Saturday, December 13, 2008

NBC Sick

Ah, weekends in December! Beneath a cloudless sky the waves are gently lapping against a swathe of golden sand... Wait a minute, that’s the front of a postcard on my bookshelf that I’m looking at. If I look out of the window it’s grim and grey with rain pouring down and a blustery wind that bites right to the marrow, making everyone look even more miserable than usual. God, I miss spending December in Burbank, even when it means getting absolutely soaked through on Splash Mountain.

I may not “believe in America” as much as that cowering mortician at the beginning of The Godfather, but it’s always been a pretty good place to visit. They speak a reasonably good approximation of the mother tongue, which is always a benefit. Although there are more exotic locales around the world, in the United States you’re less likely to find yourself tucking into a family pet for dinner and the woman you pick up in a bar probably won’t reveal a cock between her legs when the panties come down.

Of course there are the occasional downsides. If you eat a Denny’s breakfast your first day there, half of it will be clogging your arteries by lunchtime while the rest will be wedged in your colon for the remainder of the trip; and the further west you go the more idiotic the pizza toppings become; and while big city bars have found a way to be more sociable that British pubs, the domestic beer is usually weak at piss. Still, there are always Buffalo wings to compensate along with an array of particularly lethal cocktails to bitch slap your brain toward ruin.

As long as you stay away from selected areas where the populace are deeply racist, appallingly homophobic, hopelessly inbred or just plain dumb as a bag of spanners – in much the same way that visitors to this country should keenly avoid East London, Essex, most of the Black Country and Newcastle – things should work out reasonably well. In fact, as I found out, if you avoid calling New Jersey “The Toilet State”, don’t get stuck behind a bunch of lardy-assed out-of-towners on the final ascent inside the State of Liberty, and stay the hell away from Texas, things should work out just fine.

While there were so many things about the country that I could embrace, like Philly cheesesteaks and watching the sunset from the Mallory Square Dock and the BART, the one thing I simply couldn’t take to my heart whenever I was over there was The Tonight Show. I simply didn’t get its appeal. Johnny Carson may have been a national institution but he always left me unimpressed, whether it was the opening monologue or the tame interviews that followed. Once Jay Leno took over behind the desk, after enduring a couple minutes of his shtick, I always had the urge to run out and fuck a woman who had coated the inside of her vagina with stinging nettles.

So when I read Bill Carter’s article on The New York Times’ website that once Leno steps down when his contract expires, rather than have him jump ship to another network, NBC was offering him five nights a week in prime time come Fall 2009, I felt like I had been dealt a massive cock punch from which I’m only just recovering. Obviously since I’m not decamped over there, why should I really care. Actually, in one respect I don’t. The problem is that with Leno moving to the ten o’clock slot is that five hours of drama will be tossed from the schedule.

In the past I’ve had some Patriot Weasels have a pop at me for not supporting British drama. Yes, the broadcasters come up with a few cracking ones a year, whether it’s a one-off from Stephen Poliakoff or a serial like the utterly stupendous Little Dorrit, but there’s always a nagging lack of inconsistency across the months. With more money and more of, well, everything to throw at the productions, American drama has come on in leaps and bounds for the last three decades, making it almost unrecognizable from the formulaic, hermetically-sealed stories of the 1970s and early 80s.

Over the past few weeks I’ve wondered whether the party isn’t over. With The Sopranos long gone and The Wire finishing this year, the HBO cupboard is bare. The Shield reached one of the most devastatingly delicious climaxes in television history last month. When The SciFi Channel decided to break the final season of Battlestar Galactica in two it unleashed a wave of outrage, but now it looks like a blessing in disguise. Without those upcoming episodes there would be little to look forward to next year, especially with the future of Matthew Weiner’s involvement in Mad Men hanging in the balance.

You’ll notice those were the US cable channels mentioned because the networks have either lost it or are playing safe with well made, but still somewhat formulaic CSI-style dramas. Lost may be picking up now that an end date has been finalised, but everything else either appears tired and flaccid or has gone off the rails. Compare the current slate of shows to those scheduled five or ten years ago and there’s definitely a marked drop in quality and inventiveness, especially since so many shows current shows are losing their way so quickly.

Maybe resting prime time drama for a while is the way to go, especially in NBC’s case. Once ER comes to an end after fifteen seasons, the remaining long-running shows are part of Dick Wolf’s Law & Order franchise. Nothing else seems to be built to last. After a pretty disastrous new season, almost all the high-level network programmers at NBC Universal have been given the boot. Strangely enough Ben Silverman, a former agent who was made co-chairman of NBC Entertainment even though he had no experience of programming a network, still remains at his desk.

Worse, Silverman is expected to have his contract renewed, showing that nothing today succeeds better than failure. Together with Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal’s chief executive, still has some way to dismantling all the good work Grant Tinker did almost thirty years ago.


