Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Of Frogs And Games And Enemas

Several things have come across the wires - well the Internet really - which while not worth in depth commentary are still interesting. Either that or I'm reaching for something to write during this irritating summer season.

Item: Here's an interesting little comment that I snagged off of the Huffington Post from contributor Adam McKay. What you see here is part of a larger article but this is the important bit, at least for our purposes. (Oh, and by the way, the spelling errors? His.)

"Shows like Fear Factor, Big Brother and The Apprentice seem to me like the emotional equivilent of the Roman Colliseum. We are fascinated by how much emotional and psychological abuse these people will take or heap on each other. Now here's the thing, if I were alive during Roman times I would hopefully decry the barbarism of the Colliseum, but at the same time it would be hard not to buy a ticket to the Six Aegean Slaves Vs a Rhinocerus matinee. Or how could you turn away from the Four Ostriches With Razors on the Talons Vs Two Monkeys and a Cobra. It's the same with these TV shows. Donald Trump is so awful and idiotic to these perspiring wannabe entrepenuers, it's enthralling. I can't wait for the day when one contestant says to Trump `What are you talking about Don? You inherited your seed money.'"

Comment: I had actually intended to write a lengthy commentary on this statement but I could never get it up to my standards so screw it. Bad spelling aside, he has a bit of a point. There is a certain fascination with watching this simply because it's unusual. There is an aspect of a freak show to many reality shows (however I will defend to the death the proposition that The Amazing Race should not, on the whole, be lumped into the catchall of "reality show" but that's an argument for another day). But consider this, no Roman worth his salarium would have questioned let alone decried the gladiatorial games - it was part of his culture - so what does it say about our culture that so many reality shows do well?

Item: Princes of Malibu has been pulled from the Fox lineup after airing only two of its six episodes. Linda Thompson and David Foster - the mother and stepfather of Brandon and Brody Jenner, the "princes" of the title - are getting a divorce after 14 years of marriage. Some people have suggested that the series, which had four more episodes in the can, was cancelled because of the divorce.

The divorce was apparently planned before the series went on the air, so suggesting that the divorce was the reason for the cancellation is a bit farfetched. The really interesting thing, although reportedly purely coincidental, is that while the split was only announced this weekend, Linda Thompson filed for divorce on July 11 - the day after Princes Of Malibu debuted. Since it was being destroyed in the ratings, it is perhaps a vain hope that someone at Fox suffered a bout of good taste which led to the cancellation. No, this is Fox we're talking about.

Item: The WB Network has decided that Michigan J. Frog, long the symbol of the network has (dare I say it - yes I do) croaked. At least as a network mascot. In a statement to the Television Critics Association on Friday Garth Ancier, WB Network chairman stated "In my opinion the frog is dead and buried. The frog was a symbol that was especially, in the extensive testing that we did, that perpetuated the young teen feel of the network, and that is not the image we want to put to our audience."

Comment: "Captain, the Titanic has struck an iceberg. What shall we do?" "Move that deck chair over there and put this one next to it." Even though they've been putting together some shows that are better than UPN, The WB's ratings have been declining and with PAX mostly gone the two are fighting to avoid being the lowest rated commercial network in the United States and the best Ancier can come up with is getting rid fo the network's symbol? I'm even going to suggest that even if the new shows that The WB brings to the table this year are enough to reassert the network's ratings position, dumping Michigan J. is going to be a move that backfires. Remember what happened when NBC dumped the Peacock for that stylized "N". Mark Evanier has a rather nice history of Michigan J. Frog on his blog. As for me, I'm on board with any movement to bring back the "green guy" but as a Canadian I don't really count.

Item: In his speech to the Television Critics Association, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly stated: "Last season for us was kind of like a colonic. It wasn't a lot of fun to go through at the time, but it's going to be healthy in the long run. It literally took any residual sense of entitlement or complacency at our company and blew it out." Later in his statement, speaking specifically about this coming season he said, "Odds are we're not going to see a ratings difference. I'm pretty ... sure you're going to see a new tone coming out of this place.... That sense of entitlement of who we are is gone."

Comment: In truth I think he may have something there. It seems to me that every so often the networks need to get the complacency blown out of them so to speak. Who can forget the Fred Silverman years at NBC. In one season every new show that the network premiered was cancelled, but that period led to a series of golden years that included Hill Street Blues, Cheers, St. Elsewhere and The Cosby Show. CBS had a period not so long ago where their shows were both skewing older than any other network and drawing low ratings as that, and look at them now. Before this past 2004-05 season, ABC was mired in third or fourth place and now they have a diverse embarrassment of riches, from Lost to Desperate Housewives to Grey's Anatomy. Complacency stalls innovation and in a market where networks are not only competing against each other but against cable "networks" programming heads like Reilly and Ancier and the rest need to push beyond their comfort zone, (for better or for worse Reality TV was one such push), and that means doing more than just dumping the network mascot.

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