The advertising breaks during a television show return us to the real world after being immersed in the world of a particular show. I watched the latest episode of Entourage last night and felt apart of their life for 25 minutes and when it ended, which I did not want it to, I came back to reality and had to worry about the homework I had not yet finished. The flow of an HBO television show is obviously different as there are no commercial breaks, which allows for the viewer to get wrapped up in it. On a network show the commercial breaks are an integral and necessary part of the show, as described by Thompson in her chapter. She recognizes that “some viewers do switch on their sets to watch specific programs and switch them off at the end.” (11) This viewer most likely is deeply invested in a show and likely cannot stand to miss one minute of the action. When a casual viewer is watching or looking for a show to watch is when her notion of “zapping” more likely occurs. The commercial will break and instead of waiting for the show to come back on, you find another show that maybe isn’t as good, but still can entertain you until the other is back. This makes it harder to categorize the television viewer because most viewers are not necessarily one type of viewer, but can be both casual and invested viewers.
Thompson makes the point that each show is structured in a way to accommodate the break in action, but as a viewer it becomes easy to get annoyed with watching the same commercial over and over. As a result, the viewing experience is most definitely altered. For sitcoms and reality television shows, as opposed to high quality programming, perhaps the experience is not all that intense, and thus not much is taken away by a commercial break. Box Set DVDs and DVRs have undoubtedly changed this, but if a viewer wants to stay current with a show, the commercial break still serves as a hindrance to the aesthetic experience.
The scene upon which I would like to focus my essay is from the fourth episode of season one, “Son of A Gun”. Detective Crosetti has learned about the shooting of his friend and fellow officer Thormann, and desperately wants to be assigned to the case. Crosetti persuades Lt. Giardello to give him the case through a sort of guilt trip and by displaying fervent emotion. To this point in the show, Crosetti has served as sort of short, fat, funny detective that loves conspiracies, but this scene with Giardello opens him up as a character. The Thormann case is based off of the Cassidy shooting in the book. The book allows for there to be more depth in the emotion of McLarney (Crosetti’s character) after hearing the news, and the scene in Homicide which I will focus on is merely mentioned in one paragraph.
The section on “Giving Notes” in Caldwell’s chapter outlines how the relationship between the corporate executives and creative workers on a particular show can be affected. Caldwell describes the process of network executives passing along suggestive notes to the directors or writers, instructing them on how to improve the series and boost ratings by changing the direction a little bit. (216) This suggestive note can be taken in many ways by the creative minds of the show, but mostly gives the appearance to them of being “disciplined by the continued threat of always being under surveillance.” (216) By altering the direction of a show in some ways, the writers become concerned about ratings and their creativity is detracted, as they are to follow a specific agenda. I couldn’t help but constantly think of 30 Rock, and Alec Baldwin’s role throughout the show. There is one episode in the first season that stands out. Baldwin’s character, Jack Donaghy, joins the writing team for a week, which in turn makes all of the writers feel extremely uncomfortable. The writers are forced to insert his lame jokes into the Tracy Morgan Show because they do not want to offend their boss. Now, I am not sure how accurate or over-dramatized the particular episode might be, but it is obvious that the presence of “a suit” in a creative room has a very negative effect.
Caldwell mentions how in Homicide the producer is asked to make the show “less dark”. (217) Tom Fontana, the producer, informs the chief writer of this, but then backpedals, as the show needs to have it edge to be successful. The writer, James Yoshimura, is literally thrown for a loop, as a result. This is in addition to the fact that the episodes, although structured sequentially, are being shown on NBC out of order, trying to fit in episodes that will attract more viewers.
Network television shows are ratings driven. The creative workers of the show receive the backlash of this. The network executives manipulate their creative work because they know what the people want to see. There is not much to say about this, except that this is way it is. Network television is not going to change. If a show like The Office succeeds you can be certain that many more mocumentaries like Parks & Recreation are going to follow.
John Hartley’s essay established how the perception of television was formed; one that continues to hold true. Hartley makes the point that the intellectual minds and critics scrutinized viewing television as “worthless.” Narrow-minded negative opinions surrounding television became natural, and thus irrefutable, making it the case that “little progressive optimism applied to television.” Hartley makes it clear that television had a tough task in establishing credibility, and those widespread opinions, undoubtedly, are still apparent today. The beauty of being able to be wrapped up in a book for hours on end, does not carry the same positive connotation with television. Someone who watches a lot of television is by association, rotting their brain and/or a lazy individual. When that perception surrounds television it is hard for progression towards sustained credibility to occur.
Contrastingly, Charles McGrath’s last few paragraphs of his essay centered on his perception of television as “something, maybe the only thing, that all of us have in common.” (251) This is a stark contrast to the perception of television Hartley outlined. McGrath’s views television as a tool to unify us. Television puts us at peace after a long day of work and provides topics for the water cooler the following morning. This section does not dig into the credibility issue; as the viewers McGrath seems to be talking about view television for pure entertainment purposes, to simply laugh at their favorite celebrities on their respective “reality” show. I cannot relate to coming home from a long day at work and kicking my feet up on the La-Z-Boy, but can understand that certain more respected shows require more effort to watch. When I watch shows such as The Wire or Mad Men, I am in a completely different mindset compared to the easiness of relaxing and watching a sporting event. Mad Men is a terrific show, but at times it can move fairly slowly, lacking the non-stop entertainment of whatever the Kardashians are doing in their 30-minute slot.
The La-Z-Boy television viewer fits the mold that Hartley outlined, but as McGrath points out, it is hard to really blame him. The generally negative perception surrounding television will remain because we need it and the television companies will continue to feed the viewer their guilty pleasures. Perhaps the doses could be smaller, but there is so much of it because it sells. And I have yet to even mention the fact that a channel such as HBO, which feature a higher percentage of quality programming, comes at an additional monthly fee.