Thursday, July 19, 2007

America's Biggest Losers - TV Watchers!

Sorry for the prolonged absence. It was down to technical difficulties. That being that life gets in the way of blogging and all that. And whilst there are many topics to rant about … having tackled children’s television last time, it is time to turn my attention and wrath towards so-called adult-television.

I don’t mean “Adult” television as in trying to play ‘beat-the-clock’ during your 5-minute ‘free-view’ of “Spankovision” … though frankly, the insidious lack of socially redeeming material is not limited to cable porn.

The ‘plots’ of some really bad porn stories are actually better developed and thought out than the wafer-thin offerings on so-called conventional television these days.

When we returned from five years of living in England, I welcomed the return to where prime time television was not monopolized by – I kid you not – hours of …often consecutive nights of - darts tournaments and snooker!

I tried to get into watching snooker but was eternally confused by a woman on one of Britain’s gazillion ‘fashion’ TV shows who said that “brown was this year’s black.”

And don’t get me started on darts. Fat guys in polo shirts participating in a pub game hardly constitutes athletics in my book. So imagine my surprise to come back to America and see TV over-run with a plethora of competitive eating and poker tournaments!

Poker? TV has gotten so bad that we consider watching people playing cards to be entertainment? Strip poker maybe … but poker? Why not Old Maid or Go Fish? Oops, I may have inadvertently given an idea (undoubtedly their first) to TV “programming” executives.

I remember the excitement at the advent of cable TV in the 1980s … and dawn of all the new TV stations. 900 channels? WOW! Now there will ALWAYS be something good on!

Remember thinking that?

The 24-hour Fishing Channel!!!! Sounds riveting! I wanna be the first one in the trailer park to have it!


I recall the “experts” predicting that all those stations will have 24 hours per day of airtime to fill and it wasn’t exactly like the quality of TV was going to improve! It was not about quality. It was quantity baby!

Air time to fill? Why not use FILLER? Appeal to the late night lowest common denominator with infomercials and Infotainment.

Lord knows there are enough bad horror movies and nymphotainment/soft core porn to air (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

It about the year 2000 when I realized that ‘Gore vs. Bush’ wasn’t just a presidential race but an accurate description of your Friday night choices on Showtime and Cinemax.

And just who would sponsor this fluff? Phone Sex Chat hotlines of course!

Hands up anyone who thinks those gorgeous models in lingerie chatting on the phone look the same as the actual females who use those lines! Millions must. Such is the power of TV.

Combine those revenues with the cash cow of the daytime plethora of “have you been injured on the job” ambulance-chasers … and then cap the ‘production’ costs of the actual programming to the equivalent of the daily take of a child’s lemonade stand … and you too can become the next Ted Turner!

Incidentally, doesn’t it seem odd that the invention of television (delayed by World War II) took ages after the invention of radio because of the limited technology of the day in an effort to B-R-O-A-D-C-A-S-T the signal?

After all the toil and sweat of perfecting the system, we then regress the process into a (cable) wire-to-wire system? Hell, we could’ve done that in the first place and skipped all the time figuring out how to send the signal through the airwaves?

That would be the equivalent of say … the Romans inventing the aqueduct, vastly improving the lives of people by bringing water directly to their homes, and then dismissing that in favor of buying bottled water! Oh wait, that’s been done too.

Here I go sounding like my dad but …

When I was a kid …

We had three VHF stations; the network affiliates (CBS, ABC and NBC. Fox didn’t exist yet). We had three UHF local stations showing a mix of ‘classic’ syndicated reruns like I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island and The Munsters along with some kids programming and local sports. And there was one PBS station. And that was it.

Ask anyone under the age of 30 what UHF and VHF are and they’ll look at you like you just asked George Bush to define the concept of having an exit strategy.

Oh and if you missed your favorite show you had to wait until it was rerun in the summer (repeat season) because there were no VCRs, DVDs, DVRs, etc. Just what the hell is a podcast anyway?

And you know what? IF they had nothing good to air, they simply shut down overnight and ran a test pattern until the next morning. There’s an idea worth revisiting!

WE had ONE [black and white] TV in the whole household when I was a kid but it was (for the time) a ‘big screen’ with a whopping 25 inches!