At 11:48 am, Blogger potdoll said...

there's nowt wrong with east london the black country or newcastle you snobby doggy. no choccy drops for you today!

At 8:12 pm, Blogger Spec Odyssey said...

I feel your pain Mr. Wad. Although, while the end of The Sopranos and The Wire have caused somewhat of a black hole in the primetime listings, there are still plenty of good shows to watch. Entourage, whilst it's just finished it's fifth season, is constantly entertaining, Californication is a similar concept over at Showtime, worth a look. True Blood might just be good enough to keep watching (maybe) 30 Rock is the best comedy going at the moment, and if you have David Simon withdrawals, Generation Kill was pretty good too.

And even though the procedurals they keep cranking out are breaking no new ground, they are still better than most of the stuff we have going on over here at the moment (House MD!)

At 12:55 am, Blogger Good Dog said...


*whimper* No choccy drops today?! I have been offered a choccy drop for ages.


I’ve dipped in and out of Entourage, but there’s only one character I’m interested in and that’s Ari. When it’s just the guys being doofus douche bags I can’t be bothered with it. Californication I do like. Same with 30 Rock, although typically of network comedies it can be hit and miss through no fault of its own.

Not a great fan of Alan Ball, so I couldn’t give two hoots about True Blood. I did like Generation Kill. HBO do make fantastic miniseries, from From the Earth to the Moon to Band of Brothers to John Adams, but they don’t last. Gee, go figure. I just hope the new David Milch cop drama gets picked up.

I guess I’m just a fussy bastard. I like ongoing complex stories that keep me on my toes, and there’s very little out there had really satisfies me. When it comes to shows that you can miss episodes here and there and you’re not missing anything, then what’s the point. That said, I do like Life.

Have you ever seen It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World? The booty they’re all after is “under a big W”. That’s what I always go back to when there’s nothing of substance: The Wire and The West Wing.

At 7:05 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

Part of the problem, both sides of the Atlantic, is the whole reality TV phenomenon.

Broadcasters know that if they round up a few eager teenagers, have them limp through some tuneless karaoke, and support the resulting bullshit with enough blather and PR, then half the country will tune in. Even better, the proles will actually pay to vote, so the whole thing turns a profit.

Is it any great surprise that risky and expensive drama is being crowded out of the schedules?

As you suggest, GD, so far as the big networks are concerned, maybe the party really is over.

At 4:25 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

The major flaw with reality shows is that while they can keep coming back year after year, and whichever company came up with the idea can make a bundle selling the format to other countries around the world, there’s very little ancillary money to be had. A comedy series or drama can eventually earn a reasonable wad from syndication, foreign sales and future DVD sales. Would anyone want to buy a DVD of Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity...? But then the comedies and dramas cost more so it depends on how long anyone wants to wait around and see a return on their stake.

Still, while people are still watching them and they’re relatively cheaper to make, what the hell?! The bubble will inevitably burst when people tire of so many variations on the same themes but it hasn’t yet, especially when there are so many clowns willing to debase themselves to get on TV and enough celebrities angling for an opportunity to get back in the public eye if they need to revitalise their careers.

Since they’re in the business to make money, why shouldn’t these companies milk them for all they’re worth. Personally, I’m not a fan but if they’re cheaper to make and get a decent audience, broadcasters would be foolish not to snap them up even if they don’t have as much inherent long term value. As Carter says in the NYT article:

There have been no new hits at 10 p.m. on any network in almost four years; ratings for shows in that time slot continue to fall.


Though Mr. Leno will command an enormous salary, probably more than $30 million a year, the cost of his show will be a fraction of what a network pays for dramas at 10 p.m. Those average about $3 million an episode. That adds up to $15 million a week to fill the 10 p.m. hour. Mr. Leno’s show is expected to cost less than $2 million a week.

Back in the 1980s, what were later termed the “quality” shows, like thirtysomething, Moonlighting, China Beach and Northern Exposure, came about because they were taken on by networks languishing in last place who figured they had nothing to lose and might as well take a gamble on something different to the more conventional shows of the era.

I’m not sure how long NBC have been in the doldrums, but has been some time since they ruled Thursday nights with Seinfeld and ER. They have one or two good shows like Life and Chuck, both of which are in their second years, but Heroes has turned to dogshit and everything else has Law & Order somewhere in the title, which is the equivalent of leaving the pilot light on.

What did NBC come up with this year? Knight Rider. Amazingly it has lasted longer than last year’s Bionic Woman misfire. That raises the question, who cares least, the network or the audience?

At 5:51 pm, Blogger qrter said...

From what I've read reality TV isn't actually all that cheap to produce and, as Mr. Wad (we should keep that one going) says, no ancillary money to be made. And apparently the audience figures are dropping too.

I just read about Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg working on another 10-part WWII series extravaganza called The Pacific, which is a kind of follow-up to that other 10-part WWII belter Band of Brothers (also HBO, interestingly) and supposedly is budgeted at about $250.000.000 total which, again supposedly, has been paid for completely out of DVD sales from Band of Brothers.

