Thursday, November 30, 2006

Well That Sort Of Sucks

No sooner did I finish posting my review of 3 Lbs. than a report popped up in TVSquad stating that Broadcast & Cable is reporting that the show was canceled by CBS after three episodes. According to the report 3 Lbs. received ratings that were 16% lower than the show it replaced, Smith which also ran three episodes.

And I'm not kidding about that "
No sooner did I finish posting my review..." bit. If you check the time on the TVSquad report and compare it to the time of my review, you'll discover that it was posted slightly more than two hours later.

Wow, talk about bad timing.

What Makes Us Us

3 Lbs.

It is the weight of the human brain. The weight of memory, of knowledge, of inventiveness, of personality. The weight of the soul. Your real weight when it comes down to it.

It is also the title of a quite involving new TV series starring Stanley Tucci and Mark Feuerstein as neurosurgeons. And because people who write about TV for a living like to say that a show is like something else, this show gets compared to House for what I feel are largely superficial reasons. But I’ll get to that later.

In the episode I saw on Tuesday night featured two stories (I hesitate to call one of these stories a case). In the main story Kathleen Ellis, a woman that Dr. Doug Hanson (Tucci) treated three years ago for a cerebral aneurysm, has returned to the hospital complaining about double vision, symptoms similar to what she exhibited before. Tests conducted by Hanson and his new associate, Dr. Jonathon Seger (Feuerstein) reveal that not only has she developed a new aneurysm but it is located in a part of the brain that is extremely difficult to reach and nearly impossible to operate on without either killing her or leaving her with extreme brain damage. Hanson is all for trying to deal with the aneurysm surgically, but Seger expresses doubts about whether it might be better to do nothing and let nature take its eventual course. He and Hanson go with the patient to a nearby park to discuss her options and in a move that thoroughly surprises Seger, Hanson clearly and concisely tells her off all the risks that go along with the surgery. Her trust in Hanson and his abilities is so complete that she gives her consent to the operation without qualm despite Seger’s insistence on repeating his reservations.

Things are complicated by the arrival of the patient’s brother, Brad. He’s a lawyer and immediately on arrival at the hospital he cancels the woman’s surgery and is intent on taking her out of the hospital as soon as she awakens from some medication that the doctors gave her to sleep. He is convinced that because Hanson operated on her successfully the first time he is able to exert undue and improper influence on her to get her to agree to the surgery. He demands that Hanson give him the odds that his sister will die during the surgery. Hanson has no patience with the man and tell him that the odds of her dying are 100% since the procedure requires that he reduce the body temperature to induce hypothermia and stop her heart for exactly thirty minutes while he repairs the aneurysm. And then he goes ahead and prepares to do the surgery anyway. After all, the brother can’t revoke the approval that his responsible adult sister gave. When the Brad finds out that the surgery is going ahead he flies into a rage, threatening to sue the hospital and getting into a physical confrontation with Seger, who isn’t part of the surgery because of the doubts he’d expressed to Kathleen about the surgery. Eventually Brad settles down and starts to play a piece of classical music on a piano that is located near Hanson’s office.

Eventually, Seger decides to go to the OR, persuaded by his colleague Dr. Adrienne Holland (Indira Varma) that he needs to participate in the operation. He arrives at just the right time. The heart surgeon who is working on the case and needs to do a bypass before the cooling procedure can be accomplished doesn’t believe that he can harvest a viable piece of vein to do the surgery and wants Hanson to go ahead without the bypass. Seger informs the heart surgeon that the likelihood of success goes from 23% to 25% if the bypass is done, but if the operation is done without the bypass and fails people will blame the heart surgeon while if the bypass occurs and it fails the blame will go to Hanson. The bypass is successful, as is Hanson’s surgical procedure although he finishes just seconds before the time limit for the hypothermia.

The “B” Plot in this episode is not quite comic but is far less serious and more personal than the main story line. A visiting professor of Astronomy who starts to see his student’s faces only as smudges. He is suffering from something called Prosopagnosia or “face blindness.” He goes to see Dr. Adrienne Holland about his situation and she puts him through a series of tests to determine if he actually does suffer from the condition. At the same time she is feeling an intense attraction to him – he’s handsome, gentle, intelligent and she has always had an interest in astronomy. In conversations with Seger she goes over the ethics of doing other tests when she knows that there is nothing medically that can be done for the condition. Eventually, after she admits to the patient that there is no medical treatment and that there are no more tests she can perform, he invites her out on a date, which she accepts. And suddenly things go all wrong. When he arrives at the hospital for their date, he asks Adrienne if Dr. Holland is in her office. He doesn’t know her face, just the context of her in the office. She claims that she has work to do and can’t go out on the date and then agonizes over her decision. It all ends up well in the end when he shows up at her home shortly before he is supposed to leave the city. He takes pictures of parts of her face and it is highly implied that they made love.

3 Lbs. is an interesting show although not one that is easy to dissect. The two principal actors are excellent of course. I first became interested in Stanley Tucci when he played Richard Cross in the first season of Murder One opposite Daniel Benzali. I first saw Feuerstein when he played Cliff Calley, one of Aaron Sorkin’s assorted “good” Republicans in The West Wing. Tucci brings the right degree of arrogance to the role of Doug Hanson without being over the top about it. It is a similar quality to what the character Richard Cross had. On the other hand Feuerstein is nicely positioned to play the less arrogant and more wondering Seger. I am less impressed with Indira Varma’s performance as Adrienne Holland, which seemed to consist mainly of bantering with Seger and looking beautiful. I have a suspicion that this might have been the fault of the episode that I was watching rather than of the actress or the character. One character whose existence in the episode, and possibly the series, I did not understand was Dr. Thomas Flores, played by Armando Riesco. In the episode I watched he seemed to do nothing beyond drinking coffee and acting hyper because of it. Oh yes, he also broke up the fight between Seger and Brad Ellis, but mostly his role seemed to be comic relief and not very good comic relief at that.

