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Killing Our Intelligence in 60-Second Increments

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 6, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 6, 2010 |

Network television is a sham. A complete disgrace. There was once a time when a reality dating show like “Conveyor Belt of Love,” might have been relegated to the overnight hours on MTV or, more likely, one of those off-off cable networks that you only ever see when you’re flipping channels drunk at 3 a.m. Those dating shows haven’t improved; the standard for a network television show has just dramatically dropped. It’s pathetic. And it’s sad, because we’re now living in that Idiocracy and many of us are just too stupid to realize it. How far removed is a dating show that involves men-as-window-dressing being carried across a stage on a conveyor belt from a television game show called, “Ouch, My Balls!”?

Doesn’t network television have some responsibility to its audience? To keep the level of discourse somewhere above a man in briefs toting out a toy dog in the hopes of getting laid by some bitchy Asian female caricature? Is this really what’s happening to our mainstream culture? If those boneheads in the FCC can fine a network for using a profanity, why can’t it levy a fine against a network for contributing to the intellectual erosion of our popular culture? I’m all for free speech, but airing a show like “Conveyor Belt of Love,” in primetime is tantamount to a hate crime. A hate crime against people with decency and a scintilla of brain power.

I fear this is just the tip of the iceberg, too. We’ve fallen a long way down in a relatively short period of time, and the ground is still miles away. The success of a show like “Conveyor Belt of Love,” (and make no mistake — it’s not a show that has gone unseen; it’s debut episode won its timeslot) will only further embolden network execs, who have absolutely no sense of moral, ethical, or intellectual decency. Their bottom line is straddling the IQ chart somewhere around 85, and it’s quickly creeping down the page. “The Conveyor Belt of Love” and last year’s Fox reality dating show, “More to Love,” make “Joe Millionaire” and “The Bachelor” appear relatively harmless by comparison — hell, even “Temptation Island,” had an interesting sociological angle. “Conveyor Belt of Love,” has six superficially attractive women offering catty commentary on an assembly line of whoopin’ jackasses who are given 60 seconds apiece to pitch their woo. And these women somehow think they can find their love connection from a collection of morons who believe that catcalls, magic tricks, and Chris Farley impressions are the way to a woman’s happy moist spot. To the extent that it is, we have network television to thank for that, too. Call it self-fulfilling.

Rule of thumb: Never watch a show the teases the next segment before each commercial and recaps the last segment after each commercial. Do network suits believe that we’re so fucking dumb that we can’t hold six minutes of dumbassery in our heads through a commercial break?

I understand the realities of network television these days. Advertising is down, and that’s in part due to an eroding viewership. But there aren’t fewer people watching television; there are just fewer people watching network television. Cable networks have been able to draw away those viewers because many of them offer smarter, superior programming. Shows that stick. Shows that we want to watch week after week. And shows that make a lot of that revenue on DVD. The debasement of network TV is not how you properly find and hold on to audiences — cheap, shoddy, cerebrally deprived shit like “The Conveyor Belt of Love,” might land you a quick hit, a few million short term viewers. But even the ADD hand-in-their-pants audience won’t hang around long, and in order to grab them back, networks will have to think of something even more reprehensible to pique curiosity.

In the short term, here’s an even better idea: If networks want to meet that bottom line while keeping a higher level of programming, cut the television schedule back a few hours a week. There’s no requirement that the Big Three run three hours of programming each night — Fox only runs two hours and manages to be the highest rated network among the coveted demographic (not that their programming is exactly high-minded). It’s a better solution than even NBC’s moronic idea to run Leno five nights a week: You can’t lose money if you’re not spending it.

Someday soon, networks will actually have to compete with cable networks; if Fox wants more money from Time Warner, then we deserve better programming. And we deserve to be able to opt out. Right now, there’s only two major networks that I’d pay to keep, and only then for a few shows. But a few quality shows is all you need. Look at F/X. At the USA Network. HBO. Showtime. Bravo has only “Top Chef,” but that’s enough to force me to buy the bigger cable package. But when those packages disappear — and they will; ala carte choices on Hulu and Apple will force it on cable providers — we’re going to be able to choose which networks we subscribe to on our newfangled Internet televisions. And if ABC, NBC, and CBS want to be in the game, they’re going to have to do a lot better than vile, disposable bullshit like “Conveyor Belt of Love.”

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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