I recall (in the late 1960s) getting up at 6 AM as a small boy and waiting for the National Anthem to play, indicating “the start of our broadcast day” which was then followed by a half-hour of some guy in a suit teaching sentence structure, or the alphabet or something kind of lame, followed by Dennis the Menace.

The urban skyline was dotted with television antennae. It looks the same now; only the elongated twisted metal antennae have been replaced with circular and oval Tivo and DirecTV dishes.

Back in the day, the urban landscape almost inexplicably included countless pairs of old sneakers tied together by the laces and flung up in the air until they dangled from utility wires over the street.

Hey why not … back then I think a pair of sneakers cost like 49 cents or something … not like today where you have to take a “one-time lump-sum (involving the deduction of outrageously predatory and exorbitant fees) on your annuity or structured settlement” in order to get your Nikes. Throw them over a phone line? What are you kidding?

Now I am not saying that Bewitched or Hogan’s Heroes constituted the second coming of Shakespeare, or that Family Affair broke new ground in cutting edge entertainment.

But bad as the jokes were, at least there was somebody writing them! Even those awful jokes they give to the hosts of America’s Funniest Videos were written (most likely minutes before airing).

Who remembers the TV writers’ strike oh 1988?

I dare say coincidentally, television has not been the same since. Hollywood in a panic began to stockpile scripts in anticipation of the walk-out. Scripts? You mean TV shows are actually written? By human beings?

To paraphrase a famous quote …

If you give an infinite amount of monkeys an infinite amount of typewriters, they will eventually write an episode of Desperate Housewives.
The plague of “reality” television can be partially blamed on the British who ‘developed’ Big Brother, Celebrity Big Brother, Survivor, Wife Swap and American Idol (called Pop Idol in Britain) amongst others.

Can’t you people see you are being hoodwinked? Are you THAT gullible that you can’t see that the TV people just don’t want to pay writers so they hook you with this crap? TV was long ago referred to as “the opiate of the people” but today it’s more like crack cocaine.

Are people THAT ignorant and apathetic that they don’t realize that the people with REAL power want you hooked on ‘reality’ TV, Inside Edition and Entertainment Tonight so you won’t occupy yourself thinking about (and perhaps doing something about) how they – the people with money and power – are screwing you and keeping you in your place?

“Well hell Bubba, so longs as I gots my 72” plasma HDTV, I is happy to go on living like a moron with a dead end job and no prospects for the future!”
The irony is of course that there is nothing ‘real’ about reality TV. And whilst some people say, “yeah I know that but it is still entertaining,’ the fact is that most people do think it is “real”. You put a camera on someone and I am sorry but they do NOT behave the way they would without one. And the producers deliberately goad and coerce outlandish behavior out of their hand-picked talking props.

Virtual reality? What the hell is wrong with virtuous reality?

The latest wave of reality shows are the so-called “America’s Next …. (Fill in the blank).

Next top model, pussycat doll, Donald Trump flunkey, designer, top chef blah blah blah. The surest way to disappear into obscurity is to ‘WIN’ one of these “contests.” When is the last time you ran out to Kmart to by the latest CD by Reuben from American Idol?

Wouldn’t it be nice if by the time we got around to picking this year’s American Idol, last
year’s winner hadn’t already blown the winnings, become more obscure than Ron Paul and working part time at his or her hometown Jiffy Lube?

You see the worst part is that for an entire generation, they won’t know anything but this mind-numbing mush. I am not one of those who advocates that TV be filled with nothing but opera and Macbeth. But God knows if that was all that was on, people would watch it.

But I do think we owe it to the younger generation … the “y” generation …or as I call them, the “Y Bother?” generation that there is more to life than this mental anesthesia.

Even the Gen Xers can recall when the “M” in MTV stood for music. You’ve got about as much a chance of seeing an actual music video on MTV as Britney Spears has of winning the mother-of-the-year award.
One on hand, I never liked music videos. Music should be an aural experience. The pictures should be provided from your own experiences of when you heard the song. Pick any song from the 70’s before music videos and I see an elaborate visual with colors truer than a Bollywood production. But the images are of my youth, the people I knew and the things we did when the song was on the radio.

But on the other hand, I’d rather watch an AHA video for 24 straight hours than three minutes of “Pimp My Crib” or whatever the hell it’s called.

