Monday, March 26, 2007

The [REDACTED] Theorem of Film and TV

Thousands of very smart people in New York and Los Angeles work hard at making television shows and movies that you and I will watch. Unfortunately, most of their efforts go for naught, in some part because they are unaware of the [REDACTED] Theorem. But you needn't suffer in the same ignorance. Here is the [REDACTED] Theorem in a nutshell:

The quality of a television show or film tends to be inversely proportionate to the objective attractiveness of the cast. Which is to say, if almost every member of a cast is model-beautiful, the show or film will most likely suck.

The [REDACTED] Theorem was first articulated by [REDACTED] [REDACTED], a [REDACTED] who divides his time between [redacted], [redacted] and [redacted]. Aside from being a sensible fellow, his primary qualification that allows him to issue theorems is that he co-managed a [redacted]for several years*.

This is on my mind right now because The Sopranos will soon end its broadcast run, and few shows demonstrate the[REDACTED] Theorem as clearly it does. Who among the regular cast members is objectively attractive? I understand that many women feel a lustful little tug in their hips whenever James Gandolfini smacks somebody around. He's a real presence, but he's not an objectively attractive presence. Whatever draw he has for the ladies comes from his comportment and acting ability, not from his veal parm-toned physique or his rugged jaw line. The rest of the cast, with the exceptions of Meadow, Adriana, Dr. Melfi and the Badda Bing girls, is rounded out mostly by performers who are old, fat, ugly or all three.

When the show first took off as a hit, television excutives at competing networks gnashed their teeth wondering how they could grab onto some of the same success. Some figured that gangsters and crime were the magic ingredient. We got shows like Boomtown and Kingpin. Both featured prettified casts. Both failed.

Some said that these shows, on broadcast TV as opposed to cable, were hamstrung by the decency standards of the medium. No explicit sex, no dirty words, no gory violence, so they flopped. Of course that's a cop out. They also sufferred from mediocre writing and lovely casts.

More recently, NBC has gone back to the same well and come up with a bucket full of criminal pulchritude called The Black Donnellys. This time the hoods are Irish, and they all look like they just stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue. So far the show has not gained a life-sustaining audience.

I understand why television and film executives put pretty people in their casts. Depending on our individual proclivities, we all like to look at a pretty girl or boy when she or he walks by. It would seem to follow that when we plop down on the sofa for the night, we will want to look at pretty girls and boys on TV. Now I'm not saying that the [REDACTED] Theorem holds that people only want to watch ugly folks on TV. Rather, the [REDACTED] Theorem suggests that an overly beautiful cast is a marker of core dramatic or comedic weakness in the scripts. Faced with a shoddy dramatic foundation, the producers grab a handful of lovelies and trowel over the show's crumbling underpinnings. It almost never works.

Now, if you don't believe the [REDACTED] Theorum, consider the casts on the following list of shows that lasted ten to eleven years. Sure, there are lookers here, but not a lot of them

The Lucy Show
My Three Sons
Hawaii Five-O
All in the Family
The Jeffersons
Different Strokes
The Facts of Life
Hill Street Blues
Married With Children
Beverly Hills 90210
Murphy Brown
Murder She Wrote
Law and Order

Friends, Beverly Hills 90201 and ER are the three shows that stand out as having good-looking casts. These are the exceptions that prove the rule. Friends and ER were lauded for the quality of their writing, 90210 garned most of its fans based on its camp appeal.

Many of the other shows on the list seem to practically celebrate unattractiveness. Who would ever sleep with Mr. Drummond, or Miss Garrett? How many teenage girls ever mounted posters of Andy Sipowicz above their beds? David Caruso, the handsome NYPD Blue cast member, left the show early on, perhaps believing that his red-hair and doll face would translate into lasting and lucrative fame elsewhere. We didn't see him again until he was a whole lot less handsome on the cast of CSI: Miami. Meanwhile, Dennis Franz kept on collecting awards and cashing fat paychecks.

More recently shows like My Name is Earl and The Office have earned devoted audiences, while shows like Coupling and Kitchen Confidential failed almost immediately. Of course the cast of Lost is almost pornographically attractive, but up until the second season, the writing was some of the best on TV.

To bring it to the film world, consider Pulp Fiction and all the cheap knock-offs that followed. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson did not look good in that movie. They might have looked cool, but they did not look good. Even Uma Thurman wasn't at her most attractive. In many scenes she looked like a gangster's coke-addled wife. Juxtapose that movie with Two Days in the Valley. Much more attractive cast, completely forgettable motion picture.

*Since the original posting of this essay [REDACTED] has contacted me. He called me early this morning, from a number I didn't recognise. Figuring it might be someone I did not wish to speak with, I let the call go to voice mail--as we all do in these situations. When I checked the voicemail, I heard [REDACTED]'s familiar voice expressing discomfort that I had posted his name and identifying characteristics to my blog. So far as I know, [REDACTED] is not engaged in any criminal, anti-social or anti-government activity. Nevertheless, he guards his anonymity aggressively. I called him back. He insisted that I remove his name from the site. He suggested that I take full credit for the [REDACTED] Theorem. "It's actually kinda dumb," he said. "Call it the McCloskey Theorem." I politely declined the offer and told him that it is not dumb, it is an often over-looked elemental truth. He continued to insist that his name be removed from the site. He also suggested that the mere fact that I have a blog demonstrates that I have too much time on my hands. After a protracted and at times heated discussion we reached the compromise seen above. I removed all descriptors of his person other than his surname. I also agreed that if anyone contacts me and asks to be put in touch with [REDACTED], I will deny this request and explain to whoever asks that they have the wrong [REDACTED]**.

**Since the initial redaction of [REDACTED]'s Christian name, it has been made emphatically clear to me that any further public use of his surname will not be tolerated. Most recently [REDACTED] called me from a highway rest area, telling me that he was on his way to my house from [REDACTED]. On his arrival he would crush my thumbs with a vice-grip. The full redaction you see above, and in all other posts is the result.

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