Last week, New York Times reporter David Carr was one of approximately 4.9 million Americans who watched a seething backyard brawler named Kimbo Slice pound on the ear of some slow-footed honky in what was heralded in junior high locker rooms everywhere as a coming out party for so-called “mixed martial arts.”
As far as I can tell, mixed martial arts is a mix of marketing testosterone, wildly inaccurate punches, and inexplicable boredom, but that’s not the point.
The point is that more than ever before, cable programming — and not the networks — is leading a golden age of television. While Kimbo is saving the networks writer money on big-time TV, shows like “Mad Men,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “Army Wives” are flourishing on cable. That’s not to mention the pay cable channels like HBO and Showtime, which have issued serious content challenges to their free counterparts with shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” and others.
Networks, meanwhile, are still trying to play checkers on a chess board:
If networks are no longer in the business of coming up with must-see serials that mature over time — we all know that “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers,” “Seinfeld,” you-name-it took a long time to turn into hits — what business are they in?
“They are on an endless search for the next big thing,” said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, which includes TNT and TBS. “There is very little consistency in what they are doing, and people don’t know what to expect when they turn on the broadcast networks. They are still in the business of appointment television, but there are fewer and fewer appointments. There’s a great big opportunity for cable networks.”
That reminds me. I have a dentist appointment tonight during prime time. I’m having my teeth replaced with tiny chrome skulls wearing Viking helmets. I think it gives me a certain “I will fucking murder your whole goddamn fucking family” charm.