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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

why does TV suck so much lately?

I’ve given up on Sarah Connor Chronicles and Heroes. Given up on blogging about them on an episode-by-episode basis like I have been doing. I’m still watching… sort of. Because what I really mean when I say that I watch something on TV is that I give it my undivided attention, which means that that show demands my undivided attention. Heroes used to do that. I wanted Sarah Connor to do that, though it never quite did. Now, when I “watch” Heroes and Sarah Connor, I’m doing something else at the same time: answering email, folding laundry, painting my fingernails (yes, I do girly things sometimes).

If a show can’t hold my undivided attention, it means I can’t have anything much to say with regards to it. I’m better off devoting my reviewing time to something actually worth writing about. Maybe I’ll have something to say later in the seasons for these shows. I’m not writing off writing about them forever. Just till they excite me again.
It would be nice if something on TV excited me, demanded my full attention. Pushing Daisies has been doing that, but it’s just been cancelled, and so now we’re on the deathwatch for it, counting down the remaining seven episodes to be aired.

And yet the screechingly awful Life on Mars gets an order for more episodes.

I look at a list of the top-rated shows of last week, and I have to wonder, Who the hell watches this stuff? Who can stand to watch this stuff? Dancing with the Stars? The Amazing Race? Game shows. Desperate Housewives? People really watch that? I swear The Mentalist is designed to make stupid people feel smart by telegraphing everything. Eleventh Hour is yet another lifeless, bloodless ripoff from British TV. I can’t even tolerate House anymore, it’s the same old stuff over and over again.

Sci Fi Friday used to be a reliable night of geeking out for me. But Stargate Atlantis has long since squandered whatever potential it might have had, and we’re on deathwatch for that, too. (And what’s this? We’re on track for yet another spinoff of the franchise, Stargate Universe, which they might as well call Stargate Voyager, that’s how boring it promises to be, unless the SG people get a lot more adventurous with the show than they’ve been.) Sanctuary makes me want to scream, it’s so tedious, so been-there-done-that.

The Christmas episode of Doctor Who — which of course will not air on American TV at all till god knows when — will be like a tiny oasis in this desert.

Things may improve in early 2009. Battlestar Galactica returns on Friday, January 16… for a handful of episodes before that’s done. Lost returns on Wednesday, January 21. Burn Notice returns at an as-yet unspecified date “this winter” (which is a bit weird — it seems like such a summer show to me).

Ooo, and Fox will debut Joss Whedon’s sci-fi mindbender Dollhouse on February 13. But wait: That’s a Friday, and Friday night may work on cable, but it’s a dead zone on the broadcast networks, which means Fox is trying to kill it before it even gets started. Which may be a good thing, since Whedon’s been trying to kill it too, it seems.

Why does TV suck so hard these days? Stupid TV: be more entertaining.

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  • the rook

    more bad news – i read that pushing daisies has been cancelled.


  • I’m going to go for the GeekPoints(tm) and identify your closing quote as an appropriation of Homer Simpson’s “Stupid TV! Be more funny!”

    …and frankly I’m afraid of just how bad SG: Universe is going to be.

  • Ryan

    I don’t understand how the Stargate writers/producers can so completely fail to understand the draw of their own franchise.

    The whole premise deals with the origins of life on Earth (the alien legacy left to us by the creators of the Stargate, and then the exploiters the Go’ould (sp)) And then, in SG-1, the objective of the team was to DEFEND our earth from alien threats, as well as to do some exploration. This, plus good character development, equaled a compelling premise.

    Going to Atlantis entirely removed any threat to Earth from the story…so basically they REALLY had to make their characters compelling a la John Crichton in Farscape if they want people to give a damn what happens to them. With the exception of Colonel Sheppard, who is at least a consistent character…they failed badly at this…and they realized it too…think how many characters have come and gone from the show.

