Monday, May 08, 2006

Gog's Guide to Documentary Television

Television: A medium - so called because it is neither rare nor well done. ~Ernie Kovacs

Most of the TV I watch is what might be called documentary television: History Channel (both flavors), Discovery Times, Science Channel, and so on. I do this because most of the rest of television is – how can I delicately say this – crud. Like so many American kids, I grew up with the television on, so, like so many American adults, I have the addiction . I need my TV in the evening, even though, more often than not, I might be reading or even writing a blog entry (like this one). When I do pay attention, it's because one the aforementioned channels actually has a good program on.

Sometimes, though, there are a couple of potentially good programs on at the same time, so it behooves me to be able to quickly determine a potentially good program from a crummy one. I watch TV to relax while getting a little intellectual stimulus, which explains why I'm not watching network television or movie channels (except Turner Classic; love those Bogart flicks). Thus, if I hit a crummy show, I get aggravated. If I get aggravated, I gripe to my wife, who then gets aggravated – at me. This is a thing to be avoided.

Therefore, I have learned to quickly spot the “Bad Show Ahead” signs. Since there might be someone out there in the ether who is in a similar fix, I'd like to share some of the signs I've identified. These will be a key chapter of my forthcoming book, “Television Sucks”, forthcoming when I get around to writing it.

-- If the introductory narrative is repeated within five minutes after it's initially read, they're padding already. Said introduction will ultimately be repeated after each commercial break, of which there will be many.

-- If said introductory narrative is filled with questions like “What secret is hidden ...”, “Could they really be in the tomb of ...”, or the ever popular “Would they be able to find ...”, you're in for a long evening. The answers will be “Nothing important”, “No”, and “Not in this lifetime.”

-- Mounting expeditions is a complex business. However, if a great deal of time is being devoted to buying the supplies, getting the permits, and wandering around open air markets, this group isn't going to find much, if they, in fact, ever get where they're supposed to be going.

-- After the first commercial, you get a “The show so far” sort of summary. Essentially, they repeat almost everything that was said in the first segment. Leave now, because they're going to do this after each commercial. By the third break, the entire period between commercials will be filled with the summary.

-- These shows don't have a huge budget, so some repetition of scenes is forgivable. If, however, the same scenes are shown repeatedly, they not only had a small budget, but they had a small script they had to pad. Might be a good night to check out the old movies.

-- If the director seems compelled to shoot everything in fuzzy focus or jiggling camera mode, the show is going to stink. I guess they're trying to take your mind off the lousy content by giving you a headache.

-- Watch out for the “some experts” syndrome, as in “Some experts say that the Pyramids couldn't possibly have been built without modern cranes” or “Some experts think black holes are actually purple.” I don't know who these idiot “experts” are, but their main purpose in life seems to be to make the show's discoverer-of-the-obvious look good.

-- Never, ever watch a show with “Mega” or “Super” in the title. The same mini-brain that can't find a properly descriptive title wrote the script. You're also in for an evening of imagined death and destruction at the hands of the Mega- or Super-whatever.

-- The minute they mention Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, or Bigfoot, see what's on the Food Channel.

-- If the host or main investigator is dressed up like Indiana Jones but sounds like a game show host, the odds of this being a good program just went up to lottery levels.

-- If the show purports to re-examine some historic event using forensics, just go ahead and watch the CSI flavor-of-the-night. At least there you might be surprised at the findings.

-- If the show has a movie tie-in, you are in for a serious drivel-fest.

I've watched some very good programs on these channels. But, I've seen some serious stinkers that contained misinformation, sometimes passed off as “previously theorized” or, worse, as “facts”. Others have taken fifteen minutes of content and tried to stretch it into a full hour (and failed miserably). Others have spent much time teasing the viewer into thinking something great was going to be found or discovered, only to end with nothing found or experiments failing.

However, if it's a choice between “Desperate Housewives” and yet another theory of how King Tut got whacked, I'll stick with Tut.

At least the Tut show is quiet enough to let me read.

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