The Demise of Great TV & the Wine Critic

Last night my wife and I watched what were probably the last four episodes of the best comedy to hit TV in the past five years. Arrested Development won Emmys for best comedy, best comedy acting, best writing, etc, etc. It was a critically acclaimed show. Yet, it was being cancelled.

It occurred to me while watching and mourning that this could never happen in the wine business. A wine that received such critical acclaim would only succeed. So why not on Television? And it dawned on me: It’s all about Consumer Confidence.

As 100 Americans if they think they can assess the quality of a television show or movie with the same confidence of a professional movie or TV critic and easily 50% would offer an enthusiast “absolutely”. However, ask the same 100 Americans if they think they can assess the quality of a wine as well as a professional wine critic and I’d bet you might find 1 who says yes.

Generally Americans have very little confidence in their palate while having great confidence in their ability to assess popular arts. The obvious reason for this is consumption. Americans actually consume very little wine. They generally don’t’ understand it. On the other hand, they consume boatloads of popular arts such as TV, movies and videos.

As a result, Americans rely heavily on wine critics to tell them what is good and what is bad. They want to buy, drink and be seen drinking good wine. They just have no confidence they can identify it. This puts wine in the same category as other fine arts such as sculpture, architecture, and sculpting: things Americans appreciate, but don’t known how and are willing to let professional critics tell them what to like and revere.

This, I think, puts a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of wine critics. They are defining what Americans will embrace as the best. And it’s worth nothing that America is the nation that sets trends and in many cases determines what style will come next, remain among us or wither away.

If critics across the board acclaim the quality of a wine there really is nothing to stop that wine from selling out. And it doesn’t’ really matter how much of that wine there is or how much it costs. The ability of critical acclaim to “make” a small expensive wine is particularly powerful. In a way this is ironic because those willing to buy expensive wines are far more likely to have greater confidence in their palates.

Yet this doesn’t explain why Arrested Development failed to be embraced by Americans. That can be explained by understanding what American viewers are accustomed to. Arrested Development delivered uncommon comedy. It was a smart, self-conscious, self-mocking comedy that combined slapstickery with wit of arresting dryness. It was alone in this respect. While critics saw it as groundbreaking as well as hilarious, most Americans just didn’t’ get it. And Americans are not known for embracing things that are different. So, in their confident approach to pop art criticism Americans changed the channel and Arrested Development died. Were it just up to critics, the show would have lasted forever.

But television is not wine. And this is why wine critics should always be self conscious of their power and responsibility.

Posted In: Culture and Wine


5 Responses

  1. Bryan - February 11, 2006

    Could you somehow associate this topic with the success of “Dancing with the Stars?” I still can’t figure it out.

  2. StVini - February 11, 2006

    “I’ve made a horrible mistake”
    Amen to the death of Arrested Development. Quality TV is usually an oxymoron, not so here.
    I don’t think the metaphor to wine critics holds up though. MOST wine consumers don’t drink the same wines that critics do, just as most TV watchers don’t pay attention to critically -praised TV. Most stick to their mass market plonk just the way people seem to find reasons to watch reality TV. Perhaps the key difference is that with wine, one can find a niche market for one’s esoteric 1,000 case program and succeed. In TV, you gotta sweeten it up and tone down the tannins and acid to the lowest common denominator….

  3. tom - February 11, 2006

    What’s interesting, Vini, is I listened to the writer for Arrested Development on Fresh Air the other day. He said he thought television was very innovative today.
    I agree. There are a number of “different types of shows on today, or shows that do it much better than past attempts at particular genres have done:
    Arrested Development
    The Office
    It’s funny how so closely together we lost two really smart shows: Arrested and West Wing. Say what you want about the shows politics it was “smart show”, particularly in the early years.

  4. adam - February 12, 2006

    Arrested Development’s imminent departure has been the saddest news in my home in the last several months. I’ve never quite been able to fathom that this comedy couldn’t find an audience as bigg as some other death rattle celebrity reality show. I believe it is the perfect comedy. It’s strange, I listen to certain Film & Television critics, but I have a tough time listening to any Wine critics. Through trial and error, I have found that certain critics of film and television are the appropriate personal filters for all of the crap that is out there (how the hell is that Jim Belushi show still on the air!?!?!?!?!). While wine critics seem to filter out all of the interesing wine, and leave us with the wine versions of, well, jim belushi (sorry Jim, it’s been downhill all the way since your pissing scene in the Man with One Red Shoe…). It’s a very interesting question…

  5. Susanne - February 22, 2006

    I love Arrested Development. It seems insane that approximately 4 million people watched the final episodes OF AD while 140 million people watch plonk like American Idol.
    However, I don’t agree most Americans lack consummer confidence, or that they trust wine critics, or art critics, or even movie critics more than they trust themselves. The same 140 million people who would rather watch American Idol over AD are the same people who buy YellowTail because it is heavily advertised, inexpensive, consistent in its easy taste, and easy to find….the same people who buy Thomas Kincaid “art”, search for Hagen Daz ice cream and Starbucks while on vaction in other countries…the same people who flocked to see the Dukes of Hazard despite not a single good review.
    You’re right Bryan….a niche market can sustain a critically acclaimed wine, but not a television show where the #s needed for “success” are Gallo-sized.

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