Wednesday, June 06, 2007

(Not So) Music Television

Today, for the first time in years, I turned on MTV.

I’m not a huge music fan, but I was reading and decided I’d like a little background music. However, instead of music, I found myself sitting in front of an episode of ‘The Real World’. There’s nothing like watching a group of shallow, self-absorbed assholes making mountains out of molehills in order to get their fifteen minutes. Someone borrowed someone else’s hairbrush without asking and they’re mad about it…now there’s a premise for an hour-long show!

So I flicked through the guide, to see when it would go off and I could actually listen to some music. As I went through, this is what I saw:

Real World, Real World, Real World, Reunion : Real World, X-Effect, X-Effect and so on and so on.

Oh, and ‘X Effect’ is yet another reality TV show, which deserves to burn in hell simply because it has ‘X’ in the title…but more on that later.

By this point, I’m wondering what the fuck happened to MTV. A whole day’s programming and not a single show that’s actually about music. WTF, MTV? I remember when MTV was 90% music, 5% Beavis and Butthead and 5% music news. Now, it appears to be yet another ‘Reality TV’ channel.

So I change tack and flip over the VH1. Good ole VH1, bound to be some music on there!

Apparently not. I see Celebrity Fit Club, 100 Greatest…, then yet more reality TV.

Well, it appears that it doesn’t matter what the actual channel is meant to be about anymore, it’s just more trash-tv that you can see anywhere else.

Isn’t the point of having a few hundred channels that you get to watch something that interests you at any time of day? If I want music, I go to MTV, if I want news I go to CNN etc, etc.

Apparently, not anymore.

Ok, I have a theory on this, and I’d love for someone in the business to give me an insight and tell me if I’m right or not. If you can contradict me, please do, because I’d love to hear it.

The first part of my theory is ‘Creativity Kryptonite’. This is the reason that no matter what channel we’re watching, we see the same old shit day after day.

What I think happens is this: Someone comes up with an original idea and has the balls to take the risk and turn it into a TV show. Then everyone else copies the idea. Why take the risk in coming up with someone original when the statistics show that reality TV is hot right now, and if you can work in a weight-loss angle, all the better? Then we get months or even years of crappy, sub-standard clones…until someone changes the format enough to be interesting, and then the whole cycle starts over.

Oh, and apparently ‘X’ is cool. The more X’s in the title the better. Classic committee thinking. It’s not that at some point in the past someone created a really good show with ‘X’ in the title. The letter itself must be like some ratings-grabbing lucky charm. It’s the same with ‘Extreme’, which means if you put the word ‘X-Treme’ in the title, you’re guaranteed a huge audience.

The second part of my theory is a bit more complex.

First, you have to understand that a ‘specialty’ channel is going to have a smaller audience than a general interest channel. You’re bound to get a hardcore group of fans that will simply adore your channel, but if you’re in charge of a network that’s exclusively about crochet, you’re appealing to a smaller group of people.

However, you occasionally get a channel that gets popular and starts to make a bunch of money. Then, more often than not, it gets bought by a group of people who simply don’t know what it is they’re buying and don’t understand what the channel is all about, other than the fact it’s making a shit-ton of money.

Long story short, you’ve got a bunch of crusty 40-something businessmen, who suddenly find themselves at the helm of MTV. They’ve never watched it, have no idea about the ideology of their audience…but it was damn popular, making lots of cash, and their analysts recommended buying it.

Basically, good TV is art, not an ‘investment’. You need to care about your network and what it’s all about. If all you care about is how much cash you can milk from it, the network is going to suffer. Unfortunately, this almost never happens.

Then we get to the point that ruins TV in general, and normally puts the channel or network in question into a major freaking nosedive.

One day, one of these businessmen says: “Well, we’re making money, but how can we make more?”…and then they hire consultants, look at demographic charts and change the programming to whatever’s ‘popular’ and what ‘the kids are into these days’. Then, whammo, we get those fucking awful reality TV shows.

The best example of this in action is G4, or formerly TechTV.

This really was my network, it could have been tailor-made for me. For months, if I was watching TV, I was watching G4. Then it got bought by the douchebags at Comcast.

So, in an effort to get more ratings, they decided to start slipping in programming that appealed to the demographic that watched G4. Street Racing was ‘cool’, so they dropped that in with ‘Street Fury’ and ‘Fast Lane’.

