The show was just so good and so innovative that you really had to concentrate to get it, and people don't want to actually have to watch TV when they watch TV. It's too much work.
This is something I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older. The other day my wife wanted to watch “American Horror Story,” but I realized I just wanted to listen to mindless bullshit while I do my hobbies. Sometimes I just want to relax without actually needing to think about the show I’m watching.

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I'm sure some TV is deliberately bland and inoffensive (one thing I look for is how much military worship they try to throw in. The more military worship, generally the more bland the TV show is) but for the most part TV is much better than in the past.
Oh, definitely. I’m always torn on that. I certainly appreciate some pro-veteran programming, and its definitely a step up from people throwing dogshit at us. I’m sure they have good intentions. But it’s practically guaranteed to be some mindless schmaltz that’s not relevant to actual veterans.

Last edited by JB99; 11-15-2018 at 06:48 PM.
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Old 11-15-2018, 08:23 PM
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Then it clicked in my head. Those kinds of shows are deliberately crafted for hospital waiting rooms. They don't play serialized dramas during the day because that's not what the target audience wants. They deliberately make these shows as bland and inoffensive and forgettable as possible, because places like hospitals and dentists and old folks' homes want something mindless to occupy people without requiring conscious thought or emotional investment. It's like the TV equivalent of elevator music.

Has anyone else noticed this? Am I correct in my thinking here?
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Old 11-15-2018, 08:50 PM
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I had always assumed that the goal of making a TV show was to make the best show possible.
The goal of a TV producer is to deliver a consistent product on time and on budget that conforms to the guidelines set by the network. Quality is nice to have, but not to the point where you have to sacrifice time or budget.

Certainly some shows are designed to be bland, inoffensive and forgettable because they are simply a delivery system for advertising.

Having said that, as Wesley noted, TV has gotten better in the last 20 years. And it was better then than it was 40 years ago. There's an evolution at work.
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Old 11-15-2018, 08:58 PM
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I heard the same story when they cancelled Leslie Neilson's Police Squad. The show was just so good and so innovative that you really had to concentrate to get it, and people don't want to actually have to watch TV when they watch TV. It's too much work.
Heh. That's exactly what the OP made me think of.
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Old 11-15-2018, 11:43 PM
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Old 11-15-2018, 11:52 PM
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My breast surgeon's office has HGTV on all day, because it's programming that is all-ages friendly and not likely to offend anybody, unlike the news. I recently had my oil changed at a place that had it on that same channel, which was kind of nice. I wouldn't want to have that on all day, but for a few minutes in a waiting room? I'll take that over the news any day of the week.

As for overall programming getting worse or better, I really can't comment because I don't watch much network programming.
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Old 11-16-2018, 09:42 AM
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TV has changed, in part, because technology has improved. Before about 1980, if you wanted to watch a show, you had to be there in front of the set at that time, and if you missed it, too bad. Shows with complex season long storylines weren't made - the fear was that people would miss a few episodes, not be able to catch up, and then stop watching. So shows were self-contained half hour comedies or one hour police shows. Those shows still exist, but with DVR and On-demand, we also have Game of Thrones.
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Old 11-16-2018, 10:35 AM
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The most obvious flaw in the reasoning is that for hospital waiting rooms, prime time is during the day -- not at night.

But TV hasn't been particularly concerned about quality sing the 1950s. Sure, it was great to do a well-written and clever show, but that's irrelevant. What's important is ratings. If people are willing to watch something, you give it to them.

I remember back in the early 90s when a network executive talked about the show Dear John. His comment was basically, "Yes, I know it's pretty bad, but it gets solid ratings, so we're not going to cancel it."

Remember: broadcast networks are not about entertainment. They're about advertising. You have to keep that in mind when discussing their programming decisions.
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Old 11-16-2018, 11:19 AM
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TV has changed, in part, because technology has improved. Before about 1980, if you wanted to watch a show, you had to be there in front of the set at that time, and if you missed it, too bad. Shows with complex season long storylines weren't made - the fear was that people would miss a few episodes, not be able to catch up, and then stop watching. So shows were self-contained half hour comedies or one hour police shows. Those shows still exist, but with DVR and On-demand, we also have Game of Thrones.
Very true. I remember when Babylon 5 was on, it was HARD to keep up on everything, since it was a multi-season story arc show- kind of like GoT, only larger scale, 17 years earlier and shown in syndication on UHF television.

