Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 1:00 PM
Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news and topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.
Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and thanks for stopping in...So I thought Julia Louis-Dreyfuss' quip during Sunday's Emmys--that she and Amy Poehler were presenting "on the last official year of network broadcast television"--was the line o' the night.
It put me in mind of an old topic here on The Break (the collapse of mass media) as well as an excellent new book on the subject.
"The Chaos Scenario" by Bob Garfield is a smart and witty survey of that potholed, shabby landscape--not just newspapers and TV, but mass marketing as well (full disclo: Bob is an old friend of mine; but don't hold that against him).
Garfield's basic thesis isn't just that news and entertainment as we know them are rapidly heading toward economically unsupportable realms, but that they are taking consumer marketing with them (or perhaps it's vice versa; I gotta re-read the thing). Anyway: The 30-second commercial? Dead or dying, DVR'ed into oblivion. Brand-image advertising? Ditto, because who sees that stuff anymore, or wants to, or has to, thanks to our newly empowering digital technologies?
Bob is no alarmist--he's a critic for Ad Age magazine and co-host of NPR's most excellent "On the Media" program, so he's deeply invested in the Old Media--but he does raise some disconcerting questions, namely, what happens when the old order collapses and there's no new order--yet--to replace it?
Well, that's where your chaos comes in, in news, entertainment, politics and marketing, with potentially profound and disruptive consequences for modern society. Of course, we're already in the embryonic stages of this great reformation, or great disruption (Exhibit A: Jay Leno's cheap and cheaper NBC show).
I'm not sure I agree with Bob's sense that we'll all be fine in the end if politicians/marketers/newsies/entertainers just harness the power of new, disaggregated, non-mass digital technologies (your Twitters and Facebooks and your what have yous) to create more personal and intimate "relationships" with voters/consumers/human beings. I don't disagree with it, either. I'm just not sure what's ahead.
But maybe you do. If so, the floor is yours.
One more thing: "The Family Guy" clip on Sunday's show? Possibly the worst, or maybe just the unfunniest, thing I've ever seen on an awards show. Why, oh, why?
Okay, let's go to the phones.
Alexandria, Va.: Good riddance to network TV! For the most part its just regressed into stupid reality shows, "talent contests" that would make Ted Mack shiver, and relentlessly unfunny sitcoms. With fewer censorship restrictions, HBO, FX Network, A&E, and others produce much superior shows. Plus, maybe we'd finally get Jay Leno off TV!
Paul Farhi: Well, what's chicken and what's egg here? Cable has been nibbling away at the broadcast networks' lunch for a generation. It has weakened the old broadcasters' economic franchise. Fine by me -- CBS, ABC, NBC, etc. have no God-given right to TV superiority. But the networks are simply responding to their crumbling economic foundation by finding new (if not so great) ways to stay alive.
Washington, DC: A couple of weeks ago when the Beatles re-releases came out, you referred to a Tom Wolfe article where George Martin talked about Phil Spector's over-production of "Let It Be." I haven't been able to find the article. Do you know where or when it was published?
Paul Farhi: I think--not sure here--that it is collected in a book (you remember books, yes?) called "The New Journalism." If it isn't, it's in one or another of Wolfe's other collected works.
Hyattsville, Md.: Well, for me CBS has already gone away. I do not have cable. I got one of the converter boxes and a new antenna for my TV and I still cannot get CBS on my set.
Paul Farhi: I wonder how many people are still having this problem. You have to think that a small but significant chunk of the audience has just disappeared.
Rockville: CBS was listed as one of the top ten companies facing bankruptcy. "CBS?"
Paul Farhi: I saw that list on Yahoo.com this morning (not sure where it came from; some business magazine or web site). I'm not surprised about CBS; it is, of course, in the very mass-media business that Garfield is talking about. The more upsetting company on that list was Macy's, which seems to be singlehandedly keeping many newspapers alive. But Macy's has the same problem as CBS; no one wants one-size-fits-all anymore.
Conspiracy Theorists: Before the official transition to digital, we got lots of channels with our new tv and antenna. Now that it's a few months later, we feel like we've lost 1/3 of the channels! We don't get our local CBS (but do get a neighboring city's) and we don't get ABC!
