Friday, November 23, 2007

Comment Round-up

I'm writing this on Friday. Saturday I'll be heading out to the Dakota Dunes Casino to watch my first live Poker Tournament – watch, not play in because my personal circumstances (I don't drive) makes it impossible for me to get out there and more importantly get back in keeping with the times they'll be starting and ending. I blame the people of Saskatoon for voting against a casino in the city not once but twice – idiots (I voted for it, not once but twice). And Sunday is the Grey Cup and my beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders are favoured to win. It's an infection and I'll tell you about it before the game.

Right now, let's look at the poll on the Writers' Strike and the comments elicited on that subject and others. So far there have been ten voters. Eight said they were with the writers 110%, one said "Mostly with the writers but AMPTP has some points on their side," and one voted for "I don't give a good God damn. With global warming, war, poverty, and corruption why are you wasting your time writing about TV and striking writers," I think I know who that may have come from. The poll is still up of course and if you haven't voted and expressed an opinion yet please do so, and if you want to comment, put something down here. I may renew the on a monthly basis if necessary in part to try to track changes in attitude as events progress (and yes I fear I may have to renew it at least once if not more often). But now for comments, not just on the strike but on other matters.

First up (but second to comment on the strike poll) is our good buddy Toby who wrote:

The longer the Big Six stay away from the bargaining table, the worse off it will be for them in the long run. Public opinion was already against them anyway, but taking this hard line will give pro-WGA bloggers more time in which to steer readers to that online video showing Murdoch, Redstone and the others chortling over how much money they'll make from the Internet.

I'm just sickened by these people who are taking that hatefuly attitude towards the writers. Obviously they don't understand the full issue and they never will take the time to learn; they're just pissed off the time is coming when they'll be forced off from the tele-teat.

Hey, if I'm willing to go without the scripted shows, they should be able to survive as well!

This is what I mean about the WGA winning the propaganda war. AMPTP's worst enemies are themselves in terms of their public statements both before and after the strike was called. Some of Counter's statements have been laughable, like the one about how it is true that the writers don't get paid residuals for "promotions" that carry advertising because the producers don't get paid for them – that money goes to the Networks not the Producers (okay, so why is Les Moonves at the table again?). It also came across as the height of arrogance for AMPTP to end what they laughingly referred to as negotiations – which amounted to we'll give you a little somethin' somethin' in return for you giving us something worth more than what we're giving you.

I'm with you about those people who are against the Writers Guild. I know where they're coming from – the whole "unions are unnecessary and worse" neo-con crap – and it's repugnant to me. Unions give workers a "big stick" (in the sense that Teddy Roosevelt referred to when he said "Walk softly and carry a big stick") which an individual worker, no matter what field they're working in, doesn't have. People collectively have more power than they do as individuals, in much the same way that 13 colonies united were stronger than 13 individual colonies. And don't kid yourself into believing that employers – any employers including AMPTP – won't take advantage when they can. I've seen too many examples of employers doing just that.

Next up we have this comment from my old pal Richard Goranson. Richard and I go back to the days when blogging wasn't even a glimmer in anyone's eyes. We both ran Diplomacy zines back in the days before the game moved almost exclusively online. And we were good (or at least I was, I think – circumstances kept Richard from making as big an impact as he might have). Anyway, here's what he wrote:

The best things that can possibly come of the strike and its inevitable aftermath:

1) The overwhelming majority of people will finally realize that Leno, Letterman and virtually all talk-show hosts really aren't funny unless they're spoon-fed their material (Unfortunately, hardly anyone will notice).

2) The shows that absolutely depend on superlative writing and already acknowledge their writers as being the driving force on the show (like BSG) will see their demand go through the roof once the strike ends.

3) People will finally see just how scripted so-called "reality TV" really is and if the strike goes on for a very long time it will likely kill the format.

4) Sports viewership will go up and networks will work harder to accommodate athletic formats that do not rely on pre-determined outcomes (so the WWE and the New England Patriots are shot to hell).

Okay Rich, let's go through these one by one. First, most people already realise that Leno and the rest are dependent on their writers. The strike hasn't changed that, largely because all of the talk-show hosts – with only a few exceptions (Regis & Kelly and The View, neither of which claim to have writers, and Ellen which does) – stopped being broadcast when the strike began. Letterman in particular knows very well that he needs the writers; he tried to go on without them in 1988 and even at the time he knew that without the monologue and other things created by the writers the show wasn't very good. There are people who would not only be able to work without writers but thrive; sadly they aren't on TV anymore. Tom Snyder or Dick Cavett come to mind as people whose abilities as interviewers and conversationalists would be ideally suited for this situation but instead the networks have comedians, and while Letterman has developed into a solid interviewer he still needs to do the monologue and the Top 10 list and the rest, and knows that he can't do it without his writers.

I'm not sure that shows that depend on superlative writing are going to see any change in demand sadly. In fact there are rumours that the strike could kill Battlestar Galactica because of demands that the producers are putting on the actors in the form of exercising the "force majeur clause" in their contracts.