I ended up making a point to try and watch it live, and also videotape it in case I couldn't make it. I STILL missed a few episodes and had to read synopses in order to be caught up for the next week. I imagine less dedicated viewers would have just given up.

Also, with long running shows, it's often not at all about the actual plot; it's about the characters and how they interact. I mean after the first few seasons, nobody watches NCIS for the awesome plots, it's because they like the characters and their interplay, and oddly enough, the cast turnover seems to enhance that- it affords opportunities for new and different interactions relative to the static old ensemble. So they come across as fairly bad, even though in the ways that they're actually good, they're very good indeed. Take NCIS for an example- it's not a particularly great cop show, but it's very good at likeable characters that the audience gets invested in.

There's also a pretty big market for entirely mindless formulaic shows- like the HGTV shows that follow a template, or Hallmark movies, or things like that. Some of the people who watch them are plenty intelligent and insightful, but watch them because they're mindless; they can turn their brain off and watch while eating popcorn.

I also think (pessimistically) that a great number of people out there don't like to really think, or they can't think, and these kinds of shows are about what they can keep up with and understand, and that shows like Game of Thrones would just be really confusing to them with all the people, locations, plots, etc...
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Old 11-16-2018, 11:52 AM
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I had always assumed that the goal of making a TV show was to make the best show possible.
The goal of making a TV show was to sell advertising and thus make money. The goal of the people behind may be to make the best show possible, but I'm sure that's not true for everyone and every show.

Twenty years ago, you couldn't binge TV. And forty years ago (pre-VCR), since it was super hard to watch any show consistently, most shows barely cared about things outside of basic continuity or consistency.

Amusingly (to me anyway) the shows that did have continuing story lines were ones that were shown more frequently - Soap Operas. But even those were produced in such a way that missing an episode or two or three wouldn't make a viewer get lost and stop watching.

bump mentioned it above - Babylon 5 was one of the first prime time series to do a continuous, over-arching storyline that basically required the viewer to see virtually every episode. In a big way, B5 is one of the grandparents of the Battlestar Galactica, GoT, Lost, etc., world we have today where binging is a frequent thing.

Without B5's effort to push for that continuing story, showing it was at least somewhat possible to do, do well, and make money, it's unlikely we'd have the feast we do now.

But when you pull back the curtain, the real reason TV is able to do the rich, involved, lengthy stories we have now is because the DVD made it cheap & easy to purchase entire seasons of shows for a minor outlay of money.

I remember looking for VHS tapes of shows like Star Trek TNG or B5 back in the 90's. They were expensive with generally only 2 episodes per tape. So they were expensive and took up a huge amount of space - a season would be 12 or 13 VHS tapes. You can now get that as a set of 4 to 6 DVDs in a package roughly the size two of those VHS tapes, for easily <10% of the price of the set of tapes.

DVDs are what led to binging, and the combination of the "binge" movement with shows with continuing storylines like B5, the final 1/2 season of Deep Space Nine, parts of The X-Files (and I'm sure others I'm not aware of) led to producers/studios realizing they could create a double whammy and thus let creators/producers create bigger, more epic, season-spanning stories.

One other thing not mentioned that's probably also played into this is the shrinking of the TV season. In the 80's and 90's, a 24- or 26-episode season was the norm. Sustaining a story over that over 7-9 months of the normal TV season was hard. Sustaining it over 8 - 13 episodes (e.g. GoT) is a lot easier, both in terms of creating a story as well as keeping your audience involved and not having them peel away after missing an episode or two and "getting lost".
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Old 11-16-2018, 11:59 AM
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The thing to remember is that the business model determines everything important.

In traditional broadcast television, the companies (networks) deliver a product (the audience) to their customers (the advertisers). Shows are simply tools used for delivery of the product, they aren't the product. We sometimes lose sight of this fact and treat the shows as if they are a product being delivered to the audience as the "customer".

Now, HBO, Netflix, Hulu, etc. have a different business model. In their business model, the product is the shows they deliver to customers (the audience) paying them for that product. The need for quality and responsiveness to the customer creates better television.

