[as most already know, for the first 30 years of my life I did not “subscribe” to television. literally nor figuratively. not sure if there is any better way to say it; subscribe seems appropriate since most people pay a monthly fee for cable or satellite service. (a lot of people when television comes up say something like “I don’t have a tv” but 9 times out of 10 they’re not being honest. what they mean to say is that they don’t watch that much tv or they don’t subscribe to any service). regardless, i I was one of those people for most of my life. a little more than a year ago i started deliberately studying television. actively seeking out anything and everything that was suggested or recommended as being “good” or even just popular. for many reasons. the two primary purposes of this experiment though were, one, i had been, still am, working on a prediction/theory for the We Are the Revolution/Personal Expression Age book that American television was about to enter into a quasi-renaissance of sorts, which it was and now IS, without a doubt; so i wanted to explore the medium and its content more; after all, this was a theory based on intuition and research. I wanted to get a firsthand experience of it. So i began subscribing to cable television. I was right. It is. Two, i intuited that if i were right in this prediction, then “good writing” by smart people would be more in demand than ever before in human history. historically, good writers, smart writers do not go near television. in fact, smart people in general, not even as consumers of the product, do not go near television. but all that’s changed. at least in my opinion. they do now. both to consume and to write for it. it makes sense. it was only a matter of time. i am writer. it is what i do more and better than anything else. music is another. but writing… is like breathing for me. (an extension of thinking really, when you think it through deeper, to its core. some might be surprised that most people do not spend as much time as others do “thinking”. i am still amazed by how few people consciously and deliberately “think”… just a thought. perhaps more on that later. we’re already three or four layers past our original point by now.) for many of my closest friends and colleagues, they too are addicted to thinking and writing by their very nature. television is a giant medium. it dwarfs the world of books, literature, journalism and the movie business. writers can eat and support themselves if they would only open up to television. the problem of course is that traditionally no writer worth their weight in copper even would dare write for television. at least not in their own name. but… if television were truly about to enter a renaissance and begin to allow good writing into it’s bed and not exist solely as a cheap opiate for the masses as it normally had been since its inception, then worthy writers might actually find the task bearable if not downright enjoyable. so began my exploration of american television. this is not the place or time to post my findings. but suffice it to say that the theory proofed out. though american television is still primarily shite, for lack of a better word, pandering for attention like a toothless dime-store hooker in a broken wheelchair, it does possess a fair amount of decent writing. that’s probably too generous actually. not a lot. not even a little. (pardon me if this offends. i am well aware that i am speaking to a very small crowd here. literati and intellectuals only perhaps. people who would never normally even consider “watching television” as a past time. a world that has almost entirely disappeared in modern times.) soon my experiment evolved from exploration to study. the question no longer lingered. i had my answer. but a new question arose. HOW does one write for television? what is the art (if any) or craft of it? the time limits obligated by archaic programming paradigms necessitate a very specific method and style, as compared to film or printed word where there is more freedom. and thus for the last six months i have been studying television the same way a marine biologist might study dolphins. most of the time it is an excruciating task i must confess. but occasionally it is downright pleasurable.]
But still there is this time limit thing. that’s not the only problem with modern american television, renaissance or not; far from it. but it is the main reason i pulled out the iPad in this moment. to address this particular problem with a few ideas for potential fixes that just occurred to me. the idea goes something like this: consider LOST for a moment. that show ran for eight or nine seasons, once a week for an hour per episode, airing approximately 28 weeks out of each year. i only learned of this show a few months ago. sat down to watch one episode in October, found that i liked it, that it was relatively entertaining. from there i watched all nine seasons in a matter of a few weeks. one after the other. for hours and days at a time. nine years of television in a month. i did this because i sincerely enjoyed the show. (unlike most people i was not disappointed by the show’s new age spiritual finale. i was fine with it. it is not my place to judge where the shows creators wanted to take their show. it was their baby). but here’s the rub: if i had been the average person, waiting each week with baited breath for each new episode to air, I would have given up on it in season one. i don’t live the kind of lifestyle where one can do that. nor do i possess the mentality to even want to.
Right now, as of this writing at least, television is very structured and formatted. rigidly so. unlike film where we allow the story to tell itself in however short or long a time it needs to, the creators of television structure the stories around the time slots they believe they need to fill. this creates numerous problems and limitations. and for no real reason. Idea one: let the idea of time-slots go. Let the stories guide the time allotted for each show. let the viewers decide on the worthiness of such a venture. similar to what we currently do with sports and tv. 60 Minutes has always run late on Sunday nights during football season. Why? Because we don’t cut NFL games short just to jump to 60 Minutes.
Shows like ELEMENTARY or TOUCH or PERSON OF INTEREST (all semi-decent as far as tv goes) could do with episodes that lasted more than one hour. (One hour of television is actually more like 42 minutes due to the need for commercials). The idea that one particular story that might be better served by allowing it more time to open, simmer and eventually resolve needs to do all of that within the confines of 42 minutes “no matter what” is antiquated and short sighted. worse, it limits the work’s ability for greatness. Similar to what the creators of DOWNTON ABBEY did in the third season. Several episodes were two hours versus one. Randomly and erratically and with no fair warning. But it worked. It was a pleasant surprise. for fans at least.
Idea two: would entail letting go of the idea of weekly instalments completely. for run of the mill sitcoms the weekly time-slot paradigm still works. there is usually very little story; more a series of running gags strung together to entertain in the moment and that’s that. But for shows that feature a long running story line, like LOST, why not run a few shows not only longer than the rigid one hour, but also let them air several times per week; allow them to breathe like an expensive wine… open them up and tell the story, today, tomorrow, the next day, the next…. again, letting the audience dictate how often they want to see it per week.
The studios and creators of the shows (content) believe that the networks care about things like this. They don’t. Their sole mission is to generate revenue by the use of the space they rent. (hence the inclusion of PAID ADVERTISING on many networks post the 11 o’clock time-slot. I’ve not yet discovered a taste for this particular show myself, but PAID ADVERTISING must pay better than most other shows that networks can purchase, or rent space to). If a studio or show creator comes to a network and offers up a proposal to air a show that breaks all time-slot rules, the idea can be easily sold to advertisers that are dying to break the mold of their own industry’s limitations. My prediction is that it is only a matter of time before this begins to happen. Advertisers will come running. And in fact there is a good chance they would even voluntarily enter into bidding wars with one another for exclusive rights to sponsoring whole shows. Just a hunch. Of course this wouldn’t be necessary. But it shows the potential for how powerful a paradigm shift this could be.
There is more. but let’s leave it at that. this is good enough to remind me of the initial ideas. more later.