You Had to be a Big Shot

"So, I've been ruminating, and by ruminating I mean pondering, not chewing cud...."
-Charlotte "Chuck" Charles, on last night's Pushing Daisies

October 4 – International Fall with a Rhyme Day (Author: Dominique)

Recently on my Blog/Journal
Watching Star Wars after Family Guy

The Greatest Graitch of all



Thankfully (for me, at least), Thursday is by far the most important night of the week for Television. While Sunday recently became the most-watched night, Thursday is still where most of the money is made, as the networks make more money in advertisements on Thursdays than all other nights put together. (Mostly from upcoming movie previews.) Because of this paramount importance, few shows actually "debut" on Thursdays. The preferred method is to bring a successful show over from another night. (A la Grey's Anatomy or CSI.) Consequently, I only have to review one new program for you tonight. Therefore, I thought I'd answer a few questions that have come to my mailbox since I started this TV jag.

Reader "Danielle" from Lees Summit, Missouri writes to ask what I mean when I refer to a television program as a "Procedural." Glad you asked.

Primetime Television can basically be broken down into five categories:

1) Reality Shows – Hyperion is generally not a fan. To me the true reality is sports, and I do enjoy that, but most "Reality" shows are far less real than you might imagine. "Scripted Reality" is a better term. Most of these shows are either some form of a contest (American Idol, Survivor, etc.), or a voyeuristic experience, either watching people trying to get along (Big Brother, The Real World), or watching a celebrity try to make it on their own. Like any genre, there are different levels of quality, including some well-made reality programs, but I am generally of the opinion that Reality TV is the worst thing to ever happen to Television.

2) News Magazines – Your Datelines, 20/20s, 48 Hours, 60 Minutes, etc. Self-explanatory.

3) Procedurals – These are the shows where mostly the same thing happens every episode, in terms of execution. (Although obviously, the quality is revealed in the acting and writing.) The term comes from the old Police Procedurals, which is the easiest way to understand what I'm saying. Take Law & Order. For as long as it has been on, virtually every episode goes along the same path. There is a crime (usually a murder), and the body is discovered in the opening. For the next half hour or so, the police investigate this crime. About halfway through an arrest and then arraignment is made, and the prosecutors take center stage, trying the defendant and whatever stems from that. You have all seen Law & Order; you know exactly what I am saying. Off the top of my head, here are some other shows that follow a fairly strict episode arc (beside obviously the other Law & Orders) are: The CSI's, Without a Trace, Cold Case, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Shark, Bones and House.

The value of a Procedural is that people know what they are going to get. Traditionally character development was kept to an absolute minimum, as the actors highlight their ability during the case, not in their private lives. Any character "arcs" (which means details about the character that grow or cumulate over several episodes or seasons) are kept to a minimum. Many people value a high level of predictability in their television, and while they may want to see many different cases, they prefer to see the same format each time out. The other chief advantage is that missing a few episodes is not detrimental to plugging right back in. You can watch virtually any procedural at any point in time and have no trouble following it.

(It should be noted that over the last few years a sub-genre of "hybrid-procedural" has cropped up. It started slowly with Without a Trace, which gave more character details than most shows, while still squarely in the realm of procedural. The boom came with House, follows the procedural format (at the very beginning we see someone get sick; for the rest of the episode House and his team try to cure that person), but in many ways is not like a procedural at all. On Law & Order or CSI, it's all about the case. On House, the cases are a distant second to the characters.)

4) Serialized - This genre is sometimes referred to as "Soaps," although not usually, since that term has evolved as a very specific classification of how. "Story Arc" or "Long-Form Television" might be better ways of putting it. What matters is that the character development (and more importantly) storylines build from week to week and season to season. The chief advantage to this is that the creators can tell much larger stories on their canvass. Multiple storylines can develop over the course of a season, and many disparate events and details can gather over time to tell a much larger story. The disadvantage of this is that to understand and "follow" a serialized drama fully you have to watch the show regularly; something many people cannot or will not do. As a writer, I greatly prefer a well-made serialized drama to all over forms of television, but I understand the need/appeal of other methods.

5) The Situation Comedy (known as the sit-com) – self-explanatory. The two main styles here are comedies filmed before a live studio audience (generally called "four-camera" comedies), such as Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends and Seinfeld, and single-camera comedies, filmed without a laugh track and audience involvement, such as Scrubs, My Name is Earl or even The Simpsons.

Several of you wrote in to ask about pilots. A few years ago, I wrote an entire column explaining pilots, how they got made and why. If you're interested, I direct you to that column (#157 TV: Let There Be Shows.) I also did a ranking awhile back of the Top Ten Pilots ever made if that piques your curiosity.

I'll save the other questions for another time and get to Thursday night's TV

ABC – Ugly Betty; Grey's Anatomy; Big Shots
Survivor; CSI; Without a Trace
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?; Don't Forget the Lyrics!
CW –
Smallville; Supernatural
My Name is Earl; 30 Rock; The Office; Scrubs; ER

New Show – Big Shots
For the life of me, I cannot figure out what ABC is thinking. Grey's Anatomy is basically a Chick show, albeit one girls can usually get their husbands or boyfriends to watch. Guys will even enjoy the show, although if they are smart they will not admit it, to better build up "credit" for the coming abandonment of the football weekend. After Grey's ABC is trotting out Big Shots, about men behaving very male-like, at least what TV thinks of men. Dylan McDermott, Joshua Malina, Michael Vartan and Christopher Titus are four extremely successful guys in the business world. CEOs, all of them, as unlikely as that might sound. They have the world at their feet, except none of them can control any of the women in their lives. Drama ensues. Like any concept, this could be interesting, but what puzzled me was the uneven tone. For example, in the first episode Vartan's character finds out his wife was sleeping with his much older (and now dead) boss. He moves out, ostensibly "leaving" his wife and kids. At least for now. He's devastated. That is a legitimate emotional response, and one that could be dramatic. However, his good buddy Joshua Malina is having an affair, for your stereotypical reasons. (Looking for "release" that his wife won't give him.) The "mistress" begins to act more and more like a wife, demanding to go to couples counseling when she finds out Malina goes with his wife. The whole thing is played for farce and laughs, sort of Desperate Housewives-ish. You can make a show about that. But it's crazy to have a man emotionally wrecked over his wife's infidelity, and yet somehow he'd have no problem with his good buddy doing the same thing. More than crazy, I find it deeply misogynistic. And if that's not enough, deep down, Big Shots is aimed for women, or at least women to watch with their men. So what is ABC telling us? That women see men this way? That women should "put up" with these behaviors? For a man to cheat is simply release, while if a woman cheats it is betrayal? I know it is probably silly to take a television show seriously, but the post-Grey's time slot ensures millions of people will be watching Big Shots, at least for a few weeks. There is definitely some subversion here going on.

Thursday Night Overview
You have the wide world on Thursday nights. NBC has finally recreated the early '90s with four very good comedies to go along with ailing patient ER. (I dream of taking that 10:00 Thursday time slot for my TV show some day.) CW gives us gorgeous men doing sci-fi things. ABC gives you three dramas capable of making you cry, but mostly all about fun. Fox just thinks you're an idiot, and CBS is hoping you like your drama well made, slick and without risks of any kind. This is probably the highest quality night of Television across the board, and there is plenty of good stuff to choose from. As most of these shows are well established, I will assume so are you tastes here and leave it totally up to you.

October 4, 2007

Up Next: The weekend cometh, and the search for quality TV gets a whole lot more impossibler.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lees Summit? Thats funny I know someone from Lees Summit as well. I assume Danielle is an alias? Hyp call me we'll discuss.