January 3, 2007
Boston Globe Summary of 2006 and Complex Television

Regular C3 blog reader Lynn Liccardo forwarded me an article from Sunday's Boston Globe that focuses on the trajectory of the fall television season now that we are moving into the second half of the television year. Author Matthew Gilbert gives an admirable quick glance at the television industry and where various networks stand in regard to serial program.

The piece discusses both the failures of many of the complex television shows to connect with audiences this fall, particularly because of the launch of too many of them and hints at the need for new business models that take into account more than just the initial broadcast of the shows, as we've been discussing for some time. Look here, here, and here for previous C3 discussions about this issue, and look here for Jason Mittell's piece about The Nine and "unmotivated complexity," as well as my response.

Gilbert calls the year "an embarrassment of riches" for viewers, writing:

But of course there were too many serials all at once, and audiences couldn't keep up with them even if they'd wanted to. Sadly for the networks, TV lovers do have lives. The networks tried to make it easier for us to keep up with story lines by making episodes available at their own websites and through iTunes. But by the end of the year, many newcomers were canceled, even "The Nine," among the best of the lot. No matter how unusual and inventive the serial narratives were -- Taye Diggs's "Day Break" redid the same day over and over, "Six Degrees" dabbled in intersecting short stories -- over-committed viewers refused the invitation.

In what became a kind of digital trash heap, remaining episodes of canceled shows were burned off online for diehards.

I think the column raises some good points and provides an overview of the current landscape for anyone interested in trying to map out where television is and where it may be headed.

As opposed to my contention with Craig Jacobsen's Flow piece that there was not even a mention of daytime television when talking about the history of complex serial drama, Gilbert at least gives the subject a nod in his second paragraph--although, not surprisingly, that's all it gets--a mention. After all, it's obviously a television critic's job only to pay attention to the cultural mainstream, and TV shows that air hours of content a week are simply too much to keep track of.

About Jacobsen's piece, I wrote:

I agree that DVD sets will revolutionize the way television series are maintained, but proclaiming that broadcast, by its very nature, may not be able to allow complexity, needs some caveats. It is the 22-episode structure of primetime runs that causes this problem. There is a whole other history of complex television that has been ignored by many of the critics who are fascinated with the rise of complex television, even though it has existed for decades in daytime.

Here, I think an obvious omission is aa discussion of the interesting programming at FX more than the opening mention for Nip/Tuck. I don't know if anyone had a chance to catch the season premiere of Dirt last night, but it was certainly original and may or may not prove to be a viable long-term show. However, my time certainly wasn't wasted with the premiere. (More on that in a subsequent post). Of course, Dirt would not have been part of a 2006 roundup, but I do think FX has to be considered a driving force in where TV content has been headed.

The other omission was any discussion of Weeds when talking about interesting Showtime programs. The situation comedy is very funny but combines some compelling aspects of serial drama as well.