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Classic or Recycled?

Philip Burrowes

Blind Date recently added a “Hall of Shame” segment to their new episodes which showcases “classic” scenes from old dates. With its daily, yet erratic, schedule -- WCVB not only switches the show’s time, but will often push it back to accommodate ABC programs. As most people won’t get to see all shows, this seems like a good idea. However, even casual viewers will realize that the show has only been on since 1999, so these nominal classics are actually chosen from a relatively small selection. Not only is it an obviously cheap attempt (from an admittedly cheap show) to fill time with old content, but it’s actually not distinct from the “new.”

Such poorly executed content-incest would be ignorable if it were relegated to late night syndication, but it has become frightfully prevalent. Cartoon Network, while never expected to fill its schedule with new productions, has gone out of its way to repackage old programs in a novel way. Adult Swim, its weekly three-hour block of “mature” cartoons, contains one hour of original Turner Broadcasting material sandwiched between two hours of shows originally aired elsewhere (Cowboy Bebop, Home Movies). Those original programs are often a mixed bag of repeats and the occasional new show (The Brak Show, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast). Whatever time is left consists of three shows containing highly recycled animations, with Sealab: 2021’s entire premise revolving around dubbing a show from 1972. Even commercials are incestuous, filled with ads for parent company AOL Time Warner.

Maybe you don’t think highly of animation in general, and are not surprised that it would share quality standards with a show hosted by a Talk Soup reject. Well, you close-minded twit, take a look at prime-time networks. UPN’s schedule reads like USA’s will a decade down the road. Tuesdays’ USA shows (Buffy, Roswell) are both WB castoffs, the lowest of the low. Enterprise on Wednesdays reveals the network’s Paramount roots. Only Mondays seem at all original, and even its leadoff (Hughleys) was cut from ABC.

Let’s not kick a network when it’s down, though. NBC has been winning the Nielsen race for the season to date, but its strategy is on par with UPN’s. Sundays feature Law and Order: Criminal Intent, part of a franchise. It is preceded by The Weakest Link, which is not only imported from Britain, but is essentially an attempt to counter Who Wants to be A Millionaire? The show Emeril is perhaps the most egregious example of non-news television feeding upon itself. Chef Lagasse stars on The Joey Bishop Show (now there’s a switch), except that he retains his Food Network shows while on his sitcom. With all due respect to Emeril, the day when the highest-rated network is drawing from the ranks of cooking shows is a sad day indeed.

Although ABC is a distant third among The Big Three -- a far cry from their WWII status ahead of Churchill and Stalin -- it integrates parent company resources in the very manner most disturbing to critics of conglomerates. The Wonderful World of Disney not only brings specific films out of Anaheim to the nation, but also acts as a promotional tool for other projects. Last weekend’s airing of The Emperor’s New Groove was buttressed by discussions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, ostensibly on its historical impact but in reality highlighting the release of the movie on DVD. Similar synergy was exercised for the release of Lady and the Tramp II, where ABC actually showed the original film.

Saturday morning fare has been surrounded by crass commercialism for the past two decades, so it would be nothing exceptional to reveal any insidious relationships therein. Once ABC starts turning the family hour into a giant ad, it is a major change for the worse. Aside from the foreign imports of Millionaire and Whose Line is it Anyway?, ABC’s prime time schedule seems the most original of all the networks. Does Michael Eisner want to avoid seeming too megalomaniacal by keeping Mickey Mouse and Co. out of the picture? Frankly, how long can the network keep holding back its own franchises while Rupert Murdoch gains from his own brand of animation? Would that really be a bad thing? Perhaps rehashing old hits (or misses) is giving people just what they’ve proved they wanted. If for every dozen After-M*A*S*Hes there’s a Frasier, isn’t the viewing public better off than if it had no Kelsey Grammer whatsoever?

As the the fiftieth anniversary of I Love Lucy passes them by, they should be careful to remember the spiraling decline in quality of Ms. Ball’s subsequent projects. Leaving creativity and originality aside, even if it is a matter solely of entertaining the masses, it is obvious that the same ideas cannot entertain indefinitely. Any production resting on the shoulders of its predecessor will rely increasingly on its name over its content. Should that name itself be of questionable value, the end product will be all the more unpleasant.