Not that there is no quality in broadcast television. Some of the tools used to deliver specific, valuable audiences require higher quality (The Americans, Fargo, The Good Place...). But we need to keep in mind that this is just use of a more specific tool for delivery of the product to the true customers.
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Old 11-16-2018, 12:03 PM
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Then it clicked in my head. Those kinds of shows are deliberately crafted for hospital waiting rooms. They don't play serialized dramas during the day because that's not what the target audience wants.
Except soap operas.
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Old 11-16-2018, 02:06 PM
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Has anyone else noticed this? Am I correct in my thinking here?
No. The fact YOU don't like a given type of programming doesn't mean that it is poorly made. For a simple example, game shows like "The Price Is Right" have been on television for decades without much change in quality. They exist like they are because they are a genre people love to watch at home (believe it or not) during the daytime morning hours. My dad in the 60s came home to watch "Jeopardy!" at 11:30 am every day. I'd assert that there isn't any significant quality deterioration in game shows from the 60s to now (though one can assert that there is a "deterioration" in the sense that game formats that wouldn't have been considered in the past are now found on TV).

I would argue that whatever story you read about "formulaic" cop shows is probably junk. After all, a cop show started its life being watched not by daytime housemoms, but by prime time viewers. So either you mis-read what was being said, or someone was trying to spin something.

The difference between TV back in the day and modern TV has more to do with the quantity of television available. When all we had were three networks, there was heavy competition among show possibilities to get aired. If you didn't do well in the overall ratings for your time slot, you were shoved aside for something that might do better. Think Star Trek, which was a ground-breaking show at the time, yet did poorly in the ratings, and only lasted 3 seasons (two, really, until a whole bunch of letters showed up at CBS headquarters that summer). It did poorly because it wasn't a particularly well-made show a lot of the time. It had a low budget, which hampered it, given its genre, and it tended to rely much too much on the chemistry of the main characters, rather than having excellent plots with creative writing.

With the explosion of channels available, thanks to cable, shows no longer have to compete for such narrow windows of opportunity. Instead, the goal is to show you can pull a specific demographic in regularly. The later iterations of Star Trek showed how this works. The original series, launched twenty years later, would have lasted at least the same seven seasons that ST:TNG did, because science fiction fans would have flocked to the show, since they love to gobble up shows that focus on their mania. This means that modern TV shows across all platforms aren't forced to be "good" to maintain their existence, where "good" means good quality production, writing, and acting, as measured on a general basis. Good shows still exist, but a show doesn't have to be good to survive.

But what was "good" at the time back then was relative to what was being shown. In the 60s and 70s, the standard fare was some sort of locally produced morning news, followed by a morning network show, maybe followed by game shows, followed by soap operas, with a break for lunch news, then more soap operas, then either game shows or afternoon talk shows, then local news, then national news, then game shows, then the evening network shows, then the news, then the late night shows, then the station shut down until early morning (rinse, repeat). Each of those categories had a relative level of "good" that was needed to survive. For example, Dark Shadows lasted only 5 years on ABC in the 4 pm time slot; when its ratings fell in the 70-71 season, it was removed and replaced by re-runs of Love, American Style. Eventually, The Edge of Night filled the time slot. By comparison, General Hospital started in 1963, and still runs to this day; it usually had the time slot around 3 pm. Many consider it one of the best soap operas ever.
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Old 11-16-2018, 04:00 PM
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Without B5's effort to push for that continuing story, showing it was at least somewhat possible to do, do well, and make money, it's unlikely we'd have the feast we do now.

But when you pull back the curtain, the real reason TV is able to do the rich, involved, lengthy stories we have now is because the DVD made it cheap & easy to purchase entire seasons of shows for a minor outlay of money.
Before B5 (and concurrent with it- think ST:TNG) they might do 3-5 episode mini-arcs on your standard 22 episode show, or *maybe* revisit a concept from a previous season or episode later on. But it wasn't anything like B5, where once the show got past most of the 1st season, it was a fairly tightly scripted ride from then until the end of the show 4 seasons later.

I also think cable series like "The Sopranos", "Sex and the City" and "Stargate SG-1" paved the way- while all of them were at least partly episodic, they all had a LOT more call-backs to earlier episodes than your average network show at the time did (late 1990s/early 2000s). And they typically had more grownup subject matter and standards than networks as well in terms of violence, adult themes, nudity and language.

