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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
When broadcast networks rapidly cancel new shows, it undermines their own efforts to reach out to audiences and make quality programming.

At one time the list of shows that had been cancelled by the broadcast networks after just one primetime airing was a very short—not to mention, very dubious—list. For many, many years, it was a list that consisted of 1969’s Turn On (a bawdy Laugh In-like sketch series on ABC) and 1979’s Co-Ed Fever (a rowdy sitcom from CBS). But as the networks have faced far greater competition from newer networks (like FOX), from cable and, now, from services like Netflix, this “one-and-done” list has begun to multiply rapidly.


Since the early 1990’s we’ve added: CBS’s South of Sunset in 1993, Public Morals in 1996, Lawless in 1997, Dot Comedy in 2000, The Will in 2005, Emily’s Reasons Why Not in 2006, and QuarterLife in 2008, among others.


Meanwhile, numerous shows these days get the ax after just one or two airings. For example, in 2007, CBS pulled Viva Laughlin after just two episodes.


Considering the continuing assault on network viewership numbers by so many new outside factors, and our own collective, rapidly diminishing attention spans, it doesn’t seem like this list is going to stop or slow down anytime soon.


So far this fall season—as of this writing, at least—the big four networks haven’t killed off any of their news series. (Though, of course, not all of the new series have premiered yet.)


More cancellations are coming. Often, for the networks, these fast cancellations are the height of hypocrisy. As they gear up for the new fall season, the nets boast endlessly in their ads of the Stunning Quality of this new series or that new series only to, two or three weeks later, unceremoniously yank it from the line-up as if to say, “You’re right. This was a complete piece of crap. What were we thinking?”


It’s a completely unsentimental business these days, vastly different from how the (then) big (then) three networks used to operate. 


Case in point: the mid-‘60s NBC series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E, a spin-off of the far better known The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Though the series did well in the ratings when it debuted on September 13, 1966, its viewing numbers soon steadily declined. By November, the series was ranking a distant third in its timeslot. The show ended the season ranking 69th, a then low, low number when only 75 or so shows were on then on the air. But, the point is, it did end the season. Despite its ever-decreasing numbers, NBC left it on the air until April of 1967, when it had completed its run of 29 original episodes. Such patience and indulgence now, shown by the networks, in regard to a show getting such low Nielsens, is practically unheard of. 


In more recent years, the networks have only been showing patience for lower-rated programs if they have great demographics and/or overwhelming critical acclaim. NBC made great use of this tactic in the ‘80s when they stuck with shows like Hills Street Blues and Cheers until public attention matched their critical response. It was a patience the Peacock Network also employed—eventually to amazing success—with the debut of Seinfeld.


Would such nurturing be allowed today?


To some extent, FOX has hung with The Mindy Project despite its middling ratings and NBC showed great faith in Community until they decided to finally give up the ghost on that one.


Still, the act of quick cancellation by the networks is becoming more and more the norm. With this practice, the networks are no doubt trying to save face, cut their losses and, probably, show how “with it” they are—able to reverse and try a new track as quick and canny as any of their cable competitors.


But increasingly, quick cancellations are undermining the networks’s own search for viewers.  With so many new series biting the dust so soon after they debut, it seems to ward off viewers’s willingness to try something new. This seems especially true in regard to many of the hour-long dramas now making it onto the air. The overwhelming majority of them these days are deeply serialized in nature and demand an investment from the viewer from episode one (Gotham, anyone?).


We’ve all faced the sheer soul-crushing disappointment of having our favorite show killed off. What is even worse, however, is to see a new show we have just made time for, incorporated into our viewing, and gotten invested in have the rug swept out from under it.


While even in the world of TV it might be better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, it’s still frustrating to commit to a new series only to see it die a premature death after only two or three episodes. But that’s what you risk these days with so many quick cancellations, that feeling of “Why’d I even bother?”


Therefore:  Am I the only viewer that doesn’t want to get involved until I know “my show” is going to be around for a while?


With the staggering glut of new shows that are now starting every fall, (as we now not only have the four networks to contend with but a plethora of basic- and pay-cable series vying for our viewing) choosing to become attached or addicted to a new series is a dicier undertaking than ever before. Everything it seems has a much greater chance of ending rather than sticking around.  So, again, why bother?


It seems that, considering the new world that networks have found themselves in, it behooves them to actually stand by their product and allow it to be fully sampled before too many potential viewers shy away from it from the get-go (or even before the “get-go”). It will only be by giving their series, and thereby their viewers, a chance, that the networks can not only build an audience but also survive.


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Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014
House of Cards might be gearing up for its third season, but the very first episode of the series is the most telling indication of how Netflix is helping television break new ground.

Among the first of Nexflix’s now hefty portfolio of original series, House of Cards has a lot that sets it apart from the traditional TV shows that we’re used to watching. Produced and distributed uniquely for online viewers, the series seems to relish in the freedom Netflix has provided it just as much as its fans savor the cold, calculating evil that is Frank Underwood. While many are eagerly looking forward to the release of the third season, I’ve also been looking back on the very first episode, trying to parse through what made this show feel so unique from the very start.


Unlike the vast majority of television programs, House of Cards never had a pilot phase, and consequentially has no “pilot” in the usual sense of the term. Pilot episodes are typically a means of proving a concept’s viability before the network makes a long-term commitment, but Netflix signed on for 26 episodes before a single scene was filmed. Chapter One is therefore precisely that: the first installment of a much longer narrative, and hardly a self-contained story.


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Monday, Sep 29, 2014
Relationships don't last and winners don't really matter on reality TV -- but, of course, that's not what we're in it for.

