“The Online Omnivore”
In general, the Internet has been of tremendous service, and its impact on the television industry is no exception. The advent of YouTube has allowed fans to easily rewatch beloved clips and listen to the music of their favorite shows. Online message forums have made it possible for these enthusiasts to correspond with one another all over the world and share opinions and ideas about their common love on a scale never before imagined, let alone realized. The truly die-hard have even invested their time and talent into the writing of fan fiction, or simply “fanfic”, fictional prose set in the universe of a particular program. All of this, being online, makes the passion of a fan base apparent to everyone, thus increasing a show’s exposure and making it more likely that its audience will grow. It’s hard to argue that this is anything but a great boon.
But perhaps there really can be too much of a good thing, and the once-benevolent Internet now threatens to devour the entire television industry and absorb it completely. Alas, this is no exaggeration. Television shows are increasingly being made available online, not in individual scenes or songs, but as whole episodes to be watched in front of a computer monitor rather than a television screen. There could be no more perfect example than the recent broadcast of the Daytime Emmy Awards, which last week were streamed live over the Internet rather than actually aired on a real network. This marked the first time, ever, that the Emmy’s were not made available via television. It’s a usurpation of TV’s domain unparallelled in history (even television’s rising to prominence over radio can’t compare, as people still listen to the radio), and an unconscionable overstepping of the Internet’s bounds.
And who is driving this slow but inexorable move to the online realm of cyberspace? Primarily the young, and its easy to understand why. Young people are practically married to their computers already, relying mostly on them for their news and passive entertainment. Watching shows online is only natural for them; they do everything else in front of their PC’s, why not this as well? But the inexperience of youth is a poor guide in understanding one of the fundamental, essential lessons of life: There is a place for everything, and everything ought be kept in its place.
In her book “I’m Just Saying”, TV soap star Kim Zimmer (Echo DiSavoy of One Life to Live and Reva Shayne of Guiding Light) touched on this issue when she worried about a Guiding Light special being planned for the benefit of Hurricane Katrina victims, and which would feature the show’s actors speaking directly to the audience. Zimmer was so upset about the plan to air this “episode” on television that she initially refused to be a part of it, rightly observing: “If the episode airs in the Guiding Light time slot, I am no longer Reva Shayne – I’m Kim Zimmer.” But she saw how things changed when the producers modified their plans, and decided instead to make this special an online-only installment. It was amazing: What would have broken the fourth wall on television and threatened “Guiding Light”’s suspension of disbelief, made for a fitting and touching extra for fans (or simply victims of Hurricane Katrina) who cared enough to look it up on the Internet. The problem was solved, and Zimmer withdrew her objection, happily participating in the project.
We do well to learn the lesson Kim teaches us (or perhaps learned for herself): TV and the Internet are not one and the same, and they shouldn’t be interchangeable. What works on one doesn’t necessarily have any place on the other. If we allow these separate and disparate media to merge, we risk losing the unique artistic possibilities inherent in each. Let’s allow television and computers to work together; we don’t need either one trying to annex the other.
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