I'd actually be curious what the first 10-episode tightly plotted cable network show was.

I think the DVD had something to do with the rise of the new style of cable TV series, but I think streaming had more to do with it.
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Old 11-16-2018, 05:07 PM
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The effect is less now with multiple channels, streaming and on demand, but when it was only the big three networks, if viewership during a certain timeslot was dominated by a particular show or event, they would often put less successful or new shows they don't think would succeed against the blockbuster competition. No sense airing a heavily male-oriented audience show during the Superbowl, but a show that appeals to females may be aired during that slot.

As for being oriented for waiting room viewing, it's more a matter of choosing programming that will won't offend (never mind appeal) the mass audience. In addition, they don't want something to compelling since the person waiting may be called at any time. You don't want a patient telling the doctor to wait until the next commercial comes on. Channels like HGTV are entertaining and neutral enough to be viewed in snippets without any real interest or attachment in what's going on.

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Old 11-16-2018, 05:20 PM
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I've talked with people about show like Everybody Loves Raymond. Trite, predictable, been done before. I hate those kinds of shows. Give me something original like Community any time.

But these shows have fans. A lot of fans. They like trite, predictable, been done before. They don't want anything new or makes them have to think, etc.
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Old 11-16-2018, 05:32 PM
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So I thought that was interesting until I was in the hospital the other day watching daytime TV. Their was some kind of stupid house-flipper renovating show, and I was thinking 'Who actually watches this?' I mean, it's not like there's some kind of dramatic reveal or cliffhanger ending to compel us to watch. Same things goes for the 'Price is Right.' That show just baffles me.
I don't think people in waiting rooms are a big enough market to craft any show for - with the exception of the version of CNN meant for airports.

My daughters like those flipping shows, and they like the shows where someone is out looking for a house or tiny house. That's probably because they have never bought a house (yet) so there is some fantasy involved.
I don't think you get the niche programming model. With so many specialized shows, someone not in the niche turning them on is going to think they are stupid. But the target audience loves them.
When I was a kid in the early '60s there was no alternate programming so the 7 channels on UHF was all we had. (I lived in New York - lots of people had fewer choices.) The good shows from them were Dick van Dyke, the Defenders, and ... Not thinking of any.
You are right that some shows are not made for bingeing, like any from that time period where no one thought about viewers with pause of DVDs. We watched all of Secret Agent/Danger Man, and while it is interesting to see the precursors to The Prisoner, there was a lot of "we saw that set before."

Plus ratings are not everything anymore. Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, following HBO's lead, want to have shows that will get you to sign up. Once that happens they don't give a crap about ratings.
The number of shows have exploded, the number of good shows have exploded. Sure the number of crap shows have also exploded, but the hours in the day have not, so anyone watching crap has only themselves to blame. We're in a golden age. Even the critics say so.
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Old 11-16-2018, 06:32 PM
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Also, side note, Price is Right is a great game show. Go watch some of the game shows that GSN plays middle of the day, or any of the random game shows that last for a season on primetime network TV. There's a lot of garbage out there.
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Old 11-16-2018, 06:54 PM
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Before B5 (and concurrent with it- think ST:TNG) they might do 3-5 episode mini-arcs on your standard 22 episode show, or *maybe* revisit a concept from a previous season or episode later on. But it wasn't anything like B5, where once the show got past most of the 1st season, it was a fairly tightly scripted ride from then until the end of the show 4 seasons later.
I've heard* this called "Babylon 5 Syndrome". When a show is great, but really requires that you watch the whole thing to understand what is going on. Turning on a season 3 episode of Babylon 5 is almost pointless without having been on board the whole time.

*Ok, so I goolged Bablyon 5 Syndrome and my post from a decade ago is one of the first hits. Maybe I am the only one using it.
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Old 11-16-2018, 07:32 PM
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Many years ago, I temped at a clinic that serviced a low-income clientele, a sizable percentage of whom spoke little or no English (Spanish or Bosnian). Because we had a lot of kids, we had it on a cartoon channel, and since the pharmacy was in a glassed-in area alongside the waiting room, we could watch it too, and laughed along with the patients even though we couldn't hear the TV. We did have a few women who were annoyed that we wouldn't change it to their soap opera, but those were the rules.

