Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Some TV shows aren’t worth the effort to watch

Back when “The Sopranos” was still a very big show on U.S. television, I saw the first teases on HBO for a new series called “The Wire.”

My first thought was that it was just another cop show, but today it’s the most acclaimed show on TV and there are even college courses taught about it. From the first episode, I was hooked on the tale of the urban dystopia, the police, the drug trade, the docks, the schools and so much more. At the height of the “reality TV” boom, I wanted to scream with rage because “The Wire” was more real as a scripted drama than the pseudo-reality of programs like “Cops.”

My investment of time and effort in a vast number of shows has paid off, and I have learned so much. Even trifles like “Hung,” “Bored to Death” and “Parks and Recreation” draw my attention because they are funny and a break from the dismal realities we often face.

I have given up on shows, too. I was a loyal fan of “Deadwood,” like so many others, but I gave up on “John from Cincinnati” after a few episodes. I dumped “Family Bonds” – a very forgettable HBO pseudo-reality vehicle — after two episodes. Both shows were killed by HBO, and it was a mercy killing.

So it’s with a bit of sadness that I purge the CNBC program “American Greed” from my TiVo To-Do list. Narrated by Stacy Keach, the program purports to tell stories of con artists, but it’s a massively repetitive mess of stock video clips used over and over. Indeed, at any point where the bad guy goes to a bar, you see the same shot over and over of a hand shaking a bottle and then pouring some liquid. Gambling? A shot of a blackjack table and chips. Corporate jets? The same plane over and over again. Prostitutes? Multiple shots of high-heeled shoes, negligees and purses. Strip clubs? They kept using the same shot of a guy in a club turning around and a woman doing a dance on a table.

It’s almost as if someone collected all the bits in Final Cut Pro (a TV editing program for the Mac that I used at a Poynter seminar), assembled them randomly and then inserted the voice-over.

The voice-over is also insanely repetitive, with the viewer being reminded again and again and again that the person being profiled is greedy.

I understand why it’s done this way. It’s easy and cheap to assemble the clips and with 17 minutes of commercials, it’s got to be a moneymaker. But it’s just not worth my time.

You see that a lot in TV news, though, the recycling of clips over and over. I remember years ago when I was visiting my cousin Angelo, and the North Koreans had announced that they had launched a missile.

MSNBC kept showing the same seven or eight clips over and over again amid the voice-over of an “expert” being interviewed. It really betrays, in my view, a lack of imagination to just show the same shots again and again. It’s like owning a bar and contracting a band to play two sets, and then the second set is the same as the first set.

Recycling clips is a common practice, and in the newspaper business we at least have the decency to let people know that they’re looking at a file photo of someone or something. On TV, you really have no guarantee that the footage is real or stock.

Of course, expecting a “truth in TV news” act is pure lunacy. The graphics on some TV news shows have gotten so distracting, I have started doing other things while the TV is on and prefer to just listen. Indeed, TV may be devolving into “radio with pictures,” and the pictures are becoming less and less relevant.

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March 26, 2010 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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