I found the writing good at points, uneven at others. There are things – like the piano outside the office – that I’m sure would have become clear to me if I’d seen the earlier episodes, but there are other things that seemed just too convenient. At other times, as when Kathleen’s brother Brad cancels the surgery and said that if he hadn’t been in Asia when his sister had the first surgery he wouldn’t have permitted that, when I wondered at the character’s motivations. Did he want his sister dead, paralyzed or otherwise subjected to the effects of the aneurysm exploding? It was even more convenient at the end, after Kathleen’s surgery had been a success and he was waiting for her to regain consciousness, that he suddenly became Hanson’s biggest booster. It is too sudden a transition. The secondary plot was fun but it really felt as though it had simply been tacked on to give Indira Varma something more to do in the episode than just banter with Seger.

The obvious comparison is made to House, and as usual with such comparisons I think it is made simply because writers need to compare shows to each other. For all that House the show is interesting to watch because of the performance that Hugh Laurie delivers as Gregory House, the character is damaged. I’m not talking physically but rather emotionally. This emotional damage makes him susceptible to addictions, it makes him treat the people around him badly, and yes it makes him arrogant. Hanson on the other hand is arrogant because he’s a surgeon. He’s not just any type of surgeon either, he’s a neurosurgeon, on of the two sorts of surgeons – along with heart surgeons – for whom the old line about the difference between God and a surgeon (God doesn’t think He’s a surgeon) truly applies. In short he comes by his arrogant manner honestly. He’s not damaged. He doesn’t treat his subordinates like ignoramuses even while he doesn’t treat them as equals. On the whole, House is a more complex character filled with various nuances, while I suspect that Hanson is more realistic in that he feels (at least to me) closer to what a real neurosurgeon would be like.

As for the show, I have to say that House is far superior to 3 Lbs. but they are different shows in tone and substance. I hate to suggest that 3 Lbs. is the more realistic program but it seems more grounded in reality. The show is reasonably interesting, and probably worth watching at least a few times, even with the things that irritated me about the writing, but I can’t say that it falls into the top echelon of shows that must be seen. And opposite Law & Order: SVU and Boston Legal that might very well be what it would need to be.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Short Takes – November 26, 2006

Haven’t been doing much blogging this week. Too much other stuff going on. I have a ton of stuff on tape that I need to get to, including most of Heroes and a couple of new series. There are a couple of shows I haven’t been taping that I should get to work on too. Plus I keep struggling, trying to write something about Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. It’s just a matter of finding the time and time hasn’t been real abundant lately, and that doesn’t look likely to change for a couple of weeks. I’ll do what I can, but I can’t guarantee much.

The triumph of mediocrity: Fox showed that they learned nothing from last year’s debacle with Reunion by pulling Vanished from the Friday “death slot” that they assigned the unfinished serial to. The filled that slot with Justice which had been following Prison Break on Monday and not doing well. Meanwhile Fox has given the producers of Standoff and ’Til Death orders for more episodes, six for the former and nine for the latter. I’m sorry, but in my obviously flawed opinion either one of Justice or Vanished is eminently superior to either Standoff or ’Til Death and if Justice were on ABC, CBS or even NBC it would be drawing far better ratings with the cast it has.

A crossover is a terrible thing to waste: Since I didn’t get this up last week I missed the opportunity to comment on last Friday’s episode of Las Vegas which was a November sweeps cross-over with Crossing Jordan. What’s that you say? Crossing Jordan isn’t on? Well you’re right, it isn’t but it was supposed to be on by now. In fact it was supposed to be on in the first hour of Friday night, just before Las Vegas but then someone at NBC had the idea that they should try out a new game show called 1 vs. 100 in that time slot and it hit. So instead of an episode where Danny and Delinda get involved in a case in Boston during their leaf peeping trip to New England, after which Jordan and Woody would fly back to Vegas, what we saw was the second half of a case with no starting point that we know about. This is why stations that strip series in syndication hate crossovers; because they don’t make sense if you don’t have the other show, particularly if the other show has the first half of the crossover. NBC has not yet announced when Crossing Jordan will return, but because they were preparing to start in October or November, they’ve shot an episode where Danny and Delinda show up in Boston on a leaf peeping trip and get involved in a case involving Jordan and Woody. And episodes cost money.

Mixed messages from NBC: NBS is sending seriously mixed messages. On the one hand they renewed Friday Night Lights for the full season, then almost immediately afterwards announced that it had been pulled from its Tuesday night time slot and would be replaced with Dateline NBC, the newsmagazine which has recently been going through a series of staff cuts. This is supposed to begin towards the end of December, which basically coincides with the end of the NFL season so it seems likely that Friday Night Lights will end up on Sunday.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: In terms of Worst Show Of The Week our friends at the PTC seem to be in a bit of a rut. Either that or they have reached the conclusion that this year'’ TV season offers nothing to upset them. No I think they’re in a rut. For the fourth week in a row – unprecedented as far as I’m aware – they’re laying the hate on that episode of Boston Legal with the “incestuous” mother and son.

