“I have no idea what that meant, but it sounded good” — Alan Ball on Six Feet Under
Fear, embarrassment, humiliation, pain.
That’s what network television avoids, what really great teevee makes us embrace.
If I could ask David Chase, Joss Whedon and Alan Ball one question, it would be how much of a conscious influence the work of Dennis Potter was on theirs?
Potter is probably best known for “The Singing Detective” (coming soon to the big screen with Robert Downey Jr. in the title role). Like his previous big screen Hollywood effort “Pennies From Heaven” (with Steve Martin, and it wasn’t The Jerk) it probably won’t do well. Freed from the restrictions of commercial teevee, “Pennies From Heaven” featuring Bob Hoskins was about how music can alleviate the usual buffet of misery which is available in the cafeteria of life.
Which is why HBO efforts such as “The Sopranos” excel where network fare such as “Kingpin” fail. Network teevee isn’t about creating a compelling narrative, it is about selling eyeballs to advertisers, who make their living by selling fear, embarrassment, humiliation and pain, or at least the products which will promise to prevent those conditions.