Thursday, October 1, 2009

On Something That Baffles Me

So I watched a television program the other night called FlashForward. Maybe you saw it; if you didn't, I won't spoil anything for you, except to say that it was such a blatant attempt by ABC to recreate the ethos of Lost (right down to the appearance of a confusing animal) that I kept waiting for a long-haired character named "Huck Finn" to show up shirtless and start making wisecracks and selling prescription medication. But this is not what baffles me. What baffles me is an advertisement I saw the other night, in which ABC claimed that some 35 million people had watched the premiere of FlashForward, and therefore, shouldn't you also be watching FlashForward?*

I know this kind of thing works--I understand that television is both a solitary and a communal experience--but I still can't wrap my head around why it works. For me, this is like the televisual equivalent of the Monty Hall problem. Do people choose to watch a program based entirely on numbers, rather than reviews, or word of mouth? (I also don't understand how the networks' "bridge" programming still works; are there people who watch How I Met Your Mother and are so lazy that they can't even be bothered to change the channel when it's over, thereby resurrecting Jay Mohr's career?)**

Everything about network programming--and, for the matter everything about the modern emphasis on ratings, and box-office gross, and how that can possibly correlate in anyone's mind to the need for viewership--seems utterly anachronistic to me. It's the same thing with sports; today, someone mentioned on Twitter that the Hawaii-Louisiana Tech college football game drew more viewers than the Twins-Tigers baseball game. But what does that mean? What do those numbers have to do with my passion for either sport, or my perception of the game themselves? All they do is water down the experience (see No. 57, here), and coerce the networks to deliver programs that are kind of similar to the programs we love. Except not quite.

*I have no idea how they come up with these numbers, by the way. I presume it is a combination of Nielsen ratings, DVR numbers, and fuzzy math. Speaking of which, when I was a pre-adolescent, we were somehow selected to be a "Nielsen Family" for a short period. This involved marking every single program we watched in a blue book, and...well, that was it. We could have written down anything we wanted, and at times, I think I did, as I was the only one who took our responsibility seriously. Therefore, I may be singlehandedly responsible for keeping My Two Dads on the air.

**I will admit that here are some decent network shows (FlashForward has potential, as does Modern Family, which is kind of like a watered-down, second-tier version of Arrested Development, boosted heavily by the presence of Al Bundy), but for the most part--with the obvious exceptions of Lost and The Office and 30 Rock, and maybe one or two others I've forgotten about--even the good ones are kind of like an HBO program, but not quite as good.

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