Why Bad TV Succeeds But Good TV Fails


“Bad taste creates many more millionaires than good taste.” The author of this quote, Charles Bukowski, was a dirty old man that through experience transmuted into a prudent — yet still dirty — old man, but his aphorisms tend to ring true more often than not.

It has always been mind-boggling and disheartening to see good art fail, and I know what's considered quality art can be subjective to some people, I can't even compose a viable definition myself. Nonetheless, I remember as an adolescent connecting with TV shows like My So Called Life, and a few years later, with Freaks and Geeks. I didn't even understand each show fully, but being the similar age to many of the characters, I felt represented by them somehow. Both programs were shamelessly axed after their first season and both have since gathered a cult following. With TV shows that have zealot fan bases, it's hard to imagine good programming biting the dust far too soon, but I believe they all a have a major component in common, lack of accessibility.

A concise list of my fallen loves: Salute Your Shorts, Ren & Stimpy, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, The Critic, the abovementioned My So Called Life and Freaks & Geeks, The IT Crowd, and Bored To Death. I’m sure an addendum will be needed for the ones I’ve left off, but this list was compiled off the dome, so be kind if you could. These shows were eccentric and bohemian in humor, and with technology ever evolving at high rates — plus — with the population living such occupied lives, I dare say most tend to have less patience with their TV viewing. Full attention and effort might not be used if we’re eating and texting simultaneously in front of the television.

I’d inquired to director Ace Salvador on the subject of good TV shows failing, and he stated to me, "A screenwriting friend of mine is constantly told by producers to dumb things down so as to increase understandability and relatability. The story has to be simple and gets the point across."

Some inside information, producers — along with studio executives — are the exemplars on how the vapid can find a career in Hollywood. Now, if I could delve into the cinemas for a brief moment, there is a reason why The Fast & Furious franchise has produced “87” different films, moviegoers recognize the characters, and although I've only viewed the first two, I can speculate with great hubris that every film had at least one car chase scene. It is smug to claim, but when niche shows like Law & Order or ER engage in extensive, long-running success, it appears consumers prefer common and familiar idioms in regards to their entertainment. Arrested Development, for example, focused on a riches-to-rags family that had a ton of money, and then lost it; that's not as accessible culturally. Although the shows minions demanded and received a fourth season, that attainment probably occurs as frequent as Haley's Comet.

Peculiar yet grand comedies like Parks and Recreation and Community have survived by the thinnest of margins with superb writing, critical acclaim, and perhaps not A-list recognition, but enough of a good acquaintance to spark an interest. If I can rehash My So Called Life and Freaks and Geeks, these comedic dramas had a rawness and discomfit that could simply terrify the casual TV viewer from any future viewership. I get the sense that while people enjoy the connection with certain characters, entertainment is just a form of escapism for the majority of its spectators, and they decide to avoid amusement that could evoke too many ill memories from their past.

In Hollywood, if it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense. That’s the bitter reality of capitalism — and being an anrcho-capitilsit myself — if monetary gain is achieved with consent, it’s difficult to harbor any acrimony. Deregulation of cable has given us more options to consume entertainment, yet the monopolies care more about mass production than quality of their content. But wherever water-down content is being manufactured, artist will continue to produce with passion, and regardless if financial success is ever achieved, there will always be an audience to appreciate the art.