Sunday, December 28, 2008

22 things wrong with TV in 2008

Let take a long hard look at the year just gone and find 22 things that went really wrong with TV in 2008...

22. Underbelly

Hmmm - what kind a crazy list am I running here - this was one of the best shows of the year.

Yes it was. No show in 2008 had a greater advanced buzz, the subject matter was enthralling, especially if you lived in Victoria where it was all happening. The production values and writing were as good as any show Australian's have ever made, and yet in a very short space of time in the weeks leading up to it's debut - the wheels fell off the gravy train.

The series was a dramatic retelling of actual events in Melbourne in the late 90's and early part of this decade with a violent 10 year underworld war.

Most of the major trials relating to the events had worked their way through the system but there will still a few outstanding procedings as well as the unresolved matter of a fugitive who had absconded to Greece with a bad wig.

Queens Council Jeremy Rapke started a campaign (about two weeks out from the premiere date) to have the series banned from distribution in Victoria because it could influence potential future jurors. He found a sympathetic ear in Justice Betty King who issued an indefinite suppression order on the series on 12 February 2008. The Series went to air in every state bar Victoria on 13 February 2008.

The resulting shitstorm is one of the TV stories of 2008.

The show, banned in Victoria (Melbourne typically furnishes the biggest FTA TV audiences in Australia - especially for locally based prods) clocked a premiere rating of 1,320,000 in four cities. It's very plausible to assume that Melbourne would have added anywhere from 500,000 - 800,000 to that number had the broadcast gone ahead.

Melbournians finally got to see the first 5 hours of the 13 hr drama in Mid September over a two week period where it drew approx 400,000 per showing, not bad but nowhere near the original expectation and the story behind that is one of life's great ironies.

Over the years Bit Torrent has been gaining widespread recognition in Australia as a viable alternative to view shows from overseas that you otherwise cannot see, this was always a factor because broadcast nets here in Australia either bury unsuccessful o/s series or hold on to big hits to screen at a time which advantages them.

But slowly the ratings on big imports have been eroded by Bit Torrent with many of the viewers obtaining these shows by alternative means.

This has been the paradigm for US and British shows for a few years now - but never an Australian show - until this year.

The Victorian Courts' decision to ban the series from exhibition created a black market of sorts for the series. It started as a Bit Torrent thing with Nine's Sydney broadcast of the premiere distributed all around the southern state, then suddenly people were sharing around episodes without any scoring or sound effects - it was like they were leaking out of the editing room.

By the time Nine was allowed to show just 5 episodes, complete with a pixelated Tony Mokbel, half of their target audience had already watched, even more probably contacted relatives interstate to procure the official DVDs (I am of the understanding that if you ask for one of these DVDs at a major chain they will ask to see your license in order to comply with the most pointless supression order in the history Australian juris prudence)

I'm not sure who deserves the blame for this complete fuck up - whether channel nine should have held off screening the show is open for debate - I'm not privy to how television advertising sales are arranged but the reporting at the time suggested that a lot of people had committed their dough expecting to see Underbelly roll on the 13th of February - if Nine had pulled it across the country - well that's an awful mess to untangle.

I place a lot of blame at the Victorian DPP and the courts - how come it takes them only two days to whiz through a supression order at the whim of a prosecuter and yet they take years upon years to do their actual job (ie: prosecuting criminals).

Lastly did the ban acheive anything? Most people who wanted to see the show ended up seeing it - 800,000 out of a population of 5 million still leaves a lot of Victorians who could participate in any related trial without prejudice - all they would have to do is ask people if they had viewed the series or not?

Clearly though - that would be assuming that jurors are also mature adults capable of making reasonable decisions - something that the Victorian Supreme Court seemed to struggle with back in February...

21. Factual Programming

Factual, Fly-on-the-wall, Docu-Dramas, call em what you will - they still suck and they're everywhere.

