Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Who Likes Short Shorts?

Good fiction should include more than just the high points of action or emotional conflict. I don’t know how many times this subject has come up in my weekly writers’ group, and here I am raising it again in the context of a most unusual Web launch, that of The Minisode Network. A joint venture from Sony Pictures and MySpace, this enterprise offers severely edited versions of the episodes of older TV shows, trimming out character development and any sort of binding action in order to present stories for those folks gifted with the attention span of a gnat. At least that’s my read on it.

What used to be hourlong eps of T.J. Hooker, Starsky & Hutch, Police Woman, and Charlie’s Angels are now available at The Minisode Network site in segments lasting no more than 3.5 to five minutes apiece. Hey, at that rate you could watch a whole season’s worth of a TV series in less than two hours. Talk about efficiency! Of course, abbreviating these shows so rigorously isn’t going to enhance their reputations one iota. Pare down T.J. Hooker to five minutes, for instance, and all you get is a plot sketch and star William Shatner playing a tough guy. There’s no camaraderie among the police academy recruits, little of the humor that once balanced Shatner’s moralistic speechifying on the show, and painfully few opportunities to appreciate Heather Locklear, then in her early 20s, prancing about in gym shorts or stalking suspects with gun drawn. (Man, she was something when she was younger, wasn’t she?)

If Sony’s message with The Minisode Network is that installments of Charlie’s Angels and Starsky & Hutch weren’t worth the full hour some of us spent watching them in the first place, and weren’t worth the millions of dollars the networks shelled out for their production, what does that say about U.S. television’s value, in general? Or Sony’s estimation of the intelligence of American viewers? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

When I’m sitting in front of a computer and suddenly feeling nostalgic for old TV, I would much rather watch full episodes of Spenser: For Hire or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at AOL’s In2TV site. But hey, maybe that’s just me. I’m not a frickin’ gnat.

READ MORE:Short Cuts,” by Jessica Winter (Slate).

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