Bill O’Reilly is not shy about his opinions. He voices them loudly, with conviction and energy, more or less whenever one comes across him. And O’Reilly has opinions about most everything: political issues, social and moral questions, debates about economics. O’Reilly and I disagree in many of our opinions, but the issue I’d like to focus on presently is the end of Seinfeld.
In O’Reilly’s memoir A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity, he expresses umbrage about the way in which Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and company decided to end their epochal show. As fans will know, the show ends after 9 seasons when Jerry, Kramer, George, and Elaine are convicted of failing to follow a town’s Good Samaritan law and are sent to jail. O’Reilly disagreed with this ending. He thought a more fitting end would’ve been a clip show, a compilation of the best moments in Seinfeld history presented one after the other as the studio audience guffaws and viewers at home chuckle and reminisce.
I disagree with Mr. O’Reilly for two reasons, one technical and one ideological. First, Seinfeld did feature a clip show as its third-to-last episode, giving viewers like Mr. O’Reilly the chance to distance their show from its two-part conclusion if they didn’t care for it. But this is a minor point, a prelude to my larger point: I hate clip shows.
Probably every American has suffered through a clip show for a host of excellent reasons. The writers, actors, and crew of a show can’t be reasonably expected to constantly bless us with new genius every time we turn on the television. Additionally, shows can get expensive, and if an episode just needs that car explosion to be 50 feet high, there will have to be cuts somewhere else. From a ratings standpoint, if those moments got high viewership the first time around, can’t they be expected to do so again? And, of course, there are the nostalgic viewers who like the opportunity to think back on the show the loved, be it Seinfeld, The Simpsons, or some other beloved comedy (almost all series that feature clip shows are comedies- more on that later.)
I don’t care. I would rather see mediocre acting-out of mediocre dialogue on a mediocre budget than watch a clip show. I would rather watch static on my screen and leave the masturbatory compilation nonsense to bottom feeders on YouTube. I would rather turn off my T.V. entirely and go dig ditches along the highway than provide information to Nielsen suggesting that the public is hungry for more of this garbage.
A clip show is an act of laziness and of cowardice, a fear that there will not be sufficient time before a deadline to craft an episode worthy of a good show and a committed audience. It is a stall designed for the vegetative, because everyone knows that if my show doesn’t come on every damn Thursday evening after I’ve finished my microwave dinner I’ll switch from Modern Family to The Big Bang Theory because that’s how fickle I am.
Yes, more comedies. There’s a reason clip shows are always on comedies. Jokes are easier to repackage and hash out to people, and for this reason we act as if it’s acceptable for creativity to be presented in a bastardized context-vacuum. A clip begins and ends and voices somewhere laugh and then the world knows to laugh along and the process repeats itself. Unacceptable. If someone pours heart and soul into creating a world for us to love and return to, how could they watch their world be recut into popcorn-sized nuggets for us to consume easily, with no investment in the universe we’re gleaning joy from? And if a writer can truly say that their jokes can stand alone outside of their narrative, spoken in an echo chamber without context and lose nothing, then they don’t deserve to write at all. They ought to go back to filling out Mad Libs in their bedroom where they belong. And I’ll expand my statement. I don’t only hate clip shows. I hate greatest hits albums, too, and any other compilation that puts out leftovers and acts like they’re a banquet.
By no means does this extend to all recontextualization of media. Recontextualization is done all the time, superbly, by fans as well as producers, in countless forms I couldn’t begin to list here. What makes these forms excellent and different from clip shows is the intent behind them. A fan creates a Star Wars macramé out of love for the world they get to share. A franchise puts out a clip show to turn the lights out in that world and con the audience into watching in the dark.
This brings me to Top 10 lists. I look back on the piece I wrote for this blog last week and I ask myself if I was an agent of love or an agent of laziness when I wrote it. Of course I love Breaking Bad. Anyone who’s been around me or who’s talked to me in the past week must be quite tired of how true that is. But I keep wondering if I’ve done the show and its community a disservice by taking precious moments and offering them, sterilized and organized, as if I’ve contributed something new.
How many people who read my piece will go back and watch old episodes? Will it be more or less than if I hadn’t written anything? I don’t know. Will they get something new out of them, or have I cheated people out of making their own discoveries? I don’t know that either. All I can control is what I write from here on out. Therefore, I’ll never write another “top ten” list again. It’ll keep me honest and force me to write more nuanced pieces for you. Enjoy your summer, and enjoy some television. But please, everyone (including Mr. O’Reilly), never watch a clip show again.