My spouse is convinced the networks reduced the power of the signals and it's a conspiracy to make us get cable. Your thoughts?
Paul Farhi: Huh? That's a wacky theory. Why would the networks want to drive people AWAY? Yes, the major networks all have investments in cable (NBC: MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Weather Chan., etc.) but their broadcast networks are still the largest revenue-generating business (not so sure about profit-generating, however).
Plus, the networks own groups of local TV stations around the country. Driving people to cable would be a Plaxico Burress move (topicality alert!).
"the unfunniest, thing I've ever seen on an awards show": Uma, Oprah. Oprah, Uma.
Paul Farhi: Oh, please, no. I maintain to this day, and will to my dying day unless proven wrong with scientific experiments, that Uma-Oprah-Keanu was funny. David Letterman, we salute you!
Southern Maryland: If the traditional networks do disappear, or morph into cable channels, what will happen to local TV stations? Will they dry up without network programming to attract viewers and advertisers? As much as I detest TV news, such stations are important sources of local information during weather emergencies.
Remember when UHF was the ghetto of the TV dial? Before the advent of second-tier networks like UPN and WB, commercial prime time on UHF was dominated by old movies and syndicated reruns. Imagine stations like 4 and 7 devolving into 1980s versions of 20 and 50.
Paul Farhi: You've hit on a major part of the problem, So. Md. (if it's not too rude to abbreviate your locale). Local stations are very much caught in this crossfire. They've counted on their networks to bring them new, original programs every fall. And the networks are having trouble doing that (check out Saturday night). I think they will fail sooner than the networks; some group owners are close to bankruptcy right now. As to who replaces them, the answer may be no one. Broadcasting is a very tough business right now. Not clear how it gets better.
Harrisburg, Pa.: "Family Guy" clip -- exceptionally unfunny, and even worse, supremely lazy. It was a clip from a couple of seasons ago, with just the audio changed for the Emmy's ("Where's my money, man" became "Where's my Emmy, man"). But hey, the joke's on us: 3 out of the 4 Fox Sunday slots are McFarlane shows. Yay....
Paul Farhi: I've never gotten the cult of MacFarlane. Am I too old, or do I just have taste?
Baltimore: I think, borrow from Mark Twain, that the reports of the death of network TV are greatly exaggerated. Compare the ratings of "CSI" or "Two and a Half Men" against those of a cable produced critical darling such as "Mad Men." I happen to love "Mad Men," but "CSI" gets about 5 times the average weekly viewership.
What I think we will see (and are seeing already) is the end of the traditional TV season and of the 22 show order. Cable series such as "Burn Notice" have been successful doing 12 show orders and airing from late Spring into Summer. I am betting the networks will follow that model soon.
Paul Farhi: Yes, but that "model" is a recipe for continued decline. What do the networks put on when they don't have original shows (or re-runs of originals)? A 12-episode series, a la cable, works on cable, which can get by heavy repetition and smaller audiences (cable networks have TWO income streams--ads and license fees from cable operators; broadcasters only have advertising). With the networks, the limited run would a) drive down audiences to smaller levelsl and thus b) drive down ad prices. They'd really be cooked.
Anacostia : A related question (I hope)on the decline of broadcast television. Last January the NBC-owned station WRC cancelled George Michaels' highly rated Redskins show. As he noted that they would rather spend nothing and try to make a dollar instead of spending a dollar to make five. Was Michaels able to get a gig at another local station or somewhere else on TV, or did he become a relic of a bygone age?
Paul Farhi: No gig for George. I guess his old show was relatively expensive, mainly because he and his supporting crew (Riggins, Wilbon, Sonny, Kornheiser, whomever) didn't work for free. And everyone, it seems, is reluctant to take on even moderate expenses these days...
Oprah, U-MA: That was the day Letterman's comedy died. It was a funny bit, but since then, he's played it safe. Too safe, really -- he could have actually asked some tough questions of the President (though Obama's mention that he was black before being president was by far the best laugh of the night). Having heart problems would sideline any comedian, but Krusty really is turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy- the older he gets, the less funny and more hack-y he becomes.
Paul Farhi: Granted, Letterman doesn't have the energy he once had and the show doesn't have the wild creativity of yore. But I still find it watchable. Conan, too. (I didn't expect fireworks from Obama last night, by the way).
