Thursday, June 29, 2006

Talent Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

So after I managed to post the Superman stuff - and you don't want to know the sort of grief I went through getting that up - I was sort of at loose ends. My poker playing hadn't been going that great over the past few days - still isn't given that I just busted out of a tourney on the first hand with pocket Ks; my two opponents each had one A which picked up a second A on the Turn; the percentages of that happening are something like 8% (one of the guys had a 7 which paired on the River and tripled him up - and there was no World Cup games to distract me. I was, in short, bored and frustrated and even central air and digital cable that finally works in the summer wasn't doing it for me. (By the way, on that Digital Cable thing, I just want to say that I love my cable company. When I finally called them they sent out a repair guy the next day, he diagnosed the problem immediately and installed the amplifier device that I needed immediately. Not what I was expecting given the horror stories you frequently hear about cable companies.) So I did something I hadn't really expected to do - I watched America's Got Talent.

I didn't see this show last week when it debuted. As a matter of fact wild horses couldn't have dragged me to the TV to watch another clone of American Idol. The I started hearing things. Things like how awful this show was. Things like how Simon Cowell should be ashamed of himself for foisting this on the American public. Things like how it resembled the Gong Show. Things like how it won it's time slot against So You Think You Can Dance on Fox and whatever CBS, ABC and "not yet CW" weblets were putting out on the night. That last one was what got me. People were actually watching this thing that professionals and amateurs alike were calling horrible. Either the people writing about this were wrong or the public was wrong and would rectify the situation in this week. Either way I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. And what did I see? In one word Vaudeville.

Yeah, Vaudeville, that grand mishmash of singers, acrobats, instrumentalists, jugglers, dancers, and animal acts, all on one stage performing for you edification and pleasure, with Regis Philbin as Mr. Interlocutor bringing up the acts and the judging panel of Brandy, David Hasselhof, and former London Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan acting as the guy with the hook (or Chuck Barris's panel with the mallets) who have the power to let the act continue or end it prematurely. The result is - or can be - hilarious at least in the audition phase. I'm not sure how well it will work when they have a stable of performers who actually have some talent.

Take last night's episode. There were great acts, awful acts, and then there are the truly bizarre. Since this week's auditions took place in New York the bizarre quotient was elevated but not extreme. Last week's episode was in Los Angeles and took two hours. You figure out the bizarre quotient there. But New York was pretty bizarre. I mean how else do you describe a guy who is 6' something before he put on a pair of the sort of platform shoes that Elton John wore in his heyday, dabbed in silver glitter make-up on his skin and hair, with what could probably be described as a short kilt if you were being kind about it or a micro-miniskirt if you weren't, and completed (of course) with a pair of red and white angel's wings. This is Leonid the Magnificent, and excuse me for saying so but I think he might just possibly be Gay. His act is balancing a sword on a knife and then do things like splits and the sort of thing that Rhythmic Gymnasts do when they are working with ribbons and hoops. Leonid had a problem with his props - he dropped the sword but recovered - and was brokenhearted when David & Piers gave him an X. Piers said that Leonid would look good on his Christmas Tree but on a talent show no way. Only Brandy loved him but it was enough to later persuade the others to give him a chance to beg for a chance which he did, successfully. Then there was Frank Simon, a guy with the heavy Hungarian accent who came out with a motor scooter and an electric range. As soon as Piers saw the guy lift the motor scooter he hit the button. The Hungarian man had a sort of mouthpiece and proceeded to put one side to the scooter's kickstand on the mouthpiece and balance the thing over his head. Then he did the same thing with the range. Brandy Xed him before the range and David after. They didn't think he had talent (but the let Leonid go through). The ripped naval reservist who spent 300 days at sea perfecting a "beat box" act which basically meant making silly noises with less ability than that guy in the Police Academy movies. There was "Sideswipe" a group of three martial artists, with 20 titles between them, who sort of do kickboxing to music which sounds a lot less entertaining than it actually was. There were clog dancers who were clogging to music that was a lot more modern than most cloggers. These two acts got through and deservedly so.

And then there were my two favourite acts. Michelle L'Amour - and I'd be shocked, shocked I tell you, if that's her real name given her act - who came on stage dressed as Snow White, as in the one from Disney's first animated feature. Do you remember that routine on the Oscars years ago when Rob Lowe sang Proud Mary with a woman dressed like Snow White and the folks at Disney were - to say the least - were not amused to the point of threatening to sue? Well Michelle had better have a good lawyer. Snow White stripped all the way down to a spangly bra and a pair of "panties" which offered proof positive that she shaved down there. She stripped quite well actually, much better than those women at the clubs who are actually nude dancers who view clothes as a not always necessary obstacle to getting cash on the runway. What she would have done if Brandy hadn't managed to escape the grasp of spangle and Morgan to push both of their buttons - the ones at the desks not the ones that Michelle was pushing - and stop the act is anyone's guess.

The act of the night however had to be young Bianca Ryan. She's 11 years old and she came out to sing And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going which Brandy rather condescendingly called a big song, presumably meaning a big song for such a little girl. Let me tell you now that she may be a little girl but she has an amazingly big voice. She had the crowd and the judges (except for Piers and only because he wanted to maintain the slightest amount of objectivity) standing half-way through the song. If she were older she would be on Simon Cowell's other show and probably win the damned thing but as it is she stood out in the mass of bad singers acrobats and magicians like a perfect rose in a field of wild flowers and weeds. No wonder they saved her for the last act on the audition show.

Watching the acts on America's Got Talent I couldn't help but think of the old Ed Sullivan Show, the first and last of what writer Tim Brooks called Vaudeo but which I tend to think of a Vaudevideo (it sounds better). While most people today remember the Sullivan Show - if they remember it at all - for the rock and pop acts that debuted on the series in the 1960s. But the show that Ed Sullivan put on the stage every week was so much more. Brooks says that Sullivan offered "a three-ring circus of comedians, acrobats, opera singers, scenes from plays, and dancing bears." He was right but he seems to say it as if it were a bad thing. I, who remember the show before The Beatles appeared on it (but just barely) remember it as great fun entertainment, not despite the acrobats, and the plate spinners, and the little Italian mouse who was and is still immensely popular in Italy (and apparently in Japan oddly enough), but in a way because of them. The show had something for everybody and continued to do so until CBS told us we were really too sophisticated to enjoy this sort of thing. Sullivan would have loved Bianca, but he'd also have had a place for Frank Simon and maybe even Leonid, and certainly for the magician who worked with doves. It wasn't that much later that our "sophistication" gave birth to The Gong Show where the point wasn't to see how good these acts were but to ridicule and laugh at - rather than with - bad acts, and in a way for the judges to take centre stage rather than the contestants. People hated The Gong Show... but they watched it. In an odd sort of way America's Got Talent tries to meld The Gong Show's comedic aspects with the sheer variety of acts that Sullivan presented and maybe just a touch of Major Bowes Amateur Hour or Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts (two shows which I most emphatically do not remember). The sophisticated voices of professional and a lot of amateur critics don't get this show and attack it for being what it is. The evidence however is that the public is watching this show, even though there appears to be a decline in viewership from last week. For myself I found myself being entertained in a way that I'm often not by "professionals" like Freddie Prinz Jr. whose show Freddie I tried to watch - if only out of respect for his wife - and found totally unpalatable. America's Got Talent may appeal to the something lower than the lowest common denominator but in the end the premise lives up to the old song: That's Entertainment!. And really, what more should you want.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Shameless Attempt To Tie In To Superman Returns

I don't normally post embedded videos but because of the release of the new movie Superman Returns I've decided to make an exception to what, after all, isn't a hard and fast rule.

