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Judging by the summer advertising frenzy, the fall season on TV should be an interesting one. Reality shows seem to be losing their luster and are being replaced by edgy dramas. With the dismal offerings at the theater and low ticket sales, TV is ramping up its programming in an effort to create more compelling material. This is good, but very few of the new shows seem to be risk-takers, which is bad. Every new drama wants to be this season’s Lost—the surprise hit show from last season—but nobody wants to take the big risks that Lost took. The writers and producers of Lost were putting all their eggs in the story basket. If they couldn’t captivate viewers with the story, Lost would have been just another one-season flop. Since the writers and producers gambled and came through with excellent storylines, viewers flocked, became hooked and season 2 starts next week.
New helpings of sitcoms are coming too, but the setting is no longer the workplace. Almost all sitcoms are now centered in the home around the family. Cashing in on the perennial success of the Simpsons, most of the new sitcoms involve a dysfunctional family of sorts. Following the trail blazed by the Bundy family 15 years ago on Married…with Children the “new” sitcoms are nothing new after all, just a deeper shade of irreverent. Dad is almost always the punching bag, the doorstop for the rest of the family to pin their blame on. He is a weak and pathetic example to the children and certainly not a leader. If television is to be believed, no family is really able to function as a family.
All of what I have just described applies to three of the four major networks: ABC, CBS and FOX. NBC seems to be in a world all by itself. Not content with achieving last year’s poorest ratings, it appears to be poised to endure yet another season at the bottom of the sweeps-week barrel. Instead of thinking up new programming, they just regurgitate their own shows with a new host, hence, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. One Law and Order in not enough, so they have three. More, not less, of reality TV is in the works for NBC. They have decided to keep Joey, but ditch AmericanDreams. It seems as if NBC can’t make a decision unless it’s wrong. I predict that at the end of this coming season NBC will once again find itself looking up at the other three networks and begin desperately searching for a new CEO.
All of the networks need to take a good, hard look at their constituency. Instead of ridiculing the family, why not provide an example of a functional one now and then? Extreme Home Makeover always seems to be able to find a family that loves each other and the community that it lives in, so why can’t we have more sitcoms and dramas that follow this lead? Would anyone watch if the Bundy family was getting a new 4000 square foot home? So why should we watch them fumble their way through daily life? This season, more than ever, we need to send a message to the advertisers and the producers that we’re tired of dysfunctional, broken, and weak families being portrayed as the norm. As the consumer, we have the power to veto with our remote controls and not buy the products that are being advertised by these anti-family programs. If the networks and the advertisers don’t have the sense to put a stop to it, we need to force the issue. Let’s send a message. Vote with your remote!