In the past, it has been widely thought (by me) that television programs are crap, a poor man's retarded stepchild, lowlier than even the dumbest of films, filled with cliched characters, hackneyed dialogue, and idiotic sitcoms (the phrase "idiot box" comes from somewhere, people).
I haven't regularly watched many, if any, television shows in years. They simply weren't worth the time or effort. Either I had class or I was working, or the shows just plain sucked, and remembering to set the VCR week in and week out, feh.
But lately (this season), I've found myself getting drawn into more and more programs, most of which seem to have one of three unifying elements. I mentioned this to my friend Ryan a week or two ago, and it's not entirely clear in my head yet, and I'm not going to type out a list, but I want to get it written down before my mind wanders onto something more important.
Thanks to the magic that is the internets, I have been watching a greater number of weekly shows this season than ever before (at least, since I was a wee young'in when I had nothing else to do). Downloading last night's episode of My Name is Earl, for example, is great. I can start the download, leave for class, and when I get back, it'll be nearly finished. And once the episode is downloaded, I can watch it whenever I want. It's like TiVo, only, you know, free.
To say that I'm a bit of a creator geek would be an understatement. I don't necessarily care what a show (or a movie, or a comic book, or a novel) is about, only who wrote it/produced it/directed it/etc. I follow certain creative minds because I've liked their work in the past, and I know that what I'll be watching/reading will be of a certain level of quality, something that will appeal to me on an aesthetic level. Basically, I knows what I likes.
And, quite conincidentally, or perhaps not, the majority of shows that I like, that I make an effort to watch, either on the actual TV or on my computer, are created by a relatively small group of people with similar backgrounds. A lot of them seem to have started out in Hollywood working on one of three shows, either producing or writing: Star Trek: The Next Generation, The X-Files, and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (or Angel, which I sort of lump in there with Buffy).
These are all genre (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) shows, which truly illuminates how big of a geek I am, but there is a certain pedigree that is associated with these shows that has carried over into quite a few relatively recent hits. You can trace the family trees of each one of these shows (which I cursorily did via the ever-wonderful IMDb), of the staff writers and key producers, and you will begin to notice a pattern. (Or, least, I did, because these are the types of things I think about.)
Creators from those three shows have gone on to make some of the best shows on television, even if some of them didn't last very long. What follows is but a very brief listing of some of the shows I've enjoyed (and some I, to be honest, have never seen, but others seem to enjoy) and their connections to the Big Three (for lack of a better term):
Firefly, from, obviously, Joss Whedon, but a lesser-known name was also responsible for this gem. Tim Minear, who joined Whedon as a producer on Angel is listed as a co-creator of Firefly. Since that show's cancellation, he went on to create Wonderfalls and The Inside, both for Fox, who promptly gave both shows the Firefly treatment (crappy time slots and not promoting them worth a damn, which equals cancellation around episode ten, if not sooner). Minear was also a story editor during the fifth season of The X-Files, which I'll get to in a moment.
Other alumi of Whedon's shows include David Fury, who worked on both Buffy and Angel before moving on to Minear's The Inside, Lost and, most recently, 24; Marti Noxon, who created Point Pleasant (also scrapped after about six episodes) and now consults on Prison Break; Howard Gordon, executive producer of 24 and co-creator of The Inside (Gordon was also a writer for three seasons of The X-Files); Jane Espenson, who was a producer on both Tru Calling and The Inside; Steven DeKnight, who was a writer on Buffy before becoming a producer of Angel and then Smallville, and on and on and on. I could do this all day.
Suffice it to say that this industry is quite incestuous.
Looking at The X-Files, while creator Chris Carter hasn't done much lately, a few of his protege's have been busy. The aforementioned Minear and Gordon, as well as John Shiban, whose new show, Supernatural, recently got picked up for a full season by the WB.
Going back to the earliest show on my list, Star Trek: The Next Generation, the most well-known of the bunch would probably be Rob Bowman, who became a key player on The X-Files, and has since mostly done films (Elektra, anyone?), and Ron Moore, who was instrumental in getting the new Battlestar Galactica on the air.
Various other writers from these main three shows have gone on to write for The O.C. as well as newer shows like Threshold and the reboot of Nightstalker.
Why am I babbling about all this? Hell if I know. I just noticed, and found interesting, that a great majority of shows I watch can be traced back to one or two of my favorite programs from years past. Of course, there are other shows which don't fit any of this criteria, such as Grey's Anatomy (best hospital show since the early years of er), My Name is Earl (c'mon, it's Jason Lee!), Bones (still not sure about this one, but David Boreanaz makes me laugh), Numb3rs (Ridley and Tony Scott), and, of course, The Simpsons, and Family Guy and American Dad (both Seth Macfarlane).
Oh, and House, which is from Bryan Singer, and is also executive produced by Paul Attanasio, who created my number one favorite show ever, Homicide: Life on the Street.
Anyway, these are the shows that are able to hold my attention these days. Thank god for BitTorrent, because if I had to actually watch all this stuff when the networks wanted me to, well, it just wouldn't happen. I'd be lucky enough to catch one or two of the shows I really wanted to watch. The rest would just fall by the wayside.
Like I said, Hollywood is quite the incestuous town, and I wouldn't be surprised if, four or five years down the line, I was paying attention to a new crop of shows whose creators can trace themselves back to Grey's Anatomy or Supernatural. Not to mention poor Tim Minear, and whatever show he's working on at the time that will get cancelled by episode six.
So...what crappy TV shows are you watching right now?