Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Oh Oh, Ratings Are Down!

Admittedly, I’m a little worried about our ratings around here. We’re down about 30% in certain key demographics and our advertisers are concerned that we may not be a good investment anymore. So I’ve decided to make a few changes that are guaranteed to turn things around.
(1) We’re going to start having a lot of famous guest writers. I’m thinking washed up actors actor cameos and British singers who will drop by to write about their zany, crime-busting adventures.

(2) Somebody’s long lost father will show up to announce he’s gay... and President of Russia.

(3) We’re going to have more “very special” articles involving wrongfully accused prostate cancer sufferers and kids who accidentally fire guns they found into their parents’ stash of prescription medications. Bring tissues.

(4) The site is going to be having a baby... Commentarama Jr. We might even have twins if the rating don’t pick up before we reach that point. We’ll see how the first one goes.

(5) ScottDS is going to jump a motorcycle over a pool containing a shark with a fricken laserbeam on its head.
All seriousness aside, I’ve been watching a lot of old television and I really have to laugh at so much of what they did. When a show got in trouble, the things above are what they tried to shake things up... it never worked. I guess they still do that to a degree and it still doesn’t work. Interestingly, almost no one tried anything new instead, like coming up with brand new storylines or taking the show in a new direction.

In fact, it’s interesting to me how all these old shows did the same lousy storylines: the amnesia episode, the wrongly accused episode, the tolerance for hippies episode, the gypsy curse, the visiting boy band, the “____” is dying clip-show episode, etc. Look, I get that sometimes storylines are limited and there is very little original left. And I get that the public is most comfortable with the familiar. But I think that the prevalence of shows these days with really unpredictable storylines shows that audiences are much more sophisticated than Hollywood gives them credit for. It’s no wonder these shows died after trying to fake something new by adding new characters or “shocking” moments. Shock doesn’t entertain for much longer than the adrenaline stays in your system. And adding a new character and then repeating the same things you already did before doesn’t make them any newer. There really is no substitute for quality storytelling.

76 comments:

tryanmax said...

Maybe if they'd have moved Full House into a more Stephanie-centric format, they could've spun-off a series for Jodie Sweetin and kept her off the meth. But let's face it, that show was sharkapalooza from the word 'go.' Three eligible bachelors raising three young girls--and somehow it wasn't creepy? The Beach Boys just popping in all the time? And is it just me, or did the Tanners end up performing on stage everywhere they go, even when they got lost in Hawaii? I think it may be the only network sitcom to ever star two sets of twins. After all that, it's kinda anticlimactic that they went out on a two-part amnesia episode.

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! Nice. It sounds like they went uber-steroid on the tropes!

I find it interesting that so many shows keep trying these things (or variations of them) even though they've never worked.

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, those are all good ideas, but...

Wait. I've got it! Instead of a motorcycle, ScottDS Evel Knievels it through a corkscrew-style jump (a la "The Man With the Golden Gun")on a go-kart over a tank full of sharks, piranhas, and crocodiles- ALL with frickin laser beams attached to their heads!

Then we'll follow it up with by fast-forwarding 25 years (the old age-progression trick), where, frustrated after being rejected by females for his geekdom, Commentarama Jr. just goes for broke and builds his own girl robot. Only, it doesn't quite work out the way he intended! (laugh track)

And tryanmax... believe it or not, the amnesia episode of 'Full House' was filmed as season finale; the show was cancelled only after they filmed it. That's why it doesn't feel like a "grand" finale.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I feel like I should be horrified. I can literally hear your suggesting being floated in some network boardroom and all the suits nodding their heads about the "fresh and original ideas."... "No one ever jumped a tank with a shark AND a piranha and a crocodile in it before! The public will be amazed!"

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!

Also, I HATE laugh tracks. Talk about having no respect for your audience!

Kit said...

Part of the reason w/ old shows is that, especially in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, "Status quo was God".
The networks were simply unwilling to allow new story lines and directions for the show unless they were forced to because of cast members leaving.
But the networks were too afraid to take it in a new direction.

I think the main exception to this was Doctor Who.

Kit said...

And Hollywood has always thought of us as morons.

In the 1960s the writers of the Dick Van Dyke Show wanted to open it with what we today would call a Cold Opening.
But the Network execs vetoed it because they said the viewers would not know what show they were watching unless the titles came first. Because there are so many different black and white shows starring Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore airing on CBS on Tuesdays at 8pm.