On the other hand they are going after advertisers with a couple of statements to corporate shareholders meetings. First up was a statement to the board of Clorox by the Director of the Bay Area Chapter of the PTC in which she castigated the company (which had previously won the PTC’s “Advertiser Seal of Approval Award for responsible advertising practices”) for not sponsoring more family friendly programming. In her statement the Bay Area Chapter Director, Debra Timberlake took the company to task for sponsoring shows like Medium, CSI, CSI: Miami, and Two and Half Men which “contained either brutal violence or explicit sexual content.” If the transcript of her statement published on the PTC website is complete, her major concern was with CSI. “During the course of its run the show, CSI featured the following: graphic scenes which depicted cannibalism, a fully nude female corpse, and mutilated victims of a deranged killer. Sexual situations in this series are extremely graphic. In the past, scenes included a brother and sister having sex, men receiving S&M beatings from a dominatrix in a sex club, pornographic snuff films, and a woman making a sex video for her 15-year-old stepson. All shows linked to the CSI franchise have developed increasingly offensive graphic images, including close-ups of corpses with gunshot wounds and other bloody body injuries.” She finishes with the following statement: “You used to be a responsible advertiser but you’ve gotten off course lately. We offer our resources to you and look forward to working with Clorox to get back on the right track and once again support family-friendly programs that truly reflect their corporate philosophy.”

Next up was a shareholders meeting at Microsoft where the PTC’s Manager of Advertising Programs Glen Erickson took Bill Gates and Microsoft to task for their advertising practices, particularly for the Xbox 360. Erickson started off by praising the company and Gates in particular before getting to the meat of the matter: “Microsoft is clearly a leader in the betterment of the lives of children. Mr. Gates, your philanthropic work through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has helped children all around the world. Surely, you understand how Microsoft’s irresponsibility in the media marketplace can undermine your good works. It is a shame that Microsoft cannot demonstrate leadership as a responsible corporate citizen as reflected in the support of the company’s consistent pattern of advertising on some of the most violent and vulgar programming on television.” Erickson then proceeded to list a number of shows that Microsoft advertises on including The Family Guy, CSI, The O.C., and The War at Home before getting to the heart of the matter, the PTC’s continuing war on the FX Network cable series Nip/Tuck. The statement contains some rather graphic language which amazingly enough wasn’t censored on the PTC’s own website! “Last season, the XBOX was advertised in a Nip/Tuck episode that included this exchange between two lead characters: Christian: ‘How would you feel if I took a mold of my cock, passed it around South Beach and called it a career?’ Kimber: ‘If you thought it was a solid business venture, I would let you.’ Christian: ‘Now you’re full of shit.’ Later in the show, the Colleen character approaches Christian and he grabs her hands and presses them to his crotch. And this is a show sponsored by Microsoft’s XBOX.” I can only imagine that the PTC, being under the mistaken belief that since the Xbox is a gaming system the primary market is children. This is inaccurate. according to current data, the average age of the owners of computer game systems is 33 and 69% of systems are owned by people over the age of 18. In other words the target market for a show like Nip/Tuck. Erickson finishes with the following statement: “I am here today to plead with you, on behalf of millions of Americans, to stop underwriting sleaze and adopt responsible advertising guidelines that will keep Microsoft off of programming that contains foul language, gratuitous sex, and graphic violence. Will Microsoft continue paying for the ‘cultural sewage’ that is broadcast into our homes on a nightly basis? Or, will Microsoft be a responsible corporate citizen and dedicate its advertising dollars toward sponsoring pro-social, family-friendly programming. The Parents Television Council would like your response to this question by the first of December so that we may let our 1.1 million members know whether or not Microsoft is dedicated to responsible advertising and not to return to sponsoring some of the most offensive and violent programming on television. I hope that I will be able to tell them that Microsoft is adopting advertising guidelines that reflect its corporate values.” Or to be completely accurate, advertising guidelines that reflects the PTC’s values.

And the contrary view: The Center for Creative Voices in Media filed a brief to overturn “the FCC's recent consistently inconsistent indecency decisions.” This was duly reported in their blog. In the blog entry (and possibly the brief – it’s not entirely clear) they made the following statement:

The results of the FCC’s campaign against broadcast indecency are clear. Much of the programming that is being censored, pushed back to a late hour, or dropped entirely by broadcasters is the very programming that Americans overwhelmingly want to see – some of the highest-quality programming available on television. When the FCC’s inconsistent and confusing indecency decisions force broadcasters to censor, delay, or drop shows like Eyes on the Prize, The War, 9/11 and others, its clear that the high quality television ‘baby’ is being thrown out with the indecent ‘bathwater.'

Many parents want to watch this programming together with their children. By causing quality television to disappear, the FCC has taken a powerful tool out of the hands of parents who use television to open up a dialogue with their kids about controversial topics like violence, poverty, racial disparity, and cultural diversity,” says Peggy Charren, famed children’s television advocate, founder of Action for Children’s Television and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “Consider how many parents watched Roots with their children and then engaged in a dialogue with them about the issues raised by that provocative program. For the FCC to deny them that opportunity – that’s not helping kids, it’s harming kids.

Organizations like the PTC and other “social conservative” organizations that attempt to use the FCC to enforce their vision of morality on the American TV viewer in the cause of “protecting the children” are enhancing this climate of fear. They don’t need to “succeed” to succeed, only to sew enough fear into broadcasters and advertisers. At the same time the provide a sop to parents who can’t be bothered to pay attention to what their children are watching, let alone watch programs with them and decide for themselves what is appropriate for their children, as individuals. As well, the PTC and their adherents seem to forget the story of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve can be drawn into eating the forbidden fruit because of the fact that it is forbidden without an explanation of why. Parents talking to their children can provide the why one show with strong language or nudity is acceptable while another program is not; organizations which adhere to a rigid agenda can’t and more importantly won’t.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Most Important Network Most Of Us Can't See?

