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Chief television critic Tim Goodman will be writing these journals throughout the Television Critics Association summer press tour, offering insight, analysis, counter-spin and some snark from the nearly three-week industry presentation.
Critics can get cranky. It’s part of the deal. Of course, sometimes having a job that doesn’t ever turn off can do that. And riding out the full TCA press tour — Thursday marks Day 17, thankfully the final one — doesn’t help.
So yeah, I’m over it. It’s a necessary slog, but a slog nonetheless. And I’ve spent just enough time away from reality, locked in a hotel ballroom for the better part of a month, to get sufficiently grumpy to pull out the soap box and dole out some advice you probably don’t want but I’m giving you anyway, TV World. Ignore it at your peril:
• You are not guaranteed a second chance. Nothing has been more true in what is now a completely revamped modern television landscape. You absolutely can’t have a crappy-ass pilot and believe that viewers will forgive your learning curve and stick with you until you get it right. As a critic, I like getting multiple episodes in advance and if the show doesn’t start strong and then bloom in the next two or three, that’s pretty much it. Asking me to come back later because “the ninth episode is our best yet” is completely misunderstanding how normal people watch television.
• If I didn’t really like your first season, I will still come back for the start of your second season. But the leash/tolerance level is a lot shorter/lower.
• Spare me the next “star vehicle” you make. They’re almost always tar pits of ego.
• Break up your 13-episode (or less) cable season at your own peril. Listen, we’re Americans. We’re used to 22 or 24 episodes — 13 is supposed to be the sweet relief from a too-long broadcast network season. Don’t split 13 or less. It looks like you’re milking loyalty or cheating. You can get away with it when you split soon-to-be-classics like Breaking Bad or Mad Men because you want more Emmy chances. Or with The Walking Dead because the audience will always come back. Any other show? Run them straight or I’m not coming back. Winter or spring “finales” are a joke and a rip-off.
• We can understand foreign accents.
• I’ll let you know what a “spoiler” is, thanks. The viewers will then let me know what they thought was a “spoiler.” I will then repeat this: “Everybody relax. Not everything is a spoiler. Except life. Life is always a spoiler.”
• If it looks and feels really familiar and comfortable to you, don’t do it. You can apply this in a hundred ways.
• Know what you are. If you’re a network show, be that. You don’t have to always be HBO. I love to watch Blacklist, Elementary and Person of Interest because they are what they are. They’re not trying to be Fargo, if you know what I mean.
• Know what you have and what viewers are responding to: Sleepy Hollow season one, yes. Sleepy Hollow season two — what the hell were you thinking?
• No matter if you’re broadcast, cable or streaming, don’t enable your content creators beyond a finite point (that you must understand because: your paycheck) and remember that a great, well-timed note may be necessary. Otherwise, you get the second season of True Detective. And no, there’s no joke that needs to be tacked on here.
• Along those same lines, sometimes really great writers you believe in make terrible shows, so wishing for potential to blossom into greatness doesn’t always work and you need to see it and fix it before we see it. Hello, Happyish on Showtime.
• Yes, people DVR shows. But they don’t usually do that until they’ve seen the show and they like the show, so if you’re going to premiere your expensive fall series on Tuesday at 9 p.m., do not switch it the next week to its “regularly scheduled” Wednesday at 8 p.m. slot. It’s 2015, dumbass — there’s too much television. You can’t play the shell game with viewers anymore.
• Speaking of 2015 — colorblind casting. You can do it. If, when you’re shooting your key art, everybody looks white except the dude in the corner, it’s not an oversight — you have a systemic problem.
• Be very careful casting kids. Even people who have kids don’t really want to see kids on television very much. Especially teenagers. Remember those Homeland brats? Or the kids on Masters of Sex right now? Or even those sick kids from Fox’s Red Band Society — teens so annoying viewers didn’t feel sympathy when they were dying. There’s a limit. If you must have kids — think Sally, not Bobby, on Mad Men (and yes, Kiernan Shipka is rare). Think Eden Sher on The Middle. Think about those cute kids on Fresh Off the Boat (yes, I know the clock is ticking, but still).
• This one seems so basic, but never really lands: Make your websites better. And more useful. If one of your shows is off the air, have the date and time of its return clearly on the website. Let people know where they can stream your shows to catch up. That is surprisingly simple and barely heeded. Be mindful of being useful.
• This is an inside-baseball critic complaint, but holy hell are you people making it hard to review your content (I sometimes think that’s the actual point). Going to online links/digital content over DVD screeners was inevitable, but multiple passwords and quickly-expiring passwords and incessant re-registering are annoying and unnecessary hurdles. This is counterintuitive.
• Cops, lawyers, doctors: Let’s dream a little bigger, networks.
• If you absolutely must do voiceovers, watch a few episodes of Jane the Virgin for inspiration. Also: let’s cut back on the voiceovers.
• While you’re at it, cut way back on your violence-against-women fetish and especially the raping. No, really, it’s more than a “dramatic device.”
• Tighten the circle between your creators and whatever mooks are making the episode promos.
• Lastly, I’ll step off the box and end on a positive note: I know we’re living in amazing times when it comes to television and it’s insanely difficult to get noticed for your good work and to keep all the quality on the air. I’m happy to rally around your great work and vociferously advocate for the world to watch. Right? Good. Let’s have a hug.
• Wait, wait, wait. For everybody else all pissy about negative criticism, industry-related snark and disdain-filled failure analysis: Make better shows at well-run channels/networks/streaming platforms, stay off Twitter and remember that it’s never personal, and reasonable people can disagree.
I think we’re done here.
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