Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ideas for Hollywood

With the increasing likelihood of a writer's strike, Hollywood is stockpiling scripts this month. While that might be advisable for film companies, I don't think this is the right approach for television. The emergence of reality television several years ago indicated a trend. Unfortunately, most people misinterpreted the trend. The broad assumption was that people were interested in voyeuristically enjoying back-biting conflict among "regular" people thrown into odd situations. Thus, we got a proliferation of such shows, which continue to this day. However, the leveling off of these programs indicates that though there is a sizable cohort of viewers attracted to this concept, the initial burst of interest should have been attributed to something else, something simpler. What intrigued people about early reality TV was simply novelty.

In the first ten to twenty years that television existed, things changed and turned over rapidly. TV in 1951 was nothing like TV in 1971. Also during that era, despite, by today's standards, a dearth of networks, there was a tremendous variety in programming, in both genre and presentation. The word "niche" was absent from the vocabulary of programmers.

And then, ironically, demographic research and niche marketing stagnated the whole medium. In the twenty or so years that I was an active television viewer (a period which I would claim ended about four years ago), very little changed, other than the names of the programs themselves. There has been a bit of a decrease in sitcoms, but the types of sitcoms followed one of two patterns: a nontraditional family struggling to get along, or a group of friends struggling to get a long. The number of dramas remained constant, with the settings (generally police stations, hospitals, law firms, and suburban residential streets) staying the same. The networks all have the same basic newsmagazine, which exists under about eight names. Other than sports broadcasts, this basically encompasses network television programming for an entire generation.

No wonder reality television became the phenomenon that it did. It broke the stagnant mold which had bred familiarity and contempt. Unfortunately, it became such a golden goose that the studios couldn't help but strangle it. Rather than look for even more novel concepts, they beat the novelty out of that one.

But now Hollywood gets a second chance. They are being handed an opportunity on a silver platter. I understand the arguments against innovation. A failed television concept means loss of money and loss of jobs. So what to do? How about a reality show where contestants try to come up with ideas for novel television programming?

If I were a contestant on said show, here would be some of my ideas:
1) A version of "The View" stripped of feminine connotations (not because women viewership should be discouraged, but because niche programming should be discouraged). Millions of people listen to other people having random conversations every morning on FM radio; it's not a stretch to think they would watch it on TV, especially before bed.
2) Riffing on this, shows built around conversations between known individuals. Would you watch a fifteen minute conversation between Bill Clinton and Stevie Wonder? Between Sandra Day O'Connor and Vince McMahon? Who wouldn't?
3) Documentaries that borrow from the History Channel, but incorporate Hollywood sensationalism. You could do hours on Wikipedia's List of Unusual Deaths alone.
4) This is the teacher in me coming out, but in the 19th Century lecturers used to be a source of entertainment. They used to flock in droves to see Emerson speak. If Emerson were alive today, would we put him on TV? What if our Emerson is alive? Shouldn't we put her or him on TV?
5) A continuous scrolling of public domain texts. The Hollywood writers can go on strike, but Shakespeare belongs to the ages.


Blogger nate p said...

I'm not a huge fan of reality TV, although I liked a couple of them, the contender, and last comic standing. I like to watch comedies, so of course I thought Seinfeld was genius, even though sitcoms have been done a million times. Actually I think that because sitcoms have been done so much it was harder for the writers to have the average viewer enjoy another sitcom.
I think the show "thank God you're here", was on something even though it sucked. The show's premise was to have comedians on the show and have them do improv. The show would give them an idea and props and the Canadians would have to make up the rest in front of an audience.
I think they're onto something here because a show is always funnier when you know the comedian is improvising and not following the script. That's why I like Seinfeld so much because there were some parts that you knew they were improvising.

9:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home