We did change the channel once, when we realized that severe weather was headed our way.

I do sometimes wonder, while watching those flipper shows, where they're filmed. $750,000 for THAT, as an example? Come to my city, and you can get a mansion and a few acres for that amount of money, or a decent house for 1/10 of that.

Last edited by nearwildheaven; 11-16-2018 at 07:33 PM.
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Old 11-16-2018, 08:20 PM
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So I thought that was interesting until I was in the hospital the other day watching daytime TV. Their was some kind of stupid house-flipper renovating show, and I was thinking 'Who actually watches this?' I mean, it's not like there's some kind of dramatic reveal or cliffhanger ending to compel us to watch. Same things goes for the 'Price is Right.' That show just baffles me.

...

Has anyone else noticed this? Am I correct in my thinking here?
No, you're not.

We're a bit all over the map here, but let's deal with these things right away.

1. Reality shows are cheap. That's why there's so many of them; you can make money off them. Even if your ad revenue is modest, they are dirt cheap to produce because you aren't paying writers or actors and the cost for set design and costuming is minimal. Game shows are scarcely more expensive; in the world of TV production, the prizes they give away don't cost much if they cost anything at all. Consequently, you don't need a huge number of viewers to turn a profit; the subset of people who like shows about making cupcakes are enough. And if your reality show becomes really popular, well, you win the lottery.

2. Shitty sitcoms like "Big Bang Theory" sell. I know a lot of people don't like them but many do. They are simple and comforting.

I mean, that's about it. A lot of bad TV isn't bad because it wants to be; it's bad because it doesn't have to be any better than it is to make money.

Of course, even within these boundaries, some shows are good enough to stick and some aren't. American Idol was, originally (both in its British incarnation and its first American seasons) an utterly brilliant idea that was well executed, and it made a grillion dollars. The Price is Right is quite a good game show, which is why it's been on since the Civil War.
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Old 11-16-2018, 08:57 PM
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I mean, that's about it. A lot of bad TV isn't bad because it wants to be; it's bad because it doesn't have to be any better than it is to make money.
I think this misses the mark. It's not bad because it doesn't have to be better to get ratings. It's bad because if it were better, it wouldn't get ratings.

Community, 30 Rock, and Arrested Development were all great and had shitty ratings. I don't think you can make a quality sitcom like that and get big ratings.

According to Jim was utter shit but had decent or even good ratings. Most of the top ratings-getters are comfort food. The McDonald's of television. In that sense, I think the OP is absolutely right. TV made to get ratings has a similar relationship to quality that McDonald's does.

Not to say that everything with good ratings is shit. More like, everything intended to get good ratings is deliberately made into comfort food. A prestige loss leader might end up getting good ratings, like Breaking Bad, but shows like that aren't intended to be ratings grabbers. They're more about awards and subscribers.

Last edited by Ellis Dee; 11-16-2018 at 09:02 PM.
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Old 11-19-2018, 10:09 AM
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I've heard* this called "Babylon 5 Syndrome". When a show is great, but really requires that you watch the whole thing to understand what is going on. Turning on a season 3 episode of Babylon 5 is almost pointless without having been on board the whole time.

*Ok, so I goolged Bablyon 5 Syndrome and my post from a decade ago is one of the first hits. Maybe I am the only one using it.
It's pretty common these days, although the ready presence of shows online to catch up with means that it's mostly been mitigated.

In other words, you can't come in halfway to "Breaking Bad" or "Game of Thrones" and have a clue either, but I'm pretty sure that you could catch up with a lot less trouble than you could with B5 in 1996.
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Old 11-19-2018, 02:36 PM
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Yeah, I think the OP is right in some cases. My cite is the new Magnum PI retread. Cop show? Check. Been done before? Check. Military worship? Check. Formulaic and cheesy? As hell!

But, yeah, sometimes I don't want to analyze something for the deeper meaning. If you just want to hang out on the couch for an hour or two with the cat and the gf, it is fun to make fun of all the ridiculous inconsistencies of Magnum PI, laugh at his failed attempts to pick up every woman who crosses his path even though he is wealthy and handsome, and yet he is a genius juuuust often enough to solve the case by the end of the hour. It isn't "good" by normal standards, but it is fun if you are in the right mood.

