Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scary Stuff

Okay, I haven't been able to get my camera to work to do a self portrait, and I keep getting too busy to do any reviews, and the PTC has altered their schedules for new material, but I have got something really scary for you on Halloween.



Imagine running into him tonight while trick or treating!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Filler Post - Poker On TV...Shows

Finally got the new camera on Friday and I've got a bit of a learning curve to master. I managed to actually take a picture on Saturday and it looks okay, but there is no way that my photography is ready for prime time. One thing that has been annoying the crap out of me is the manuals (there are two plus one for the included software and one for direct connection to my printer, which I can't do anyway, plus assorted other inserts; it's enough to make you weep). I can read the pages but what's bugging me – and slowing down the learning – are the icons on the page. They're white on black and my eyes are finding it impossible to really focus on what's exactly being pictured. No problem reading them on the screen but on the printed page...headache inducing is putting it mildly. Anyway, I'll try to get a picture of myself on the blog Sunday or Monday. The video idea may take a while longer.

So I bailed on watching Women's Murder Club again on Saturday and instead watched Friday Light Nights and Las Vegas. Trust me, they were better than the ball game. The Las Vegas episode was particular fun thanks to the appearance of Larry Manetti and Roger Mosley along with Tom Selleck. Manetti played "Larry Ryan", billionaire night club owner while Mosley played "Roger Hartley", billionaire airline owner from Hawaii who got started with a single helicopter. There was supposed to be a British billionaire with them but he was a no show; perhaps appropriate because John Hillerman retired from acting in 2000. The only thing they didn't do was to put A.J. Cooper (Selleck's character) in a Hawaiian shirt or ball cap. The major point of the guys being on the show was the annual poker game between Cooper and his friends. After scaring off one of Sam's "whales" (a big spending casino guest) by lurking around trying to figure out what Sam does, Cooper decides to make it up to her. She wants into his card game and she wants him to provide her with the buy-in, which he does. And it's the game that I want to talk about because it is typical of most of the poker games that are seen on TV.

First off, there's the game itself. They're playing Five Card Draw, which is the classic Poker game, the first version of poker that most people ever play (or at least it used to be before Hold'em started showing up on TV). It is however a game that is virtually never played in a casino setting or in tournaments. I'm willing to accept that these guys are playing Draw, though one might have expected a more challenging game like Seven Card Stud from guys like these. Then there are a couple of occasions when a character says something like "I call your $10,000...and raise you $30,000 more." This is something that wouldn't happen in a public card room. It's called a string bet and wouldn't be allowed because the first verbal declaration takes precedence over everything. In other words by saying "I call" you are limiting yourself to that action; correct form in this incident is to say "Raise to $40,000 total," or "Raise by $30,000," or simply to say "Raise" and move the number of chips representing the call and the raise into the centre of the table. Yet this is another thing that you can probably let go because it's allowed in home games by common consent of the players. In fact at the World Cup of Poker Tournament put on by Pokerstar and broadcast online, I saw a member of Team Canada who was playing his first tournament in a casino setting make that mistake at least twice – you don't say anything in online poker obviously and his only other experience was in home games.

All of these things are comparatively minor and even acceptable in social situations. The key element of this episode is not. After losing a hand to Cooper in which he admits to bluffing, Sam thinks she has picked up on his "tell." During a break in the action she borrows $75,000 from Delinda to stay in the game because she's sure that she can beat Cooper when she sees him make this action again. Sure enough she sees him doing his "tell" a second time (he slowly turns a chip that he is holding on edge with a finger) and calls a huge bet that he makes. The problem is that she doesn't have enough money to cover his bet. As a result she bets an extremely rare coin that she received as a bequest from a former customer even though the coin is worth more than the amount that is needed to cover the difference between the amount that Sam has and what Cooper bet. She has four Queens but he has a Six High Straight Flush. She loses.

This doesn't happen – ever – even in home games. This would allow the player with the most money to win pots by simply betting more than any of the other players has to play with. And you can't bet money or other assets that aren't known before hand. In other words you can't reach into your wallet and pull out a $100 bill and bet that on an active hand. You can pull the money out and buy more chips before the next hand starts, but you are restricted to playing the money you have on the table at the time the hand starts. In cases where a player bets more than another player has available to play with, the player with the lesser amount calls and the amount they play for is capped at the amount that the player with lower amount has. If there are more than two players in the hand there is a "split pot" where the other players play for any amount over what the player with the lowest amount has bet.

The thing is that this isn't just restricted to Las Vegas although it is somewhat irritating in a show that has had Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Howard "The Professor" Lederer on it. Most television shows that have featured occasional Poker games have had the players playing Five Card Draw, had them making String Bets, had players reaching into their pockets for extra money, and had players forced to find extra assets to cover a bet that exceeded what they had on the table. I don't remember enough episodes of the series (and it's been so long since I've seen it that I don't remember the episodes that I did see all that well) but it probably goes back at least as far as Maverick. I don't expect this will ever change either even though viewers are growing increasingly sophisticated when it comes to Poker knowledge. Or maybe, as a Poker player, I know just a little bit too much for my own good.

(BTW: There's art for this but Blogger won't let me upload it when I'm posting - I'll try again later.)

(Update: Image posted.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Short Takes – October 21, 2007

I promised myself that I'd get more written this week, so what happens? Well what happens is a lot less than I was expecting to happen in terms of getting actual work done. There are a lot of reasons. A big one is that I'm finding it harder and harder to find time to watch the shows that I don't normally watch. Another thing is that I sometimes get so freaking tired that I fall asleep while watching a show and don't really know it until I wake up (that's not unusual for me – I've been known to fall asleep while playing poker online). Or I get sicker than a dog, which happened on Wednesday. Still there were things I wanted to accomplish that didn't get done and I'm frankly disappointed with myself.

By the way, I'm getting a new digital camera (they didn't have it in stock and I've been waiting three weeks for it) and of course like just about all digital still cameras it's got video capability, and there a couple of vague ideas running around in my head for using video in the blog once I get used to using the blasted thing. After all, Vista comes with video editing software – not great editing software but good enough for my purposes. So not only will I be able to post an up to date picture of my ugly mug but I might give you a chance to hear me stutter and stumble my way through a script. Just don't expect Brigette from TVSquad Daily – I'm not that pretty, that composed, or that prolific.

The first leaf – er show – of Autumn falls: Even though FOX was the first network to put a show on indefinite hiatus – that would be the little watched Nashville – The CW has the "honour" of being the first network to cancel a new show. They cut loose (cancelled, canned, sent to the glue factory) their extremely low rated video show Online Nation, and this one ain't coming back folks no way, no how. Nor should it. The show was essentially a look at the most popular amateur videos from YouTube and other video sites, and that was the problem – if I'm looking at stuff on YouTube I choose what I watch. So do you and so does everyone else. Who needs a middle man to tell us what to watch? And middle man was exactly the role that The CW's show producers had assigned themselves. The show had a measly 0.2 rating and was averaging 540,000 viewers – 300,000 in the 18-49 demographic so a lot of people shared my opinion on this. (Oh wait, CBS just canceled Viva Laughlin, and not a moment too soon either.)

