Is everyday life presented as way easier on television than it really is? Does it seem easier to achieve great success, a well paying job, weight loss, a good relationship, fame etc.?
Television is not only a choice for entertainment, news gathering, and inspiration, but it is an everyday commodity that has been the staple of the American family's way of life. According to the research agency Nielsen, which studies behavioral patterns among consumers of goods and services, the average American
watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year).
Nielsen also claims that, in an average lifespan of 65 years, nine of those years are the total amount of time that a person would have spent watching television. Therefore, television programming has to not only appeal to the public, but also present situations that keep people even more attached to a specific show or program. This is how the channels get their rating, and how shows are kept alive, or shut down. For this reason, programming is planned carefully, many shows being mainly art representing life. However, there is a lot of marketing and publicity that fund most of what the media shows, hence making it a multimillion dollar business more so than an artistic venue of expression.
This being said, television programming caters to specific demographics that are more likely to watch because they may identify themselves with the situations presented on a show. Knowing who the average watcher is makes producers create shows, and hire actors, that will become iconic to a group and eliciting that the opposite occurs: that life imitates art; this is how hair cuts, ways of talking, and new memes are created.
Therefore, viewer feedback, ratings, and media popularity is the viewer's role in the interaction with television programmers. As a result TV will present what the viewer wants to see: life made bigger, better, easier, and shinier.
Take for example three of the most popular TV shows throughout history: MASH, F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and Modern Family (just to name a few). They all feature the following:
- relatable situations (work humor, romantic awkwardness)
- emotional outcomes
- comedy and sadness put together
- likable characters
- trending actors
- are representative of their historical context (ex: MASH is based on the VietNam war, FRIENDS epitomized the 1990's and Modern Family is meant to represent blended families of the 21st century (Gay, interracial, different generations, divorced, etc)
Television producers know how these shows affect the public (particularly those that appeal to multiple demographics) and thus ensure that the situations are always positive, upbeat, and far removed from the negative and the ugly.
After the screenwriter's guild boycott of 2003, the so-called "Reality" craze gave way to celebrities recording their lives on TV presumably with a candid camera present at all times showing every intimate detail of their life. Reality TV is supposedly unscripted, and this is why these shows replaced all the situation shows that were affected by the boycott. However, common sense clearly shows that none of the events that are taped in these shows coincide with what occurs to them behind closed doors. For example, the Kardashians' Christmas Special is supposedly going to show this family holiday...and yet it was taped back in September. Therefore, the answer is that TV is indeed Art imitating life so that life will imitate it back. Life is much better behind the silver screen.