Television Don't Touch That Dial (1982)

Fascinating time capsule. This was just as cable and videotape rental was devouring their market, and about 10 years before Twin Peaks (1990), Babylon 5 (1993), and Murder One (1995), the first scripted season shows on US television (not counting soaps, which generally didn't have plots so much as random encounters).

So they knew that episodic garbage with ad breaks getting longer and more frequent was toxic, for most of a decade, and they still couldn't fix it; they just went to cheaper and worse shows every season until it imploded. ABC, CBS, and NBC are still around, still making the same crap that only very old people watch anymore (the few plausible viewership charts I've found show over-50s a steady market for watching broadcast TV; Gen-X and younger just vanishing from their charts), many of those people got very very rich, but it's a wasteland compared to what it was like.

Rather weird seeing Morley Safer of CBS attack Dukes of Hazzard (from CBS) as "trash" multiple times. It was an action show for kids, a live-action cartoon, and one of the most perfect such; better than A-Team (NBC's competition), where the premise immediately foiled itself because they couldn't use guns, the Dukes car and explosives stunts were better, and there was at least one hot woman on Dukes, usually a sausage festival on A-Team. Looking at Dukes as an adult now, the subtext of the Duke boys being proud Confederate traitors is super troubling, but they never did overt racism (there were very few black characters on any TV show, so Dukes being all honkies was typical; that's one place where A-Team did better), and good-hearted outlaws foiling the greedy, corrupt pigs was a great moral to teach kids. Beat up Boss Hogg, drink moonshine. Probably A-Team's ex-military criminal terrorist heroes wouldn't play well now, but that wasn't the objectionable part then.

And then CBS were working on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which was clearly gay Broadway, not Nashville, for the adult hillbilly audience, and failed utterly; I don't know how it got past mid-season replacement. NBC's somewhat edgier, adult political humor in Family Ties at least put something worth watching on the boob tube. Alex P. Keaton was interesting for Gen-X because he made usually-sensible arguments for conservative economics, against incoherent, mathematically-illiterate hippie bullshit from his Boomer parents, back when the GOP wasn't religious lunacy and moron brownshirts in MAGA hats; basically arguing for neoliberalism now. In a sitcom with no plot, meant to just be brainless entertainment, that was kind of impressive.

The special doesn't spend any real time in a writer's room, but that episodic shit where they bargain out what the content of a show will be, and then on-demand write something to fit, drove some really serious drug abuse, work loads, and just bad writing. The story of Danny Arnold, creator of Barney Miller, spending 18+ hours on set and sleeping there, and (not covered in the special) writing script pages as the show was being made, literally last minute, is just a rotten way to work. Barney was one of the few intelligent shows out there, if sometimes a little… racially caricatured… and often incoherent because the writers were in such a bad state.

(meta: I have no "television" category, and never will, because I treat all video entertainments the same now; but there was a time before Twin Peaks, B5, M1 when TV was massively below movies.)

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