    Now, they’re ripping off Voyager, and boy, they better have one hell of a good cast lined up…and they better be willing to spend some money, since they can’t really have every episode take place on the ship, they are going to need to make their alien locations a little more interesting than ‘mud-hut human village #254’

    A better Stargate reboot might take the franchise ahead in time; deal with the implication of world-wide knowledge of the Stargate program, and perhaps having other countries copy the knowledge, and compromise some of SG-1s earlier missions. At least it would be expanding the horizons of the Stargate Universe instead of narrowing them.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m going to go for the GeekPoints(tm)

    And you win them, Michael. :->

  • Lots of people are talking about “Stargate Voyager”, but I think they’re missing (or too young to remember) what looks to me much more like the real inspiration. They can’t control the big ship, but they have little ships with which they can visit the planet of the week… Stargate: 1999, anyone?

  • ED

    TV is bad because the writers are lazy. They copy old scripts, have no original ideas. TV used to be entertaining, now it’s just the pablum of the masses. If you think SGA is bad, wait till SGU rolls around. It should just get moved to the CW network with angsty teen dreck ;)

  • Freidag

    Yeah, I agree with you on most points. Because it’s unique Pushing Daisies never stood a chance! As far as Atlantis goes I agree with the poster above. Atlantis forgot its roots. It forgot how to be sci-fi. Instead of focusing on the team interaction that once made this show so great they instead decided to waste the final season pursuing the romantic exploits of Keller and McKay. Can anyone say, “forced chemistry”? To achieve this goal they cast away remaining plotlines and ignored character development for the remainder of the cast. Has Sheppard even been featured in an episode this season?

  • PaulW

    We may be at the point where Hollywood has no more original ideas (which explains all the damn remakes), at least ideas that would fit into broadcast TV. Cable network, which allows for edgier, more ‘adult’ programming (Sopranos, Nip/Tuck, Deadwood, nowadays True Blood) has been making more headway. But we may be getting at a point where all the stories have been told, all the myths explored and deconstructed and retold… all that’s left are the formulas and the safe programs (NCIS, which I warn you is scarily addictive).

  • Karen R

    Thank the Lords Kobol for this post, MaryAnn.

    Another and more recent phenomenon is the inexplicable Jekyll-and-Hyde turn that series are taking between seasons 1 and 2. (That started most glaringly with “Friday Night Lights.”)

    What the hell happened to the gravitas of “Life”? Bring it back for season 2, sex up the female lead and totally strip her of any depth; trim Crews’ hair and make him a joke machine; add that annoying “Desperate Housewives” music; add in Donal Logue. I can’t watch it any more. What’s up with that?

    Even “The Mentalist,” which you mention and which I do still watch (Baker’s restrained performance and the marvelous Amanda Righetti’s grace), had a pathos in the premiere ep that was missing from later eps until this week. The “Desperate Housewives” music was back; the jokes a little too glib. Tuesday’s ep, though, was better.

    From Peabody-level in season 1 to the pisspot in season 2. What’s happening that series take such an obvious dive within just a few months? Somebody needs to keep their paws *off*! And, while they’re at it, trash that “Desperate Housewives” music. It diminishes everything.

    Bring me Burn Notice. Doctor Who. The Closer. Saving Grace. Okay, even a little Sons of Anarchy. Bring me basic cable!

  • MaryAnn Johanson, thank you for your great post on the state of television…

    I was also glad to read all of these comments because it made me realize that I am not alone in my contempt for the wasteland that we call television these days….I too was hoping for better from the shows HEROES and the SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES but they have just left me bored with their incredibly slow drawn-out storylines that go nowhere except to the next episode…..ditto re: HOUSE, et al.

    Being an avid STARGATE SG-1 fan, I must admit that STARGATE ATLANTIS just is not as good a show as it’s predecessor, though I still watch it to get my sci-fi fix….there is none of the tongue-in-cheek attitude that was almost always present in SG-1….SGA takes itself too seriously.

    STARGATE UNIVERSE which is supposed to be geared toward a younger audience (maybe 8 year olds now?) looks to be another hour of boredom, but my fingers are crossed.

    Frankly, most of the television that I now watch are re-runs of old shows (like MASH) and old movies on Turner Classic Movies and anything that has food or animals in it….as to WHY television has gotten so bad….the writers are simply too young is one reason and money is the other, in my opinion….which is why we have seen a flurry of disgusting realty programs….they are cheap to make and require absolutely no talent for the most part, with some exceptions, of course…..

    In any case….and as always….

    Have A Very Stargate Day!


