To continue from where we left off here:
So then we enter a new phase, “later 20’s early 30’s, the I’m out of the cocktail scene and have found the him or her that I want. We don’t have kids yet, but we realize now that staying in is better for us crowd.” These are the people who know when and what channel everything they watch is on, every day of the week. From the minute they get home, through to preparations of dinner, sometimes through its consumption and up to bedtime. These are the people who truly watch television and enjoy it, daily. They usually catch the movies on the weekend, a matinee when it’s less busy. (A misnomer if I ever heard one.) They have their shows that they watch with devotion and are usually a little reticent to take on something new. (It’s been my experience that when they do they REALLY do.)
Then you have the group that travels concurrent with them, the “ later 20’s early 30’s that have kids”. Pretty much the same rules apply, they come home and say goodbye to the nanny, and the box might be on, but usually as a distraction device while they attempt to shift out of work clothes and into comfy pants. The TV might stay on in the background while they scramble to get the baby/youngster/little person fed (usually ending up with more food on the kid, the floor and themselves), and remain on while dishes are stacked, tables wiped, teeth brushed, stories read and kids tucked in. After all of that, there is about a two to three hour window where there is finally some quiet, a chance to sprawl out on the couch and give over to the tube. Because that window is limited, these watchers gravitate to what appeals to them immediately, usually something mind numbing first, then something in a serial with a handsome but troubled lead and a gorgeous level headed partner. It engages them and for that window of a few hours they can give over to a show, maybe missing parts of it as there is always an ear out for a child, an eye on a monitor, not to mention the pull of the mobile device on commercial break. They also rarely go to the movies if it isn’t a kid picture, mainly because if they are spending money on a babysitter, chances are they want to have a conversation with each other over bite to eat and a glass or two of wine.
But here is where things get interesting. You also have two more groups of people that have evolved. You have the mid 30’s to early 40’s, both with and without kids. What the execs seem to forget is that there is an entire generation of people that were more career minded, that waited to have kids and approach television in a very different way. They are far more selective about the time spent in front of tube, not only for their kids, but for themselves as well. They get informed. They do their research. They pick their spots, and engage whole-heartedly when the time comes, but what they don’t do is waste their time on things that aren’t engaging them on multiple levels. This is a demographic that simply wants and needs more. They need multi- layered characters and relationships, they need depth in drama and logic in purpose, they need comedy to be both cerebral and physical, everything must stem not only from situations but also from who the characters are and the honesty of the relationships they share; Extraordinary people in ordinary situations, Ordinary people in extraordinary situations…
This is part of the reason why cable programming and things like Netflix work so well, they are catering to a new type of viewer, one that simply doesn’t the have time or the energy for filler programming. “I have this much time allotted and this is what I want. I’m in, I’m engaged, entertained, thoughts are provoked, laughs are had, feelings felt and I am Out.” I am part of this demographic, and I think the numbers for the size of this very real and very powerful demographic might be surprising.
What’s tragic is that there doesn’t seem to be, with the exception of a handful of shows and networks, many writers and studios willing to take the risk and target this new audience. Instead, execs, studios and the like end up ignoring and bypassing potentially brilliant and innovative ideas aimed at a demographic that clearly exists and instead try to solve the ratings problem with the same old offering of the same old. The strategy isn’t new. It’s just a riff on Commedia Dell’Arte, stock characters and tried and trusted storylines. Unfortunately, it’s also very much like putting a band-aid over a major wound. It quite simply isn’t going to work. And that is why, right now, television is in some pretty dire straits.
Don’t get me wrong; I love television. I really do. There are great things out there and on it. Things I love that make me laugh and cry and feel and entertain me, and really at the end of it all, that’s what it’s all about. ENTERTAINMENT. As a long narrative, television is one of the greatest chances for all aspects of a production to shine and to tell fantastic stories time and time again. I just want television to work better, I want it to grow and become something MORE again. I really think it can be, but there has to be a shift, an acceptance and most importantly a willingness to change. To trust the viewing public with it’s own evolution and start giving it what it deserves. The beginning of which must be a change in perspective about who is watching television, what they want to see and how best to measure it.
Remember what Henry Jones Sr. said to Junior at the end of The Last Crusade when Indy was so sure he could reach the Holy Grail?
“Indiana. Let it go.”
Pretty wise words there.