By Skeptik Sinikian
Last week I presented a list of the best ethnic TV programming all in an effort to draw attention to the substandard programming on Armenian TV. There are many reasons why Armenian TV programming is boring and uninspired. But the purpose of this article isn’t to find the reasons why this programming is so bad–but rather to observe and report on what’s out there. I sat down with my friend at a small coffee shop in Glendale and exchanged ideas and thoughts for this week’s column. What you’re about to read is a combination of both our ideas and thoughts.
The biggest problem with Armenian TV is what I like to call the Armenian Infomercial Syndrome. This is a disease that has infected every TV station and has been around for a very long time. It consists of hours on hours of programming that feature talking heads selling products or services that no one seems to care about. Some of these shows don’t really make sense. Can someone please address the complete absurdity of a mechanic shop sponsoring a health show or a medical supply store sponsoring a cooking show? so the whole time the host is cooking something–you have to see a picture of a handicap toilet seat on the corner of the screen.
The Armenian TV identity crisis reminds me of that old Armenian joke set in Constantinople where the guy walks by a store window with a bunch of clocks in it. He figures that he might as well go in and repair his watch. He asks the shop owner "Can you fix my watch?" The shop owner looks at him and shakes his head–"I’m sorry–we don’t fix watches here. We don’t sell watches either." Surprised and somewhat confused–the man asks the shop owner what exactly his shop does. The shop owner looks at him in a matter-of-fact way and says "We perform circumcisions! We’ve been in business for years and no one circumcises more children in this town than we do." Irritated–the man with the broken watch asks him "Then WHY in the world do you have watches in you store window?" The shop owner looks at him puzzled and responds "What would you rather have me display instead?" OK?if you didn’t laugh–it’s because that joke is a lot funnier in Armenian and when you’ve had a couple of shots of arak or oghi in you. But it brings up a point that most of the time–we have infomercials that aren’t even about the product they’re advertising. I watched this one program for three hours before I finally realized that the guy wasn’t selling insurance but travel packages to Mexico instead.
Speaking of dull hosts–have you caught any of the Armenian evangelical shows? Wait–what am I saying? How could you have not? There are only 200,000 of them right now. And none of them make me want to pray more or add more God to my day. Oh wait–they do make me want to pray more–pray for them to get off the TV. Seriously. Spare me your pathetic attempt to preach in Armenian–and go learn how to be a TV personality. The key to talking religion on TV is to draw people in–but all you’re doing is pushing people out. Next time you want to start an Armenian evangelical show–check out the Trinity Broadcast Network. They have such charisma that they can sell you your soul back and tax you on it too. I’m not saying you need to go grab the first fake eyelash you find–or deck out in a lavender suit and matching tie–or start charging people enormous amounts for the Bible you touched–but c’mon people! Preaching takes some skill too. And–if you don’t have it–then just leave it to the truly ordained priests of which we have plenty down the street at your local Armenian church.
Time and again I play this game in my head–pitting Armenian travel agents with their own TV shows against Armenian real estate agents with TV shows to see which is worse. I can’t figure it out. I think they have equal potential to make a generally sane person want to take a steak knife to their wrists. In fact–you know what? Let’s throw in any random profession that appears on Armenian TV–like the mortgage officer or the loan shark or bail bondsman–as well. I mean these programs are so boring; they make you want to offer your first-born in exchange for that annoying "This Is A Test of The Emergency Broadcasting System" siren–anything just to stop the endless drone of these people.
Don’t tell me you haven’t seen these people who have closed shop and moved their entire travel agency business to Armenian TV. First–two seconds into the show–the tour plan they’re selling nears sold-out status. Who the hell is stupid enough to reach for the phone as soon as your over-caked face/super-highlighted hair combo sprawls itself on their big-screen? It takes that long to figure out that it’s not the comedy hour of some variety show. Then these "agents" show what they probably think is enticing footage of tours they’ve organized. There’s a common theme in those videos–the travelers are ranting and raving about the travel agent as if he or she was the genius architect of the city they’re visiting. What do these people do? Starve the travelers until they say something nice about the host? And–I want to know how these agents can accompany all their tour groups and still have time to annoy the life out of us on a nightly basis here in LA. And–then of course–let’s not ignore the part that they try to make you think that the entire country you’re visiting is going to stop and welcome you because you’re with this particular travel agent. Like the entire country’s livelihood is dependent on your gracious agent’s good deeds. They make you think that the entire economy of Cancun–Mexico is driven by their tours.
There’s this one agent though who doesn’t even think the viewer deserves any footage of the site the viewer should salivate over. This agent just gets on TV and "reads" (not even fake-telepromts it) a list of weekly specials. This travel agent is just like the bank people who get on TV and throw around percentages and stock market information and interest rates. They compute all sorts of hypothetical equations. It’s just their face and a bunch of numbers coming out of their mouths. They just got on there because they were recognized in their family as the one genius who could turn welfare dollars into real money and a house on the hill all staying within Section 8 parameters. I mean–where else have you seen someone just sit there and spit out numbers. Have you seen MSNBC or CNN Money? Do you see anyone who just sits there and says the one-two-three’s? I don’t know. Personally–I’m content reading quotes on the Internet–but if some Armenian-only-speaking mamigs and babigs need to check out their stock’s value–I sure as hell hope they’re not relying on a TV "broker" to make the next move. I’m willing to bet some money–at the best interest rate possible–that they have someone who’s following up on that and they’re not doing it anywhere near Armenian TV. And–you know what else those mamigs and babigs aren’t relying on Armenian TV for? Their next property purchase.
Do you need a whole hour of a precious commodity (well–it’s not precious–but we do have limited Armenian TV time) to show me the interior of a rotten house in Sun Valley? And–do all 389,000 Armenian real estate agents in Glendale have to have a competing show? First of all–haven’t you read the news? It’s a bad time to buy a house. Stop pushing these overpriced shacks on our people! And–stop trying to fill them with faux marble tiles and stupid ancient Greek columns that are no longer being used in Greek architecture. Your shows suck and that’s that.
I’m not even going to touch the bail bondsmen’shows. I’m just not. It’s just sad that our community warran’s and rewards a competitive market for bail bondsmen. I have no further comment on that. I’m so overwhelmed with irritation now that I can’t go on to comment about the endless lawyer call-in shows with the classic "my neighbor is stealing the mandarin that’s falling from my tree into his backyard" or the "my 18 year old son totaled his car while crushing someone to death and got away on foot; can we come to your office so you can make it seem that he wasn’t in the car at all?" calls. You just judge the vomit potential those carry.
And my last point for this week is the common thread that runs through all these programs–the horrible sets. Now I know they’re filming it in their garage or den–but can we try to spruce this up a little. Osama Bin Laden’s videos have better production quality and he’s hiding out in a cave somewhere.
That’s all I have to say on this topic this week. I know I rambled on a bit but trust me–this is important. We need TV programming that EVERY Armenian will watch. Next week I’m going to suggest some new and exciting program ideas. Maybe some even from my readers. Until then–stay classy Glendale!
Skeptik Sinikian is an official Armenian TV critique. Later this year–he will be issuing the first ever Armenian TV Sinikian Awards. If you have any recommendations or nominees–you can reach him at SkeptikSinikian@aol.com or visit his uncut–unedited blog at www.sinikian.blogspot.com