Re: Conspiracy Theorists: Have you rescanned the channels since the digital conversion took place? If not, that might be at least part of the problem.
Paul Farhi: Yes, that would help...
Cult of McFarlane: You just have taste. I'm 26, and I've never found his shows funny. South Park even had a pretty good episode about FG's terminal unfunniness once - they theorized that there were no writers on FG, just manatees selecting beach balls with "shocking" and "edgy" topic keywords written on them out of a basket.
Paul Farhi: Yes, I think I remember that! Plus, the let's-be-shocking-for-shocking's-sake attitude of the show just seems juvenile. (Wait, I LIKE juvenile; let's just say it isn't funny).
Ashland, Mo.: Has the effect of disaggregation been fully realized by commentators? There is frequently comment about how "everyone" knows or has seen something when few have. How many people ever saw "The Sopranos" or "Mad Men" or the network evening news or the Sunday talk shows or "The Daily Show"? A small percentage of the population, but apparently a large part of the commentators. This frequently distorts reality.
Paul Farhi: "Viral" is a strange phenomenon, isn't it? I like to keep up, but it's impossible. How many times have you come across something six months after it came and went and discover that it got 432 million views on YouTube? You feel so hopelessly out of it. On the other hand, these days, you CAN find something six months later. Unlike the olden days, when if you didn't see something the moment it happened, you don't have to see it in real time now.
Philadelphia: Did you see CBS on a list of ten large companies most in danger of financial failure? I presume it will survive somehow. Yet, it would be interesting to ponder: what might happen if CBS suddenly went off the air? Where would its audience go?
Paul Farhi: Its audience would go where its audience is going now. To cable. To the internet. To video games. To a million billion places. CBS going down--and I'm not saying that such a thing will happen any time soon--would be something like the Titanic going down: A big sinking, but it's happened before and since and will again in the future. It's the nature of boats, and networks.
Local Stations: Don't laugh, Paul, but the endgame of this recent broadcast trouble (both radio and TV) may be ... ... Local Ownership.
Most of the financial problems the broadcast groups are having have very little to do with station operations. Stations could still be profitable if they hadn't been consolidated into groups using massive amounts of borrowed capital.
Once the Clear Channels and Sinclairs and their ilk have to go through reorganization and/or liquidation, you may see a return to the early days of broadcasting, where local operators buy back the licenses.
Paul Farhi: Interesting notion. Possibly, yes, though local ownership wouldn't solve the inherent cost/economic problems that are menacing the media now. But let's note a parallel: Newspapers that have very little debt (or are owned by corporations with little debt) are in far, far better shape than those with big IOUs on their books (hello, Tribune Co.). Station owners with clean balance sheets will ride out the current troubles better and longer than the indebted types. But they won't ride forever.
Arlington, Va.: I get the feeling the people complaining about The Family Guy clips at the Emmys have never actually watched the show. It is full of absurd violence. Besides beating Brian (several times), Stewie has shot his mother with automatic weapons and had his fire returned by her. He and Brian (the dog) have killed another dog in a mob-style hit. Peter (the father) has violently battled a giant rooster. Meg (the daughter) is the constant butt of humiliating put-downs by the entire family and every other character on the show. They definitely cross all sorts of lines on a regular basis. I am a reasonably well-adjusted person who finds the show often hilarious and appalling at the same time. It's a CARTOON people!
Paul Farhi: Sure, it's supposed to be absurd and other the top. We get that. But it's JUST absurd and over the top. Where's the funny at?
The Airless Cubicle: Paul, your reader from Southern Maryland is right. Local stations as we know them are doomed to fail; that doesn't mean that they will go off the air. They will change.
I find it illuminating that when the British discuss American networks, they refer to them as "stations." We refer to what we saw on CBS or Fox, though we may use the channel numbers for local reference. The networks provide free broadcasting for affiliates, and sell some of the ad time.
This was the old network radio model, and television killed network radio as a source of entertainment. "Johnny Dollar" and "Gunsmoke" were the last two big radio syndicated series, and they were off radio by 1961. CBS Radio morphed into a news provider (the "World News Roundup" at 8 a.m. is the heir of the Ed Murrow program that started in 1938 over the Munich crisis) and station owner, but they didn't provide entertainment.
