Drama, Comedy and Long Articles Thereon

Here are two links to big recent articles on TV topics I can’t seem to get enough of:

Joe Adalian has a long piece for New York magazine about what’s going on with AMC. It’s mostly about money, and trying to run a prestige network without an HBO type of budget (or many of HBO’s options for making back the money on its shows). I should add, having piled on AMC, that they will turn this around if they happen to come up with a new show that is a gigantic critical success. If The Killing had been good – or at least if it had lived up to the promise of its pilot – there would not have been the same sense that the network didn’t have a plan. So if Hell On Wheels takes off, it will instantly restore a lot of the network’s reputation and goodwill. Whether a network can afford to run on reputation and goodwill is another question. These things fluctuate wildly, which is one of the reasons why quality is not, in itself, a business plan.

Gerard Gilbert writes for The Independent about the state of the sitcom in the UK, and the tensions between the various types of sitcoms being made: the Gervais-style mockumentary, the deliberate throwbacks to the ’70s (Miranda, Mrs. Brown’s Boys) and many gradations in between. A lot of these issues are similar to the issues in the U.S., including a sense of – arguably misplaced – nostalgia for a time when there were really massive hit sitcoms that were also critically acclaimed, as well as the increasing questions about what defines a sitcom and whether the term is even useful.

The way they discuss these issues in the UK, as I’ve said, strikes me as very healthy, since the participants in these articles seem to be very aware of how much form dictates content in TV. In the U.S. you’ll often hear network executives talking (perhaps they have to) about very different types of sitcoms as though they are interchangeable shows with interchangeable audiences, or that the form doesn’t matter because “funny is funny.” That’s how you get a situation where Happy Endings is going to be the next Friends, or a network decides there’s no reason people wouldn’t want to watch Whitney after The Office. The UK sometimes seems to display a greater understanding of what each format (single-camera, audience, mockumentary, or hybrids of different approaches like I’m Alan Partridge) brings to the table. Though I admit that I’m looking at that from a distance; close-up, the comedy programming decisions may make just as little sense as they sometimes do in the States or Canada.

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