Ten Modest Proposals to Improve TV


It’s hard to overestimate the role that TV plays in contemporary American life.  Its effects are so pervasive and fundamental that we no longer even notice them.  Like any essential institution, though, television can be exasperating, overwhelming, or unsatisfying.  So, as we slip deeper into the summer doldrums, this might be a good time to fantasize about ways to improve the television experience.  Here are 10 suggestions:

1.     A pan-platform TV Guide.  With the increased availability of video streaming, it’s possible to download and watch your favorite TV shows well after they’ve run.  Great! But how do you find these shows?  Are they on a network’s website? On Hulu? On Amazon Prime? On Netflix?  Do you need a special app? You can’t just Google the show’s name and find out. Instead, you have to hunt down and search each potential website.  How much better it would be if there were one master website that could direct you to the correct portal.

2.     The Obituary Channel.  This is a concept borrowed from my former colleague Frank Palumbo. There used to be a TV channel just for trials (Court TV); why isn’t there one for the recently departed?   The channel could include breaking news coverage related to the deaths of famous personages, as well as biopics and documentaries. And don’t forget the live coverage of the funerals of the top A-Listers.

3.     Better coverage of TV ratings.  This is one of my pet peeves, articulated in greater detail previously, but every year, as more and more people timeshift their TV watching, the media’s fixation on overnight ratings for the 18-49 demographic becomes more and more ridiculous.  Except for sports and the news, the overnight ratings are essentially meaningless because more viewers will frequently watch a show via a DVR than see it live.  Consequently, it would be better to wait until the DVR ratings are in before reporting viewing in the media.  And can we skip the 18-49 call-outs while we’re at it? People 50+ watch TV too, and sometimes even buy the things that are advertised.

4.     More reality on reality shows.  I’m not sure who coined the phrase “reality television,” but there’s very little reality in that genre.  The producers clearly drive the plots, conflicts and even some of the dialogue to the point where there’s little difference between a show like “Duck Dynasty” and a traditional scripted sitcom.  To that end, I’d like to see a rating system on each show that signals how much is “real” and how much is producer-directed.  A “1” would indicate minimal involvement, while a “5” would reflect heavy coaching and wacky suggested hijinks from the producers.

5.     Commercial choice.  The bane of the TV viewer’s existence is commercials, with entire technologies built around commercial avoidance.  That’s not because people hate commercials – they just hate a lot of the commercials they are forced to watch repeatedly.  But what if people could choose their own commercials?  This is kind of a reverse targeting, where the consumer chooses the commercial instead of the other way around.  This would pressure advertisers to make ads more engaging and interesting.

6.     Universal Remote.  This is hardly a new idea. Viewers have been complaining about multiple remotes since the introduction of the first VCR, but it’s 35 years later and we are no closer to the dream of a single remote that operates the sound and channel selection for the TV, DVR, cable box, Apple TV, Chromecast, and DVD player.  I have five remotes now and, what’s worse, have no idea what two-thirds of the buttons do.  If we can put a man of the moon…

7.     A reality show about nude dating: Oh, wait, we already have that.

8.     A mega-device box: This is the pipe dream of all pipe dreams.  Instead of separate boxes for cable, DVD, Apple TV, game console, etc., why can’t they all be incorporated into one mega-device?  And instead of getting a whole new cable box every time we move, why can’t we just take the box with us? In other words, instead of the cable companies buying the boxes from the manufacturers and renting them to us, why can’t we buy directly from the manufacturer and own our boxes? That’s what happened with landline telephones — which, believe it or not, kiddies, we used to rent from Ma Bell.

9.     Make network executives and media kingpins watch TV with their families:  If the people who greenlight and oversee the junk that’s on TV had to watch these shows with their kids, parents and grandkids, I am 100% certain we’d have better TV.  After all, who wants to have his 10-year-old granddaughter turn to him and ask, “Dodo – why are that man and woman walking around without any clothes on?”

10.  A “favorites” list.  I literally have no idea how many channels are on my TV, and no matter how much “Man Men” and “Justified” I watch, I cannot remember the AMC and FX channel numbers.  Let’s have an easy menu that lets you click on your favorite channels.

The chances for any of these ideas being adopted?  Probably zero, given the inertia and special interests that afflict the TV business. But it’s summer and we can dream, can’t we?

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