The Superman character is of course strongly tied to television. In the 1950s there was George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman, the first four seasons of which are available on DVD. In the 1960s Filmation made a number of series featuring Superman including the New Adventures Of Superman, The Superman/Batman Hour, and most bizarrely The Superman/Aquaman Hour Of Adventure, all of which featured the voice of Clayton "Bud" Collyer who was the star of the 1940s Adventures of Superman radio show as well as the Fleischer Animated movies of the early 1940s. This doesn't even mention Superfriends (I try not to). The 1970s saw the original Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve but the 1980s saw the Salkinds (who produced the first three movies) come up with Superboy, a concept that had originally been pitched by DC Comics' man in Hollywood, Whitney Ellsworth back in 1961 after George Reeves's death, and which had been another Filmation series in 1965. The 1990s of course saw Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman as well Bruce Timm's animated Superman featuring the voices of Tim Daily as Superman and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. Finally, today we have Smallville, another version of the life of the young Clark Kent, as well as Justice League and Justice League Unlimited which again featured the Man of Steel.

The video is of course Superman's Song by the Canadian group Crash Test Dummies with the lead vocals by the incredible Brad Roberts who also wrote the song.

And what the heck, why not a visit with the man himself.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Aaron Spelling - 1923-2006

What can you say about Aaron Spelling, who passed away on Friday at the age of 83 following a stroke. Although he had a number of credits as an actor - mostly bit parts but he did do six episodes of Dragnet in the 1950s - and as a writer, it is as a producer and executive producer that he's probably best known. While he's probably best remembered for shows like Dynasty, Beverly Hills 90210 (which starred his daughter Tori Spelling - but we won't hold that against him) and Charlie's Angels, the fact is that an examination of his credits as a producer stretch back all the way into the 1950s and include just about every kind of show that you can imagine. He did anthologies, westerns, detective shows, cop shows, and night time soaps, as well as some shows that simply defy description. He first worked for actor Dick Powell's company Four Star Productions then became a partner with actor-singer Danny Thomas in Thomas-Spelling Productions before creating his own company Aaron Spelling Productions (later Aaron Spelling Entertainment) in 1972. He produced Lucille Ball's unfortunate last series Life With Lucy which is ironic in a way because back in the 1950s one of Spelling's bit parts was as a gas station attendant in Tennesee on an episode of I Love Lucy. He made movies, mainly for TV but he was also the executive producer on a couple of pretty good theatrical film called California Split (directed by Robert Altman) and Mr. Mom. Not everything he did was a hit - far from it - but his batting average was pretty good and when he had a hit it was big. Among the series he provided for The WB (just as an example) were Savannah (an early hit for the network although it didn't last long) Charmed, and 7th Heaven, a series which Spelling described as his personal favourite of all the series he worked on.

I debated whether or not to list all of the TV series that Spelling was credited as Producer or Executive Producer on. I couldn't included everything he produced since he's credited with over 200 separate productions - the most prolific TV producer ever. Instead I decided to only include highlights. It's still a long list.
  • Zane Grey Theater,

  • Burke's Law

  • Honey West

  • Daniel Boone

  • The Guns of Will Sonnett

  • The Mod Squad

  • The Rookies

  • Starsky and Hutch

  • S.W.A.T.

  • Vega$

  • Fantasy Island

  • The Love Boat

  • Charlie'sAngels

  • Family

  • Hart to Hart

  • Dynasty

  • Hotel

  • Melrose Place

  • Beverly Hills90210

  • 7th Heaven

  • Kindred: The Embraced

  • Savannah

  • Buddy Faro

  • Charmed

  • Clubhouse
In an industry where the phrase "industry giant" is used as commonly as balloons at political conventions, Aaron Spelling truly deserved that description.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Your All Star Line-up

Now if you've been reading this for a while you'll know that I like reality TV. Not all of it; I'm not into fashion, or talent or shows where you don't compete. Still I generally like reality shows. I'll even admit to liking Big Brother. Well maybe "liking" is a bit too much. Let's put it this way, I wouldn't watch it if it were on during the regular Fall season, and I wouldn't watch it if episodes of Survivor, The Apprentice, or the beloved Amazing Race were on at the same time - in fact I'd probably skip it for reruns of The Amazing Race. Watching Big Brother is sort of a summer thing like buying an ice cream bar from one of those carts on the street (except I don't do that - one of the little crooks tried to overcharge me and then claim he was just joking when I called him on it).

Every year the producers of Big Brother introduce a new gimmick onto the show in an effort to keep it "fresh." You know, bringing in ex-romantic partners, swapping twins in at regular intervals, having "secret" allies (which worked about as well as a one button mouse - everyone knew that everyone else had an ally in the house). In fact the only gimmick they haven't tried lately is going back to the rules that the rest of the world uses, where viewers actually vote for who should have been eliminated. That was so first season. CBS and the new primary producers Arnold Shapiro and Allison Grodner decided that they wanted a show that was more like Survivor and less like what the rest of the world was watching. This year's gimmick is to bring back players from previous seasons as selected by "you the fans."

Well to be absolutely accurate "you the fans" will be voting for half of the new occupants of the house. Of twelve contestants, six will be chosen by viewer vote and six will be picked by the producers. I have a few suspicions and some questions about who the producers will select. Apparently the producers will have to draw their six contestants from the pool of 20. What I suspect is that the producers will try very hard to have at least one player from each season - except maybe the first - and will try to have two players from each season, but that's just a guess on my part.

Anyway here are the people who want to go back to the luxury cell block - where the theme will apparently be "Good versus Evil" - for another summer.

  • "Chicken" George Boswell (Season 1) - The only Season 1 contestant selected. He was also the most memorable. Even Eddie the winner wasn't as memorable as Chicken George, and Eddie only had one leg.

  • Mike Malin (Season 2) - Also known as "Mike Boogie". He ran an LA Club and was one of the members of the "Chill Town" alliance. I really didn't like him or the "Chill Town" alliance.

  • Bunky Miller (Season 2) - The hairy crying gay guy. I liked him even though he suffered a major problem with decisiveness.

  • Monica Bailey (Season 2) - She finished third in this season but besides constantly saying "it is on" may be best known because her cousin died in the World Trade Center attacks.

  • "Evil" Dr. Will Kirby (Season 2) - The most memorable member of the Season 2 cast. He lied to everyone and told them he was lying to them, plus he had an incredibly huge ego. I hated him and couldn't see how he managed to not only survive week after week but actually win the $500,000.

  • Marcellas Reynolds (Season 3) - Perhaps the only player in the history of the game to be physically assaulted by host Julie Chen. She hit him upside of the head with her note cards because he was stupid enough not to use the first "Golden Veto" to save himself. Since then he's been hosting the post episode online talk show for the series.

