Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's all about money

I was recently talking to a friend of mine about television. My theory is that great dramas require quite a bit of world-building and setup that takes time to do properly, and dramatic shows usually take a few seasons to peak, seasons 3/4/5 are usually the best and the show might remain watchable for a few seasons after that. The Shield is a pretty clear thesis here, but there are plenty of others (The Sopranos and the middle two Star Treks come to mind). Great comedies, on the other hand, don't require any world-building because they depend upon a situation and not a world (hence, the sitcom), and the first few seasons are usually the best. Most aren't watchable outside of five seasons, and only some of the all-time greats (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld) are able to put in seven or eight great seasons.

This is all preamble to say that, while I've frequently enjoyed the US version of The Office, I think the decision to keep it going (or even make a feature film!) after Steve Carell leaves is a bad one. The show, while quite good up until the most recent, very patchy season, is not immune from the problem that long-lived sitcoms come up against, which is that sitcoms generally do not support such sustained storytelling. Without the benefit of a rich universe for storytelling, the payoffs in sitcoms come from the characters interacting and gags. The notion that a show could do 150+ stories along these lines and still feel like there's so much more to do is so bizarre to me. A drama can do so much more because it has its world to fall back on, and it can refocus and do different things with the same premise (as The West Wing did so brilliantly after a post-Sorkin slump). Sitcoms that try to change their underlying situation usually fail miserably--like Rosanne suddenly being about a bunch of rich people who won the lottery--and there sort of isn't a point, since you might as well do a spin-off if you're going to change the situation. I find it hard to believe that a post-Carell Office would remain watchable or profitable for long, so why not just read the writing on the wall and end it with some dignity?

Indeed, I suspect that the decision to keep The Office going for however many seasons it lasts (eight? nine?) is due primarily to greed. NBC is in terrible shape and wants to keep one of its only hits on the air, and I'm sure that the pay and recognition is pretty good for everyone else on the program. I guess I don't begrudge them that too much, but I only wish Lieberstein would own that if it is indeed the reason, instead of spinning like crazy.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.