NBC's stripping of Jay Leno may be the beginning of the end of the concept of one network providing a variety of programs for its affiliates. In ten years, syndication is going to be the model for all television programming.
Syndication is not necessarily an inferior model. Some of the best programming in the 1980s was syndicated drama, such as "Star Trek: Next Generation" or "The Untouchables." (Of course, we had more like "Cleopatra 2025" to make up for this).
However, even syndication will be expensive for many stations. TV costs more to produce than radio at the moment. Eventually we might see that television stations, like American radio stations, adopt a certain format. One might be a sports talk TV station (gack!) one might be a telenovela station, one a crime program station...
In 10 years, broadcast TV will be just like cable, including the Shamwow commercials.
In 20 years, broadcast TV stations, like AM radio stations now, will leave the air because it's too expensive to broadcast programming.
I hope that my prediction of "Things to Come" is as well-intentioned and as off-base as the H.G. Wells version of 1938. However, maybe Raymond Massey's avatar will speak these prophetic words from the mouth of the Cubicle:
"Prophets are without honor in their own country for a very good reason. They claim to have the spark of divination - it turns out to be indigestion instead, or the wild fantasies of a child who hope Christmas would bring the cool stuff instead of socks and underwear.
"The future will come at the rate of one second per second, whether we want it to or not, and it will be totally unexpected.
"I have seen the future -- and it is wrong!"
Paul Farhi: Thanks, AC. But syndication is the new model? Syndication? That's a grab-bag of unpredictable, uneven and uncertain programming. Some of it's good, and lots of it stinks. Bottom line: No station can guarantee the same supply of quality shows that the network now (or used to) produce. It's dicey.
Re: It's a CARTOON People: But it was nominated for an Emmy! That seems to merit some criticism of it.
Paul Farhi: Roger that.
Family Guy clip: It was really bad, that's true. But normally the show itself is really funny and insightful. Just sharing.
Paul Farhi: Insightful? Okay, now we're into silk purse/sow's ear territory...
Conspiracy theories: And what are those little red boxes at the start of some shows?
Paul Farhi: Not sure what you're referring to. Have I missed a perfectly good opportunity to be paranoid?
Arlington, Va.: Paul -
The problem with the demise of network tv is completely analogous to the problems facing print media. My question, to which no one has an answer:
Where will the content come from to populate all the "free" sites (hulu.com, etc.)? I mean, what do people expect? Quality shows to be created for cheap/free?
Okay, don't throw "Dr Horrible" up at me -- that wasn't free, per se, and I don't think it could have been sustained over the long haul.
Paul Farhi: The network owners of Hulu (and other free TV-show sites) have all kinds of justifications for them (it controls piracy, it's another revenue stream, it's exposes new viewers to shows they haven't seen, and besides, it's the future, etc.) but I still don't get it. Did the TV conglomerates learn nothing from the music and news businesses? Giving your expensive product away online is not a path to riches and world domination.
Silver Spring: Um... the Family Guy is crude comedy, but you do know it is also a parody showcase, right?
Paul Farhi: Yes. I know this by all the "hip" pop-culture/news references that are shoehorned into the scripts every 6.7 seconds.
Family Guy: Okay, I'm almost fifty (holy moley!), and when we're through with the news, we switch over to the formerly amusing Letterman. When he repeats a joke from the same week or says something trite about Bush (usually about 11:38), we switch over to the Family Guy for ten seconds. If the hilariously twisted Stewie is onscreen, we stick with it until he's not. If Stewie's not onscreen, the show is pointless and stupid.
Paul Farhi: When did Letterman get the rep as a Republican basher/Dem lover? Of COURSE he bashed Bush; that's what late-night comics do (make fun of whoever is president). But I'm just not ready to buy into Sarah Palin's parenthetical point about Letterman--that he hates conservatives--though apparently, a lot of people are.
Chantilly, Va.: Paul: some random thoughts:
1. I am from Rhode Island, and I lost interest in Family Guy very quickly. (And I'm a big Simpsons fan). Just not funny. Even the Rhode Island jokes.
2. The DVR is indeed killing the 30-second commercial. When my 5 year old twins watch an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, for example, they almost always hand me the remote and say, "Can you please fast forward through the commercials?"
