On Thursday, January 31st, 2013, I was listening to the hippie, liberal news radio station known as NPR. One of their entertainment correspondents came on and discussed the end of the television show 30 Rock; its series finale was occurring that evening. The man spoke of the change in American television viewing habits, and pointed out they were not for the better. Thursday nights used to be “Must See TV” for 30 Rock’s host network, NBC. They once dominated the ratings with smart, funny shows such as Friends, Fraiser, and Seinfeld. Today, the commentator bemoaned, intelligent television struggles. 30 Rock was another casualty of low ratings, as is the current best show on television, Community, and the last best show on television, Arrested Development. These are shows that did not pander to the audience, but instead challenged them to keep up with the pace of the writing.
In the place of smart TV came offerings like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, kindly described as “broad comedies,” for their broad appeal. These are shows with generic jokes that never ask anything of the viewing audience; a form of “White Noise Television,” to put it another way. These are programs you can “watch” while Facebooking, preparing dinner, or doing any activity that does not involve focusing on the show while it plays in the background.
As I listened to the NPR commentator, I thought of the article I had read the night before, a piece in Bloomberg Businessweek. It was a report on the lack of innovation currently taking place in America; the lack of reward corporations receive for being ambitious. It noted that in times of economic caution, many companies cut their research and development budgets first, to protect the bottom line. In order to keep costs low, it is safer to lay off employees than risk pouring money into developing a new product. This is true across the spectrum of industry, from electronics, to retail, to pharmaceutical and beyond.
One example of punishing innovation is that of JC Penney, currently the most hated company in America. They essentially revamped their entire pricing structure for the better, but since people hate change, consumers stopped shopping there in droves. The stock price has plummeted, and in 2013 the company will shutter 300 stores. All because they wanted to provide better service to their customers.
Another example involves a story about a company that had essentially cured Lyme Disease. Unfortunately, the market for the pill wasn’t big enough, so they shitcanned the department and moved on to other things, like erection pills. Because profit > quality of life.
In my mind, I parallel the NPR take on television and the Bloomberg essay on innovation: the American public does not like quality television, and American businessmen don’t like companies that are ambitious. I find that frightening, and it makes me worry for the future. What does it say when the concept “Creating is bad” is championed over innovation?
If you look back and really study television, a downward spiral can be found: the 1970s gave us All in the Family and M*A*S*H, the 1980s Hill Street Blues, Cheers, and St. Elsewhere… today we have Gray’s Anatomy and Two Broke Girls.
If you look at innovation in the marketplace, the Boeing Dreamliner is currently grounded, while the Airbus A380 is flying high. Small minded and fearful people have tried to stymie scientific progress in America at every turn, while Asia is pushing the boundaries of stem cell advancement.
When we settle for less, we strive for less, and I find that disheartening, and a problem. Not to say that everything good is non-existent, and everything awful succeeds. Beacons of hope in the world of entertainment include the success of South Park, Archer, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, as well as the failures of Animal Practice and Terri Schiavo existence of Whitney. Technologically, the American company Apple gave us the iPod, Phone, and Pad. But it America also offered the world the Segway, so… yeah. Our bad.
I cannot completely articulate my thoughts on the matter, but maybe I don’t have to. Maybe it is enough for me to notice the trend, and put it out there for anyone reading this drivel to ponder on their own. Karl Marx said “Religion is the opiate of the masses;” Edward R. Murrow went one step sideways and changed the saying, calling television the drug that will dilute our minds. At this point, both thoughts seem all too true in the race for the decline of progress. At least 30 Rock got seven seasons. Don’t Trust the B got the shaft in the middle of year two.