  • MaryAnn

    We may be at the point where Hollywood has no more original ideas

    I refuse to believe that there are no original ideas out there — for one, *Pushing Daisies* proves that there are. But Hollywood is afraid to take a chance on them, and afraid not to give them the time to find their audiences, like Hollywood used to do. Now, if something’s not an instant hit, it’s gone. That’s ridiculous.

  • Jim Mann

    I think Stargate Atlantis, not the upcoming show, is the Voyager of the Stargate universe.

    Why? In part, because they started with some great potential and a few interesting characters and rarely did it all really work. In part because the characters who were most interesting were not the ones at the center of the command crew (on Voyager, it was the doctor who made things interesting from time to time in the first few seasons; on Atlantis, it’s Rodney and Dr. Beckett).

    Moreover, both often suffered from lack of focus. They really couldn’t make up their minds where they were going. Both also suffered from badly conceived opponents. (Atlantis would have been a far better show if the main bad guys didn’t look like they just escaped from a bad horror movie.)

    Given that, though, I overall liked Atlantis better than Voyager, perhaps because the hit rate of decent to good episodes was a bit higher. (That’s not to say that it was high — just higher than Voyager.) And on Atlantis, most episodes had a least a few moments I enjoyed (except for one or two that spent far too much time on Ronan), while Voyager had many that were painful.


  • Henry

    I guess this is kind of a paranoid conspiracy theory, but sometimes I wonder if the networks aren’t skewing those ratings stats. It seems like that Nielsen stuff could be pretty easily manipulated, really. It’s like they want to air only stupid crap, so that people will watch stupid crap, so they won’t value things like originality or uniqueness, because advertisers are looking for audiences whose default position is to reach for freeze-dried prepackaged vacuum-sealed synthetic garbage. Shows like Pushing Daisies exist briefly to throw people off, so that the network mouthpieces can shrug say things like “we gave it our best shot.”
    I’m glad there are still people who insist on thinking for themselves.

  • Ryan

    My top TV shows on 2008 (so far) are Lost, Torchwood, Doctor Who, Pushing Daisies, Battlestar Galactica, Ugly Betty and How I Met Your Mother.

    I highly recommend you check out the latter two I just mentioned since you love/like/watch the other five.

    I also watch Big Bang Theory, Heroes, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Chuck, Gossip Girl, Eli Stone, Fringe, The Mentalist, Private Practive, Dirty Sexy Money, Grey’s Anatomy, 30 Rock, Supernatural, Amazing Race, Desperate Housewives, and Brothers & Sisters.


  • drew ryce

    I wonder if TV sucks more lately than usual.
    I’m going to guess that this forums demographic is 18-34 year olds.
    For comparison, here are the top shows for March, 1968 (the 1967-68 season):

    18-34 Top Ten:
    1. Saturday Movies / 2. Friday Movies / 3. Thursday Movies / 4. Wed Movies / 5. Mission: Impossible / 6. Tuesday Movies / 7. Dean Martin / 8. I Spy / 9. Sunday Movies / 10. High Chapparral

    Note that the top 4, 5 of the top 6 and 6 of the top ten are movies. From this, I suggest that 40 years ago 18-34 year olds thought that TV sucked and prefered the closest thing they could get to renting a DVD.

    Of the 4 non-movie series I would say that they were about as good as TV had to offer at that time.
    I remember and enjoyed all of these shows but I don’t think for a minute that Dean Martin was better than SNL. Now that I think about it there was a certain “Entourage” feeling about the show. I Spy and Mission Impossible were good but I really don’t see them as being greatly superior to a similar show like The Unit and they didn’t hold a candle to the best stuff on cable. High Chaps is tougher, since the TV western is deader than Hickock, but it was basicly a flatly written family drama with some violence and humour. Brotherhood, maybe?

    All in all, I would say that things have gotten better.

  • Lucy Gillam

    I’m just over here getting increasingly glum about the chances for even a second season The Middleman. Shoulda known. Smart, funny geek show with a female lead, and a Latina at that? No chance.

  • Ryan

    ^ Different Ryan, by the way. ^

  • MaryAnn

    Ugly Betty and How I Met Your Mother

    They hold absolutely no appeal for me.

  • Mo

    “I’m just over here getting increasingly glum about the chances for even a second season The Middleman. Shoulda known. Smart, funny geek show with a female lead, and a Latina at that? No chance.”