Is Al Jazeerah English the most important news network in the world?

I normally don’t cover “the News” in this blog – too real – but the long delayed and long awaited debut of Al Jazeerah English might be a reason for breaking this silence. I’d probably know better if I could see it, but like virtually all Canadians and an extremely high proportion of Americans I can’t. In Canada the English language network isn’t licensed by the regulatory agency – the CRTC – and a license hasn’t been applied for. The Arabic service was licensed - to considerable uproar – in 2004, but there are restrictions imposed on any service provider that are regarded as onerous. Any cable and satellite companies carrying the service were required to monitor the network 24 hours a day seven days a week to censor any “abusive comment” and “alter or curtail” any programming found to be offensive. In order to carry Al Jazeerah English, a new application would have to be made and the potential for similar restrictions means that none of the service providers has yet made such an application. In the United States, while the FCC has no such regulatory reach few carriers – and none of the major services – is offering the network. Only four American services will carry Al Jazeerah English: GlobeCast, a satellite network specializing in international news services, JumpTV and VDC (Virtual Digital Cable), both online subscription services, and Fision a “fiber-optics to the home service” that will begin operating in the Houston area in December. By contrast, Al Jazeerah English is widely cleared in most of Europe including England, France and Germany as well as Israel. (A listing of services carrying Al Jazeerah English can be found on the network’s website.)

So why do I think Al Jazeerah English might be the most important news network in the world? After all it is only reaching an estimated 80,000,000 households worldwide. This is in contrast with outlets like BBC World, which reaches approximately 270 million homes worldwide or CNN International, which claims to reach “more than 1 billion households and hotel rooms in over 200 countries.” However, Al Jazeerah English brings one thing to the table that CNN International and BBC World don’t – a non-western perspective. As much as I love BBC World (and to a lesser degree CNN) they do present the news through a Western industrialized lens and there are a great many influential English speakers outside of the industrialized world who need or would appreciate a different perspective, and Al Jazeerah English is delivering a different perspective. The network claims to have more reporters in the Southern Hemisphere than their competition. In their launch day reporting the network included in an in depth report on the elections in the Congo, and live reports from Darfur, Iran, Zimbabwe and Brazil. There was report on a flare-up of violence along the Gaza Strip in which an Israeli woman was killed and a documentary on the problems faced by a Palestinian ambulance driver. Riz Khan, formerly of the BBC, hosted a show in which he conducted live satellite interviews with both Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. There were no reports on Naomi Campbell’s trial for assaulting an assistant, or People Magazine naming George Clooney the Sexiest Man of the Year, and I suspect that the word TomKat never appeared on their broadcast.

In the end the influence of Al Jazeerah English won’t be on North America where it can barely be seen, and probably not in the industrialized world at all. Where it will be influential and possibly even the option of choice for a lot of people is in those areas of the world that aren’t well served by the international news media. People in those areas are quite likely to see Al Jazeerah English as their station of record because it is concerned with their stories, stories that are largely ignored by the western media or twisted in an effort to give them a slant that will play in New York or London. I am not convinced that even if the network proves to be biased it isn’t valuable to have it available on the North American airwaves if only to, in the words of Robert Burns, “To see ourselves as others see us.” It might be illuminating, if not vaguely scary.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Ladies Let's Salsa!"

I can’t help wondering if William Shatner – back when he was doing Romeo And Juliet at Stratford – ever thought that he’d end up as the over the top host of a cheesy game show. Maybe. Back in those days the Canadian acting community was small, it was a buyer’s market, and there were a lot of people who were willing to just about any job – Shatner did one week on the Canadian version of Howdy Doody because James Doohan’s agent couldn’t agree with the CBC on a contract for his client and the guy who got the gig couldn’t start until a week after the series was supposed to start. In the 1950s actors in Canada had one rule: “Show me the money.” Which coincidentally is the name of the cheesy new game show that Shatner is the over the top host of.

People writing about Television, and indeed pitching shows, tend to look for something known to compare the shows to. Maybe it’s the whole mindset that “imitation is the sincerest form of television.” The quote is from the legendary radio comedian Fred Allen, although I suspect that at least one of the people who used the quote with regard to Show Me The Money has no idea who Fred Allen was. More than one reviewer compared to Show Me The Money to Deal Or No Deal although I’m not absolutely clear on the reasoning for this. I mean sure, there are similarities. Prize amounts are revealed by extremely attractive young women; thirteen dancing girls to be precise although why they had to be dancing girls is beyond me. I can imagine the pitch meeting though: “Imagine thirteen, count’em, thirteen beautiful dancing girls.” Almost makes me think of those girly shows at the fair when I was too young to get into them. That’s where the similarity stops. In Deal Or No Deal you pick a briefcase and then spend the rest of your time deciding which case to pick next and answering offers from the Banker. Show me the money is more complex.

It may in fact be too complex. Players are given a “header” which is the first word or word of three questions, A, B, or C. The player then picks a question to answer but has the option to pass on the question twice on each header. They must provide an answer for one question in each category. Once the player has answered a question, but usually before the player is told whether the answer is right or wrong, the player must pick a dancer who will reveal the prize amount by opening a scroll placed in a holder in front of them. If the answer is correct that amount will be added to the player’s prize pool; if the answer is wrong that amount will be subtracted from the pool. The game ends when the player has either answered six questions correctly (+) or incorrectly (-). There are twelve prize amounts ranging – in $20,000 increments – from $20,000 to $250,000. One dancer has the “killer card”. If the player’s answer was correct there’s no penalty and neither a + or a – is added to the players list. If the answer was wrong however, the player is then asked a “sudden death” question. Again if the player answers correctly there is no change in status. If the answer is incorrect the player loses everything that has been won and the game ends immediately. And from time to time, for no apparent reason, everybody dances. Including Shatner, who dances like a 75 year-old man trying desperately to look hip.

