HBO's In Treatment could benefit from some therapy
HBO’s In Treatment perfectly illustrates that all the digital extensions in the world can’t save bad content.
HBO is inexplicably running the Israeli adaptation five nights a week for nine weeks straight. Perhaps this is HBO’s attempt – much like NBC – to program the once-great network as cheaply, and thus as poorly, as possible. Besides airing every weeknight on the main network, the series also is getting plenty of re-airings on HBO’s digital channels. You could pretty much watch nothing in primetime but In Treatment on one HBO channel or another for the next two months.
If you did that, however, you would have to head straight to psychoanalysis yourself to shake off this depressing, trite, tedious program. Listen up HBO programmers: Just because we enjoyed watching Tony Soprano bare his soul to Dr. Melfi doesn’t mean we want to watch everyone else go through it. HBO already has put us through Tell Me You Love Me, a compelling yet disturbing exploration of modern couples in counseling, and that’s enough. One’s own therapy isn’t all that fun; why would we want to watch other people’s breakdowns and breakthroughs?
Still, if you somehow aren’t getting enough of In Treatment on HBO’s many channels, there are plenty of digital extensions to pull you through. HBO’s set up some pretty cool web sites to support the show: He’s Listening is full of fancy flash features, and the main site offers clips, podcasts, mobile reminders, email reminders and so on. Full episodes are available on iTunes and on HBO On Demand.
HBO may be on the digital cutting edge, but frankly I’d rather see the network redoubling its efforts to produce shows that amaze and delight. A few years ago, HBO was airing The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Deadwood and Carnivale. Now there’s nothing on the network I remember to watch (although I’m well aware that Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Wire have their fans). You can make content available on millions of platforms – Web sites, video on demand, digital networks, cell phones, iPods – and it’s all utterly irrelevant if no one wants to watch it.
The great conundrum of the writers’ strike was whether the media conglomerates will be able to make money on the Internet because future audiences will be so fractionalized. The media companies gave Wall Street a definite yes, while giving writers a definite maybe.
The truth is that the medium is irrelevant. Great content will sell wherever you put it, and it will sell big. That makes talented, creative writers, producers, directors and actors all the more valuable. Web 2.0 is a gold rush, not an industry killer. A golden age of content is upon us, and the studios stand to make more money than ever. But first they actually have to produce something worth watching.