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Old March 28 2012, 07:09 PM   #1
Jarvisimo
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What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Hi all. I am biased towards DS9. I consider it the most 'artistic' of the Trek television shows, that is, the most interesting as a dramatic and visual creation. This includes its writing, its design, its acting, its ambition. As I have noted before, it does not compare to contemporaneous other-genre shows like Homicide or NYPD Blue - but within the confines of 1990s science fiction, and more particularly Trek, it is, for me, the most artistic (however infantile it may seem in comparison to those other programmes).

However, I am a ... for want of a better word and because of my study of rarefied visual culture, a snob. I believe in the calling of artistic determination in entertainment, perhaps at the exclusion of the common interest. I was reading this wonderful article, which of course I made all the well-timed agreeing noises to, but what do you think?

Such shows aren’t intended to appeal to everyone. Instead they’re a benchmark of quality for the rest to aspire to. They will endure, stand up to repeated viewings, inspire analysis and discussion. They’re the screen equivalent of a literary novel: read by a select few, yet still more culturally significant than most best-selling bonkbusters.
This article focuses on media like Mad Men, Game of Thrones and The Wire and the sense that 'artistic' television will always be less well-known than populist television (bonkbusters!), but also far less important. Television not mentioned within that argument - but relevant for consideration of the argument within the genre - includes past programmes like BSG or Farscape, and potentially, because of the seeds laid for the former show in its production, DS9.

But what do you think should be the purpose of television? And more importantly, a genre production like a Trek production?
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Old March 28 2012, 07:30 PM   #2
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

"What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?"

Yes.
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Old March 28 2012, 07:36 PM   #3
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Naturally, I wish Television was all about what I consider Spectacular Art that Entertaining.

However, Television is a business, in order to stay in business (providing us entertainment and providing so many jobs in the industry, that we couldn't afford to give up, since so many manual labor jobs have been lost to automation and outsourcing), they need to do whatever makes them money.
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Old March 28 2012, 08:37 PM   #4
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Jarvisimo wrote: View Post
But what do you think should be the purpose of television? And more importantly, a genre production like a Trek production?
The purpose of television, especially these days, is to advertise products through entertainment. It's why I don't watch TV anymore. I can't stand all the advertising. Nearly anything I want to watch can be found with either online subscription streams (minimal advertising!) or DVD packages.

It's no surprise that the most 'artistically inclined' shows tend to find homes on networks where advertising isn't as prominent, as there's less pressure for said shows to appeal to mass audiences to cultivate ad revenue.
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Old March 29 2012, 04:05 AM   #5
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

*looks at current TV ratings, sees CBS draws the most viewers*

TV should aim to be able to be taken in bland, predictable bitesize chunks.
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Old March 30 2012, 09:40 PM   #6
Temis the Vorta
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

TV should strive for ratings; otherwise it will not survive and nothing else matters.

It's a common misapprehension that "art" or "quality" is somehow incompatible with good ratings or popularity. I can think of many cases of shows that thrive because they are good, not in spite of it.

More than anything, it depends on the audience you're reaching. A show on CBS is never going to be anything other than middlebrow fodder for the masses, because that's the audience CBS caters to. The situation is very different on HBO or AMC. There are so many channels that it's easy to ignore the outlets that don't cater to your tastes and focus on the ones that do.

The purpose of television, especially these days, is to advertise products through entertainment.
That's been the purpose from the start. It's more recently that this has changed with basic and premium cable making revenue from subscriptions rather than just trying to attract the mass audience that Ford or McDonald's wants to reach.

This is just another example of an old adage, "you get what you pay for." If you want programming for your specific tastes, you need to pay someone directly for it, not indirectly via watching ads (which is not nearly as lucrative, per viewer, as charging subscriptions).

Simply because they are free to pursue niches, cable series are more original and creative. Maybe they attract more talented people, too, but my hunch is that the people working even on the CBS fodder are a lot more talented than the shows they make would suggest. They just have a different goal.
This article focuses on media like Mad Men, Game of Thrones and The Wire and the sense that 'artistic' television will always be less well-known than populist television (bonkbusters!)
I don't have any stats to back this up, but those shows you've mentioned are very well known, even if everyone doesn't watch them. And is there anyone who hasn't heard of The Sopranos?

Mad Men doesn't really get "low" ratings by basic cable standards. The ratings are okay, and the show just debuted at 3.5M in the 18-49 demographic, which is a series high. AMC's superstar, The Walking Dead, gets twice that number, but that show's a real ratings monster. As long as the ratings are okay in America, the show will survive, even if foreign audiences reject it. Not everything travels well.

Also, the article mentions the show moved from the BBC to Sky Atlantic. I'm not sure what that means, but if it's like moving from broadcast to cable in terms of audience reach, of course the ratings are going to drop because the base audience is smaller. The main question is, is Mad Men profitable for Sky Atlantic at the cost they are paying AMC (which is probably not something they'd disclose)?

