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Surf! A Statement of Principles (and a Personal History)

  • 9/15/09 at 6:00 PM
The Guild.

The Guild.

When it comes to watching TV, I love the Internet. I love it because it's an ocean filled with crazy-analytical fan chatter and shit-talking, but I also love it because it has made TV better. I'm old enough to remember the advent of VCRs, back when even the best TV was automatically condescended to as disposable crap, way before DVD players and DVRs and Hulu and YouTube and Bittorent changed everything. Now we can pause it. We can binge-watch whole seasons. We can trim out tidbits and post them and analyze them obsessively, in real time, with other obsessed people, including sometimes the people who made the show. As Martha says, it's a good thing (mostly): It changes all the possibilities and raises all (or most of) the standards.

I fucking hate product integration — not just product placement, but whole plotlines written for advertisers, shows produced BY advertisers, etc. I think it's a slippery slope and a jump off the cliff and you can lead a horse to water. I know many people will find this naïve, and I know there needs to be an economic model to support TV production, but I think unless the audience speaks back, we're all gliding into a toxic junk heap without even a peep of protest. (Here's the big feature I wrote on this topic last year.) I'll be doing a little Branded Entertainment Watch on this blog, so any examples you know, send 'em in to surf@nymag.com.

Like many people, I'm convinced television is morphing into something new — economically, artistically, and in terms of distribution systems. That's scary for the industry, but I'm convinced there's a renaissance afoot because digital cameras and editing software are cheap, the distribution system is there, and a whole generation has a sophisticated knowledge of TV structures, enough to really mess with them. I have no idea what this stuff might look like, but Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog was the first real shot across the bow, and great little shows like The Guild are finding an audience. I'll keep my eye out for anything new and good (again, surf@nymag.com).

As that last reference indicates, I'm a confessed Whedon-head. Buffy was my first experience of psycho fanhood, and when it ended, it was like a fever had broken.

Other things I love: Slings and Arrows, Freaks and Geeks, the Obvious (Mad Men, The Wire, Sopranos, Arrested Development, 30 Rock), pretty much all Zwick-Herskovitz–flavored series (MSCL, Relativity, Once & Again, J.J. Abrams's Felicity), great old stuff like Roseanne and Homicide and Twilight Zone and Soap and NewsRadio and The X-Files.

I have a conflicted relationship with procedurals, sort of like a junkie has a conflicted relationship with heroin.

I watched the first fourteen seasons of The Real World. I watched the very first season of Big Brother on the web. I'm a little more conflicted about reality TV these days; see procedurals.

It's a great time for sitcoms: 30 Rock and The Office on the top tier, plus the underestimated HIMYM, the dirty-great It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, as well as Scrubs, Big Bang Theory, Old Christine, and a lot of other underestimated small sitcoms (not Two and a Half Men, though — that's terrible). I have no idea why none of the cable sitcoms are working for me right now, but I'm an SATC lover, and I miss it like hell.

Shows I loathe: Ally McBeal (though I watched all of it), Grey's Anatomy (enough to make a reasoned judgment), late Entourage.

I think I'm actually the only person in the universe who actually kind of liked Mind of the Married Man.

Before I took an editing job at New York magazine, I used to write a column for the New York Times about old TV shows, called "Reruns." It was a lot of fun, but watching twelve episodes of Charlie's Angels damages a person. (Here's my favorite column, about Nellie Oleson.) I'm not very nostalgic about older TV, though. Current TV is almost universally better.

I love people who comment about TV online, because I've got a long history of doing it: I was a big Television Without Pity poster before it became Pod TWOP. (I got the boot once for throwing spitballs at the Firefly recapper, but I just went back in with a new name.) Here's an old piece I wrote about online television discussion and, hey, I still agree with myself! (Although I no longer seek out spoilers, having admitted I was powerless over them.)

I think it's a sign of respect to say what you hate as well as what you love. It shows you take television seriously enough to want it to be great.

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