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April 16, 2014

TV Worth the Effort in 2010

by Stephanie Earp, posted Jan 6th 2010 12:07PM


Be warned - I'm starting the New Year with a cold. A cold that prevented me from properly introducing 2010 to my friend Stella Artois, and a cold that prevented me from enjoying my favourite Christmas gift - a trip to the big city to see the ballet - and it is a cold that is even now preventing me from breathing, speaking and sleeping peacefully.

Which basically means I am one cranky TV columnist.

My intention this week is to discuss the TV-related New Year's Resolution. For some it is a 'more-and-bigger' proposition, like my neighbours, who scoured the Boxing Day sales for a massive flat-screen to replace their large flat-screen. But for most of us, it is a 'less-and-better' motive that drives us to promise ourselves that this year we will watch only quality programming, and only for two hours a week, and only one night a week, because we'll join a book club, a gym, an internet dating service, whatever.

What I've been thinking about is this: what is good television?

Be warned - I'm starting the New Year with a cold. A cold that prevented me from properly introducing 2010 to my friend Stella Artois, and a cold that prevented me from enjoying my favourite Christmas gift - a trip to the big city to see the ballet - and it is a cold that is even now preventing me from breathing, speaking and sleeping peacefully.

Which basically means I am one cranky TV columnist.

My intention this week is to discuss the TV-related New Year's Resolution. For some it is a 'more-and-bigger' proposition, like my neighbours, who scoured the Boxing Day sales for a massive flat-screen to replace their large flat-screen. But for most of us, it is a 'less-and-better' motive that drives us to promise ourselves that this year we will watch only quality programming, and only for two hours a week, and only one night a week, because we'll join a book club, a gym, an internet dating service, whatever.

What I've been thinking about is this: what is good television?

Because if you want to cut your viewing down using quality as a measuring stick, you'd better know what you're talking about. The fact is there is a lot of decent TV out there. A lot more than two or three - or even 10 - hours a week. But if you mean to watch only spectacular TV, you need a way to judge what makes the cut, and I think I've got a solution for you.

Obligatory Cute Monkey Footage From 'Planet Earth'



First, choose any 15-second sequence from a TV show you are considering cutting from your TV diet. Now, pretend that you are the person in charge of making it possible to film that sequence. You are the person who had to secure the location - you had to rent the building, call the city for permission to shoot in that street, deal with angry people used to walking to work that way. You also had to get clothes for all those actors - you had to decide what they should wear and how it should fit and how much money should be spent on each outfit.

You had to decide on every extraneous thing in the shots - you had to decide if this character has a stapler on his desk, a blue or red iPod, a gold tooth, an untied shoelace. You hired someone to write the music, hired musicians to play it and engineers to record it. I think most of us understand that a huge amount of effort, time and money go into every second of film we see on a big TV show. Imagine that effort, time and money was yours - and then ask yourself, once the 15 seconds have played out - was it worth it?

The answer, I should warn you, is almost always no. Worth all that to have David Caruso step into frame and take his sunglasses off? Nope. Worth all that to have Lea Michele walk down a hallway and trip over something? Nope. Worth all that to see James Gandolfini wax poetic about some ducks? Nope. But hey, like I said, I have a cold which has taken away my happiness and my ambition. I might rethink 'The Sopranos' worth making once I recover.

But in my current state, only one show makes the cut when I use this method. 'Planet Earth', the BBC nature series - and its cousins 'Blue Planet' and 'Life' - seems entirely worthwhile. In fact, it is the only show that's made me gasp out loud in a very long time. Sure, the actors are less willing to perform, and the locations are even more uncomfortable that most, but at least when your 15 seconds are up, you know you've added to the sum of human knowledge instead of eroding it.

Which, as a TV columnist, is clearly something that deeply concerns me.

I am aware that there is an unintended hole in my argument. If the worthiness of the effort is how we measure greatness, wouldn't that make effortless shows great? In other words, reality shows. But are they really effortless? Someone has to build 'Survivor''s Tribal Council tiki hut. Someone has to apply fake eyelashes to the girls on 'The Bachelor'. There is in fact only one reality show I can think of that eschews every attempt at beautifying its protagonists.

My TV New Year's resolution: 'Planet Earth' and 'Cops'.

Thankfully, no one ever keeps their New Year's resolutions.

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