Switching over to space opera as a sub-genre of sci fi, it's got a problem in this new cosmos of niche-based cable programming, namely it's a niche of a niche (sci fi more generally) and it's pricey to boot. That means we get sci fi that's about cops or sci fi that's about vague hand-waving global conspiracies, but no space operas, the assumption being that potential audience is too small to justify the cost.

I'd be willing to bet that there are ways to solve the cost/audience size problem, but unfortunately, it's not my money to bet. The people in charge of the budgets don't keep their jobs by taking crazy risks.

I wouldn't regard DS9 as particularly "artistic." It's less lunkheaded than a lot of TV, but it wouldn't be arty enough for AMC or any of the premium cable channels to touch it. Since Showtime is owned by CBS, my hope is that one day Star Trek can appear on Showtime, but if that ever happened, it would be utterly transformed into something a lot of fans might not recognize or appreciate.

All the middlebrow-ness will have to be purged, which is scary because some degree of middlebrow-ness has always been an element of Star Trek and who knows what might happen in the transition? Are we going to end up with Game of Thrones in space? That might be cool, but will it be Star Trek anymore?

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Old March 31 2012, 06:49 AM   #7
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Here's a related article that's interesting:

How does HBO make money on expensive shows only 3 million people watch?
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Old April 1 2012, 09:08 PM   #8
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Yep, it's all about how much each viewer is worth. One viewer is worth more on premium cable than basic cable, and more on basic cable than broadcast because subscriptions are far more lucrative than basing your business on advertising. As always, You Get What You Pay For.

Broadcast is cut & dried - show X gets Y viewers in the demographic the advertisers want, and that determines its fate. On cable, a show is valued for its ability to retain subscribers and also attract new ones, which doesn't just come down to numbers but also the show's brand-image value. Mad Men's prestige is more important to AMC than it would be to CBS, and to have a show like that would be highly valuable to HBO.

The importance of buzz factor to premium cable also gives them a motive to lie about why they cancelled a series. Broadcast is very up front about it - we tried show X, didn't work, axe it and move on. But for premium cable to admit they made a mistake can harm their reputation for future success and make subscribers wonder whether the subscription is worth hanging onto.
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Old April 6 2012, 06:36 PM   #9
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

It's funny this thread is here. One of my favorite books is the DS9 Companion, precisely because I think it addresses this issue. If I were to teach or take a TV writing class, I would want that book on the syllabus. It's got great, entertaining anecdotes about the process the writers went through developing the show, especially since they consciously decided to make it a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I think in particular TV shows are the closest AV medium to novels, especially in the 19th century Dickens mold. The article you cite says as much. In that way they can tell a long-form story and still occasionally go off on a tangent, or develop a character more fully here and there. That's why I like DS9's mix of serialization and stand-alone episodes.

I also think that the show was very influential in how television developed in the thirteen years since it went off the air. I'm reminded of a cliché associated with the band Velvet Underground (I'm paraphrasing): Not very many people listened to them, but everyone who did started a band.

While that's obviously an exaggeration, it's a point that could be made about Mad Men or DS9.
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Old April 7 2012, 11:02 PM   #10
Temis the Vorta
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

The Sopranos and the X-Files were more influential in legitimizing the idea of ongoing story arcs, but DS9 was part of the overall trend.
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Old April 11 2012, 03:04 AM   #11
Eric Cheung
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Well DS9 premiered the same season as The X-Files and ended earlier. I think that from the point of view of the networks and studios, The X-Files and The Sopranos were probably more influential in yes, legitimizing (or securing green-lights for serialized shows), but I bet DS9 is at least as influential among the TV writing community from a creative point of view. One of The Sopranos' writers created Mad Men, one of DS9's writers created the BSG reboot, which itself is a signifier of the trend of the past decade.
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Old April 11 2012, 03:28 AM   #12
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

I think that Hill Street Blues and St Elsewhere were the trend setters in "legitimizing" weekly serial dramas on TV. X-Files and the Sopranos came pretty late in the game.
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Old April 11 2012, 03:40 AM   #13
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Hill Street Blues was a big influence on how Ronald D. Moore formatted BSG.

But if we go back far enough, I Love Lucy did arcs, so did Get Smart. I just mean that it wasn't until relatively recently that serialization began to pervade television to this degree.
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Old April 11 2012, 03:47 AM   #14
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Eric Cheung wrote: View Post
Hill Street Blues was a big influence on how Ronald D. Moore formatted BSG.

But if we go back far enough, I Love Lucy did arcs, so did Get Smart. I just mean that it wasn't until relatively recently that serialization began to pervade television to this degree.
Yes, it's become the standard format, but I think that's been true for over well over a decade or two.
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Old April 11 2012, 10:47 AM   #15
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Re: What should television strive for? Art? Entertainment? Spectacle?

Can't we have all three?

You can make an argument that ratings are important which is true to a certain degree. In so much as a network can make an immediate return on their product. However some of those shows are quickly forgotten about and rarely repeated. If we take ST as an example it wasn't great in the ratings (as they were measured in the US at the time) however decades of reruns all around the world will have returned a massive long term return on expenture.
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