Saturday, February 7, 2009


Whenever I've watched celebrity award shows where I have a vested emotional interest in the outcome--where I've seen one of the performances being recognized--I have always wondered about how grounded some of these performers and artists have to be to come to the table and face the possibility of not getting top honors. I ask this question particularly regarding movies or television shows where the actor or director has truly sacrificed something, either professionally or physically. Tom Hanks in "Cast Away." Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain." Felicity Huffman in "Transamerica." In the end, the projects they completed were wonderous, to an audience grateful for the art, even though technically what they basically did was a stunt of sorts--Hanks losing a hundred pounds, Ledger going gay, Huffman sporting a penis--but it was a stunt that paid off for a lot of people.

I used movies as an example at first, but TV has taken its risks, too--my favorite risk is the LIVE show, performed for all of us to enjoy at that moment. My favorite show did a live "presidential" debate twice in one night, and I loved it. "ER" did a live show once, which was great and thrilling because the technical dialogue is more difficult.

Another risk that a television show can take is to hit up some timely and controversial topic. I like those if they aren't dealt two heavy a hand. Or the show can go all "reality" on us, which rarely does anything for me. (There is one show on ABC called "What Would You Do?" that I actually enjoy, and I will tolerate "The Amazing Race" or PBS's historical reality series like "1910 House," but in general I loathe reality, mainly because it's not reality.)

This past Thursday ABC thought it was taking a big risk that turned out to be nothing but pure hype and nearly false advertising--they thought they would link their two highest-rated medical dramas together for one two-hour episode of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice." In the advertisements you saw repeated exchanges between characters from both shows, but, if you stayed up way past your working-girl's bedtime to watch this "event," you discovered that the only link between the two shows was one phone call. And that one phone call didn't even have the other actor's voice on the line in each scene.

In other words, ABC found a way for people to stick around for a show they might not normally watch because they have to work for a living and get up early.

I wouldn't have minded staying tuned for the second show if either show has a recent track record of good writing. For me, medical shows shine when they explore doctor/patient ethics or ask the hard questions about health care. There are a million of them to choose from; just ask medical author Atul Gawande. But more and more both of these shows drift into who is sleeping with whom. They used to ask the questions, and now they ask for sex (in the case of Grey's, even the dead have a libido). I am sacrificing much-needed sleep and avoiding much-wanted reading time so that I can watch half-baked porn. I can get real porn on the internet anytime, when I am fully rested, so why endure this?

Up until Thursday night, I was mainly watching Grey's for two reasons--that there was the chance that their writers would come around and produce quality again, and because I have friends who watch it. After this past Thursday my friends were either disappointed or silent about the episode. I completely understand. I'm thinking that Thursday night is my new reading night. I can curl up with books where animals talk (Kipling), windmills turn into an army (Cervantes), or men morph into bugs (Kafka). And I can take these pack of lies, these stunts, from these authors because they know how to write them.

Maybe I'll even read them back to back--with or without a phone call between them.

[Author's Note: "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" are doing the same thing this coming Thursday, with the promise again of linked scenes. They'll have to promise it to someone else. This writer is tired of wasting her time believing them.]

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