Network television has been struggling lately to hold onto viewers. It’s no wonder why. In my early childhood years (the ones I can remember), say, 1977-1982, we got 4 TV channels… 5 if the wind was blowing in the right direction, the planets were properly aligned, and God was in a good mood. And 2 of those 5 were PBS.
Now I have a DirecTV satellite system that offers me over 130 channel options. Of course, about 127 of those channels are utter crap, but at least I get VH1 Classic and Boomerang, so when all else fails, I can always fall back on a cheesy Ratt video or an episode of Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch. All of the old stuff from the broadcast networks that was actually worth watching is now on TV Land or Nick at Nite, and the more recent stuff is on TNT, or as I like to call it, the Law and Order Network.
You might think that with all of the competition from cable networks, broadcast TV would’ve withered away. But much to the contrary, the number of broadcast networks has doubled since my youth. So now instead of 3 networks competing for 95% of all viewers (perhaps I am being generous to PBS), we have 6 networks competing for about 10-15% of the total audience. (I think PBS has managed to retain about 3 or 4 viewers nationwide, for the shows that haven’t been stolen by the army of Discovery networks. So someone actually does watch Masterpiece Theater!)
Oh yeah… I had a point to all of this. Faced with dwindling audiences, atrophy of advertising revenues, and a chronic inability to get the public’s attention, the networks have resorted to… reality TV.
I remember naively thinking, around the third series of Survivor (which is now, incredibly, casting for its seventh series), that the public’s fascination with “ordinary” people making asses of themselves had run its course. Oh, how wrong I was.
I admit, occasionally I get sucked into this stuff. I spent 3 hours in front of the TV last night, flipping between the finale of Joe Millionaire on Fox (which I, honestly, had never watched before) and ABC‘s encore presentation of the freakshow that is Living with Michael Jackson.
A variety of thoughts went through my head during the course of the evening:
Am I witnessing the fall of Rome?
I can’t believe I’m buying into the hype and watching this crap.
God, that Sarah‘s a bitch!
Yes, it’s true. As high-and-mighty as I like to be, as much as I deride this tripe and the people who watch it, I get drawn into it too.
But what really disturbed me were the promo spots for other shows that the networks were airing. Just about every new show they were promoting was another reality show. And now we’ve gotten into the scariest territory of all: reality shows about fallen celebrities (or perpetual wannabe celebrities) who are desperately trying to revive their faltering careers. Granted, even then, I must admit I find it somewhat amusing to see what happens when the likes of Vince Neil, MC Hammer, Emmanuel “Webster” Lewis, Gabrielle Carteris from Beverly Hills 90210, Corey Feldman, and the rest (as they used to say in the first-season theme music to Gilligan’s Island) are thrown together, as with the WB‘s The Surreal Life. Of course, I got as much amusement from watching the closing credits of a recent rerun of SNL on Comedy Central, wherein Rob Lowe, Eminem, and Ralph Nader were standing in a row at the front of the stage. Any truly odd assortment of famous people is bound to be mildly entertaining, even if they’re just waving at TV cameras.
At this point, I can only wonder, what’s next? And how can I avoid watching it?