Reality shows are ruling the universe. That's all the American public wants. Dramas are out. Sitcoms are passť. Who needs a script when you can watch ten crazy women trying to bag a husband? Well, gee kids, everybody does.
I know the reality thing is a monster. As a writer of one of those antiquated scripted shows, "Gilmore Girls," I (Amy Sherman-Palladino) have been watching the networks doing their little happy dance about the reality boon for a while. "Ha ha! Look at all the people watching us now! All those fancy sets you crazy writers want us to pay for, I'm sorry. We aren't gonna. We have six people who are actually going to live with the dolphins and they supply their own fins!"
Hey, I get it. These shows are shocking. They're mean, they're humiliating, they're like watching a train wreck and that can be funny. But does that really mean people would rather watch them than scripted programs? Does that really mean a drama or a sitcom isn't as engaging? It doesn't hook you in the way "American Idol" can? Really? So the "Twin Peaks" craze was ... what? A fluke? And the "Seinfeld" obsession? How about "The Sopranos" taking over the world? You really mean to tell me that people weren't just as interested in watching Ross and Rachel hook up as they are to see who the bachelorette picks?
Scripted television, when done right, is like nothing else. It's intimate. It's personal. It's stories about characters that people grow to know and count on and talk about. Chuckles the Clown is part of American culture now and forever. "All in the Family" made people laugh for years. Scripted television isn't water-cooler material anymore? Does anyone else remember when "NYPD Blue" came on the air? David Caruso's ass was definitely the topic of conversation in my neck of the woods. The problem isn't scripted television, it's crappy scripted television. If, in the past few years, someone had come up with the next "Seinfeld" or "ER" or "Friends," I don't think there would be quite as much hunger for reality shows.
Don't get me wrong, I think there should be reality television. Entertainment means choices. But I also think the networks should stop hiding behind it and face the "reality" that they need to figure out how to put a good scripted show on. The ideas are out there. The writers to execute those ideas are out there. But someone needs to buy those ideas and hire those writers and support those shows as they find themselves. Remember that "Cheers" was a bomb in its first year, but the network stuck with it and we all know how that turned out.
Reality is a band-aid. It will thrill and then burn itself out and it's easy to come up with the next insane contest. It's not easy to come up with the next "Sopranos". But it's the "Sopranos" that will last for generations. It's the "Sopranos" that people are buying on DVD. Substance will last. In television, in music, in all art forms. I'm not thinking I'm going to be seeing a Britney Spears box set any time soon, but a lost tape of the Beatles making toast is going straight to the top of the charts no matter when it's released.
Rather than focusing on getting the Olsen Twins to allow themselves to be eaten by bears in prime time, I wish the networks would focus, just a little, on coming up with something that would really last and in the end pay off much bigger than "Survivor". If you got out your calculator and added up what Fox is going to make off of "Joe Millionaire" vs. what they're going to make off of "The Simpsons" I'm guessing the big dope on the horse is going to lose to the little freaks with a script.
Credit: Time Online Edition
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