The first, 90 minute, episode featured two contestants and surprisingly both finished their games. The first contestant on the show was perhaps the gayest human being ever to come out of the state of Oklahoma. He carried a “man purse” or “Murse” which contained some lip balm and his prized Shania Twain ticket. He claims to be a huge fan and amazingly enough it came into play during the game – he passed on a question where the correct answer was Shania Twain. He played the game quite well, getting his first four questions correct and at one point looking like a contender for a prize of over a million dollars before his luck turned slightly and he ended up with just over $500,000. Still he managed to show the quality of the Oklahoma educational system by informing us that Amsterdam is in Denmark. The next contestant wasn’t so lucky. He was a Commander in the US Navy, a fighter pilot stationed at “Top Gun” (because picking a pilot who flew off of the USS Enterprise would be just too much of a coincidence). He had a rough time of it, starting in a slight hole but recovering and building up a small pot…which he proceeded to lose on one question. He built his money up again until he ran into “the killer card.” He was forced to face the “sudden death question” and it was better suited to the guy with the “murse” – What was the name of the man who became known as “Mr. Liza Minelli” after he married her? He lost the money but probably reassured a whole lot of people by not knowing the answer to that one.

I’m not sure if this show would have gotten on the air if it weren’t for the presence of William Shatner, and I’m not sure whether or not that qualifies as a good thing. The rules are complicated but there is the germ of a good idea here. The questions are for the most part challenging unless you’re a geeky know it all (hand raises slowly). But it’s the sheer insanity of people suddenly starting to dance for no more reason than Shatner shouting something like “Ladies, let’s Salsa!” A lot of how you feel about this show will depend on how you feel about Shatner – my mother managed about 5 minutes of the show. The over the top personality he adopts for this show is even more extreme than the personality he used for the abortive UPN attempt at bringing Iron Chef to the United States. This isn’t (I sincerely hope) the “real” William Shatner but rather a parody of a parody. In the end I’m not sure how watchable this show will be regardless of how much you like William Shatner. Definitely not my cup of Earl Grey.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why I'll Be Watching The Dancing With The Stars Finale

Forget Emmitt Smith (right) and Mario Lopez (left), I'm watching this show because of their partners, Cheryl Burke and Karina Smirnoff. It's sort of like "Chick Flicks". Guys who "know" realise that you get the best nudity in "Chick Flicks." Guy films have nudity all right but it's usually one of the action heroes who's exposing his bits, as opposed to - you know - a woman. Well in Dancing With The Stars you have lithe athletic young women without a trace of excess body fat that I can detect, dressed in frequently revealing costumes shaking what their Mamas made them. And best of all, the Parents Television Council thinks it's all good clean fun. I'm glad they can't read my mind!

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Quiz on Accents

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: North Central

"North Central" is what professional linguists call the Minnesota accent. If you saw "Fargo" you probably didn't think the characters sounded very out of the ordinary. Outsiders probably mistake you for a Canadian a lot.

The West

The Midland


The Inland North

The South


The Northeast

What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

Well really it does make sense - I am a Canadian after all. More to the point I'm a western Canadian, so a North Central accent makes sense. Going into the States we most frequently use the port of entry in North Dakota (and I actually have been to Fargo, not to mention Moorehead which is across the Red River). What I normally don't get is the supposed Canadian accent which has us all sounding like counterfeit Scotsmen - oot and aboot indeed.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Short Takes – November 12, 2006

More network moves: I’ll get to what’s going on at NBC in a bit but I want to focus on what’s going on there apart from the other network moves. First, Fox is pulling Justice off of Monday nights and will be replacing it with a House rerun. Yep, another show I liked gone, but don’t ask me what it means. With Prison Break going on a long hiatus once 24 starts it has to mean something. Next, we’ve got ABC moving Men In Trees, newly anointed with a full season order, to Thursday night opposite ER and Shark. This would seem to be near suicide but there’s a method in their madness because the quirky Alaska show follows the quirky Doctor show. What’s really interesting to me is that Abraham Benrubi’s current series is going head to head with the series that he basically debuted in. Meanwhile Six Degrees has been put on hiatus until January (yeah, right, like that’ll really happen). The CW hasn’t been as kind to Veronica Mars and One Tree Hill in terms of orders for new scripts – they’ve only received orders for three scripts each.

Big things shaking at NBC: Unfortunately none of them are being caused by Jeff Zucker’s head rolling. The first move of the current group is to put Twenty Good Years out of our misery by pulling it from the schedule indefinitely. They’ve also decided to take 30 Rock and move it to the second hour of Thursday nights along with Scrubs. There’s an element of sacrificial lamb being served up there perhaps, but maybe not since these shows are different enough from what the other networks have this time that they might draw an audience or at least retain a significant portion of the audience from the bloc of My Name Is Earl and The Office. 30 Rock starts airing in its new time slot (sort of) this coming Thursday, which means that it fills the time between a 36 minute My Name Is Earl, a 44 minute The Office, and a 59 minute ER.

