Saturday, August 18, 2007

Summer Hiatus

Like many New Englanders, I seem to have taken a bit of a summer hiatus and neglected this blog. Unlike last summer, when the Big Dig ceiling panel collapsed and killed a motorist in July, this has been a relatively quiet news cycle. We've had garden variety mayhem in the news world.

Which is good, because it never stays that way for long. The Patriots have started playing pre-season ball again, the Sox lead in the AL least is now down to a few games, and the Celtics have signed a new player that has fans all excited about the team's prospects for the new season. Surely we'll have some sports stories in the offing soon, if nothing else. I don't know why we think of Jan. 1 as the start of the new year, because (at least in TV world) the cycle begins anew in September, as the kids go back to classes and the networks announce their fall lineups.

Unfortunately, none of the nets ever seem to offer much that is promising anymore. Reality TV. Dance or song competitions. I don't think it's a stretch to say that in any given season, each network only manages to come up with one "winner," which (if you think about it) is NOT a great track record for companies such as ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS, who have thousands of employees and VERY high paid executives making big creative decisions.

I seem to recall that when I was a kid, you could turn on the TV at 7 or 8 p.m. at night and watch for three or four straight hours and there would be one great show after another. Even as a teenager, I used to stay home to watch "The Carol Burnett Show" or "The Mary Tyler Moore" show. We loved "Bewtiched", "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley" and before that, I remember shows like "Petticoat Junction," and "Green Acres" and "Colombo" and others.

My theory is that basically the "creative" people in these industries are now pretty much creatively bankrupt. Essentially, many of them have spent their childhoods watching television, which is a passive entertainment that does squat in terms of fostering creativity. The people who made all those great 1960s and 1970s TV shows were WWII generation people who grew up READING. They grew up playing make-believe games outside, with other kids, in an environment that forced you to use your imagination to entertain yourself because there weren't many other options.

That's why so many of the movies that come out are just recycled TV shows, like the Charlie's Angels movies, or "Bewitched," or all the movies made about comic-book superheroes who were invented back in the 1940s. Ever wonder why very little "new" comes out? It's worth somebody writing their dissertation about.

If any of these people really want to be inspired, they need to move out of the dissipated wasteland of L.A. and go live in the woods of anywhere for awhile, doing nothing but reading and fishing. It's amazing what your brain will come up with when you have no pre-packaged inane entertainment to anesthisize it.

1 comment:

Kirk said...

"AL least"? Hope that's a typo!

Interesting comments about the state of TV shows out there. Of course, it's all a matter of taste, but many of the reality shows seem to pander to the lowest of the low-brow.

By the same token, I think there are some bright signs. NBC has come up with a set of innovative comedies on Thursday nights that, to my mind, reflect that "good old days" lineup that you mention. But that's one network on one night.

I think that there were also periods of time in television's history when the programming might have been better because they were simply willing to try more things. In the earliest days, of course, everything they did was new, even if many of the first shows were translations from popular radio programs. A while later, you saw some interesting things happening as some shows reflected a more culturally conservative mindset while others tried to break out of the mold, reflecting the tensions of the time.

There is a big tendency in both TV and movies to stick to what's safe, and those classic TV-based movies you mention are a reflection of that. I would criticize a bit the comment about movies based on comic book characters from the '40s. Although a couple of them were invented at that time (Superman and Batman), many of the most popular ones (X-Men, Spider-Man) were created during the '60s and reflected the angst of the time.

Then, the whole comic book world was reinvented again in the '80s with the publication of Alan Moore's Watchmen. The current incarnation that you see in most of the movies is based on this idea of putting superheroes into a real-world setting, dealing with real problems (the mediocre Fantastic Four movies notwithstanding). You can see the same thing in NBC's "Heroes".

So, I think those are a much more modern type of theme, although your larger point about Hollywood and TV being derivative and pillaging other source material rather than coming up with their own still holds!