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Brian Evankovich

Why TV Ratings Are Way, Way Down, and a Sad High School Reunion
By Brian Evankovich
Nov 23, 2003 - 6:06:00 AM

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Recently I read an article about low TV ratings this season - apparently they're lower than ever and the major networks and advertisers are in a state of complete terror. All they can do is scratch their heads and say, "How can this be? We've spent a ton of money on new shows and the required hype to throw them in the face of a public that can probably be entertained by shiny objects, what is going on here?"

Those same execs say ratings are low because a lot of regular viewers are overseas showing terrorists how it feels to be hunted - but that's not the reason. TV ratings are low this season because 98% of the new TV shows can't suck enough, and the public is smart enough to stay away.

What has contemporary television offered us in recent years? Increased levels of sex and foul language, formulaic sitcoms and overly melodramatic melodramas; spin-offs galore (I can't wait for Law & Order: Meter Maid Patrol, about the only area of law enforcement that juggernaut franchise hasn't touched on); lousy acting, and in-your-face token homosexuals (not that there's anything wrong with that).

It's gotten to the point that people don't want to watch anymore, and that's why TV ratings are low.

For me, the only television programs I watch are CSI, because it's a great mystery show that focuses on just the mystery minus the social commentary so popular in other mystery programs; Scrubs, because it's just plain funny; The Handler, because it's a great crime show; Peacemakers, the best western series since Gunsmoke; P.I., an FX reality show about private detectives; and that's it for the modern stuff. None of those shows insult the viewer, unlike a few others that I can mention, but cannot for lack of space.

Where I really spend most of my TV viewing time is on the cable station "TV Land", because they play, to borrow their catch phrase, great TV classics.

My favorites:

Mr. Ed - the only show ever done about a talking horse. Innocent fun here. Great comedy. Good actors who obviously had a blast and did an excellent job of finding the happy medium between serious and absurdity, including the horse playing Mr. Ed.

Bewitched - the Elizabeth Montgomery powerhouse about a housewife who's also a witch who helps her husband get in and out of trouble with some complication from her mother thrown in to make it interesting. I think I watch mainly because of Ms. Montgomery, who went from pretty, frumpy housewife in the early years of the show to slinky sex-kitten in the later years (it was all in the outfits - and today's starlets should note that she never showed any skin).

I Dream of Jeanie - another funny show about a woman who can cast spells and conjure up hilarity. A bit of trivia: you'll never see Barbara Eden's belly button when she's in her two-piece costume; it was apparently too much for the censors to tolerate.

Dick Van Dyke - a funny show about a team of comedy writers and their adventures. You'll be hooked within two episodes. "Dick Van Dyke" is also the punch line to the joke in the #1 slot of the Bad Taste Hall of Fame: "What's a lesbian's favorite TV show?"

I Love Lucy - The chocolate-stuffing and grape-stomping highlights from this Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz classic are some of the funniest moments ever filmed, but hardly do the show justice. I Love Lucy offered more laughs per episode than any six-pack of sitcoms combined. For a real treat, check out Lucille Ball as a special assistant to Scotland Yard in the mystery thriller Lured, one of the few serious roles I've seen her in; the drawback to that film is that I kept expecting Desi to walk in carrying Little Ricky and saying, "Lucy, I'm home! What's for dinner?"

So there's my rundown of TV favorites. The only modern show that can match the above for creativity and laughs is Seinfeld. Alas, that show can also only be enjoyed in repeats. Where have you gone, Jerry? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.....


When was the last time you saw somebody you knew from high school? A lot of the guys I ran around with in those days still live in the same area, give or take 100 miles, but when I hung out with some of them a few weeks ago it wasn't the fun event I'd expected.

Jerome and Jason were the two I ran around with the most, and we did our part to make sure the lives of our teachers and fellow classmates were never boring - never mind how, as I am to this day afraid of being sent to the principal's office for what we did. Jerome went into the Navy after graduation, while Jason and I moved on to college; both of us have settled into our professional niches (or at least do a good job at pretending that we've settled into our professional niches); Jerome, having just been discharged from the Navy, is working through school with the help of Uncle Sam.

Jerome threw a party as a sort of celebration of his homecoming, and he invited the old gang over - about ten of us total. I was a little nervous about showing up, not quite sure what to expect. I figured the only thing different about us now was that we were older, a little heavier, maybe wiser, and could drink legally (not that it ever stopped us before).

I was in for a huge surprise.

I was right on one thing - we don't look like we used to. Jerome and I are now part of the Balding Gentlemen's Club; in fact, in the old days, I had so much hair they used to joke I could donate to the Hair Club for Men. Now they say I should become a member.

Most of the gang didn't show up, though, including Jason, whom we joked was most likely attached at the hip to his latest girlfriend and couldn't get away. We had a short laugh over that - same old Jason. Then Jerome brought up my fling with a girl sophomore year that ended after two months when she dropped me like a hot potato, and we had a brief laugh over that. Just brief.

There wasn't much laughter at all, really. We were totally different people than we were just nine short years ago.

Take Jerome. There was a time when he couldn't sit still or keep his mouth shut. All he did at the party was sit around. Yes, he talked - loudly, trying to make himself heard over the music - but most of what he had to say was of little consequence. He's still the same in a lot of ways, but the Navy was good for him, and the immature joker has been replaced with a calmer-but-still-easygoing manner.

Then there was Michelle. She'd been a wild kid - the kind with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other ever since she hatched (and, strangely enough, she doesn't mind my saying so) - she'd been short and stocky with frizzy hair and, like most girls at the time, way too dependant on makeup. At the party, she was taller, prettier - without so much face paint - but also quiet. She's a mother now; attends a local church, and swore not once the entire time. That in itself was a huge improvement.

I sat around, watching everybody watching each other - and realized I had nothing to say.

We tried, believe me. The teachers we liked and hated, whatever happened to so-and-so, what we're doing now, but one thing was plain as day by the time I left: the fire is out. We don't have anything in common anymore. All that's left are the stories of what we did back in the old days, and the sad thing is, half of the stories Jerome talked about I couldn't remember.

It was like he was talking about other guys, not us.

The biggest shock hit me on the way home: We've grown up.

Gone are those awkward but exciting teenage years, the days of trying to find your place in the scheme of things; curfews, homework, finals - all gone. Sure, there are other pressures now, but they seem to roll off my back in ways the old stuff never did. The hard part is, while all this may be true, I don't feel any older than I did back then. We may be pushing 30, but we still feel 18.

Maybe I'll keep in touch with the guys and we'll go hang out every now and then, but I have new friends now, new interests and activities the old gang can't identify with, and shouldn't have to. If they do, great. If not, it's not a big deal. We had a good time for a season, and that's enough.

Then again, maybe we needed this little encounter to mark the passing of one era and the beginning of another.

Our official ten-year reunion is right around the corner, and I can't imagine going without the others in tow. And I'm sure we'll cook up a few surprises to remind everybody of how it used to be - just for old times' sake.


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