While the yanks are probably the ones responsible for this style of TV (Cops and Rescue 911 being early entries in the genre) the Brits took it to a whole new level with their airport shows, in Australia, Seven and Nine networks are awash with this style of program, and cable TV is worse, tune your TV to Discovery, CI, Bio or Lifestyle and it seems that anyone who works a half interesting job is being followed by a camera.

Now granted some of these shows are halfway interesting, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Ice Road Truckers, Maternity Ward, American Chopper and a handful of others that give you a glimpse into a world that you don't see everyday, but some of the concepts are beyond the pale

Particularly but not limited to... Bondi Rescue and all it's offshoots, anything where medical freaks are showcased, anything where people are shown rescuing or tending to animals (enough already Seven), any show with kiwi accents, any show with a title ending in 'Ink' (really how much stilted comraderie can we take) and any faux-dramatic soapy style wank with people either pretending to be celebrities (think Keeping up with the Kardashians, The Hills, My Perfect Life) or Celebrities pretending to be people (see Hogan Knows Best, Gene Simmons: Family Jewels, Snoop Dogg's Father Hood)

This multi-headed-hydra has infected TV and continues to propogate despite the best efforts of viewers to ignore it. It has completely overrun one Australian network (Seven) threatens to overrun the others with the 2009 schedule and have taken over several cable channels which would otherwise have nothing to offer. It must be stopped.

20. Smaller Seasons

Back when I was a kid US shows used to produce about 26-22 episodes per season and most Australian shows did about 40! (That's right 40!) - this year most (if not all) of the big US dramas are still doing 22 episodes a year while Australian shows have shrunk their productions down drastically.

On channels 10 and Nine you find a drama running for more than 13 episodes. Comedies don't seem to any longer than 6 episodes (although that could be a ratings based decision as well) Look at this year's entrants "Mark Loves Sharon" (6 eps), "Kenny's World" (6 eps), "The Hollowmen" (12 eps - although I'm informed that is 2 whole seasons of 6 episodes each - the word 'season' has now officially lost it's meaning)

Even rubbish light entertainment shows don't have very long runs.

Just look at "Hole in the Wall" - this inexpensive and (initially) well rating gonzo game show only put out 8 episodes and called it a season. It's channel nine stablemate - "The Singing Bee" started out in 2007 filming 8 episodes and for it's 2008 season only managed 4! A four episode season! Unbelievable.

Don't even get me started on the factual programs - you would assume that a show that amounts to pointing a camera at some people and cleaning up the mess in editing could go on for a fair chunk of the year - well you assumed wrong. Look at the stats "The Zoo" (11 eps), "The Real Seachange" (10 eps), "Farmer wants a Wife" (6 eps), "Crash Investigation Unit" (9 episodes), the list is endless.

The result of all these truncated seasons is an awful lot of chopping and changing on primetime schedules, viewers don't have any time to get into shows because the second they do it's "whoops - out of episodes! Onto the next thing"

This short burst programming is slowly killing network TV and turning it into cable where series generally run for 2 months before being replaced by something else. Or worse British TV where no TV season exceeds 12 episodes and it's not unusual for shows to go off the air for several years only to return for a one-off special.

Welcome to the future folks

Speaking of which...

19. Flight of the Prima Donnas

Oh man - these delicate geniuses, Working Dog, The Chaser and Jane Turner/Gina Riley put out such a refined product requiring the greatest of skill and staggering workload that in 2008 they all had to take the year off.

What the f??? We're not talking about Lost or The Sopranos here, you have a Whose Line is it Anyway ripoff, a weekly current events satire (not sure how having a year off improves that show) and a poorly written sitcom who entire humour revolves around the characters' accents and their constant abuse of the english language.

Get real idiots, be thankful people are watching your shows and make some more episodes or otherwise they just might find something else to watch...

18. Australia's Least Funny

I'm looking right at you Rebel Wilson. Not funny in "Pizza", not funny in "The Wedge", I don't want even talk about "Monster House" and then SBS gives you your own show?? No wonder Australian TV is in the toilet if this is the kind of up and coming talent we can look forward to. ugghhh

17. Saturday Night

Y'know - unlike others I don't expect a lot from my Saturdays - this night has been the past home for such taxing fare as "Hey Hey", "Man O Man" (I notice none of Rob Guests' obituaries pointed out this particular highlight), "Gladiators", "Young Talent Time", "Saturday Night Clive", you get the picture - fluffy, light entertainment.

