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Hypable

By Richard Reid (@richardreid14) at 11:30 am, September 6, 2011

I like to complain. I know, shocking as it is, it’s true. I enjoy criticising a predominantly sincere and sanguine outlook, often resulting from epistemological differences that share marginal and peripheral relevance to that which one can call his own, insofar as to instigate and culminate in a conjoined and coherent reconsideration of ideas resulting in a more satisfactory and desirable bifurcation of policy… what?.. I moan so much that people change their minds. Sadly, this trend is reaching pandemic heights and it’s affecting what has become one of our most valued civil liberties: good television.

Right now, I feel very disillusioned with what I watch on television; new game shows, sit-coms and even some mainstream dramas splurge out what often feels like a never-ending ooze of mediocrity. Studios and programme makers have found what works and are sticking to it like leg hair to a band-aid. This is particularly true for comedy shows and I think a lot of stems from public outcry in an increasingly outspoken conservative culture. I’m not saying there are suddenly more conservatively right-wing thinking people out there, just that they’ve suddenly got a lot better about voicing their opinions.

I love watching old sit-coms like Cheers or Mash or anything from that generation. The writing was original, sharp and funny. What’s more, these kind of shows were never afraid to toe the line every now and again. They were never overtly offensive, always relatively family-friendly but there was often the odd joke in there that made your mouth drop as you recoiled in laughter as you thought, “how did they get away with saying that?” It was precisely these moments that kept you watching series after series.

Over the years, original comedy slowly began to fizzle out; perhaps all the best jokes had already been told? However, suddenly that risqué style of programming suffered a bombardment of complaints from housewives and grandparents who, in their best Mrs Lovejoy expression proclaimed, “please, SOMEBODY please think of the children!” Well, I’m sorry Mrs Lovejoy, but look at your children now. Guess what, they’re bored! I’m not sure what it was, but television studios instantly took note of all these mollycoddled people and immediately started issuing apologies for any content that may have (or will ever in the future) caused offence. Script writers were told not to do it again and very quickly we’ve landed in the situation we are in now where T.V is boring and afraid to take any risks.

We can look back at shows like Cheers or Mash and say they were relevant for their time but the truth is, these (and many other) classics just wouldn’t get made in this current age. A studio just doesn’t have the will any more to risk the wrath of ill-informed pensioners armed with a laptop that their grandchild helped them buy and an on-line complaints form. Instead, they will continue to churn out unsatisfying droll that is as bland as the paper the script is printed on.

Sadly, this pathological antagonist feels partly to blame; perhaps it was people like me – people who like to complain – that spurred on this movement. It’s just a shame that creativity on the whole has to pay the price. At least I still have my DVD boxsets of old series to wash away the dissatisfaction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/louieschuth Louie Schuth

    I agree. But I’m not quite sure what this has to do with Moaning Myrtle, haha.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6R4PE34NXGXMTWDHYJHQENCMGU Joshua

      I guess Myrtle liked to complain, as does Richard. lol

  • http://twitter.com/20619T Craig Thomson

    Offensive for offence sake isn’t funny – See Frankie Boyles horrific Tramadol Nights as evidence for that.

    Sensitivities may be static, but the methods of voicing offence have got louder over the years, and TV stations are in so much competition that family TV shows cannot contain offensive material because the stations don’t want to lose the audience. You maybe don’t get offended easily, I don’t get offended easily, but the truth is there are many people who do get offended, and TV should not be full of uncomfortable to watch shows because some people are OK with casual racism, homophobia, etc.

    It isn’t a case that writers need to be able to write offensive, or risqué, material for something to be good. Writers need to just write something good and stop hiding behind the way society with their sensibilities as an excuse for their own ineptitude.

    There are tons of great TV shows and writers out there, comedy or not. How about you celebrate the exemplary instead of debating the mediocre?

    Although, in a sign of good tv prevailing over bad, the Big British Bake Off (or similarly named) beat Big Brothers highest ranking show this week. Mm, cake.

    • http://www.hypable.com Richard Reid

      You just like to disagree with me, @twitter-15502532:disqus .

      And I’m not advocating that TV needs to be offensive in order to be good. I’m stating that thanks to silly trivial complaints, studios are afraid to take any real risks these days.

      Recently, the producer of Q.I announced his relief with the show returned to BBC2 because the BBC1 audience was too high-strung for the show. Anyone who watches that programme realises that the quality is profound and it’s desire to offend is non-existant AND it’s post-watershed. Yet people complain at the mildest of comments and the show gets pulled from the line-up.