This is why Carl Reiner decided to go with the trick of having Van Dyke sometimes slip on the ottoman.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It's rather ironic to think of the 60/70s as an age of conformity, though it probably was to a degree. But more to the point, this stuff still goes on on the networks... rating stunts and "new dynamics" instead of "better stories."

The old Doctor Who really did march to a different drum.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I can definitely see the potential for confusion:

"Huh, DvD is normally on at this hour. This show stars DvD and MTM. It seems to be about them. But there was no title. I guess this isn't it."

LOL! It's amazing isn't it?

Kit said...

Andrew,

Its amazing how ahead of its time the old Doctor Who was. Its like the writers and the executives had faith in the smartness and cleverness of the audience.
And that is a show that never would have been produced on an American network.
"Wait, you are going to have story lines? Serials? How will people be able to follow whats going on?!?!?!"

And when the First Doctor was leaving.
And you are going to change the lead character? Ok. so you are going to change the main character? Well they tried that w/ Mayberry, R.F.D. and it didn't work- wait, what?! You are going to keep the character the same? Regener-whats? Well how the hell are audiences going to be able to follow that?!?!"

---------

Oh, they still do ratings stunts. Like having a hot young female lead become a lesbian so she can have a lesbian kiss.

Also,
When Ron Howard left, Happy Days entered a realm of stupidity and the show could then have been renamed The Joanie and Chachi Show*. those two characters simply lacked the charisma to keep the show entertaining. When Joanie was the whiny, bratty little sister she was fun. Same w/ Chachi as the Fonz's "morality pet" of sorts. But when those two became the focus they became just bland. Very, very bland.
There was nothing fun about them. It was always "Oh, look how in love they are!"
I could go on for hours!

Gunsmoke was better in Black and White.

And Get Smart should've ended with the wedding. After they were married 99 became annoying and downright whiny.

*Yes, I know that was a spin-off but lets face it. The show had already become that on its own.

Kit said...

The Dick Van Dyke thing amazed me when I saw the interview w/ Carl Reiner where he talked about that. Its amazing how stupid some of the early execs thought audiences were. Though by 1965 they had started with Cold Openings.

There are other zany stories as well. Like The Twilight Zone writer Rod Serling's story of a TV story he did that featured a British character drinking tea. The networks had him change it to coffee because one of the sponsors was a coffee company and they had requested it.

And then there is the whole Lucy and Ricky have to sleep in separate beds and the pregnancy thing.

Anonymous said...

Ratings are down, huh?
Well.whenever Steven Bochco got in ratings trouble he broke out the guns. Remembar when Hill Street Blues was on the skids and Furillo got shot? Why, yes, local police captains in the United States are gunned down at press conferences all the time.And Andrew, you're a lawyer. aren't you? I'll bet there are guys who have multiple tours in Afhhanistan who haven't had as many guns pulled on them as the crew on LA Law! The trick is to use the teaser trailer about gun violence to draw viewers to watch the show,then spend the episode having the rest of the characters denounce guns so you can still keep your liberal props.
Then of course you could try something "socially relevant" like an episode about the homeless or some such.
Then there's the "this show is so brave we're going to shock the puritans and let the chips fall where they may because we're being true to our art" show. Remember how the producers of NYPD Blue acted like they were curing cancer because they were going to have one of the characters say he word fuck? South Park shot that one down brilliantly.
So many,so many, but I have to leave for work now.
GypsyTyger

ScottDS said...

Yeah!

Wait, I'm what? ;-)

This just proves that some things never change. I for one HATE amnesia episodes, mainly because it's not fun watching your favorite TV characters be so helpless.

I enjoy Rashomon-style flashback episodes, though. Fresh Prince did a good one where a pool party is remembered differently by Uncle Phil and Will/Carlton.

And I can't say I mind the "lesbian kiss" trope. ;-)

shawn/john said...

I don't remember any amnesia episodes, but that may be because I am really John, Shawn's evil twin brother recently escaped from a mental asylum and out for revenge because mom always liked him best.

Mwuah ha HA HA HA!

tryanmax said...

You know what, though. I'd almost rather have shows jumping sharks over what goes on now.

Viewers: Is this show going anywhere?

Writers: Oh yeah, this is going somewhere. I is definitely going to something huge. We have the whole thing planned out. We've known from the beginning. Before this is over, you'll be so amazed at where we're going and how we planned it out!

The Show: Fffffiiiiizzzzzzzzzzt!

Viewers: You didn't really have any idea where you were going, did you?

Writers: Um--actually--no... Sorry.

