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Television At Its Best

July 22, 2011
californication car2

My director on this episode of Californication, Michael Lehmann, told me privately that next week I should “give him whatever I was comfortable with.”

I wasn’t completely sure what he was referring to. I double checked my script and saw I have a moment in one scene where I talk to my penis. I am not sure that there is a comfort zone for that.

Entertainment has changed a lot in my life. I remember when I was a child there was enormous controversy over saying “pregnant” in a movie or a play. I am serious. It was a national sensation. From that primitive, innocent time in the 1950’s we slipped into what was referred to as “groundbreaking television.”

Probably All In The Family led the way breaking down barriers as to what subject matter could be used in a comedy on national television. The one hour dramas tried to break barriers with Mariel Hemingway kissing a women and Dennis Franz showing his behind. Each year the boundary was pushed a little farther toward the Roman Coliseum.

The logical reason for this has really nothing to do broadening our sensitivities or breaking barriers, real or imagined, but probably has everything to do with television’s hunger for easy ratings. If you can get TV Guide to report on a controversy that would be featured on an upcoming show, it will guarantee a bigger audience.

It never matters that the things used to break barriers on television are things we weren’t particularly shocked by. We all knew that Dennis Franz had a behind, we just weren’t all on board in seeing it. TV plays by its own rules. One of television’s most endearing qualities is its desire to pat itself on the back. It’s hard to count the number of awards shows spawned by television, to honor television, also designed to get ratings. In my experience I have found that usually when television claims it is “breaking ground,” it is usually just breaking wind.

However much television likes to think it is a force in modifying society and changing perspectives, its main function is and always will be lowering the bar. Because the motives come from a place that is intensely commercial at every step of the process, the results will never be the voice of enlightenment. It will always be the voice of the locker room.

That’s why we love it so much.

From → Entertainment

3 Comments
  1. dave permalink

    Very frustrating. You will be doing a show in Seattle this Friday morning. I cannot attend, I must work. Any chance you could do this again on a weekend or Friday night?

  2. Dear Dave
    I will be coming back to Seattle January 7th with David Chen to do a show at the Neptune theater. I will be performing on Vashon Island Friday Night the 30th if that helps.

    Stephen Tobolowsky

  3. YEAH!!! So glad you’re coming back to the Northwest. I also missed you as work took priority. Thanks for sharing your life, Stephen. In addition to keeping me sane on my daily commutes, your stories have helped me create gratitude and wonder in my own life. Again, thank you.

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