    I was just going to mention “The Middleman” too. Although I’m desperately trying to be good and wait for someone up here to air it before I watch the whole thing. (Canada) But I’m losing hope.

    The problem this proves is that a network can do everything right- hire a brilliant writer who is insanely funny (in a sweet but bonkers rather than mean sort of way (well, at least when he’s not torturing hobbits…)), uber geeky, and very original, give him his own show, sit back and let him hit it out of the park artistically, do everything in their power to promote it, AND STILL NO ONE WATCHES. Not even the geeks who would normally flock to it.

    What is anyone supposed to do to make things better in a world like that?

  • Marie

    I’ve actually really been enjoying Sanctuary. The show gets better in each episode. I think the characters are getting more interesting and the stories are compelling. Sometimes they choose depth over pace, but I find that more interesting. You may want to give it another look.

  • Shadowen

    I can agree that Heroes has been sucking. But Atlantis’s next-to-most-recent episode was a good attempt at real sci-fi, I think.

    SG-1 was the military show. Atlantis has been more about diplomacy, and they’ve done that. I will agree that Shephard and McKay are carrying the show, though cancellation seems to have convinced them to actually advance the plot now and again.

    And as for Sarah Connor Chronicles…I dunno. What show have you been watching?

  • JoshDM

    I feel that part of the problem is that ratings systems are not taking into account people who watch shows recorded via DVR, or downloaded off of websites or even torrented over Bittorrent (not that they could check that last one easily).

    Some shows have far larger audiences than the networks realize, but their viewers value their time too much to watch them with commercials.

    I think the best bet is to increase integrating marketing with the product, reduce time taken by traditional commercials, and revise ratings collection systems.

    If Nielson still has to send out booklets for people to manually fill out (like I had to do 9 months ago), then something is clearly wrong with the system.

  • D

    Does anyone watch “Dexter”?

  • Ryan

    I just finished the second season on DVD. I enjoyed it, although I thought the ending came a little bit out of left field. (I don’t get Showtime, and iTunes is expensive, so I am always a season behind.)

  • JoshDM

    Been watching Dexter via Netflix (and finished the 2nd Season). It is enjoyable. Also The Wire, which is slightly less enjoyable only because the police work reminds me so much of the Law & Order / CSI-styled shows.

    I tried to watch “The Middleman”, but it was too tooled for pre-teens to hold my interest.

  • MaryAnn

    Some shows have far larger audiences than the networks realize, but their viewers value their time too much to watch them with commercials.

    Yeah, but the shows have to be paid for *somehow.* And if they aren’t being paid for…

    Clearly, the old paradigms of TV are no longer working.

  • JoshDM

    (How do I quote in your system?)

    The first part of the next paragraph is a semi-solution to the advertising problem:

    “I think the best bet is to increase integrating marketing with the product…”

    Meaning, more of seeing Jack Bauer race past a green-screened billboard currently featuring “Twilight”.

  • MaryAnn

    You use regular HTML for quoting, itals, whatever. So, “blockquote” surrounded by carets (AKA a lesser-than and a greater-than sign) for quoting, “i” for italics, “b” for bold, etc.

  • Ryan

    You use regular HTML for quoting, itals, whatever. So, “blockquote” surrounded by carets (AKA a lesser-than and a greater-than sign) for quoting, “i” for italics, “b” for bold, etc.


  • MaryAnn

    It works. :->

  • Ryan

    hehe, thanks for the explanation…I was always trying to use

  • JoshDM

    You use regular HTML for quoting, itals, whatever.

    Well, obviously that (see prior message where I ask and use italics, etc.).

    So, “blockquote” surrounded by carets…

    Ah. Blockquote tag. That was the problem; I don’t use that one frequently (or at all for that matter). Didn’t want to start experimenting with DIV and SPAN elements.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t think divs or spans would work. Not *all* HTML tags are allowed in comments, only some basic ones.

  • JoshDM

    Hence the reason that I pointed out that I didn’t want to screw with them.

  • Patrick

    I gave up on most of TV and had my cable shut off over a year and a half ago, and I haven’t regretted it.

    I catch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report every once in a while at my family’s house, and I get my “American Dad!” episodes off of iTunes.

