"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Saturday, 17 November 2007

We Can Work It Out

I found this in the Sunday Times’ Culture section a couple of weeks ago then promptly lost it before I could share. Now, I’ve found it once again…

“US television series are shaped by focus groups: the blond cop in Heroes was originally a redhead, but focus groups prefer blonds. More depressing is the case of the new Bionic Woman, starring the ex-EastEnders export Michelle Ryan, whose sisters was, in the unaired pilot, deaf, and spoke as if she were deaf. That made viewers uncomfortable, and now she is a “normally troubled” pot-smoker. Such cowardice may explain Bionic’s tumbling ratings.”
-14th October 2007

I realise movies have been subjected to test-screenings for many years and changes have been made accordingly: for all I know they’ve been doing it to TV forever (so let’s all acknowledge in advance that this could be some ill-conceived spleen-venting). However, I do find some of the above slightly disturbing and I’m left wondering about a few things. Makes me wonder whether this is a step on the path to the ultimate in team-writing… why don’t we just give the audience a long list of clichés and ask them to vote on which they’d like to see in their TV shows (and maybe this is how the writer’s strike will end- with audiences collectively writing the shows!). Also makes me wonder where that ultimately leaves the role of the creative imaginative writer who is capable of thinking outside of the ‘dressing-up box’. Makes me wonder about all those poor redhead actors whom the studios have just discovered don’t sit well with their audiences. More seriously, it makes me wonder how Marlee Maitlin is going to continue working. Makes me wonder about notions of equality. Makes me wonder why it’s acceptable to remove the disabled* just because they make the audience feel uncomfortable: do these same audiences cross the road when they see a wheelchair come towards them on the pavement; do they ask for a different shop assisstant if the one they’re talking to just happens to be deaf… because Heaven forbid that they should be made to feel uncomfortable.

Anyway, on a lighter note, it also reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago about the making of Friends. I read that in later series each episode took about 6-7 hours to film because when the studio audience didn’t laugh sufficiently loudly (did they use the infamous clapometer?) they got the writing team to rewrite the line until they got the requisitely loud laugh. How an audience who were sitting through tiny chunks of dialogue being flung at them could find this funny is beyond me. (‘Laugh or the doors will not be unlocked!’) Maybe the story was apocryphal. But it’s a good stick to beat Friends with… arguably the funniest and yet blandest sitcom in the history of television!

*Which I know is not the correct word but I’m no longer sure what the correct word is. Apologies! However, as I was registered disabled at University maybe I shouldn't get too worried about it!

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