By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - 0 Comments
As Jaime Weinman explains, there are minor renovations and there are gut jobs. Welcome to Up All Night.
If you’re tired of TV shows being treated as high art, take heart: networks are bringing back the “retool,” the crass commercial method of changing everything about a show. Up All Night, starring Canadian comic Will Arnett alongside Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph, is a show whose constant retoolings have made more news than the show itself, culminating in the announcement that it will add a studio audience—the first show to make this change in a decade. Lee Goldberg, a writer-producer for such heavily retooled shows as Diagnosis Murder (and creator of the novel series The Dead Man) says shows are revised for many reasons: “budget concerns, political issues, previous series commitments, lack of enthusiasm or support at the network.” But, he adds, the primary reason for a retool is summed up in two words: “pure desperation.”
TV has been retooling shows since it began, and in the old days, networks didn’t care if the changes made sense. When Valerie Harper was fired from her self-titled show in the ’80s, Chip Keyes, the show runner, recalls that he was ordered to start writing scripts for a new character who could turn out to be “a sexy aunt, a funny grandma, a sexy grandma, a cousin on the run from the law . . . it was wide open.” But this kind of tinkering became less common in recent years as TV was taken more seriously and fans became more engaged. “Today’s viewers are, on average, much more aware of the mechanics of TV production,” explains Jason Mittell, associate professor of film and media culture at Middlebury College. “Switches are going to be much more noticed.” Shows like Lost were likely to make subtle changes rather than wholesale revisions. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 6:34 PM - 2 Comments
This is a post that I’ve started without really thinking it out much, so I don’t know where it will go, but: I was evaluating my own TV-viewing interests (not an interesting exercise in and of itself), and came to the conclusion that my favourite shows often can be described as “good-bad shows.” The term “good-bad movie” used to be somewhat popular among critics to refer to a movie that was somehow disreputable or formula-ridden or silly, and yet managed to use that format to achieve a certain energy and power that a more prestigious film (literary adaptation, historical epic) could not. Good-bad TV is similar. It’s TV that does not exactly get beyond the limitations that make television artistically disreputable — the cliches, the chasing after trends, the storytelling and character formulas — and uses its own lack of class and prestige to its own advantage.
This is different from a “guilty pleasure.” A guilty pleasure is something that you know isn’t good (or at least think isn’t good) but you like anyway. (So I’m not talking about any of the guilty-pleasure or enjoyably bad shows I’ve discussed recently.) A “good-bad” show is one that is genuinely good, but is also recognizably similar to shows that aren’t good. In movies, a great 100-minute medium-budget, non-epic gangster film is going to be a lot like a non-epic gangster film that isn’t great; a great Western shoot-’em-up (again, leaving your Deadwoods and other epic or revisionist Westerns out of this) shares lots of story points and style points in common with a bad one. On TV, it’s the same way. A prestigious, “good-good” show prides itself on uniqueness in approach and style. A “good-bad” sitcom or teen show or action show is different only in terms of quality, of how it turns the formula and the cliches into something interesting.
At their best, good-bad shows have a vitality that more obviously high-quality shows lack, and a richness that comes from the way it plays with us as viewers. The good-bad show fulfils all the expectations we bring to the genre (because we know the formula by heart) while also surprising us with the variations on the basic, familiar themes. And the hint of cliche or cheesiness about the good-bad show can at least prevent it from becoming boring or self-satisfied.
This, for example, is why I have a major fondness for the first two seasons of Buffy, which mixed new approaches and character development with a considerable quantity of cheese (sometimes parts of episodes, sometimes whole plots). It was the struggle between the two halves of the show, the emotionally-involving drama and the cheesy teen adventure, that made it so interesting to watch; the more prestigious the show became, the less interesting I found it to watch (and the less fulfilling I found the big, un-cheesy moments to be).
This is not to say, however, that good-bad TV is superior to prestigious TV, any more than a great low-budget gangster movie is superior to The Godfather. But the value of a prestigious, self-evidently ambitious show is easy to see. The good-bad show reveals its secrets more slowly and makes us work to see its value. In a weird way, it’s sometimes more challenging viewing.