Full and partial orders: The first series of the new season to get a full order was also on The CW. That was Gossip Girl in a move which was actually announced on October 10. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show pulls about 3 million viewers in its regular time slot but viewership goes up significantly (20% in adults 18-34 which is the audience that The CW wants) once data from DVRs was factored in as Nielsen is now doing. More to the point the show is drawing the "right" people. The show is averaging a rating of 1.9/5 in adults 18-34 but 2.8/7 in women 18-34 and a whopping (well relatively speaking) 4.7/15 in female teens. That's a 15% share of that age group. Two other new shows got full season orders last Thursday according to Michael Ausiello. They were ABC's Private Practice and CBS's comedy The Big Bang Theory. As well CBS is giving a full season order to The Unit. The Grey's Anatomy spin-off Private Practice is the top new show among adults 18-49, while The Big Bang Theory actually builds on its lead-in, Two And A Half Men. Finally E! Online's Watch With Kristin is reporting that NBC has given an order for more scripts for four shows while CBS has given an order for more scripts for one. The NBC shows – Chuck, Life, Bionic Woman, and Journeyman – have all received orders for three more episodes while the CBS series Cane got an order for four episodes. Finally, Kitchen Nightmares, featuring Gordon Ramsay, has been renewed for next season. Again, not surprising – they can't give him a traditional full order because Ramsay's availability in North America is necessarily limited.

Conspiracy theory: Okay, I should preface this by saying that this is my own opinion and it has nothing to do with anything beyond how my twisted little mind works. It may be absolutely not what the networks are doing but I have to admit, I kind of think it holds together.

As you probably know all too well, the Writers Guild of America will be in a position to strike as of November 1st with contracts with the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America coming next year. The strike authorization vote saw 5,507 votes cast out of about 12,000 members (most WGA votes have about a 30% turnout, according to Mark Evanier from whom much of the hard information in this piece come), with 90.3% voting to authorize the strike. If nothing else this indicates a far more united front than Mark at least expected. The issues of the strike include – but aren't limited to – raising the rate of residuals paid for DVDs (the companies pay more to the manufacturer of the box and packaging (about 50 cents) than they pay in residuals to the writer, director and actors combined (about 20 cents)), setting up a residual system for material distributed by other means such as the Internet (iTunes for example – each studio or network has cited $500 million or more a year in online revenue but claim not to have a business model in this area), and expanding the definition and protection of the union membership to those who work on reality shows. In the case of reality shows the situation is summed up by Howard A. Rodman in the LA Times in an op-ed piece: "It seems that the companies are content to make large profits on these shows but don't want to compensate the writers at standard guild rates. Sometimes they even deny that there's any writing going on at all. (Hint: in a "reality" show, look in the credits under "story producer.") And when they do admit that their shows are actually written, they don't want to pay the pension, healthcare and wages that are the industry standard."

Now I know enough about strikes and union negotiations to be dangerous. It used to be that the postal unions in Canada were actually split between two unions, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) for inside workers and a different union for the letter carriers. CUPW was the more militant union, and went on strike with depressing regularity. The non-striking union was still willing to work but the letter carriers could only deliver sorted mail and wouldn't cross the CUPW picket lines to sort it; that had to be done by employees classed as managers. The situation is similar with the WGA except of course that there are no managers. With the writers on strike production grinds to a halt.

So what does television do when production grinds to a halt? Here's where my theory comes into play. You may have noticed (like in the first news piece on this page) that the networks haven't been cancelling a lot of shows and certainly none of the scripted dramas and comedies. The only show cancelled has been The CW's dismal Online Nation. In the 2006-07 season two scripted shows had already been cancelled by this point in the season and by the end of November nine series had left the air including on replacement series. At the same time ABC and FOX have both got backlogs of programming set up as midseason replacements (including the previously cancelled According To Jim from ABC)while NBC has announced plans to revive American Gladiators and a celebrity version of The Apprentice. I think that the networks that are prepared for the strike are willing to run their existing series longer than they would if there were no strike in the offing – in other words run low rated shows until they run out of scripts rather than cancelling them quickly as has been the pattern in recent years. At the same time they are having scripts prepared for their replacement series (like According To Jim). Is it not possible that the networks that have been taking this action weren't thinking of the replacement shows as replacements for cancelled shows but rather as replacements for shows that have run out of scripts, something that is expected to occur for most shows sometime in January or early February? At the same time NBC has two reality franchises that people are familiar with ready to go. CBS has a season of The Amazing Race that hasn't shot yet, and of course FOX has American Idol in addition to their backlog of scripted shows set to debut in January. What if the networks aren't going to cancel the poorly performing shows this season unless the absolutely have to? What if instead they're behaving like a bear preparing for winter hibernation by building up a stockpile of fat – shows – to carry them through until the end of the season or the end of the strike, whichever comes first? Am I crazy; does this actually make any sense?

Oh wait, maybe I am crazy, because CBS has cancelled Viva Laughlin – the series with the singing casino owner – after two episodes. It will be replaced by The Amazing Race as of November 4th.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: I'm going to break tradition here a little this time around and first say who they don't hate. They don't hate The CW's Life Is Wild for which I heartily congratulate them for an all too rare bit of good taste. You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I reviewed Life Is Wild and actually found it to be rather good. And I'm not the only one; Mark Berman, the Programming Insider at Media Week wrote this about the show when discussing last week's ratings: "It's a pity more viewers are not finding Life is Wild, which takes the traditional family drama and adds a new dimension by the on-location filming in South Africa. Before you close the door on it (and I had to label it a loser with ratings this low), keep in mind that it grew out of Online Nation by 447,000 viewers and 50 percent in the demo." It's exactly the sort of programming that people from the PTC on down to families who disdain everything that the PTC stands for except some quality programming that you can watch as a family say that they want, and it's light years different from the mawkish sentimentality of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition with which it shares a time slot (and which I have come to loathe).

Now as to hatred, the PTC sent its North Jersey Chapter Director, Crystal Madison, to shame News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch at his company's annual shareholders' meeting. The targets of Madison's ire were some of the usual PTC targets – Dirt on FX, and Family Guy, American Dad, and Bones of the FOX broadcast network. Surprisingly there was no mention of either Prison Break or Rescue Me in her little diatribe. Her conclusion actually quotes PTC Chairman Leon J. Weil: "The PTC chairman Ambassador Leon Weil [he was ambassador to Nepal for 3 years under Ronald Reagan – make of that what you will] summed it up best while speaking here last year with his common sense solution; (quote) '…if you are going to air mature content on your broadcast network, air it after 10 pm when children are unlikely to see it. And if you are intent on putting degrading programs like Nip/Tuck on the air, programs that violate your own corporate speech policies, put them on premium, not basic cable, where tens of millions of families who don't want it, and are in fact offended by it, aren't forced to pay for it.' (End quote)" Airing network programming after 10 p.m. is hardly an option for FOX which like The CW only offers two hours of prime time. But the funniest part of Madison's little speech actually came before her detailing of the wrongs of specific FOX and FX shows when she said this: "Fox Broadcasting and the FX network have repeatedly embarrassed you, the board and the shareholders with such programs as Family Guy, American Dad, Bones and Dirt." This is Rupert Murdoch and the board of News Corp. she's speaking to. They own both the News Of The World and The Sun in Britain and see nothing wrong with putting topless pictures on Page Three. Reportedly Murdoch was prepared to launch the Page Three Girl in the United States until his then wife threatened to divorce him if he did. The very fact that he owns the New York Post and made it what it is today should be ample evidence that nothing that makes money embarrasses this man. If someone were to ask Murdoch, "Have you no shame sir?" his answer would be "No." So what if FOX and FX incite the ire of people like Crystal Madison or Leon Weil. Murdoch is perfectly happy to laugh all the way to the bank.