Video did indeed kill the radio star. Can you imagine Meatloaf trying to make it as a new performer today? He doesn’t have “the look”. Simon Cowell would rip him a new one and then send him over to the folks at America’s Biggest Loser!

I’ve begged my wife and pleaded with all sincerity for her not to get hooked on one more “reality” show. A mere nano-second of one of them being heard by me in the next room starts to make me physically ill. But to no avail. Not only does she watch America’s Biggest Loser – which by the way … I think the title reflects any/all of its viewers – but she DVRs all the episodes she might otherwise miss.

She says she needs to rest her (Oxford educated) mind. But I fear it may lapse into a coma!

Has it come to this? Has watching fat people lose weight become mainstream entertainment? These people represent millions of Americans with a serious health problem … a problem that is (pardon the pun) growing at an alarming rate.

But watching them shed the pounds in the guise of a competition is a huge hit with the audience … most of whom (my wife excluded) I ironically imagine to be the very type of couch potato sloths who, when they lose the remote, the first place they look for it, is in the Doritos bag!

I can’t watch this. I CAN’T. Quick change the channel! Oh good … that’s better … It’s Takeru Kobayashi winning another hot dog eating contest! Most of the world is starving and we compete to gorge ourselves and then compete again to take off the weight! No wonder the world hates America.

And just what message are all these “America’s Next” shows sending the “Y Bother” generation?

Why bother WORKING … God forbid focusing all your power-drink-enhanced energy … on actually paying your dues and earning success when you can WIN a career, like some sort of church picnic raffle? They’ve turned the American work ethic into a game show.

All this insta-celeb culture leads me to rephrase the famous Andy Warhol quote because these people are getting 15 seconds of fame. These “stars’ have a shorter shelf life than an open tub of cream cheese on a hot afternoon in the Mojave.

I could launch into the whole psychobabble discussion of America’s (and indeed the world’s) addiction to fame, the famous and the paparazzi.

But as I see it, The National Enquirer outsells Time Magazine. So the dumbing down of America is inevitable. The powers (dare I say conspiracy) that want it that way are too strong to fight.

Wait …what’s that? There was another recent … almost unnoticed TV writers strike and the (12-person) writing staff of America’s Next Top Model became the first reality TV writers to go on strike?

They have WRITERS? What were they striking for? Etching there ON STRIKE sandwich boards gave them a chance to actually do some writing perhaps? All of which begs to ask the question ... where are America's Next Top Writers?

What’s next? America’s Next Top Plumber? America’s Next Top Janitor?

Why not launch America’s Next Top LEADER, in which all the Presidential candidates live together at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and we get to vote them off one at a time? I bet we’d get greater voter participation that we do in the elections!

Of course the top designer, top chef, top model shows all have the obligatory token caricature of the over-the-top overly campy, “I shoulda been on Will and Grace" gay guy. I’m not a homophobe …in fact … IF I were gay; I would be deeply OFFENDED by the clich├ęd and hackneyed single-minded portrayal that I feel borders on exploitation.

To me (and I respect your right to disagree) it would be like if every black man on television was forced to act like Rochester from The Jack Benny Show.

I hope I hear a murmur of support amongst the out-of-the-closet-without-being-extremely-effeminate male gay community? Not EVERY gay man prances around and flounces about like it’s some sort of Village People reunion at Rip Taylor’s house.

You don’t see Ellen Degeneres lifting weights or spitting tobacco to assert her sexuality now do you? She’s lesbian. We get that. But she is on TV because she is FUNNY and entertains us. If TV execs truly feel that just being gay is entertaining, then shame on them!

Not to be assumptive, but maybe the author of the following open letter MIGHT agree with me?

So what other choices are there?

Well let’s start with “The View” … which I often refer to as ‘The Vagina Dialogues.’

I think of it as …”PMTV” (In England, PMS is called PMT – substituting the word “tension” for the word “syndrome” – the rest is still pre-menstrual).

A bunch of cackling females, whining and moaning is fine if they served the purpose of elevating their predominantly house-wife (sorry … domestic engineer) audience. Instead it’s the coffee klatch from hell, like a beauty parlor on acid. It’s the only place you’ll see more bitches fighting than at Michael Vick’s house!

