TV's Handicaps: Just Something To Get Over
Lift up the hood on the successes on TV and in sports, and you'll see some baggage that should have slowed them down.
Now three Americans have won the Tour de France with less than perfect physical resumes. One won the event twice with gunshot pellets lodged in his body from a hunting accident. Another won seven times in a row after a near-death experience from cancer. Now a third wins with a disintegrating hip.
In that order, we're talking about Greg Lemond, Lance Armstrong, and now Floyd Landis. While they didn't always have life-and-death struggles, (Landis' hip problem doesn't appear to be life-threatening , but could stop his career) their conditions are metaphors for a lot in life--including TV: networks have their own inherent endemic handicaps (albeit not real life and death moments).
A network can survive, but can it achieve championship levels? Fox has reached higher ground over the past two years despite a spotty background of half-baked or even offensive reality shows in the past. CBS hasn't completely gotten there yet--with the impediment of being viewed as your father's network. ABC's quixotic programming past lingers, while now almost shaking off its sometimes micro-managing parent company. NBC has the burden of a decade-long championship streak, as it now tries to recreate some of the past.
When it doesn't look possible, and people call you crazy, you might as well do it anyway. Maybe you try a seemingly stupid pop singing contest ("American Idol"). Maybe you put on a 1950s dancing competition with TV actors ("Dancing with the Stars"). Maybe you try an offbeat, no-laugh-track Brit import ("The Office").
When Floyd Landis decided to go on an attack after some 40 miles of a 120-mile-plus day race, you could hear his fellow cyclers cackling. "He's crazy. He's going to bonk. Not only won't he make it, he'll lose everything."
Instead, Landis did an incredible ride last Thursday--what the French sports daily newspaper L'Equipe calls "Ride of the Century." Not Lemond, not Armstrong, not even the great Eddie Merckx has done such a ride.
The sports and entertainment gods show their hand occasionally. You beat the odds by not considering the odds. You make a TV show that make sense only to you. It debuts to less-than-obvious acclaim. Then all of sudden, other shows just drop off the pace. You gain strength--and catch a second, third, and forth wind.
You make the cover of TV Guide, and then realize during the photo shoot that you've struggled with long-time bouts of dyslexia and writer's block. You then write an even better episode.