Two Cheers for Television

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Over at the always innerestin' Wilson Quarterly, James Morris has penned an appreciation of the small screen that's worth reading. A snippet:

When all that good stuff has to sit out the competition, what's left in the wasteland of broadcast TV to keep a discriminating adult from the multiplex? More in the course of a week than you might think. I'm partial to eight shows in particular, and I could easily name several more. As it happens, six of the eight are on much-maligned Fox. But hold the laurel. Fox is also the network on which a line of midgets competed with an elephant to see who could pull a jet plane down an airport runway faster. (For those ashamed to ask: the elephant.)

Note that statement comes after he's vowed not to count premium cable offerings, PBS, and more in evaluating current TV offerings.

"My Favorite Wasteland" here.

Link via Arts & Letters Daily.

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  1. “Fox is also the network on which a line of midgets competed with an elephant to see who could pull a jet plane down an airport runway faster.”

    I remember that. I also remember how the sumo wrestler took a dive in the tug-of-war against the baboon.

  2. There aren’t 8 good shows on broadcast television. I can’t think of 3. If you put all of the CSIs and Law and Orders together, you probably don’t even have 8 shows airing in a week.

  3. Broadcast television sucks. I hardly watch it at all, except for some sports. Of course, you always have some contrarian who has to tell us that what is clearly so bad is actually good. Uh, huh.

    I think the only shows of any kind–broadcast or cable–that I watch with any regularity are Battlestar Galactica, Nova, and Good Eats. And maybe the occasional Mythbusters.

  4. The quality of TV in general cannot be judged by new programming only. Biography and Hallmark show old episodes of Columbo. TV Land does a weird early evening combo of Andy Griffith, All in the Family, and Good Times. The assorted Showtime networks ran a lot of obscure Shakespeare films this past week. Older episodes of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit gets multiple airings to bolster the new Eps.
    It must be said, however, that I will not be completely satisfied with the medium until someone airs Banacek and Burke’s Law again.

  5. I largely agree with Morris and have long thought that those who decry the “vast wasteland” (1) are damning a dog for being an unsatisfactory sort of cat, and (2) implicitly holding television to a higher standard than they do for other media. Most published books are garbage. Same with most recorded music, most movies, most plays produced, most paintings painted, etc. So it is now, so it has always been. It may be a wonder that art occasionally emerges from a medium intended as mass entertainment (e.g., Dickens’ serialized novels), but it is no surprise that the occurrence is rare and certainly no reason to damn the medium itself.

    I don’t believe in the possibility, let alone the existence of objective aesthetics, so I find these sorts of arguments amusing but pointless. (Congratulations if you noticed I just contradicted myself.) If you don?t think, say, The Simpsons, House, Lost, Boston Legal, etc. are worth watching, don’t watch them. Do any of them rise above, say, a good science fiction or mystery novel? Probably not, and so what?

  6. There aren’t 8 good shows on broadcast television.

    How many people actually watch “broadcast” television anymore? Less than half of prime-time viewers are watching broadcast networks — and most of them are probably watching them via cable or sattelite. Apart from history, why do we even make the distinction between “broadcast” and “cable”?

  7. I thought the 40 midgets beat the elephant. And the sumo wrestler didn’t take a dive, that orangutan was too much for him to handle.

  8. The thing to remember is that while the good stuff may be gems in a sea of crap, that’s probably always been the case. My wife and I have tickets to see a play by Aeschylus. People remember a handful of great playwrights from ancient Greece. The thing is, for every guy producing great works back then, there were dozens producing “Dude, Where’s My Chariot?”

  9. The funniest part is the response to Wilson’s column. The anti-TV luddites never fail to come out of the woodwork with their stock responses – but since none of them watch TV how are they qualified to judge? It never fails to amaze me how much people seem to invest in the idea that “TV is bad, bad, bad!”, as if they’ve staked their own personal salvation on their virtuous self-denial of television. Particularly amusing is the gentleman who quotes that highbrow critic Bruce Springsteen “57 channels and nothing on” – what a telling riposte to Wilson’s essay.

    If you want to argue that 16th century Persian poetry or the works of Schoenberg are better for you than television go ahead. But how can you argue with Wilson’s contention that television is better than most Hollywood product, including “indies”? I just saw “Friends with Money”, it was decent enough, but “Veronica Mars” makes the same points about class and money in America and does it with more insight and more humor, not to mention characters you actually care about.

  10. James Morris not James Wilson.

  11. The really scary thing is that the talent on display in many commercials eclipses both your typical Hollywood product and your average TV show.

  12. “Dude, Where’s My Chariot?”

    I saw that. The part where Alcibiades meets Plato’s mom and is all like “Al, your mom is HAWT!” was hysterical.

  13. I sort of followed along half-heartedly through the tacked-on classical allusions (the House of Atreus comparison for Arrested Development’s Bluths was especially egregious), but he lost me completely when he praised the Gilmore Girls, the most execrable faux-smart abomination on contemporary television. Fast dialogue is not synonymous with good writing.

  14. I took a lot of Latin in college. All of my professors spent their summers either excavating or working on recently excavated manuscripts. My favorite prof brought some examples of what he worked on the previous summer. It was a manuscript consisting almost entirely of fart jokes. He also said that he couldn’t bring his translations of graffiti because it was too gross. The point being that there was never a time in human history when the populace as a whole preferred highbrow art to “Dude, Where’s My Chariot.” (thoreau, you win the prize for funniest reference of the day. Join the guy who wanted his grass to become Goth and cut itself in the winner’s circle.)

    As for current TV, it’s certainly not any worse than it was in the 70’s, when I was in high school, and when “Three’s Company” and “Dallas” topped the Nielsen’s. I don’t have time to watch much TV, what with a job, kids, and the need to keep up with all these fascinating blog posts, but the good stuff really is better than it was 30 years ago. I don’t like telenovelas like “24” because I can’t make the commitment and because I get annoyed when the characters do something stupid, but “Mythbusters” and almost anything on the Food Network is worth the occasional hour. All four us enjoy it when Discovery puts on one of its animated natural history shows, especially the one this winter about Paleozoic animals. I don’t recommend hours of TV because it’s sedentary, but it’s absurd to say that suddenly things got worse in the last three years.

  15. There aren’t 8 good shows on broadcast television. I can’t think of 3. If you put all of the CSIs and Law and Orders together, you probably don’t even have 8 shows airing in a week.

    House, Scrubs, My Name is Earl…

    I’ve got three.

  16. Veronica Mars, King of the Hill, the Office, = 3 more. Now you’ve got 6. (I assume SciFi Network doesn’t count as a “broadcast network”, because I’d certainly include BSG.)

  17. Family Guy. Honorable mention: The War at Home.

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