  • Danielle Reyes (Season 3) - In some ways an extremely good player. She maintained a season long alliance with Jason without anyone knowing that they were working together. Only problem was that her only vote to win came from her one and only ally.

  • Lisa Donahue (Season 3) - Winner of Season 3, she was one of the experts at flying below the radar until figuring out what was what. She had a short time alliance with Danielle and eventually won the jury vote because she didn't alienate the other players in the way that Danielle did.

  • Erika Landin (Season 4) - At 37 she's the oldest woman to be up for vote. During the Season 4 gimmick "The X-Factor" her ex-boyfriend Robert Roman was also in the house. She developed a serious friendship with former FBI agent Jack Owen.

  • Dana Varela (Season 4) - Okay, I confess that I don't remember her or the circumstances of her eviction.

  • Allison Irwin (Season 4) - Spent her time in the house using her "sex appeal" to appeal to the male members of the cast. This despite the fact that she was supposedly devoted to her boyfriend Donny. The next year she and Donny went on The Amazing Race to "explore" their relationship. She lasted two episodes on the show which was slightly longer than she and Donny lasted.

  • Jase Wirey (Season 5) - First out from the infamous "4 Horsemen" alliance which annoyed the crap out of most of the people in the Season 5 house. Not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, was the victim of a master plan that used the Veto to put him up for nomination without a chance to save himself.

  • Jennifer "Nakomis" Dedmon (Season 5) - Part of the surprising part of the Season 5 twist when she discovered a half-brother whom she didn't know existed. She went to the final four before ironically being voted out by her half-brother.

  • Dianne Henry (Season 5) - Third place finisher in Season 5 who put here trust in a guy she'd developed an attachment to who decided to stick with his Horseman pal Michael instead of his girlfriend.

  • Michael "Cowboy" Ellis (Season 5) - This guy seemed too dumb to live but he somehow managed to survive to the final two and came within one vote of winning; the vote he lost by came from his half-sister Nakomis.

  • Kaysar Ridha (Season 6) - Possibly one of the most popular people ever to participate on the show. He consistently polled higher than any other house guest and was seemingly one of the most intelligent players ever. After being eliminated one week he was immediately voted back in...and immediately voted back out by the opposing alliance because "this is our game, not America's game."

  • James Rhine (Season 6) - The one thing the two alliances could agree on in Season 6 was that they hated James and finally engineered his eviction for lying to both sides.

  • Howie Gordon (Season 6) - One of the leaders of the "Sovereign Six" alliance that came together around Kaysar. He seemed like a happy go lucky guy who was in training to be a Jedi - complete with a light saber. When he had to be he could be rough and the Season 6 house was by all accounts a rough one.

  • Janelle Pierzina (Season 6) - A solid player who used he "bimbo" look to mask her tactical abilities. She allied with Howie and Kaysar but numbers weren't on her side.

  • Ivette Corredero (Season 6) - A thoroughly annoying little woman with a voice that could calcify your spine and a hair trigger temper. Based on the way that she reacted to the eviction of Eric "Cappy" Littman you would have thought he was her partner and not eventual winner Maggie Aushburn's. In a season when people got very vindictive and angry she was worse than most as hard as that may be to believe.

Just to look at the breakdown of the contestants, there's one from Season 1, three each from Seasons 3 and 4, four each from Seasons 2 and 5, and five from Season 6. The public can vote for their favourites at the Big Brother website until June 28, and there doesn't seem to be any sort of restriction as to the number of times you can vote. No one will know who has been selected until the players enter the house on July 6.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Not Quite An Amazing Treasure Hunt

What makes a show work? Specifically, what makes a reality competition show work? Back in 2001, following the success of Survivor the summer before and Survivor 2 that following summer, CBS, ABC and NBC each introduced reality shows that involved travel to foreign locations. The ABC show was The Mole, the CBS show was The Amazing Race, and the NBC show was Lost. The series almost immediately ran into problems with the public because of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Mole managed to produce a second series plus two rather lacklustre celebrity editions, but of the three the biggest success was CBS's Amazing Race which continued to this day. As for Lost it was an absolute mess with no sense that the participants were actually racing and no suspense beyond whether the contestants were going to be able to beg for enough money to get where the had to go. Now NBC is reentering the "reality travel competition" field with a new entry called Treasure Hunters. I hate to admit it but while it's nowhere near as good as The Amazing Race it isn't a terrible show. At least not yet.

In the premiere episode a group of five 3 member teams where presented with a clue in Morse Code on board a ship off one of the Hawaiian Islands. Another group of five 3 member teams received a different Morse Code message in a mining camp in Alaska. Each team was equipped with a Visa Card, a Motorola Razr cell phone, and a computer which could apparently only get These items were apparently important if for no other reason than product placement. There's more of that as the show goes on. The Hawaiian teams - a group of "geniuses" from SMU, a Pastor and his wife and daughter, a trio of female Grad Students, three Air Force officers, and the three brothers Brown - had to swim from their ship, identified as the USS Jefferson (except it isn't - the closest the US Navy has is the submarine USS Jefferson City) to small boats. The small boats would then take them to the coordinates they received in the Morse Code message where one team member from each group would have to dive to find their next clue, sealed in metal boxes with the presidential seal on them. This clue led them to a "plane crash site" made up of artfully spread wreckage where they'd find their next clue; a painting in a metal box that could only be opened by putting together a key hidden in canes. The paintings had a map on the back with words in Greek letters. Meanwhile, once the Alaskan teams - a trio of former CIA interns, three friends from South Boston, three former Miss USA contestants, a team of "young professionals", and a trio of Texas rednecks calling themselves the "Wild Hanlons" - deciphered their clue they were off by helicopter to a glacier where they found a map in a block of ice with the words Stillwater Washington carved on it. This sent them to Lake George they went there and had to dig under cairns to find wrapped metal cylinders, etched with standard Latin letters and their Greek counterparts.

That's how the first episode of Treasure Hunters began, with the ten teams not knowing of the other's existence until the clues led them to the State Legislature building in Lincoln Nebraska. It was, I have to admit a very neat twist made even better by the fact that the clues that the Alaskan teams brought were needed to decipher the clues that the Hawaii teams brought. The clues, when used together, would give the teams the location of their destination meaning that competing teams had to work together to find out where to go next, and they had to use their brains to work out the correct place. The words on the map gave them one possible location but whether that was right or the clue more subtle and based on more information than just the words on the map, was something they had to think about.

Professional TV critics have been quite arch about this show. I don't think they're being totally unfair. There are weak points to the show, which I'll get to shortly. Still I don't think it's as bad as they make it seem. Hardcore fans of The Amazing Race have for a long time wanted to see the clues on that show be more puzzling, as they seemed to be in show's first season. The clues in Treasure Hunters have certainly been cryptic, whether it was deciphering the Morse Code message or figuring out that "Stillwater Washington" was the equivalent of Lake George. And there was a great clue that the two teams that went to Mt. Theodore Roosevelt could have used - if they hadn't been such literal thinkers - which involved viewing the front of the Hawaiian painting reflected in the Alaskan cylinder. I was also impressed that success in at least one aspect of the game actually required teams to work together because quite literally without working together they would fail.

