Once upon a time, there was this thing called synergy.
Basically, the technology involved in television improved at a rate rapid enough to keep up with the outside technology that affected it. In other words, TV and any other form of technological media used for distributing information shared the block and lived in peace. The people who produced programs put them on TV; the TV people aired them; everyone was happy.
Of course, this was pretty much crap. TV was dominant; it was the only outlet people turned to for their information and entertainment. TV was at the top of the food chain -- and the people who ran it behaved as such.
But hey, nothing lasts forever.
While no one's ringing the death knell for television just yet -- despite the fact that quality programming such as According to Jim and Dateline "news" specials on The Apprentice is still the order of the day -- the rise of broadband has basically presented TV executives with the first real challenge to their dominion.
Watching them respond to that challenge is like watching the apes throwing bones at the monolith at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In the same way that easily downloadable, digital quality music on the net has screwed the recording industry right in its self-righteous ass; basically freeing listeners from the RIAA's stranglehold and rendering that organization completely helpless to do anything about it, TV execs now find themselves struggling to keep up with a form of media that doesn't play by anyone's rules and cannot be easily controlled. Threaten to send the kids to their rooms without supper all you want, it's not going to make them behave.
So what's an increasingly irrelevant TV executive to do? Try and incorporate the new technology and hope no one will notice that you look incredibly stupid doing it. TV has never been the hippest medium to begin with -- especially since it began falling into the hands of multi-national corporations -- but watching television attempt to co-opt the surreal, light-speed, acid-trip quality of the web, is like watching your dad pathetically ask you what you think of his new "punk rock" haircut. You know he just doesn't get it.
Believe me when I tell you that there's nothing more sadly hilarious than sitting in a conference room with a guy who's never had a thought in his head that wasn't put there by a consultant, while he babbles with giddy hysteria about how the internet is the "wave of the future" and we have to figure out a way to capitalize on it. It is, quite literally, like watching a Catskills comedian doing his best bits. "This internet thing. It's BIG with the kids I tell ya."
Believe me also when I tell you that it's exactly these kinds of ridiculous TV brain-trust meetings that have led to shows like VH1's Web Junk 20. Now I won't deny that I think VH1 is pretty much wholesale pabulum. With the possible exception of E! -- which is to Los Angeles what Tass was to the Soviet Union -- VH1 is responsible for beaming more mindless shit into your living room than just about anyone else. Okay, I guess I can also make an exception for Fox News, but that's another story altogether.
VH1 is really the worst kind of crap, not only because it airs crap -- but because it airs crap, then assumes that I actually need snarky nobodies to interpret that crap for me. As if I can't fully comprehend the latest gossip about Paris Hilton unless it's filtered through the insightful, razor-sharp wit of Christian Finnegan and that guy from Ed. Add to that VH1's regrettable decision to resurrect the careers of people you pray had long ago died in a tragic combine accident, and you've got a recipe for God-awful. I'm not sure anyone, anywhere in the country has been losing sleep wondering what ever happened to the kid who played Peter Brady -- nor has anyone been cherishing the opportunity to watch in horror as Flavor Flav burns the legacy of his role in the important brilliance of Public Enemy to the ground, by hot-tubbing with Ilsa, she-wolf of the SS.
If you haven't caught it yet, Web Junk 20 perfectly showcases everything that makes VH1 bad -- and not the caveatically watered-down "Awesomely" Bad which the network likes to inoffensively title some of its more supposedly edgy programming; just plain fucking bad. It features video clips making their way around the internet via the likes of sites like collegehumor.com and gorillamask.net; It categorizes and counts them down -- because if there's one thing America seems to love, it's a show that counts shit down; any shit at all will do, (coming soon to E!, the list of the 101 Best List Shows!) And of course, it's all given a constant, running commentary by the painfully unfunny Patrice O'Neal -- once again, as if the audience wouldn't be able to navigate the sea of nut-shots and web-cam strippers without Captain Comedian at the helm. The Catskills guy rears his ugly head again: "Look, the tourettes guy's screaming 'Bob Saget!' Get it? Heeey! Bada-bing! You're a great crowd!"
Ironically, the argument against Web Junk 20 and other TV programs which showcase supposedly "viral video" is the same argument many make against network news: it's a hell of a lot easier and more informative to skip the middle-man altogether and just go right to the source. Why the hell would you watch VH1 relay this stuff to you when you can go to the internet and get it yourself? You can't really be that interested in what Patrice O'Neal adds to the equation -- at least not if you haven't recently been in a car accident that's left you severely brain-damaged. Likewise, why get your news from TV when the internet offers instant access to a wealth of different sources?
Now, it's worth mentioning that the information stream does flow in the opposite direction, typically with much more success for our friends in television. When networks put their shows on the net -- as so many have done through iTunes -- it can help network programming. NBC, specifically, has recently used the one thing it has plenty of -- money -- to exploit a former enemy: it's bought part of YouTube to broadcast its material. This may seem brilliant and forward-thinking, but it was actually a reactive move done out of sheer necessity. That's because, like the RIAA's impotent lawsuits against downloaders, the network found that it couldn't stop its "property" from being circulated on the internet.
That battle came to a head when the SNL Digital Short for Lazy Sunday made the web rounds -- taking the only funny thing that show has done in years (besides Smigel's cartoons) and suddenly giving it a massive audience it otherwise wouldn't have had.
But what did NBC do when it found out that kids were "stealing" its programming? The fax-machines at its lawyers' offices went into overdrive, spouting out cease and desist orders and threatening lawsuit after lawsuit.
Tell me that's a group of people who get it.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Once upon a time, there was this thing called synergy.