There is now exactly one show on Saturday nights that fits this bill - "Funniest Home Videos" - which is why it's the night's most popular show. Everything else is wall to wall movies.

When networks are scheduling movies nowadays it's always a sign of retreat and on Saturday that retreat is being led by the viewers - all the way to the video store, or the PC, or the movies, or cable where you can watch Lost or all the Star Trek series, or Dog the Bounty Hunter, or some crime docos, any and all of it preferable to 6 movies you've either already seen or already decided you don't want to see.

All three nets need to put some effort in on this night. Saturdays need a particular type of show to be successful - something live (or live feeling), semi-spontaneous and fun. Currently this does not exist anywhere on television in this country.

Seven, Nine, Ten - this is your challenge.

16. Sky News

This is just a minor gripe - but anyone can run a half hour news bulletin all day long - what Sky need is more current affairs programming. Look at the schedule of Fox News - you barely see a genuine news bulletin in there - it's all shows - O'Reilly, Hannity and Combes, Brit Hume, Fox and Friends, On the Record, The Beltway Boys, Huckabee.

My fave show on Sky is Agenda, simple political round up of the day - they need more like this to break up the bulletins and far, far less sports coverage (there's already a Fox Sports News channel for anyone who wants to see it)

They've got a whole stack of ex-network newsreaders in there - why not find a few ex-network personalities and give them a show, Ray Martin's free, Derryn Hinch would jump at the chance (he regularly confessed to being a Sky News addict on his radio show) start experimenting with the format to get some original content in there, otherwise - you're just reading the news!

15. Double Pumping

This practice of showing double episodes of popular shows is as old as television itself - but cable has taken it to absurd new heights - the new cable channel 111 hits shows just about everything in double and triple episode blocks, "Will & Grace", "Friends", "That 70s Show", The King of Queens", "Drew Carey", "Dharma & Greg" - that's fine if those are the shows you can't get enough of - but peronally I'd like to see more of some of their older hit that they only play once a day - shows like "ALF", "The Wonder Years" and "Murphy Brown" haven't been seen in years and are probably the main reason people are tuning into this channel - as for changing channels and finding Will & Grace on everytime - enough already!

14. Girls of the Playboy Mansion

OK I've seen this show for about a year now and I still can't figure it out - is Heff fucking these women? Or are they just roommates - is Heff even able to get it up? Can he call them to his office for a BJ at any time he wants?

So many crucial questions that this series stubbornly refuses to answer - they're bending my mind into a pretzel!

13. Kids TV

It kind of happened when we weren't looking - but childrens TV as a whole has migrated to Pay TV, only ABC1 & 2 persist in any kind of serious childrens programming.

There was a time, 20 years ago, where 3.30pm - 5pm was all kids shows and two of the commercial nets showed kids TV in the early morning.

Seven, of course, got out of the early morning kids TV game some time ago, with great success. Ten started chipping away at the afternoons, moving a soap opera to 4.30pm was controversial back in the day - but it started the gradual erosion of Afternoon kids TV, with all networks confining their after school programming to a single daily half hour at 4pm

In two weeks Ten will move again - pulling their 4pm (C) program and moving it to 7am replacing kids dramas and the long running "Totally Wild" with "It's Me or the Dog"

Now, don't cry for the kids they're fine - my kids are well served with seven different channels of violence-free profanity-free kids stuff and before we got cable our DVD shelf was bursting with the exploits of the Wiggles and Barney

The real losers here will be the networks - they're losing future generations who won't be brought up in their universe and in the future it'll be that much easier for them to change the channel!

12. Australia

This wretched movie - which I am proud to say I avoided - was the subject of a putrid commercial tie in between 20th Century Fox and A Current Affair.