NBC has also announced that they will be giving a full season order to Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, a show that people love or abhor. The show’s demographics are apparently very interesting to the network. Apparently the while the series hasn’t done well in total viewers or in the coveted Adults 18-49 group (of which I’m no longer a member), which leads Marc Berman of MediaWeek to perpetually label it a “loser”, it does attract some extremely desirable subgroupings. According to NBC it has “consistently delivered some of the highest audience concentrations among all prime-time network series in such key upscale categories as adults 18-49 living in homes with $75,000-plus and $100,000-plus incomes and in homes where the head of household has four or more years of college." That makes it highly attractive to advertisers and may explain why the show actually makes a profit for the network. That said the renewal is not unconditional. Charlie McCollum of the San Jose Mercury News reports that in order to get the full season order Warner Brothers had to promise to cut production costs. Part of this will be absorbed by pay cuts for Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme. Part of the reduction will be made up by reducing the number of episodes that each member of the cast is guaranteed to appear in (actors are paid on a per episode basis with the guarantee being the minimum number of episodes the actor will appear in, or at least be paid for). Finally, NBC has announced that they will be announcing a new schedule next week, and the show will “not necessarily stay on Monday.” One can only hope for a makeover that will not only save Studio 60 but also Friday Night Lights, it being too late for Kidnapped.

NBC all about cutting costs: And I can’t help but wonder why. First we have Jeff Zucker announcing that NBC will no longer program dramas or comedies in the first hour of prime time claiming “that advertisers just won't pay enough money during the 8 pm time slot to cover the costs of comedies and dramas.” Then there’s the demand for reduced production costs for Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. In between we’ve had an announcement that NBC News would be cutting staff members including 17 staff members at Dateline NBC with more cuts to come. I suppose the question is why is NBC-Universal going all out with these cost cutting measures? I suspect that the answer has little to do with actually needing to cut costs and a whole lot to do with padding the bottom line for the NBC part of NBC-Universal. But maybe I’m just being cynical.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Our “friends” at the PTC still haven’t replaced Boston Legal, last week’s “Worst of the Week”, so apparently it was really evil. The PTC does hate someone new this week – it’s the FCC. In a recent decision the FCC overturned two previous indecency decisions on appeal. In the first case the Commission overturned a decision related to a CBS Early Show interview with a recently evicted Survivor contestant in which the contestant referred to one of the other players as “a bullshitter”. The FCC allowed the appeal because the interview could arguably be described as “a news item.” In the other case the FCC overturned a decision stemming from “several complaints about various variants of ‘shit’ on NYPD Blue, which aired at 9 p.m. Central Time in Kansas City.” According to the report that appeared in the Center for Creative Voices in Media Blog the complaint was overturned on a procedural cause when the Commission discovered that none of the complaints about the show actually came from the Kansas City area.

Both sides seem to be engaging in a bit of spin on these two issues. On the Early Show case the PTC stated “The FCC’s ruling about the indecent language on CBS Early Show is troubling. The Commission has arbitrarily created a ‘news exemption’ for indecency where none existed before. In this case the Early Show carried an interview with a cast member promoting another CBS program, and that is considered a “news” event? This creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. Even more ominous is the creation of a provision for the networks themselves to determine what fits this ‘news’ definition. Virtually any programming could be called a ‘news’ program. With the networks left to their own devices and already arguing in court for an unfettered ‘right’ to air profanity at any time of day, this means that the American people will be subjected to ‘f-bombs’ and other raunchy, inappropriate language on any program a network chooses to call a ‘news’ show.” For their part the Center for Creative Voices in Media cites Duke University law professor Stuart M. Benjamin an expert on telecommunications law, “This makes it all the harder to claim we've got a set of clear consistent rules, which is what the FCC's claim has been all along." The PTC is of course expecting the worst off the television networks with their claim that “virtually any programming could be called a ‘news’ program.” This is absurd. Like every other network CBS maintains a clear separation between their news and entertainment divisions Admittedly sometimes these definitions can sometimes be blurred – witness the way that the ABC News Division was used to create a series devoted to a “study” of online dating – but on the whole the split is pretty clear-cut. Only in the minds of people like the PTC could a network define a show like CSI or even Survivor as a “news” show. The Early Show has always been considered part of the CBS News division and the interview with the Survivor contestant was both live and unscripted, at least on the part of the contestant. Both the PTC and the Center for Creative Voices in Media do recognize the fact that the FCC’s decision broke new ground and created an exemption where none had existed before.

The decision on NYPD Blue provoked a different reaction. According to the Center for Creative Voices in Media, the original decision was overturned because none of the complaints came from the Kansas City area, which was specifically where the complaints cited the problem as existing. This was discovered by Amy Schatz of the Wall Street Journal – most media outlets simply characterized the decision as “procedural”. The PTC – which was playing its now favourite card, using the time zones to define a show as indecent in one are but not indecent in another area – was defiant. They claimed that the FCC was claiming that “the FCC maintains that only one complaint was filed over ABC’s NYPD Blue in 2003, and because that complaint was incorrect, there is no basis to consider action against ABC for the program in question.” According to the PTC “there were at least 96 separate complaints from individuals in at least 28 states filed with the FCC over the use of the words ‘B.S.’ in NYPD Blue. Once again, the FCC Enforcement Bureau, which has a long, disgraceful and well-documented history of botching, or simply ignoring citizen complaints, has apparently dropped the ball, thus once again violating its charter. This is an outrage.” However, if the complaint about the show was specifically focussed on the airing of the show in Kansas City, which is what the statement from the Center for Creative Voices in Media indicates, the fact that there were 96 (or even 9600) complaints from 28 states doesn’t really matter if none of them came from the Kansas City media market.

I wonder what we can expect from the FCC now that both houses of Congress are controlled by the Democrats, even if a lot of the new Democratic Party members are social conservatives?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Something Was Missing On The Election Coverage

It’s nights like this that I miss Dan Rather.

