Saturday, July 23, 2016

I Would Rather Be Watching Babylon 5

The last few years I have been putting up a post shortly before the Fall season in which I ponder whether I want to invest my time in the many (many, many) new and returning sci fi / fantasy shows on the upcoming schedule or if I would rather revisit a classic sci fi TV show like Babylon 5 (you can see last year's post at this link). Well this year, I am writing the post early because I have already answered my question: I would rather be watching Babylon 5. Despite the fact that the Too-Much-TV era has given us heading helping of viewing options--and some really good ones at that like Game of Thrones, The Expanse, Daredevil, The Man in the high Castle and more--I find myself increasingly disenchanted with the glut of genre shows across the TV channels and streaming services (you can get a glimpse of that at this link) and with the networks offering them. And rather than invest myself in these many shows that often fail to rise above mediocrity and/or that the networks have little commitment to, I would just prefer to go back and re-watch B5. I’ve seen the show all the way through once, and most of Seasons 1 through 4 twice, and that is a show that stands up to multiple viewings. I loved it the first time around (witch I watched live as it aired in the pre-DVR era) and I know that the re-watch will deliver a return on the time invested. As for many of the new and returning shows? Not so much. And here are four of the primary reasons why:

1. The current glut of original programming: New shows are getting cranked out in what is commonly referred to as the Peak TV era, but how invested are these networks in these offerings? Their spaghetti-against-the-wall strategy in an attempt to score the next Game of Thrones or Walking Dead or Empire has emphasized how many of these are little more than corporate products with a primary mission to grab viewers, not deliver good television. Think about all the shows from just the last few years that have been mediocre to downright bad or that may have shown promise when they started but failed to live up to that. Just a few examples include Falling Skies, Defiance, Under the Dome, Extant, Damien, Beowulf, Minority Report, Heroes Reborn, Revolution. I could go on and on. Then think of the promising shows that were quickly squashed because they didn’t grab an immediate audience based on the overnight ratings (and yes, the networks do still watch those closely): Siberia, Constantine, Limitless, Forever, Almost Human, Dracula, Cult, Witches of East End, and more. The quality we are getting these days amongst the many genre offerings is often mediocre at best and when we do get good shows they are not give much chance. Of course that’s not a new trend, the scale has just been enlarged. But it proves that not much has changed other than the number of shows hitting the schedule each year.

2. Even the shows that stick around are not that good: We’ve had a lot of one or two season and out shows, but several have managed to make it past the three season mark. Unfortunately, many of these just haven’t been worth sticking with. Shows like Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, The Flash, Once Upon A Time, and more got off to good starts but could not sustain momentum. I gave up on both the ABC shows mentioned above by their second seasons and The CW entries have become such copy-and-paste affairs that I have a hard time sitting through them any more (and they completely squandered the promising Legends of Tomorrow premise). I made a decision a couple of seasons ago to drop shows that I was hate-watching, and most of the ones that have been around for several seasons have moved into that category for me. Even one of my favorites, Person of Interest, disappointed a bit with its final season, but I still consider it a stand out show.

3. The networks are still not listening to the viewers: Despite all of the technological advancements and the ability to measure engagement on the social networks and other platforms, the broadcast networks and--to a lesser extent--cable channels continue to remain old school when gauging the success of their product. Shows like Constantine, Agent Carter, Limitless, and Witches of East End have proven to have a very engaged audience and it seems like these are the ones the networks should be holding on to. As far back as the original Star Trek, audience engagement (then demonstrated by letters written to the network) has proven a good indicator of long-term success. But despite the fact that nearly instant information is available now beyond the Nielsen ratings to measure the audience, the networks have shown little interest. Instead, they drop the shows that fail to pull in decent overnight numbers and move to the next entry in the pipeline. I have reached out to the networks multiple times and asked them to tell the viewers how they can work together in the current environment to keep well-liked shows going, but have had no notable response. Massive social network campaigns have been mounted to save shows, but with no success. The audience has proved it is there, but the networks still want those Nielsen numbers. This has become much less of a factor with cable shows as we have seen low-rated shows (according to Nielsen) like The Expanse, 12 Monkeys, The Shannara Chronicles, Scream, and more escape cancellation. But the broadcast networks are definitely still living in the past.

4. AMC turned hostile against fans of The Walking Dead: Everything that I mentioned above has been going on for several years now, but point number four is the tipping point for me. The Walking Dead has been my favorite show on television (at least until the unbelievable Season 6 Game of Thrones just delivered), but the events of its last season soured me on the show and television in general. The manipulative story-telling tricks TWD pulled (which I go into in more detail at this link) were completely unnecessary for the highest rated scripted show on television. But even worse, after leaving fans hanging with a finale that delivered a very unsatisfying ending to an already marred season, the network took a hostile stance against fans trying to predict the outcome of that episode (and I have some very harsh words about that at this link). AMC invited the speculation and then lashed out at the fans that tried to fill in the blanks during the long wait for the show’s seventh season return (and I offer my prediction, lawyers be damned, at this link). I am expecting some backlash from the viewers on that as well as all of the misguided decisions from this past season. And even though this show has been my favorite, I’ve decided to take a break from it this year.

Instead of The Walking Dead, I will be watching Babylon 5. And I plan on watching it on Sunday nights, especially when TWD (and Fear the Walking Dead) will be airing new episodes as part of my protest against that network and the current television environment in general. I know that I will enjoy B5 and I know that I will get something from the re-watch. As for all the current offerings on television? That’s a crap shoot. Sure, I will tune in for some shows. I will check out HBO’s Westworld. I will watch the second season of The Expanse and probably The Magicians as well. The Man in the High Castle is a must-watch (though I’m a bit worried about the departure of Frank Spotnitz as showrunner). And there are a few others I will tune in for as well (can Legends of Tomorrow redeem itself in its second season?). But the Babylon 5 re-watch is on and I’m definitely pumped for that. The Too-Much-TV era may be verging on giving us 100+ sci fi / fantasy shows throughout the year, but I am burnt out on what it has to offer. Time to go back to the classics and enjoy watching sci fi TV once again.

You can follow my Babylon 5 Re-Watch posts at this link.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you. The rule I'm trying to approach with media is to not bother watching anything that isn't good enough to be worth a rewatch. Opinions are subjective and there's many people online trying to tell me why Babylon 5 is garbage. Nope, it's the best, most consistent space opera yet put to film. It has flaws, sure, but is still revolutionary.

    So many of the shows you mention fall victim to lazy writing mediocrity. High production values, great cast, little rewatch value.