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The Evolution of Televised Entertainment

Majestic_175x189Fans of the Fox TV series 24 - and indeed, other shows like Lost, The Sopranos, and The West Wing - can take comfort in a feature in Sunday's New York Times magazine (registration required) that suggests that watching such TV shows actually makes you smarter, not dumber as usually demanded by conventional wisdom.

The argument is that "serious drama" - as distinct from episodic television such as Bonanza or I Love Lucy - has complex narrative structure, increasingly ambiguous resolutions to issues, and increasingly challenging situations. The author echoes an argument that I've made about how young adults have assimilated a videogame ethos into the way they generally consume media.

Four years ago Electronic Arts launched an ill-fated videogame entitled Majestic. The conceit of Majestic was that unlike traditional videogames, it extended itself into the real world and interacted with players not unlike yourself through fax, cell phones, and even messages written with lipstick on bathroom mirrors. I still believe Majestic was conceived well ahead of its time. Massively parallel games like The Matrix Online and The Sims needed time to develop, to the point where unexpected behaviors - like product placement - felt natural to its players.

As television companies increasingly look to DVD and IPTV as ways to recoup production costs - and perhaps give a second life to TV series that deserve it - they're going to look for ways, such as downloadable SAP to get viewers to watch the same product over and over. As Yahoo! goes Hollywood, I for one am excited to see how Majestic sensibilities will be tied into television.

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