Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When TV Ruled My Life

The other day I realised that I have stopped watching TV. Sure it's always on, but I'm not watching it in the way that I used to. I no longer care about getting the TV program in the Sunday newspaper, because there aren't any programs I feel any great need to watch, or that I need information on - such as what is happening in this week's episode.

I don't know when this started, but I would say it was linked with us getting pay TV. With the 60 odd extra channels to watch, and the program available on screen, my viewing habit is now very much switch on and choose whatever takes my fancy.

This is a big change for me. Up to only 2-3 years ago TV ruled my life somewhat. I could map out my days by which programs I was watching that night. This addiction was even worse back in the 90s, early 2000s. But TV was enjoying a golden age: Friends, Melrose Place, Seinfeld, ER, NYPD Blue, Law and Order before it cannibalised itself, The X-Files, Chicago Hope, Northern Exposure, Picket Fences, Absolutely Fabulous, The Larry Sanders Show, Homicide: Life on the Streets, Frasier, Murder One (the first series not the second), Ally McBeal, The Practice (the Dylan McDermott years), Cold Feet, Mad About You, Will and Grace...

TV mattered then. You had to watch Melrose Place - in fact quite often we had friends around to watch it. I don't think around 1996 I had any friends who didn't know who was Kimberly, Billy, Allithon, Michael or IneedamanAmanda.

My sister was in England at the time, and as it was in the age before the internet, I used to write to her giving recaps of Melrose (curse you Television Without Pity for stealing my idea!!!). I mean how could you be in your 20s in the 90s and not rememeber this moment?

Now that was a water cooler moment. Every 20 something in offices around Australia was talking about that the next day.

And even moving into the early 2000s, TV was still going strong - The West Wing, The Sopranos, 24, Survivor (remember when everyone actually watched and cared about it?), Six Feet Under (killed by the Channel 9 time slot, but still great), CSI before is cannibalised itself...

All great shows.

Just look at the Emmy Award nominamtions for Best Drama series in 1995:
NYPD Blue (the winner - the Jimmy Smitz era)
Chicago Hope
Law and Order (the Chris Noth, Jerry Orbach, and Sam Waterston era)
ER (first series)
The X-Files

Five absolutely Hall of Fame level shows, with NYPD Blue and Law and Order going through their Sgt Pepper periods - every episode was amazing.

What about the Best Comedy nominations?
Frasier (the winner)
The Larry Sanders Show
Mad About You

Again, five shows that are as good as it gets TV wise (Mad about You hadn't yet descended into schmaltz)

Now lets look at last year's nominations:
Mad Men (the winner)
Boston Legal
House MD

Now Mad Men is on Foxtel, and from what I have seen it looks very good. Haven't seen Damages, and House is fine if you can cope with the predictable lupus story lines, but I'd put it on a level with Chicago Hope; certainly not on the ER level. And Lost? Loved the first series, stayed there for the second, but geez, it's lost me now, and has certainly lost a stack of "must-seeness" factor. Dexter? I know a few friends who have told me it's great, but I've reached a point in my life where I can do without a show where the lead is a serial killer. I know it's 'really clever' and yeah yeah yeah. But you know what - I've never had anyone say to me, "Did you see Dexter last night?"

And the comedies?
30 Rock (the winner)
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Office
Two and Half Men.

Ok, I like Entourage, but it's getting close to its use by date. 30 Rock from what I've seen is good, but not as good as The Larry Sanders Show. Curb Your Enthusiasm? I've just never really got it; and let's be honest, it's a cult show that has certainly never reached the hey let's go to the pub and drive everyone crazy by saying "these pretzels are making me thirsty" level of Seinfeld. The Office? Ok, it's ok - but I doubt anyone would put it above the original English version. Two and Half Men? Seriously? I mean really... it actually got nominated? Seriously?

The last time I absolutely had to watch a show I'd suggest was the first series' of Lost, Heroes, and Grey's Anatomy. That was before Lost became stupid and involved "the others", and no one cared anymore about what it all meant. It was before Heroes had a second series so insane that even the creator apologised for it. And it was before Grey's Anatomy became lame. So very lame - Izzy and George? Please.

Now sure the lowering of quality is to blame for my lack of TV watching, but there are enough shows out there that I would have in the past been addicted to - Heroes seems to have gotten good, Life is fun/interesting, and House is always solid. Good comedy is very slim pickings though...

But the real reason for my dip in TV viewing is, I think, DVDs. In the past you needed to see each episode, because once missed it was gone. If you forgot to tape an episode, well too bad, so sad - you will never see it. Now by the time the series ends, you can go down to Target and buy every episode in a nice shiny box set. Every show I have mentioned in this blog can be bought in its entirety from JB HiFi or other DVD stores.

And you know what? It's better to watch them that way.

I know of two people who did not watch The Sopranos when it was on TV, but who bought every DVD and watched them pretty much back-to-back. My sister is the worst culprit I know of this - she bought the first couple of The West Wing series and then kept going back and buying the next series, and the next... She's done much the same with Sex and the City (another great later 90s show), Six Feet Under and an assortment of other series (always a good Christmas present!).

I am now inclined to not bother watching a show on TV, but rather just wait for the DVDs - for example Rome was killed by Channel 9, no worries, it's great on DVD. Series 2 was on foxtel - but I was able to buy it from Big W before it had even screened.

Even if you watch the show, it's better on DVD - Underbelly DVD sold out even though it had just been on TV - on DVD there are often more scenes, a few special features, and no ads, no TV timetable etc etc (have to admit I did talk to people at work about it - but then again that was a mini-series, not a TV show).

And for those who are not concerned with copyright, they don't even bother with waiting for the DVD, they just download the episodes as soon as they are on in the US.

So is it the end of TV? Well no, but it certainly is changing. I don't watch Packed to the Rafters, but it's doing well in the ratings, as is House, and L&O and CSI. But I can't see myself getting back to series TV addiction. I'm happy to wait for the DVD and then watch it when I want to watch it. Plus, how can I watch a series now when I have all those episodes of old 1990s TV shows to get through on DVD?!


Anonymous said...

I feel the demise of TV is also due to the lack of cliffhangers. Remember the great Aussie soap of the 80's, Sons & Daughters where every episode ended with a "dun dun" ending, morphing into the closing credits and the theme song which everyone knew (another thing lacking in current TV shows). OK "great" is probably an exageration, but it kept people tuned in for the next episode.

Anonymous said...

No time for 90210 in the day then?