I'm not a great fan of television in general, but I enjoy half an hour at a stretch now and then. Yet even with this limited exposure, I can see that television has definitely taken a turn for the worse since the early '90s (an era when I actually had time to watch television). Shows such as "Night Court" and "Cheers" offered entertainment staged mainly in one setting with an ensemble of characters that interacted well with each other week after week. Other shows that seem to hold these elements were "Rosanne" and "The Cosby Show," although I seldom watched these, and "Rosanne"was a little too crass for my liking. These, along with lesser-known shows of the same time period had another characteristic that the shows of today seem to be missing. Each episode could (usually) stand on its own. Unlike many shows of today, these did not demand what practically amounts to a cult following in order to be enjoyable. You could tune in once a month and still be as mindlessly entertained as the person who watched religiously.
Anyway, things started to deteriorate fast. "Night Court" was canceled, and "The Cosby Show" apparently tried to cram a small nation under its sound stage roof. The series finale of "Cheers" was a sign of what some might call the television apocalypse. "Rosanne" hung on, maybe even became a little less crass, but succumbed to the plight of many initially fair shows C it became an evening soap opera. I stopped watching television for the most part, but a couple of shows actually lured me back into regular watching, neither of which is probably remembered by anyone besides myself: "Hard Times on Planet Earth" C an alien lives for a while on Earth in lieu of a jail sentence on his home planet; and "The Powers That Be," a comic look at the life of a fictional senator. These lasted only about eight or ten shows each, victims of what I'll call the "too-good-to-last" syndrome." Another victim of this was "The Critic," an animated feature introduced about a year ago whose time slot was right after "The Simpsons." Even more recently, "My So-Called Life" was terminated, destined to live only in on-again off-again re-runs on MTV. Which brings me to MTV ...
First of all, MTV has touched every aspect of television. Even "Sesame Street" has fallen prey to snappy new music video-like formats (segments of song and dance begin and end with the Muppets' names and the name of the song featured in white letters at the bottom of the screen), however, older segments remain unchanged, judging from the last two programs I've watched. Instead of the intimate drama and comedy of "Cheers," shows like "Seinfeld" are served in choppy, short segments, as though our minds are so polluted by music videos that we cannot concentrate on a 22-minute comedy. Music television itself has changed from its original format as well. Instead of being able to tune in for a few minutes at a time to be spoon-fed someone else's notion of how a sound should look, we are now offered "gen-x" takes on documentaries, news, gameshows, soap operas, dating games and sports, almost all of which have some bizarre sexual underpinnings.
So, early prime-time is no longer the bastion of comfortable predictability that it once was. There's still some good stuff out there, but spin-offs of once-great shows just don't pack the punch of the originals, and when shows about nothing fail to be funny for one evening, they're, well, nothing. In my humble outsider's opinion, the tube has gone down the tubes..
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.