Individualist said...

And now on a very special Different Strokes....

Willis goes to jail and Kimberly becomes a Crack Addict.

And Little Arnold gets a job as a Mall Cop....

Wait.... That is not just the show any longer is it?

Individualist said...

Writer One: Um we need to spike ratings who can we have jump the shark....

Writer Two: That's been done... maybe we can have the shark jump something that'd be new....

Writer Three: How about a whole Storm of Sharks jumping something?

Executive Producer: Hey that's brilliant... that can be a whole movie in itself... Watch Out...it;s Sharknado... dun duh Done!

Ty in TX said...

Re: Full House's amnesia episodes.
They had to do that to cover for the fact that the Olsenscan't act. It started becoming pretty apparent by the time they were supposed to be starting school as Michelle. I actually feel sorry for Jodie Sweetin, that girl had talent, she could really sing, act, and actually had a good sense of comedic timing.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Television executives definitely didn't think much of the public, and I'm not sure they think much more of us today.

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, And don't forget how one of the cop shows showed someone's butt! Very edge.

So what you're saying is that we should put up a teaser about Scott getting shot in the butt and shouting the f-word, and then we denounce cancer. Got it! :P

K said...

I was going to comment on how I haven't watched any US commercial sponsored TV series in over 20 years, but decided not to because one thing I hate are the "I'm better than you because I don't watch commercial TV" snobs, so I won't.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, What? Didn't you read the memo? ;P

I hate the amnesia episodes too because they make no sense and they require all the characters to act in very unnatural ways for the whole thing to work... bad science, bad acting, bad writing.

I agree about the Rashomon flashbacks, when handled well.

Kenn Christenson said...

...speaking of all this - anybody remember the film:"Network?" If that film didn't tear TVs standard tropes a new one, I don't know what did.

Funny how the tables have turned and, now it seems as if TV has taken over the movie business as far as innovative stories and characters.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn/John, Arg... how could I forget about the evil twin episode! Man do I HATE those!

Ty in TX said...

You don't like amnesia episodes, flashback episodes and evil twin plots.
It's official, Andrew does not watch soap operas.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, True. There are a great many shows that promise much more than they can deliver. I think the problem there is that Lost showed them the way... just suggest mysteries and keep piling more suggested mysteries on top of existing suggested mysteries until you get canceled.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, Yeah, child actors are like a crime wave waiting to happen.

For the record, Sharknado sucked. But I did enjoy Ghost Shark. :)

KRS said...

Tryanmax, Full House was created by taking the remains of the Velveeta burrito that was once the Brady Bunch and slathering it with Cheez Whiz - some people will swallow anything.

Gypsey, My favorite episode of LA Law was when Rosalind Shays was killed off by falling down an elevator shaft. It sounds horrible, but the way it was executed had everyone in our room laughing. In the next episode, some character speaks of her body being found in the cbles on the fourth floor, and the third, and the second... I might have peed myself a little bit on that one.

Andrew, I was going to suggest elevator shafts be added to your list, but I've changed my mind: that stunt was comedic brilliance.

KRS said...

Btw, I have always wanted to see a popular sitcom do a "best of" episode where, instead of just going through a series of clips from popular scenes, they re-shoot well known clips and add really bizarre endings.

Don't have any examples - I want to see it, not write it.

ScottDS said...

KRS -

Community did something kinda like that but not exactly. Now that I think of it, I don't remember what they did so disregard!

Kevin Smith's quickly-cancelled Clerks: The Animated Series did a flashback episode for their second episode and flashed back to events that took place before the show began, events from other POVs, and flashbacks of characters that we had never seen before.

Not a great show but credit where it's due.

ScottDS said...

...one thing I hate are the "I'm better than you because I don't watch commercial TV" snobs, so I won't.

Me too. [smile] :-)

djskit said...

Just hire Ted McGinley as a guest writer and you can drag things out for a couple more years.

darski said...

I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday that "Family Ties" had 'jumped the shark' when they did the "Christmas Carol" rip off. I felt sad :(

To me it was a defining moment and I knew anyone who did 'the Carol' was past their sell by date.

Now I have to go and read the other answers :)

shawn said...

darksi said: "To me it was a defining moment and I knew anyone who did 'the Carol' was past their sell by date."


I'm going to have to disagree with this one. Married with Children did a "Christmas Carol" episode with Sam Kinison as Al Bundy's guardian Angel. Sam shows Al that everyone else's life would have been just wonderful if he hadn't been born. Angry at all the misery they have put him through over the years, Al says "I want to live!" so that his family has to suffer also. It was one of the high points of the series.

