God’s number one programmer….
One of the reasons television has been so terrible until now is that no one could fail.
Failure was too expensive.
So we lived in fear.
If you are writer, you fail all the time. Put a piece of paper in the typerwriter (purely figurative at this point), write a few pages, decide they suck and throw them out. This is how great novels get written. Trial and error.
A muscian sits at a piano and bangs out trial and error passages all day long. Sometimes it works.. most times it does not, but repeatedly failing is how we get to success.
But TV was never like that. It was too expensive.
Imagine what novels would read like if every sheet of blank paper cost $1,000.
You would type really really carefully.
And every novel written would start “it was a dark and gloomy night”.
Up until now, every time you took out a crew, you were burning money. And there were no margins for failure. Everything had to work every time. Or you were fired. No one could come back to the newsroom and say, ‘gee, I tried something new but it didn’t work out.. sorry”. We did not cheerily smile and say ‘Oh well, better luck next time.”
So television institutionally was averse to failure, and as such, it was institutionally averse to risk. It became very very conservative. Every story had to hit, so every story was done exactly like the one before. Every show looks alike because on one can afford to take a risk and try something new. This was the way it was for more than 50 years – not creative, but immitative.
But good journalism, (and indeed anything creative) is predicated upon an ability to fail and learn from those mistakes. Becuase trying anything television was so costly, we tried in fact very little and were not only content, but structurally committed to repeating the same behaviour over and over and over.
But now, new cheap technologies and the web change everything.
Now ANYONE can try and make a tv show.. or tv news.. online.
Does not cost a thing, except your time. Like writing. And it allows you to try and fail and try something else and fail and try something else and fail again until you get it right – at no cost!
This is a real revolution, and it is this ability to fail that is going to change television more than anything else.
If nature evolved the way television has been produced for the past fifty years, we would all still be single cell creatures. “Hey, it works, don’t mess with it”.
But that is not how nature works. Evolution is in fact based on mass failure. The kind of failure that would get an EP or a News Director fired in a nanosecond. Nature produces millions of iterations and genetic variants. 99% of them fail. But every once in a while, one of them makes a better product and the strand is passed on.
As the cost of production drops to nothing and as millions of people get cameras and edits in their hands, we can have lots and lots of failures. And that is a good thing.
In the world of online video, ironically, and counter intuitively, the first step to success.. and change… is the ability to embrace failure.
Do not be afraid.