This New York Times piece on Paddy Chayevsky’s archive is amazing. The NYT seems really way out ahead of the field in terms of presenting primary sources online; I mean, just look at this document viewer. It’s awesome.
Here’s a highlight: Chayevsky created an entire programming grid for UBS—the network in “Network”—with shows like “Lady Cop,” “Death Squad,” and the one-two punch of “Celebrity Canasta” and “Celebrity Mahjong.”
I so dearly wish this pilot existed:
In 1968, he started writing a pilot script for a comedic series he called “The Imposters” or “There’s No Business,” about subversives who infiltrate a television network and undermine it from within.
And finally, you can count on Aaron Sorkin for the kicker:
Sorkin, however, spoke for “Network” fans who respond to it as a devastating media-industry critique—one whose author never saw television devolve into a vast wasteland of reality programming and political partisanship, but who after 35 years is still shouting just as loudly about the dangers of crass, pandering content.
“If you put it in your DVD player today you’ll feel like it was written last week,” Mr. Sorkin said. “The commoditization of the news and the devaluing of truth are just a part of our way of life now. You wish Chayefsky could come back to life long enough to write ‘The Internet.’ ”
Like Robin, I love the counter-conventional wisdom John Herrman brings to “I Just Want A Dumb TV.” And I really like Frank Chimero’s distinction between “steadfast,” long-enduring, simple tools and “hot-swap” components of a system that you can change on the fly.
But I want to pivot from this taxonomy of “dumb” things to create a complimentary taxonomy of “smart” ones. If the current crop of “smart” TVs somehow goes wrong, how does it do it? And is a “dumb” monitor the best alternative?
“Smart” and “dumb” applied to electronics/tech has a long history, but for our purposes here, let’s look at the smartphone as one model of what a smart appliance looks like. That seems to be what makers of smart TVs did, anyways. So let’s say, bare minimum, a “smart” appliance needs:
- A fairly versatile processor and operating system;
- The ability to connect to other devices on a local or global network;
- Ability to run some kind of local secondary applications.
In short, it should slightly resemble a modern, networked computer. The problem with smart TVs is they work too much like smartphones and not enough like PCs.
See, smartphones are hypermobile, so you stuff a ton of capacity into the device because it’s going to have to do most things by itself. Phone, games, maps, email, the web, etc, — everything that can be jammed into those little screens.
Television screens, on the other hand, are antimobile. Like desktop PCs, they stay in one place, and you hook other things up to them: cable boxes, game systems, Blu-Ray players, and (wirelessly) remote controls.
With a smart TV, you can go in two directions to make the device “smarter”: you can either try to make them super self-sufficient, doing more and more on one piece of hardware. Or you can make the device better and better at talking to other devices.
There are good aesthetic reasons to do the first one: you can cut cords and clutter and save some money and electricity. Also, it’s wired in with software, not hardware. It’s not like you’ve got this crummy, outdated VCR built into the box; you can (in principle) update your OS and get a whole new set of applications and capabilities.
Still, the second way of making a TV smart seems better to me. Forget connecting my TV to the web; I want to connect my TV to my phone, my laptop, my refrigerator, my alarm clock, my media players (etc etc etc). But do it all wirelessly, over a local network. Make it easier for me to get my media — wherever it comes from — up on the biggest screen in my house. I can’t do that with a totally dumb TV, but I can’t do that easily with current-generation smart TVs either.
This is why I guess I’m more interested in “two-screen” approaches to television, where you’re using an iPad (or something) to browse channels and read about programs and tweet about what you’re watching and otherwise interact with and control what’s on your screen. Because the lesson of “hot-swapping” is that good parts that talk to each other well make the whole more than the sum of its parts.
Publishers trying to sell ad space inside their books is like the producers of a TV show selling the commercials that air during the show, or the director of a film picking the previews that appear before the movie starts.
I mean, maybe there are some interesting, creative things you could do with that on a case-by-case basis, that would really add something to the total experience. And product placement (in books, TV, or movies) is something else altogether, because it needs to be incorporated into the narrative flow. But there’s a reason why we have TV networks, movie studios, and theater programmers. They’re really good at these things. In fact, some of them, like Nick Jr, are really good at marketing and incorporating ads in books and DVDs, too. So are Apple and Amazon. People on the creative side aren’t. (And yes, I’m including book publishers in the “creative” camp.)
If anything, even as traditional broadcast television might be beginning a slow decline, we’re seeing the metastasis of the television network model. Netflix, particularly since Watch Instantly, is more like HBO than it’s like Blockbuster. People talk about it the same way; “ooh, did you see that they’re showing all three Die Hards on Netflix?” Someone pointed out recently that Netflix has started producing their own original content. Zach Galifinakis had a comedy special released on DVD exclusively to Netflix. You could say the same thing about Hulu, which is trying to figure out whether it should be Showtime or Fox.
Amazon and Apple are like TV networks too, and not just for video. They’re the channels you tune to to get what you want. The difference is that in the digital age, content frequently appears in more than one place. But 1) that’s usually NOT true for what Apple sells, and Amazon’s been pushing for more exclusive deals too.
Twitter, too, isn’t microblogging or an archive of content — it’s a broadcast channel that carries its own water-cooler. And in blogs, Gawker (which already actually is a media network, including Gawker TV) is redesigning itself for bigger screens. highlighting “must-see” content to catch casual drop-in readers, a synthesis of blogs, magazines, and television
So that’s the new world: no more dot-coms, no more blogs, no more revolutionary retailers.* Instead, it’s all channels. We TiVo a handful of favorites and let ourselves flick through the rest.
* Obviously, all of these things will continue to exist and thrive. It’s just these are no longer the only metaphors/terms of art we have to talk about these emerging powers.