Photo illustration by Flash.Pro (Creative Commons)
SCAD students, professors and other TV lovers all packed into Panel Room B at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday morning for aTVfest’s Television Roundtable. The media panel, moderated by Savannah-based dramatic writing professor Chris Auer, engaged in a sweeping and insightful industry discussion, focusing first on the way in which the fluidity of new media is transforming television as we know it.
Today’s entertainment landscape is being reshaped by what Auer referred to as the “blending of boundaries” between TV and the Internet. Panelist Marc Malkin, senior writer and editor for E! Entertainment, identified the success of Netflix hits “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” as indicative of “new media winning.” Other panelists agreed that the fresh prevalence of streaming shows is having a profound effect on television’s conventions.
Even TV’s most prominent broadcast networks have been forced to evolve, embracing new paradigms in the hopes of imitating successful streamers. Panelist Dade Hayes, executive editor of Broadcasting & Cable, highlighted the modularity of shorter seasons as one such new norm that has resulted from the widespread shift towards on-demand and web-based entertainment. Hayes also pointed out that YouTube has become a robust and lucrative medium unto itself.
The panel went on to examine the recent rise of ethnic and gender diversity in television, the beginnings of a positive, “generational” change that has been spurred on by the success of racially diverse shows like “Scandal,” “Empire,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Black-ish”. Panelists again cited the Internet as a catalyst for this industry shift, suggesting that television producers want to reflect the way that the web amplifies a wide range of unique voices.
Panelist Liz Miller, TV editor for IndieWire, raised an important point: a single show, like “Fresh Off the Boat,” the first network series in decades to feature an Asian-American family, can’t be expected to speak for an entire ethnicity. Miller praised Shonda Rhimes for achieving real small screen diversity by creating two shows with black leads and telling stories that transcend the boundaries of race.
Before winding down, the panel took questions from the audience. They debated the future of Nielsen ratings, which Damian Holbrook, senior writer for TV Guide Magazine, called “archaic” and waggishly likened to “an iron lung.” Hayes noted that these ratings govern a multibillion-dollar industry, prompting Miller to remark that changing the Nielsen system is “like steering a cruise ship.”
One audience member asked what makes a good TV show. Malkin and Jefferson Graham, technology columnist for USA Today, both agreed that television quality is a largely subjective matter. Holbrook stressed that even if a show is “a work of art,” it must be entertaining and tailored to its audience, while Hayes praised well-written, visually daring shows that “[make] the most of the medium.”
Miller pinpointed voice as the defining characteristic of good TV, but also extolled the importance of character. Emma Brown, senior online editor for Interview Magazine, observed that the power of television lies in the many hours that we spend with our favorite characters and the subsequent emotional investments that we make as viewers. “A good love triangle never hurts,” she added.
The roundtable wound down at noon after an hour of scintillating and astute discussion. As the television industry transforms, only two things appear certain: the small screen has a bright future and it’s going to be well worth watching.