For the most past few years, I’ve pretty much entirely been watching “TV” on the internet by streaming from places like Hulu or Netflix. Starting a month or so ago, I began watching actual TV again and found that some things had changed – but not necessarily for the better.
Less TV, More Ads
It seems to me that there used to be only a few (3-5) minutes of ads during a half-hour show. You got 25-27 minutes of show, three or so commercial breaks, and that was about it. Hour long shows were about 48-53 minutes of show. Not anymore! Now, you get 18-20 minutes of show in a half-hour program and 41-45 minutes in an hour. It seems that the idea of content (shows and movies) as an incentive to watch advertisements has eaten away significantly more of the stuff that makes TV worth watching in the first place. In a few cases (as mentioned on several late-night comedy shows, TV shows have reverted to the ancient 1940s-50s method of including ads in the shows themselves by having the characters talk about products in an overly effusive way. But, and this is the important distinction, this habit is much worse now because these ads are done in addition to regular commercial breaks and not in their stead.
Why is Talk Radio on TV, and Where’s the News!?!
It wasn’t really so long ago that CNN was a 24-hour news channel. The only thing it showed was news stories, all the time. Then, they started cutting it up into an 8-hour news cycle that repeated over and over throughout the day. Then, from what it looks like now, some of the cycles must have been replaced with discussion shows, pundit shows, and other such obnoxious drivel. Now, there doesn’t really seem to be any news left. There are people acting like news anchors, sitting at a desk and talking beside images. But the topics they’re covering are generally things that should only be on Access Hollywood or Animal Planet. They also seem preoccupied with reading amateurish blogs and “tweets.” It isn’t just CNN either. Some local news programs (and, of course, farcical ‘news’ channels like Fox News and MSNBC) are often just as bad, if not worse. Essentially, talk radio has invaded, and continues to occupy, television news.
Turning the Airwaves Blue
One rather striking, but not surprising, addition to TV in the last few years is a longer list of uncensored swear words. I say it’s not surprising because this has been a trend throughout history. Consider that even the word “golly” was once considered shocking. This, along with instances of gratuitous shots of nude actors (presumably) dry-humping each other, have gradually increased over the years to the point where basic cable and TV one catches on the rabbit-ears are almost on par with some of the older programs on Showtime. This actually is surprising to me. Somehow, the knowledge that the actors “buffer” certain physical contact with each other during sex scenes with pillows doesn’t make it seem any less pornographic to me as a viewer. Considering that everything else is visible (and that what must be extremely tiny pillows are not), would we really notice if the pillows weren’t there? I doubt it.
Not Every Change is Bad
Okay, so by now you’re probably thinking that I completely despise everything about what I see on TV. Actually, there have been some interesting themed shows popping up in the last few years. Despite the excessive heaps of crime/cop shows (and ‘reality’ shows) populating primetime television, several programs with relatively innovative premises – and even good writing, on occasion, have also come into being (if only for a season or two before running out of ideas).
Writers Don’t Change, FCC Rules and Ownership of Media Companies/TV Networks Do
There are still good writers, real reporters, etc. in the world. They haven’t become extinct. What there’s less of is independent/community TV stations and media companies. It wouldn’t be so galling to see tripe on TV if it was the product of innumerable different minds all magically producing cookie-cutter media, but that’s not actually possible – historically speaking. With media corporations trying to repeat their “success” in using the recycling of top-ten lists for radio in the television industry, there’s very little room for variety or creativity anymore. That’s also why I can watch five different shows and see the same story in each one.
Even stranger, the oddity of seeing four rows of each of the best-selling breakfast cereals in supermarkets is mirrored in TV by four-hour marathons of “hit” TV shows, every single day. Honestly, MASH is one of my favorite shows, but back-to-back episodes on three different channels at the same time every single day is kind of mind-numbing. Just think how many new shows (or even TV movies) could be aired every day if the networks took a less WalMart-like approach to programming schedules.