The problem with your scenario about reality TV is that the reality shows will go ticking right along because they don't have "writers." More accurately they don't have writers that are members of the WGA or are actually called "writers." The only writing credits listed for Survivor – just as an example – are for Charlie Parsons who created the show, and Jeff Probst. What Survivor does have are segment producers, associate editors, "loggers" and "transcribers." IMDB credits Jennifer Bassa, Elise Doganieri, Bill Pruitt, and Bert Van Munster as writers for my beloved Amazing Race but otherwise it's producers, associate producers, field producers, assistant editors, productions assistants, loggers and transcribers, but no writers. Big Brother credits six writers (who probably write for Mrs. Moonves, aka Julie Chen) but a veritable host of production assistants, story editors, story assistants and loggers. This is one of the lesser issues that the WGA is fighting over.

You might be right about at least part of the sports thing (I saw what the Patriots did to your Bills – grade A ugly). The problem is that whether people are willing to accept an increase in sports or if the networks are willing to make the long term commitment that most sports operations require if it's only to outlast this strike.

In summation, I think that the networks think they have a plan for surviving the strike. Sadly, it involves more reality shows with most of the untried ones being pretty bad, and finding product from other sources, whether it's their cable production or overseas programming (there are reports that the four major networks are looking at Canada's own Corner Gas).

Finally we've got this from Andrew about my PTC piece:

PTC's ignorance is really fattenin' up those Short Takes, huh? This new content forking was a good thing...

Now my views regarding this week's stupidities at the PTC. You said that the PTC doesn't know about the Gossip Girl books. That's sort of correct, except PTC did mention that the series was "based on a series of popular novels by Cecily Von Ziegesar", without noting the controversy and ALA awards. And in their Oct. 26 "Weekly Wrap", they were extremely paranoid...

This month, PTC has pretty much finished all the ratings for the new '07-'08 shows. Gossip girl got red, as did "K-Ville", "Back to You", "Dirty Sexy Money", "Big Shots", "Women's Murder Club", "Bionic Woman", and "Aliens in America". "Chuck" and "Samantha Who" got yellow, and "Life is Wild" was the only new show to have gotten green. Yikes, there seems a lot of radioactivity out of these airwaves, huh?

I'm probably going to make having the PTC stuff separate from the Short Takes posts a permanent thing; 4,000+ word posts aren't really my thing, and they do tend to delay things beyond the weekend.

The Gossip Girl books aren't mentioned in the Worst of the Week post that I was writing about though it is mentioned in the show's red light earning review page which contains more than a few hoots itself: "Both the drugs and drinking are presented as glamorous, easy to obtain, and part of their everyday life. There is no identification of how young teens are able to obtain all the alcohol or the illegal drugs." It's been nearly 35 years since I was in high school (and public high school at that) and I didn't drink, smoked or use recreational pharmaceuticals, but trust me when I say that had I wanted to I wouldn't have any trouble getting any of it. I knew my fair share of kids who came to class either drunk or wasted or both. I couldn't get the PTC's email alerts to load for me so I can't comment on the paranoia. It may be time for me to use one of my spam trap email addresses to sign up.

What surprises me about the PTC's ratings of new shows? Not much really. Maybe Aliens in America getting a red light while Samantha Who? "earned" a yellow. I suppose it's the same reason that they used to like My Name Is Earl, because Samantha is supposedly trying to reform and the fact that the show "regularly features adult themes and situations such as alcoholism and infidelity," while the teenage boys on Aliens In America have "the generally positive message of cultural understanding and responsibly charting one's teenaged years is consistently drowned out by the sexual content featured in each episode." The Gander ain't getting the same sauce as the Goose here. None of it is surprising of course, although the review for Bionic Woman contains an element similar to their review of Studio 60 last year: "Sex and language were not a major issue in the first few episodes but should not be ruled out for future episodes for a show of this nature," although this time they at least gave the show a yellow light. (Studio 60 got a red light for sex because, "Sex has not been an issue at this point in the series, but as relationships progress, sex scenes can be expected;" the closest the show ever came to a sex scene were a couple of implied instances of guys seeing a topless Harriet by accident.) It's about the same amount of consistency one can expect from a group the calls Brothers And Sisters "comparatively clean" while the show's rating site says that "The sexual content is not necessarily graphic, but it is recurring and frequent all in the same. Regular references to sex and sexual innuendo are present in each episode, both in a hetero- and homosexual context. There is some harsh language, with frequent use of words such as "ass," "hell," and "damn," and gives the show a Red Light. For the most part the only thing I agree with them about is Life is Wild, which is a worthy show, exactly the sort of thing that the PTC and parents who claim to want family friendly content have been pushing for for years – and which is getting some of the worst ratings of anything on TV (maybe because it's on opposite Sunday Night Football, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and The Amazing Race). However, when I checked just a minute ago there is no PTC rating for the show. Are they changing it? Has even this show become too raunchy for the PTC? We shall see.

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