'Patriotism is definitely in ... trash TV is out," says Gary Edgerton, who sees a discernable shift in what's on television since the tragedies of Sept. 11.
The changes may not last, he and other experts say, but for the moment, "audiences are gravitating toward the familiar and comfortable.... Everybody is loving 'Raymond' or loving 'Friends,' " says Professor Edgerton, chairman of the Communications and Theater Arts Department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
Though "Friends" depicts an impossible dream of intimacy among a small group of young adults who keep changing sexual partners among themselves, the kindliness of their friendships seems more pleasant than ever.
And the two biggest hits of the fall season were two servings of TV comfort food: a nostalgic Carol Burnett comedy special and the last game of the World Series.
"Audiences are going back to the tried and true," Edgerton says. "[They want] less spiteful programs." But he also cautions that this may be only a short-term effect. No one can predict how responsive television will remain to the Sept. 11 tragedies - or for how long.
Of course, ABC's "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" special (or was it a commercial?) in November proves that trash TV still lives in prime time.
"But in terms of the TV landscape, nastiness seemed to abate a bit," Edgerton says. Irony has always been a mainstay of humor and has helped debunk all kinds of nonsense, but on TV it had descended into simple-minded cheap shots. That seems to have moderated. Even the "queen of mean," Anne Robinson of the prime-time NBC game show "Weakest Link," has toned down somewhat, Edgerton says.
After the televised events of Sept. 11, "reality TV" doesn't look so real anymore.
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