Kids watching commercials used to be the primary impetus for the purchase of crummy toys, crappy breakfast cereals, etc. Now how will the manufacturers get us parents to buy this garbage?
3. Mad Men: Did you ever think a guy getting his foot mangled by a riding lawn mower could be funny? Well I'm here to report that it can be really funny!
Paul Farhi: Wow! When five-year-olds can't stand commercials any more, we are all in trouble. Me, I couldn't imagine childhood without crappy commercials, crappy toys and crappy breakfast cereals. Please, please, I beg of you: Let the kids have commercials. Someday, they will thank you.
Arlington, Va.: I noticed recently that the Pittsburgh Post Gazette started a "PG Plus" section of their online paper that has additional content, chats, blogs, etc. that is not on the main site but that you have to subscribe to.
I hope it's successful and wish the Post would move to a model like this because I would totally pay to have access to chats, blogs, and other content outside of the print edition instead of having them eliminate columns/chats and lay columnists off to stay afloat.
Paul Farhi: We (and by "we" I mean the newspaper industry, not necessarily The Post, but probably The Post at some point, too) are moving in that direction, yes. I have doubts about whether/if it will work, or how well it will work, but we have to try it.
"Syndication? That's a grab-bag of unpredictable, uneven and uncertain programming. Some of it's good, and lots of it stinks. ": Hello, I'm Television. Have we met?
Paul Farhi: Haha! As they say in France, too-shay!
Arlington, Va.: Since when does an Emmy nomination automatically signify actual quality?
Paul Farhi: Yep. They give Emmys to the best reality-show host, for cryingoutloud. Really. The best reality-show host.
New York: The thing about Family Guy is that (remember how they changed the cast after season one of "Charles in Charge"?) is that it (by the way, what ever happened to the guys who sang "Breakfast at Tiffany's"?) doesn't stoop (I wonder what the show Riptide would have been like if Donald Rumsfeld were in it!) to cheap jokes (who was your favorite member of The New Monkees?) in lieu of actual (Herb from Burger King in a tiara - just sayin') jokes or plot.
Paul Farhi: Perfect, New York!
Arlington, Va.: Technology is changing and that affects the economy and viability of a business. In the 1980s, there was no ceiling for AOL and then the Internet made it virtually obsolete. The same is true of Blockbuster, which ruled the '90s and has been replaced by cable and Netflix. In the 1940s, people thought that radio would be killed by TV but it repositioned itself as something else and survived. Change comes and possibly better things come with it.
Paul Farhi: This is a reasonable view. New communications technologies tend to diminish old technologies but don't always replace them. The only major communication technology that has really disappeared in the past 150 years is the telegraph and carrier pigeons.
Arlington: Family Guy, like many things, used to be funny, and used to be about, um, family. The really early episodes are more about the lighter side of struggling to make it all work. The past 2 seasons have just become perverted and awkward.
Paul Farhi: Perhaps Fox should reserve a half hour for "Classic" Family Guy...
CBS Monday of comedies: What did you think of the 4 back-to-back comedies on CBS last night? I thought they flowed pretty well together.
Paul Farhi: I've tried to watch the CBS Monday sitcom bloc before, because it's the most successful on TV. Really I've tried. But there's something I can't get past, and this has nothing to do with the writing, acting, or would-be comedy: It's the laugh track, or the audio of the audience laughing. It seems so phony, so hyped. It comes when nothing really funny is being said. It just kills my enjoyment of the shows themselves.
Also a Family Guy/Letterman bi-tasker: And over 50, too. Still think Letterman is better than Conan, but he has got to stop recycling the same political/celebrity gags. He's sounding like Bob Hope when comics like Letterman were making fun of Bob Hope.
That's the problem with the trite items on Bush - I hate Bush - it's the age of the items. At least it's been a week since I heard a Bill Clinton joke.
Paul Farhi: I agree--I can't stand another Bill Clinton-womanizer joke. Those were daring and funny in 1998. It is not 1998 any more.
Albany, NY: "Paul Farhi: Did the TV conglomerates learn nothing from the music and news businesses? Giving your expensive product away online is not a path to riches and world domination."
