Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

TV Explains Why Movies Are Awesome!

I caught up with the first two episodes of On The Lot over the weekend, and leaving aside the quality of the show itself–which so far strikes me as a sloppily organized but still fairly compelling entry in the reality competition genre, specialized-skills division–what struck me most is the way the series opens with a big pitch for the very concept of movies. While clips of Casablanca and the like play, a few On The Lot contestants offer impassioned sound bites about what the movies have meant to generations of happy idiots like themselves.

By and large, this is the way TV approaches movies, in AFI specials and Oscar montages and commercials for video rental services and so on. Even though millions of Americans go to the movies every week, and even though the film/TV caste system still ranks movie people higher by far, TV still feels the need to re-introduce this foreign concept of "moo-vees" every time the subject comes up.

And when TV isn't offering viewers a remedial course on cinema–Hollywood cinema, no less–it's acting completely ignorant of the subject. Nothing drives me nuttier than tuning in E! or CNN on Oscar nomination morning and hearing the entertainment reporters and commentators struggle through descriptions of art-house fare and indie actors. I know most of them are too busy on the Lohan/Hilton/Spears beat to check out Pan's Labyrinth, but would it kill them to read a review or two?

On the other hand, maybe TV has it right when it comes to the home audience's interest in movies. As the failure of Action proved a while back, TV shows about Hollywood don't really play. Heck, movies about Hollywood tend to tank too. And On The Lot's ratings weren't so great in its first week. As media consumers, we Americans seem to be preoccupied with celebrities, but not with what goes into their actual work.

So no wonder TV continues to treat "the movies" as some abstraction, as generic as the cans of "cola" that sitcom characters drink. When I used to work at Blockbuster Video, I was subjected roughly a dozen times a day to the company's 30-second TV commercial, in which a man pulls out a stack of Blockbuster videotapes and says, "What's in this box? A little romance! In this box? Lotsa laughs!" That commercial drove me nuts, because of the way it reduced movies to some kind of base impulse-response machine.

Maybe it's just that lack of nuance–that lack of engagement with pop culture the way it really is–that's so aggravating. So far on On The Lot, we've been introduced to "the special effects guy" and the guy who wants to be the next Brett Ratner (not coincidentally, a judge on the show). If one of the contestants on the show turns out to be a big fan of Wes Anderson, or Jacques Rivette, or Michael Ritchie, or Charles Burnett, or Takashi Miike, I wonder if they'll get to talk about it on air? Heck, I wonder if they'll get to say they like Sam Raimi or Gore Verbinski.