TV, Drug Of A Nation*
Oh, I was gonna come in here and bitch about this little society of ours, and how we've become a society of pampered whiners that tend to ignore not only the major world events as they unfurl; but also any sense of our own well being, in favor of quick fixes that will solve the problem now and not caring about the effect/toll it may take on our bodies. Thrown in here would be a quite unoriginal comparison to the pampered cultures of Rome, England, Atlantis**, etc.; and some examples of people seemingly going out of their way to experience things they know they won't like just so they can bitch for the purpose of futile-ly bitching. "We're more comfortable complaining about shit, than we are in experiencing the realness of the world around us."
You know, again.
Instead, I'll talk about something that's already starting to happen that, if embraced fully, could possibly let us become even more pampered in the realm of popular entertainment...
Now, it wasn't that long ago that the average number of episodes for a tv show, in the US, ranged around 24 - 26 shows a year. These days 20 - 22 eps. constitutes a full season; this is still a little under half a year of programming, so you'd think there'd be enough to go around. Sure, the broadcast networks tend to focus episodes around sweeps (November, February and May), which means that you'll get the occasional month, month-and-a-half long periods of repeats, and that summer will be bone dry; but you'd still get a ton of entertainment for that time.
And yet it seems, these days, that what we were willing to endure, in terms of scheduling, for the X-Files or Buffy (Moonlighting, Cheers, Newhart, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, etc. etc.), no longer is sufficient when we need our Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives fix (who on earth is watching Desperate Housewives? Someone is. Come on, 'fess up).
The reasons for this are pretty obvious (see the growing acceptance of watching a season of a TV show on DVD, availability on the internet, etc. which cater to our instant gratification needs), so I won't waste too much time dwelling on it.
I started noticing this shift while hanging out in an online community with a group that specifically spent time talking about Lost.
Let me tell you, these people would whinge like there is no tomorrow about the way new episodes were distributed; and I understood it, but I would point out that unless ABC hears it, nothing's gonna change. Broadcasting companies have been working this way for over 30 years, and as far as they know this format ain't broken.
This despite cable's success with limited straight runs with shows like The Shield, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, etc. "Cable's audience is far smaller than ours," is the argument. FOX's success with running non-stop seasons of 24 would then be cited, and the general industry stance on that is that FOX has created a special circumstance, due to the large number of special/sporting events FOX tends to host during the early part of the season. ABC would crow about the audience size of their popular shows compared to 24.
And then a funny thing happened: 24's numbers started kicking Lost's ass in the Nielsens, (24 is averaging 14m viewers, S2 of Lost is averaging 12m; down from 18m during S1).
Suddenly, the entertainment rags are filled with pronouncements from Lost's creators/producers, JJ Abrams/Damon Lindelof/Carlton Cuse.
"'We wish we could run the show in one continuous block...[Our] 24 episodes have to spread across the entire 35-week TV season. The network needs originals at key times, like premiere week and during the three sweeps periods....We feel our viewers' pain because we experience it ourselves." - Cuse on ew.com
"The rerun issue is as frustrating for us as it is for the fans...ABC ultimately makes the call as to how Lost is aired and they have chosen to make sure we run original eps through every sweeps period in addition to launching our season in September so the fans don't have to wait an extra four months for new episodes." - Lindelof, ibid.
Note the absense of commentary from ABC/DisneyCo. Two reasons for this: 1) They don't risk anything by not having their official stance known; 2) if they get the impression that the usual excuses aren't flying and decide to air Lost in a block, they'll look like brave pioneers.
If I'm right, and the amount of whining is as massive as I think it is; I think we can expect Lost to air in one big block, like 24 as early as next season.
And thus, the dominoes start falling.
Next: The Reasons This Is A Good Thing
*TV, Drug Of A Nation is the name of one of my favorite Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy songs (click here for lyrics). It was also the name of a column I wrote for Must Read TV, an online concern created back in the halcyon days of the dot-com-boom. Wonder if there are any archives anywhere.
**Yes, I am kidding about Atlantis, for pete's sake.