I’m an election junkie. I love ’em, no matter who’s voting for what. Canadian Provincial elections, Federal elections, American elections, British elections; I watch them all. I think it goes back to growing up in Saskatchewan during the Diefenbaker-Pearson period. By the time I was 14 I had been alive for 19 Canadian Federal, Saskatchewan Provincial, American Presidential and mid-term elections, plus I don’t know how many British elections. The only thing that keeps me from following French elections has been the lack of English language commentators and any idea about how the damned things work. And let me tell you that as a connoisseur of such things, this set of elections was a good one. You had drama on the macro-level; can the Democrats win the House of Representatives, and maybe – just maybe – the Senate? The former gives Nancy Pelosi a place in the history books and turning her into a female Glenallen Walken in waiting (West Wing reference). In individual races there’s drama and there’s farce; the woman who lost both her legs to an RPG while flying a helicopter in Iraq who was running in a heavily Republican district in Illinois (she lost), and the married Republican incumbent who was charged with punching his mistress (he lost). Some of this stuff would be great for an episode of a TV series; the question being would the series be The West Wing or Saturday Night Live (back when it was good).

But of course I’m not here to review the election, I’m sort of here to review the TV coverage, which is kind of an absurdity, since there really wasn’t that much TV coverage, at least not that I could review. I get the four networks plus CNN, Headline News, and CNBC. I didn’t look in on Headline News – haven’t watched it since it stopped actually being a network that delivered “headline news” and started putting on people like Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace. As for CNBC, once the election coverage started the Canadian feed turned into CNBC World. I’m not willing to pay the extra bucks for MSNBC or Fox News (yeuch). So I have to spend some time with the broadcast networks, particularly since their regularly scheduled programs hold (slightly) more interest for me than the election.

And that’s how I come to miss Dan Rather. He had entertainment value. 729 days out of every two years he was the very model of the modern journalist – perfectly scripted, perfectly coifed, impeccably dressed. But on that first Tuesday in November on an even numbered years something happened. It was like watching Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde. The perfect coif would become slightly less perfect. The Texas accent became more and more pronounced. The impeccably styled jacket might become ever so slightly disheveled or on some occasions might even be removed! But the real joy came when the “perfect anchor” started saying words that could not possibly have been written for him, or at least not by anyone except him. Lines like: "This race is tight like a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach." Or another favourite: "If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a hand gun." I mean that sort of stuff goes beyond politics, it is pure entertainment, and I always got the feeling that Rather lived for Election Day. Sadly, when Dan left CBS he left completely. Worse, he took the amazing Texas aphorism machine along with him. Watching Katie Couric was, well to be honest I’d rather watch Katie, but I’d rather listen to Rather. I mean there was Katie: perfectly coifed, impeccably dressed…and perfectly scripted. But of course it wasn’t just Katie. It was Brian Williams at NBC, and it was Charlie Gibson at ABC. There was no sense that this was anything more than just another story to be reported in a totally professional – and kind of boring – manner. About the only bright light in that way came from CBS veteran Bob Scheiffer but his appearances were fewer than one might have hoped.

So yeah, come Election Day I do miss Dan Rather. He made an appearance on The Daily Show/Colbert Report’s Election Special. While I didn’t see it I understand he was on and off in between 10 and 15 minutes; barely enough time for him to get rolling, and certainly not enough time for him to comment on something like the Virginia Senate race between George Allen and James Webb. For that one, I’d like to think he’d have come up with something as good as "That race is tighter than the rusted lug nuts on a '57 Ford." And you can bet the trailer money on that.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Short Takes – November 5, 2006

First an apology. I am finding that blogging on this old computer (or probably more accurately this old operating system) isn’t exactly convenient and therefore I’m doing it less. For one thing the blogging software I’ve been using – w.bloggar – doesn’t seem to work with Windows 98. Then again my mouse isn’t performing the way it would on XP either and the performance of my new keyboard is less than optimal too. Oh well, four to six months to a new computer.

I never noticed before: For those of you who get Turner Classic Movies, they’ve been showing the Kirk Allyn Superman serial from 1948 on Saturday mornings just before their Cartoon Alley show (one of the only place on TV where you can see classic Warner Brothers and MGM animation on an actual TV without shelling out for DVDs). The serial featured the always reliable Carol Forman as the “Spider Lady”, mostly hiding her dark hair underneath a platinum blonde wig. And it features Noel Neill as Lois Lane, a role she’d reprise in the 1950 serial Atom Man vs. Superman and then in the TV series The Adventures of Superman. I am used to seeing Neill in the short, heavily permed hairstyle that the character had from the 1950s and which was a favourite of Kurt Schaffenberger, so seeing Neill with longer, shoulder length hair is a revelation. At 27 or 28 she was a real cutie, which isn’t something you really notice five years later. Maybe I’m just a sucker for longer hair. TCM will wind up the 1948 serial next Saturday (November 11) and then start Atom Man vs. Superman (featuring the only appearance of the Lex Luthor character in either the live action movies or TV until the 1978 movie) the week after.

