Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Defense of Dinosaur Revolution


"Gimme a chance, folks!" The Dinosaur Revolution Velociraptor.

Consider these two numbers:

6,200,000.

861,000.

They are the number of American households that tuned into the Discovery Channel premieres of Walking With Dinosaurs and Dinosaur Revolution, respectively. What a difference twelve years makes, eh? Walking With Dinosaurs was a ratings monster, not to be toppled from its position as the Discovery Channel's largest ratings earner until just last year, when Life surpassed it. The television landscape in the U.S. has changed drastically since then and a direct comparison is hard to make. There are more channels now. We've had a decade to be saturated with varyingly successful CG dino shows. Regardless of the reasons, it's clear that DR isn't the phenomenon WWD was. WWD is now truly a brand, after all, with accompanying books and a continuation of the series in Walking With Prehistoric Beasts, Walking With Cavemen, and the upcoming 3D extravaganza (er, T.rexstravaganza, anyone?).

The sad thing is, it doesn't seem that Dinosaur Revolution was given a fighting chance. We hear that it was meddled with as Discovery Channel executives came and went, and as I said in my review of the first half of the series, the end result is a show crammed into a format that doesn't suit it. So while I think that Mickey Mortimer's review, for one example, misses the point, I don't think it's completely unreasonable. DR is presented as a documentary on a network associated with documentary programming (however rigorous it may actually be). So it's going to have to take those pedantic lumps. The following crticisms from Mickey are entirely appropriate for a full-fledged documentary:
"What made Dinosaur Revolution most difficult to watch is the rampant anthropomorphism. Basically none of the subjects actually behaves like a reptile, or a bird, or even a non-ape mammal for that matter. They're chock full of human mannerisms. You can always tell what they're supposed to be feeling, as if brains that size could even house such emotion."
This wouldn't be a problem if Discovery, or preferably, a different media outlet entirely, would have released this series the way it seems that it was envisioned from the first: as a freakin' dinosaur cartoon. When someone picks up Delgado's Age of Reptiles, they aren't inspired to write hundreds of words about how inaccurate it is. It's a graphic novel. You don't pick it up expecting the veracity of a textbook or research paper. Even if Dinosaur Revolution had been presented as originally intended though, it would have a different set of expectations to overcome: it seems that there's something about CG animation that burdens the story with the baggage of documentary realism.

In the end, it's just another sad, typical example of a program thwarted by bad handling by the network. Well, if producer Erik Nelson and his friend Werner Herzog can actually bring it to the big screen, maybe it isn't the end after all. But I'll bet that even if it's renamed Goofy Dinosaur Talez, it'll have it's share of pedantry hurled its way. Because you know... dinosaurs aren't meant to be fun now, are they?

Update:
I'm trying to pull together the Nielsen ratings for other big Dino programs from the last decade or so, but am having some trouble finding them. However, I have found that 2001's When Dinosaurs Roamed America premiered with a very respectable 5 million viewers.

13 comments:

  1. Nice post. May I ask where you got those numbers? (It would be great to see how all the programs have fared over the years.)

    From a producer's standpoint, these things were known - and so it seems odd that they wouldn't have developed strategies to tackle budgetary constraints that are for example as bold as their stylized poster.

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  2. Sorry, David - I placed the links oddly. If you click the program titles in that paragraph after the ratings, it will take you to the sources. Good show of skepticism!

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  3. Despite having a 'Kitteh' Dinosaur Revolutions homage in the works I really empathize with the people who worked hard on a show which tries to make us think differently about prehistoric animals.
    It's incredibly hard to get anything on TV in the first place. Then a constant battle to get those with the $$$ to understand the creative vision.(animation is bad enough, I can't imagine what it would take to convince people to back science shows)
    As an animator I can see where Krentz and Co. were coming from, the appreciation of storytelling and characters that can tell their own stories. I can also see how much risk they took with such an unorthodox approach, and how the loss of the companion show upset what may have been a critical balance between known and speculated.
    I'd be interested to know what the response to Revolutions *outside* the palaeontological community was like. It's easy to forget that what are glaring flaws 'in here' are simply non issues 'out there'.

