“Bionic Woman,” an updating of the 1970s show featuring Lindsay Wagner, first appeared on NBC in the fall. It was approved by something called the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a flock of 40 advertisers seeking more “family-friendly” programming.
In confidential casting information, the producers, seeking to add fresh concepts to a three-decade-old idea, had been searching for an actress to play the important role of Becca Sommers, teenage sister to the star (Michelle Ryan, pictured). Among the requirements: Caucasian and sexy.
That is, we guess, one description of “family friendly” – given it was decreed by advertisers, some of us might say something else.
For my part, there’s little on the small screen (or is that big widescreen nowadays?) that bothers or offends me, but the choice of a star that appears semi-naked in publicity shots would be something I’d expect a body called the Family Friendly Programming Forum to use as reason to cross her programmes off their list, unless their real agenda is something else, driven by dollars, and (shhhh) s**-appeal.
One of the notable things about ‘new’ TV series, such as the aferementioned Bionic Woman, that marks the noughties is that it all seems to follow the same formula, presumably laid down by the marketing teams that want to catch the sponsor’s eyes and ensure they get their client’s a slice of the current round of funding.
I should be enjoying this series, and Blade: The Series, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but all seem to have been produced by the same mincing machine, and all I feel is that each subjects me to the same 50 minutes of shouting, screaming, fighting, arguing, and false moralising by ‘The Hero’, which varies only by the character. Close your eyes, and there’s little to distinguish them.
The other thing that’s noticeable is the desperate attempt by the writers to make their female leads ‘strong’.
The end result is more like a 1950’s B movie, based on typecast concepts of male/female role reversal, where rather than simply swap around the male/female dominance of the time, the scriptwriters created a dystopian society ruled by women, and enforced by thuggery. The modern equivalent with the New Bionic Woman and Sarah Connors gives is the same thing packaged up in character that refuses to be lead, and takes the lead ‘with attitude’, not interested in listening to anyone else, because they have decided to make a stand, and ‘Be Strong’, and if a man should dare to advise her otherwise, he’d better watch out, as he’s likely to get a thick lip, or smashed through a door and thrown out for his trouble. Our heroine is ‘Strong’, and doesn’t need anybody’s help, especially a man’s.
Maybe all these ‘formula writers’ and ‘sponsor whores’ will have died by the tens or twenties, and we might get some decent TV programmes again – if we don’t die waiting.
The sixties and seventies
This was brought home recently, when ITV started to show original series from the 1960s and 1970s, in between their adverts. The writers I refer to above mock these programmes because they weren’t produced on anything like the budgets they have, and without the technology (neither of which improve a rubbish concept incidentally). In reality, by not having more ‘Bang for Their Buck’, writers of that time had to get their sponsorship by providing an interesting theme.
Whereas programmes of that time had “A Beginning, A Middle, and An End”, a plot, characters, storyline, and theme that the viwwer had to make at least a token effort to follow, most modern series bow to the great god of the ‘Three Minute Culture’, and one can land anywhere in any programme and start to follow the (non-existent) plot, as there will be a noisy fight, argument, or special effect scene along in a few minutes, as these programmes are often little more than an excuse to string these events together.
Don’t believe me? Try it with the Blade TV series. I’ve been ‘watching’ this for weeks, since it started, and only with my one bad eye. The reason being the good one is busy working on some some software. I haven’t watched an episode properly, yet the plot is so shallow I’m still up to speed on the whole thing and its characters, even though I’ve barely watched more than 10 minutes of any episode.
Try doing that with vintage TV, written by proper writers, rather than sponsor magnets.