When exactly did television stop being the low man on the entertainment totem pole? We’ve been talking for the last decade or more about how television is currently in a golden age, but part of the reason why television – the high-end drama side of things, at least – has been so golden lately is that people just aren’t going to bother watching anything that isn’t up to the gold standard.
Time was that people would just drop in front of their television sets and watch whatever happened to be on. Sometimes it was good; and even when it wasn’t all that good it was still less effort (and more entertaining) than the alternatives. But with the rise of the internet, and of devices to use the internet that don’t require you to be seated at a desk, we now have a form of entertainment that can undercut television for low-effort entertainment: checking social media feeds and scrolling through websites is easily more entertaining than watching some forgettable panel show or unfunny comedy.
We’re all used to the idea by now that television is now a (big) part of what gets discussed on social media, and the networks themselves have worked hard in recent years to promote their own (usually ignored) apps people can use to discuss their shows. The idea that the internet is replacing certain kinds of shows hasn’t had as much traction, largely because television keeps on being aired: it’s not like there’s suddenly hours of dead air here and there because the internet has forced programs off the air. But there is a certain kind of entertainment that television used to provide that the internet has taken over (in the same way that television took over drama and most kinds of comedy from radio), and in bad news for Australian networks it’s largely the kind of cheap tossed-off programming they love to churn out that’s been replaced. Remember last year’s Slide Show, the game show built entirely around a set built on an angle? It briefly rated well then fizzled out once people realised it was basically designed to create a handful of “wacky” YouTube clips – so why not just watch YouTube instead?
Social media is probably why comedy – at least of the unscripted kind – is constantly failing too: why watch a panel show when you can go on Twitter and find more people making more jokes about the same topical issues? The television shows that are still drawing crowds these days are either manufactured live events – The Voice, MasterChef, if people still watch that – or quality dramas and scripted comedies where people feel that what they get out of watching it is worth the time they put in.
But the days when television networks could put a bunch of C-list celebrities on screen and just have them talk for an hour or two is over: even The Footy Show is spending all its spare time showing YouTube clips in the hope their audience won’t figure out that they’d be better off going direct to the source.
Written by Anthony Morris