13 July, 2009

Television is making you smarter! ...and more distracted

A while back—and by "a while", I mean a few years ago—someone on public radio interviewed a guy who had written a book explaining that television had made us smarter.

Fair enough. I don't see the cause & effect relationship myself; I think it would work the other way around, to be honest, but that's a fair assessment.

Last week, my wife rented some episodes of Columbo. For those not in the know, Columbo was a very popular detective show from thirty years ago. And, yeah, I guess you might argue that there weren't many subplots, and not much depth of character, although it sure is fun to watch Peter Falk do his thing.

While watching it, it dawned on me that the show was incredibly slow-paced. I mean, it dragged. It was interesting nevertheless, especially watching the banter between Columbo and his unsuspecting quarry. One of the conceits of the show is that the audience already knows who has committed the crime, and how, and where, and when, because the first ten or fifteen minutes of the show are… well, the setup and commission of the crime. The rest of the show features Columbo figuring out what's wrong. Try keeping a modern audience with that setup on Law & Order. (This is where someone comments that there is a modern crime show that does exactly that. Please, do tell.)

Anyway, following this insight somewhat, I began to wonder: if modern television viewers can handle more complex plots and characters, can they still handle the single-minded focus and slower pace of older television shows, or at least of Columbo? or are they now so accustomed to distraction that they can't focus any more on a relatively uncomplicated plot that does, at least, have a lot of twists?

I dunno mysefl. I don't watch enough television to comment! So it just sits there: a question.


Will said...

Law and Order: Criminal Intent (at least originally) showed you the crime being committed at the beginning so you knew who the criminal was. I don't know whether it still does that.

jack perry said...

Thanks! Was it as slow & deliberate as Columbo?

Will said...

I don't think I've ever seen any of the original Columbo, just the made for TV versions of the '80s (or so). I'm not sure I know exactly how slowly it was in those, but I think the L&O:CI ones were quicker than you describe. They may have taken several minutes to show the crime (building up some to it), but it wasn't a quarter of the show.