Why Am I Writing About Television? I Get To The Point Eventually. I Think.

Andy Greenwald is one of my favorite writers on the Grantland website.  He is also one of my favorite television critics.  If you have read a lot of his work or listened to his podcasts, you know he has written and talked about how tired he is of two things in television:  the male anti-hero and an over-reliance of darkness and violence.

I have come to agree with him that television has an anti-hero and darkness/violence problem.  Too many shows rely on these things as signifiers of seriousness and quality.  The nadir of these ideas was the short-lived and much maligned Low Winter Sun.  This show seemed to spring from the mind of a network executive (it was in fact a remake of a much better British show with many of the same actors) after some type of fever dream.  It was a cynical attempt to just throw as many tropes of the great shows with male anti-heroes in a blender and come out with a quality hit.  It was dark and unrelenting in its darkness from its color pallet to its main protagonists.  Luckily, no one watched.

I think all viewers of quality television are a little tired of the unrelenting heaviness of many shows.  I think that is rooted more in an exhaustion of the same character types being foisted upon us in each new show.  We have at least to a small part been able to add female anti-heroes to the roster of television characters, and while that is an interesting and welcome change it too will grow tiresome soon.  There are only so many stories to tell about the same character types be they men or women, and if you’ve already told all of them using men telling them using women will grow less and less interesting very quickly.

I think the problem is not with the darkness or violence or the use of the anti-hero.  I think it is the over-reliance of those subjects as a group by television.  Whose fault is it if all the shows on television, particularly network television, seem to be the same shows?  Is it the creators who keep recycling the same ideas, characters, and actors or is it the executives at networks too paralyzed by the fear of failure to greenlight shows that are different.

It is somewhat obvious that there are many interesting ideas for shows out there and many creative people thinking outside the television box.  So, I do not think there is a dearth of quality ideas.  I just don’t think those ideas are getting to the shot callers and if they are they are not getting approved because of fear.

I think the entertainment business is by and large a conservative business. By that, I mean there is so much money invested with such little guarantee of return that movies, television, and book executives only bankroll things that are almost assured of making some money.  The only way to insure something will make something back is if it is like the last thing that was really successful.  So, you get lots of shows based on the same traits of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.  The problem is, the more shows you create based on the same DNA, the more degraded that DNA becomes until you have a pastiche of traits with no discernable entertainment value like Low Winter Sun.

The problem with trying not to be the executive who greenlit Cop Rock is you just keep pushing the same stuff out there season after season.  The problem with that is if you have crappy ratings that don’t improve and they won’t because you keep pushing the same kind of shows that got you the crappy ratings in the first place you’re going to get fired anyway.

I guess what I’m saying is, television executives just need to say, “Fuck it.  We’ll try this.  What have we got to lose?”  There is no future, there is only the present.  You should do your best and make the most of that.  We as television viewers would be so much better if we did.

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