      • http://twitter.com/20619T Craig Thomson

        I do like to disagree with you, yes. But then again, you also enjoy disagreeing with me. It’s a good relationship I find!

        A complaint that is trivial to you may send someone to bed in tears after a show which makes a small joke directly echoes some specific trauma that they are going through. I don’t suggest every single one be acted upon… but to the person with the grievance, they certainly ain’t trivial.

        And TV shows do take some risks, look at the (frankly unnecessary) sex scenes in Torchwood, or the Borgias TV series. Even Eastenders with their somewhat extreme Baby theft storyline and Mad Men with its era specific comments on women and ethics are all not inoffensive. 
        I don’t have any comedy examples though, but I tend not to watch comedy on TV anyway. Not because they are inoffensive, just they don’t appeal to my dark sense of humour

        • http://www.hypable.com Richard Reid

          And some TV programmes SHOULD represent occurrences that happen in life. It is not the studio’s fault if someone has had a bad experience, yet they get blamed for airing the show and we suffer because ultimately we lose out. 

          And if you want to take those examples, see an earlier post on here about the sex scene on Torchwood and the large volume of complaints received causing the BBC to issue an apology. The Eastenders story-line with the baby theft was cut short due to complaints.

          I’m not saying that programmes should go out of their way to offend any race, ethnic minority or sexuality but it’s a fact of life: Someone will take offence no matter what you do. To bow down and let these people win is mindless.

          • http://twitter.com/josephheskett Joseph Heskett

            This comment should have been in the main post. I absolutely agree with you. When I was at the BBC I visited the complaints department and spoke to the Head of the Department. He took me through all the complaints they’d had for Top Gear and Jonathan Ross. Some of them were so petty, and primarily from old people. Harsh as it sounds, as that generation dies off, it gives way to a less prude, young and more modern generation (and then hopefully better TV).

          • http://twitter.com/20619T Craig Thomson

            OF COURSE they should deal with every complaint and think about it from their perspective. Remember that the BBC is paid for by these people who complain, and as such have a right to complain about trivial things if they so require.

            If it is too trivial then they will be ignored, which presumably happens in the majority cases.

            Quite interesting comments above regarding the ‘nostalgia’ effect, which, of course, is going to have a bearing on memories of the past, especially if we weren’t around at the time.

            But I think you are overselling truly rubbish TV, if you discount reality, or semi-reality TV shows, I had to really think to come up with some dire TV dramas, sitcoms, and such that are out at the moment, whilst very easily being able to list exemplary ones!

  • Gateskp

    I agree wholeheartedly!  Thank you for saying this!

    I’ve stopped watching actual TV for the most part and when I want to watch a good show that’s not aired any more, I have DVD box sets.

    A show like Hogan’s Heroes would never be made now, and that’s too bad, because the show was GREAT!  As much as Hollywood tries to reboot good things (the new Star Trek films, the new Footloose film, etc.), they just won’t be the same.

  • Anonymous

    Seinfeld forever!!!!!!!

  • http://hypable.com Selina

    Great post!

    How about a show like The Office (particularly the British one)? I felt like that was quite good at being provocatively offensive. But other than that I agree with you… though with some comedy shows, I think mediocrity is exactly the status quo they aim for in order to stay appealing to a channel-hopping audience.

  • HarryGleeHungerFan

    I’m sure people are probably expecting someone to come on here with an example of a show that does exactly what you say TV is lacking… And I’m not one to disappoint! ;)

    I am a huge fan of television & I watch quite a variety of shows, always have, but  I believe there are a few quality comedic & dramatic shows out there that take risks. If you have ever watched an episode of Glee, you have to wonder how they get away with some of the risque humor they habitually employ, especially when it’s frankly, just for a guffaw or chuckle. They don’t shy away from sensitive topics such as teen pregnancy (from the president of the celibacy club nonetheless), bullying, homosexuality, etc. They do an excellent job of addressing topics without getting preachy, usually achieving this by allowing the characters to have different points of view on the topic, therefore creating a dialogue that gives the viewer something to think about.  

    Also, a show doesn’t have to be controversial to be funny. Two of my very favorite shows are Gilmore Girls & The West Wing. While both could be touted as dramas, I believe that the laughs these shows created were from smart, witty dialogue appropriate for the viewing audience. They also challenge you to understand the rapid repartee, which I, frankly, appreciate. I feel that if there is a criticism of current television (and movies for that matter), it’s that they refuse to challenge the viewer. Sure there are always positive examples (like the aforementioned GG & WW), but the majority of television is dumbed down to appeal to the most general of the general public, while leaving those of us that appreciate a smart, witty show to have to settle for watching DVD’s of our old favorites. 

