Tuesday, July 8, 2008


TWO TELEVISION EVENTS LAST night had quite different but equally memorable effects on the staff here at TWR, and it reminded all of us here at the headquarters why everything seems that much lamer post basketball season and post The Wire.

The first was the lead story on ABC News with Charlie Gibson, who announced right away a special edition with limited commercials and only one sponsor. That story was a report on physicians who are now prescribing drugs for children with high cholesterol and featured a skinny but healthy smiling boy who had been taking Lipitor to keep his cholesterol in check. According to his mother, he is on a strict diet, but only Lipitor worked. At the end of the segment, which looked at many sides of this controversy--though exercise was not one of them--I made the comment to my wife how ironic it would be if the sole sponsor for the newscast was a pharmaceutical company.

Imagine now not surprised we were when the one commercial for the program featured a new anti-cholesterol drug that combines the benefits of Lipitor. As one of the commenters on the Website noted, ABC is notorious for running drug ads, but last night's example seemed to indicate the show's main underwriter may have been involved not simply in the lead story but perhaps also in advancing a pro-medication treatment for illness at the expense of other options.

The second less egregious transgression involved the finale of The Bachelorette, a show I watched off and on this season. Romance, dating, and love all carry the unenviable burden of contrivance simply by their ubiquity in history and culture. Add in network TV, careful and considerable editing, and shockingly engineered dating scenarios, and there is almost no possibility for original, authentic emotion.

I marvelled last night as I do every time I watch this or The Bachelor at how many cliches the contestants rely on to convey awesomeness.

This is no coincidence.

I'm not convinced that the cliches are simply a result of the limited vocabularies of the contestants. I'm certain that if these people were experiencing the very same emotions off camera and not part of a show, they would express themselves in very different ways. But, nothing is self-generated here; it's all arranged, organized, and packaged, which seems to generate a commensurate articulation. The expanse of their emotional atlas, the cartography of their romantic journey, has to fit in a palm-sized sound byte, and one of the only ways to do this is to oversimplify, to cliche (a new verb I just invented). So much is circumscribed, Jason and Jesse and Dionna have to express through non-expression. They say "It was amazing," or "it blew me away," or "I've never felt this way before," because they and we know these are code phrases for really big emotions.

When contrivance meets contrivance, they make a smart couple but not smart viewing.

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