November 3, 2006

Wearing the Same Uniform

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Some people are kind of elitist about television. You know the type — they’re too cool/trendy/hip to watch the trash that is on TV. I, however, am not one of those people. Whenever I get a chance (which Cornell isn’t allowing this year with its never-ending prelims), I like to relax and watch mindless television for exactly that reason — because it’s mindless.
And yet, television has become less exciting this year because every channel seems to be airing identical shows. The same networks that produce the shows that I love are starting to frustrate me because there is a huge lack of originality on television today. Basically, every show is a repeat of some other show, and that seems completely absurd to me.
In literature, the same themes and general plots are constantly cycled through, so it is not so much the lack of originality in story lines that irks me. With shows like Grey’s Anatomy and ER, there is bound to be some significant overlap in what happens with the characters. I understand that. I can even accept the million different versions of CSI and Law and Order because each of those shows is based on a different premise. Plus, the similarities between these are more justified since the new variations appeared after each of the original shows became popular.
I’ve only become annoyed with this TV this season because it seems as if there are more new shows this season than in the past. Based on the sheer numbers of pilot shows, I guess that there could be some overlap, but it seems more like the networks plan things this way.
Take the new shows about high school football, for instance. This summer, MTV debuted Two-a-Days, a reality show that focuses on a high school “where football is a way of life” (according to its official website). Then, in the fall, NBC premiered Friday Night Lights, a fictional drama that was formed on essentially the same premise.
I understand that there’s a slight variation between these shows with the reality/fiction difference, but really, do there need to be two shows about high school football? I guess that it’s essentially the same problem with Laguna Beach and The OC, but at least with those shows, the reality version appeared after the drama. I find it somehow more acceptable for MTV to make its own version of some other channel’s show than for NBC to release a show that parallels something on MTV, a network not known for its quality television.
The worst example, though, also comes from NBC with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock. These two shows baffle me because they are almost identical. Apparently, Studio 60 is being billed as a drama, while 30 Rock is being promoted as a comedy. But they are both about the behind-the-scenes events at a faux-SNL. To be able to air Studio 60 this season, NBC had to take part in a bidding war with CBS. Now, I am certainly not a network television executive, but I just can not understand why NBC would fight someone else so that they could air two almost identical shows on their channel. Sure, it eliminates some competition — but why not just use the money to better the show you already have? Wouldn’t we all be better off that way?
It really cannot be that hard to create a concept that is at least somewhat new. ABC’s Ugly Betty sounds somewhat like The Devil Wears Prada to me, but it’s unique enough to avoid the trap that these other shows have fallen into. People enjoy Ugly Betty because it is unlike anything else that is currently on tv, and that’s what’s important. It is the same with NBC’s Heroes. Sure, it sounds kind of like the X-Men comics, but it’s got some unique aspects. These shows are on the right track — they’re recycling old ideas but molding them into something fresh.
And this is exactly why I am frustrated with certain new shows — if some producers can create something new, then why can’t everyone else? It’s fine to have a bunch of medical shows, some law shows and a few reality shows as long as they are not just carbon copies of each other. Sure, there will be similarities. It’s too hard to be completely original, but couldn’t network television try a little harder?