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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The REAL fear factor? Writers aren't all that important.

Based on a previous post, an e-mailer wrote me a few weeks ago to ask if I actually thought people would rent or purchase shows like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or "The Wire" on DVD if the writers' strike blacks out familiar favorites well into next year.

No. I don’t.

That post was rhetorical, and admittedly, a really cheap way for me to plug my new favorite show, "The Wire." (Just as evoking "Fear Factor" in this post is a cheap way for me to publish a picture of a guy sticking his face in a pile of rats.) Like I told my brother-in-law during a Thanksgiving Day conversation, for the writers to strike meant they had to completely overvalue their work while subsequently underestimating the public's ability to consume mass quantities of unscripted rubbish. That, and perhaps fail to realize that everyday folks have more to worry about than new episodes of TV shows. Yes, "Lost" is something to look forward to. But it isn't vital in the long haul - at least not in terms of rallying for the cause, rallying for art.

Don't take this the wrong way. The writers are justified to seek Internet and DVD residuals, and no one appreciates well-crafted shows like "30 Rock" and "Pushing Daisies" more than me. I hope they get everything they want. But most creative types fall into this trap. They figure, "Man, what we're doing is SO funny, SO original, SO creative! This is why we suffer for art! People can't possible live without this, right?" (I say this about our little TV blog about 50 times a day ...)

Um ... if NBC could make money airing nothing but "Deal or No Deal," "Deal or No Deal: Fear Factor Edition," "Fear Factor: Celebrity Edition with Howie Mandel and the cast of 'Biggest Loser'" and "Fear Factor's Biggest Losers eating pieces of Howie Mandel dunked in pig's blood and cow urine," trust me, they would. And they probably will based on reports of network plans as the strike lingers.

The ratings juggernaut "American Idol" proves as much. Whereas most discerning TV viewers turned that show off the minute Kelly Clarkson was crowned karaoke champion in Season One, the show has become THE pop culture phenomenon of the past 10 years. That isn't an elitist jab at the American populace (ahem, see my "I Love New York" post). Just because I loathe Ryan Seacrest's cheeseball grin doesn't mean you have to.

But a quote from Martin Short really stuck with me after I interviewed him for the Press-Gazette prior to a show he did at the Weidner Center a few months ago. Short made a guest appearance as Uncle Jack on "Arrested Development," and since it's one of my favorite shows, I asked about his involvement.

When I inquired about "AD's" fatal flaw - or the show's refusal to dumb down its comedy to get more viewers - he said, "The reality is, TV as an art form, commercial TV continues to play down and down and down and down. There's not so much pride in what's being created as there is in the overnights. Top shows are reality shows and game shows. It's much harder to accomplish a show. It's like that Stephen Sondheim line, 'All they ever like is repetition. All they ever want is what they know.'"

Not so coincidentally, the e-mailer who inspired this post eloquently ended his diatribe by writing, "Most people don't understand that it takes a great writer to make a good show like the 'Office' or 'House.' People like what they can relate to. Life is hard with all the things that make people all-'American.' They ... want what is easy. Life is too short to think about things that make your brain work."

So no, people aren't going to dig into previously neglected shows to make up for their favorites being off the air. If they're compelled to watch TV, they'll take the easy route and stick with what they're spoonfed by the greedy, "same ol', same ol'" networks. I mean, c'mon, "American Gladiators" (with Hulk Hogan as host) is returning to the airwaves! Who isn't down with that, brother?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com

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2 Comments:

I bet Linda Hogan isn't down for that!

Great job on this entry. I agree with everything you said.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At December 4, 2007 at 10:02 PM  

nothing is more all american than american gladiators!

By Anonymous johnny nitro, At December 5, 2007 at 10:58 PM  

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