Also, watch it in On Demand mode an you can't ffwd past the commercials. Mission accomplished.
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Old 11-23-2018, 10:29 AM
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I think this misses the mark. It's not bad because it doesn't have to be better to get ratings. It's bad because if it were better, it wouldn't get ratings.
I honestly think this answer is totally wrong. Of course some critically acclaimed shows will have low ratings. Conversely, many critically acclaimed shows have been huge hits, as you yourself admit.

Pablum like "The Big Bang Theory" isn't made deliberately bad. It would do no worse if it were better, as evidenced by the many, many shows that were better that did fine ratings. It's made the way it is because quality's not always a relevant point. BBT would do great ratings if it was actually funny, but some shows just don't need to be better than they are. You could make a Honda Civic better, but why bother?

Conversely, "30 Rock" wasn't unpopular because it was good. It was unpopular because, in my opinion, it just wasn't relatable. Frankly, TV celebrities making a show about how hard it is to be TV celebrities is likely always going to be a hard sell; it's also generally agreed that the show peaked in the first season or two, and it's hard to grow your viewer base if you shot all your bullets and are presenting worse material once people are actually getting used to the show.

It's hard to say why shows succeed and fail. There's a lot to it, including timing; I don't think Big Bang Theory would have lasted a season if it had debuted in 1991, whereas I suspect Freaks and Geeks would have done way better if it had debuted today.
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Old 11-23-2018, 10:33 AM
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If anything, television is trying to excel, what with standard-bearers like "Check it Out", "A-Team", etc.
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Old 11-23-2018, 03:59 PM
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Old 11-23-2018, 04:11 PM
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Conversely, many critically acclaimed shows have been huge hits, as you yourself admit.
I didn't say "many" prestige shows had good ratings. I merely said it was possible and listed one example. What are these "many" examples you're thinking of? Can you list them for us?

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Pablum like "The Big Bang Theory" isn't made deliberately bad. It would do no worse if it were better, as evidenced by the many, many shows that were better that did fine ratings.
BBT is currently the highest-rated scripted show on television, and has been in the top two (with NCIS) for the better part of a decade. ("Scripted" qualifier to remove NFL football from the list.) In other words, it's one of the most successful shows of all time. The many, many shows that "did fine ratings" aren't really relevant, as they aren't remotely in the conversation in terms of success.

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It's made the way it is because quality's not always a relevant point. BBT would do great ratings if it was actually funny, but some shows just don't need to be better than they are.
BBT gets great ratings because it's a broad comedy, which appeals to a large audience. Broad comedies aren't very high quality by nature, much like McDonald's appeals to a very large audience even though it isn't very high quality. Broad comedies can only get to a certain point of quality before they stop appealing to the masses, much like fast food restaurants.

Taking a different approach, what is your list of the highest quality successful sitcoms? Let's use Top 10 in the ratings as the benchmark for successful.
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Old 11-23-2018, 04:16 PM
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Broad comedies aren't very high quality by nature,
Now, that's a sentiment I strongly disagree with. The notion that mass appeal means something is inherently bad is just ridiculous to me. Targeting and achieving appeal to a broad audience is a form of quality itself. Maybe not the one you want, and certainly not the only form of quality. But it's a type of quality to me

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Old 11-23-2018, 04:26 PM
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Now, that's a sentiment I strongly disagree with. The notion that mass appeal means something is inherently bad is just ridiculous to me. Targeting and achieving appeal to a broad audience is a form of quality itself. Maybe not the one you want, and certainly not the only form of quality. But it's a type of quality to me
To me it means inoffensive and watered down, sort of like how people criticize politicians for being deliberately vague to avoid alienating voters.
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Old 11-23-2018, 05:07 PM
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I've made similar arguments about why music like heavy metal or progressive rock is so much less popular than all-sounds-the-same pop music. It's because metal and prog don't work as "background" music. It's music that's meant to be actively listened to, not be simply "heard". It's much easier for the average person to turn on some "I know what to expect" music to provide background noise while they do something else.
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Old 11-23-2018, 05:12 PM
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Now, that's a sentiment I strongly disagree with. The notion that mass appeal means something is inherently bad is just ridiculous to me. Targeting and achieving appeal to a broad audience is a form of quality itself. Maybe not the one you want, and certainly not the only form of quality. But it's a type of quality to me
I agree -that sentiment always struck me as some combination of elitist and/or young person-trying-to-sound-superior.