Now ACA and TT are borderline at the best of times and I often wonder how 9 and 7 are able to claim these shows as news content and escape classification rules, but this was the most blatant yet of their many transgressions.

Turning your show into Entertainment Tonight (without the news content) is not the way to go, it made me wish for the high journalistic standards of the old topless cafe story back in the days of Jana Wendt (actually I wish for a return of that story a little too much - seriously I was a teenager at the time and boobs at 6.30pm - how can you beat that!)

11. Out of the Question

What was this shite? 2 years ago Seven had the strongest Thursday night on Television, then they threw it all away with erratic scheduling (Moving Heroes to Thursdays and Lost to 9.30 in Northern States only, then moving Heroes to 9.30 after the boring Bionic Woman remake) now they were putting the nails in the coffin by giving this peice of unrefined sputum an 8.30 timeslot effectively killing their Thursday night and Lost, one of the best shows ever killed by network stupidity.

Now that we're at the end of 2008 we can see the bigger picture - that luring Glenn Robbins to Seven was a small peice of a much larger puzzle...

10. Thank God You're Not Here

The biggest no show of 2008. Trade reports doing the rounds at the end of 2006 had indicated that ten had re-upped for two more seasons of 10 episodes each in 2007.

Well 2007 rolled along and only one of those 10 episode seasons appeared, noises being made at the time indicated that the second of those committed seasons would surface in 2008, but it wasn't to be.

Shortly before the start of summer the news broke that Working Dog had shopped their show around to all networks during the year with Seven putting in the winning bid. While this sort of wheeling and dealing is nothing new in television it makes everybody look bad and can kill shows and careers

Just ask Greg Evans who jumped from Ten into the waiting arms of channel nine only to be warehoused, you can now find him endorsing health products on AM radio...

9. American Made

2008 will be for me - the year American television got quantifiably worse. Instead of original ideas we had remakes ("Knight Rider"), sequels ("90210") and retread of overseas shows ("Life on Mars", "Kath & Kim", "Eleventh Hour", "Worst Week", "Little Britain America") there was still brilliance - but overall the trend is not good.

Audience numbers for US shows are rapidly approaching cable size which is a bad sign for the production budgets of future series. So bad infact that NBC is surrending 5 hours per week of prime TV real estate to Jay Leno because of the lower overheads and better profit margin.

It's getting so bad for the American networks that they even employed Rove McManus to host a special the other week - now that's gotta hurt.

8. David Leckie

It's a good thing the general public doesn't take an interest in the thing TV executives say because if you actually read some of the bile that Seven's head honcho is quoted with it makes your stomach churn

From the Australian

Plummeting international share markets did not deter Mr Leckie from going public with inflammatory comments made to advertisers last week, including calling Ten the "pocket-money generation" network, and suggesting Ten chief executive Grant Blackley was "no good".

The mercurial network boss said Nine would be "f..ked" next year without high-rating shows from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay; called its success this year "a fluke";

Asked if he was saying Nine was "f..ked", Mr Leckie said: "I have said it for the last two days."

It goes on...

Mr Leckie said Seven would not rest on its laurels. "We haven't been arrogant and we're not going to be," he said.

Reminds me of channel nine back when everyone started to hate it.

7. TV1

Television Greatest Hits? Not! Maybe once when this channel was stuffed to the gills with great TV shows, some legendary like "Seinfeld", "Cheers", others picked up in spite of mainstream indifference ("Frasier", "Star Trek The Next Generation") and some really obscure gems from the past that nobody else would dare show ("It's Gary Shandling's Show", "Wonder Woman", "Parker Lewis Can't Lose", "Major Dad")

TV1's formative years were filled with great television from dys gone by - especially the 80's macho series like "Miami Vice", "The A Team", "Magnum PI", "BJ & the Bear" and "Knight Rider" nowadays it's a depressing mix of "Law & Order" and "NCIS" crap that I could see for free.

Get your act together TV1 - you're a disgrace to your own history.

6. Heroes

Oh man - you know in the second half of their first season I was right into Heroes, unlike a lot of serial dramas it had a storyline which seemed to be moving forwards, proving action and answers and then...