Wrong lesson, Paul. "Giving away your expensive product" is how MLB interpreted the idea of broadcast television, but the NFL saw broadcast as an opportunity to increase viewership. The NFL figured out that their revenue stream did not depend on a single source (i.e. game tickets) but from several (merchandise, video, licensed products, etc.), and agreeing to broadcast games led to the expansion of ancillary revenue streams.
The music industry has one stream (manufactured prerecorded music) and the newspaper industry has two (subscribers and advertisers), both of which depended on exclusivity. When the Internet took away the exclusivity, the music and news businesses didn't have a backup plan in place.
I admit I don't have the answer -- I don't foresee a line of Washington Post jerseys -- but let's not lose sight of the real lesson.
Paul Farhi: But no one is better at squeezing maximum streams of revenue from its "product" than the NFL. The NFL gives away nothing. Instead, it has brilliantly created multiple "windows" of access--free broadcast, yes, but also basic cable, pay cable and satellite TV. All the other leagues have tried to follow this, with varying degrees of success (no sport is as popular as pro football).
Let the kids have commercials. Someday, they will thank you. : We spent many late nights in college saying stuff like, hey you remember the one that goes "my mom is the one with the wrinkly pantyhose." Strong friendships were built over those memories.
Paul Farhi: Exactoprecisely.
Arlington, VA: I really have to believe that you have never watched the Family Guy or given it a fair chance. It is extremely funny and probably one of the funniest shows on tv today. But everyone has their own opinion.
Paul Farhi: Yes. And I'm sticking with mine.
"...that's what late-night comics do (make fun of whoever is president)...": Exactly right, in theory. And Dave's next Obama joke will be his first. You telling me there's NOTHING funny about The Chosen One?
Say what you want about Leno being a hack, but he's at least smart enough to know that you can tell jokes about anyone--and that pissing off half your potential audience is ill-advised, for anyone.
Paul Farhi: All the late-night hosts, including Letterman, are smart enough to know that you can't alienate a large part of your audience by being perceived as partisan. If you do, you become Dennis Miller, who disasterously became a "political" (i.e., conservative) comedian. And Letterman hasn't told jokes about Obama? You need to watch more often.
Richmond, Va.: Geez people, why so much puzzlement and scorn? One man's Family Guy is another man's Fawlty Towers. What makes one person laugh uproariously is met with stony silence by someone else. Just because you don't get it doesn't mean it is automatically stupid. Let's have some perspective.
Paul Farhi: You want to know something? My failure to appreciate "Family Guy" secretly makes me feel old. I mean, the kids love it, so why can't I? But I don't and I can't. This way lies geezerdom...
moving in that direction: Will we have to pay to access this chat? Some of us are addicted.
washingtonpost.com: I will accept donations?
Paul Farhi: Thanks, but I sincerely doubt anyone would consider this "premium content."
Indianapolis: I wonder if many people realize that the "Family Guy" clip from the Emmys was supposed to be an homage of sorts to "The Sopranos" -- the kind of show that wins boatloads of Emmys.
I don't know if it was intended to be funny; I think they were trying to say that "Family Guy" would have to morph into "The Sopranos" to win an Emmy.
Paul Farhi: I think that's a stretch, Indy, but let's try taking it at face value. If that were the case, wouldn't context be everything? "The Sopranos" never had beat-down scenes for no reason; they were the climax of some story arc in which the beatings were payback for something or other. So, if you drop a scene like the "FG" thing on 15 or 17 million unsuspecting viewers, what's the context for it? Answer: There ain't none. It just looks gratuitous.
Letterman's politics: As a liberal (not a Democrat)I think Letterman has been fairly up front about his politics. Without actually coming out and saying that he's a liberal he's clearly sided with liberal views and candidates far more than conservative one's.
His attitude seems to have become more explicit since his child was born and his brand of liberalism seems to be the populist, common sense sort fairly endemic in the midwest. For a period in the early part of this millennium it seemed that Leno and Letterman had staked out opposing ground politically. To his credit, Letterman didn't morph to pander to his audience the way Leno seems to have done.
Paul Farhi: I must have missed Dave's I-am-a-liberal editorials; I've never really seen clear evidence of his politics. And I'm wary of conservatives (and conservative politicians) who want to create a Dan Rather vibe around him.
