e2TV is the corner of Everything2 where we node about and discuss the world of television - everything from the shows themselves to the technology behind them to the characters depicted within them. There's also discussion in the group about news in the industry and specific episodes of our favorite shows. Consider joining us if you want to talk TV, node TV, or just be alerted whenever a new TV-related writeup hits E2.
Joss Hill Whedon
June 23, 1964 -
Joss Whedon is a popular American writer best known for his work in television, particularly the critically beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whedon's hallmarks include ensemble casts of outsiders, witty, culturally-aware dialogue, strong, empowered female characters, a tendency to toy with audience expectations, and significant long-term character development.
After attending high school at all-male boarding school Winchester College in England, which he recalls as a very positive formative experience, Whedon attended Wesleyan, which has one of the best film programs outside of LA or NYC, majoring in film and minoring in gender studies.
Television writing ran in Whedon's family - his father, Tom Whedon, wrote for shows like Benson and The Golden Girls, and his grandfather, John Whedon, was a scribe for Leave it to Beaver and The Dick Van Dyke Show, among others. Whedon originally resisted this destiny, disillusioned by the experience of his father, who Joss thought was not allowed to reach his full potential, earning a living by producing formulaic work while his best scripts languished unfilmed in a drawer at home. Joss planned to write, yes, but for independent films.
His friends thought they knew better, however, and teased him with taunts of "3G TV" - third generation television. In the end, they were right. Upon graduating college Joss realized that it's not very easy to make a living writing art movies, and after discussing things with his father reconsidered television. In 1988 he joined the writing staff of the new sitcom Roseanne. At first he was mostly overlooked amidst all the chaos, as the show became known even outside the industry for its vicious backstage politics. Eventually he found a champion in John Goodman, however, and after surviving a writers' purge crafted an astounding six scripts for the second season.
After he, too, jumped ship from Roseanne, Whedon found a place on the staff of Parenthood, an hour-long dramedy based on the popular 1989 movie. The series didn't make it to a second season, however, and Joss turned back to writing for movies. He first earned a cinematic writing credit with 1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a fun little action/comedy about a valley girl who discovers she is fated to battle the undead. Echoing that eternal screenwriter's lament, however, Joss felt director Fran Kuzui and actors butchered the project and that the final product fell far short of its potential.
In this period Whedon earned a reputation as a skillful script doctor - a screenwriter who rewrites and (ideally) improves existing screenplays. He worked in this capacity on several high-profile films, including Speed, Toy Story, and Alien: Resurrection, the latter two of which he was awarded joint credit for. His major breakthrough, however, would see him working in television again.
In 1997, a Buffy television series adaptation was commissioned as a midseason replacement for the new WB network. Whedon jumped at the opportunity to revisit the project and do it right, and signed on as showrunner. The series was a breakaway success with critics and audiences alike, and served as a critical element of the WB's drive to establish itself with teen audiences. The show ran for seven seasons, surviving abandonment by the WB (the show moved to rival upstart network UPN) and spinning off another popular Whedon-run series (Angel) before the title character's actress Sarah Michelle Gellar decided not to continue, effectively killing the show.
Whedon's next show was 2002's Firefly, an hourlong "space western" adventure on the FOX network. Though the show drew critical praise, it succumbed to network politics, cancelled after only a few (seemingly arbitrarily reordered) episodes. The show was a runaway success when released on DVD, however, spurred by a loyal fan base and critical support, and this success led to a Firefly movie, "Serenity", written and directed by Whedon and featuring the original cast, which was released in September 2005. The cast are apparently on three-picture contracts, so if Serenity proves successful, we can expect sequels to follow.
After Firefly, Whedon pledged that he was done with television. Given that he's broken a no-TV pledge before, one questions how seriously we should take this, but fans should not fear, as Whedon's tremendous popularity has made him a very hot Hollywood property. In addition to Serenity and its possible sequels, Whedon is known to be on board as writer and director of a Wonder Woman movie expected out in 2006, and can almost certainly expect to have his choice of projects afterwards. Those fans of his serial work will be pleased to know that Whedon has not sworn off comics. Indeed, in addition to writing comics based on his existing properties, Whedon now helms his own X-Men series, Astonishing X-Men, which has consistently been Marvel's top-selling title.
Touched by an Angel is a CBS network drama first aired in September, 1994. It
was created by John Masius.
