Two TV-Related Articles Worth Reading


1. David Simon, creator of The Wire (aka “TV for people who claim not to own TV sets”) says that television as a medium has “short-changed itself” because of advertising, and that “only when television managed to liberate itself from the economic construct of advertising was there a real emancipation of story.” I pass that along with a certain reluctance, because I think it’s basically poppycock.* The way Simon describes it, it sounds like the equivalent of saying that theatre has short-changed itself by the need to have between one and four intermissions, and not until the intermissionless Man of La Mancha did the art form really liberate itself. It’s an even odder argument in a time when HBO is being outdone by other cable channels that do have commercial interruptions. But Simon made a great show, one that probably couldn’t have been done on a network with advertising, and anything he says is on the subject is of interest. (And having argued that the over-abundance of commercials and the shrinking of running times is really hurting network TV, I’d never argue that commercials can’t have a negative effect on content. They do all the time, not just in terms of the way stories are told but in what advertisers are willing to accept.)

2. Yet another article on TV-on-DVD music rights. They pop up every few months, but this one, by Daniel Frankel of The Wrap, is very readable and goes into more detail than usual about exactly how you clear music for DVD. One thing he mentions that I hadn’t really understood before is that the big studios often try to over-compensate for previous mistakes in the way songs were licensed, seeking to “license music into perpetuity, paying for regions and timelines that, in many cases, they don’t need.” The only way to make it even close to affordable is to enter into licensing agreements for DVD that are limited to a few years and a few places — kind of like the way these songs were cleared for the original broadcasts and no longer.

*Do people still say “poppycock?” They should. It’s a great word, descriptive and sounds like it could be dirty even though it isn’t.


Two TV-Related Articles Worth Reading

  1. I agree with you about the word poppycock, but disagree that Simon's argument fits the term. It's less about the ad-breaks, but more about the ratings imperative. There is no doubt that ratings jockeying and projections about what will get maximum eye-balls regularly means that great shows get canceled, get neutered by retooling & notes, or never get made in the first place. It's no coincidence that TV innovation has become far more plentiful once premium cable and niche channels that require very low ratings (and get some funding via cable subscriptions) reduced the drive to maximize Nielsens above all else.

  2. *Do people still say “poppycock?” They should. It's a great word, descriptive and sounds like it could be dirty even though it isn't.

    I prefer "hogswallop".

  3. "Do people still say “poppycock?”"

    Of course they do, it's the bees knees.

  4. On the subject of Simon's argument, it's not really about the breaks, but about the obligation to serve the network in terms of ratings. Regardless of quality, a show needs to maintain its ratings or advertisers don't pay to put their ads up. Without this construct writers would be more inclined to make quality characters and story without having to worry about gimmicks that could potentially garner more ratings with a lesser product.

    The problem is not really about ads, but about the flaws of the ratings system.

  5. The main problem with the ratings really isn't the numbers themselves long-term — if you're not providing people with something they want to watch, you might as well be one of those "performance artists" whose work appeals to only a microscopic section of the public. The problem for the past 15-plus years is the networks suffer from immediate gratification syndrome, and show no inclination to let a show build or give it anything more than cursory support if the initial ratings aren't boffo. So if a creator has a story line that knows where it wants to go, but just doesn't start of gangbusters in the eyes of the public, it's gone.

    You would think in a time of slumping numbers, the networks would try and nurture the shows they have faith in a little more, the way NBC did with "Hill Street Blues" and "Cheers" back when they were desperate in the early 80s. But if the execs can't tell or don't care about the difference between good shows and hack work, then there's no reason to keep a good show alive if all that matters is the opening ratings numbers.