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John Doyle in Pasadena

10 stoopid things about the TV racket Add to ...

Globe and Mail television critic John Doyle is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., this week.

The other day I was standing outside, trying to warm up for a while after being in a heavily air-conditioned conference room for two hours. About 10 feet away, an ABC employee was making a call on his cellphone. “He wants a large black coffee with two shots of espresso,” he roared into the phone. “He wants it right now. You better get on it right now. And I said right now!” Then he hung up and glared at me because yes, I was staring at him.

The TV racket is utterly ridiculous. Many of those who work in it are decent people and many are barking mad. Others are narcissistic nitwits. The right-now coffee was probably for some network exec or showrunner. The sort of person who believes that the intricacies of developing a copycat comedy are as important as the intricacies of creating peace in the Middle East. Pomposity is rampant. Arrogance is everywhere. Here, you see it up close and see that the TV racket is as crazy as its impact is vast. Herewith, a list of 10 stoopid things about it.

1. The lingo. Paul Lee, ABC’s head honcho, talking about some show he likes, says, “It’s sexy, it’s sticky, it’s more-ish, as the British say – you just want more of it.” So “more-ish” means you want more of it and “sticky” means you want it to stick around. Seriously, that is real TV exec lingo. An exact quote.

2. The look. It’s cookie-cutter. A lot of TV actors look the same. They’re short with big heads. It works for the camera. Wednesday night after the ABC party I was outside gawking. The ABC stars were leaving, the CBS stars arriving. It looked like a giant family convention in the hotel lobby, everybody related.

3. The thin thing. All the female actors from Desperate Housewives could sit together on the same bar stool. This is totally true. I measured. The bar stool, that is. And eyeballed the Wives.

4. The lies. “To be honest with you, it's hard to imagine the network without House,” Fox network boss Kevin Reilly said on Sunday. This is nonsense. The contracts of everybody on House are finishing this year. Of course Fox can imagine life without House. It is furiously developing a cheaper replacement. Mike Darnell, president of Alternative Entertainment for Fox, also said of American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, “It’s very hard to imagine the show without Ryan.” Right. Seacrest’s contract, worth $15-million (U.S.) a year, is also finishing. In this economy, you give $15-mil to a guy who merely hosts a show for five months?

5. The money. See Ryan Seacrest’s salary.

6. Kevin O’Leary. He’s on ABC’s Shark Tank, its version of Dragons’ Den, as well as CBC’s Dragons’ Den thing. He was at the ABC party on Tuesday night, I was told. Couldn’t miss him, in an electric pink tie. I spent 40 minutes looking for the blustering guy, to thank him for providing me with such a wealth of material. Never found him. If TV didn’t make stars of such people I wouldn’t be wasting my time.

7. The “American Dream” thing. Apparently Fox’s American Idol is “all about making the American Dream come true,” according to judge Randy Jackson. So the “American Dream” involves mocking weird-looking people who can’t sing for weeks on TV before the competent karaoke singers arrive?

8. The fear of offending. The show GCB, based on the satirical novel called Good Christian Bitches, is described by ABC boss Lee as “actually very pro-religion,” and the show’s executive producer insists that “the church is sacred” in the show. Oh come on. It’s better to just admit that, yeah, some viewers might be offended. Because somebody always is.

9. The phony wars between shows. American Idol’s Jackson says NBC’s The Voice features “second-chance people” and its use of rotating chairs on set is a “rip-off of Star Trek.” Street fight! Smackdown! Oh for heaven’s sake, they’re all just silly singing shows.

10. The lack of originality. A lot of TV comedy and drama is simply derived from other TV comedy and drama, not the real world. Steve Levitan, who runs Modern Family, said here, “I actually tell the writers not to watch TV so it doesn’t kill story ideas.” Good move. A reason why his show is good.

 
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