Monday, July 28, 2008

Did TV get something right?

So, in the 60s, Peter Brooks criticized commercial theatre for charging extravagant ticket prices for mediocre shows. In 2007, not much has changed. I still want my $35 back for Michael Frayn's poorly crafted Democracy...especially when I could've paid the same price to see Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner in the stunning revival of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

$35 is a lot of money, especially when a full tank of gas costs $75. And yet here is television. It's simple...advertisers pay lots of money to reach millions of home viewers, producers use their deep pockets to create stellar productions, and we, the home viewers, pay that $35 for one month of endless entertainment.

The beautiful part about this whole thing, is that a good show doesn't lose its money making ability after one week like a movie. It goes on several seasons....

And the more beautiful part...it doesn't even have to be good...you know good, right? In the movie theatre, we reject a lot. We make fun of horror movies with bad actors...and yet, that same acting level captures our attention in a TV show... Or worse, reality TV, with no acting experience...

So, did TV get something right? The notion is simple. So long as it's cheap (or free) and interesting, we're willing to watch almost anything. Actors are well paid, the advertisers are happy, and we're entertained and enthralled each week!

So...does that mean that theatre and film should bow to the king of entertainment and take a lesson? Well, no. I honestly believe, with all the great shows on television, and with its fantastic business model, that it is still the weakest medium.

It is TV's beautiful business model that hurts it most. HBO has had wonderful success over the past decade (and more.) It is not built on the TV model. There are no advertisers, and people subscribe to their season lineup.

To drive home my point, let's look at another art form. Opera. There are tons of opera fans from different wallet-sizes (not just the rich, oh my.) An opera ticket can be more expensive than most theatre tickets, and it's definitely more expensive than film and television. Yet you don't hear about starving opera singers or a failing opera house. Instead you have well-paid singers and million dollar budgets at those opera houses.

Not everyone likes opera. In fact, a 2006 survey showed that only 3% of the entire U.S. population attends opera. But opera has very loyal and passionate fans! These people power the industry to thrive under what should be bad conditions.

TV, as wonderful as it is, needs to grow into an industry without or with less advertising. So long as it relies on its business model to thrive, it'll die. Google has proven that targeted internet ads (at a low cost) are more effective than million-dollar commercials on television. The TV industrial complex is weakening, but the most unpopular and expensive art form opera is thriving. Did Puccini get something right?

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