Noisy is the new buzzword in television, and as several TV execs told me recently, the noisier the series, the better. In the old days, a few unsolved murders and a little sexual tension was enough to titillate the masses. But in today’s world of 10 billion channels, it’s no longer just about a cool, high-concept idea. For a show to succeed, it needs to make a frigging cacophony.
So, if your show’s main character is a time-travelling, gay, bi-polar cannibal who teaches Sunday school by day and by night, battles zombie prostitutes… congratulations! You might just be on to something. The equation for success in the TV biz being: More + More = More!
The word noisy so well-encapsulates the ideal of the modern television that it has officially dethroned Hollywood’s former favorite catchphrase, “fresh and edgy.” (A note to aspiring screenwriters still using the term “fresh and edgy,” you might as well describe your series as “groovy” and see how well that goes over.)
It’s like that AT&T commercial where the guy asks the roundtable of kids, “What’s better—doing two things at once, or just one?” and the kids all shout “Two!” But when did we decide it was a good idea to listen to six-year-olds? These are people who actually laugh at The Chipmunks movies, people who prefer One Direction over Radiohead, people who’d eat an entire bag of marshmallows for dinner if we let them. Of course children (and their teenage counterparts) want noisy television. They are noisy. Which is why, whenever I find myself in a room full of kids, it takes everything in my power not to start shouting at them to zip their lips and calm the f*ck down.
My point is: isn’t our world loud enough? Especially when it comes to TV. From the splashy lower-third promos constantly assaulting us, to the fact that roughly half of us now watch while simultaneously Tweeting, we have forgotten everything we once enjoyed about television—namely, the ability to lay down on our couches, get lost in a story, and forget all about our crazy lives.
And let’s not forget the shrill onslaught of commercials that come booming into our living rooms at alarmingly high decibels these days. After years of advertisers turning it up to eleven, the FCC has finally managed to avert their lecherous gaze away from celebrity nipple-slips in order to do their actual job. And for the past few weeks, they’ve been banging their brooms on the ceiling like the angry grandpas they truly are, shouting for advertisers “Turn that racket down!” The only problem: the damn commercials are so loud no one can hear them.
Of course, there are some cable networks that are making an impact with quieter, slower shows, like Sundance Channel’s great new series, RECTIFY. As many people have already commented, RECTIFY’s two-hour premiere episode was extraordinarily slow-paced—refreshingly, even shockingly so. But maybe that’s what it takes to truly stand out in today’s noisy world. Could it be that successful television isn’t just about who can create the biggest racket? Maybe being quiet actually makes the biggest noise of all.
Author’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, I might be turning into an old crank, like my mother, back in the 80’s, who was baffled by my love of “quick-cut” music videos on MTV. “You’re going to get epilepsy,” she would warn as I lay, transfixed on the floor of our shag-carpeted family room. I recently went onto YouTube and re-watched some of these quote-unquote fast-paced music videos with my son, and we both agreed that by today’s standards, they seemed almost laughably slow.