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The Year That TV Escaped the Box

Television is changing in ways so profound that the head hurts and the feet fall off. So they tell me, and I believe them. These changes have nothing to do with content, which is retro, and everything to do with delivery, which is way cool—coaxial cable, satellite dish, iPod, wi-fi server, DVD, DVR, TiVo. We are assured of a liberation into individual choice, supply-on-demand at an Automat of options. We need never again leave a cocoon of personal preference for the unpleasant surprise of somebody else’s point of view. Instead, we will carry around a mind/meat/machine interface—a portable portal like a smart phone or a Delphi XM SkyFi2 or Sirius Sportster Replay satellite-radio tuner box—to connect us to our golden-oldies archive, a private portmanteau of the same sad songs and predictable narrative, where we remain forever young. No network executive will ever again be fired for guessing wrong about the public’s taste. We are each our own net exec.

Sounds fun. And they promise this Brave New Podcast World will look more like a PlayStation or an Xbox than Aldous Huxley’s stupefied dreamscape of soma, “feelies,” and sex-hormone chewing gum. And maybe the culture has already so far atomized into attention-deficit disorderliness that nostalgia for the mass moment in TV—the communal experience of hope, dread, and exaltation on the occasion of Super Bowls, Watergates, moon shots, and M*A*S*H finales—is merely crazed, or no longer persuasive. But can I really trust myself to be my own vice-president of network programming? How do I know I won’t end up all day in a closet playing video games, or watching America’s Next Top Model, or hooked on that Website where American soldiers in Iraq posted their photos of gore and porn? Haven’t most of us relied on such gatekeepers as Edmund Wilson, Kenneth Tynan, and Pauline Kael to berate us for laziness and bully us into reading or watching something new? Unlimited choice is great, but we still need to be startled into sentience through the kindness of content-combing strangers, those guerrilla warriors of uncomfortable consciousness. They make us take the medicine that saves our lives and minds.
— J.L.

The Industry Award

Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley, MTV
As the Law & Order behemoth lumbered through yet another season, shedding Nielsen points, one of the biggest stories in New York television was taking place 3,000 miles away—in the land of preternaturally beautiful and emotive teenagers known as Laguna Beach. Yes, that quintessentially California hit came from the offices of midtown MTV development executives Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley. Like Lost, Laguna is last year’s debut but this year’s phenomenon, a game-changer so unlike anything that had come before that it took a year for audiences to stop questioning whether it was, in fact, a reality show. “It didn’t even occur to us that kids would get confused,” says DiSanto, but “the production team did such a good job making it look like a narrative film, we had to put text at the start of the show clarifying it was real.” Gateley came up with the idea of documenting “the real” O.C. by tapping into cliques of wealthy teens and exploiting their already tangled love lives. DiSanto, a film-school graduate, got rid of the shaky cams and taped confessionals of the reality-show genre. Next up for DiSanto and Gateley are shows about a house of models in Miami, a barbershop in Queens, and the ongoing saga of Laguna alum Lauren as she moves to L.A. for a Teen Vogue internship. As for the pair’s other big launch of 2005, PoweR Girls, Gateley says a flop here or there is par for the course. “It was the first show about the publicist world. At least it wasn’t derivative.”
— Jada Yuan