    BTW, MaryAnn, did you catch that Dr. Who joke in “AD!”? It’s here at about 3 minutes in:


    Anyway, have a terrific Thanksgiving!

  • Accounting Ninja

    Sometimes I wonder if committee writing mixed with the “bottom line” makes for sucky TV. It seems that no shows are labors of love for artists trying to tell stories. There’s no life there, the characters are stock, corporate approved stereotypes.

    One of my favorite series growing up was Star Trek the Next Generation. It was not EXTREME! Or particularly “sexy” like all shows today try to be. Not every episode was a winner. They didn’t always have the biggest budget. But you could tell the writers loved these characters, and they believed the story was worth telling.

    Just a thought…

  • Paul

    I think you guys are getting too upset about this. TV has always been a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of the TV we’ve had recently kicks the ass of the “golden age” TV. Battlestar is some of the best SF TV ever, Frasier was the peak of the sitcom era and one of the more recent ones, and Josh Whedon is a demi-god writer (in my opinion anyway). I agree that a lot of TV isn’t worth the time, but isn’t 40% of the publishing industry romance novels and 75% of the Internet porn?

    But TV is rather faddish. Once sitcoms were everywhere, once it was westerns, now it’s staged reality TV and crime shows. What comes next?

  • Sarah

    Chalk this up to another suggestion that you check out Supernatural, if you haven’t already. It’s a silly good time. Ditto for the Middleman, but who knows if that’ll come back; if it doesn’t check out the DVD.

    And, weirdly enough? Avatar: The Last Airbender. I just had a group of friends sit me down and force my eyelids open Alex Delarge-style for the first few episodes, and I was hooked. GREAT show.

  • Jolly

    Gotta agree with Paul about the hit and miss nature of television. I’ve been gobbling up the first couple of seasons of “The Wire” off DVD in the last couple weeks. Fabulous show. A few years ago, I was addicted to “Buffy” (but “Angel” never really did much for me). I remember the original run of A-team. Ugh.

  • amanohyo

    Let me be the first in a long line of A-Team fans to pity the foo’ who doesn’t appreciate the love felt when a plan comes together. Who among us has not felt in our heart of hearts, “I ain’t gettin’ on no plane!”

    Every generation thinks that popular culture hit its peak during their own adolescence, but we’re the first generation to actually be right, I’m sure of it (although I guess every generation thinks that too).

    We bought our first television when I was in the third grade. I watched quite a bit until high school started. During high school, I only watched the Simpsons and Seinfeld once or twice a week. After my senior year in high school, I left television behind when I realized the return on investment just wasn’t worth it anymore. There’s some evidence that most people actually realize that television is a nonproductive waste of time, always has been, always will be (even “educational” television, even *gasp* quality science fiction, even… *double gasp* MST3K).

    It’s a great tool for socializing children who have plenty of leisure time and might not otherwise have access to a wide variety of “normal” social interactions. But let’s face it, the world would be just fine if every television show targeted at “adults” was canceled tomorrow. People would be angry and depressed for a couple of weeks, but they’d soon lumber off to some other medium in search of an external narrative to distract them from (or enrich as they might say) their humdrum lives.

  • MaryAnn

    I think you guys are getting too upset about this. TV has always been a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    But now it’s only bad and ugly. Where’s the good?

    I agree that a lot of TV isn’t worth the time, but isn’t 40% of the publishing industry romance novels and 75% of the Internet porn?

    Prior to this season, I’ve always said that even with 90 percent of TV being crap, there was still too much good stuff on to watch it all. I don’t feel that way anymore.

  • Keith

    It just occured to me that maybe we should be looking at this from a different perspective. Has television programming of late really gotten that much worse? Maybe it’s not what’s on TV that has changed so much lately, but us the viewers. It could be that shows we liked just a few months/years ago would have just as difficult a time holding our interest if we started watching them now. Perhaps we have reached some sort of derivative limit; as viewers we’ve seen so much before recycled in so many ways that we don’t have much of an appetite for it any more.

    Personally, I’m finding it hard to sit down and watch much of anything lately, even movies/shows I used to enjoy. I’m not sure if it’s stress from the current world situation or something else. Just musing some here.

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