There are a number of weak points that detract from the show. The constant product placements, and the reminders of the product placements are galling. They constantly mention the Motorola Razr phone; at least one player on each team was are seen wearing T-shirts; there's actually a billboard - real or CGI I don't know - promoting Genworth Financial Services which is a major sponsor of the show. Then there's host Laird MacIntosh who judging by his voice seems to have none of the interest or enthusiasm that a Jeff Probst or a Phil Keoghan bring to their shows. You hear a lot from MacIntosh. Any time there's a clue discovered by a team his unsmiling unenthusiastic face pops up on the Motorola Razr phone to tell them what to do next and exactly how to do it. He also makes sure that the audience at home knows exactly why the clue is right.

Casting, and the utilization of the cast, is another problem the show has. At three people per team the cast is too large and it's hard to really single out individuals some of the teams, including leading teams like the ex-CIA interns and the Air Force officers are essentially faceless, and it's clear who the no hope teams are - the overweight Brown brothers and the dumber than a sack full of rusty hammers Wild Hanlons. Certainly the two all woman teams - the Miss USA contestants and the Grad Students - are virtually interchangeable not only within themselves but between each other. There are only two real individual stand-outs and they stand out for reasons that aren't really good for the dynamics of team play. One is the pastor, Brad Fogal, who in the first episode took the clue out of a box opened by another team, and ignored his daughter after she was hit on the hand by the lid from the crate that box with the map clue was hidden in. The other is Charles from the Genius Team whose arrogant refusal to consider any alternative other than what he himself had come up with nearly caused his team to be the first eliminated.

Perhaps the worst thing of all about the show is the pacing. Amazingly the producers have created a reality competition show where there wasn't little dramatic tension at any point including the final task. Tension, whether it's between the teams, between team members, or the race to complete tasks is why people watch reality-competition shows. The editors of The Amazing Race cut the arrival of the teams in such a way that even though there may be minutes or even hours between the teams in danger of being eliminated, we as the viewer always think that the thing is close. There is an urgency to accomplish tasks. That doesn't exist on this show. The pace is leaden and the end, at least in the premiere, sudden.

And yet for all of the things that are wrong with the show, there is considerable potential for future editions (assuming the show does well enough to come back next summer) if the producers would simply look at it and figure out what they're doing wrong. The product placements could still exist but be more subtly inserted. The number of people on each team could be reduced to two or there could be a clear reason why there needs to be three players. The could treat the audience as if they weren't children who needed their hands held every step of the way. They could get a more enthusiastic host. They could build the tension. The seed of a good show is here but if the show is to go on for a second season the seed needs to be nurtured differently to make it work better. I confess that I'll be watching but this has a lot to do with there not being much else to watch this summer however the show had the potential to be a lot more gripping and the fault for it not working better than it does should be place squarely on the producers. What they've given us right now is watchable but not particularly compelling.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Small Victories

Well I can't say that the Blogger Tournament was an anticlimax, but after my first Royal Flush it was sort of close. As Tim will attest I held my own for a while - longer than him, but I was beaten out for the longest lasting Saskatoon Blogger by some guy called Krablar. I finished 324th and Lambdo finished 322nd. Still (and this brings it back to TV), I did manage to finish ahead of this guy.

Yep, Wil Wheaton - Wesley Crusher himself - who is a member of Team Pokerstars (here's his profile on their site) and is becoming a good semi-pro poker player finished 342nd, and while I didn't actually face him across the felt or beat him myself (if I had there were prizes) I did outlast him, and in my book that makes it another small victory

You Never Forget Your First!

Royal Flush that is!

I'm Sleddog. And admittedly it was only for a small amount of chips, but I really couldn't make a killing with this hand. I wanted it to be seen!

Actually this is my second Royal Flush but only the first that I've actually cashed. A couple of years ago I had the makings of a Royal Flush at I had the KJ of Clubs but folded before the Flop (I was young in the ways of Poker) and the A Q and 10 of Clubs showed up on the board.

Poll Results - Which show's renewal surprised you the most?

Still trying to clear up some of the leftovers and the poll results was the next thing on my list. The last poll I ran was on renewed shows, and which was the most surprising. There are reasons why I chose the shows I did and I'll get to that. There were 12 voters which is down from recent polls.

Tied for sixth with no votes are Ghost Whisperer, Close to Home, American Dad and Veronica Mars. There were a number of rumours that Close To Home might be cancelled if there were a stronger replacement available. American Dad was considered to be the worst of the Fox Sunday animation block. I personally disliked Ghost Whisperer and was expecting its cancellation. As for Veronica Mars, this show suffered badly in the ratings in its second season and it wasn't certain that the show would be renewed until it was heard that the show's star, Kristen Bell, had flown to New York for the CW upfronts.

In a tie for fourth place with one vote (8%) were What About Brian and The Loop. Both were Spring replacement series with The Loop being a workplace comedy and What About Brian a "relationship drama" in the style of Ed. What About Brian didn't have strong ratings but received some critical acclaim and probably benefitted from ABC's need to build a lineup on Monday nights. The Loop is a big puzzle - its ratings were weak and the critics seemed to hate it. On the other hand it was considerably stronger most of the comedies (or alleged comedies) that Fox put forward this past season.

Tied for second place with two votes each (16%) are Fox's The War at Home and The CW's One Tree Hill. One Tree Hill was probably the weakest of The WB's lineup of "teen angst" shows and was expected to be dumped either for a show like Everwood or for a new show like Aquaman when UPN and The WB merged. As for The War at Home it was universally regarded as the single worst show of the 2005-06 season from any broadcast network. As my buddy Ivan Shreve put it "The War at Home. Is there really any other clear winner?"

Well actually there was: 7th Heaven. It picked up a whopping six votes for 50% of the total. The show has been on for ten years, making it one of the longest lasting shows still on TV and it had actually been officially The WB. The WB couldn't financially afford to keep it on the air for another year despite the fact (which continually amazes some people) that it was the highest rated show on either The WB or UPN. The show even had an official series finale. However the merged networks, now styled as The CW was able to afford the show and just as importantly probably couldn't afford not to have the show on the schedule, at least for the network's first year. Whether the show will be on for a twelfth season is an entirely different question, but so long as no other show on the CW draws such strong ratings it may be the one show that the network can't afford to lose.

I'll probably have another poll up in the next day or so although I'm really not sure what it'll be. I'd like to continue with my TV Theme topic but with only two weeks before the Emmy nominations come out I don't have time to handle the topic the way I'd like. I could do a poll on what shows should be nominated, but again I'm not entirely comfortable with that idea unless I can do it in a unique manner. I'll work something out though.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Short Takes - June 17, 2006

I really need to get back into the swing of writing for this, and this Short Takes piece is going to be a starting point. A couple of things have been keeping me from this - one has been the World Cup, which is ongoing, while the other is that on June 9 I had my dog put to sleep. She was 15 and had a lot of things wrong with her but I really miss her. Anyway...

