The Current State of Television

Anybody who’s interested in the current state of TV, and the programming strategies of the cable and network channels, will find a lot to chew on in this article by Todd VanDerWerff at the Onion AV Club.

This passage in particular got me thinking:

“The networks have tried a variety of series about people trying to do the right thing—FX’s Terriers and Lights Out, AMC’s Rubicon—but outside of HBO’s Game Of Thrones (where the definition of “right” remains nebulous), all have quickly flopped. The cable audience wants light, quirky dramas (like those on USA) or it wants dark, despairing ones driven by antiheroes (like The Sopranos or The Shield), but both types of show have increasingly run out of creative gas.”

Agree or disagree? I’m particularly interested in the point about shows regarding “people trying to do the right thing” — to which you could add the recently axed The Chicago Code. I can’t speak to Lights Out (never saw it), but the others mentioned are similar in that they possess underdog heroes taking on powerful, systemic corruption in our society. Prevailing against such odds is difficult, often requires sacrifice, and doesn’t always come with neat and tidy Hollywood endings. I find that kind of show compelling and sometimes inspiring, but evidently I’m in the minority.

I think maybe this all speaks to our national obsession with winning. In the lighter dramas, it’s all about the heroes solving the crime and maintaining the status quo; in the darker ones, it’s about charismatic antiheroes (for example Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Rescue Me’s Tommy Gavin, Weeds’ Nancy Botwin, to name a handful) getting away with murder in service to their own rapacious self interest. People want to see winners, not justice.

Admittedly, I’m speaking from a position of sour grapes. Maybe I should just shut up and start watching Treme…  🙂

Anyway, interesting article.

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