The Death of TV
I want to begin this article with a little game that I am shamelessly taking from Community creator Dan Harmon. Raise your hand if you have watched/heard of Breaking Bad (I'm not being figurative here—literally raise your hand in whatever extremely public area you are reading this article in). Now, keep your hand raised if you actually know what channel it was on. Odds are, you have either mercifully put your hand back down, so that people are no longer wondering who this freak is that is raising his/her hand while staring at his/her computer in the middle of Rubin lobby (I mean, they're probably still wondering that), or you have kept it up, in a very self-satisfied manner, smugly declaring that obviously the answer is the cutting-edge network, FX. You would have been better off choosing the first option, because the actual answer is AMC. Now, let's think whether this makes any sense: the two most critically acclaimed television dramas of the past decade (Mad Men is also on AMC) are/were on a channel called American Movie Classics. The answer is that it doesn't make sense; or, conversely, it makes sense to the extent that it demonstrates that TV, as we have historically thought of it, is dying.
Now, this is not exactly a new phenomenon. The death knell of network TV has been clanging for a couple of years now—from the aforementioned success of dramas on AMC, to the mainstream breakthrough of internet darlings like Netflix's House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, the traditional networks have been struggling to keep pace with their younger, more creative internet and non-traditional counterparts. But as long as the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) were putting out content that was ideally attracting a lot of eyeballs, or at the very least a significant amount of critical acclaim, everyone could pretend that soothsayers were overreacting when they declared the death of the television medium and the blind clinging of network executives to a system that was crumbling in front of their very eyes (but probably no one else's eyes—I mean you should really see the ratings for some of these shows: Community was renewed after garnering somewhere in the area of three million viewers a night. It is hard to convey just how pitiful that is.).
With this year's Fall television season, however, this charade is no longer sustainable. It is an historically awful batch of television shows. Manhattan Love Story, A to Z, and Bad Judge, are just three of this year's shows to get the axe without even reaching midseason. And it's not like the other shows are faring any better. Mulaney is bleeding viewers and is at times downright uncomfortable to watch, providing less laughs than some of the more poignant scenes in Schindler's List...and it's actually trying to be funny. Red Band Society is painful to witness (maybe that's what they're going for, to help the audience connect with the hospitalized teenagers being bandied about on screen without any care for realism?), and its dialogue is offensive to anyone who has ever actually experienced a single human interaction. Rinse and repeat with shows like Selfie, or essentially any other show you want to discuss. And if an industry fails to churn out new, popular, and sustainable product, it can only survive atop the backs of its aging war horses for so long.
Those war horses have, for the most part, come in the form of sitcoms like Parks and Recreation and Modern Family, the former of which is entering its final season, while the latter enters its sixth; a random drama here and there; and whatever gets churned out of ShondaLand (The production company of Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder). These shows can only stick around for so long. One possible exception is CBS. CBS has thrived on a steady diet of the are-you-kidding-me-how-the-hell-are-20-million-people-watching-this sitcom Big Bang Theory, and NCIS: Insert City Here. But I have enough (mistaken?) faith in humanity that by the time NCIS: Jersey Shore comes along, people will finally stop tuning in to the same recycled drivel night after night (actually, scratch that—I would totally watch that show. Just imagine all of the Very Dramatic one-liner quips The Situation would have. Possible suggestions: “Looks like someone forgot to do their Gym, Tan, and Laundry today.” ZING! Can we please make this happen?!). But for the industry as a whole, there is nowhere to turn. Network executives are throwing millions of dollars at the wall, searching frantically for anything that will convince advertisers to pay them more money, and nothing is sticking. Even the classic move of simply reusing existing ideas does not make the future any less grim. There are only so many British shows that can be bought and repackaged for American consumption, and even they don't have the best track record (we are at the point where Community's parody of an American version of Downton Abbey called Cougartown Abbey might actually become a reality). And because of all the money that is at stake, the networks are afraid to take any risks, and instead opt to green-light the same bland, uninspired fare as the year before.
Thank G-d for the internet. Tired of being confined to the absurdities of the network “pilot season,” wherein production is rushed, everyone is looking for actors and actresses at the same time, and shows undeservingly get axed, creators have found more lenient and willing partners in sites like Amazon, Netflix, Yahoo, and even Vimeo. Netflix has already established itself as a heavyweight, capable of keeping pace with, and oftentimes outstripping, more traditional TV sources. Yahoo recently announced its foray into the TV game with its acquisition of the former NBC comedy Community. Amazon recently released the critically-acclaimed drama Transparent, which is making waves for its groundbreaking storytelling. And little video sharing website Vimeo has recently started producing a web-series that was independently launched on its own website, High Maintenance, a show that breaks conventional story structure by offering up episodes that range anywhere from six to fifteen minutes. I cannot urge you strongly enough to watch this show—it's one of my favorite things on the internet right now.
But perhaps the biggest blow to traditional TV came when television juggernaut HBO recently stated that it will officially be separating its HBO GO online streaming service from its standard HBO package. This means that consumers will no longer have to purchase HBO on their televisions in order to access all of their content—they can simply stream it directly from their computers. It seems like it is only a matter of time before the transition from TV to the internet is complete. And let's be honest: once you can bypass TV and still be able to watch your Game of Thrones and Girls, there's really no point bothering with it anymore.