Why does NewsCorp hate Studio 60?: Maybe hate is an overstatement, but there’s something going on. First Fox News reported that NBC was on the verge of canceling Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, or as the Fox News article put it “putting it out of its misery” and replace it with “Deal-No Deal: The Next Generation, or some such thing. So the losers here will be the audience, which is about to be pummelled by more reality and game shows.” Not so said NBC. Not only have they ordered more episodes but the show is actually profitable for the network, because while the audience is smaller than expected (or hoped for) it tends to be a more affluent audience for which the network can charge a premium to advertisers. Then, after NBC ran a new episode of Friday Night Lights in Studio 60’s Monday time slot which got marginally higher ratings than the previous week’s episode of Studio 60, Michael Starr of the New York Post wrote an article headlined “Lights Dim Hope For Studio”. The article conveniently ignored the fact that while Studio 60 has been up against new episodes of CSI: Miami – the most popular show in the world based on international syndication – while Friday Night Lights was against a CSI: Miami rerun and a Monday night football game on ESPN that was essentially a blow-out. Under those circumstances one would tend to expect a better performance. In fact Studio 60’s rating had improved the week before against a new episode of CSI: Miami. It wasn’t a huge improvement but it was an improvement. NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly has stated – in reference to Studio 60, Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock – "I'm sitting here right now with some very good television shows that I think have a lot of promise that need to be nurtured a little bit...I'm pulling for these shows and I'm trying to figure out what's the midseason schedule that can give them a chance, because I really believe some of these can really grow into bigger commercial assets." Fox News and The New York Post are both owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp.

Gone in 60 minutes: On Wednesday Fox debuted a new game show called The Rich List in the second hour in the time slot previously occupied by Justice. I missed it. It was on opposite Criminal Minds and Lost. Fox pulled the show from its line up and from the network’s website on Friday. They also pulled, and apparently canceled Happy Hour at the same time. Also canceled – again – by NBC is Kidnapped, which got one airing in its Saturday nighttime slot before the network dropped it. The remaining episodes will be made available online, not that this helps a Canadian fan of the show (like me) due to rights issues.

The PTC rates the young people’s favourites: Our “friends” at the Parent’s Television Council have analyzed the top 20 shows among “children ages 2-17, according to a ranking by Nielsen Media Research.” The PTC article The Cleanest TV Shows for Children are Reality Shows? uses the organization’s Red, Yellow and Green light system to show the “suitability” of the show. Green Light shows – most suitable – are (from best to worst) are Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, NBC Sunday Night Football, Deal or No Deal, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and American Inventor. Yellow Light shows – questionably suitable – are So You Think You Can Dance, The Simpsons, America’s Got Talent, Biggest Loser, and Survivor. The Red Light shows – unsuitable – are Lost, House, The War at Home, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, American Dad, Family Guy, Desperate Housewives, and C.S.I. As the PTC notes, none of the shows that the PTC deems as “suitable” and only one of the “questionably suitable” programs is a scripted series. On the other hand it does raise a certain concern about the PTC’s methodology. By lumping two year olds with 17 year olds they create the impression that five or seven year olds are watching Desperate Housewives or CSI. As most people realize there is usually a significant difference between what pre-teens watch and a teenager prefers, not to mention what’s suitable for a pre-teen as opposed to what’s suitable for an older teen. The PTC doesn’t seem to recognize this, or perhaps in an effort to rally the righteous indignation of their members has chosen to present the data this way.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Last week (when I didn’t post) the PTC renewed its attack on Cable and Satellite pricing. They want a la carte pricing to combat the “full-fledged programming conveyor belt taking sexually graphic and violent shows from premium cable to basic cable, and some from basic cable to broadcast.” The PTC is making this call “citing evidence that several television shows have moved from premium cable to basic cable, and some to broadcast. A current series on the FX Network, The Shield is also being aired on the CW Network. Originally developed for HBO, Six Feet Under, is now airing on Bravo. In January, HBO series, The Sopranos will begin airing on A&E. And former HBO series, Sex and the City, which was one of the first to be syndicated on basic cable, is now being carried on the CW Network.” The PTC notes that “The former HBO series, Sex and the City, was one of the first to pave the way into basic cable syndication on TBS and WGN, which are carried by virtually every cable and satellite customer in the country. And now this program is being aired on the CW Network as well. A whole new audience that doesn’t pay premium prices for soft porn now can get the same slutty product, diluted – with a little less nudity and the word ‘freaking’ where the obscenity used to be. If given a choice, how many families would choose to take this type of programming?” First I don’t think it’s airing on the CW network but rather on affiliated station. Second, the show has been edited to remove the nudity and to replace offensive language – presumably by the same people who replace “sumbitch” in the Smokey and the Bandit movies with “scumbum”. One has to wonder how a PTC member would regard real soft porn if they think that Sex and the City is soft porn.

The irony for me is that, on the whole, I support the idea of a la carte cable, although on the grounds that there are networks that I am currently forced to take that don’t broadcast shows of any interest to me – music networks of virtually any format come to mind. That said I don’t think that most TV viewers would make use of an a la carte system. I would suspect that if the cable companies were to offer a la carte pricing they would also offer programming bundles that would mix popular and less popular networks at a lower price than one would pay for a similar number bought individually. I am convinced that if the public were offered a bundle of five “good” channels (as defined by the PTC) and three “bad” channels for a price equal or less than the price of the five “good” channels bought separately, most would by the package.

The Worst Show of the Week is Boston Legal. According to the PTC “With three sex scenes and a murder trial surrounding an incestuous relationship, Boston Legal is an easy pick for Worst of the Week.” They cite Alan Shore having “explicit” sex with Sally on two occasions before sleeping with one of his partners: “Portraying Sally in a humorous manner as sexually promiscuous with a total disregard for emotional and physical consequences is irresponsible and in poor taste for prime time.” The main area of concern is the plot in which a man on trial for murder is revealed to have been involved with his mother in “had an ongoing sexual relationship for six years.” After the son is acquitted of murder “he and his mother exchange a deep romantic kiss privately in the courthouse.” Boy, wait until they find out about Denny and Bethany!