Friday, December 17, 2010

Reality TV Stars = Death of Quality TV characters

I had a conversation on Facebook with a friend about Criminal Minds this past week. We loved the episode as one of our favorite characters took charge. I've also had several convos with a friend via Blackberry Messenger breaking down several shows and their characters/themes.

It was rare because have you noticed who we talk about on TV? What shows/characters dominate the chatter on Twitter/Facebook. It's more reality show character than created ones.

It's been 10 years since Survivor changed television forever. It brought back the game show to late night television popularity and it also introduced reality shows to the masses. Real World and Road Rules are the real godfathers of the genre but Survivor took it to the masses and spawn a lot of imitators and a few greater.

The 2000's will be the last decade we had classic TV characters that folks can name off the top. It's no surprise most of them are on HBO since their programs completely crapped on regular TV mostly.

Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw are as iconic as anybody while Jack Bauer, Dr. House, Don Draper and Gil Grissom were 4 of the best in drama. Comedywise? It's all about the sextet from Friends, the five ladies of Desperate Housewives and Michael Scott/Dwight from "The Office"

HBO had the shows that were cultural phenomenons. Sopranos and Sex in the City forced Emmy to show them love. The Wire is arguably the greatest show of the decade and fans still discuss the characters/plots feverishly, enough to make me eventually plot to buy the box set.

ABC brought us Lost and Grey's Anatomy but those were largely ensemble shows without a major star. NBC had Friends and now has 30 Rock/The Office and CBS had CSI but somehow brought out Charlie Sheen in a sitcom and Neil Patrick Harris from the TV dead.

But think about it? It's the decade where Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie took the simple life, women fawn over The Bachelor and Survivor drama captivated us. Who even remembers all 5 dudes from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy yet that was on primetime on Must See TV?

The #1 show the last six years? American Idol. The new sextet dominating TV? The Jersey Shore crew. The stars on TV are real folks as opposed to writers creating great characters and us discussing them. Now we discuss "reality" and if anything we just say how unreal it is.

People discuss the Real Housewives and To Catch a Predator like it's a religion. Established stars are doing reality TV and it turns out their "TV persona" or folks introducd through that show get lives of their own (see Keyshia Cole's ultra hood mother)

I feel like we won't see too many great discussions of characters anymore. While shows like 30 Rock, Modern Family, Mad Men, Glee (hate to admit it), Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, the various Law and Orders have revived traditional shows, feels like the masses will be discussing some reality show drama. I don't hate it, I just find it interesting.

Is it due to lack of great writing or just mass appeal in a different direction. It's both. There's way more creativity on cable TV than network but the mass appeal for reality means also the death of more characters reaching the public sphere.

Most shows now are ensemble based as opposed to one breakout star who carries it. You have Liz Lemon (30 Rock, 1st pic), Barney (How I Met Your Mother) Don Draper (Mad Men, 2nd pic), Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk), Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock, Kyra Sedgwick on the "Closer", Bryan Cranston on "Breaking Bad" (a show I've barely heard of, much less seen), Jane Lynch on "Glee" but if you were to pick a Top 10 of compelling characters or moments on TV, most folks would name reality show characters.

There's something cool about discussing the themes and people in a created world as opposed to breaking down caricatures of reality. It's what we do in literature and film and great TV still does that. But just like a great, well-crafted song will go unappreciated by most, well-written shows will be overlooked.

The 2000's were the end of an era and the emergence of another that's threatening to dominate the 2010's. It's literally become the Survivor era where the tribe has spoken and tradition is being snuffed out. But at what expense?

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