Please. No more.
I can’t abide any more complaints about there being too much good television to watch these days. When I first started writing fill-in columns about television in 1969, Channel 29 hadn’t gone on the air yet. So there was a grand total of four broadcast channels in Buffalo and all but one carried stuff that prided itself on being generic “television” because that’s what people watched, not individual programs. So it didn’t really matter all that much what bilge you put in front of them.
The other channel – for public broadcasting – bored the living stuffing out of me 90 percent of the time.
The big change in intellectual climate came in 1980, when Grant Tinker took over NBC and gave actual quality programming a major network try on the theory that a smaller, possibly wealthier and more influential audience might be more attractive to some advertisers than a big audience that didn’t buy much that people would pay a lot to advertise.
Too much good TV you say? Please. Don’t tell that to someone who crawled through the “vast wasteland” of TV in the age of “Laverne and Shirley” and “Dean Martin’s Christmas in Sea World.”
Besides, as forward thinking media exploitationist Barry Diller told CNN’s Brian Stelter last weekend, we probably ought to retire the word “television” anyway. It doesn’t exist anymore to mogul Diller – not as we used to think of it. We should call the new media omniverse “video,” he said.
I couldn’t care less if John Landgraf, the honcho in charge of the always-interesting FX network publicly complains about too much competition for his (generally) good stuff. That’s a supplier’s problem. Ours as consumers is different. Complaining is like complaining about too much clean air.
If you can’t watch it all, that’s your problem. That’s what DVRs are for. If it’s important enough to you, you’ll rethink your life a little. It’s a glorious problem to have. You only think it’s a problem at all because people spent decades convinced by an economy of scarcity that a quality-starvation diet was the norm. It never should have been.
A better paradigm should be the publishing industry. Or the record industry. No one can keep up with all the good books published in America yearly; or all the good records.
It isn’t the absence of good new pop music recordings that’s the problem, it’s the hopelessly broken mechanism for bringing good music to people’s attention.
Which is where we come in here. What’s been happening in America is that the apparatus for helping people discriminate spit from Shinola on television is being dynamited by the very digital world that is rendering the word “television” obsolete. We live in a world of video where terrific narrative “content” is being supplied by traditional “broadcast” networks, cable TV and now Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and, for all I know, the latest miscellaneous Silicon Valley billionaire to invent a Smart Shoe or a new social medium for orangutan owners.
We’re doing it wrong. We ought to be an army making such public discriminations in programming quality, with a parade ground the size of Bolivia to march around in. Instead, the digital apocalypse has scared everyone to death of commentary and criticism where the clicks aren’t going off as noisily as Fourth of July fireworks.
So let’s talk “video”:
John Ridley’s “American Crime” was, to me, by far the best new American network show of the year. It just came roaring back last week with a radically new idea – the same actors as last year in a new season where they’re all playing new and radically different roles.
This time Timothy Hutton is a basketball coach in an exclusive prep school, Felicity Huffman is the headmistress and the great Lili Taylor is the mother of a raped male student. If this is the first time you’re hearing about this radical departure in series ideas – same cast, different roles – don’t blame yourself. It’s almost seemed hidden. It’s like an old anthology series but now with whole seasons giving you a different story with the same actors. Wow.
“True Detective” – the great HBO show that is giving us new casts around new stories every season – was lousy in 2015 but so what? It will have a whole new chance to get good again next season. I’m betting it will.