Television is undoubtedly the worst creative medium in existence. This is not to say that the concept of television is inherently awful, because it is—in theory—a delightfully easy way to consume content, but rather the unfortunate repercussion of a business model that is, at its core, still chiefly rooted in advertising.
Once upon a time, the content you watched on TV was completely free. As long as you owned the magic box, the shows were delivered gratis over the air waves, picked up by the rabbit ears affixed to the top of your set and beamed directly into your glazed-over, vacant eyeballs. Manufacturers of assorted products paid vast sums of money to jam their wares into the money cortex of your brain with commercials, and everyone was happy just to have something to watch without leaving the home.
Even with the advent of cable and premium networks, the rise of a plethora of competing digital distribution platforms and inevitable changes in viewing habits, TV still by and large works the same way today; producers create content, advertisers pay the bills, and you—couch potato extraordinaire—get unfettered access for the cost of a bundled cable subscription (although the major networks still broadcast over the air for free!).
The problem arises because advertisers (understandably) want to reach the largest audiences possible. Since they wield the power of the purse, producers of television shows must appease them by making sure their programs hold broad enough appeal to capture the attention of millions of people in key demographics. Market research is conducted to make sure that characters are eminently relatable, everyone is finding the same jokes funny, people are all tearing up at the same points, etc., etc.
Unfortunately, this goes against the way the vast majority of quality entertainment is created. Think about the greatest movies, books, plays, musicals, video games, sock puppet shows, or any other form of entertainment you hold dear. While few works are produced without some outside influence, no other form of media has quite the same level of creative interference as television, because no other form of media is as dependent upon advertising as its primary source of revenue.
This is why the best shows are on the HBOs, Showtimes, and their ilk; the lack of advertising means less interference from the corporate suits, yielding the creators more direct control over the stories they want to tell.
None of this, of course, is particularly revelatory. I just wanted to provide a little context for my main point in writing this entry, which is that I wasted several days of my life watching the first season of The Walking Dead on AMC.
Lured in by overwhelmingly positive reviews, the involvement of acclaimed writer/director Frank Darabont, the general concept of a serialized zombie television show and the fact that the source material is a well-regarded graphic novel, I had high hopes that this show would be awesome. I had never watched anything on AMC before, but people talk about Mad Men like it’s the second coming of Six Feet Under (probably the best drama on TV ever).
Despite production values rarely seen outside of Hollywood blockbusters, I was almost immediately underwhelmed. Weak dialogue, overacting, plot contrivances up the wazoo and a convenient cast of multi-ethnic and racial archetypes of all ages forced to work together and overcome their differences in the face of an apocalypse. Think Lost, but with zombies.
Pilots are not traditionally the best showcases of what a show has to offer, because they must do a ton of work to introduce the main characters, themes, and so on, so I decided I would finish out the short first season to give it a fair chance. It’s telling that the best moment came when one of the major players was savagely eaten by a marauding zombie.
The Walking Dead had enormous potential, but it was ruined for me by what I’m sure amounts to the usual attempt of catering to the lowest common denominator. The sooner the industry as a whole can move away from trying to please the mass-iest of the masses, the better TV will be for all of us.
(N.B. — The Walking Dead is a major hit for AMC and just began a second season.)
I'm Not Arfraid of AnythingJoan Stevenson
Thank you all for your kind words. I have been asked to post another song. This is a favorite of mine from Songs for a New World written by Jason Robert Brown. Such a joy to sing! :)
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