Personally I can't really stand Entourage, the vapidness quicklty becomes stifling. I did enjoy watching the second series of Californication, it seemed a bit less sleazy than the first series (eventhough the porn-related stuff seemed both unrealistic and very silly).

30 Rock seems very much overrated to me - it's almost as if the US has an inferiority complex regarding sitcoms (eventhough producing a lot of great series) and in the wake of another Cheers, Frasier or Seinfeld coming along, they desperately grope at the first thing that seems to get close. Don't get me wrong, some episodes are incredibly funny, but halfway the second series they went off into fantasyland, the plots getting sillier every week. I really miss the episodes about the actual tv show they're trying to produce, about the writers room, all that stuff. Now it's just Who's-Our-Celebrity-Cameo-This-Week. Still, Alec Baldwin is fantastic.

One US sitcom I keep enjoying very much is The Office.

At 8:31 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

The ratings are always so bloody complicated because of the age groups and the whole ABCs thing. I don’t really want to go back to the books and check the correct figures, but Hill Street Blues got by on a small audience it was the right high income age group so they could sell advertising space to more upmarket products like Mercedes rather than something like Taco Bell. That may be a huge generalisation, but it was in that ball park.

Maybe they should overdose viewers with reality crap so that they become sick of it the numbers bottom out and then we can go back to proper programmes on the box.

I remember them talking about a follow-up to Band of Brothers ages back. I’m glad they’ve taken their time rather than simply rush another show out. That was a great mini-series – a real “belter” is the best description of it –that exemplifies the very best event TV. It wouldn’t surprise me at all that the DVD set made that kind of money.

I really loved the “Sein-Vision” episode of 30 Rock because it was just so brilliantly stupid that I wouldn’t be surprised if that idea had been floated for real. You never know with desk clowns. But over all... Okay, this may be a really dumb thing to say but you have to be in the mood for comedy. It’s all about making the audience laugh and if you don’t find the jokes funny, that’s obviously a disadvantage because there’s very little else. Does that sound stupid?

I like the funny just as much as everyone but... Maybe I’m just fickle. Maybe I prefer a good story and therefore am inclined to watching drama. I love Seinfeld but there are the occasional episodes from the run that don’t impress me that much. With a lot of the current sitcoms, if you can take them or leave them, then you can miss episodes and it doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t matter if you miss episodes, you don’t get tied to the shows.

Alec Baldwin is just terrific on 30 Rock, and I heard that the show was veering away from the nuts and bolts aspect. I have to say I haven’t watched it for ages now. When I have watched the odd episode it me wish that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was still on.

If we keep going with “Mr Wad”... That may not be a great idea. Wouldn’t I get a whole lot of disappointed readers coming along?

At 9:07 pm, Blogger Spec Odyssey said...

The West Wing was so good, I doubt another show will come along with that level of genius mixed with such brilliant dialogue. Aaron Sorkin had better get back into television and do better than Studio 60, which I thought only got good in the last four episodes. How he single-handedly wrote the first four seasons of WW I'll never know...

Entourage has Jonny Drama who is just as watchable as Ari in my opinion, and Larry Charles writes many of the first and second season episodes, he is such a good comedy writer.

I heard that David Simon is working on a new series about New Orleans, don't know what angle he's going for though, but I'll definately be glued to the screen when it finally airs.

I have a theory that most of the people who like these kinds of serial dramas just don't watch scheduled television anymore. I know I don't. Why bother when you can buy whole seasons of great TV on DVD or watch them whenever you want on Virgin VOD? Not to mention Bittorrent.

As for Band of Brothers, I can't wait till the next project is out, BoB made me pee my pants, in a good way. Like if it were to stay warm.

Will watch mad mad mad mad world.

At 9:58 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Actually, I’m back watching The West Wing right now. When there’s not much on that tickles my fancy, I figure I’ll watch an odd episode, maybe the one that introduces Joey Lucas or John Marbury. The next thing I know I’m watching the rest of the season.

I love it because it mixes drama with funny. There are episodes where you doubt even Walter Burns or Hildy Johnson would manage to get a word in.

I love The West Wing because the characters are smart. The reason I went off Entourage was because most of the characters were dumb. That’s just the way it goes in my head.

I haven’t heard much more about the new David Simon drama, apart from the fact that The Bunk is going to be amongst the cast. In which case I’m double there!

I wouldn’t watch It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World unless you really have to. It’s one of those bloated, frenetic comedies filled with cameos rather than decent jokes. I mentioned it only because of the “Big W” reference.

At 3:28 pm, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

I think Ben Silverman might have been promoted bizarrely and it's Katherine Pope (who was promoted for producing Heroes)who gets sacked for the poor performance of her new season shows like Knight Rider, My Own Worst Enemy, Crusoe and Kath & Kim.

At 5:28 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Well, it's all about failing upwards nowadays...


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