Rose Leaves Doctor Who: I can't say I'm surprised, and certainly I'm considerably less surprised than a lot of people who have written on the subject. I don't recall what the average duration of a companion on the old show was but two full seasons was most unusual. I think the only ones who lasted much beyond two years were the Second Doctor's companion Jamie McCrimmon (Fraser Hines), Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) who bridged the Third and Fourth Doctors, and Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) who was in the last Tom Baker serial and then appeared in all but the last two of Peter Davidson's run as the Fifth Doctor. In fact as I understand it John Nathan Turner (who was the long time - perhaps too long - producer) didn't want companions to be on the show for more than a year. I suppose that the reason for the surprise about Billie Piper leaving the series is that the current run of Doctor Who has very much been about the partnership of Rose and The Doctor rather than having The Doctor as the primary character and the companion as the "designated screamer" and reason for story exposition.

Couric on the news pays: Pays her salary that is. According to Advertising Age Katie Couric's salary will pretty much be paid for by increased advertising on the CBS Evening News. According to Les Moonves "Katie probably paid for herself in the first week of our upfront. We brought in about $15 million more for the 'Early Evening News' in the first week." That just happens to be the amount of Couric's salary. So much for needing "gravitas", although I still think people would take her more seriously if she went by the name "Katherine Couric."

One stays, one goes: Apparently it is now all but official - Dan Rather will be leaving CBS after 44 years, during which he reported on hurricanes, the assassination of a president, Watergate, trekked into the mountains of Afghanistan right after the Soviet invasion, faced down Chinese government officials to keep the CBS news feed active as long as possible at the time of Tiananmen Square, and covered elections in his own inimitable style. I think it will be the elections that I'll miss him most on - somewhere along the line he'd suddenly go all East Texas on you with expressions that no one could possible script, like "If a frog had pockets, he'd carry a handgun!" Who but Rather could come up with something like that

Meanwhile, longtime 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley is reported to have signed a new contract to remain on the show after a number of weeks of arguing over money to the point that Bradley essentially went on strike.

Indecent in several ways: Two items on indecency. First we have President Bush signing into law a bill that will increase the maximum fines from the current $32,500 to $325,000 per incident if "obscene material or indecent material broadcast between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m." Indecency is defined as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities." According to Bush "This law will ensure that broadcasters take seriously their duty to keep the public airwaves free of obscene, profane and indecent material."

In the other item, CBS is appealing the fine that they received from the FCC related to the episode of Without A Trace depicting a teen orgy because the people who emailed in the complaint didn't actually see the show according to Media Week. The FCC fined 103 CBS affiliates in the Central and Mountain time zones the then maximum $32,500 fine for airing "indecent material". According to the CBS filing all 4,211 e-mail complaints came from websites operated by the Parent's Television Council and the American Family Association, and only two of the e-mails claimed to have watched the program - or more accuartely a "brief, out-of-context segment” which had been posted at the PTC website. Even more suspiciously no e-mail complaints were received by the FCC until January 12, 2005 - the day that the PTC posted their alert on their website - despite the fact that the show that aired on December 31, 2004 was a repeat of an episode that aired on November 6, 2003. The CBS filing points out that to be valid, complaints must come from an actual viewer in the service area of the station at issue, the filing said. The CBS stations stated the obvious when they said that “The e-mails were submitted … because advocacy groups hoping to influence television content generally exhorted them to contact the commission.” For his part PTC president Brent Bozell stated “Every complaint filed comes from a United States citizen who, last I heard, had the constitutional privilege to petition his government. Rather than these stupid legal maneuvers, CBS and Viacom should spend time pondering why it’s wrong to broadcast scenes of teen orgies in front of millions of children.”

I have a couple of problems here. First of all the increased level of fines is a punitive action and is undoubtedly a move to shore up support from the social conservative wing of the Republican party before the Congressional elections. Presumably these are people who will vote for the Republicans based entirely on their willingness to bash Hollywood and take "moral" stands despite the economy, the war and a ton of other issues that most people would regard as more important. On the other hand CBS's filing on this issue, while I think it has considerable merit based on the evidence presented (and the total number of complaints is based on material CBS obtained from the FCC under the Freedom Of Information Act despite Bozell's complaints that the number was too low) it doesn't really argue the merits of the case. There are problems with the definition of indecency which is far more open to interpretation than the FCC seems to believe. There are problems with the ability of the Commission to require that fines be paid based on a loop hole; the fact that the third hour of the prime time period is from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. in about half the United States and between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. in the other half. This sort of dichotomy means that the networks have to pander to groups like the PTC in producing programs for their networks because they have to produce programs "suitable" for the Central and Mountain time zones. As much as CBS is trying legal maneuvers to block these fines, between 2003 and 2005 the PTC probably had a sharp lawyer point out that there was a way for them to control television content for all people not just for children.

And now for something completely different: Although I have a suspicion that some of the stuff that John Cleese and the Monty Python troop were able to get away with in Britain could have come close to an FCC fine. Sadly it seems that Cleese will be retiring from performing, although it's not absolutely clear if it is total retirement or just from writing and performing in sitcoms. The BBC News article announcing his retirement only mentions sitcoms, but a profile article that accompanied the piece indicated that he is giving up writing and performing entirely. Cleese intends to write a book on the history of comedy and become a "comedy professor" to ground younger talent in the "rules of the game." In his opinion too much TV comedy is "poorly written and aimed at US teenagers." (Personally I think he's giving it too much credit.) According to Cleese "It is very rare today to see someone with that grasp of old-fashioned comedy. The last truly excellent performance I saw was Eddie Izzard. But Ricky Gervais is also a match for the great American sitcoms." He'll be missed, but if a future generation of comedy writers and performers learns from him it won't be a total loss.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bitch, Whine, Complain, Repeat

I have a penis.

I mention this fact for a couple of reasons. First because it may help to explain why I don't "get" Tuesday Night Book Club and second, because I suspect I'm probably one of the few people so equipped who actually watched and lasted through an hour of Tuesday Night Book Club. Actually it's my devout hope that so few people - with or without penises - watched Tuesday Night Book Club that the bright bulbs at CBS who put this show on the air will take it off before it is supposed to air next week, but it's summer and it doesn't take much to keep a TV series on the air. I fear we are stuck with Tuesday Night Book Club until it runs its natural course, however my penis and I will not be watching. My obligations as a reviewer are satisfied.

The show is an obvious reality version of Desperate Housewives right down to an off-screen narrator - unidentified as far as I could tell - who comments on events and offers what can best be described as a little homily at the end of the episode. (Apparently the show is also a clone of another "docu-soap" called The Real Housewives of Orange County, but I haven't seen that show.) This show lacks that quality that makes Desperate Housewives work and that is sympathetic characters. With maybe one exception I couldn't give a crap about any of these people. The show is about seven women who appear to be middle to upper middle class living in Scottsdale Arizona and seem to be both friends and members of the same book club. I guess this leads me to an obvious question of how the producers found this book club and its dysfunctional members. Did they take out ads and audition book clubs or did they find these women and create the club for the purposes of the show? The whole thing seems staged somehow.

