Has television had its day? Will it soon go the way of the clay tablet, the town crier and other obsolete media? It’s hard to believe that so seemingly irreplaceable a fixture in our daily lives for the past 60 years, prized and damned with equal passion, could be fading into irrelevance, but that seems to be the case, Weekly Playboy (April 13) fears.
Recently, Fuji TV marked its 50th anniversary with a speech from the chairman that was less than celebratory. “I would like,” he told the broadcaster’s assembled employees, “to hand out a cash envelope to each one of you -- or maybe it’s more appropriate to say I would like to receive a cash envelope from each of you. In plain language, we are out of money.”
Crowded by the Internet, deserted by sponsors, television, that quintessential 20th-century medium, struggles to find a place for itself in the post-20th-century world. Fuji TV’s money worries are shared across the board, Weekly Playboy finds.
“Our drama division is in a real bind,” laments a Nihon TV staffer. “Every time we produce a drama, we have to negotiate a fee reduction with the actors.”
At TV Tokyo, economic measures seem to be wearing everyone down. “It extends to little things,” grouses an employee. “Like stationery. We used to have ballpoint pens with the TV Tokyo logo, costing about 200 yen. Ever since the Lehman shock [in September], we’ve switched to cheap pens with no logo.”
That in itself is no tragedy. The question is, can quality programming coexist with financial austerity? The evidence lately suggests it may not be possible. “It’s a fin-de-siecle situation,” sums up a TV Asahi staffer.
Take TV drama, once the “flower” of the medium. “Even the top TV stations,” Weekly Playboy hears from one industry insider, “are finding that nowadays fewer and fewer viewers are tuning in to dramas. In the old days we’d polish the script over and over, we’d agonize over the actors, the location…. That’s finished now. TV stations today just want to maximize ratings with as little trouble as possible -- anything that’ll draw sponsors. As a result, we’re presenting sponsors with the same stuff over and over again, and bringing in the same proven actors. It’s very discouraging.”
“We all long for the glittering dramas of old,” says a producer. “But it’s impossible. In the current climate, we can no longer spend money like water, as we used to. Now the first thought on our minds has to be the budget. You can’t turn out original work that way. So you settle for conventional stuff -- popular manga, popular novels.”
Those for whom “idiot box” has always been an apt synonym for TV will retort, “So, what else is new?” But if even good television represented a cultural dumbing down, imagine the nefarious influence of bad television!© Japan Today