Sunday, March 12, 2006

Media thoughts: Runway, podcasts, and process

I like to think that I have a good balance in my life between watching and listening to popular media (movies, recordings, television, radio, webcasts) and more historical cultural artforms. By day I'm working with historic recordings primarily of classical music, and at other times I'm consuming some popular stuff, in addition to performing with a chorus, going to concerts and plays, and writing program notes for various arts organizations around town. One of my recent favorites has been Project Runway, a reality show on Bravo. It's become one of my favorite television shows, in fact it has been appointment viewing for me on Wednesday evenings--at least until last week which was the season finale.

Regular viewers often feel a void when a season or a series ends. I've felt it with some of the best shows: L.A. Law, The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties, Seinfeld, and soon The West Wing. I'm sure television executives have wondered at the end of each season how they are going to sustain interest until the next season. Well, Bravo is using various tricks to sustain interest, such as blogs (more of Tim Gunn), and other weekly content. Why would they bother to do this? Primarily to keep interest high in these properties, I suspect. Why can't orchestras or theaters do this though? If the supply of concerts or shows is limited, then people will move on to something else after the season is done. Alex Ross, Drew McManus and Greg Sandow's blogs about how the way arts are presented need to change. I think so too.

One of the reasons that I think reality shows are so successful are that they are perceived to have more interactivity with the public than sitcoms or dramas. Letting viewers get involved through blogs, comments, and other activities encourages greater buy-in to your product. They want to "make it work" for you. In fact, the R&D for the new show Viral Videos (Bravo) is almost all user-driven. People can contribute their favorite clips, which are then edited to make a modern day America's Funniest Home Videos. The result comes out more like I Love the 80s than People Say the Darndest Things. Make no mistake though, these shows still reflect a producer's viewpoint.

Back to Runway...I love watching process. I enjoy watching and learning about how people do things I would never have thought of doing, be it fashion, hairstyling (Blowout), or directing a movie (Project Greenlight). And thanks to some of the programs on other networks, like the Food Network or the Learning Channel, I think the improvement shows in how I present myself or live my life. It was from watching the extra commentaries and behind-the-scenes features on the Lord of the Rings discs that probably inspired me to learn more about technology and how productions are created. And to be honest, it's made me more critical as a consumer of media. Much like a historian, I'm now constantly asking what aren't we seeing? Tim Gunn's podcasts have been a particular education on how fashion is made, marketed, and merchandised. I am particularly happy about how well Chloe and Daniel V. did this season in showing a remarkable maturity and professionalism that I like to think I bring to my own work.

Here's a book that I recommend anyone who is interested in media studies or popular culture read. It is by Fresh Air television commentator David Bianculli (pronounced Bee-in-Cooly).

Bianculli, David. Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously. New York: Touchstone Books, c1992. ISBN: 0671882384. 304 pp. Includes extensive bibliography.


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