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Columns > Erica Lynn Gruenberg

The More Things Change, The More Odd Programming Appears On Your Favorite Television Station….

Some people nowadays describe television — especially popular
television such as your run-of-the-mill sitcoms, game shows, and tales of
survival — as an unnecessary evil, the root of whatever problem there is
(albeit anything from violence in schools to a low grade in algebra), and an
almost bizarre foundation for potential wacky obsession among people of all
ages. I suspect some of these people may be onto something. However, what might be a bit more disconcerning is the rate at which
television programming has grown throughout the years; flourishing in some
ways, nearly missing in others, and in some — completely missing the point
altogether. In efforts to adapt to what [the television programming decision
makers] thought would be the popular choice, stations such as Nickelodeon
(first created as a children’s station only, now the home of children’s
programming during the day and middle-aged and black-and-white re-runs when
the kids are tucked away in bed) climb into the public’s view — and quite
successfully — while others seem to fail miserably at what they once wanted
to represent. When MTV first came out, the nation was enraptured with the idea of
seeing the music in the forms of videos; and artists were more than
thrilled to provide the eye candy. The creation of a video evolved into a
sort of art form; millions of dollars were sometimes spent on elaborate
videography and video-making, sometimes more than what even went into the
featured song in the first place. MTV took no time at all to offer Video
Music Awards, first brought to life in 1984. It was so popular — and so
successful — that any person above the age of twenty could probably recall
a famous video or two from the early eighties ("Take On Me", A-ha, comes to
mind; "Money For Nothing", Dire Straits, a possibility) and remember how
darned interesting it was. Then someone got the idea that there should be game shows (a popular
thing for television since it was invented way back when) that are music
video related. The late 80’s brought out "Remote Control", which only
lasted a short time, and by the time Jenny McCarthy’s "Singled Out" was hot
in the 90’s, I think people were beginning to forget that MTV used to play
videos. A lot. From the popularity of shows such as Singled Out (and perhaps the onset
of some real terrible popular music) MTV began to bring more and more
programming that had little to do with music and videos and more to do with
sex appeal (it sells), real life crusades in home and out in nature, and it
has wound up where it is today: one of three stations in an affiliation
(MTV, M2, VH1), lots of cartoons, lots of drama, someone named Carson Daley
who appeals to the teens, and other assorted works that have certainly
changed face since the days of "Video Killed the Radio Star." While MTV reigns popular to the younger crowds and the ones who forget
what it stood for once long ago, to many, the morph into an uncivilized area
seemed almost rude in its approach. I sometimes forget that I won’t find a
video playing when I tune my television to it. Instead, I see Jerry
Springer hand-in-hand with two tanned beach beauties in Cancun, getting
ready to host a gameshow about cheating couples and modeling contracts. Then, you take a station such as HBO — once the flourishing movie
station of the cable dials — that began to lose its shine when stations
such as Encore and Starz became movie moguls in their own rights. HBO, like
MTV, decided to take matters into their own hands, creating television
programming to the tune of a soap opera/sitcom/somewhat adult programming
mixture, and suddenly "Sex in the City", "Arliss", and the tremendously
popular "The Sopranos" were born. I don’t think anyone was prepared for
such addictive — and good programming. No one expected it from HBO,
that is for sure. "The Sopranos" became so popular that a New York
newspaper placed Jason Serbone’s character — Jackie Aprile, Jr. — on the
front cover after he got whacked on the show the night before, as if it were
a real news story to go along with the murders in colleges and the violence
overseas. Where did MTV go wrong, and how did HBO go so right? And does it mean
that it is entirely possible that a specific close-knit music scene could
eventually take a turn for the ultimate worst, or the most spectacular?
We’ve already placed so many bands on specific pedistals; is it time for
some to come down? Or do things seem to remain the same despite the need
(or fear) of change? I think some may find that this scene is precious and unbreakable, and
that it is growing and evolving in a natural, wonderful way. This could
very well be true. But if you look around you, you may notice that tours
have changed since the older days; bands have become as simple as they have
become diverse; and there’s plenty of people worrying about what goes on
behind the scenes. There’s nothing wrong with any of it and all of it, as
long as someone remembers that the music is fundamental, and that it should
remain the most important part of it all, and not the afterthought. . .

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