The women are a diverse group, too perfect in their types to come from anything but a casting call of some sort. There's Cris the "Loyal Wife": she's sticking by her man after he's come out of rehab and not only has to raise the kids but has to be the sole support for the family. Jamie is the "Conflicted Wife" who has been with her husband since she was 16 (three years dating and six years married) but isn't sure she wants to stay married because she hasn't had a chance to sow her wild oats (well sort of, according to the show's website she's had several affairs) and her husband claims she's not mature enough to have children. Jenn is the 38 year old "Trophy Wife" who thinks that her marriage is perfect, even though it includes swinging and a husband who at best is a boor, and wants to share with her friends. Kirin is a 31 year old former model who is married to a doctor, but is full of insecurities, at least partially fuelled by her husband who is more interested in his hobbies, which includes working on his motorcycle, than having sex with his wife - the swine. Newlywed Lynn has been married to Eddie for just six months - and if they make a year it'll be a miracle given the way they fight. Sara is the token single "Party Girl" who likes to party and talk about sex with her Book Club friends. Finally there's Tina the competitive 46 year-old divorced mom with a high powered job and a competitive urge in most things in her life. There lives seem to be an endless cycle of complaining about their lives to each other and their husbands and having drinks. I guess this is what passes for reality for some people.

The first episode seemed to focus on a several situations. First there was Jamie considering leaving her husband and going to Tina for help and advice. Tina helps her find a possible apartment, while Sara takes her out for a night on the town to show her the joys of the single life the way Sara lives it (which includes a pick-up artist interrupting their dinner). Meanwhile Kirin decided to go to Jenn and her husband Jim to get some advice on how to get her husband to have sex with her rather than spend his time with his hobbies which includes his motorcycle. They suggest that she get a sexy set of motorcycle leathers and become more involved in his hobbies. It doesn't really work since at the end of the episode she goes to bed while he tinkers with the bike.

The big event of the episode is the house warming party at Lynn and Eddie's and the arguments leading up to it. Lynn, it seems, wants Eddie to take care of some things around the house, like fixing the toilet and some other things. Eddie seems to think that this stuff will take too much of his valuable off time (he's a firefighter although both the narration and the website describe her as the family breadwinner) and wants her to do everything that she normally does in addition to the stuff she want shim to do, and oh yes dig around in their dog's poop for the engagement ring that the dog swallowed. After all the ring cost him a truck and 500 hours of overtime. For the most part Eddie is an ass. Somehow the party comes together and all of the book club members - and the three husbands who are currently with their wives - attend. While Cris's husband Matthew manages to resist the temptation to drink (he's offered a non-alcoholic beer which is a no-no for a recovering alcoholic) Jenn's husband Jim gets quite heavily into the sauce and "jokingly" puts the moves on Lynn in front of everyone including Eddie, who sees it as good drunken fun. As I said, Jenn's husband is a boor.

That whole explanation essentially sums up Tuesday Night Book Club. About the only people in this show who are even vaguely likable and sympathetic are Cris and her husband. In a show like Desperate Housewives every one of the characters - including Edie amazingly enough - has something that makes them sympathetic. These women don't. Indeed in some ways - like the fact that they've decided to air their lives in this incredibly tacky show - they can probably drop the "sym", because they all have something that makes them pathetic whether it's Kirin's insecurities, Cris's need to have a huge variety of animals, or Jenn being married to Jim. Then again maybe I just don't get whatever appeal this show may have for the audience for which it was intended, you know with me having a penis and all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

He's Ba-ack

I don't care what anyone says, Gordon Ramsay provides an evening of good long as you don't work for him and don't try to complain restaurant. But if you're sitting at home eating something that at his most generous Ramsay wouldn't consider a meal, it can be good clean fun to watch Gordon tear someone a new one, whether it's on his British show Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares or on his American show Hell's Kitchen. I first reviewed Hell's Kitchen last year and I have to confess I became a fan, not because of the competitive aspect, which is little more than a clone of The Apprentice but because of Gordon Ramsay and what he brings to the formula.

Ramsay's strength as entertainment is his personality. Outside of a kitchen he seems to be a reasonably sane person - has a nice wife and kids - but inside a kitchen he's a foul mouthed tyrant. It's not an act, as a host of people will testify including Joan Collins who was personally tossed out of one of Ramsay's restaurants. On Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, which airs uncensored on The Food Network here in Canada, he's cruel in an effort to save restaurants that he thinks have potential to become better than the sad establishments they've become, and probably to instill a bit of pride into the people who work in the kitchens of these places. It doesn't always work. In an episode I saw on Sunday night Ramsay managed to return a restaurant's menu to sanity, get the chef to cook with real food instead of prepackaged crap and actually bring customers back, and the owners still had their business taken back by the brewery that had loaned them money to operate the establishment. In Hell's Kitchen Ramsay is taking a batch of people who claim to be able to cook and have some degree of culinary expertise and make them fit to run a major restaurant. Last season the reward for withstanding days of Ramsay's abuse and learning from him in the process was a restaurant of the winner's own. This season it is management and partial profit participation in a restaurant that will be part of the Red Rocks Casino Resort and Spa complex near Las Vegas. Ramsay is brutal but given the stakes these people are playing for it's cruelty to be kind.

Monday night's two hour debut - really two back to back episodes - introduced us to Ramsay's new batch of innocents, all of whom seem to think that he's not that tough, although none of them compared him to Simon Cowell this year; Cowell's a spayed pussycat compared to Ramsay. They're about to have a rude awakening which starts when Gordon has them prepare their "signature" dishes. With one or two exceptions he finds the dishes at best overspiced and at worst thoroughly disgusting. One woman's Plantain soup was described as looking like "baby's vomit", while another cook tried to slip by something she called "Undone Focaccia Bread" with a dipping sauce - Ramsay said he'd rather put a piece of poodle *bleep* in his mouth than that - and he was right, it looked depressingly close to what he said it was.

The first episode only had one challenge to it, to feed a full restaurant only 24 hours after opening. The twelve contestants were split into Red and Blue teams but this time the split was made on gender lines. The six men - Tom, a former stock broker; Giacomo, a pizza maker; Garrett, a guy who learned to cook while doing time in prison; Gabe, a marketing executive; Larry, an executive chef and fishmonger; Keith, a chef and bartender - became the Blue team. The women's Red Team consisted of Polly, a caterer; Virginia, a salad chef; Rachel, a personal chef; Sara, a deli manager; Heather, a sous chef; and Maribel, a cafeteria chef. Clearly most of these people were chosen for their back stories rather than real cooking ability. That becomes apparent with the first service, where things are a shambles. One person on each team is assigned to be a "donkey", getting things for the other chefs and cleaning up. Things got so bad in the women's kitchen that when an appetizer finally did make it out - after Heather (who had taken on the role of donkey) replaced Polly - Sara let out a cheer which immediately earned her Ramsay's ire. In the end the women lost and it was left to Heather to make choices for elimination. She picked Polly and Virginia and Ramsay decided that Polly had to go.