    I hope that this is just a valley in the wave pool of television history & that we are sure to see it crest again soon. Until then, I will continue to plug away & try new shows every season looking for the next truly remarkable series. 

    Thank you Hypable writers for keeping us all informed & inspiring us to challenge what we think about televsion, movies, music, etc. 

    Kristen

  • Jennyleighx33

    I think syndication doesn’t take risks, but many HBO TV series did in the early 2000s. But currently right now, “the big four” (foc, abc, nbc, cbs) are failing to produce anything worth watching.

    This could be why my favorite TV show to watch is Top Chef.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1776780125 Brett Holden

    Nothing has changed for years. If you look at ALL the television shows that premiered in the 60s, 70s, 80s, etc. then you’ll find that a great portion of them are mediocre. Older shows that we still watch today are just the ones that are remembered for being great. 

  • http://jimmypautz.com Jimmy Pautz

    I disagree that complaints from viewers do anything.  I think it is all based on money.  Studios won’t green-light a pilot unless it thinks it has the potential to bring in solid, consistent ratings.  Those ratings bring in advertising $$$.  They could careless about complaints if the ratings are telling them that people watch the show.  If the ratings tank, then maybe the studio will listen to complaints, but usually they just pull the show.

    In the realm of TV comedy I watch The Office, Community, and Psych.  They strike my sense of humor and sometimes can have an off episode, but I’m still a great fan.  I also love Fringe which helps me to fill the gap the absence of Lost left in my life.  Fringe pushes the envelope by being frankly weird, just like Lost did.  I think it is great TV.  Yes, there is a lot of garbage out there, but when you take the time to sort through, there are some good shows.

  • Maybioletblackburn

    yeah, this is the same thing as the whole “music was better back in the 60s” complaint. It only seems that way because you only know/remember the good songs of the 60s. no one talks about the bad songs. plus the whole Nostalgia factor.

    • Anonymous

      so true. Though I am one of those people that completely thinks that growing up in the 90′s makes me superior and that kids today watch and are fans of garbage. I recognize that tis an exaggeration but I dont see much these days that makes me rethink my nostalgia fueled opinion.

      • Juli

        I think it’s funny that every generation feels the same superiority as soon as the decade of their childhood ends. I grew up in the 90′s as well, and I think It’s absolutely ridiculous how people are already starting to compare them with today’s age, as if it were so long ago. I think that the majority of the people on these sites have probably been a part of the 90′s. Or maybe I’m deluded and 5 year old’s are in fact already using the internet. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000183764146 Emily Van Horn

          I agree. I didn’t “grow up” in the 90s but I still think that most of tv today is the same. Maybe it’s because I’m growing up and the shows that are being made for the age group that I was when I would’ve been watching them are becoming immature or maybe it really is happening. Maybe like you said it’s just not the same as what I used to watch. All I know is in everything lately, books, movies, tv, once they find something that works they stick to it and make more shows exactly the same.

        • http://www.hypable.com Richard Reid

          Well Cheers and Mash are actually BEFORE my generation. I wasn’t born when these shows were made. I just appreciate the classic good humor.

  • Viki B

    I completely disagree with you! TV is boring today because it is more liberal!! How can you say it is more conservative, when in the past 20 years or so, liberal TV shows have overcome sensorship in language? You can hear profane language on every show now. And look at the themes of today’s television shows: adultery, prostitution, binge drinking, materialism, sexual immorality, etc. It’s boring, though, because most people don’t live the way those characters do. Most people like joke about doing someone’s mom, but no one actually does it. Shows like Cheers were good because they were funny (without using profane language, much like Bill Cosby), and because they did have serious, heart-warming, family friendly moments.

  • pasteldequeso25

    for all the other 15 year olds like me or confused folk reading this:

    sanguine: Cheerfully confident; optimistic.epistemological:is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledgebifurcation:to divide into branches

    great article richard, but for the sake of a healthy debate i must beg to differ. i just watched cheers for the first time today and i found it bland because it moved too slowly and the jokes were mediocre. an occasional chuckle here and there, but it just doesn’t grasp this generation’s attention. what about friends (kinda old i guess)? modern family? the office? it could just be that you haven’t found the right show for you. or, no offense intended, you just are an old soul, and i respect that. 

  • http://twitter.com/ryoung0908 Ryan Young

    TV STINKS!!!!

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