This is a classic example of the owners simply not understanding what they had and who their audience were. G4 was watched mostly by people like me, namely tech-geeks. However, we’re in the male, aged 23-35 demographic. Basically, what appeals to that demographic isn’t exactly what appeals to geeks.

In other words, it was like taking over a science-fair and deciding everyone would like it better if there was more sports and ‘jock’ activities involved. It’s like showing war movies to a bunch of pacifists, just because most people their sex and age thought ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was cool.

So then, ratings start to go down, and rather than just putting the programming back the way it was, they decide the drop must be due to some other reason, because the analysts have said that males aged 23-35 love fast cars, drinking and boobies. So they put in yet more programming that is the polar opposite to the ‘spirit’ of the network. Then that fails, so they just start showing syndicated shows that have proven popular on other networks.

That’s why instead of ‘The Screen Savers’ and other tech and videogame related shows, G4 is now running ‘Cops’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘The Man Show’ and ‘Cheaters’.

Long story short, they turn a beloved specialty network into yet another ‘general interest’ clone. The audience just leaves in disgust, and the network becomes yet another channel competing with the other hundred or so crappy channels out there.

That’s why TechTV turned into ‘Drunken Frat-boy TV’, MTV became ‘The Crappy Reality Show Network’ and VH1 became ‘The Crappy Reality Show Network Clone Number 8754’.

I mean, seriously. It comes to something when there’s almost no actual music on Music Television.

There’s no such thing as creativity anymore. Rather than someone having an idea, someone within a network believing in that idea and putting it on air, we’re down to suits in boardrooms churning out the same old crap again and again because the new show is a risk, and reality TV is ‘hot’ right now. If something doesn’t have a proven track record and pretty much guaranteed to make lots of cash, it doesn’t get on air.

It reminds me of the interview with Billy West, the voice of Fry (among others) on the excellent ‘Futurama’. He told the story of when Matt Groening pitched the idea of Futurama to the Fox execs. Apparently they all said the same thing:

“That’s all well and good, but we want another ‘Simpsons’!”

Groening fired back that there was already a Simpsons, and he didn’t see the point in creating a ‘new’ show that was just a clone of an already existing one.

This is a classic example of the thinking in TV today. Don’t make something new, it might fail…just go ahead and make the same thing over and over because it has a track record.

Just for completeness in this story, obviously the people at Fox couldn’t say no to Matt Groening, the guy who single-handedly put Fox on the map…but rather than be proven wrong they put Futurama on in a stupid time-slot, and every time it started to gain an audience, they’d switch it to another time…meaning fans were having a hard time finding it. Then they cancelled it.

Pretty much exactly the same thing happened with ‘Family Guy’. This is speculation on my part, but it obviously got on air because Fox thought they were finally getting another ‘Simpsons’…then, of course, they buried it when they found out it was a lot edgier than ‘The Simpsons’ and wasn’t pulling in the same size audience. It faltered a little, and rather than leave it on and give it a chance to attract an audience, they cancelled it. Then, of course, it got a major following on ‘Adult Swim’, and once it was ‘hot’ and not a ‘risk’, Fox re-instated it.

In conclusion, what really needs to happen is someone needs to start making specialty channels again, being happy with their smaller but dedicated audience…and have the balls and moral fortitude to not sell-out when some dude in a suit wants to buy it from them.

Oh well, there’s always the Discovery Channel.


manda said...

i didn't read all of this, I was too... I don't read as fast as you lol.

But where the HELL have you been?
MTV has been like this for ages, I hate the way they still call themselves MTV, cause they're not Music Television. Although I do like some Real World, and the Reunited is good.

But at least most of the reality shows on VH1-well.. Flava of Love was based on a guy who was a music artist for a living,. and okay, it was a date show, but a good one!! haha.. you can normally count on fuse or vh1 and definitely cmt to play music !!

and you have to listen to mtv after hours in order to get/hear/see music videos.

Kato said...

What's funny is that MTV has a bunch of spin-off stations, usually available as part of an additional cable tier, but they are exactly what MTV should be--all music. I watch one that I get as part of my digital tier called MTV Jams which is just nothing but hip-hop/r&b videos, without commercials (or with very few). No shows, no veejays, just music. Go figure.

MC Etcher said...

WhatEVER, Grandpa