In the second episode of the night things fell a bit more into their normal pattern. Ramsay started with a bit of a lesson - he had the apprentices sorry the cooks empty out the dumpsters outside the restaurant and open the bags to show them just how much food they'd wasted in the previous episode. Wasted food doesn't bring in profits but if you're going to live up to Ramsay's standards you either waste food or you get it right the first time. After that he set the teams an assignment. They had to cut perfect 10 ounce Sirloin Steaks out of a piece of beef. The team with the highest number of steaks would win a reward. The five women cut 12 steaks that measured up to Ramsay's standards while the men cut 11 - and it would have been worse if Tom hadn't managed to cut five of them himself. The women won and the men had to prepare all of the steaks for the next night's service while the women went to dinner with Ramsay at a restaurant that serves wild game. Things got worse for the men when Larry seemed to suffer a heart attack (although in fact it was a severe anxiety attack) which took him off the show entirely. In the night's service the women's team continued to be on a roll, getting a number of entrees out, while the men had trouble because side dishes for the main course weren't being completed. Then disaster struck the women as Heather burned her hand and had to go to the hospital. Before she left though she impressed Ramsay by continuing to control the women's kitchen and letting them know what to do. Suddenly a favourite has emerged.

In the previous paragraph I used (and struck through) the word "apprentices." It was quite deliberate. This show is essentially a remake of The Apprentice but if they'd left it as just a clone of the earlier show, it wouldn't have been a summer hit last year and it wouldn't have been renewed this year. As I said when the show originally appeared "There is one thing that makes Hell's Kitchen worth watching and that is Gordon Ramsay." It still holds true. Ramsay is abrasive and abusive, and a harsh task master, but when it comes to what he does he is the best there is which is why he can get away with being abrasive and abusive. I don't know that you can really say that he's entertaining to watch in a conventional manner but there is something about watching him get angry because people aren't doing the job that they've been given properly, or even competently, that is almost admirable in an odd way. Sure he's a perfectionist, but he is operating in an industry where if you don't live up to standards in terms of the quality of your product you not only lose a sale you can very quickly lose your reputation and then your livelihood. Those restaurants that Ramsay visits in Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares are places where the business is declining because reputation has slipped because the proprietors and chefs and the servers don't live up to any sort of standard or expectation. Of course Hell's Kitchen isn't a real restaurant; it's a converted TV studio, the waiters are for the most part aspiring actors and the customers are solicited in the newspapers and paid to come eat there, but the principal remains the same. Ramsay may seem extreme - although from comments that I've read, he's not atypical of really successful restaurateurs - but I have suspicion that the survivor of the Hell's Kitchen process will walk out a better chef as a result, and I wouldn't be surprised if he or she is as abrasive and abusive of the people working under them as Ramsay is. It's the way of their world.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Celebrity Fun & Games - Well Games Anyway

It's probably fitting that I couldn't review Gameshow Marathon last week. Oh no, it's not because the show got better in the second week although it did...sort of. No, the reason why it's fitting is because it gave me the opportunity to see the opening episode of the eighth season of Celebrity Poker Showdown, a show which is both entertaining and serves as a reminder of what you can do with celebrities - whether A, B, C, or Kathy Griffin class - playing games.

Actually Wednesday's episode of Gameshow Marathon seemed a bit better than the episodes that preceded it. Beat The Clock was a perfect show for this format because it was basically a show full of silly stunts which tended to make people look absurd. Essentially it was a series of party games rather than guessing prices. Plus the original show was old enough that it was new for most of the audience both in the studio an watching at home. Most of the celebrities who participated in the show - Paige Davis, Tim Meadows, Kathy Najimy and Leslie Nielsen - all seemed more animated and having more fun in this episode than they did doing The Price Is Right or Let's Make A Deal, not that it would too hard to exceed their excitement levels in those episodes (the exception was Paige Davis who has a bubbly personality, even if she sometimes dances around like a stripper looking for her pole). There are problems, although again the age of the show means that they aren't as visible as some of them were in the first two episodes. We don't remember Clayton "Bud" Collyer's time hosting Beat The Clock. We may remember him as host of the more intellectual To Tell The Truth - and Ivan and I know him as Superman from the radio Adventures of Superman and both the Fleischer and Filmation Superman cartoons - but for most of us, if we remember Beat The Clock at all it is probably the syndicated version hosted by Jack Narz around 1970. Others have complained that while Ricki Lake is trying hard to get into the spirit of the games she wasn't Bob Barker or Monty Hall, one who is still doing his show and the other who is very well remembered. I, on the other hand, find Ricki extremely annoying - particularly her voice - and she's not a good fit personality wise for doing a game show.

No, the host isn't a problem for me, and the fact that it's celebrities is a minor problem. My problem is I'm not entirely sure what these people are playing for and why it's these celebrities. The celebrities are supposed to be playing for charity but for the life of me I can't tell you what or how their charities are getting. The celebrities aren't being paid off in cash when they win something on the show, they're putting merchandise into a prize pool for a lucky at home winner who text messages in the correct answer to a trivia quiz. Does the celebrity get the monetary value of their prize for his or her charity? I don't know. What I do know is that the winner of the final game - a session of Family Feud - gets $100,000 for their charity. Does that mean that none of the other charities gets any money? Again it's not clear.Then there's the celebrities themselves. Apparently the show is set up so that only six specific celebrities get to try to make money for their charities, even though we saw Betty White, George Foreman and Adam Carolla sitting in the audience of The Price Is Right looking as if they had a chance to play. Carolla got up in the middle of an audience shot for The Price Is Right looking as if he had been promised he'd have a shot at the show and was ticked off that they picked Leslie Nielsen instead. It was all a set up though - White, Foreman, and Carolla, along with Kathy Griffin, Bruce Villanch and Adrianne Curry - are there to be the panel for the Match Game portion of the series and the producers made it clear in their promos who the six celebrities were going to be. Finally there's the game shows themselves. Since game shows tended to have a half hour format - except for the current incarnation of The Price Is Right - there seems to be a tendency to try to stretch the material to fit an hour show, and it isn't working.

It's this lack of clarity, together with a feeling of being set up and the distinct impression that some if not most of the celebrities were just there to keep their profile up and had no interest in the games or in having fun that makes Gameshow Marathon less than enjoyable for me. By comparison Celebrity Poker Showdown was enjoyable for me. The episode I saw last week was the first of the eighth tournament and for the first time was occurring outside of Las Vegas, at the Harrah's casino in New Orleans with winnings going to charities in the New Orleans area and tied to Hurricane Katrina relief. Last week's lineup included Jason Alexander (Seinfeld, and participating in his second tournament), Brian Cranston (Malcolm In The Middle, also in his second tournament), Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica), Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm), and Kevin Sorbo (Andromeda). The difference between this and Gameshow Marathon was palpable. The celebrities clearly seemed engaged and for the most part interested - the exception seemed to be Sorbo - and having fun playing the game. Presumably doses of Southern Comfort, which had signed on as a sponsor - the "Loser's Lounge" was renamed the "Soco Lime Lounge" - helped that along a little. The objectives were clearly laid out - lose in the first round and your charity gets $5,000, win and you get a shot at the lion's share of the $1,000,000 prize pool. For the audience what made the show enjoyable was that these people were playing as badly as most of us play. There are plenty of Poker shows on TV where the viewer can see play the game with a tremendous level of competency, on this show we can see famous people for the most part playing like a bunch of donkeys. Host Dave Foley has settled into his role as genial host and poker ignoramus quite well. In fact he's a reasonably good player and has gone deep in several tournaments. The big change for this season, and some say the weakest part of the show was replacing Phil Gordon - who stated that he decided not to renew his contract because he was tired of commentating on people who play as badly as many of these celebrities - and has been replaced by Phil Helmuth (there are some who claim that Gordon's contract wasn't renewed because they could get Helmuth for a third the money, which seems absurd if you know something about Helmuth - a lot of people suspect he'd want to be paid a dollar more than whatever Gordon was getting). If anything Helmuth is probably to analytical for the show and has yet to develop the chemistry that was so abundant between Gordon and Foley.

