The REAL fear factor? Writers aren't all that important.
No. I don’t.
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."