Family Guy: "It is full of absurd violence. Besides beating Brian (several times), Stewie has shot his mother with automatic weapons and had his fire returned by her. He and Brian (the dog) have killed another dog in a mob-style hit. Peter (the father) has violently battled a giant rooster. Meg (the daughter) is the constant butt of humiliating put-downs by the entire family and every other character on the show."
BUT WHY IS THIS FUNNY?
Paul Farhi: What you just said.
"Inside specially marked packages!": Do they still say that in kids cereal commercials?
Paul Farhi: You see how our culture has been enriched? You see?
Family Guy: It's as if the writers forgot to take their Ritalin. The show is all over the place: Opener Setup Pop reference Pop reference Grossout Conflict Pop reference and/or grossout Denouement
Paul Farhi: And this kind of vibe, I suspect, is a major part of the reason it is so beloved by the people who belove it. Style over substance. Nothing wrong with style, but substance is nice, too.
Hulu has spots!: And they're selling for reasonable CPM's, especially compared to eyeballs those programs would never have reached.
Plus, the spots are unavoidable when you're watching on your laptop (unless, of course, you, um, go to another window).
Paul Farhi: [CPMs: Cost per thousand viewers, a standard measure for comparing ad costs across different media. Thank you. We now return to our regular chat].
But the eventual effect of the Hulus, etc. is to destroy the mass audience (and the advertising that used to come with it) that watches it during its formerly exclusive window on the broadcast network. And the broadcast network can charge far more for advertising than the Hulu repeat; the network can also cram far more spots on the show, too.
Dave's Liberalism: It's okay, but it's boring. Mostly, he's become lazy, repeating the same jokes night after night. And if your entire worldview is shaped by being in NYC and New Canaan, you probably don't know anyone who isn't liberal too. Remember Imus, having to blow the dust off the Republican primary voting machine on the upper west side?
FYI: Dennis Miller has a daily radio show, syndicated by Westwood One into 200+ stations. Sounds disastrous...
Paul Farhi: Well, boring is another issue entirely. And if Dave has become boring--I'm not saying he has, but IF he has--it has little to do with his politics. As for Miller: Talk radio is the perfect medium for him; he will appeal to a narrow segment of partisans. Not a formula for bigtime success, by definition.
Leno is conservative?: Really? I thought he was a liberal.
Paul Farhi: I can't tell either way.
gaithersburg, md: The way you feel about Family Guy is how I am about 30 Rock. I've tried and tried and tried and just don't find it funny at all. I love fresh comedies that don't fit the norm (Arrested Development, Flight of the Conchords, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc.), so it's not like I don't "get" it. I just don't like it.
Paul Farhi: To each his/her/its own...And speaking of "Curb," did you catch the season debut on Sunday? Appallingly bad. Shark-jumping almost (but you can't really shark-jump after just one ep, can you?).
Baltimore: Question re the Post: Why does your employer not offer home delivery in Baltimore City? I could get it when I lived in Howard County and could get the NY Times home delivered in Baltimore, but not the Post. With what the Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun has devolved to, the Post could have owned two large Metro markets if it had had the gumption.
Paul Farhi: Home delivery is a loss leader for newspapers; no one makes money on subscription fees alone. Delivering a newspaper far outside a "core" area is even more of a loss leader. It's expensive and doesn't necessarily translate into more advertising. This is why newspapers have cut back on "out-of-market" circulation in recent years (in fact, I would bet that a huge percentage of newspaper circulation losses has been a result of this). The New York Times is a different animal; it has printing plants all over the country and delivers nationwide. It's not a local paper, per se.
Male cougar counterpart?: Mr. Farhi, is there a male counterpart for the term "cougar"? Or do we have a double standard as lots of old men think their arm candy is about them...
Paul Farhi: See my colleagues Monica Hesse and Ellen McCarthy's take on this in the Style sector today. Their point (among others) is that the term is inherently sexist.
Alexandria, Va.: Whatever reason causes networks to cancel shows like "Smith" after a few episodes is why they are failing and good riddance. Caught the replay recently of the 1st and only season on DirecTV's 101 channel and it was fantastic. Like a miniseries version of the movie "Heat" with Ray Liotta, Amy Smart, Virginia Madsen, Simon Baker, etc. Extremely well written and acted.
