Sunday, May 20, 2012

If it Ain’t Broke, Fix it 'Till it is

From Contributing Editor, Rick Deal

If you aren't familiar with the NBC show Community, you’re seriously missing out, or at least, you have been up until now. I can’t say for sure about the upcoming season. The reason I’m skeptical of the quality to come is because NBC just fired Dan Harmon, the creator and writer of the show. You might think “So what? Shows replace writers all the time, it’s no big deal.” However, that’s not likely to be the case this time, Harmon was truly the mastermind of this show, much of its unique creativity came from him.  The odds of the show maintaining its witty and quirky charm seem impossible in his absence, that charm and style is what set Community apart from other shows, and won its rabidly loyal fans.

The truly sad and disconcerting thing about this isn't just that a great show is about to drop in quality, it's the reason why it happened. NBC has long since wanted to make Community "more accessible" (read generic) in its story and style to boost ratings. This is nothing new, networks are always more concerned about ratings than quality, it's a model that's worked for decades, but my observation is that it might not work for much longer. 

For decades television programing has been a pretty integral part of basic day to day American life and culture. More often than not, if you heard someone say “I don’t watch television,” it was with a haughty or condescending tone to illustrate one’s intellectual superiority, and probably wasn’t entirely true anyway. TV was something of a staple because there weren't a lot of other entertainment mediums out there, and none offered the instantaneous accessibility of television. Going to the movies or the video store actually required leaving your house, and didn't offer the same experience of a continuing story as a TV show, and for news it was TV, a newspaper or just enjoy your ignorance.

This is no longer the case, the advent of the Internet has irreparably broken the old industry models, and unfortunately, the industries are still fighting to catch up.

Basic economics lesson: What happens to businesses and industries that ignore changes in culture and technology? They die. Have you heard of Royal Typewriters? No? Come on! They were one of the largest typewriter manufacturers for over 70 years! Do you know why they’re not in business anymore? ... because they made typewriters. 

Let's be honest, computers don't look this cool

This wasn’t a trick question kids. 

Everything was going great for them until the computer happened, and then suddenly a business model and product line that had worked for 70 years didn’t work anymore. Entertainment services like iTunes, Netflix and Hulu were/are great responses to the shift towards digital media, but they all should have existed YEARS before they did. When record companies first heard of Napster, they should have seen the potential of the technology and asked “how can we use this?” “How can we turn this to our advantage?” Instead of screaming like a prissy girl that just found a spider in her room “Oh God what is this?! Kill it! Kill it now!!!! 
(How did that end up working out for you Music Industry?)

Still, it’s not enough to stay ahead of the curve on technology, the entertainment industry must first and foremost stay ahead of the curve on the actual product they’re distributing. This follows the same logic as with the tech world; if you just stick to “what’s always worked,” instead of trying to evolve and remain relevant to your culture, the world will eventually move on without you. In this age of diversified media, it seems as though less and less people are watching TV. I can only speak for myself and the people I know, but I’ve definitely seen a trend among the 20-30 age demographic. There are few TV shows that I watch, and even fewer that I actually follow with any consistency, this is also true of the overwhelming majority of people that I know in my age bracket. TV is continuing to be less relevant to the interests young adults, and while this might not be a big problem for major networks now, it’s going to be a HUGE problem in 10-15 years when none of us watch TV at all.

You don’t get to skate by making crap anymore and just assume people will watch it cause there’s no other game in town, because there are a lot of other games now. If i want to completely waste an hour and accomplish nothing with my life, I’ll watch lolcat videos on Youtube before I watch Two and a Half Men.

Final thought to the NBC network:
I understand the ratings game, but be careful how much you stick with “what’s always worked,” no one knows what these industries are going to look like in 10 or 20 years, but one thing we can all be sure of; they won’t ever look like they did in the old days again. If you want to survive in the new era of digital media, you'll only do it by taking chances, being creative, and actually giving us a reason to watch, not by pumping out more of the same generic homogenized crap. The world is moving on as the gunslingers say, you should too.

God speed


  1. There are so few times when Hollywood executives can hold the correct balance of management, funding, and oversight, but not interfere with the creativity of the show. Their financial backing is so necessary, but I guess it is up to us to vote with our own choices who's creative decisions we support.

  2. Hollywood wants ratings because that's what gets them the revenue $$ from advertisers, which is the only way they can make a profit. It's unfortunate that creativity and originality suffers in this situation, but the market will adjust. TV might just die like the typewriter did, especially if a la carte channels become available via the Web.