A good friend commented to me today:
"It's beginning to dawn on me that the problem with most TV may not be want of talent; it may be that the talent is not what is wanted."
Writers that flourished on certain shows under the creative leadership of talented producers often languish in other shows when managed by network suits, who for all their business sense display an appalling lack of creativity. Thanks to its obsolete business model - selling advertising based on viewer estimates compiled by a vastly outdated system - network TV is going the opposite of the Web: trying to be all things to all people. The result is predictably bland, formulaic and focus-grouped to death.
I won't even go into how so-called "reality" shows dealt an additional blow to scripted television, both good and bad; that sort of base voyerism is barely short of the Roman circenses. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say the only reason we haven't seen actual gladiator games yet is that animal "rights" groups would protest the cruelty of feeding lions with idiots.
Books aren't much better. Most popular fiction is painfully formulaic. Science fiction and especially fantasy are even worse. Though I've seen plenty of gems, often their authors fall prey to assembly-line writing and start churning out neverending series that falter midway through. Even my favorite recent subgenre, alternate history, often suffers from second-order counterfactuals (i.e. despite a major fork in the road, events unfold just as they have in our timeline, only the actors are different. Please!).
I've thought J.K. Rowling a breath of fresh air (though I've dismissed the Pottermania for a couple of years, till I finally got persuaded to read the books; I finished the four then available in a week!), but The Order of the Phoenix filled me with dread that she, too, has succumbed to success-induced cluelessness.
Maybe this is all just a reflection of the cultural decline of the West; perhaps it is time for a last-ditch effort to preserve civilization? Appreciating creativity and shunning mediocrity would certainly be a good start.