AndrewPrice said...

Ty, They all seem nice as kids... it's after their drug habits kick in that things go wrong.

AndrewPrice said...

K, LOL! Yes, we wouldn't want that!

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, Network was great and it very much showed us the future... except for television's resurgence.

AndrewPrice said...

Ty, Good guess! LOL!

If you really are Ty and not his long lost brother who used to run the hospital where all the orphans were killed...

//ta duummmmmm

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I never really watched LA Law, but it sounds pretty unintentionally hilarious. :)

Wasn't the ending to Seinfeld a best of show?

darski said...

@ shawn... I think you are thinking of an "It's a Wonderful Life" episode. I am talking of Ebenezer Scrooge/Christmas Carol with the 3 ghosts.

BevfromNYC said...

I can't believe you left out "the vacation" episodes where the family/neighbors etc. go on a 2 or more episode story arc involving an exotic locale...

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Wasn't the ending to Seinfeld a best of show?

The finale was an extra-long episode, which was preceded by a clipshow (which was funnier than the finale, sadly).

The finale itself, mainly during the courtroom scene, was more or less a second clipshow... very disappointing.

Tennessee Jed said...

The avg. viewer tolerates an incredibly low bar of quality. It's a time passer. Most people fib about their preferences, preferring to pretend it is higher brow than it really is. I think that is how the term "guilty pleasure" came about.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's really funny to do a clip show in the second episode. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, There are certainly some go-to people for certain things, aren't there?

AndrewPrice said...

darski, Yeah, that's another one. I seem to recall seeing Christmas Carol episodes in many, many shows.

AndrewPrice said...

shawn, Married With Children was pretty creative until the fell into the "we're really popular" trap and then it just became mugging for the audience.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, So true. And of course, something bad happens to them so they end up getting mixed up in some criminal plot.

//shakes head slowly

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I thought it was something like that.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Very true. There was actually a study by Netflix (or Blockbuster) which found that people tend to hold onto "hard" films a lot longer because they delay watching them and sometimes return them unwatched. By comparison, the mindless stuff gets watched and returned right away.

shawn said...

Darski-

Doh! You are correct. That episode was an It's a Wonderful Life knock-off.

BevfromNYC said...

"...There was actually a study by Netflix (or Blockbuster) which found that people tend to hold onto "hard" films a lot longer because they delay watching them and sometimes return them unwatched. By comparison, the mindless stuff gets watched and returned right away."

OMG! They KNOW??? How do they know that I didn't watch the stuff I was supposed to watch to make me look smart?? I was careful. I always took it out of the red, foldy wrapper, then put it back to mail it back? Have they told the IRS or the NSA?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, LOL! I'm sure the NSA overheard them talking about it... in their private conversations.

T-Rav said...

EXCUSE ME?!?! Sharknado was awesome, a true cinematic masterpiece, and I will fight you if you disagree. I thought "Two-Headed Shark Attack" might best it, and it came close, but only Sharknado has the Shakespearean acting, the clever writing, and superb cinematography that define a "great" movie. Fie on you!

Dave Olson said...

TV in general jumped the shark in the mid-90s when it all became game shows and "reality" shows. (IMHO, "Reality Television" is neither, but that's another story.) I'm sure there are some good shows out there, but there's not a single network program that I watch. I gave up on CSI a few years ago (when Liz Vassey left, she was frickin' HOT!), and that was the last show I even made an effort for. It would seem that according to Hollywood, heterosexual white males who tend to vote Republican are the enemy, and must be shown as the bad guy in every episode. So screw 'em.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Sharknado was awful awful. Ghost Shark was awesome awful.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Reality TV stinks.

PikeBishop said...

1. On Full House: I agree with someone above that of the three kid actresses, Jodi Sweetin was the best. She could deliver a line and didn't have a bad sense of timing for a youngster.

2. On all the "Christmas Carol" episodes, when is the last time any show has played it straight with the Dickensian paradigm? It is so entrenched in the culture that it almost has to be winked at, and can't be taken seriously.

Loyal Goatherd said...

Long before the Fonz jumped the shark, John-boy watched the Hindenburg blow up! It's not fair that jump the shark became the idiom. Almost every TV show reaches a point where they pollute our memories of better times. IE, Archie Bunker's Place. And Yes, Beaver Cleaver became a teenager and started liking girls.

