TV’s Good Old Days

Many Americans will remember the first 8 years of the new millennium as a troubled era—a time of uncertainty, fear, and war. Or those years will be remembered as the renaissance of television viewing if one were lucky enough to own a DVR or Tivo unit. For the first time in the history of Television, DVR owners were enjoyed televised entertainment without exposure to commercials. This phenomena coincided with the proliferation of satellite TV providers like DirecTV, providing viewers a seemingly endless selection of great programs to choose from, record, and watch when they please, fast-forwarding through commercial breaks at will.

Sorry Americans, the TV renaissance is about to end—TV free love will die in either of two ways: the fast-forward key will be disabled on your DVR (meaning you’ll still be able to record programs and watch them at will, but you’ll be blocked from fast-forwarding through commercials) or the programs, themselves, will become commercials—a sort of enhanced product placement in which advertisements are integrated into the script. It’s highly likely we’ll see a combination of both. TV will never be the same again.

In the last 8 years, TV networks were still banking on the notion that viewers will sit through commercial breaks in a trance brought on by the quality programming that followed. The value of the airtime sold to advertisers was dependent on the entertainment appeal of the show, which, supposedly increased ratings. Now, advertisers are challenging the notion that high ratings justify the high price networks are demanding for airtime, claiming most of the viewers are DVR owners who aren’t watching commercials anyway. Essentially, the DVR has turned the entire system upside down.

As well as neutering of the DVR and product integration, the future TV landscape will probably include more live, must-see events like talent-contests, MMA fights, and sporting events, as in, programming that must be seen in real time because of heavy public anticipation of the event’s outcome. Expect violence to be used to spice up the content and attract more viewers. Case in point, Kimbo Slice. Now a professional MMA fighter (Mixed Martial Arts, essentially boxing without the gloves and legal kicks and knees to the face) and folk-hero of sorts, Kimbo gained notoriety on the streets of Miami as an unbeatable street fighter. Eventually, his backyard bare-knuckle brawls were filmed and uploaded to YouTube, where he became a star. After a trio of successful bouts on Showtime’s EliteXC, Kimbo’s set to make his prime-time debut, fighting in the cage on CBS this Saturday, May 31st at 9pm.

Whether you love it or despise it, the upcoming Kimbo fight is a must-see because it may be a harbinger of future TV entertainment. What was once on the fringes of accepable entertainment—MMA fighting—is now crossing over to the mainstream. Reality shows have already been mixed with organized violence (see the Ultimate Fighter). Rumors are flying that negotiations are underway for Kimbo to fight retired heavyweight fighter, convicted rapist and general weirdo Mike Tyson. If this craziness is happening right now, what will our future bring? Will CBS be airing gladiator battles? It seems likely that will happen sooner rather than later. After all, mass entertainment began with live beheadings, animal attacks and fight-to-the-death combat in Rome’s coliseum thousands of years ago.

I’m envisioning an American-Idol type talent contest in which, instead of enduring frank insults from British accented judges, contestants are pelted with rocks by attendees in the audience after less-than-stellar singing performances. Or, an America’s Next Top Model spin-off in which would-be models engage in bare knuckle, anything-goes (hair-pulling encouraged) combat before the runway show. The model that looks the best (has the least visible injuries to face) after the 3 hour brawl is awarded a model contract.

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