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.