Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Short Takes – July 10, 2007

It's funny how this regular feature has sort of migrated. I meant it to be something to run on the weekends but somehow it keeps moving further and further into the week. Of course since it's summer it really doesn't matter all that much, but if I start thinking like that I start wondering if any of this matters and of course the answer is "No it really doesn't" and it gets all sort of weird and philosophical. I guess all I can really hope for is that by the end of the summer this will have migrated back to the weekends.

Goofy Censorship: I don't normally refer to Entertainment Weekly or its website but their TVWatch is the only TV specific news feed available through iGoogle which is one of my home pages. I sometimes comment on their recap pages and as a result I've become aware of their comment censorship. When someone typed "Ding-Dong, the girls are gone" (related to On The Lot) what appeared on the page was "Ding-****, the girls are gone." It gets better though. In the comments for Big Brother, where one of the houseguests is named "Dick" – or as he wants people to call him "Evil Dick" – when you type his name in the comments section it is printed as "****" or "Evil ****". Very strange.

Reilly good news: Okay, I couldn't resist the pun, but it is good news – at least right now – for Kevin Reilly. Reilly, you may recall, was unceremoniously fired as President of the NBC Entertainment Division after three years of trying to ameliorate Jeff Zucker's long history of mistakes, a project made more difficult by Zucker's meddling ways. Reilly was fired just weeks after signing a big contract renewal with the network and days after the somewhat lukewarm response from advertisers to the shows that he presented at the Upfronts. Now, less than two months after Reilly left NBC he is the new President of Entertainment at FOX where he replaces Peter Ligouri who becomes Chairman of FOX Entertainment. In fact it was Ligouri who made the move to FOX attractive to Reilly. The two men had previously worked together at News Corp's F/X cable channel, in positions that pretty much mimic their new responsibilities. At F/X Reilly was responsible for developing such shows as Nip/Tuck and The Shield. At FOX, his duties will include destroying new shows that he was responsible for approving at NBC and serving as shepherd for a number of shows that he had nothing to do with getting on the air. The question that Reilly's appointment raises almost immediately is whether he will continue his policy of pushing quality programming that he advocated at NBC and which may well have been responsible for his replacement there. There's some worry on that front, given FOX's tendency to cancel programs very quickly and often replacing them with low cost reality shows. Then there's the record of people holding the job of President of Network Entertainment at FOX. Except for Gail Berman, who held the job for five years, the network averages a major executive change roughly every two years. This includes Ligouri, altouh his major move is up rather than out.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: A while ago our local police force finally joined the last half of the 20th century and began air patrols over the city of Saskatoon. I don't think they actually bought a plane but are leasing a Cessna or something similar. It doesn't really matter. What does matter – at least in the context of this is that the plane frequently flies at night. Most people don't notice because they're asleep. Indeed, as you know from looking at the time stamps of many of my posts on this blog I'm awake late into the night and until recently I had never noticed the airplane. However there are a vocal group of complainers for whom any sound seems to be sufficient to rouse them from their sleep and keep them up to a point where they are apparently dangerous at whatever job they hold. They are vocal in their opposition to the police flights. To the very notion that the flights actually make the police more efficient in catching criminals they respond that no matter what the flights accomplish in crime fighting, it's not worth it because they are losing sleep and it makes them dangerous and less efficient at their workplaces. The plane complainers are a small group – possibly no more than a literal handful – but as I said they are vocal group. They write letters to the newspaper demanding that the airplane be grounded forever, and that police aerial patrols be banned, and they appear before City Council demanding that "something" (like grounding the plane and banning the patrols) be done to save their sleep. But they don't say it's "their sleep" they say that it is the sleep of everyone in the city that is being disturbed by the police aircraft and that presumably we are becoming a city of sleep deprived zombies. That's how I feel about the Parents Television Council; a small group that speaks with a very loud (and frequently obnoxious) voice claiming that they are speaking if not for everyone then for a far larger group than they actually represent - in the case of the PTC, all parents, and indeed all "right" thinking people (and no that wasn't a political "right"). They are defending "us" against "evil" authority in the form of the networks, the cable companies and obviously left-wing judges who think that it's alright to say bad words on TV (bad words, of course being defined by the PTC – remember they wanted to fine ABC when Helen Mirren said that she nearly fell "ass over tits" at the Academy Awards).