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Old 11-23-2018, 05:29 PM
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I don't think we need to resort to They Live-type manipulation on the part of hospitals, dentists and retirement homes to explain bland shows although that may be why those places tune in to those shows. The more likely, though dispiriting, possibility is that there is a significant chunk of the population that wants something bland. Think of the number of people who make the conscious choice among many other options to go to Olive Garden and order spaghetti, eat their steak well-done, put ketchup on their hot-dog or drink Budweiser.

I've noticed that when incurious people reach middle-age, they get quite lumpen and set in their ways, like the light in their mind turns a dim beige.


As for the production side of it: I used to work in a restaurant and one of the best selling items was breadsticks which, while not actually bad, were nothing to call home about either. But customers just kept ordering them so the restaurant kept serving them up. If pigs pay for slop, somebody will get it in their trough.
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Old 11-24-2018, 01:24 PM
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I've made similar arguments about why music like heavy metal or progressive rock is so much less popular than all-sounds-the-same pop music. It's because metal and prog don't work as "background" music. It's music that's meant to be actively listened to, not be simply "heard". It's much easier for the average person to turn on some "I know what to expect" music to provide background noise while they do something else.
I know this is a TV thread, but I've got to say your comment regarding music is the most condensed and yet concise explanation of the dynamic I've heard.
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Old 11-24-2018, 01:42 PM
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Taking a different approach, what is your list of the highest quality successful sitcoms? Let's use Top 10 in the ratings as the benchmark for successful.
Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, All in the Family, The Cosby Show, The Simpsons, Cheers, just off the top of my head. All very highly rated, all very popular.

In 2017-2018 the top shows included shows like This Is Us, Modern Family, Empire, Scandal, The Orville, The Goldbergs, and The Good Doctor, all of which are very good shows. Of course, the traditional ratings system doesn't really fully capture the success of pay-as-you-go shows like Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Westworld, Atlanta, The Handmaid's Tale, etc.

Even the shows in the top fifty we're denigrating like Big Bang Theory - I mean, they're generally not BAD. They are competently made and performed. Bad shows don't last.
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Old 11-24-2018, 02:32 PM
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I disagree about Big Bang Theory. It used to be hilarious, back when it was about loser nerds doing sciencey stuff. You could tell then there really was a studio audience, and they were laughing hard at the comedy.

It started to go downhill about five years ago, when they got into crap like "relationships" and "character development." That's when I stopped watching it regularly. It was also around the time you could tell most of the laughter was canned.

The reason it's so bad now is that they betrayed and abandoned the original concept in favor of something totally unsuited for the characters that had already been established.
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Old 11-24-2018, 03:59 PM
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I disagree about Big Bang Theory. It used to be hilarious, back when it was about loser nerds doing sciencey stuff. You could tell then there really was a studio audience, and they were laughing hard at the comedy.

It started to go downhill about five years ago, when they got into crap like "relationships" and "character development."
TBBT has always been about relationships and character development though? Am I being whooshed here?
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Old 11-24-2018, 04:32 PM
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TBBT has always been about relationships and character development though? Am I being whooshed here?
...and it is still performed in front of a live studio audience.
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Old 11-24-2018, 05:03 PM
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...and it is still performed in front of a live studio audience.
Yep. Some people just go hurrr-durrr "laugh track" without realising that, in a lot of cases, the fixed-set stuff is actually proper theatre.
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Old 11-25-2018, 12:29 AM
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It may still have a studio audience, but they sure don't laugh the way they used to. I know all about "fixed set stuff being proper theatre" (the three-camera sitcom was invented by Desi Arnaz back in the '50s), but I also recognize canned laughter when I hear it.

It used to be about "relationships" in the sense that "I wonder who's going to strike out and/or make a jackass of himself tonight." And "character development" doesn't mean changing a character beyond recognition. Sheldon was funny when he was a clueless, insensitive, uptight, condescending jerk. Now he's just a mellow, pussy-whipped dweeb. Not funny at all, IMHO.
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Old 11-25-2018, 01:18 AM
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There are some shows made for dumb people. Compare Jeopardy and Family Feud. I am sure the demographics of the audience skew very differently. They don't look for the brightest bunch when they pick contestants for the latter. There is a huge difference between the contestants on Master Chef and Hell's Kitchen as well. The contestants on Hell's Kitchen are the type that dropped out of high school after repeating 10th grade for the third time. They look for people who will create drama.