Very Few TV show writers/ producers/ actors had the brains to quit while on top of their game. Most tried to milk the product for every last dollar they could get. Married with children fits here! Battlestar Galactica (the new one) was one of the few to go out on top, with a bang, not a whimper.

"When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it." That was the FCC chairman in 1961. Today, the vast wasteland is the good old days. Today, we have the bottomless pit. Going down!

tryanmax said...

Hey, now, I may rag on Full House, but it's out of love. I never knew that the finale wasn't meant to be the finale. Not that it explains much. There's little about that show that can be explained. "There's a car in the kitchen!"

But you know what show jumped more sharks than Full House? Family Matters! Urkelbot couldn't kill it. Neither could Stefan Urquelle. Nor Bruce Lee Urkel. What killed it was when Steve was made the center of a love-triangle. His unrequited affections for Laura were a driving force of the entire show. Minus that... pthzzzzz!

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: Interesting note about "Married with Children." Ten years ago Fox did a retrospective special on the show. Interestingly enough, 95% of the clips they showed were from the first three seasons. And the show ran for what? 11?

AndrewPrice said...

Loyal Goatherd, That is a great comment. I think what it shows actually is two things. First, it shows that opinions vary when it comes to humans and one man's garbage is another man's treasure.

Secondly, I think it shows that there is a perception problem. If you look at "television," you see a ton of junk. But if you are more selective, you really can find some gems in the mix. And time has a way of separating the gems from the turds.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I'm not surprised. The first couple years were really funny, really original, and really sharp. Then the show devolved into them telling a joke and waiting for the audience to hoot, and the jokes became really basic and not at all creative.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, Loyal Goatherd, I totally agree about BSG... they went out on top and I'm glad they didn't try to jam another season in there.

Loyal Goatherd said...

It's also the culture! The participation trophy culture. Excellence is not encouraged, indeed, it is frowned upon. Everyone cool watches it, hey, I'm cool, I should watch it.

I find myself watching some stuff, because of the buzz about it, wondering is this it? This is good?
I, just, don't get it.

AP, you're right on with the gems in the sewage. Justified is about all that's left to me. Mad Men, I don't know why on that one, unless it's back to the participation trophy thing. And thank God for Netflix, just filtering the commercials out helps immeasurably.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, that is a lie. Ghost Shark didn't even try. Sharknado brought it all the way. Not to mention, it contributed to science; we now know that you can destroy tornados by exploding propane tanks inside of them. Are you really going to criticize a show that saves lives, Andrew? Are you?

T-Rav said...

Incidentally, since we're talking about TV shows, Futurama's last episode (until further notice) was tonight. As someone who's been a very intermittent watcher, I liked it, though there wasn't nearly enough Bender.

shawn said...

Well, this may be heresy, but I thought count me among those who thought the new Battlestar Galactica did not go out on top. The first two seasons were some of the best tv out there, the second two not so much. Didn't care for their choices on the final five, they dropped the ball on Helo and Boomer's kid, don't get me started on Angel-Starbuck, and giving up all their technology to live with early man... oy!

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I'm the other way around. I thought it started poorly and really got ugly by the time of the Iraq metaphor. But then it got really good. I do think the ending itself could have been better, but I thought it really hit its stride near the end.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Good point. Sharknado will save lives. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Loyal Goatherd, I think there are a lot of gems right now, but we won't know until we see what the future keeps. :)

Kit said...

My current favorite shows are Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Once Upon a Time, Doctor Who, and Modern Family

Kit said...

And, yes, I plan on watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Kristina D said...

though they did jump sharks eventually, and went far beyond when they should have ended, I think X-Files at their peak were lucky to be able to actually use many of these cliches as fodder for some great stories (amnesia, baby, body switch, doppelganger etc etc) what they should have done was go out with Mulder waking up: "it was all a dream!!"

AndrewPrice said...

Kristina, True. The X-Files managed to do all of these things well because they took them to really strange places and because the show was geared toward these sorts of things.

That would have been a funny ending! LOL!

Kit said...

The childhood version of him waking up and then running to his sister "You wouldn't believe the weird dream I had!"

John Johnson said...

Let's hope for a new war. Broadcasting high tech drone/B2 kills all day surely works. Made CNN bosses trillionaires back then. Don't forget the occasional hero footage, and offcourse the sad little girl with cancer who misses her daddy because he's in a B52 24/7 at a secret location. ABC can have the scraps, like broadcasting happy dogs when 'daddy' returns.

Oh yeah. this is always good money.

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