America’s dumbest time to watch.

Saturday, January 15th, 2000

I dunno. Maybe I shouldn’t sit down to write at 3 am with the TV more-or-less on. WATL is offering ("please, enjoy this with our compliments") America’s Dumbest Criminals, a show I actually (oh, why am I admitting this?) enjoyed watching a few years ago when it had no budget at all. It was cheesy, raucous, and cut together rapid-fire without an ounce of fluff—because they couldn’t afford any. It was, in other words, exactly the show it should have been, no more, no less. But now…they’ve clearly made some money on syndication rights—so this season it has "better" music, an audience, an augmented fake laugh track, and better clothes and a haircut for the host—and a perky co-host to boot. They have, of course, ruined it.
Folks have to learn not to add excess to success. Take wrestling. I mean, really. How many people are watching WWF/WCW/NWA Nitro Smackdown Killer Grunt Havoc or whatever the heck it’s called for the fog, varispots, lasers, and Time Tunnel-like sets? Audiences are up, but they’re not there for the overblown production values—they’re watching for the babes and profanity and wanton psuedo-violence—the stuff they miss from the old Jerry Springer. Adding fancy 3d animation and heavy metal hoopla doesn’t really contribute to the essence of what the program is.
I contend that they could shoot the same show with the same wrestlers in the dingy old WTCG studio on Tenth Street (now used by Media One for public access, I think) and have huge audiences—because that is exactly what wrestling is supposed to be. A mildewy old rink set up on Friday nights by two old chain-smoking guys, roll in three beat-up TV cameras, and hire a director who knows how to put a tight shot of a braying wrestler right in your face. "Let me tell you, Gordon Solie…"
Yes, clearly I’m coming off like the old curmudgeon of the television world here, but think about the revised and "improved" versions of Star Trek, Chicago Hope, and of course, Headline News. Sometimes the changes come just because new producers want to make their mark. Sometimes the show doctoring happens because there’s panic over the ratings. But what bothers me is the change that happens just because a program’s makers becomes bored with their own product.
Do we really need the little animated trunk, complete with "dling!" bringing on the prices on the Antiques Road Show? Is our sense of Atlanta’s weather more complete because Glenn Burns insists on whipping us around through the upper atmosphere in 3D?
Even Oprah has suffered from an excess of slickness and production value. You have someone who is a compelling talent—put that person there on a simple stage and let them do their work.
Enough embellishment—from them and me. Here are a couple of tidbits left on my un-rebuilt desktop:
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The CBS 46 promos for their Morning News ("See mornings in a whole new light") are pretty, but perhaps they thought we wouldn’t notice that they’re showing us sunset behind the city skyline—we’re facing west.
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The supporters of WGKA ("Atlanta’s cultural/arts station") are still puzzling over what to do in the wake of the station’s sale. There’s talk of an Internet-only station. On the other hand, the station has sold off much of its record collection a piece at a time to its listeners. I wonder what keeps cultural radio enthusiasts from turning their energies toward WRFG, WABE, or WCLK—public stations, more or less rambunctious, that could use an infusion of volunteer spirit.