Though I personally reject the notion of being a “post modernist” and its smugly arrogant notions like, “we are at the end of history.” (Of course we are dipsh*t … everything else is the future) … I do prescribe to the theory that there is no originality left … or maybe it's just more cost efficient not to pursue it.

TV is not the only medium afflicted with this plague of spin-offs (of other spin-offs) franchising (see CSI, CSI Miami, CSI New York, CSI Hoboken etc.), blatantly copying successful shows from other networks etc.

Those attached to the more prestigious ‘big screen’ are just as bad. And by big screen I mean movies (not your 400-inch, rear projection, plasma, digital, HDTV, wall hugging ostentatious monstrosity that dominates your living room)

We are at a time when cinematic Hollywood is completely starved for a single original thought as well… leading to the regurgitation of every bad 60’s 70’s and 80’s sitcom and police drama as a ‘full length feature without the original cast of course … who are either too busy working as guest judges on “America’s Next …” shows, or perhaps are also working at Jiffy Lube.

We live in a time where Hollywood is making a movie about every comic book ‘superhero’ this side of Cuckoo Man … and spewing trilogies and sequels and prequels rather than (God-forbid) come up with something new.

My personal [least] favorite is the Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 trilogy which not only is jumping the shark in every sequel but you must remember (and of course Hollywood is banking on the fact that most of the audience will be too young to remember) that Ocean’s 11 was actually a REMAKE of a classic Rat Pack film.

Did I just have an LSD relapse or did Sylvester Stallone REALLY release another Rocky movie last year? I mean come on. I guess we are about due for Police Academy 25 by now?

I read the jump-the-shark website
( which goes through a litany of TV shows and when exactly they “jumped the shark”

The phrase “jump the shark” is derived specifically from an episode of Happy Days when Fonzie jumped over a shark on water skis (Fonzie wearing them, not the shark) and has come to mean the obvious point, in which a television show has outlived its purpose … when, after hitting its peak, has begun a downward slide.

And I put it to you …that TV itself … has jumped the shark.

I used to enjoy the History Channel except that it is besieged by a program called 'Modern' Marvels. To me the words ‘history’ and ‘modern’ are mutually exclusive.
I watched the English version of The History Channel whilst we lived there and they seem to omit nearly all of the over 1,000 years of post Normanic Conquest, in favor of the six-year period of 1939-1945.

It’s essentially “Hitlervision” - All Hitler … All the time.

The obsessive Nazification of British franchise of the History Channel is the only place you’ll see more swastikas than at Marge Schott’s house.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read a book.


Marina said...

Even if I don't always agree, and being the wife from this post, I certainly don't agree on Biggest Loser, etc. (the reality shows that I watch are great entertainment, the rest are of course crap)...I always enjoy your writing. Great article!
Oh, and I heartily second your idea for America’s Next Top LEADER. That might be TV's only chance to make me watch anything political.

Anonymous said...

i skimmed. i cheated. i didn't read every word. but i feel your pain. and i agree. and i work in tv. just think of it as the modern aqueduct for crap. see - i did read the part about the romans... will go back to read it all when i get a chance. nicely done. - minette

tmp00 said...

I'll give you a murmur of support. I sincerely wanted Tim Gunn to just slug Ashley Scarlett or whatever his name was on "Project Runway" I sometimes want to know, is it the editing or are they really insufferable preening a$$hats?

I remember when Cable came about and everybody in the arts were thrilled there would be so many more jobs- all that programming to fill. Who knew they'd fill it with reality show crap, reruns of shows that weren't any good to begin with and grade-Z movies (I am looking at YOU SciFI Channel!)

I've turned to "Modern Marvels" and books.

NewKidOnTheBlog said...


Though the wife is/was glued to "Project Runway" like that fool in the hardhat, dangling over the construction site in the Krazy Glue commercials ... I myself thought it was going to be about airport engineering ... which come to think of it, sounds for appropriate for Modern Marvels. [And though I slagged it - I admit I watch it too!]

And you are SO right about that excitement with which the arts industry greeted cable. I was a broadcast journalism major (theatre minor) in the early 80's ... and all I can say is ... I am NOT working in television.

At least not at the moment anyway ... I am waiting for them to have an open casting call for America's Next Top Angry Guy.