That first season finale. Talk about underwhelming - but I thought OK it'll pick up in season two.

It didn't, it was simply 3 months of Peter Petrelli's lost his memory and illegal immigrant road trip - boring.

Now it's 2008 and series perpetrator Tim Kring promises a new and improved Heroes back to the fun of the first season.

Fucking Liar - Heroes is now the most convoluted mess on television and I fairly care anymore as to what happens.

How can you care about a character in jeopardy when everyone seems to die every other week only to be revived the following week

Not to mention that the characters themselves seem to have no motivation for their actions other than to service a plot which doesn't know where it's going

And you know you're in trouble when you time travelled more times in one season than Dr Sam Beckett in his entire series.

The Peacock Network (NBC) has a full blown turkey on their hands here I don't think there's any saving it.

5. Freeview

This is a crock of shit. The advertising is as false as you can get - 15 channels my ass.

I bought an SD set top box about 3 years ago, for my outlay I pick up 6 channels (7 if you include that SBS world news thing which is not a real channel IMO), If I want to pick up these HD channels I need to buy a HDTV or HD STB - now a HDTV costs a fair bit of money and I already have enough TVs in my house and I don't want another STB - one STB and one Foxtel Box is enough.

And say I were to outlay for these HD channels - what do I get, uh a different post 10.30 schedule? Not worth it chumps, oh and Ten - take your sport channel and stick it - I don't need more sport on TV.

4. Fast-Tracking

The whole point of Fast Tracking shows was to stop the audience erosion caused by viewers using Bit Torrent and other technologies to view episodes of their favourite shows before the networks screen them

You would think this would have a positive effect on ratings - showing programs hot off the satellite would encourage those recalcitrants away from their computers and over to the TV for some fresh entertainment.

However it hasn't worked out like that.

Just look at the list of all returning shows fast-tracked this year
"Criminal Minds"
"Prison Break"
"The Unit"

Out of all those shows only "Criminal Minds" has shown any year on year improvement

Even worse only one NEW show that was Fast Tracked, "The Mentalist" has been any kind of success, every other new US show has flopped badly - the worst being "90210", which should have rode in on a ready made audience but fell victim to the double slug of fast-tracking and Ten's bad mojo.

So is fast-tracking the problem, in short - yes.

Some net-heads will tell you that viewership is down because nets don't bow day and date with their shows, but I think the real reason is much less obvious and way more important than the activity of a few households with unrestrained broadband (or deep pockets)

You see, fast-tracking means nets are putting shows to air virtually the moment they are delivered, that gives them very little time to come up with promotions for these shows.

Think back to September this year - for the commercials you saw for shows being fast tracked. Did they show many scenes from the upcoming episodes? Did they give you much indication on the storylines you could expect? Did they tell you anything besides the fact that the show was being fast-tracked. It's highly unlikely.

Now fast forward to now - it's summertime and the free to air networks are feeding us a steady diet of promos for the oncoming season - the promos are filled with new information, scenes from episodes we haven't seen yet and they're showing weeks in advance. This is important because people don't watch TV like hawks - it may take several weeks for the message to kick in that a show is coming.

With the fast tracked shows in September we had at most 3 weeks promotion (and in most cases 2 weeks) with next to no actual content in the promos themselves, by being so fast the nets have given themselves no time to build a buzz or an audience appetite for these new shows

Fast Tracking - rather than being helpful - is actually turning out to be detrimental.

3. VH1

Vh1 has some of the best and trashiest shows on Television. "Rock of Love", "I Love New York", "Behind the Music", "The Surreal Life".

VH1 started off as an MTV spin off for older film clips but has slowly found a use for old and washed celebrities by involving them in absurd reality competitions that are mind bending in their stupidity and addictive beyond belief.

They also do a fine line in special programming - their "Behind the Music" specials give you roller coaster ride of some of music's most colourful careers, "I Love The 80's" series is like a hilarious 20 to 01

But turn your Foxtel receiver to VH1 in Australia and what do you get? Countdown Reruns, "Rockwiz", the occasional "Pop Up Video" and wall to wall classic clips.