As everyone has no doubt heard by now, reality star and world-famous “momager” Kris Jenner has filed for divorce from her once respected husband, former Olympian Bruce Jenner. They have been married for 23 years. However, his split should not come as too great surprise, not only for those familiar with Jenners’s relationship but also anyone familiar with reality TV.


A tacit requirement of participating in a reality TV show, its seems, is accepting the fact that reality TV has killed more marriages than adultery, money issues, and snoring combined, and you’re probably next. Let’s quickly review our long history of busted relationships: Newlyweds Nick and Jessica; Jon + Kate; Bethany and Jason of Bethany Ever After…; Kathy Griffin and her husband; Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries; Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro; Clint and Dina Eastwood; Chuck Woolery and his wife after he did the Game Show Network’s Naturally Stoned show, and a whole lot of Real Housewives (NY’s Countess, DC’s Cat and Atlanta’s Portia and Phaedra, et al).


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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
by Romi N. Andrews
PopMatters shines a spotlight on some funny and not-so-funny shows that have failed.

The format of the situational comedy—“sitcom”, as it is most frequently called—was conceived in the post-World War II era. Some dismiss it as sub-par compared to other TV genres, while many argue it’s an art form worthy of respect. But love them or despise them, sitcoms have the power to influence the way we think and to even promote awareness for social issues like gay rights (Will & Grace), alcoholism, and even teen pregnancy (Mom)


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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
Judge Judy has been on the air for almost 20 years now, a legacy that continues to be built on the exploitation of others.

Judge Judy has been on the air since 1996. That’s 18 years of tough justice.


In the beginning, the irrepressible Judge Judy (i.e. Judith Sheindlin) was a welcome antidote to the free-for-all mess that was (and indeed still is) daytime TV. Her enforcing of the law and the frequent verbal smackdowns she delivered to the lazy and the irresponsible came across as a long overdue reality check—not only for those on TV, but also in life!


But now, almost 20 years on, it seems that the Honorable Judge Sheindlin is flirting dangerously close with becoming a parody of herself and her genre. Anymore, when watching her show, one get the impression that they are less watching the legal system in action than they are watching a grandiose performance, Judy playing Judy. Yes, sometimes her rulings are swift and logically justified, but just as many of them come across as peculiar, based more on her personal whims and likes/dislikes than any existing law or regulation. She is increasingly ruled by her peccadilloes and eccentricities; sometimes, you only have to squint to see how much she is morphing into Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now.


Still, as odd as Judy’s attitude and intolerance seems to be getting, there’s something more disturbing than that that is presently being exhibited everyday on her highly-successful syndicated hit.


The majority of people who seem to appear before Judge Judy on a daily basis seem to be those who live near, on or below the poverty line. A disproportionate number also seem to belong to a recognized political and economic minority.


How litigants come to appear in Judge Judy’s courtroom isn’t complicated; nor, of course, is it mandatory. And though a fair number of them are there to simply settle a score or make a pitiful play for “fame” by appearing on TV, many others are there no doubt to collect money that is legitimately owed to them. They are also most probably attracted to the program—as opposed to appearing, say, in a real small claims court—due to the show’s standard “appearance fee,” a small amount of payment that each litigant receives and which is paid to them whether they win or lose the case.


This appearance fee (something shared by all talk and TV court shows currently on the air) seems appropriate—everyone involved should be compensated for their time—but, with just a little thought, this stipend can also easily take on the patina of being just a dingy financial carrot dangled in front of the financially hard-up in order to persuade them to appear on the program, and for them to be on the receiving end of a full, on-air humiliation.


Simply put, it is uncontroversial to say that if it weren’t for a steady stream of the financially in need, Judge Judy wouldn’t have a program.


But it is not only the working class that Judge Judy and her producers depend on. Judy and TV’s other court shows also seem to have a special hunger for the uneducated or, at least, the ineloquent. They are the ones that seem to make for “good TV”, as they can be stymied the fasted and embarrassed the quickest, especially since the good judge Judy is only rarely interested in the details or the complexity of your story anyway. Judy likes every case that appears before her to be simple and straightforward, in accordance with (her) standard logic. She often rants, “If it doesn’t make sense, then it’s not true.” Unfortunately, not every story in the world comes in a neatly digestible, TV-ready, Judge Judy-approved package, nor can they often be expressed succinctly enough to please her either. And when it doesn’t, then it really gives Judy the chance to go on the full-on attack and really vocally lacerate those in front of her.


Ah, such great TV!


So what are we to make of this daily spectacle of this rich white woman (various reports have pegged Judge Judy’s annual salary as anywhere from $12 to $25 million) who, every day, verbally assaults those who have, often, found it financially necessary to appear before her?


With $5,000 the maximum amount that people can sue for in her courtroom, the sums that the litigants in her courtroom sue for is chump change for both retired judge Sheindlin and, it stands to reason, most of her upper production staff. What we’re left with, then, is a sort of one-sided class warfare. Judy may not be some sort of Marie Antoinette, and some of those on the receiving end of her rulings and tongue-lashings might be more than deserving, but they are still, when all is said and done, being exhibited only for our own elitist-style entertainment, a chance to judge and mock those determined to be “less” than us.

Of course, it is not just Judge Judy and TV’s other courtroom shows that engage in this sort of class consciousness. Consider the daily DNA test of Maury Povich (who participants find non-televised genetic testing outside of their financial means) and the ignorance-as-entertainment subtexts of such shows as Raising Hope and, of course, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.


All in all, it seems to suggest that while mockery and belittling based around issues of race or gender is socially and politically verboten these days, debasement for anyone who make under $20,000 for a family of three is very much fair game.


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