Sunday, 22 May 2011

Upfronts, Finales & Television's Critical Culture

This last week was the biggest TV week of the year where two of the largest events in the American industry combined to the point of saturation. Somewhat bizarrely in the Australian context the third week of May is the last week of ratings in the States, meaning that the majority of shows air their last episodes of the season. Simultaneously the television networks also host their ‘Upfront’ presentations aimed at critics and advertisers where top network executives pitch their schedules for the next year. This includes previewing the new shows that will start in September. In essence the transition between the end of one television season and the beginning of another is almost instantaneous.

The dominant feature of this past television season is that not many shows that commenced last September survived for a second year. A personal favourite of mine The Chicago Code was a notable casualty, largely because the Fox network had used up the majority of its schedule with new shows including the new Simon Cowell reality competition The X Factor, and the Steven Speilberg produced Sci-Fi drama, Terra Nova. This is but one example of television industry politics at its finest, which Australian audiences have little knowledge of or interest in. If you are interested in a detailed analysis of the American television industry I would recommend both the TVOTI Podcast as well as the Firewall and Iceberg Podcast, both of which are thoroughly entertaining, are tremendously detailed, and are full of insightful knowledge.

This week I’ve watched the finales of 90210, Gossip Girl, Glee, Parenthood, One Tree Hill, Hellcats, Grey’s Anatomy and The Big Bang Theory plus episodes of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Make It or Break It and The Chicago Code. Aside from all being made in the US the common theme with these television shows is that they are all yet to air in Australia, or the networks are several episodes behind the US schedule. Is it any wonder that I download these shows when the Australian networks treat viewers and their own schedules with such contempt?

Moreover the quality of critical analysis of television in this country is substandard compared with American journalists. Although TV Tonight is a wonderful Australian website that tackles industry news and scheduling insight, there is very little commentary. When compared with last week’s issue New York Magazine, specifically looking at the state of the television industry, there was no contest. In particular the thought provoking and controversial piece by Roseanne Barr is the kind of material that I as a discerning viewer of media crave. Why do we not have these types of pieces in Australia? Further, why are viewers subjected to superficial filth instead?

Australian society is constantly under criticism because of the increasing influence of the United States. Sure American culture is omnipresent, but maybe there is a reason for this. Contrary to popular belief perhaps American culture is not as superficial as the stereotype suggests. In between the crap, American critics are reflective and thoughtful despite being egocentric. Australian television audiences needs more of these qualities, not less.

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