For its intended audience, the show has done immensely well; hundreds of fansites have been
created devoted to this show. Its intended audience, however, is apparently not people like
Each episode follows the same formula of:
1.) Introduce crisis
2.) Introduce at least one angsty character who has a problem with the idea of angels
3.) Resolve crisis within 45 minutes
Cast and Characters
The show's core cast consists of:
Tess is the matron of the show, a tough "no-nonsense" lady who is often responsible
for keeping the other angels out of trouble. Her dialogue is fairly cheesy; she often gets
to say the stuff that sounds like a PSA. But her speeches are less saccharine in general than
those of the other characters.
Monica is the show's "leading lady", so to speak. She probably does the most
talking, and looks up to Tess as something of a motherly, teacher figure. She has a lot
of direct contact with the humans that appear in each episode.
Andrew was a later addition to the show, and some suspect that he might have
been an attempt to put some sort of a "hunk" factor into the show in order to increase
female viewership. (Though I suspect that this show has a predominantly female viewership
in the first place.) Andrew is always around when a character is near-death or actually
going to die. His role is to help escort people to Heaven. He often seems to have something
of a flat affect; either dealing with so much death has made him jaded, or he needs to take
a class in passionate acting.
Gloria, Valerie Bertinelli's character, is sort of the Jan Brady of the series.
She seems like a middle child, getting less airtime than the other characters, and often
having to go to them for guidance.
The Critics Comment
My boyfriend's mom watches this show practically every night, and I've sat through enough
of them myself simply due to morbid fascination. The dialogue on this show is probably some
of the worst I've ever heard. I have the utmost respect for my boyfriend's mom, but I cannot
see what she sees in this particular TV show. I mean, come on. One episode chronicled the
manslaughter trial of a sixteen year old who had purposely run down a pedestrian with his
car. The reason? The kid was "addicted to video games". He said he was certain that the
pedestrian was a "hooker", and therefore her life wasn't worth anything. Melodrama, melodrama...
can you say melodrama? Good. Tess, one of the angels, advises parents to give their kids
a "Big fat dose of Vitamin NO" when they ask if they can play violent games.
Sounds like some kind of PSA slogan belted out by Hulk Hogan.
The characters use cookie cutter dialogue. I swear, on every single episode some puppy-
eyed child gazes up at one of the angels, looking eerily like a Precious Moments figurine,
and asks, "Is my (insert Mommy/dog/cat/goldfish) OK?"
To which the Angel replies, "Of course, sweetie. They're in heaven with God. They love
you, and are looking down on you this very minute."
I have no problem with spirituality. I DO have a problem with poorly thought out and
repetitive dialogue. Can't they think of a more creative way to express what they want to
express? I guess they don't really need to, considering the show is immensely popular even
after 200 formulaic episodes. It does make me think that people really ought to expect more
out of their entertainment. But they're probably not going to.
Some fundamentalists take issue with Touched by an Angel, claiming that it "preaches
Universalism!" (as in, it does not insist that only one conservative Christian doctrine is
the be-all end-all of existence.) I found a rather scary web site authored by an unnamed
person from "Let Us Reason Ministries". This document claims that, among the other faults
of the show, a major issue is that Touched by an Angel does not portray the God of the
Christian Bible as "jealous". So these "Let Us Reason" folks think that all TV shows
should be about Old Testament God charging around smiting all those who disagree? While
this might be an iota more exciting and intriguing to watch than Touched by an Angel in
its current sickly-sweet format, it would be bizarre and would alienate many mainstream
In episodic television
parlance, a "bottle show" is an episode staged entirely on the show's standing
sets. By foregoing the use of location
shooting or purpose-built swing sets
, bottle shows can be filmed more quickly and inexpensively than less constrained episodes, and as such are often employed when a series has been running behind schedule or over budget. To further maximize savings, bottle shows often minimize the use of actors aside from the core cast (who must be paid anyway), CGI effects, intricate props, or other costly expenditures.
In terms of the conservation of time and money, bottle shows are not as efficient as the dreaded clip shows, but in return are not nearly as obviously low-budget or contrived. The nature of the form places limitations on the episode, but good writers can use the opportunity to craft quality, character-driven stories. Many of the best-loved episodes of the Star Trek franchise, for example, were bottle shows.
As we know it today, television
is driven by and paid for by the commercial
s that so frequently interrupt it. When a show is on television, the number of viewer
s that watch the show is compared to the total number of people who watch the channel the show is on. This number is the percentage of viewers, and obviously, the larger the percentage of viewers, the more people who watch the show, the more money the show is worth to the network.
