The other day I watched a fair chunk of the Emmy Awards. Mostly I was hoping that Conan would win for the Tonight Show, just so that the most awkward moment in television history would occur. Conan accepting an award for a show that he was fired from on the very network that fired him? Classic. Alas, it was not to be, but watching did give me a look at the truly idiotic state of genre classification these days. It is time to set some of this mess straight.
Comedy, for instance, is a genre that seems to have gotten a little muddied up. Tony Shaloub was nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Monk. I won’t argue that he’s a great actor doing an excellent job playing a fantastic character. My problem is that Monk is a mystery, not a comedy. Glee, similarly, is labeled as comedy when it is clearly a musical. I can understand some degree of confusion when it comes to comedy. Virtually all decent entertainment products have at least an element of humor to them. People prefer to be happy, so we tend to poke fun, make jokes, and generally lighten the mood in our daily lives. Producing a show without at least a deadpan snarker wouldn’t just be difficult to make entertaining, it would be difficult to make believable. That said, if in every episode there is a crime that needs to be solved, and the solution of this crime is the driving force of the plot, what you are dealing with is a mystery, no matter how many jokes people make. It might be a particularly comedic mystery, but it is a mystery nonetheless. The same goes for Glee. Do you regularly release an original cast recording? Then you are dealing with a musical, not a comedy.
Drama is another catchall. 24 is evidently a Drama, for instance. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure 24 had explosions and gunfights. Again, SOME confusion is excusable. Both explosions and gunfights have serious dramatic potential. To clear things up, here’s a few handy rules of thumb. If there is an explosion in your show and the rest of the episode is about people having lost family members in the explosion, it is a drama. If there is an explosion and someone runs away from it and jumps in slow motion, it is action. If there is a shoot out and no one cries over the people who go shot, action. That doesn’t include the standard “Cradling the head of your injured partner who was three days from retirement” scene, nor does it include the “I’ll cry when I’m done killin'” scene.
The worst offender by far, though, is “Reality”. It has grown horribly out of control. The Mythbusters and America’s Got Talent both claim to be reality shows. I’m pretty sure America’s Got Talent was either a game show or a variety show the last time it was on the air. Back when it was called The Gong Show. Mythbusters is educational, or documentary. How do I know that these are not reality shows? Because I can’t remember the last time I was walking down the street and I had to cut an SUV in half with thermite or break dance on stilts to amuse three D-List celebrities. My opinion, an admittedly unpopular one, has always been that the only actual reality show is the news. Okay, I’ll grant that shows like Cops, The Real World, and Jersey Shore are reality shows, even if the realities they depict are bizarre to the point of being parallel universes… Alternate Reality Shows, if you will. However, if your show features contestants competing in themed challenges for a prize, that is not a reality show, it is a game show. I’m sorry Biggest Loser, Amazing Race, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With the Stars, Survivor, Big Brother, and a dozen others. I don’t make the rules.
Genres are important. Properly applied, they make finding movies in video stores possible… assuming you actually go to video stores. A better modern example would be that they help you find the movie you want to instant view on Netflix. That means that they are, in essence, time savers. As a man who feels time is better spent watching mind-rotting entertainment than sorting through mind-rotting entertainment in search of the specific cerebral corrodent I am in the mood for, I think it is important we keep these things straight.