Friday, February 27, 2009

The future of television?

About a month ago, Television Without Pity conducted an interview with actor-writer-director-producer-creative genius Peter Berg. You know, the guy who's responsible for bringing the incomparable Friday Night Lights to our screens. He talked a bit about some of his previous work, including a short-lived show called Wonderland that I really, really want to watch now. I love Berg's style, at least what I've seen of it -- it's natural and unpretentious and very true to life. He draws some amazing performances out of his actors, too; just look at the subtle, stunning work Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton have turned in on FNL. (God, I'm such a fangirl for that show.)

What interested me most about the interview were Berg's thoughts on the direction he thinks television is headed -- specifically, away from "appointment television" and advertising blocks and toward a more viewer-driven, on-demand model.

TWoP: Considering the way the TV landscape has changed over the years since Wonderland came out, do you foresee more and more quality work like Wonderland or Friday Night Lights ending up on cable, whether it's basic cable or premium cable, as opposed to network?

PB: I definitely foresee things changing. I just shot an ad campaign for Hulu and got to meet the folks that run that company, and I think that's clearly the way of the future. "Must-see" television is a thing of the past in terms of people watching television when the network dictates. People are gonna watch it how they want to watch it, and when they want to watch it and where they want to watch it. That's number one: television on-demand -- where, when and how. And I think we'll see more private sponsorship. I think we're actually going to return to the old days of television, when shows were sponsored by single products, and that those shows will then have multiple distribution and streaming outlets.

I think he's really onto something here; it's been clear for quite a while that the TV industry is way behind technology and audiences' viewing preferences. It's extremely frustrating when beloved, critically acclaimed TV shows fail because of outdated reporting systems like Nielsen ratings, or because of network politics. I'm sick of getting attached to brilliant, creative, unique stories and characters only to have them unceremoniously yanked off the air due to low ratings (i.e. low advertising revenue for the networks). There has to be a better model out there, one that makes sense in today's user-driven entertainment marketplace and accounts for multiple viewing platforms. Then maybe I wouldn't have to mourn shows like Veronica Mars, Arrested Development, and Pushing Daisies (and Freaks & Geeks and Firefly and Everwood...the list goes on and on, sadly).

I can't tell you how much I love Hulu -- I'm beyond thrilled that sites like this exist now, making it easier to catch shows you might not have the time or inclination to watch when they're airing live on TV -- but until networks figure out how best to monetize Internet viewership, we're stuck with this Stone Age system that sucks most of the creativity, art, and joy out of television. And that makes me very, very sad. Pretty soon, we're only going to be left with variations on American Idol, Survivor, Dancing with the Stars, CSI, and Two and a Half Men.

Sobering, isn't it?

1 comment:

Louisiana Belle said...

If Friday Night Lights gets canceled, I will be in mourning and wear black for a year.

Seriously, I hope they figure something out soon because this show (and many others) deserve to continue. It's incredibly unfair to have 35 CSI's, AI (season 7 now?), and DWTS take over the airwaves, when FNL is so amazingly well done, but just barely surviving. As Matt Saracen's grandmother would say, "It's just WRONG!"