This week, not without controversy, the television industry held its "upfronts," the annual circlejerk of advertisers, TV executives and media that everyone talks about, even though it's rare that anything newsworthy happens. But what wasn't discussed this week is that television as we know it is dying, and here's why.
For decades now, the networks and production studios have held a creative stranglehold over the industry. If you were a writer with a brilliant idea for a new show, you had to go through "the system" if you held any hope for your idea to see the light of day and come to fruition as an actual television show. "The system" meaning everything so frustrating and wrong and cliched with modern day Hollywood—-An endless clusterfuck of pitch meetings to tone-deaf underlings, countless script re-writes birthed from asinine notes from dunderhead executives ("I see on page 16 you have Sally eating a peanut...shouldn't she be eating a cashew instead?!") who'd never written a thing in their lives but love handing out business cards to aspiring starlets with the word "Producer" under their names, a dizzying array of focus groups and trend research studies so the higher-ups can get their fingers on the "pulse" of the modern viewer and force the creator to change accordingly, and everybody and their wife and cousin has got a fucking opinion to the point where the whole thing gets utterly mutilated. Someone could have the most brilliant idea and these people will more often than not find new and innovative ways to destroy it, all in the hopes of making it more appealing to Harriet and Clarence McAverage in Des Moines, Iowa.
From the creative end, developing a television show these days is sort of like giving birth to a daughter, your work, a daughter that you raise and nurture with tremendous care, and then one day you bring her, beautiful, statuesque, perfect in your eyes, to the church to walk her down the aisle, where a dashing groom, the American television viewership, is waiting to embrace her on the other end of the aisle. But just before the organist plays that "Here Comes the Bride" song so she can begin her walk down the aisle, out pops a herd of groomsmen, television executives, who proceed to throw your daughter down and violently gang-bang her in the back of the church, and by the time they're done with her she's bloody, beaten, and battered, almost completely unrecognizable to you, the person who raised her. Both of her eyes are swollen completely shut, one of her legs is broken, she can barely function at all, and then the very groomsmen, the television executives, who just finished violently raping her turn to you and say, "Okay, now make her walk down the aisle," and you, the person who conceived her, nurtured her and cared for her for all those years, has to walk with her as she hopelessly flounders her way down, and all the while you're hoping beyond hope that she a) makes it all the way down before completely collapsing and b) that her groom, the American television viewer, isn't so freaked out by her when he sees how hideous she now looks that he turns and bolts out of the church.
But all of that is changing.
You see, with the internet, yes the internet, creators of serialized content can circumvent "the system" and produce their shows independently, in much the same way that filmmakers began began circumventing the studio system to develop films a few years back—-They raise money on their own, shoot the film they want to shoot, and then turn around and showcase at film festivals where, if the moon and the stars align just right, they're able to sell their film and it goes on to become a huge success. This model birthed some of the more smart, intelligent and important films of the modern era, shot from scripts that may have never seen the light of day otherwise in the traditional system, because they were "too edgy" or some horseshit like that. The problem, for years, with doing this with television was that content creators didn't have a way to showcase their product, they couldn't take it into a screening room and expect prospective buyers of content to sit there and spend hours watching a full season of television to see if it was worth a shit or not, but with the internet they now do. More and more Americans are watching more and more video online for longer and longer periods of time, so it stands to reason that sooner or later, someone is going to raise their own money, shoot their own full length show (half hour to an hour long) without network interference, put it on the internet, and it will become a cultural phenomenon, something that people, average people and not just early adopters, talk about around the proverbial water cooler at work. In fact, it's probably on the verge of happening right now. And then a network will swoop in and buy the show to bring it to those still not watching television on the internet, and other shows will be developed online and other networks will swoop in and buy them too, but eventually everyone will watch episodic shows online and there won't be a need for the traditional networks any longer. Hell, right now, Microsoft and Apple are both developing programs that will capture all of the video you want to watch by recording it live as it goes up onto the web and saving it for the user to view later, just like a DVR or TiVo, except for your computer and handheld electronic devices. These sort of software programs currently being developed aggregate video content from all over the web so the user can watch everything in one place instead of surfing around from site to site to watch the things they want to watch.
In other words, the need for television networks to develop and air shows will evaporate. They'll still be there, it's a stretch to say they'll die off altogether, but they will never be the same. And we'll all be better off for that.