Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Laugh until you cry

We’re a Will and Grace type household. I don’t mean Emma’s a firebrand redhead and I’m a gay guy, except; Emma is a firebrand redhead of course. Specifically, we’re Jack and Karen people, I don’t mean Emma’s a feisty lady with an acidic tongue and I’m a gay guy. Except Emma is a feisty lady with an acidic tongue… Ooh ducky…

Anyway, Fraiser, Friends, Will and Grace, (I should, given my age and social status, add Sienfeld, except I’ve never really seen it) – I like quality American comedies.

In Vegas we got an insight into how Americans make their TV. Deep inside the MGM Grand Sara spotted a small booth with a couple of men in it. The sign outside invited people to ‘sign up’. I went and bought a cool CBS Sports T-shirt, Sara asked what it was they wanted people to sign up for.

It turns out it was they were testing pilot TV shows and were looking for people to give them feedback. Hoping to see the first episode of “My Mom’s Made of Mince” or “Our Neighbours, The Elks” we put our names down.

It turns out we were to watch Mystery Girl (which has worrying amounts of coverage throughout the web), this is a cross between Sex and the City, and Ally McBeal – a quirky former It Girl becomes a writer for a fashion magazine and subsequently uses her It Girl training (an in-depth understanding of fashion labels) to solve crimes. Oh, and she makes friends with her agoraphobic shoe making neighbour.

Yes, really.

In the final scene after she’d solved the murder, and got her front page story Mystery Girl’s impressed boss turned to her and smouldered “But can you do it again?” to which she turned to camera and said “As long as celebrities keep behaving badly.” Before putting her pencil in her mouth seductively.

It was as bad as it sounds; throughout the show we had keypads on which there was a dial and a display. The default display read ‘50’, if we were enjoying the programme we were expected to turn the dial up (Maximum 100), if we were getting bored, we turned it down (to 0). Every second of our enjoyment, or otherwise, was being captured.

By the end of the half hour my dial read ‘6’, Emma’s read ‘4’, Christ, even my TV obsessed younger sister would have only marked it around a 78.

What struck me about the process was what this did to the programme making. Whenever something visually interesting happened I automatically turned the dial up, any extended dialog, I turned it down. As Homer might say; ‘BOOOORING’.

Assuming I’m reasonably representative of the average viewer (apart from not being American, obviously), what this means is according to their research, there should be more visual impact and less blah. Which, of course, would mean something like The Office wouldn’t get out of the starting blocks. It means that TV will only be made if there’s plenty of bang in the buck. Stories, dialog and interplay are simply not commercially viable. The hollowed out characters in Mystery Girl were testament to this.

I understand that Corporate America needs to reduce the risks that creativity offers but we’re all going to end up pretty numb if we continue to follow this path – all we’ll get is a procession of Benny Hill type shows. All the while there is less and less chance another Office, or Monty Python, or Vic and Bob, or Little Britain, or League of Gentlemen reaching our screens.

God bless the BBC, that’s what I say.


Newer Post Older Post Home