MTV doesn’t play videos anymore, there’s too much reality TV, Saturday Night Live isn’t funny anymore and more.
I’m not sure why I feel the need to spring to TV’s defense. It didn’t ask for my help, possibly because I’m just one totally insignificant voice in the crowd or possibly because it’s a nebulous entity incapable of asking anything. But here I am, ready to be the white knight that television never asked for.
I’ve been keeping a running log of the cliches I hear about television. Not, mind you, the cliches on television, like the wacky neighbor or the person saying “He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?” But rather, swooping statements about the TV industry, a network, or a show that either aren’t true or aren’t really worth belaboring any more.
Here are the 11 most tired cliches about the state of television today…
1 | “MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore”
This list isn’t ranked in order, so its placement as number one is mere coincidence — although I’m thinking I put it here subconsciously since it’s easily the most overused cliche about TV from the past two decades.
I haven’t watched MTV in a long time, but I know they still aren’t back to the 24-hour videos format. Really, they were the first of the cable networks to realize once you’re in the game, you need to stop dancing with the one that brung you. Yes, MTV started as Music Television. But in a little more than a decade, they developed a far more important piece of their brand: Tirelessly trying to be the cornerstone of youth culture. So they ran with it… and music videos really weren’t a huge part of the plan.
The “MTV doesn’t play videos” cliche also grows more tired by the day, as people become less and less inclined to wait for music in any form anymore. If one of today’s kids wants to see a Rihanna video, he doesn’t turn on a music video channel and sit there watching it for an hour until it comes on. He goes on YouTube, watches the video, then gets back to doing his meth.
2 | “There are too many reality shows”
People said this 10 years ago when there were around a dozen reality shows — and The Real World was still a go-to example of one of them. Now there are something like 50 broadcast and cable networks churning out an incalculable stream of reality shows. Ten years ago, I’m not sure anyone would’ve guessed we’d have two popular shows about pawn shops, two more about buying storage lockers, seven about bayou and swamp people and 67,000 about trying (but, by and large, failing) to find the next great musical superstar.
But it’s quite obvious why they exist — they cost nothing to make and people obsessively flock to them. The only way there will be fewer reality shows is if everyone who complains there are too many reality shows stops watching reality shows. Until, of course, that snake swallows its tail and some network — let’s say… I don’t know… the History Channel — makes a reality show about a subculture of anti-reality show people.
3 | “The Simpsons haven’t been good since Conan O’Brien left”
I’m not addressing this one from the perspective of whether The Simpsons is funny or not funny anymore. (My opinion: Still funny, not quite the same, and we just haven’t watched the episodes 100 times each like the classic so they’re less quotable and memorable.) I just want to address the argument that the quality of The Simpsons in the early ’90s can be directly attributed to Conan O’Brien. And it can’t.
We have a tendency to fixate on the names we know; exponentially more people have heard of Conan O’Brien than Sam Simon or Greg Daniels or Matt Selman or any of the other brilliant minds behind The Simpsons who didn’t happen to land their own talk shows. But no one person made The Simpsons what it is. It took a village. A weird, nerdy, probably sexually deviant village, but nonetheless a village.
4 | “TLC — The Learning Channel — doesn’t show learning”
Turns out it’s a lot more profitable to make shows where we can gawk at families with eight to 17 children (or one loud, chubby child) than shows about photosynthesis or the Crimean War. And with that, TLC became an initialism without a meaning. (The technical term for an acronym or initialism that no longer means anything is an “orphan initialism.” See! You learn something every day. Maybe life itself is The Learning Channel?)
5 | “Saturday Night Live isn’t funny anymore”
People started saying “Saturday Night Live isn’t funny anymore” halfway through the second episode in 1975 and have been saying it ever since. The humor quality of SNL is subjective, erratic and eternally debatable. But the show’s impact isn’t. SNL has shown a remarkable ability, above all else, to stay culturally relevant in every era. Political humor in the ’70s, cutting edge comedy in the ’80s, breaking every gigantic comedy star in the ’90s, and now, adapting to the viral video/DVR era of the 2000s. The “Live” in Saturday Night Live continues to give it something of a DVR-proof immediacy and unpredictability; if you don’t watch it live, the highlights are readily available all over the Internet the next day.
6 | “I don’t own a TV”
I don’t understand why this is such a point of pride. It’s not like you’re replacing the void of TV by reading books or, like, dipping candles or seeking enlightenment. You’re replacing the void by staring at your phone — or just watching Netflix. Unless the phrase “I don’t own a TV” is followed by “because every night I spend four hours on transcendental meditation,” you’re not better than us.
7 | “Reality TV feels too scripted”
That’s because it IS scripted. For some shows, there’s just a rough outline with producers pulling the strings to create a story. For some shows, there’s an actual script with dialogue. But it’s all scripted, one way or another. I’m always surprised when people don’t know this. It’s like the Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy of television.
8 | “Cable news isn’t news anymore”
When I was a kid, there was an hour of television-worthy news. My parents watched a half hour of the local news and a half hour of the national news. Today, there’s still just about an hour of news — but 24 hours of news time to fill on a dozen channels. So what fills time? People shouting at you. (At least you can pick the network where they’re shouting what you want to hear. Because news really should be angry, pandering comfort food.)
9 | “Why can’t we get cable channels a la carte, without a bundle?”
It would be really nice if we could just get ESPN and, let’s say, AMC, TNT and USA a la carte. It would also end up costing just as much — and probably more — than the already-astronomical prices we pay for cable now.
In the cable TV model, basically, your cable bill is divided amongst the cable provider and all of the networks, with each network getting a pre-negotiated fee. ESPN gets the most (with no other network anywhere close) and it goes on down the line. It’s why cable channels never, ever go away — they only merge or rebrand. Once you’re in the game, you cling to that spot and never, ever let it go.
If the cable networks didn’t have the guaranteed revenue from carriage fees and could only rely on whether people hand-picked them, they would happily attempt to make up the revenue by charging more. Would I pass on ESPN because it was $40 a month? Would I pass on all of them? Would it kill cable TV? We may find out if the a la carte movement ever happens — but I’m inclined to believe we’re actually better off with the system the way it is. Stockholm Syndrome rules!
10 | “TV is dead, the Internet and Netflix killed it”
Like both Mark Twain and the Ultimate Warrior, the rumors of television’s death have been greatly exaggerated. One day, TV and the Internet will blend… but that day isn’t tomorrow. Or a year from now. Or, most likely, five years from now. The hysterical stories about cord cutters and the online video revolution are loud, but wrong. It’s just manufactured, anecdote-fueled media hysteria. TV isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the more recent study found Americans are watching more TV today than a year ago. When we have Netflix, we still watch the same amount of TV — then sit around even longer and watch some supplemental Netflix too.
11 | “How is NCIS the number one show if no one I know has ever watched it?”
I can’t answer this one, but millions of people out there are watching NCIS. They must be the same people who pay for pornography and take vacations to Branson.