November 10th, 2009

RIP Gossip Girl

I wrote about my love of the CW teen drama Gossip Girl before, but times have changed, and my once-beloved television show has since fallen from grace. Gossip Girl‘s ratings were always low considering the appeal and media attention the show received, but this was more a reflection of the fact that young people watched the show online, viewership that our antiquated ratings system still does not adequately account for. But now, the show’s ratings have sunk even lower, and the dip can no longer be attributed to our changing habits of media consumption. There’s no excuse — just the cold hard truth that Gossip Girl has fallen victim to the same flaws that undo many great television teen dramas. Although the writing still retains some of the sharp wit and clever innuendo that attracted me to the show in the first place, the characters have became caricatures of whatever stereotypical teenage archetype they were supposed to represent, their relationships are incredibly twisted and convoluted, and even considering the suspension of disbelief with which I approach the show, the story arcs are just too preposterous to handle (and this is coming from someone who owns every season of Saved by the Bell on DVD).

But Gossip Girl was such a pleasure for me, for so many different reasons, that I would be remiss if I neglected to bid it a proper farewell. As I mentioned, the writing on the show is smart, witty, quick, snarky – basically everything good TV writing should be. And, like Sex and the City and 30 Rock, unlike Friends and How I Met Your Mother, Gossip Girl revels in the fact that it takes place in New York City.

But, perhaps more importantly, Gossip Girl also offered some interesting – albeit melodramatic – commentary and analysis of media, particularly in regards to youth. To start with, the show’s sharp-tongued titular character is a blogger who runs a gossip site documenting the exploits of our favorite “Upper East Siders.” The gang and their peers keep up with Gossip Girl’s latest news via cell phone browsers and text message blasts. Several episodes have focused on the reaction of school administrators to the new breed of disciplinary issues that crop up as a result of computer and cell phone technologies – begging the questions, what is a school’s responsibility, and what is their right when disciplining students for digital misdeeds? And then there was the whole “truth-in-advertising” campaign (here and here), in which advertisers reappropriated some choice criticisms of the show, brilliant, disgusting, and subversive all at once.

My interest in the show has been waning since the middle of the second season earlier this year, but I tuned in yesterday to see the newest episode – the one that had the Parents Television Council in a tizzy because it presented “impressionable teenagers” with “behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films” (or, in other words, there was a threesome). I would be inclined to agree with PTC, but I can see the threesome for what it is. The episode – which I saw and felt was actually fairly tame considering the fact that it was a threesome – was little more than a distasteful and only marginally successful ratings ploy.

So PTC, you would have a valid reason for concern – if anyone were actually watching Gossip Girl. But they aren’t. As this article put it: “Despite its uncanny ability to attract attention, Gossip Girl doesn’t attract TV viewers.” PTC, you’re just adding fuel to the fire. The threesome was nothing but the last dying gasp of what was once considered The Greatest Teen Dream of All Time. Let it go in peace.

– Megha Kohli, intern

2 Comments

  1. Joshua Bentley says:

    An interesting piece, and good to hear the thoughts of a fan of the show. My opinion of the show itself is very different than yours, but that is likely due to demographics. After all, GG was fairly derivative…as many of the youth-focused shows that I enjoyed a decade or two ago were.

    Without getting into a conversation about whether it was a good show or a bad show, I thought it was interesting that you started your article with a critique of the ratings system, but then admit that the decline in the show’s quality led to its ultimate demise. While the ratings system is riddled with flaws, networks are able to monitor legal digital distribution (though, again, imperfectly).

    A good deal of research, both by networks and independently, has been conducted to determine how much viewing is done on other screens. The amount of digital viewing, while large enough to be measurable, is fairly small. GG actually ran an interesting experiment in which it stopped offering shows online for a few weeks and found no change in the ratings.

    Again, these studies primarily deal with legal viewing options. If your favorite show is cancelled and its fans only watched pirated versions of it, remember Pogo’s epiphany, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  2. Megha says:

    Hi Joshua, thank you so much for your comment! I have to say that my critique of the ratings system was more of an offhand comment than anything else, but since you mentioned it, I will say this: the phenomenon of digital distribution is very recent. ABC was the first network to offer full-length episodes online, and this was only in mid-2006. Although networks are certainly motivated to research these numbers, it is still very early to fully understand the trend, and there was definitely an initial resistance to it.

    The GG “experiment” you mentioned was actually an attempt by the CW to increase GG’s low ratings by no longer offering viewers the ability to watch it at their leisure. The experiment was, of course, a failure because, as you mentioned, ratings did not increase. Indeed, those who were watching the show digitally continued to watch it digitally. My offhand comment was actually a reference to this experiment and my frustration with the television industry for failing to adequately deal with the emergence of digital technologies.

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