The Broadcast Worst of the Week is a traditional PTC target, American Dad. It's not a show that I watch (because I don't like it) but the PTC hates it and Family Guy with the sort of burning passion that is usually associated with hating Hillary Clinton or George W. Bush. Here's a quote (well several actually, linked with ellipses) from the first paragraph of the PTC's commentary on the episode in question, which amazingly doesn't actually mention anything about the episode. In fact the first paragraph takes up more space than the rest of the commentary combined.

There is no shortage of people with perverted minds in our world, and most parents go to great lengths to make sure their children are not exposed to these people. In general we live in a society that frowns heavily on topics like incest and teen promiscuity and all those who promote or participate in such behaviour. It would be nice to say that all people frown on such behavior, but the people at the Fox network simply don't....Fox's Sunday night lineup has demonstrated season after season that if you can draw it they can air it, and the more perverted the better. With a complete disregard for decency, morality, and the general will of the average American family, Fox delivers smut-filled content week after week under the untouchable umbrella of satire and animation. However, the time has come for shows like Family Guy and American Dad to be called out for what they really are....it must be acknowledged that Family Guy and American Dad are not on the path of animated satire that popular shows like The Simpson paved nearly two decades ago, but rather that they are promoting the concepts and perverted fantasies of truly sick minds that are far more suited for the adult entertainment industry.

Tough stuff, right, but what brought this on? Well the episode of American Dad in question "featured, in a disturbingly normal fashion, an inadvertent sexual attraction between two teenage siblings." Well that's debatable. In the plot Haley, the 18 year-old daughter of the house, poses nude for an art class. In the art class is the family alien, Roger. Roger paints Haley's body but doesn't paint her head or face. He then brings the painting home. Later, 14 year-old Steve "is shown coming out of a candle lit bathroom carrying a box of tissue and the painting." According to the PTC, it "is clear that he was masturbating to the sight of his sister's nude body." Later when viewing the painting with a group of house guests, "Steve is shown rubbing his nipple in a perverse sexual manner. But of course he wasn't masturbating to the "sight of his sister's nude body" because Roger didn't paint her head. He has absolutely no way of knowing to whom the body in the painting belongs to. That of course is where the comedy can or should come from – wanting to be with owner of that body only to discover that she is in fact your sister. But of course the PTC sees vile and evil smut everywhere.

The Cable Worst of the Week is VH-1's I Love New York. Now I know that this show has been spun off from the Flavor Flav series Flavor Of Love I've never watched either show and have no desire to (I kind of think that Flavor Flav is either one of the ugliest people in the world or someone who is deliberately cultivating a ridiculous image for whatever reason). I'm not going to go into the reasons for why the PTC hates the show except that it involves sexual innuendo and a reference to the size of one man's (bleeped dick). It all degenerates into the usual PTC cry for cable choice as a means to remove "smut" from TV: "VH1 has shown its scorn for family audiences and quality entertainment for years. And that might be fine for three million people who watched the premiere. But what about the 75 million + subscribers who chose not to tune in, and in fact will never tune into I Love New York: 2? They're stuck with the bill." Well except of course that there is no show that gets 100% viewership, and indeed the advent of basic cable has meant that the television audience is increasingly subdivided by interests. Which I always thought, in my depressing naivetĂ© was the whole point behind having cable in the first place, so that – as much as is possible – there is something for everyone.

This week's Misrated looks at Boston Legal. The episode in question, which aired on October 2nd was rated TV-PG DSV. According to the PTC, "A TV-PG rating suggests that the episode contains some material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children; that parents may want to watch the episode with the child; and that the theme of the program may call for parental guidance." The PTC then argued that because the episode dealt with an incident of rape and the mention of the words "semen" and "vaginal bruising" as well as two large photos of a murder victim are sufficient to have the show rated TV-14: "According to the TV ratings guidelines, this is material that 'many parents may want to watch with their younger children.' A discussion about a brutal rape and murder; discussion of semen being found in the victim; vaginal bruising; discussion of how the defendant was having an affair with the victim; all this warrants a mere TV-PG DSV?" In a later paragraph they add, "Considering the rating that Boston Legal did receive, apparently the entertainment industry feels that the discussion of rape and murder is suitable for children of all ages—as long as a parent is present." Of course they fail to mention that Boston Legal is a show that airs in the third hour of prime time or that it is opposite Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show that the PTC complains about when it is rated TV-14 and is frequently far rawer in its depictions than this, or – most importantly – that the rating given to Boston Legal for this episode is entirely consistent with the rating given to other programs with similar themes and plotlines. But of course they're all wrong and the PTC is right.

Recently the PTC has added a new section called TV Trends to their weekly offerings. This time around they're focused on the first hour of prime time with the rather appropriately titled Family Hour Follies although as we shall see the "follies" come from the PTC. The article starts with a rather odd description of the creation of "The Family Hour": "In reaction, during the 1970s the TV networks showed a sense of restraint by voluntarily choosing to set aside that early hour for programs suitable for children. Ever since, the time between 8 and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and between 7 and 9 p.m. on Sundays, in the Eastern time zone (7 to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday in the Central time zone) has been referred to as the Family Hour." Well actually no. The Family Hour was not voluntary but was imposed on the networks by the FCC from September 1975 until the policy was overturned by one of those pesky circuit court judges in 1976. So we've established that "The Family Hour" doesn't exist and that the networks are able to air just about anything they choose in the first hour of prime time. The PTC seems oblivious to this though and claims, "After the release of The Sour Family Hour: 8 to 9 Goes from Bad to Worse, the PTC's study of Family Hour programming in 2001, even Congress was shocked by our findings. As a result, a bipartisan coalition of senators and congressmen urged the broadcast television industry to restore the Family Hour. At first, the networks responded positively. ABC introduced a "Happy Hour" featuring family programming several nights a week. The WB network retained some of its older family-oriented shows in the 2001 fall season and began developing new programs suitable for children. Even program sponsors got into the act, with several advertisers agreeing to fund the development of family-friendly TV scripts. At least some of the broadcast networks seemed to be making a concerted effort to return programming during the Family Hour to a semblance of its previously family-friendly orientation. But it wasn't long before programming in the first hour of prime time slid into the gutter, with new programs featuring even more graphic violence and explicit sex than those aired in the 1990s. In the years since 2001, the broadcast networks have increasingly ignored the Family Hour." There are further descriptions of how TV has slid headlong into sleaze and evil but that's not really my point in looking at this. In this article, the PTC turns into a network programmer and shows conclusively that they don't understand the television business. Take these suggestions (my comments are in italics and parentheses):

