"It's not going to be a very good show tonight...so change the channel, change the channel. I know this show is supposed to be funny but tonight it is not. By tomorrow morning, I'll be fired...this show used to be cutting edge for its political wit and social satire, now it's been lobotimized by a candy-assed broadcast network...Change the channel, turn off the TV, do it right now..."
Where have we seen this before? How do network TV execs celebrate after the celebrated launch of their new star show "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" -- a show-within-a-show mocking Network TV? Probably with more self-deprecating masturbation. Hey, at least it was good viewing.
Last night's debut of NBC's "Studio 60" takes network self-mockery to a whole new level: the weekly drama series.
It begins with Judd Hirsch as a executive producer melting down on live national TV right after a standards exec cut a segment before going on-the-air. He interrupts his SNL-like show, complaining how Big Media commerce trumps art and numbs national culture. This leads to his immediate firing and the network suits scrambling to save face and ad dollars.
The entire show is filled with snarky barbs and sharp verbal jabs (normally reserved for late night talk show comics as well as fake news programs and bloggers) -- all aimed straight at the show's own Big Media network TV leadership.
It's NBC skewering NBC using several big NBC stars. All on prime time, which hasn't been very prime for NBC lately. "Crisis containment". Spin doctoring. Controlling the story. Resurrecting ratings. Yep, NBC. So far, a good start to the show and for NBC, which beat former #1 CBS as well as the others on the first night of the new season.
This fictional TV drama openly mocks how Big Media is run -- the suits versus the creatives ($$$ versus laughs) in pursuit of ratings and awards glory. NBC even uses the "Network" self-mockery in its promos of the show.
Is 4th-place NBC making a "Must See TV" comeback?
Does NBC finally realize it's been too numbing-dull-safe for ratings (or selling ads)? Or, is it that standards censors and the FCC have gone too far interfering with culture, preventing us future Nipplegate forms of expression? Maybe mainstream mass media no longer exists so NBC will niche program to media geeks?
Or is NBC just desperate for ratings and aggressively playing the underdog poking fun at itself?
Watching the show, it made me think how little has changed in 30 years since "Howard Beale" screamed "Dammit, I'm mad as hell as I'm not going to take it anymore!" on live (fake) TV in 1976's Oscar-winning movie "Network".
"Studio 60" delivers that romantic illusion of Network TV versus the people's need for better TV.
The battle between the content owners/FCC/moral police/censors and the creative/programmers/artists back then seems to be much the same today, despite decades of new media choices (500 channels, Internet), "innovations" (vChips) and "improvements" (better writing than "Charles in Charge") throughout media and entertainment.
It's astonishing, though, how some things remain the same despite all the change.
Howard Beale's legendary "Network" meltdown -- performed by Peter Finch -- became a national catch phrase because his televised nervous breakdown mirrored post-Vietnam/Nixon American culture's own feelings of anxiety, distrust of authority, corporate dishonesty and media manipulation.
Have you been feeling the same way lately?
Of course, his meltdown scored huge ratings for the struggling fictional TV network...so instead of firing him for his insane honesty, the Network kept him on-air.
NBC surely is hoping for the same high ratings results with "Sunset 60". Even though they "fired" Judd Hirsch instead of milking his honest rantings for ratings.
Maybe that's the lesson Big Media has learned. Instead of keeping the nutcase around for short ratings spikes, fire the "lunatic" right away so two stars from old hit shows can be brought in. The network is saved with a new hit TV series, stretching ratings over more time. Isn't that the pitch?
That's so much better, making it a TV series (lasting several seasons) instead of making a movie update like "Network"...because, after all, no one goes to the movies anymore like they did in 1976.
Considering how SNL's best years generated catch phrases (as did "Network"), why didn't Hirsch's meltdown generate an instantly-memorable line for us to remember? Maybe it will find a following on YouTube...
posted by Chris Kennedy @ Tuesday, September 19, 2006,