In Ancient Greece and Rome, an average theatergoer would often sit through a play that lasted anywhere from three to six hours. This was common. People were more than delighted to watch a tale unfold; storytellers took their time, and an entire day or night was spent experiencing the magic of theater. Audiences had breaks of course, where you could duck out for a nip of wine from a gourd or make sure you hadn’t left your chariot’s lights on. But watching a play was a long and involved affair and when it concluded, you’d seen plenty. And regardless of whether you liked what you saw, chances are it was a pretty involved story with more than a few plot points – because that’s what happens when someone has four hours to explain something. And it might be hard to imagine now, but people LOVED watching these things. It’s entertainment, and we’ve always – as a culture — demanded it. Nowadays we’re not so patient (I know I’m not). We need our entertainment in half-hour or hour doses. And that’s it. Having watched now four new TV shows this week, I’m realizing this is a big problem. Not so much for the dramas – but for the comedies. Our limited attention span, coupled with today’s lousy cash flow sitch has caused a massive problem with funny TV, and here’s why: 1) Not networks, not advertisers, not nobody wants to spend a dollar more than they have to on TV shows that aren’t working. The whole watch-a –show-grow-& -mature thing? Gone. So, 2) The cash-strapped guys in suits say to the TV-show-makers “Give us something really funny. You have about twenty -two minutes to do it. You want an hour? Forget it. And you better explain everything we need to know in the pilot. And remember the part about being funny.” So then we have 3) Writers at financial gunpoint cramming everything we need to know into twenty-two minutes. And we get 4) Awkward , clunky pilots that have way too much info and varying degrees of funny which 5) Will probably get canceled anyway. Why does this happen? Because nobody has the luxury of time when they are getting their story across and the skill to make it funny at the same time.
Which is why Modern Family won the Emmy.
Because they didn’t bite off more than they could chew. Because somehow its creators were able to telegraph information and trust that audiences would stay with them. And most of all, because both the writers and the actors are genuinely funny.
I saw The Event and Hawaii Five –O. Both shows had an hour to explain what was going on – which is an eternity in TV. (I still don’t know what’s going on in The Event, but that may be the point). The pilots of Raising Hope and Running Wilde however, seemed to struggle with the twenty-two minute constraints. Which makes me wonder – why can’t comedy pilots be an hour (I know the answer, and it has to do with $$). If we’re going to be introduced to a brand new world, why not let us explore it slowly – just the first time out – so that we’re not left bewildered. Don’t get me wrong – both Running Wilde and Raising Hope have terrific casts and moments of real hilarity, but I got the impression that if we weren’t so obsessed with cranking out as many new shows as possible (so when one failed we had three on deck) we might just have ourselves some better TV. Would it be such a terrible idea to maybe launch five new hour-long comedy pilots per week instead of thirty half-hour ones? Can anyone afford to tell a story thoughtfully so that we’re up to speed & can return to the half-hour format next week? Or are WE just too damn fidgety – could we sit quietly for some good old -fashioned exposition that didn’t actually feel like exposition?
Although maybe that’s the new TV makers’ trick. Maybe now they are so desperate to make us watch (so we’ll like the show, the show won’t get canceled, & nobody loses jobs) that they deliberately create these messy trainwreck-y pilots so that we’re so confused we have to tune in next week just to see if they can right themselves. Maybe that’s what’s happening here. Because both of these shows have real potential (although with Raising Hope I think it’s always risky to include an electric-chair death scene in a comedy pilot – but that’s just me); now the big question is whether anyone is willing to spend the time and money to tell the story in a cohesive way going forward. The other question being: who among us is willing to sit through another week of something that confused us to begin with? I mean who’s got the time? It’s not like like we’re living in Ancient Greece.
2) My Generation
3) $#*! My Dad Says