This is bad, very bad. This boils down to shows doing well if they capture a large audience
, and to ensure that they capture a large audience, shows must appeal to everyone
, and reality series
have wide appeal, and draw many viewers, while smaller shows that only appeal to a certain group of people usually fail. Under our current system of advertisement driven programming, networks
will continue to produce reality series that appeal to “everyone,” and the same old crusty
sitcoms that repeat the same jokes over and over again.
While the obvious solution to this, would be to have consumers pay for the shows that they want, this is very difficult under the current system
. Sure there are pay to watch television channels (HBO
) and the like, but these work for channel
s, and not shows themselves. The answer to this would be to create a series of pseudo
-networks, the networks wouldn’t need to operate a channel, simply deliver a show at the same time of the week to be sold through existing pay per view
methods, while this would work, a new answer has presented itself recently with PVR
’s, Personal Video Recorders
With the proliferation of broadband Internet
, and computer-television integration
, why don’t we simply change the way that we deliver television? While there is no replacement for live television, I believe that if would be much more profitable to move away from it for many of the channels on television. If I were in charge, I would limit television to something like 30 channels. 10 live channels, and twenty previews. Each preview channel would be a place for networks to show of their new shows in 5-10 minute previews. Television shows that the viewer likes can be purchased online, where they would be downloaded into a set top box. This in my opinion is the best of both systems.
The user, that’s you, pays a low monthly fee, say five dollars, plus the cost of hardware. Then, the user picks out what shows they want to watch, and the set top box automatically downloads the shows that you want to see, while charging your account for each show. The cable provider and the network can split the price made from each show, and each show can pay for itself without needing to advertise. This lets each person download the shows that they want to watch, and re watch them as many times as they want. The preview channels would be places for networks to demonstrate shows and try to increase interest in them to get more subscribers
As I write this, Star Trek: Enterprise
has been canceled, and the show’s fans not only took out a full page ad in the LA Times
, begging networks to pick up the show, they are currently negotiating with Paramoun
t to allow the fans to fundraise
the money to get the show back on the air.
Unfortunately, this kind of radical change would be on the same order of magnitude
as the United State
s switching to metric
. I do, however, foresee a future where pay per view television is available in high quality format and eventually networks form that have no channels, or advertisements, and sell their shows through a web portal
"Sweeps" are an institutional feature of American television
broadcasting by which TV viewership is measured four times each year ("sweeps periods"), in November, February, May, and July. This viewership data is then used to set the price of advertising airtime, giving broadcasters a strong incentive to inflate their audience during sweeps periods.
There are a variety of ways you might feasibly money from broadcasting.
If you sell broadcast receivers like radios or television sets, you might conduct your own broadcasts as a marketing tool to induce consumers to purchase the equipment necessary to tune in. This was the basis on which RCA initially operated the NBC radio and television networks.
You might acquire a charter from the government and collect taxes or user fees from television owners. This is the way the BBC and many other state-affiliated broadcasters are funded.
You might solicit donations from viewers, most commonly through televised "telethon" appeals occurring in place of regularly scheduled programming. Americans might be familiar with this tactic from broadcasters like the Christian Broadcasting Network or various local public television stations.
If you are an American broadcaster, however, you most likely make most or all of your money by selling airtime to advertisers who want to say something to your audience, most commonly in support of a commercial product or service. A typical American television broadcast, as of time of writing, contains sixteen minutes of advertising in each hour of programming.
So, how much can you sell this airtime for? Well, advertisers will obviously prefer a bigger audience, or an audience more favorably disposed to their message. And the bigger and better an audience you can give them, the more they'd be willing to pay for your airtime. But here a problem arises: how exactly do you know who, or how big, your audience is? Broadcast media, unidirectional by nature, provided no automatic feedback, and it would be impossible to measure viewership directly.
So, sampling presented itself as an alternative, and many early attempts at solving the problem involved phone surveys, in which (ideally) random households were called and inquired about their viewing or listening patterns. This, of course, raised serious issues of selection bias, and was generally unsatisfactory. Surveys directing respondents to list all recent viewership often returned inaccurate records. Surveys that limited their inquiry to the television program the respondent was currently watching were a bit more accurate, but even in an age of channel listings in the mid-one-digit range, to collect data of any depth with this method would be exceedingly manpower-intensive.