CBS has touted Gameshow Marathon as being a British import, which is true as far as it goes. The original show was a special called Ant & Dec's Gameshow Marathon and was shown on the British commercial network ITV as part of the network's 50th anniversary. In other words it was a one shot deal. There was a solid reason for it which CBS seems to be lacking. I don't know if CBS thought that they could make more of the series than just a one shot - I certainly suspect they'd like to - but with what they've done they've certainly not succeeded. I think there are things that they could have done that would have made it more successful. One approach might have been to widen the pool of celebrities; you might not be picked for Price Is Right but you could be on Let's Make A Deal or one of the other preliminary round games, and in the same way if you were picked for Price Is Right and didn't win you wouldn't be able to guarantee that you'd be playing in one of the other shows. Another way to work it would be to select a group of ordinary people and actually play the games for the prizes leading up to the final big windfall for the players who made it to the final round of Family Feud. The truth is however that the format is cumbersome and it is difficult to really grasp who gets what for the people they are representing. The difference between this and Celebrity Poker Showdown is clear. There the format is clear as is exactly what the charities are getting, the pool of participants is wider, the celebrities are having fun and are interacting with each other while competing. And yeah, they're making mistakes and on the whole are doing something that they have no expertise at (although next week's episode features Jennifer "The Unabombshell" Tilley, who won the 2005 World Series Of Poker Women's Event and followed that up with the World Poker Tour's Ladies Night tournament - I would love to see her destroy the rest of the field) and making fools of themselves. But that's why the show is fun and why there have been eight tournaments. I have absolutely know doubt that we won't even see a second run of Gameshow Marathon which for the most part is a good thing. I think my only regret will be that we won't be able to see more Beat The Clock - it was fun in a sort of nostalgic non-bug eating way.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The 2006 Pokerstars World Blogger Championship Of Online Poker

I participated in this last year too. Great fun even though I didn't win anything - wait 'til this year!

Poker Tournament

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

This Online Poker Tournament is a No Limit Texas Holdem event exclusive to Bloggers.

Registration code: 8651831

I'm Ba-ack! - Thoughts From A Week With A US Satellite

Hey guys, I'm back at the old stand and glad of it. The past week was fine, don't get me wrong but I'm glad to be back home with my on bed, my own computer, and my own TV. Well at least I will be once I contact my cable company and see about dealing with some maintenance issues. All of my premium digital channels go all pixellated (blocky) if they show up at all during the hot days of summer - which started a couple of weeks ago around here - which used to be bearable but seems to get worse each year. Shaw Cable gets a call tomorrow.

I think I can mine this experience for maybe three articles. I forgot to take my notebook with me (well maybe forgot isn't quite the right word) so a lot of this is from memory but my memory is reasonably good. First up a bit of an overview in the style of my weekend Short Takes pieces. Warning, there's a bit of comment on softcore porn in this one - nothing explicit but it's there.

The Boss was right: I am of course referring to Bruce Springsteen's immortal 57 Channels And Nothin's On, and while I won't go so far as to say that everything was a waste of the ether, let us just say that if there was pick and choose in satellite TV there's a lot that I (and a lot of sane people) wouldn't be choosing. We all know that there are people who don't like sports who would eliminate all of the ESPN and Fox Sports channels from their lives, and I can certainly live a very full and happy life without most music channels but there's more. So many of the channels seem to be depending on an ongoing diet of reruns of shows that were produced a long long time ago by better people than them, or alternately on shows that were done on shoestring budgets - sometimes broken shoestrings at that. Maybe I wasn't watching at the right times - certainly I seemed to be looking in on a sort of cusp between old and new seasons for a lot of shows - but on the whole I found it difficult to get excited about a lot of channels.

God and Mammon: I actually did some counting while I was changing channels trying to find something worthy of my TV viewing time and there seemed to be something like thirteen different shopping channels. There were almost as many religious channels (or maybe it just seemed that way) and that's without counting ABC Family (which is contractually obligated to air Pat Robertson's 700 Club daily and occasional Christian Broadcast Network telethons on weekends) or the BYU network from Brigham Young University. The vast majority of the religious channels took an evangelical point of view, although there was Eternal Word Television which is a conservative Catholic channel. On the other hand the shopping channels seem to be aimed at a variety of markets. My "favourite" is a channel that seems entirely devoted to selling various sorts of knives. Suffice it to say that when this channel is selling "little toothpicks" they aren't selling bits of wood with which to remove stubborn pieces of the evening's steak dinner. (Looking this up I think it's the now dead Shop At Home Network.)

Who do you have to kill to see a ballgame on this thing: People frequently complain about too much sports on cable and satellite TV I had the opposite problem - not enough sports, or rather not enough of the sports I wanted to see. For whatever reason my brother had to get his subscription with a New York State billing address. It doesn't matter much for most things (he doesn't get local stations for example, not that it really matters to him) but is a major pain if you don't happen to be a Yankees or Mets fan (or a Rangers, Islanders and Devils fan in the NHL). Naturally enough I wanted to see the Red Sox games that Greg was attending - you know, try to see him in the crowd and that sort of thing - so I checked out NESN. Result: a black screen and the words "This program not available in your area." Then I checked out FSN (Fox Sportsnet) Detroit - same thing. Then I checked out every other sports channel where there was a baseball team that might be playing at the same time as the New York teams. The only ball games available were the Yankees and the Mets. I don't know if my old Diplomacy buddy Rich Goranson reads this but I seem to recall him complaining in the Montreal Expos newsgroup about how the New York City teams basically screwed with Buffalo's attempts to get a major league team, part of which was the fact that they were able to claim all of New York state as part of their media market but Buffalo wasn't allowed to claim Niagara Falls Ontario (right across the river) as people who would come and sit in the seats for a ball game. Still there is something jarring about being able to see the NESN pre-game show and then get a blank screen until the game ends.

I know now why they call it Skinamax I did see the late night Cinemax offerings and let's just say that a lot of silicones died for this channel. The shows I'm talking about are the nightly softcore porn shows and I gotta tell you they didn't work for me. Maybe I'm too old (almost 50 is too old for porn?) or maybe it's because I've seen too much but I didn't find their shows at all arousing, which after all is the point of both softcore and hardcore porn. There are a lot of problems the biggest of which seems to me to be that the shows don't seem to be having fun (that and the fleshy zeppelins that seem to be requisite for the women in the Cinemax shows - I'm not a fan of boobs that don't move). Some of my favourite soft core films from the 1980s were comedies that recognised the basic absurdity of the situation. What's wrong with a good old fashioned sex farce that takes things to the ultimate conclusion. Instead the "story" is usually a very lame excuse to get people naked and (faking) having sex.