A show like that can only fail if the audience is too dumb to appreciate it or if it's the case that a network doesn't want to spend a dollar to make 5 dollars and would rather spend nothing.
Paul Farhi: But the audience didn't respond to it. And the network (CBS) didn't want to spend a dollar to LOSE five dollars as a result. Hence, it was cancelled.
Wheaton, Md.: Yes, I miss the "old" networks, along with scripted dramas and comedies that any 10-year-old could watch. Give me "Mannix" and "Honey West" anytime. Will the only programs on in 5 years be X-rated comedies and reality programs where the contestants die instead of being voted off?
Paul Farhi: Not X-rated (advertisers don't really approve of that), but yes.
Navy Yard: It's an insult that "Family Guy" was nominated, when neither "The Simpsons" or "South Park" have been.
"Family Guy" has never produced any episodes that have attained that "cultural touchstone" status. But I can rattle off a whole slew of "Simpsons" and "South Park" episodes that the majority of us would go "Oh yeah! I know that one!" "Family Guy" is just the same recycled trash each week, every episode is the same as the last, none of it funny, none of it relevant, and none of it of any lasting impact.
Paul Farhi: Excellent point, and casts further doubt on the value of Emmy nominations. And nothing for "King of the Hill"?
Reston, Va.: It's interesting to me that people are putting up these walls between broadcast and cable TV channels. Aren't they all integrated in a tangled twist of monopolistic parent companies?
Paul Farhi: Yes. There are very few "independent" cable channels, and almost none of any real consequence. But the networks are still very important enterprises to the congloms. The networks are the distribution engine for most of the shows that the conglom's studio churn out. And they're still where the biggest hits (i.e., potential moneymakers) reside.
Silver Spring: Thank you so much for expressing the sentiment of discomfort and squeamishness that the Family Guy clip created - I said to my husband that I could almost sense the awkwardness and "Do I laugh" anxiety and weird facial expressions that people were probably exhibiting. I for one like the show but was glad it didn't win - what an insult to The Simpsons...
Paul Farhi: And did I mention "King of the Hill"?
Enough of this jibber-jabber: Did your lawn get fixed?
Paul Farhi: I have to say, Verizon's people did an adequate job reseeding the grass, but they fell down on the pansy replacement. They must pay!!!
family guy video: it was horrific! Whose idea was that? I've never seen the show and nothing about the commercials have ever enticed me to turn it on. Now I know why.
Cable, broadcast, satellite -- the delivery method doesn't matter. Poor taste and a lack of class are what's killing the medium.
Paul Farhi: Well, no, not really. I would say that taste has little to do with it. As I said before, there are just more competitive forces at work. Same with newspapers. We produce a fine product every day. But there are many, many places to get information now.
State College, Pa.: Network TV USED to have good, even great shows. But they got into the habit of yanking them around the schedule, and then saying they didn't have an audience (because the audience could never FIND the show), and then canceling them. ("Firefly," anyone?) The networks all deserve to swirl down the drain. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
Paul Farhi: Sure, that doesn't help matters, if you can't find your favorite show, though I wonder if those schedule changes actually have a net positive effect on the network's viewership. In other words, mixing up the schedule isn't good for you, but it is good for the network as a whole.
Anonymous: Simply give the spectrum allocations back to the people. Seems that before the Radio Acts et sequelae all advances in communication was in the hands of so-called hams driven to the Siberias of the EMF spectrum. To wit: HF & VHF communication, FM modulation, early TV & Fax Communication, etc. Keep the greedy hands of the cell phone interests out of the spectra and open it up to a new generation of hams. As S.F.B.Morse paraphrased: "What will Man fashion?
Paul Farhi: I'm all for power to the people. But I'm just not confident that the people will produce much worth watching. I worry that there will be a lot of shows like "Wayne's World," only not as funny and with fewer guest appearances by Aerosmith.
Paul Farhi: Folks, the refs just blew the whistle; we're out of injury time and we must leave "the pitch" (strained soccer metaphor, for some reason). Thanks for all the questions this week. There's more where this came from. In fact, I'm thinking about doing it all over again at the same time next week. You? Would love it if you could make it. Snacks are on me. Until then, as always, regards to all...Paul.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.