Why oh why VH1???

If I wanted to see only video clips I'd tune to [V] or Max both channels are in widescreen as opposed to MTV/VH1's crappy 4:3 display. The real appeal of the US music channels is not the music - it's the original programming you can't see anywhere else - let alone get on DVD

You know how I know about "I Love the 80's"? YouTube - before Viacom went mental and launched the lawsuit of the century to stop people from watching their shows - that's all well and good Viachumps - I subscribed to your channel - but you're still not showing anything.

It's been progressively getting worse too - half a year ago Saturday Nights were reserved for "I Love New York", a refreshing mix of "The Bachelorette" and "Jerry Springer" now, in summer when we desperately need any sort of good television - we just get endless video clips and a lame "Kareoke" show which is just the same clips with the lyrics on

Lift your game people.

2. Nine Network

The only reason they are not number one on this list is that they showed some improvement in their ratings but in every other aspect they unleashed a bigger brand of suck onto Australian Television in 2008.

Some notable sins included

"Two and a Half Men" takes off a strip 7pm timeslot, so Nine decides that nothing succeeds like excess and doubles the hours to a whopping 5 hours (10 episodes) per week.

"Monster House"
"Make My Kid a Star"

"Hole in the Wall" provides a case study into how women on TV must remail thin whilst men can be fatter than Jabba the Hutt

Shabby treatment of "Survivor", "The Apprentice" dropped altogether (just in time for it's US resurgence) yet "Ladette to Lady" continues

Gordon Ramsay becomes the "Supernanny" of 2008.

Nine plays 'Guess the timeslot' with all versions of CSI.

"Million Dollar Wheel" launched - and promptly killed

The Sunday replacement news bulletin, just give Laurie Oakes a show FFS.

The "Underbelly" fuck up

"The Strip" a lot of people tuned in for the premiere - indicating that people would love to see a CSI: Miami done in the Gold Coast - but what they saw was a steaming turd on the beach.

1. Network Ten

Ten is a very similar story to Nine - execpt they matched their suck with a shockingly bad ratings performance to boot

I have a soft spot for Ten - they were the first network that I liked the look of - that seemed to have the shows that I liked to watch.

But over the years they have followed a model of concentrating their programming firepower in a handful of reality television events to the detriment of the remainder of their schedule.

2008 was the year one of those behomeths fell over...

"Big Brother" - after 8 years turned out the lights. It's ratings had been slowly declining since season 4 but in a bid to arrest the decline Ten ordered a major retool, dumping host Gretel Killeen, dropping the Up Late show, broadening the age of the housemates and messing with a nomination/eviction system that had worked well for 7 years.

The decline put a major hole in Ten's schedule with 7pm being a major switch-on point for the network (they do not compete with news in the crucial 6pm hour) when people stopped switching on the ratings for their primetime (post 7.30) shows began to sag.

The news just got worse for Ten afterwards - it's spring 7pm series, "Taken Out", wasn't ready to bow until after The Olympics Games on rival (and market leader) Seven, the wait proved fatal as the Olypics provided the perfect opportunity for viewers to forget about Ten.

The ratings for "Taken Out" were brutal and the fallout was even uglier, with the dating show, "The Simpsons", "Friends" and "Will & Grace" all dancing around the 6pm and 7pm slots for the remainder of spring - viewers probably didn't know what was on and when they finally did - they didn't care

The plunge for Ten's 7pm slot - from 900,000 - 1,000,000 viewers to a regular 500,000 - 600,000 viewers put an incredible strain on all their 7.30 pm shows.

Through most of spring Ten was lucky to get two shows per week break the magic million mark, and barely one week went by without another series premiere, timeslot change, mystery hiatus or sheer programming hail mary

With "So You Think You Can Dance" and "The Biggest Loser" ten had the strongest start to any year in recent memory - but the second half of their year was a total mess

They are not a basket case yet - but they are dangerously close. Here's hoping they can get it together in the new year...