Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Short Takes – April 4, 2007

I got a little delayed in writing this. The plan had been to get it out on Sunday but circumstances – in the form of a long nap and a two hour Amazing Race conspired against me. Then there's the situation with my printer – there are no Vista drivers for my Deskjet 3820 and the driver that HP suggests using doesn't do a damned thing. I wouldn't mind waiting because I like the printer (and I don't want to buy a new printer) and don't really use one that much now that I'm no longer a bowling league secretary but it's Income Tax time in Canada I've got to print out a couple of returns I'll just have to reactivate the old Windows 98 machine to take care of things. Still there were a couple of things I wanted to put out there and then something new popped up today.

There's a great new show...that just got cancelled: It used to be that TV series ran for 13 weeks and were either renewed for a further 13 or were replaced at mid-season with another show that ran 13 weeks, no matter what. Those days are gone forever of course. A show that lasts as long as 13 weeks is practically guaranteed to run the full year just because the networks don't have anything better to replace them with. Shows like Lost and Jericho go on hiatus for several weeks (supposedly because they "don't repeat well") and the network weasels end up wondering why the ratings on the shows slip when they do come back. And news shows debut either to replace shows that failed – in the eyes of the network weasels – or to stand in for the shows that "don't repeat well." These shows aren't midseason replacements so much as they are Spackle, designed to fill the holes in the network schedules. This season there have been many holes – big, gaping, cavernous holes. In virtually every case – at least when it comes to sitcoms and dramas – these Spackle shows haven't stuck around long enough to even be noticed. The networks schedules are in tatters and I don't know if they know what to do about it.

Take the most recent round of Spackle falling off the schedule. It started last week when The Great American Dream Vote featuring Donny Osmond was cancelled by ABC after two episodes aired – one on Tuesday opposite American Idol and the other the next day. The premise – where the audience voted for which contestant got to have his life-long dream fulfilled (no dreams about world peace need apply) – was pretty lame, so no great loss really, but it did set the stage for the next round of cancellations. In what Variety described as "Black Monday" the networks set out to do some housecleaning. At Fox, production of David E. Kelly's Wedding Bells was halted after seven episodes had been produced and four had aired. Sources were unclear as to whether the remaining three episodes would air in the show's Friday night time slot – Variety suggested that it would not return following a pre-emption on April 6 for the movie White Chicks. At the same time ABC returned 6 Degrees to the indefinite hiatus list after two airings on Friday nights. It will be replaced by repeats of the reality show Wife Swap. ABC had previously placed its highly touted Knights of Prosperity on indefinite hiatus, replaced by reruns of According To Jim.
NBC will be putting Monday night's Black Donnellys on hiatus following the eighth of 13 episodes ordered which will air on April 16 – if the network doesn't pull it sooner. The show will be replaced by the reality-practical joke series Wedding Crashers which had originally been scheduled to air on Sundays. Finally The CW has cancelled 7th Heaven – again – effective at the end of the season, and has set a debut date for its new mystery drama Hidden Palms starting Wednesday May 30. One Tree Hill, which went onto hiatus on February 21, will return with the final three episodes of its season on Wednesday May 2.

It seems fairly obvious that the current model for network television, focussed around airing new episodes during specific sweeps periods, is broken, particularly if your network is running shows that don't perform well in repeats. One of the reasons why, in my review of The Black Donnellys, I questioned whether NBC was the right place for this show was the habit of network executives to pull shows of the schedule at the slightest sign of ratings weakness. A cable network, such as FX or Showtime would probably have let the cancelled shows run for the full number of episodes that had been ordered before considering whether or not to renew. A show like The Great American Dream Vote might even have become a mainstay of a network like Fox Reality. It may be that Fox showed the way to a new model of Network TV with the way it has chosen to handle 24 which debuted in January and will run its twenty-four episodes uninterrupted by reruns or hiatuses. There are reports that ABC will consider running Lost like that next season, with a January debut and a straight run of new episodes. Maybe that's the way most shows should be done, straight through without reruns and then having real midseason replacements. It may not be the best idea in the world but given the mess that the broadcast networks are dealing with this season I can't see it being the worst alternative.

Somethin's botherin' me: Remember the PTC poll on the V-Chip that I reported in the previous instalment of Short Takes. There was something about them that seemed off about them and now, thanks to the Progress and Freedom Foundation blog I think I know what it was. As you will recall, The PTC stated that they had paid to have three questions inserted into two "omnibus telephone surveys of adults nationwide, conducted by Zogby International," one in September 2006 and the other in March 2007. So here's the problem according to the PFF blog: an omnibus poll will sample households which don't have children, don't have televisions with V-Chips, or both. According to the US Census Bureau, 68% of American homes don't have children and therefore don't have any interest in the use of the V-Chip or other devices to restrict TV viewership. Even if the survey restricted the people who answered the questions related to the V-Chip to the 32% of homes that have children in them the results are still questionable since you don't have the same representative sample size – in polling the smaller the sample size the less representative the results.

Perhaps the most insulting thing about the PTC and their activities is the way they disrespect parents. The organization seems to think that they have to act as America's "media nanny" or else children will be exposed to all the horrors of unrestricted television. They fail to recognise that to parents children are individuals whose maturity isn't designated simply by the date on their birth certificate. The question that the PTC asked in the Zogby survey didn't ask whether the family had its own "household media consumption rules." The PFF blog pointed out that "a 2003 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 'Almost all parents say they have some type of rules about their children's use of media.' And a 2006 Kaiser survey of families with infants and preschoolers revealed that 85 percent of those parents who let their children watch TV at that age have rules about what their child can and cannot watch. 63 percent of those parents say they enforce those rules all of the time. About the same percentage of parents said they had similar rules for video game and computer usage." But of course in their Zogby Poll questions the PTC had an agenda: to prove that the V-Chip doesn't work, that the networks that promote the use of the V-Chip are acting in bad faith, and that the nation needs the PTC and similar organizations to "protect" it from the evils of television programs not matter what time they air, "for the sake of the children."

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Not much new to report on the PTC front except for the Worst Show of the Week. This time around it is the March 23 episode of Crossing Jordan. The episode dealt with a teenage girl who was found already buried in someone else's grave. It turns out that she's not as sweet and innocent as everybody thinks – she's running her own teen porn site for pedophiles and as it turns out she and her two best friends are prostituting themselves, meeting some of their online clientele for sex in return for money. It's the whole plotline that the PTC objects to: "The fact that some young girls sell their bodies on the internet is an unfortunate reality. While most people do not condone such behavior, they are forced to accept that it happens. But the fact that something is a reality in the darkest corners of life does not make it suitable for prime-time entertainment. As their idea of public entertainment, the writers of Crossing Jordan chose to present a teenage girl degrading herself by parading her body in a pornographic manner on the internet – and NBC chose to air it at 9 o'clock in the evening. These choices are irresponsible and deeply disturbing..."

Okay, let's delve into this a bit. What the PTC is saying is that the episode of Crossing Jordan is bad not because it titillated but because it deals with a subject that the PTC finds objectionable. Instead of presenting the issue in a dramatic manner it should just be hidden away like a dirty little secret. The "unfortunate reality" shouldn't be confronted because – well I'm not really sure of the PTC's "because". Maybe TV shows are supposed to ignore it because people "are forced to accept that it happens." Again, I'm not sure what the PTC's point is except that the episode shouldn't have been made because they think the subject matter should be a dirty little secret that everyone knows about but can't do anything about. Frankly I find their attitude irresponsible and deeply disturbing.

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