Some people think they know what the M represents in The M Report. With this reporter's obsession over movies being no secret, some might be surprised that the M doesn't stand for the obvious word.
But, the issue of what the M represents in The M Report came up again this May, as I watched the five major TV networks announce their fall schedules.
The money, the millions of dollars, that the television media uses to stay afloat comes from advertisers. Usually by the end of the spring sweeps, those advertisers demand to know how their millions are going to be spent from then till September when most new shows will premiere.
The networks put together a nice presentation and show off a ton of new and fresh ideas, aligning them with their past and current ideas, and design an optimistic schedule that they hope will encourage more viewers.
This year, however, there was a problem. According to the Associated Press, there was a severe lack of new and fresh ideas, a minority as it were. For example, ABC, probably the worst offender, only added two new programs to its entire schedule. Last year, it added eight.
Of those two new shows, one of them is a remake of a British TV series and the other a lame reality show. Gary Levin of USA Today said that the aftermath of the writers' strike during the winter caused similar patterns on the CW and NBC. Both those networks, whose ratings were the lowest among the five majors, also decided to go with a couple of remakes.
Strangely, the strike didn't stop CBS from adding six new shows to its autumn lineup. But, according to the AP, many of those shows were added on a wing and a prayer, faith that they would be well written and well produced shows. CBS literally approved sketch ideas without seeing anything put on film or video.
Yet, Entertainment Weekly reports that, early next year, networks like ABC will begin to develop more new shows, and that the writers' strike didn't really stifle new and fresh ideas completely, but merely postponed them. Yet, even if the writers' strike never occurred, it's likely that the slate of new shows would undoubtedly be more of the same anyway, a slate of remakes and recycled formulas.
To put it simply, it seems lately that it's hard to find fresh, new and original material out there in the media, especially in TV land. Every time the networks announce their new fall schedules, I always feel a rush of anticipation, hope that among the new shows there will be that one gem that I can really identify with, that I can hold onto, and be proud of, that new gem, which will hark back to the days when television was still fresh, new, original, bold, and more importantly raw.
It doesn't give me hope to see remakes and recycled ideas in the forefront this year, as they have been in abundance lately, and the industry's reliance on them constantly. But, the question is why. Putting aside the writers' strike, the decline of originality, of difference, and variety, is itself nothing new in the media. How many versions of CSI and Law & Order do we have? How many nights were American Idol and Dancing with the Stars on? How many spin-offs and copycats of those are there?
Looking for an original idea on TV is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Conversely, there is in fact an over-abundance of sex and violence. There has been criticism, and rightly so, that there is a dearth of family-friendly programming in prime-time. In all fairness, the actual depiction of sex has diminished. Sex talk is still high. Yet, it's the level of malevolence that has steadily increased. There is certainly no minority of murder on the boob tube.
We're certainly far from the days of Leave It To Beaver or even The Cosby Show. There's hardly anything past 8 p.m. on any particular night on the five majors that a family could watch together without some serious parental advisory needed.
The fact remains that there remains a lack, if not a significant minority, of sitcoms or dramas that are about normal, everyday, American families. And, is it just me, or are all the Hollywood writers and producers elitists and snobs? Every show is either about doctors, lawyers, people who are white-collar workers, or flat-out rich.
Shows about poor people, the working class, or simply blue-collar men and women are in a severe minority as well. Why? The conceit is that white-collar or wealthier people lead more exciting or more interesting lives, lives that would make viewers tune in week to week. Yet, that's all it is... a conceit, an illusion.
Even though I don't seek to go back in time, I yearn for shows of yesteryear by men like Norman Lear, as in All in the Family or Good Times, or even more recent hits like Roseanne, which were all a thousand times funnier than our current fare, and all of them were about blue-collar people.
Speaking of minorities in television, there's also a minority of minorities, or people of various ethnicities other than any that could still be put under the umbrella of Caucasian. Here's a pop quiz. Out of over 70 hours of prime-time programs, how many of them star, or are even about, minorities, either African-American, Asian, or Latino?
Not sure! Well, here are some facts. CBS canceled Cane, its drama about a Hispanic family in the sugar cane business starring Emmy-winning, Puerto Rican actor Jimmy Smits. The CW, which had a handful of programs starring minorities, and even produced by minorities, has canceled two of them. NBC doesn't have programs centered around minorities specifically, but its regular shows do feature more than one regularly. ABC is probably the best example, which every night showcases programs starring minorities, about minorities, or with minorities in leading roles.
Yet, this still leaves a large gap in the minorities on the television landscape. Yes, I know that they're called minorities for a reason, but here's another fact. In Los Angeles, where most TV shows are produced and set, the number of Hispanics and African-Americans actually outnumber the Caucasians, according to the U.S. Census.
It seems strange in a pool of so many minorities, or many different ethnicities, why it doesn't translate on the TV screen, or the media. Yet, I'm not immune to the argument that again it's the millions of dollars from advertisers that fuel the media. The advertisers, as the media's life's blood, respond only to viewers and ratings. So, if an African-American show like House of Payne or a Hispanic show like Ugly Betty gets good ratings, then those shows are promoted. If those shows don't get good ratings, then they quickly drop, and that, my friends, is color blind.
But, that isn't the problem. Whether or not a show gets good ratings is not the issue. If people don't eat the food, then they don't eat the food. This is about what the restaurant owners are putting on the menu. When the networks announce their fall schedules, it's all about their personal preference for whomever approves or denies new shows.
If they chose to do more shows that concentrated on minorities, then we would see more, but we don't. Minority shows aren't allowed to get either good or bad ratings because the networks aren't even putting them out there. Those shows can either hit a home run or strike out, but they're not even permitted to come to the plate and be up for bat.
Plain and simple, you don't see many black faces on the TV screen, and you're certainly not going to see a lot of them come this fall in prime-time either. It may be a stretch, but I think that it goes hand-in-hand with the lack of fresh, new, and original ideas. It's why we're getting a lot of remakes and recycled ideas. It's not because new and original ideas aren't out there. They are. They, like black people, just aren't getting the opportunities they should.
It's really somewhat sad. Yet, as a nation, it's taken us this long to have an African-American as a serious contender in a presidential race. So, why should our entertainment media be so ahead?
Again, some people think they know what the M represents in The M Report. As a minority myself who works for the media, I can't help but take notice at what's out there, what's presented to us, and just as importantly, what's not being presented. The M in The M Report doesn't just stand for something, but it takes a stand on calling out what's lacking in the media and calling on it to better itself, not just for myself, but for us all. I just want more and fair representation, as well as quality programming.