Posted by: Garret | September 26, 2012

Fall TV Season Feels More Like a State Fair Oddity

Each Fall, TV networks (as opposed to cable and pay-cable channels) line up an enclave of potential new shows geared toward keeping the networks and affiliates flowing in ad revenue, with the ever-decreasing chance of a massive cultural touchstone. With every season comes the unavoidable repetition of form, attempts to generate popular interest through proven formulas and trendy gimmicks. I liken such gimmicky tricks to State Fair carnies, with the false promise of a “Big Prize” (in reality, it’s the *small* prize you don’t notice) once you complete the task of throwing wobbly darts with tilted fletchings at a penetrable surface with a hardened backboard. Or perhaps Network TV shimmers during previews like the octopus-shaped ride that will only result in post-visit nausea. Or perhaps chewy, chewy bit of beer-battered deep fried alligator tail that just won’t go down no matter how much you tell yourself it’s “good”. Yes, the State Fair Network TV share a mystique of illusion.

Season 4 of NBC’s sheep-are-still-bleating-in-response Heroes reinforces my theory as the show attempted to merge carnies and Network TV. But as Doc Brown warns Marty McFly in Back to the Future (and I paraphrase), the same matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

Some critics argue network TV fails to deliver on a quality level, instead settling for mass quantity that easily converts to syndicated sales nationally and overseas. Other critics argue audience size has become less relevant, with niche markets becoming a top concern. The concept of niche or genre-centered programming thus emerges as an important cultural conversation. For instance, which shows demonstrate originality and ingenuity versus what programming functions as a simulated replication intended on drawing a particular viewer for ad revenue purposes. In others words, each revolving year updates the Western tension between art, via creative execution of storytelling spectacle through the medium of television, and capital, the undying (and from an organic perspective indeed undead) need for the corporations that own televisions networks and channel to profit.

Courtesy of Rolling Stone’s Fall TV Preview

As Vulture‘s Michael Idov explains when comparing qualitative (or content and continuity/character-rich programming) versus quantitative (or volume-heavy shows with dispensable narratives), “FX…may be showing JustifiedSons of Anarchy, and other respectable fare, but it makes its money on reruns of Two and a Half Men.” That said, I take special interest in the failed attempts networks make each season, not because I enjoy their content (at least not anymore) as much as the disconnect between intent and execution. With this thought in mind, I am particularly titillated by this Fall’s recent attempts to mine this genre shaft to fill their empty content tanks. We shall **see**!

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