Sunday, May 17, 2009

Penny Pounds

Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Far be it for me to rain on our parade. I should be happy. Lost is returning this fall for its sixth and final season, despite lackluster ratings. In for a penny in for a pound as one might say, but from a practical standpoint it might be easier for ABC to stay with the one what brought ya, as opposed to jumping horses this late in the game. The same seems to be holding true pretty much across the board for several returning series this fall.

Another of my recent favorites, Dollhouse, has also been renewed, as I celebrated in my last blog ramble. The reasons why however, are a little disturbing. Again, ratings for the fledgling new series have been about as close to rock bottom as you can get in the television business without actually being rock bottom. Criticism has been uncertain, especially for the earlier episodes. The general consensus is that once Joss Whedon chose, or was allowed (depending on which conspiracy theory koolaid you drink) to explore the conspiracy arc of his series instead of focus on more encapsulized storytelling, things seemed to improve with Dollhouse from a critical standpoint, but ratings-wise there was little change. Each week fewer people came back. I fear to the teeming masses the verdict is already in: Dollhouse is Joss Whedon's bad one. I'm in for a penny in for a pound myself. At this point I'll watch Dollhouse until the last episode is broadcast now matter how bad or good it gets. Some are not so loyal.

Objectively speaking though, it should be gone. The fact that it is not reveals a painfully disturbing shift in the weather-like behavior patterns of Hollywood California. As I explained in more detail last blog ramble, Joss Whedon was tasked to create a second 13th episode. It's a long story. I don't wanna type it again. The point is, "Epitaph One" was made with roughly half the budget of a normal episode, but by all accounts it's considered just as good an episode as any he made during the official first season run of production. This sets a bad precedent. Whether Whedon meant to do so or not, he gave evidence that it was possible to make the same quality of television at a fraction of the cost. How he did this is not as important as the fact that he did, and the fact that in theory he can do it again. Now, the network apparently wants him to do it over and over for a whole season. That's essentially the agreement made to keep Dollhouse on the air for another 13 episodes this fall. Fox will pay less for Whedon to make Dollhouse, and more money will be dependent on the production company 20th TV to pull together. In theory, this is supposed to be transparent to you and me the viewer. In fact, FOX TV and 20th TV both originally stemmed from Twentieth Century Fox. And here is where I should probably go into a long drawn out history lesson about what all that means but I'd rather you just wiki it, cuz again I'm too lazy to do all that typing.

FOX TV and 20th TV are essentially the offspring of 20th Century Fox. Around the turn of the century, FOX dropped the "20th" because we're now in the 21st Century. Oh, even that's too much of a headache to type out. FOX is the broadcast company behind FOX News, FOX family, and the regular FOX network that actually broadcasts Dollhouse. Whereas 20th TV is the name of the inhouse production company. Between these two companies, Joss Whedon is supposed to get enough money to actually make Dollhouse, but FOX is now saying they're not going to pay as much as they did this season for next season, and 20th TV will be expected to take up the slack. However you slice it, it means come this fall, Dollhouse will be tightening its belt.

This is happening elsewhere in the television world too. News just came down the pike that the similarly critically acclaimed but ratings shy tv series "Chuck" has been renewed, but there's a catch. The catch reads similarly to that Whedon's agreed in regards to Dollhouse. Chuck will take a pay cut, and will be asked to let a few cast and crew go as they tighten their belts over at that studio as well. Again, we the audience aren't supposed to notice a difference. The producers will be tasked w/providing the same quality of television but at a lower price. Personally I don't care about Chuck. I'm not a fan. I like Baldwin, but the show as a whole annoyed me when I watched it and I don't plan to return. I can only put up with so many retreads of Remington Steele. I could care less if Chuck gets the blond spy chick that's obviously way out of his league and this is some kind of prepubescent fantasy tale passing as prime time television...

But hey! You Chuck fans who supported Dollhouse recently? Thanks loads! We couldn't have saved Dollhouse without ya!

What broadcast networks are doing with OUR television shows? I do this same thing at the grocery store all the time. When I look for groceries I almost always buy the store brand, because it's invariably cheaper than the brand names. I can't honestly tell the difference between Peter Pan Peanut Butter and Kroger Brand Peanut Butter, but this is in regards to food. I don't have a gourmet pallette. I eat whatever doesn't kill me outright. I don't like the idea that my television programs are being purchased by broadcasters with the same irresponsible attitude that I use for my own stomach. It's one thing to buy store bought peanuts over Planters. It's quite another to tolerate Dollhouse 2.0 as if it were boxed by a Kroger Supermarket... no offense meant to Kroger.

I haven't heard this behavior regarding over shows I enjoy, like Castle, Fringe, Lie To Me, House, or Trueblood. However, I won't be surprised if this fall we see Nathan Fillion's wardrobe switch from fancy tailored leisure suits to cheap blue jeans and baseball caps showing company logos. After all, he is an eccentric writer. Why does he have to look so good?

I have noticed in recent seasons that it looks like they cut corners on Lost at every opportunity. The background areas are looking less like wherever they're supposed to be and more like suburban Hawaii, which is where they actually film. Also, the use of black backgrounds may appear to be a directorial choice to make the scene appear more suspenseful and forboding? I equate it to an inability to afford decent set building. That underground tomb where they'd been keeping the Jughead atom bomb for thirty years -- did anyone else find that remotely believable? Maybe it's just me.

As the recession continues to worsen, and as the pundits and talking heads on the news media refuse to acknowledge we're in a depression, I fear this trend towards cheaper television at the expense of production will continue its downward spiral. This is a bad time to be telling stories on the airwaves. Come to think of it, it's a bad time to be doing much of anything. But we're in for a penny, in for a pound, so long as we can still afford to do both.

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