I am in the mood for random and trivial thinking this Monday; perhaps I am finally succumbing to profound political burnout. While watching t.v. this evening I was subjected to an ad for the “George Lopez Show”. The ad made me wonder if I could remember any late night show that was funny…ever. Failing funny, I wondered if any were even remotely informative. While I would love to turn on the box at 11 p.m. and be distracted by hearty laughter, if the show isn’t funny I would at least like to be informed.
Perhaps I have grown bitter because, admittedly, I did watch the “Arsenio Hall Show” with some regularity when I was younger. I must also disclose that I watched highlight shows of Johnny Carson; Carnac The Great and other characters certainly had some comedic value. Lately my desperate channel flipping has failed to rescue me from “important” programming; indeed the only escapism to be found on the tube these days seems to be “reality t.v.” It is a wonder that our nation is not now entirely populated by depressed individuals.
Television is the least creative of all forms of entertainment, and the craft is not improving with experience. Reality programming and the venerable “late night” format are the two most egregious examples of a creative style that, if adopted by crayola, would lead to a Henry Ford box of crayons; you can have any color you want, as long as it is black. Let’s look at the two forms:
- Reality t.v. has a simple arc; “We can film real people in difficult circumstances.” “We can film real people in difficult circumstances that are more and more exotic.” “We can film real people in unreal circumstances.” “We can film real people, carefully selected from a pool of the most rapacious, egotistical, under-educated, and socially backward folks around; the filming done in circumstances as unreal as possible.”
- The nighttime talk show has followed the exact format for 50 years now; monologue, in-house band (with charismatic if slightly eccentric front man), slightly incoherent side kick (sometimes the same as the house band guy), 2-3 guests (available because they are selling something), and the occasional musical guest (also trying to sell something). The subtraction of Ed McMahon and addition of “Stupid Pet Tricks” is emphatically not originality.
In fact, in writing this piece I have discovered a strange convergence on the real pioneer of television; Jerry Springer. In practice, both reality shows and t.v. talkers are evolving towards each other, culminating in the Jerry Springer Show. The late night format, populated by real people carefully selected from an unreal pool and placed in highly unusual (and scripted) confrontations. All credit to Mr. Springer for cutting 20 years of t.v. evolution out of the process and moving directly to 21st Century programming.
Of course it gets better than Springer; 20 years ago, tabloid rags were something that ladies picked up in the line at the grocery store (while guys read as much as possible while trying to look disinterested). Now, the idea of following “celebrities” around and knowing the happenings in their lives is so potent that the gossip purveyors have actually built a show around the editing of one of the rags; TMZ. I have a strange mix of laughter, nausea, and anger when I hear tabloid journalists or sports writers talk about “freedom of the press”. Oh well, it is what it is…and what it is devolves to money and the making of more.
Of course the reason that these shows make so much money is that we are becoming ever more lazy in our choices after work; we don’t want to think about tough issues when we could be watching the flame outs of rich and beautiful people. Come to think of it, I wonder what Sandra Bullock is doing now that she is imminently single (according to TMZ)?
The Rational Middle is probably watching something on P.B.S. now……