Friday, December 14, 2007

TiVo Has Come to Save Us All

So, I get it when people complain about what's on TV. I complain about what's on TV. Quite a lot, actually.

What I don't really get is when people complain about what's on TV nowadays as if TV was somehow better in the past. I want to ask them what decade they really think compares favorably to the one we are in now.* Because while there may be a hell of a lot of crap on TV, there's also huge number of shows that are leaps and bounds above anything that's been on before. I mean, I agree that the loss of The Cosby Show left a void that has yet to be completely filled again, and that I have better judgement now as an adult than as a kid, but still. I kinda think that if there was something better that Silver Spoons on the air, we would have been watching that instead.

IMO, this is largely due to dvd's and TiVo. It's a lot harder to tell really deep stories if you can't count on repeat viewings. You can't really expect viewers to pick up nuances on first viewing, especially when the chapters are broadcast weeks or months or years apart. Pause and rewind buttons are essential as well. All of the things that the content owning companies hate about new media are the very things that make their products of better quality than they ever were before.**

Did I mention I got into a fight with my sister and dad last night? This was one of the arguments my sister gave. That she'd be more sympathetic to the writers if most of TV wasn't crap. Gee, maybe if writers got rewarded for better stories - ie got a better cut from the shows that are popular enough to sell dvds or be used as bribes to get people to watch ads - maybe they'd have more incentive to write better shows, instead of just what some network committee thinks will sell.

But then, she's also very confused because she thinks that the networks have free downloads available mostly because they will get more people to watch the show each week. Not that this isn't part of the reasoning, or wasn't the initial idea, but I kinda doubt it's the main purpose at this point. First of all, even when this is the case, it's important to remember that free downloads are partly a result of dvds success allowing TV to use arcs more often and make the arcs longer. It's more that networks feel the need to make past episodes of Lost available in order to not lose viewers, rather than because they think it will help them gain viewers in any noticeable amount.

Secondly, if this was the overriding reason, it would be the shows they are trying to heavily promote that would be the available for download (similar to the way the CW will repeat on Sunday episodes of shows they think might do better with a little push), not the shows that are already popular. I'm sure that they use the free downloads to boost their sweeps ratings, but it makes more sense that during the rest of the year, the downloads are mostly there to generate ad revenue.

But then, mostly I just wanted to smack her for flat out saying that she doesn't care if the TV shows her kids grow up to watch are smarter than the ones she watches. Unfortunately, I was so floored by such an idiotic sentiment that at the time my response was (while possibly a good one in other contexts) exactly the wrong tact to take with her. A part of me wishes I'd been clever enough to say something like "well, it's nice that you don't care if your kids never have the opportunity to read Newbery quality literature. Yes, let's stick to the dime novels of the 1900's, it's all fluff anyways." But that would have just made her perpetually defensive about the subject.

Sorry for rambling. It was just very frustrating to come across this kind of attitude in my own family at the same time that I'm finally really getting going in the career that I hope will eventually allow me to help teach media literacy to kids of all ages. I really think my sister thinks that I've just kind of fallen into this because I've always like books. The truth is that that I've been trying to find something that would help me get to where I want to be, which is designing educational programs (both the event and the computer type), toys and/or media for kids that teaches them how to be better writers and readers of all media.

I did at first apply for library jobs in part because I figured that if I was going to work around books, I might as well get paid more to do so. But I was able to see really quickly that public libraries are a great place to experiment with allowing kids to become content creators and readers of all media - especially right now as so many of them are, like the netowrks, looking for ways to not become obsolete in the face of new media. And I suspected this might be true even before I applied. I may have yet to read The Anarchist in the Library, but it's not as if I began this career completely ignorant of how most librarians view things like censorship, free speech, and public access to information.

I'll be getting started on my library school application soon, but I already know that I'll eventually be taking classes in things like film studies and child psychology as well. One of the big reasons why I haven't just up and left CA already is because while it may be expensive to live here, one of the most affordable and best schools for Information Architecture (as applied to libraries) is a CA state school. (Actually, they both are, but San Jose is loads cheaper than UCLA, and still very well respected.) I don't want to just learn how to use to the tools available to serve children and teens better, I want to figure out how to design the tools themselves so they serve teens and children better.

So, yeah, last night's conversation was annoying on several levels.

And then there was the lovely xenophobia/racism exhibited by my extended family earlier that day. Which, considering that the other side of my extended family (not present) is half asian - just like the people they were making fun of - yeah, I'm so ready for them all to go home already. (And yes, I was a coward and kept my mouth shut. I suck.) At least Saturday should be fun, because we'll be to busy coordinating who is waiting in line and who is getting the Fast Passes for there to be too many cringe inducing conversation drifts.

*by which I mean simply the overall quality of storytelling. Not, sadly, the amount of racism, sexism, or unnecessary violence.

** on average - I'm certainly not saying that more than a fraction of what's on TV now could even dare to be compared to All in the Family. I'm saying that TV is quickly becoming more literary because viewers are able to watch shows in ways similar to how we read books.


Lyle said...

Oh, @#$%, what the hell has Google done with the comment form now? Gah!

Anyway, the thing about the "the writing on TV is crap anyway" argument that gets me is that it pretends that the execs who don't want to pay the writers also give the writers free reign creatively. Roles are cast exactly as the writers write them, thus the lack of minorities is entirely due to writers' disinterest (which isn't saying that doesn't contribute). We have so many doctor, police and lawyer show because those are the only occupations they care about. It's not like the writers' output doesn't go through a filter of what the networks think they can sell.

Mickle said...


Which is part of why I'm convinced that dvd sales (and pay cable networks) have increased the quality of TV. A lot of the shows I really like were obviously allowed a certain amount of free reign (Buffy, Dexter) or weren't - and were cancelled quickly because the writer/producers refused to bend (Firefly, Freaks and Geeks). And I kinda think the dvd sales of those cancelled shows have encouraged writers to write better shows.

and re: blogger

I'm thinking that now that my blog will need a rename within a few weeks, now might be the time to move to wordpress.

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