By the 1950s, marketing research firm A.C. Nielsen Co. was already using a mechanical recorder, the Audimeter, to track television viewership. However, the uneconomical awkwardness of the device (users had to remove and mail a film cartridge to Nielsen each week) limited Audimeter use to only a few hundred households nationwide, a sample large enough to reasonably measure the viewership of nationally broadcast network offerings but too small to assess viewership in individual broadcast markets. Furthermore, the device could not record any more detailed data about the audience, such as the number of viewers watching a given program, or their demographic makeup.
In 1953, however, Nielsen tried supplementing the Audimeter with written logs of programs watched, which allowed for more extensive surveying, on the order of hundreds of thousands or even millions of households. The test was a success, the data proven reliable. Due to the costs associated with processing these diaries, however, it was decided to employ this technique on a broad scale only periodically.
1954 thus saw the first sweeps, which set the pattern for all subsequent instances. Nielsen mailed diaries to households throughout the country, who recorded a week's worth of television viewing. Nielsen then collected the diaries, the whole process staggered by region, beginning with the American Northeast and then subsequently the South, Midwest, and finally West. This characteristic "sweeping" collection pattern gave sweeps their name.
Sweeps have remained fundamentally similar since then, though the demographic data collected has grown a bit more complex. Currently, around 1.6 million households maintain sweeps diaries each year. These "Nielsen families" are paid a token amount; most households presumably participate so as to influence programming in accordance with their preferences. If you're an American, you probably know someone who kept such a diary, but Nielsen is quite adamant in insisting that Nielsen families keep their identity a secret.
Given that sweeps measurements are only taken quarterly, during known dates, it is possible for broadcasters to "game" the system and temporarily boost ratings. Sweeps are traditionally full of attention-whoring "sweeps programming". To headline the event, networks offer up miniseries, original movies, or TV debuts of big-screen blockbusters. Regular series get in on the game too, featuring big-name guest stars, major plot twists, or shocking and thus "must-see" episodes (same-sex relationships, for example, have been heavily employed in this capacity recently, starting with Ellen's pathbreaking "Puppy Episode", during the the May 1997 sweeps). Sweeps periods frequently see a shakeup in the network lineup as underperforming shows are canned, or at least put on "hiatus" to make way for midseason replacement debuts, reruns of more popular series, or the more favorable placement of remaining shows.
Nonfiction programs are not exempt from all this hoopla, as local and network news programs will frequently run interviews with major figures, or stage dramatic stunts of questionable news value. News programs will also frequently be drafted into service promoting the channel's other offerings, featuring interviews with television show cast members or guest stars, reports on the topics on which fictional offerings are based, previews of big-name events, or simply stories about the current sweeps themselves.
This is all admittedly a little disingenuous, but keep in mind that sweeps ratings are not completely disconnected from year-round performance. Viewers won't know about your must see spectacular if they don't see the network promos airing every other commercial break. Viewers won't care if your series' lead character gets pregnant/married/shot if they don't know or care who the character is. Channel surfers won't get sucked in by your screening of the latest Jerry Bruckheimer movie if they don't think to check in on your station in the first place. Sweeps build on viewer loyalty built up during the non-sweeps season. A solid sweeps showing allows you to use sensationalism and canny promotion to build on a solid foundation, not in place of such fundamentals.
Sweeps and Advertising
It is a common misconception that all television advertising rates are set in accordance with sweeps week ratings. In fact, only local advertising rates are affected. For network television, usually only 4 of the aforementioned 16 minutes of advertising in each hour of television are local ads, purchased from individual stations. The remaining 12 minutes are national advertising, purchased from the national network in accordance with weekly ratings collected from around 5,000 households by the "People Meter", the Audimeter's less unwieldy successor. Network ad rates can thus be boosted only through consistent quality programming, but the desire to help out network-owned stations and keep affiliates happy keeps networks focused on maximizing sweeps ratings.
In theory, it might be possible to expand year-round People Meter use to such a point where it could supplant sweeps diaries in measuring local ratings, giving local advertisers a more accurate picture of stations' viewerships. However, such a plan could be expected to draw resistance from networks and stations (fearing decreased revenues), ad agencies (whose commission-based contracts give them a vested interest in high costs), and major national advertisers (who appreciate the way in which the system weighs against small, upstart competitors). Compared with these groups, local advertisers (usually small, dispersed, and unorganized) have very little pull in the media world.