Last edited by Batano; 11-25-2018 at 01:19 AM.
  #46  
Old 11-25-2018, 11:31 AM
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There are some shows made for dumb people. Compare Jeopardy and Family Feud. I am sure the demographics of the audience skew very differently. They don't look for the brightest bunch when they pick contestants for the latter.
I think you somehow just insulted those of us who participate in the Feud threads here on the SDMB.
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Old 11-25-2018, 04:01 PM
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but I also recognize canned laughter when I hear it.
...can you really? Are you sure? What are the specific differences between season 1 laughter and season 12 laughter? They obviously "sweeten" the live audience with additional laughter (and they make no secret of that) : but they've been doing that since the beginning. Nothing has changed.

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Sheldon was funny when he was a clueless, insensitive, uptight, condescending jerk.
I'm pretty sure Sheldon is still a clueless, insensitive, uptight, condescending jerk.

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Now he's just a mellow, pussy-whipped dweeb.
If "pussy-whipped" means "polite and respectful to his wife" then I, for one, am glad that that aspect of Sheldon's character has changed. Nobody wants to see a version of Sheldon that is abusive to his partner.
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Old 11-25-2018, 04:59 PM
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Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, All in the Family, The Cosby Show, The Simpsons, Cheers, just off the top of my head. All very highly rated, all very popular.
I figured your list might be something like that, which is very similar to what my list would be. But it kind reads like a "Get off my lawn!" manifesto when the "good" shows went off the air 20 or 30 years ago and all the current shows are "bad." (Caveat to note you specifically say BBT isn't BAD in that it's competently made, but hopefully my point still comes across.)

Quote:
In 2017-2018 the top shows included shows like This Is Us, Modern Family, Empire, Scandal, The Orville, The Goldbergs, and The Good Doctor, all of which are very good shows. Of course, the traditional ratings system doesn't really fully capture the success of pay-as-you-go shows like Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Westworld, Atlanta, The Handmaid's Tale, etc.
I don't really watch network dramas, so I can't speak to those with any confidence. I watch a metric ton of network sitcoms, though.

Perhaps my point only applies to sitcoms, not dramas, and perhaps only shakily applies to sitcoms at that. Your comment about "competently made" resonates, and undercuts my point.
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Old 11-26-2018, 07:56 AM
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Also, with long running shows, it's often not at all about the actual plot; it's about the characters and how they interact. I mean after the first few seasons, nobody watches NCIS for the awesome plots, it's because they like the characters and their interplay, and oddly enough, the cast turnover seems to enhance that- it affords opportunities for new and different interactions relative to the static old ensemble.
That's how it was with me and The Streets of San Francisco on DVD-- I enjoyed how Karl Malden's Mike Stone character and Michael Douglas' Steve Keller character interacted with each other over the first four seasons' worth of that 1972-77 ABC police/detective series; when Douglas left and Richard Hatch came in for the fifth and final go in 1976-77 (Hatch being Insp. Dan Robbins), the dynamic changed somewhat, but I still thought it quite enjoyable, mainly because Karl Malden was still there as Stone.
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Old 11-26-2018, 11:34 AM
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TBBT has always been about relationships and character development though? Am I being whooshed here?
I think he's getting at the idea that early on, it was about four nerds trying to get laid while doing extremely geeky stuff for fun, and that was funny. They did definitely get the banter and relationships between guys of that ilk down pat, IMO.

At some point, Leonard actually started having dates with real women and extended relationships, Howard substantially lost his creepiness, and Raj started being able to talk to women. Sheldon was the lone holdout- even though he was interacting with Amy, it was all within the context of their odd personalities.

But over the course of the years, three of them have become married, and Raj is the lone weirdo holdout. And the show's less about the four boys interacting, and more about the boys interacting, the girls interacting, and more often than not, some combination of a few boys and girls interacting.

Shows evolve; there are still funny moments in TBBT. They're not the same ones as before, and they're not the same kind of funny as before. But they're still there.
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