There's nothing good on TV anymore

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 18, 2018, 7:26 PM | comments: 0

If you watched the prime time Emmy Awards this year, you may have noticed that most of the winners aren't even technically on in prime time. They're streamed, which means you can watch them any time you want. Still, they're all lumped together, and the old TV networks were barely recognized. For the broadcast awards show, the only winners were SNL for NBC, in a category where it has almost no competition, and the Oscar telecast on ABC. Everything else was on the streaming services and pay cable channels. In fact, if you count the creative arts awards given the weekend before, the Oscar show was the only thing ABC won at all. It's hardly a mystery why Disney wants to launch a streaming service not bound to the broadcast model. Fox had 3 awards, CBS 2. Only NBC made a dent, with 15 awards total for SNLWill & Grace and Jesus Christ Superstar Live.

For us, we kind of gave up on network TV this year. Even during periods of time when we didn't have cable, we had at least four or five shows we kept up with via Hulu. This year, it came down to NBC's This Is Us and ABC's Designated Survivor, which went nowhere in the second season and was cancelled. We had high hopes for Rise on NBC (because musical theater geeks), but they killed that pretty quickly too. There's nothing good on network TV.

We made some great discoveries though on the streaming services. Diana has been into a few different series over the years, but this year she did the horrifying Handmaid's Tale. I couldn't watch it because it's too awful. I did watch Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is frankly the best thing I've watched in years, and it deserved the awards. It's really fantastic. I also enjoyed Jack Ryan, which like 24, took a solid approach toward terrorism and how not simple it is. They also have Catastrophe, which has three short but wonderful seasons. Over on Netflix, Simon has enjoyed the Voltron and Magic Schoolbus reboots.

So why are these services making better TV than the networks? The first thing is that they're not competing for advertising budgets. This is a wholly broken model because it creates the chicken/egg problem around having a blockbuster to attract the audience, and therefore the cash. The networks want a quick return or they'll bail. The artistic value is irrelevant, and that's what wins awards. There's no way to win here, because you want to create something that is safe enough to have broad appeal, which often appeals to no one.

The streamers, and to a degree HBO, aren't constrained to a few time slots per night, broad appeal to attract ad dollars or even broadcast standards for language. So if you're Amazon, and the writer of Gilmore Girls pitches you a story about a 50's New York society Jewish girl who gets drunk and does brilliant and raunchy standup comedy after her husband leaves her, you can throw money at it and a bunch of other diverse projects and potentially end up with a winner. This show would never have been made for network TV.

I think we're in a strange new golden age for TV that isn't really TV anymore. I'm wondering if there's something that could ruin it for us, but so far, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and eventually Disney are complimentary and not at risk of killing each other at the current costs. I'm pretty excited about what comes next.


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