What Justin Bieber Can Tell Us About The State Of Television

This is not meant as a post about me being late to the Justin Bieber party. Seriously, it’s not. But with this Canadian teenager’s place in pop culture, I feel like I have to make one thing clear from the outset: I don’t hate the Bieber. It’s not a gut-check contrarian position as much as it about decency. There’s so much hate out there for the fellow already that I wouldn’t add my voice to the chorus even if I agreed with the hatred. Let his fans have their day. At least they’re not out doing drugs, etc.

That said, I can’t escape a sense of melancholy when presented with a phenomenon like Bieber. Much like Twilight, he make me feel old. Not only in the sense that he’s 16, but in that I didn’t see him coming. I’m simply not reading the magazines or blogs, or talking to the people that could have alerted me to this guy who was about to be the biggest thing in the world for young music lovers. I’m not a teen girl, and so I learned about Twilight from the Arts section of The New York Times. It was kind of humiliating, since I had always prided myself of knowing a thing or two about pop culture. Suddenly, I was behind the curve. Or there was a curve that I couldn’t read.

I guess it says something about my disconnect from the main source of Bieber fandom that I learned about him on Twitter. And it wasn’t even through a link to a song on YouTube, or to a ‘Look who kids are obsessing over this week’ article from proper media. This is a little hard to admit, but he was brought to my attention through other people moaning about not knowing who this Bieber guy everybody was talking about were, either. I even posted tweets asking the worldwide Twitter audience to please stop pushing this guy I had never heard of. I’ve never felt so out of the loop. So yeah, I’m guess I’m getting old.

My curiosity teased, however, I decided it was time to get to the bottom of the Bieber mystery. It was only that I was made aware of two things that have later become instructive to my attitude toward the pop sensation. First, I begun to realize the incredible amounts of vitriol that surrounded him, particularly on Twitter. The lack of prestige associated with music targeted at young people have always made it vulnerable to simple derision from haters, and no there no doubt was a touch of that in the Bieber hate, too. Nonetheless, the number of people who were willing to personally attack a teen popstar sort of surprised me. In extension of that reaction, I realized that some of his music wasn’t half-bad. I can’t be the only guy who have had trouble getting Baby or Somebody To Love out of my head? It shouldn’t be a surprise either, considering I loved Jesse McCartney’s Departure. From being a part of the anti-Bieber chorus, then, I instead went out of my way to not be included among the Bieber bashers.

Keep this in mind when we turn to the real reason why I’m writing this piece; a recent press from the television network CBS. For most of the last ten years, it’s crime show CSI was the most popular show on television, but in tune with the generally declining TV audience, the notoriously older-skewing show has lost the grip it once held on the ratings table. So, what’s a struggling to do, if not casting Justin Bieber?:

In his acting debut, multi-platinum singing sensation Justin Bieber will guest star in the season premiere of the CBS Television Studios and Jerry Bruckheimer Television series, CSI (…)

“Every 20 years, a phenomenon like Justin Bieber graces our world.  We’d like to believe that the phenomenon of CSI has had the same impact on popular culture.  The opportunity to bring them together in the premiere is a great treat for our audience and all of its new viewers.  This will be true event television,” Executive Producers Carol Mendelsohn, Don McGill and Anthony Zuiker said in joint statement.  “We’re looking forward to Justin’s dramatic star turn, not only in the premiere, but in a continuing seasonal arc.”

This is part of what I love about the television industry. Not the booking of Justin Bieber, necessarily, but the way it’s promoted. Not even I, who have come out of my hiding in the hater camp, managed to keep a straight when I read what praise CBS was ready to heap on Bieber. I mean, he “graces our world”?. A little over the top, not? That’s not the most hilarious about this thing, however. That honor goes to a seemingly innocent line in the release, reading, “This will be true event television.” Maybe I don’t know enough about how television executives see themselves, but if somebody wanted me to put my name under something like that, I would refuse. Isn’t there something almost insulting in their blatant admission that the hiring of Bieber is motivated by nothing else than the need to create an event? Yeah, it is, but this is television, after all. It’s supposed to be a spectacle, and ideally for young and old alike. In that light, I guess casting Justin Bieber made perfect sense.

Still, if we separate the discussion from Bieber for a moment; doesn’t this have a smell of jump-the-shark-itis? Sure, all television shows are made with at least one eye on the ratings. Sure again, CSI has done gimmicks in the past, like crossover episodes with the other shows in the franchise. But this is something different, in the sense that CSI seems to beg for the little bit of the glory Bieber could provide, instead of trusting that the formula they have banked on up until now is strong enough in itself. There’s always a chance that Bieber could turn out to work eminently well, and then the gimmicky aspect of his appearance will fade somewhat. But if not, this may signal the moment when one of the most popular shows of the last decade lost confidence in itself.

There are more egregious jump-the-shark signals than the overhyped celebrity guest star, of course. There is, for instance, a reason why Best Guest Appearance is a category at the Emmys, while Best Musical Episode, or Best Apperance By A Character Previously Thought To Be Dead are not. And, having never been a regular CSI viewer, I can’t claim to be deeply interested in the show’s artistic or commercial health. I’m only sure of one thing: If CSI expects to get more out of a Justin Bieber guest appearance than the other way around, the power in the new marketplace has shifted pretty solidly away from the once untouchable TV show.

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7 Responses to What Justin Bieber Can Tell Us About The State Of Television

  1. jessiecarty says:

    I’m not a huge fan of the guest star phenomenon on TV but CSI has had quite a few of them so it doesn’t really surprise me that they would pull someone like Justin Bieber as well. Of course, I gave up on CSI quite a few years ago because the show had just gotten silly :)

    I felt bad when I didn’t know who Bieber was either since I try to keep up with pop culture. I didn’t know who he was until he showed up on SNL!

    • queerlefty says:

      I can’t say I’ve ever been a regular viewer of any of the CSIs. There’s something about cop shows and procedurals that feels limiting to me. My main problem with them aren’t the individual shows, however, but rather the sheer volume of crime shows that there are. I supposed they’re the reason why CBS keep coming in first in the ratings, but some of these formulas are getting. I can see why Jerry Bruckheimer would want to focus on being a TV producer, though, with the way his movies have been doing lately.

      • jessiecarty says:

        I can’t stand how one show will do well and then they just try to copy that. TV producing, anymore, seems to be about finding the latest perceived “hot” thing and then translating that into tv!

      • queerlefty says:

        I agree. Bruckheimer seems to have built his entire career as a TV producer on variations of the CSI format, be they spinoffs or not. The trend thing is very obvious. A few years ago, when ’24’ and ‘Lost’ had proven that viewers were willing to invest in complicated shows with season-long arcs, the result was a flood of more or less poorly constructed conceptual shows in a similar vein (think ‘The Nine’ which aired on ABC some years back, or ‘Jericho’ on CBS). Not to mention everything that came in the wake of the success of ‘Sex and the City’.

  2. I had this whole “ew, Justin Bieber” phase without actually listening to his albums. But since one of my BFFs became obsessed with him (he won’t admit to it), I decided to listen to his MW2.0 album. I’m not particularly fond of his music except for the singles “Baby,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Stuck in the Moment” (what the heck does he know about Bonnie and Clyde?!).

    ANYWAY, well, since CSI has not been doing as well as it has before, I can kind of see why they decided to attach to JB’s popularity. I think it’s a lame attempt to potentially increase their ratings; I would even go as far to say that they’re desperate. They should just end the show. Even if JB *can* act, when he does leave the show, then what? I don’t see any genuine long-term rewards. :\

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