  • On Tuesdays, ABC is showing its new programs Cavemen and Carpoolers, both of which contain anatomically explicit sexual dialogue, at 8:00 and 8:30 p.m. Yet it shows the family-friendly hit Dancing with the Stars at 9 p.m. Simply having these programs exchange places would put the child-appropriate dancing program on in the Family Hour, while reserving the more adult material for a later time. (This of course is like putting the kiss of death on Boston Legal since the two comedies – which I haven't seen – have done atrociously in the ratings and wouldn't provide a good lead-in for the third hour drama.)
  • On Mondays, Fox shows its violent drama Prison Break at 8 p.m. On Thursdays, the same network shows the delightful game show Don't Forget the Lyrics at 9 p.m. Why couldn't Lyrics be put on in the 8 o'clock hour on Mondays, with Prison Break after it? (Which effectively kills both shows. The "delightful" Don't Forget The Lyrics goes down before the "family friendly" Dancing With The Stars, Chuck and the CBS comedies How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. Meanwhile Prison Break goes against Heroes, Two and a Half Men, and Rules of Engagement, which are already beating the FOX series K-Ville. And if K-Ville goes to Thursday night it gets to be destroyed by CSI, Grey's Anatomy, The Office, Scrubs, and most likely Supernatural.
  • Sunday nights on ABC begin with the clean and upbeat family shows America's Funniest Home Videos and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition at 7:00 and 8:00 ET respectively; and at 10 p.m. the network shows comparatively clean Brothers and Sisters. Why does ABC feel the need to intersperse the raunchy sex comedy Desperate Housewives in-between? If ABC had Housewives and Brothers and Sisters switch places, it could have a fairly clean programming block from 7 until 10 p.m. on Sundays. (Now wait, weren't we talking about the first hour of prime time, or even the first two hours on Sundays? So why are they moving the "comparatively clean" Brothers and Sisters. And I'm even ready to argue that assessment of that show – their own site about the show states "There is some sexual content and some homosexual content, with some brief heterosexual and homosexual sex scenes and sexual dialogue." This by them is "comparatively clean?")

In their diatribe about the "Family Hour", the PYC mentions "several advertisers agreeing to fund the development of family-friendly TV scripts." This probably refers to the Family Friendly Programming Forum of the Association of National Advertisers, an organization which I wholeheartedly support, in part because their attitude on family friendly programming is not that every show in every timeslot but rather "to provide optional programming to families every day of the week, with the best-case scenario within (primetime)." They accomplished that this year with shows whose script development they funded on each night except Saturday with the addition of Chuck, Bionic Woman, and Life Is Wild to a list that includes Ugly Betty, Friday Night Lights, Brothers And Sisters, and Everybody Hates Chris. Because let's face the fact that television is a business and the networks have to appeal to a wide audience. To the degree that Prison Break works in the time slot that it's in (which I don't really think is suitable either), it is because it is an alternative to dancing stars, geeks, a variant of Friends and a spy who is part of the "Nerd Herd." If you don't like the show, or even the very idea of the show, don't watch it, but in a free country, shouldn't the option at least be there?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fever Dream Of Laughlin

I had a weird dream last night in which Gordon Ramsay was somehow brought in to run Kid Nation. Now I know the source of this dream – I was running a fever and feeling like something my dog dragged in. Well except that my dog doesn't drag anything in so I suppose it's like something my dog left outside. As strange as the idea of Ramsay bossing kids around may seem that's nothing compared to the weird mixture of formats that is Viva Laughlin. The show can either be seen as an ongoing serialized murder mystery, or as a nighttime soap with plenty of sex and intrigue, all of which is wrapped up with the central conceit of the show, namely that people burst into song and dance at unpredictable times. It is of course the song and dance that has gotten all of the notice.

Ripley Holden (Lloyd Owen) is a man "livin' the dream." He had a secure life with a chain of thirteen successful convenience stores but sold them to fund his dream, a luxury casino resort in Laughlin Nevada which he wants to be the biggest thing ever on the Colorado River. His casino is already built but not yet open. Still he feels confident enough to buy his son a brand new Corvette as a belated birthday present. But for Ripley, trouble is just around the corner. His biggest investor, Buddy Baxter (Wings Hauser) is pulling his money out of the project. He wants to put it into wind farms, primarily at the instigation of his wife Bunny Baxter (Melanie Griffith). Ripley bluffs and says he has investors just waiting to put their money in but Buddy isn't buying it. Persuaded by his accountant Jonesy (P.J. Byrne), Ripley decides to go see Vic Fontaine (Hugh Jackman in a recurring role), owner of the biggest casino in Laughlin, and tries to get him to invest. Fontaine isn't buying. He knows exactly the sort of trouble that Ripley's in (Fontaine: "Do you play golf? I do; every week. With your bank manager!"). As we learn a little later Vic is responsible for getting Buddy to pull his money out; his "associate," Marcus (D.B. Woodside), is one of Bunny's lovers and got her to persuade Buddy to take his money out of the project. Trying to salvage things, Ripley goes to see Bunny to get her to talk Buddy back into the project. It's clear that Ripley and Bunny have some sort of history and Bunny wants to return him to her stable of lovers. That's something Ripley won't do; he is happy with his married life even if it includes a daughter who is dating a 42 year-old professor.

Things take an even worse turn for Ripley the next day. Buddy is found dead in Ripley's office. Suspicion falls almost immediately on Riley, a situation that isn't helped when Bunny screams at Ripley "Why did you do this?!" She happens to say this right in front of Peter Carlyle (Eric Winter), the lead cop in the case. Carlyle immediately makes Ripley his primary – possibly his only – suspect and sets out with his partner to learn more about Ripley. Buddy's murder, combined with the other stresses related to his casino, is making Ripley's home life tense. So it's fairly natural that Carlyle decides to pick on Ripley's wife Natalie (Madchen Amick) to find out more about Ripley. It does seem like it will be a drawn out process though. Eventually Ripley's son Jack (Carter Jenkins) comes to his father's unfinished casino. In his backpack is a wad of money, and Ripley initially thinks his son is dealing drugs. It turns out that Jack has sold the Corvette that his father bought for him and brought the proceeds back – he loved the car but he loves his father more. Ripley takes the money that Jack gave him, and an additional $200,000 from the casino's cage and heads for Vic Fontaine's casino. He's going to risk it all, just as he risked it all when he sold his convenience stores to build a casino. The floor man at the roulette table Ripley stops at is immediately able to tell just how much money is in Ripley's backpack and tells him that management has to approve. Fontaine shows up a few seconds later and is willing to take the bet. Ripley puts the $250,000 on Red (because Vic's cars are both black) and wins, and then wins again. His million dollars is enough to get the casino up and running.

I haven`t mentioned the music in all of this. It is the show`s big gimmick but if you want to know the truth I find the music intrusive. There are four songs used in this episode. Ripley sings (or lip syncs along with Elvis) Viva Las Vegas as he drives to his casino, Vic sings along with Mick Jagger on Shake Hands With The Devil, Bunny tries to seduce Ripley to Blondie's One Way Or Another, and Ripley's bet at Vic's casino is done to Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Let It Ride. The problems with the music are that the actors aren't really singing, or at least not so much that you'd notice, and that they surround the music with dancing or at least actions synchronised to the music. Ripley doesn't just sing along to Viva Las Vegas as he drives in his car, he greets workers at his casino in rhythm to the music and ends the number by standing on top of a craps table and mimics throwing dice. When Vic arrives to Shake Hands With The Devil there's one scene in particular where a group of chorus girls cross their legs as he walks past, in time to the music. There's a dance sequence with Ripley and Bunny during One Way Or Another. As I say, I find this sort of thing intrusive in that it breaks up the presentation of the storyline. While the musical element leads to comparisons between this show and Steven Bochco's Cop Rock the difference there is that the music on that show was original and for better or for worse the actors on that show did their own singing. I don't really hear the voices of the actors in this show taking a prominent position in the songs, it's more like they're singing along rather weakly to the music.