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  4. @Matt VR - As far as wider reaction to DR, I've only seen what's on Twitter. And it doesn't seem radically different from any other dino show. People like dinosaurs, or remember liking them when they were kids, and think the show is awesome. That's a tiny slice of the tiny slice of people who saw it, so you can't call it an accurate indicator. But I bet it's pretty close.

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  5. Here are some of the media (rather than paleo) type reviews:
    http://www.medialifemagazine.com/artman2/publish/TV_Reviews_21/-Dinosaur-Revolution-lots-to-chew-on.asp

    http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-09-01/entertainment/30117166_1_dinosaurs-bone-fraternity-pledges

    http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117945936

    http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/147084-dinosaur-revolution

    http://www.kansascity.com/2011/08/26/3101799/discoverys-dinosaur-revolution.html

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  6. The amount of dinosaur related shows probably also plays an important role in DR's audience. When WWD debuted it was the first of its kind. Nothing like that as ever been done before. Since then shows in this format have been done to a certain amount and people don't care that much about dinosaurs as when Jurassic Park was a huge thing.

    I would like to know how much audience other shows like When Dinosaur Roamed America, Dinosaur Planet and even Planet Dinosaur had in their debuted episodes.

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  7. @holtz I also have a review roundup post I've been adding to as time permits. I don't think I've seen the Kansas city one, so I'll add it.

    http://chasmosaurs.blogspot.com/2011/09/reactions-to-revolution.html

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  8. What Henrique said!

    WWD was the first of its kind, and it was treated like a big event--it wasn't booted from its scheduled showings for 9/11 "appropriate" broadcasts at the last minute, and Discovery actually aired all six episodes. If I understand correctly, the second half of DR ran on a different network! Whether or not DR deserved the WWD treatment, it certainly didn't get it from the network.

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  9. I agree. I've seen a number of very harsh critics during the previews and early glimpses completely turn around in their opinion of the show once they've actually seen it and realised what its true premise was. I've only seen two episodes so far, and whilst I had my own reservations at first (and still do have some, but they are merely personal preferences by this stage), and I love it.

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  10. Bad last sentence. The last 'and' shouldn't be there; that should have read: 'I now love it'. Or something like that. Grr.

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  11. Adding on to what gsilverfish said...

    I'm pretty sure I started seeing ad spots for Discovery's 9/11 programming running weeks, if not (a couple of) months ago. I thought it was odd that DR would be scheduled for that day, considering they'd already been pimping said 9/11 specials so heavily, but I assumed they knew what they were doing. Admittedly I don't know anything about how TV schedules are created or who/what's involved with the process, but... How do you not realize right from the start that you have something other than your (already-being-pimped) 9/11 programming scheduled for...9/11?

    And if I hadn't seen a comment on a blog somewhere (probably LitC, but who knows now), I wouldn't have had any idea it had been rescheduled and moved! Granted I don't watch the Discovery Channel that often anymore, but I don't recall seeing any kind of promotion for DR - I found out about it entirely through my dino-bloglist (whereas I catch commercials for the rest of their lineup all over the place, some days).

    I was fairly excited about it, just because it was new dinosaur programming, and that's one of the few things I do go out of my way to watch anymore - though for me, TV dinos are about the animations more than anything else (I'm not saying I wouldn't be over here frothing if the science was really really awful, but I don't expect the same level of depth from TV as I do, say, my blog-reading - that's where I go for my real science). I knew what to expect from having seen it pre-reviewed, so the cutesy-ness of the characters didn't really bother me (though I did prefer the two episodes with the overall story arcs - the injured Allosaurus and the family of T. Rexes, I think? - to the two that were just a series of shorts tossed together). I'm loking hopefully forward to Planet Dinosaur coming over, though given the Discovery Channel's recent history with those BBC imports, there's a part of me that's also waiting with horrified anticipation to see who they re-dub the narration with.

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  12. Thanks for posting the reviews guys, they were an interesting read, and a pretty stark contrast to the negativity I've seen in many places.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing the series in full.

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  13. hey.dinosaur revolution to me its very kool.i did find sum parts to be rubbish.but look at it as a sort of...story teling.i mean sure it seems very fictional some of the things the dinos were portrayed to do.but lol the music is brilliant the narrator does the job rather well.and it has passion and a feeling that u dont get in other older..and more accurate dino docs.and planet dinosaur is very good.i giv it a 8/10.DR gets a 7/10

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