So who does the PTC see as a threat to our very existence this week? On the Broadcast side it's the CW's summer burn-off – which has already finished being burned off by the way – Hidden Palms. The PTC strikes out at Hidden Palms this time – since you'll recall that they also made the pilot the worst of the week for depicting a father's suicide and the effect it had on his teenaged son who witnessed it – because of sex. Specifically because one of the characters, high school junior Cliff, had sex with older women including his "best friend's mother." Of course the PTC gave us detailed, if out of context, descriptions of Cliff's "activities." "Before the opening credits had finished, Cliff was shown in bed with two different women. The first scene featured Cliff emerging from under the covers with a much older woman, implying that he has just performed oral sex on her. Suddenly, Cliff jumps out of bed to go meet another girl. The woman he is with seems disgruntled by his behavior, but Cliff tells her that she can't be upset since she has only given him 'one booty call in nine months.' Cliff makes his way to teenager Nikki's house and we find him once again under the covers with a girl. It is implied that Cliff and Nikki have just had sex.... Later in the show, Nikki walks-in on Cliff once again having an intimate exchange with the older woman (Maria) and becomes upset. Cliff apologizes and promises himself to Nikki. The show concludes with Maria meeting Cliff in his bedroom and once again seducing him into having sex. Cliff's mother walks in the room to discover them in his bed." Ah but it's the "nine months" remark that really has the PTC "hot and bothered": "High school junior Cliff is having sex with his best friend's mother – and he acknowledges doing so over nine months previously, meaning that Cliff was clearly underage when the act occurred. The CW is not only accepting but actually glamorizing statutory rape. Is this behavior we want to encourage teens to view as normal or even acceptable?" That of course is a huge logical jump without any knowledge of the background of the event. The implication of the term "statutory rape" is that the older person was the "aggressor" and from the description of Cliff and his sexual antics it seems far more likely that Cliff was the persuasive one in this situation and that the older woman who "has only given him 'one booty call in nine months,'" was the one who was seduced by Cliff. As for its impact on the attitude of teen viewers, since the ratings appear to be low even by CW standards, one should perhaps ask what the impact is of a show that virtually no one – regardless of age – is watching?

As for the worst cable show of the week, the PTC returns to an old favourite Paris & Nicole in The Simple Life on the E! Network. In the episodes in question, the "girls" (aka "skanky hos" though that may be offensive to skanky hos – you can tell I don't like Paris & Nicole) are counsellors at "Camp Shawnee" which, like most of the things in the reality show isn't real – the facility is a real camp but as the Wikipedia article on the show puts it, "The campers are not the camp's real campers, and at least one of the counselors, Hunter Cross, admits he is an actor who auditioned for the role. Also, the camp nurse is an actress according to IMDB." The series premiere earned the PTC's ire for among other things, enemas. In this episode, which was the series finale, Paris and Nicole are helping to run a "love camp." According to the PTC, "Guided by Dr. Diana, the girls helped five couples reconnect. And by reconnecting, E! meant a hearty mixture of sexual innuendo, graphic body waxing and sex toys." There is a discussion of the anus as an erogenous zone and a couple who have been married for 43 years talk about how much he likes her boobs and how much she likes a certain "position." The PTC article culminates with the usual railing against the "forced subsidy from cable television subscribers" which is apparently used to prop up the show. And of course this is a huge load of what Norman Schwartzkopf (remember him?) once called "bovine scatology." Comcast, which owns E!, is a business, and as with all businesses is run with a sharp pencil (and if you want proof of that, just look at the history of programming on their G4 network – it makes one weep). The bottom line with them is the bottom line; they are not a charity. If the audiences for The Simple Life weren't there, advertisers wouldn't buy time on the show and paris & Nicole would be out on their anorexic little bottoms faster than you can say rehab. In other words E! doesn't "prop up" The Simple Life, the show pays its own way without the "forced subsidy from cable television subscribers" which most of the rest of the world calls fees. And here of course is the big one: not every show on E! is The Simple Life. Shocking, I know, but true. There might even be some that the PTC might actually approve of (though heaven alone knows what they might be). Given that the structure of Cable Television is what it currently is – and as I've said before I do support the concept of cable choice, and wouldn't have E! or its Canadian doppelganger Star on my TV line-up if I had the choice even though it isn't costing me more – the simple answer is that if you disapprove of The Simple Life turn the TV off or watch a channel that you do want to see.

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