I don’t think I watch a lot of TV, but I’ve got a few shows I can’t resist. Two of them are American Idol and CSI and both wrapped up seasons in the last week.
Both shows are all about their own mechanics. On CSI you figure out how to make lab work visually interesting and comprehensible to audiences who know no science. So the characters natter on about what they are doing. In the real world, they would kill each other. “Now I’m going into Excel and making a copy of the second sheet in your workbook which I will place in a new workbook, then go in and do a copy/paste special/values to get rid of the cell references to other sheets.” Shut up already and do your job.
On American Idol, every week they go through the same process of announcing the low vote getter. They have to vary it somehow to keep it interesting, so they come up with new ways to lead in to the annoucnement. Three people on this side, three on the other, which one are the top three. Of these two who got the smallest or highest number of votes: Suzy, you are/are not the one. Etc.
I heard someone argue that American Idol is good for pop music, I think they were saying because the Idol singers sell a lot of records. For me the statement is true but for a different reason. Hearing the contestants struggle through the songs makes you realize how good the best pop stars are. None of the contestants, even the finalists, seem comfortable and in control. Then you hear Stevie Wonder, and you realize how he nails each pitch, with a full, confident tone, and makes it look easy. On the show Wednesday, Prince came out and everything was dead on, the pitch, phrasing, and dancing. Of course, then you have Mary J. Blige beating up on U2’s One. Seemed like she wanted to kill the song. Guess Bono gets on her nerves.
Idol struggles with racial undercurrents. In one of the first seasons I recall that Simon Cowell complained callers were voting off the black singers. On the Wednesday show they had gag awards for the worst singers. There were more blacks than whites, even though blacks seem to be a minority of the contestants. It came awfully close to “let’s laugh at these ridiculous black people.”
CSI has cruised along for years on unconsummated sexual tension between the characters: Gil and Sarah, Katherine and Warrick. Gil’s ineptitude in this area is a key part of his character. In the finale they gave in and put Gil and Sarah together in a post- or pre-coital scene. They’ve hinted at this more heavily in the last few episodes with meaningful glances between them. Usually a series goes downhill once it gives in and resolves this tension. In Western drama, coupling constitutes the end of the story. The objective has been fulfilled. And there isn’t the same tension once you put people together. Now Gil and Sarah can argue about whose turn it is to empty the cat’s litter box. But the producers of CSI are smart about TV, and I bet they know that putting Gil and Sarah together lets a bunch of air out of the balloon. So there’s only one thing to do. Kill off one of the characters. Then the survivor can continue on, haunted by the memory. Lots of opportunities for music video sequences contemplating some object that recalls the dead one. And since William Peterson carries the show and is a producer… The only question is whether they kill off Jorja Fox in the opening episode or try to lead up to it through the season. There’s your cliffhanger.