There's some nicely done casting here. Lloyd Owen really impresses in his portrayal of Ripley Holden. Holden's a gambler who is never satisfied with the safe and secure. He brash and volatile, but at the same time you can't help but feel an attraction to him. As much as I dislike her personally, Melanie Griffith is perfectly suited to play the aging slut Bunny. Bunny is exactly the sort of person who would have that strange voice that Griffith possesses. As Vic Fontaine, Hugh Jackman dominates his scenes. He exudes a quality of sneering superiority in his scenes with Owen, as though he's on top of the world and no one is going to knock him off. We don't see much from the lesser roles in this episode, which seems to be entirely based on the confrontations between Ripley and Bunny, and Ripley and Vic.

The show isn't as horrible as I had expected but it seems rather weak and lacking in terms of how things are going to progress. The music is – as I've already said – rather intrusive, but I'm not sure this series would have been made without the music. The storyline is fairly basic – the toll a murder investigation will take on someone who is willing to repeatedly risk it all, and the machinations that surround the casino business and Ripley's efforts to live his dream. I don't know where this series goes if or when Buddy's murder is actually solved. Remember, Blackpool (the BBC series this was adapted from) only ran for six episodes with a sequel movie later. I don't know how you turn this into even a single season on American TV (not that I think we'll have to worry about it going more than one season at most, and if it does it may well be courtesy of the upcoming writer's strike). Moreover the continuing storyline of this show is a trend which the television audience overwhelmingly rejected last season. There's some interesting stuff here and at least it's not a police procedural, but I think that the only reason it gets made is the gimmick (and because of Jackman's involvement as an occasional actor and full time Executive Producer. I don't think it's horrible but I also don't think I'll make it regular viewing except in times of desperation. For myself, I'd much rather have had a fall season of The Amazing Race than this in the show's eventual Sunday time slot.

Correction: The song is of course Sympathy For The Devil. Shake Hands With The Devil is the book and now film about Canadian General Romeo Dallaire who commanded UN forces in Rwanda during the genocide there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Book Review – The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network And Cable TV Shows 1946 - Present

Thanks to Amazon.ca my copy of this book – which is in its Ninth Edition – arrived on Tuesday which was also the day that it arrived in bookstores. It's everything that I hoped for and more. Admittedly, since the only previous copy of this book that I've owned is the Third Edition just about any up to date material would be what I hoped for. Still, I've seen more recent editions and this one still goes beyond it.

First, the "tale of the tape" as they say in boxing. The Third and Ninth editions of

The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (henceforth mostly known as The Directory if only because that title is so long that by the time you get finished reading it you've lost your train of thought) have about the same dimensions. The Ninth Edition is about 700 pages longer – 1854 pages versus 1150 for the third edition – and the print is noticeably smaller.

There's a blurb on the cover of The Directory that says "This is the Guiness Book Of World Records...the Encyclopedia Britannica of television." They are absolutely correct of course. There are more than 6,500 series listed running from 1946 to the end of the 2006-07 TV season and there are some real obscurities. Each entry includes a broadcast history of the show including the network that it ran on, length, when the original episodes ran and the number of original episodes, when the show premiered, and the cast list, all of which is followed by a summary of the show. In most cases the summaries are a single paragraph although in some cases there are more. The entry for 24 runs something like two and a half pages of just the show summary – the cast list takes up another page – and details the plot of each season. In cases where a show had a definitive finale, the events of the finale are described. In some cases – as with Star Trek: Voyager – this summary takes a full paragraph while in the majority of cases it's tacked on to the end of the summary of the final season, as with The OC. It's not just network TV shows either. Major (and not so major) syndicated shows are listed – for instance the Canadian made Neon Rider which ran four season in Canada but was only available in the US for one – as are major cable network series. Inclusion of the latter seems highly arbitrary: just as an example they include The Sopranos but omit Deadwood and Rome. Finally, added this year are listings for many US cable networks. These listings include the date that the network was launched, the total number of subscribers and the percentage of US homes receiving the network. That is usually followed by a brief history of the network and the sort of programming that is shown. In some cases there's a listing of shows that the network has aired if some of them have a separate listing and others don't.

All that makes for a great package for which you'd gladly pay the price you say? But wait! (as they say in the commercials) There's more!! There is a short, if somewhat opinionated, history of television by The Directory's co-author Tim brooks. He currently splits the history of the medium into eight eras. Six of these were in the Third Edition of The Directory: Vaudeo (1948-57) – the era where the dominant form was the variety show; The Adult Western Era (1957-early 1960s); The Idiot Sitcom Era (early to late 1960s – Brooks dismisses this period by saying "Was there anything serious on TV in the early 1960s? The answer is 'not much'; even the network newscasts were only 15 minutes long until 1963"; The Relevance Era (late 1960s-1975); The ABC "Fantasy Era" (1975-1980); The Soap Opera and "Real People Era (1980s). Subsequently Brooks has added two more: The Era of Choice (1990s) and The Reality Era (2000s). The book also has ten appendices. These include a listing of Fall TV schedules from 1946-47 to 2006-07 for all of the broadcast networks – well except for PAX but including MyNetworkTV. There is a listing of major Emmy winners from 1948 to 2006 (no "Outstanding Single Camera Photography in a Reality or Documentary Series" in other words), and a listing of the thirty top rated programs of each year from 1950-51 to 2006-07, and a list of the longest running series (The Tonight Show is listed at 53 seasons which doesn't take into account host changes. There's an interesting list of the "Top 100 Series of All Time" which is based on both longevity and audience size each year – the most recent series on the list at 99 is Desperate Housewives while 60 Minutes is #1. There's a listing of reunion shows (sometimes more than one per series), listings of series based on movies – did you know there was a 1987 TV version of the 1938 movie You Can't Take It With You; it starred Harry Morgan, Lois Nettleton and Richard Sanders – and of series were also on network radio. There is a listing of various websites – not just the network sites but also informational sites which are given letter grades – Wikipedia is rated highly while IMDB gets "an A for comprehensiveness, C- for accuracy", an evaluation I agree with for a variety of reasons not least of which is the tendency to not actually list the cast of the show on a show's page because actors who have the most number of episodes on the series get onto the main page and on many shows the stars either have "unknown number" or no number at all beside their listings). Finally there's an extremely hard 200 question "Ph.D Trivia Quiz" which is devilishly hard. I suggest reading the book from cover to cover before trying it.

Just to test The Directory I decided to look up The Rich List, a show which had a single airing on FOX. The Directory had four paragraphs on the show including this little nugget of information: "One of the teams in the first episode had apparently completed in a previous episode that had not aired, since they were introduced as the 'reigning champions' with current winnings of $25,000." Who knew? Next I looked up Power Play, a show that aired for two seasons on CTV in Canada but only lasted two episodes as a summer series on UPN – it's there, as is Traders, which ran for five seasons in Canada but only thirteen episodes on Lifetime Cable. In fact that's the greatest joy of this book – at least for me – and one of the reasons why it is taking me so much time to write. You look for something and find it, but then you see something else which leads you on a tangent that you never expected to take.

