When it comes to television shows, there are definitely things that do and do not have Shelf Appeal for me. You know what I'm talking about. When you see a 30 second promo for a new show, or read news about a concept or casting, and you make a note to add that to the DVR. Or conversely, you hear about a new show, and say to yourself "there's no way I'm ever watching that."
The great thing about Shelf Appeal, and the personal preconceptions built into it, is that it can frequently be wrong, and you'll find yourself surprised. For example, I want nothing to do with shows about families, kids and teens. Yet somehow, I got exposed to Gilmore Girls, and it became one of my favorite programs because the quality of the performances (Lauren Graham's in particular) and the quality of the writing overcame my initial objections. Or I really didn't think I wanted to spend 60 hours being aggressively lectured about the plight of urban, inner-city decay, yet The Wire is a towering achievement that might have no peer. Similarly, folks who have no interest in football might be astonished how involved they become with Friday Night Lights. Or just try getting someone to overcome the Shelf Appeal (or lack thereof) of a show called "Battlestar Galactica." It's about killer robots? And it's in space? And based on a failed 70s show with a cheese content that would make Wisconsin proud? Silly sounding titles can seriously hamper the Shelf Appeal of a show for many viewers. Try to say "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with a straight face.
So what are my Shelf Appeal hot buttons? Glad you asked.
Things that DO have Shelf Appeal for me:
- Genre shows. Set in space. Focused on the supernatural. Steeped in mythology. Featuring robots, laser guns, time travel, ghosts, swords, magic, vampires, werewolves, clones, monsters, virtual reality and the like.
- Detectives. Maybe this is why so many USA shows work for me. I grew up watching the heydey of detective shows in the 70s (Columbo, Macmillian and Wife, Rockford Files, etc.), so give me a quirky or acerbic lead character solving crimes, and I'll give it a shot.
- Created by Joss Whedon.
- Created or produced by someone who was on a Joss Whedon staff. Like Jane Espenson (Caprica, Andy Barker PI), Ben Edlund (Supernatural), Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus: Blood & Sand), Tim Minear (The Inside, Drive).
- Anti-Heroes. I love shows about the less "heroic" and abrasive lead characters. Think Sopranos, House, Dexter, Rescue Me, Archer, Sons of Anarchy.
Things that DO NOT have Shelf Appeal for me:
- Teens & Kids. Particularly young kids. Especially babies. They're awful enough in real life, why on earth would anyone want to spend their television time with them? And I always dread when shows I'm currently watching feel the need to add one.
- Doctors and Diseases. (Unless you count Doctor Who). Looking though my voluminous season pass list, I think I only have one "medical drama" there, House. However, I'm inclined to like shows with psychologists or psychiatrists as opposed to medical doctors. Also, I have no interest in watching characters struggling with or overcoming physical diseases. (For example, Showtime has a show coming up with one of my favorite actresses, Laura Linney, called The C-Word. It's about cancer. As much as I love Linney, I won't be tuning in).
- Religion and politics. Annoying, judgmental, and requires greater suspension of disbelief than vampires and androids. If I want news and opinions, I'll get them myself. If I wanted a lecture, I'd go back to college.
- Starring Eric Balfour.
- Families. Unless they solve crimes. Or are robots. Or are undead.
- "Reality" television. There aren't enough words in my vocabulary to describe how much I fucking hate this classification of programming. (There are some "unscripted" programs I watch regularly, like Mythbusters or Sci-Fi Science, but they're not focused on the "lives" of vapid, brain-dead, shallow douchebags desperately clinging to their 5 minutes of "fame").
What's fun is working through the Dos and Do Nots to make a decision on a new show. The Sopranos is the name of a family. They have kids. But they're mobsters. Glee is about teens in high school, but they sing and deliver snarky one-liners and ramp up the camp to 11. Breaking Bad is about a dude with cancer, but he's a meth dealer. House is a medical drama, but the main character is an unrepentant asshole. Big Love is about families and kids and religion, but all the characters are deluded whackjobs and magnificently acted. And so on.
Those are just a few of mine. What things do or do not have Shelf Appeal for you?