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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

question of the day: Has TV simply gone crazy?

I’ve said more than once that even if Sturgeon’s Law holds true for TV — if 95 percent of what’s on the tube is crap (and that may be underestimating the amount of crap) — there’s still more non-crap than I can ever find the time to watch. Which is something I often take comfort in: there so much TV these days that there’s more good stuff than any one person could hope to consume.

Of course, the flip side of that is that the crap is more voluminous than ever, too. And two recent articles trying to corral the crap into something understandable have me wondering whether TV has gone off a deep end.

First, Variety columnist Brian Lowry looks at the “wackadoodle demo” that TV appears to be catering to lately, with programming such as the ravings of Glenn Beck, the History Channel’s “specials” on stuff such as Nostradamus and 2012, TruTV’s Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura, and half of Syfy’s programming:

Not to be confused with those drawn to hunting the paranormal and gh-gh-ghosts with infrared lenses (its own disturbing niche), the wackadoodle subspecies encompasses folks who gravitate toward conspiracy theories, end-of-the-world prophecies, alien abduction, and other beliefs generally associated with wearing tin-foil hats. And while one might assume this is a difficult group for advertisers to bank on, programmers appear more than content to scratch their (perhaps UFO- or government-induced) itches.

Wackadoodle TV doesn’t really worry about distinguishing between truth and fiction. In fact, it often seems to welcome the parallels between them, as in History’s obvious “2012” tie-in, or Syfy’s upcoming “Inside Secret Government Warehouses: Shocking Revelations,” a two-hour special transparently designed to promote the channel’s series “Warehouse 13.”

Lester Holt — the NBC newsman, who has clearly put his journalistic credibility in a blind trust — hosts the special, which comes from Peacock Prods., an offshoot of NBC News. Eschewing subtlety, the documentary frequently uses clips from “Warehouse 13” and movies — illustrating its section on Area 51, the secretive base in Nevada long rumored to house aliens, with footage from “Independence Day.”

Today USA Today explores whether TV is teaching viewers to overreact:

[M]ost of us know the “out-there” reactions we see on reality and cable TV are largely for effect. But behavioral researchers say we may be more affected than we realize.

On reality TV, competitors or housemates engage in over-the-top antics that create rivalry and conflict for entertainment value; in real life, we watch outbursts, even on the House floor in Washington — and pundits criticize the president for not displaying enough emotion when things go wrong.

The fact that there’s much more exposure to all kinds of media today just may alter our sense of emotional norms so exaggerated responses seem normal, some experts say.

Now, I remember, from my childhood, whackadoodle shows such as In Search Of… (the clear predecessor to History’s and Syfy’s “documentaries”) and contestants overreacting on The Price Is Right. But it does seem like there’s a helluva lot more of that kind of thing today.

Has TV simply gone crazy? And is it changing at least some people? Or is it just a way for concern-trolling journalists to fill column space?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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