That's not to say that there aren't problems with the book. There are errors; in a review of the current Battlestar Galactica the authors refer to "Lieutenant Kara Starbuck" even though their cast list gets it right and calls her "Captain Kara Thrace ('Starbuck')." The omission of significant cable series like Deadwood,
The Wire, and even Oz, is arbitrary even given the authors' statement on the criteria for the inclusion of cable series: "Favored for inclusion are (1) series with casts, such as dramas and sitcoms, (2) series that had reasonably long runs, typically two seasons or more, and (3) series of any type with especially large audiences." Many (probably most) of the reviews for shows that had ended at the time of the Third Edition are unchanged in the Ninth, but really that's to be expected. What I find vaguely troubling is that entries for shows that were on the air at the time that the Third Edition went to press are either unchanged or just supplemented – the listing for Hill Street Blues is word for word the same as in the Third Edition even though the series had two more years to run after the Third Edition came out. The first two paragraphs for Cheers are the review from the Third Edition. There's some editorializing in reviews of some shows, like this from the review of Traders: "Overcooked drama about romance and backstabbing at Gardner/Ross, a powerful investment house located in Toronto, Canada....The camera swooped and dodged across the trading floor, as if looking for a plot and there were frequent extreme close-ups into characters' eyes (maybe the plot's in there?)." Things like this are annoying particularly when you like a show (Canadians were glued to Traders despite what seemed to be Global's best efforts to kill it off, for example scheduling it opposite ER, which it actually beat in its time slot). Still, all of these factors don't take away from the worthiness or the value of The Directory as a reference work. It would be nice to see the correction of errors like the one about "Kara Starbuck," which comes across as someone just not giving a damn. It would be nice to see periodic revision of previously written articles, not just to supplement them but to bring them up to a certain standard both in terms of seeing the show as a whole and maintaining a consistent degree of impartiality.

Brooks writes of the Era of Choice "When I first wrote about the (then) 'Six Eras of Prime Time' in 1984 it looked as if future updates would be easy. One network would sooner or later stumble upon the next trend and the other two would immediately copy it, and the viewing public would be inundated with clones – the next programming 'era.' But it hasn't worked out that way. Instead the once tightly controlled world of national television has exploded into hundreds of channels all with their own independent voices. No longer can three powerful networks dictate what you will see, and no longer does programming move in lockstep. For the first time viewers have a real choice, all the time, and they are using it." This is the sort of thing that may eventually spell the end of a source like The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network And Cable TV Shows 1946 – Present. There is a limit to how large a book like this can get while being both useful and affordable. I love this book for all its faults because it is a specialised reference on a par with the Encyclopedia Britannica or The Guiness Book of World Records. For any true Child Of Television it is probably a must have item, warts and all.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blogger Poker Tournament – I’m Out in 557th

Not a particularly inspired performance on my part, couldn't catch any hands and probably played too conservatively until it was way too late to matter. As I write this Tim Gueguen (aka Saskblogger) is keeping his head above water although not setting the world on fire.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Scatterlings In Africa

Care to guess what the most successful series in terms of ratings was on the old WB network? Since I can't hear you shouting out Buffy or Smallville or Everwood I'll tell you. It was 7th Heaven. I remember being amazed/bemused in the various newsgroups for the more "geek" popular WB shows – like Buffy, Angel or Smallville – when the hip young things would wonder at why that piece of (insert preferred noun indicating utter disdain here – I think I'll use crap) was still on the air or had been renewed by the morons at the network when other shows that "they" watched were cancelled. They didn't like having it pointed out that 7th Heaven which they disdained usually pulled about twice the ratings as the shows they liked and perpetually had the highest ratings on the network. (That also explains the durability of Reba by the way, but don't try telling the executives at the CW that they cancelled their most successful comedy while renewing Girlfriends.) I don't know that it should have surprised anybody. 7th Heaven was a show that you could sit down with your spouse and the kids and spend an hour a week watching something that wasn't going to deliver a murder a week, a string of dubious language, or much beyond the hint that people were having sex (they had to have been having sex given the number of pregnancies) and still produce dramatic and entertaining situations. In the '70s there was The Waltons and from the mid-'90s to mid 2007 there was 7th Heaven.

So it's no surprise that after finally putting 7th Heaven to rest (after a frankly ill-advised sudden renewal by for the 2006-07 season) The CW decided to create a show to replace it. Well, maybe create isn't quite the right word. Adapt, adopt, borrow, re-invent – those would be some of the right words, since their new show Life Is Wild is actually taken (another good word) from the popular British series Wild At Heart. No matter; despite some conflict, this seems like a series that even the PTC could love. And while I'm not saying that that's necessarily a recommendation, I would like people to admit that every so often you need a show that you can sit down with the spouse and the kids and enjoy.

The pilot starts with a Land Rover driving down a dirt road in South Africa. Inside are a man, a woman, two teenagers and two younger kids. We're quickly filled in about who these people are courtesy of a voiceover from the teenage girl, Katie Clarke (Leah Pipes). The man is her father veterinarian Danny Clarke (D.W. Moffat) while the woman is her step-mother Jo (Stephanie Niznik). The younger boy is Katie's brother Chase (K'Sun Ray) while the younger girl is their step-sister Mia (Mary Matilyn Mouser). Finally the teenage boy is Jo's rebellious son Jesse. They're a blended family, but the blending is considerably less successful than it was for the Brady Bunch. Which is part of the reason why they're driving down a road in South Africa – it's one of those things that families in crisis do, although for most of them it's a trip to Disneyworld or therapy instead. For them it's living in South Africa for a year while Danny works as a vet. An early incident in the show when they stop to let Mia pee and a large elephant charges at them indicates that Danny has been there before. He met his first wife there, when he was in the Peace Corp. Now they're heading for the Blue Antelope Lodge. The lodge is owned by Danny's former father-in-law, Katie and Chase's grandfather and it's not exactly what anyone is expecting. Instead of a resort with a swimming pool and spa, with a smiling happy staff to greet them and a fully equipped veterinary clinic for Danny to work in there's some derelict cabins, a main building that has seen better days, and an old man who looks like he could be dead but is just drunk. That's Art (David Butler), the kids' grandfather. He and the lodge are retired, or as he says, "It's hard to run a bed and breakfast when you're the only one making the beds."

Almost immediately Danny is called out to the nearby village to treat a sick baby goat. He takes Jesse and Katie along with him. The village isn't one of those postcard villages of mud huts and thatched roofs, but rather a sprawling place of shacks made up of what can be salvaged including a lot of corrugated iron, an apartheid era township. And it's not just one baby goat but instead a virtual parade of critters all waiting for a visiting vet. While Danny treats his patients Jesse and Katie are allowed to wander around the township. Katie hooks up with Tumelo (Atandwa Kani), an African boy of about her age who wants to work with her father so that he can learn to be a vet. Meanwhile Jesse goes into the marketplace where he finds a stall selling whiskey. He wants to steal a bottle but catches sight of someone watching him. Though we don't know his name at this point we later discover that he is Oliver Banks (Calvin Goldspink), son of the owner of the successful lodge in the area. Oliver offers to take Jesse someplace where they can get whiskey, which of course they go off to do without telling anyone – it's part of Jesse's rebelliousness. Needless to say, when Danny finally brings him back to the Blue Antelope Lodge (after Jesse engages in some skateboarding on the paved highway that nearly results in him being hit by a car) there's an argument.

