Sunday, September 28, 2008


Well, it's that time again. Over the next couple of weeks, TV networks will roll out the bulk of the new shows they're offering.

The premiere process isn't exactly like it used to be. Television debuts are pretty much a continuum now, a combination of upstart and wannabee channels targeting gaps in the broadcast schedules of the majors and the big players trying to speedily replace what didn't work when it was launched at the traditional time.

When I was a kid, October brought an extra thick edition of TV Guide with glossy pages describing each of the new series, arranged either night by night or network by network. In a less PR pervasive world, it was your first look at who and what would be on the tube for the next months.

And even though TV Guide isn't publishing anymore, local papers and online sites have taken up the slack, offering the same posed group photos of the new shows' casts.

Several years ago, I noticed something about those photographs. I started to have trouble telling them apart.

All the guys seemed to be wearing the same suit. The women were all identically hot in a balanced mix of blondes and brunettes. There was always somebody Black, Asian or Hispanic posed on the fringes, silently sending the message "we're here, but not enough to make a difference -- and look, I'm wearing the same suit as they are..."

The cast photos also got more populous, exhibiting either a network preference for "gang shows" or that they were hedging their bets on who might not work out.

But they also gave me the feeling that I'd seen all of these people before.

I've never seen an episode of "Boston Legal", excellent as I hear it is, simply because I looked at the massive first season photo and didn't think I had time to meet that many new yuppie lawyers. Same thing with "Brothers and Sisters".

And then I started wondering if something else was at work...

Actors began turning up at auditions dressed like the characters they wanted to play. If your script included a US Senator, you walked into the waiting room to see four six foot tall guys with prematurely white hair. Write a one line part for a Judge and the photos that crossed your desk were all attractive, middle-aged Black women.

Somebody wanted everybody on television to be exactly the same. But why?

This week I discovered the answer.

I'm sorry if you find what follows disturbing. But sometimes the Truth is hard to accept and unless we address what is happening in our industry, what has befallen our actors will rapidly spread to other crafts. Writers may start typing virtually identical act outs and directors could be forced into endless wobbly cam shoots to imply reality.

I'm leaving now to run through traffic screaming "They're here. They're here." In the face of all this, try to enjoy your Sunday.


Clint Johnson said...

I was wondering why the first batch kept failing after a few years on the market? Sure it could just be honest mistakes with the first batch made in the lab... but I'm more cynical than that and I'm sure it is engineered in obsolescence to make room for the new models.

M J Reid said...

They've all been been working at this for years - remember the earliest projects like the Monkees and Bay City Rollers? They didn't have the human genome project in those days, so they had to make large batches using careful crossbreeding in a radiation-rich environment. In fact, most of the great genetic innovations have been trickle-downs from GE, Disney and Sony's groundbreaking popstar research. A peace dividend, if you will.