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Learning to Love Bad TV

Bob Chipman | 19 May 2014 12:00
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We're told, again and again, that we're living in a Golden Age of Television. The evidence for this typically comes down to a handful of shows, most of them airing either on cable (Mad Men, Breaking Bad,) pay-networks (Game of Thrones, True Detective,) or streaming services (Orange is The New Black, House of Cards). What we're actually living in is a market-driven demographic shift whereby the audience for "serious adult drama" has come to prefer HD TVs, streaming, DVRs and the level of control that comes with it to the theatrical moviegoing experience, thus driving the "serious adult drama" genre to the small screen.

Meanwhile, the networks' and the cables' actual bread and butter continues to be reality shows, assembly-line CSI/NCIS/SVU/etc procedurals and dirt-dumb sitcoms - creating an amusing split: There are the "New Golden Age" shows that get big write-ups and think pieces published about them near-constantly by entertainment journos and "regular" shows whose existence largely bypasses the attention of the thinkpiece writers.

I think this is part of why Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which yes, to be clear, took way too long to figure out how to be good) caught such overwhelming critical flack so early on: TV writers obliged to check it out due to its feature film tie-in pedigree who probably hadn't bothered to watch an NCIS-style network procedural in years. See also: Hannibal, (which I'll have to get to one of these days) which has polarized (re: "love it or hate it") audiences and critics with its schlocky B-movie sensibilities i.e. performances that all fall within some range of high camp, garish color palette, gleefully excessive gore and plot points like the serial killer with a mechanical cave-bear exosuit.

But in the not too distant past, dedicated television didn't mean avoiding bad shows - it meant learning to love them. The syndication boom of the 90s (short version: A massive increase in the number of 24-hour channels meant a much lower bar to getting a show on the air, TV's version of the "straight-to-video" boom) brought high-concept and "camp" back into fashion; starting with Baywatch - which bombed as a network offering but became, for a time, the most popular show in the world in syndication - and finding it's level with Sam Raimi and Rob Tappert's trendsetting Hercules and Xena shows.

Most of what blazed across the airwaves in this era was terrible, but some of it was rather amusingly so. Here, then, is a compilation of "classic" television of the time that was so bad... well, you know how the saying goes...

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