The next day, Chase and Mia find a lion cub outside of the lodge. There's a wounded lioness in the area and as Art explains, in the search for food the lioness will abandon her cub, something that Chase in particular doesn't understand. The Blue Antelope's veterinary clinic is as derelict as the rest of the place so Danny and Art and the rest of the family go to the neighbouring lodge, owned by Colin Banks (Jeremy Sheffield). The lodge has swimming pools, a spa, and all the amenities (including a fully equipped veterinary clinic) that the Blue Antelope doesn't. Art is disdainful about the place, calling it an amusement park where you can see the animals. And indeed there seems to be little real need to leave the place to see animals since they have feeding points set up to bring the giraffes and other animals right up to the buildings. There's even a little something to attract Jesse besides the booze – Colin's sister Emily (Tiffany Mulheron). The lion cub is rather quickly restored to health thanks to an IV.

Chase is unhappy that they're keeping the lion cub in a cage especially after the lioness comes to the lodge and makes an even greater mess of the clinic than it already was. He's sure that the animal is looking for its baby and decides to set the free to find its mother. So he heads out alone into the bush and needless to say can't find his way home. Worried about the wounded animal Art and Danny head out to find Chase, but after they go Katie sets out to find her brother with Jesse chasing after her. They encounter the wounded animal which comes after them. Jesse, remembering how Danny stopped the charging elephant made a similar display which stops the lion in its tracks, just in time for Art to shoot it. Jesse thinks that the old man has killed it but instead he's shot it with a tranquilizer dart. They take the big cat to the clinic in the Banks' family lodge and Danny urges Jesse to help with the surgery to remove the bullet as a sort of veterinary nurse's aide. Jesse seems flustered at first but as he watches Danny work his face seems to register a sort of appreciation for what his stepfather is doing. The episode ends with the family attempting to reunite the lioness with the cub in a pen at the Blue Antelope, an attempt that is successful.

There's plenty of opportunity for exposition in the episode, as well as setting up ongoing storylines. Art has a sort of shrine set up to his daughter, a shrine which Katie can't look at even though she puts up a happy face and claims to be focussed on the present. We learn that Jo is a divorce lawyer (and that Art hates lawyers – I was expecting Jo to come back with a line like "Why should you be any different," when he mentioned that to her) and that her ex-husband is jail back in the States. There's a cute moment when Chase comes into a room with Katie and Art, carrying a T-shirt with a picture of Nelson Mandela on it. It belonged to Art's daughter, but while Katie knows whose face is on it, all Chase knows is its "that guy." Later we learn why Katie's mother ran away to marry Danny – she hated Apartheid and she fought with her father over it. They never reconciled even though he has accepted the facts of how things are. Finally there's an interesting subplot that I hope will be developed further. At one point, when Tumelo comes to see Katie and introduce her to his "sister" – a cheetah that he had rescued as a cub – she mentions that her father is at the Banks' lodge and that if he wants to meet him he could go there. Tumelo's reaction seems to be almost one of fear when he says that he couldn't possibly go there. It ties in with the fact that the local villagers are desperate for the help of a veterinarian despite the fact that the Banks family has a fully equipped facility on their property. I suspect that the only way one of the locals is welcome on the Banks place is as one of the "friendly helpful staff."

It's sort of difficult to evaluate this show. The plot is workmanlike and the family dynamics seem fairly realistic. The problem I have is with how much of this has been brought over from the original British series and how much is original. The scenery and animal footage is spectacular of course, and I do appreciate the sort of honesty that is shown by showing the conditions that the "villagers" live in rather than giving what might be called the "tourism bureau" view of their living conditions. This is particularly interesting given that the show is produced with the assistance of the South African government's industry department. The acting is adequate – there are no really outstanding performances here, at least not yet. I can't really fault the casting; even though D.W. Moffat looks too young to have a teenage daughter he is in fact older than I am. Butler has a suitably grizzled appearance as Art, although if there were one thing I might change it would be to make Art an Afrikaner rather than an English South African – it would somehow make his argument with his daughter over Apartheid seem more realistic. As well, making him an Afrikaner, with deep roots in the country, would make his animosity to the immigrant British Banks family more palpable. But that's quibbling.

My good buddy Toby stated when he voted for Life Is Wild to be the first show of this group to be cancelled that he felt that "Life Is Wild has two strikes against it - it sounds boring and it's on the CW." Having seen the pilot episode I have to say that while it may sound boring I didn't find it to be particularly bad. The CW part may be a much bigger problem for the show. The network has put it on following their two youth oriented shows, CW Live and Online Nation. Those two shows have had absolutely dismal ratings – according to Marc Berman Sunday's Online Nation had an audience of 762,000 and a 0.3/1 share and rating in the 18-49 demographic. Even more than doubling that – as Life Is Wild did (1.64 million viewers and a 0.4/ 1 among adults 18-49) – is a pretty dismal performance. I want to believe that there is a place for a show such as this in prime time and it seems as though The CW is about the only network willing to take a shot with a show like this. It might do better – comparatively at least – on a more important network like CW part owner CBS, but it would also be more likely to be cancelled on a big network for ratings that the executives at The CW would drool over. I don't know what the remedy for this situation is – replacing CW Live and Online Nation with reruns of Smallville or reviving Reba maybe, or perhaps moving Life Is Wild to a different night (like the second hour of Monday to replace Girlfriends and The Game) – but surely there should be someplace on broadcast TV for a show like this. Or do we relegate shows like this to cable networks like Nickelodeon?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

No Short Takes This Week

Maybe I'm feeling disinterested or something this week, but it seems like there's nothing to write about. No shows have been cancelled, and while ABC has announced that they want Rob Thomas to come up with a new version of Cupid, it's not enough. Even the PTC has been quiescent this week. They haven't come up with any new "Worst Ofs" or Misrateds, and they haven't done their "traffic lights for parents" reviews of the new shows yet – not enough episodes to evaluate. That's never stopped them before; remember these were the people who gave Studio 60 a red light for sexual content not because the episodes that had aired had sex in them but because "sex scenes can be expected." For the record, the closest the show came to a sex scene was when we saw the bare back of one of the characters. Oh, and one of the characters got pregnant though we didn't see the process that got her that way.

I'm afraid I fell behind last week on my reviewing duties. Mid-week I suddenly felt like crap, and I mean that pretty literally – I think it might have been something in the bulk trail mix that I love. I was part way through a review of Bionic Woman and I just couldn't finish it. So I'll get back to the reviews in the coming week. Plus, no bowling tomorrow so you'll actually get a review of one or more of the Monday shows which I usually end up reviewing on a catch as catch can basis – which frequently means not at all.

