How to proceed with a 'normal' TV season
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
To: The Entertainment Folks From: A Guy Who Watches a Lot of Television and Probably Goes to the Movies More than He Should Re: One Month After September 11
It's over six weeks since the destruction of the World Trade Center, and, spores aside, you guys have begun a return to normalcy. Barring the usual disruptions this time of year from baseball, most of your shows have premiered and settled into their regular time slots, and the fall release schedule from Hollywood looks to be one of the strongest in years.
But I know the truth - right now, you guys are terrified. All that stuff was planned and ready to ship well before the 11th; now, you're beginning to think about future slates of production, midseason replacements and next season's shows, and are tossing and turning in your sleep over what sort of changes our new world situation has wrought on popular taste. "If only," you mutter in your sleep, causing your spouses to look at you uneasily, "if only a columnist for an online publication could give us some advice about how to proceed! We would shower him with thanks, not to mention lucrative gifts and consulting contracts!"
Well, say no more - your spouse is still trying to catch a few more winks. The following advice, ranging from small details to large sweeping arguments, should do the trick.
1. Don't do anything with the New York skyline. Roll back any plans to digitally alter movies and TV shows in the can containing images of the World Trade Center. The American people are entertainment-savvy enough to understand that most of the product coming to their screens was filmed before the 11th, and tough enough to deal with background shots of the WTC. After all, we were treated to the footage of the towers collapsing over and over on every single network; it's a little late to observe the niceties. Plus, it's patronizing, and if there's one thing audiences hate, it's to be knowingly patronized. (I know, you patronize us all the time, and you think we don't notice. A subject for another column.)
2. Action isn't dead. Look at the success of "Alias" - a show about international espionage that's getting the best ratings of any new drama this season. Sure, it's got the lovely and talented Jennifer Garner, and it's nice to see Victor Garber doing steady work on the screen, it's the espionage setups and action sequences that get everyone tuning in week after week. Of course the show is utterly ridiculous, but that's the point - so was James Bond. Start making spy movies again, the kind of movies Mike Myers makes fun of, with true-blue American heroes whaling the tar out of bad guys who want to destroy our way of life.
3. Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh. A number of media types suggested, in the early days after the 11th, that people would never want to laugh again. Obviously you guys have treated that suggestion with the ridicule it deserves. But you should go even further. People don't just want laughs, they want belly laughs, to laugh til it hurts. Physical comedy has entered a golden age, if one can use the term, recently with films by the Farrelly Brothers and the Wayans Brothers and actors like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler; watch for "Shallow Hal" to take off at the box office and the physical comics' salaries to become even more inflated than the fat suit Gwyneth wears in the movie.
4. Make 'em scream, make 'em scream, make 'em scream. People are scared these days, and it's an odd fact of human life that people who are scared can feel less scared by being more scared. There are almost no horror series on television these days, possibly because people don't necessarily want to be scared every Thursday at 8:30, but it would sure be nice to get some catharsis by facing down shambling things that walk the night instead of the real-life horrors we see on "Dateline." Remember how well giant bug and teenage werewolf movies did during the cold war? Keep it in mind when the next script titled "They Came From Beyond Your Zip Code" makes its way across your desk.
5. Pull a Capra. Frank Capra famously made movies for the United States during World War II, and for that he deserves the thanks of his country. I - and America, I think - thank him more for It's A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. While it's fantastic that Hollywood celebrities and business types have been so eager to help raise money and do whatever they can to help out, the best thing they can do in the long term is work hard to create compelling works of art and popular entertainment. While performing their greatest hits at benefit concerts is a great way to help those who have suffered, it's the writing of those works that helps us all the most, by giving us pride in a culture allows such greatness to flourish.
And with that bit of rallying round the flag, I'm off to catch up on some back episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," newly syndicated on FX. Look forward to talking to you, and seeing what you guys come up with.