Anyway, it's Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and I'll be ODing on tryptophan later today. If you're a Canadian, Happy Thankgiving and good luck explaining to the kids why those pictures of Pilgrims they're colouring in have no link with our holiday (it's a celebration of the harvest, not of the arrival of a group of religious dissidents whose ship got lost and ended up in New England rather than Virginia). If you're an American, Happy Columbus Day and enjoy doing whatever you do on Columbus Day – eat a pizza I guess or go out to Olive Garden or better yet, at a good Italian restaurant.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

2007 Bloggers Poker Tournament

It's that time of year again!
Texas Holdem Poker

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: 4875936


Monday, October 01, 2007

Poll Results and the Week’s New Shows

Well at least this time around we actually had a result worthy of the name. There were ten votes cast. Reaper, Bionic Woman, Private Practice, Dirty Sexy Money and Life all went without votes. With one vote each (10%) Big Shots and Journeyman are tied for tied for fourth place. In a tie for second, with two votes each (20%) are Cane and Moonlight. But the winner – which means you thought it was a real loser – is The Big Bang Theory with four votes (40%).

This time around the poll will be slightly different because I'm going to lump all the remaining new shows together. Well except for Cashmere Mafia which debuts at the end of November – let's not get silly about this after all. Vote for the one that you think will be cancelled first and feel free to offer reasons. For the purposes of this poll "None" means that you expect the series to run for at least the length of the initial order (13 weeks in most cases).

Here are this week's series premieres (in red) and season debuts:

October 1st

  • Everybody Hates Chris (CW)
  • ALIENS IN AMERICA (CW)
  • Girlfriends (CW)
  • The Game (CW)

October 2nd

  • CAVEMEN (ABC)
  • CARPOOLERS (ABC)

October 3rd

  • PUSHING DAISIES (ABC)

October 4th

  • Supernatural (CW)
  • 30 Rock (NBC)

October 5th

  • Friday Night Lights (NBC)

October 7th

  • LIFE IS WILD (CW)

Short Takes – October 1, 2007

Yeah, I know, I didn't do my DVD piece this week. Well are you really surprised? With the volume of new shows that popped up this week (and the backlog of reviews for me to still write), it didn't make sense for me to do a DVD list, and I don't know that I'll get around to one next week either. But I am doing my Short Takes piece because I enjoy it, new news is starting to flow and the PTC continues to make a collective ass of itself. That last one is my bread and butter).

(Incidentally, in case you were wondering my DVD Pick of the Week is the The Complete Thunderbirds Megaset. I was a huge fan of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson "Supermarionation" series that I saw – particular favourites were Fireball XL5 and Stingray – but the king of them all for me was Thunderbirds The various ships were terrifically realised (my favourite was the submarine Thunderbird 4 for some reason – maybe it's the same reason why I felt sorry for John, always stuck in the space station) and the way that the characters got to their ships how the ships were launched was unique to an Anderson series. Having seen the show after my childhood enjoyment of it I've noticed details I never picked up on before or forgotten about (the smoking puppets besides Lady Penelope being one of them, as well as the times when human hands are used in close ups) but while my appreciation of it has changed, I still love it.)

Dead and alive: While Jorja Fox's character of Sara Sidle survived last season's CSI cliffhanger, the character won't be with the show much longer. Fox's contract with the show ran out at the end of last season and the parties were unable to come to terms on a new one, however she has apparently agreed to appear in six or seven episodes in the current season, I suppose to move the character's departure up to November sweeps. Fox's contract came up for renewal a year before most of the other actors on the show because she refused a raise that she considered to be "terrible, to be frank." A condition of accepting that wage increase was an extension of the contract for one year, Fox told TV Guide's Michael Ausiello. Part of the reason for her decision not to renew at that time was fallout from her brief firing from the show (along with George Eads) in 2004. At that time Fox was fired for not returning her contract for the fifth season of the show (which required that actors show up on the set on time); in fact she had sent her contract to CBS but unlike other cast members she sent hers by the mail and it was delayed. This time however, it appears that Jorja – and Sara – are really going.

Gomer Pyle makes Corporal – after 43 years: Well actually it was Jim Nabors who became an honorary Marine Corps Corporal. Nabors played Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show from 1962-1964 and then on his own spin-off Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. from 1964 to 1969. In the latter show Pyle was a good natured but sometimes slow witted member of the Marines whose constantly aggravated his platoon commander, Sergeant Carter. In the series Pyle never advanced beyond the rank of Private First Class. Nabors, on the other hand, was made an honorary Marine in 2001 by then Commandant General James L. Jones and was immediately promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. However, a Lance Corporal is an appointed rank and is not a Non-Commissioned Officer. On September 25, 2007 Nabors was promoted to the rank of Corporal by Lt. General John F Goodman "based on his outstanding contributions to the Marine Corps and the United States." Nabors was presented with an NCO's sword, the oldest weapon in the US Military today (it is based on the 1859 model Infantry Officer's Sword). The Marines are the only branch of the US military that authorizes NCOs to carry swords. Among other honorary Marines are/were Lon Chaney Sr. (made an honorary Marine following the 1926 movie Tell It To The Marines), Joe Rosenthal whose photo of the raising of the second flag on Iwo Jima was the model for the Marine Corps Memorial in Washington, and Chuck Norris who was somewhat controversially given the title in April of this year. As a Corporal, Nabors is superior to Norris, however both men have to take orders from a rabbit. Bugs Bunny was made an honorary Marine Corps Master Sergeant in 1943.

Nashville not "cancelled": In other news about things that were too long delayed, FOX has pulled their new reality soap Nashville from the line up after two dismally rated episodes, which was at least one too many. But the show isn't cancelled – oh no. The show will be returning FOX says. It's being "rescheduled" for later in October, after the Baseball playoffs (you know, the albatross that traditionally breaks the FOX line-up into two halves and gives the other networks a freeroll against the network because they don't do Baseball as well as NBC did). Or least that's what FOX says. Trouble is, after Baseball vacates Friday nights the network has The Next Great American Band which I gather is sort of like American Idol for bands. So where does FOX stick Nashville (and don't give me the answer I know you're all thinking – the PTC wouldn't approve)? And should they stick a show that drew 2.1 million viewers and a 0.8 rating 3 share against reruns any place but in the trash bin? FOX's promises to bring this show hasn't been cancelled are the equivalent of saying that "it's pining for the fjords." Lovely plumage though.

Is BEN SILVERMAN the reincarnation of Brandon Tartikoff?: Probably not but he is making a couple of moves on shows that Brandon would have found very familiar. First Ben Silverman announced that NBC would be looking at reviving American Gladiators as a prime time series. I'll let that concept sink in for a moment or two. American Gladiators. As a prime time series?! This past week it was announced that NBC was looking to revive Knight Rider as a two hour movie that could serve as a possible pilot. Knight Rider! Most of you know that Knight Rider was created and produced by Glenn Larson (the guy who gave us Battlestar Galactica and The Bionic Woman both of which have been re-imagined by NBC-Universal) but what you may not know is that the original concept came from the musings of Brandon Tartikoff. According to the The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (of which I desperately need a new copy) Tartikoff and one of his assistants were talking about the problems of leading men who looked good but couldn't act. The solution they came up with was called "The Man With Six Words." Each episode would begin with the handsome (but talentless) leading man getting out of a woman's bed and saying "Thank you," after which he'd chase down the bad guys and at the end of the chase would shout "Freeze!" Finally, after the grateful people he'd saved thanked him, he'd quietly say "You're welcome." (Yes I know that's only five words; I suppose the guy would get a different wild card word each week.) The car – which could be portrayed by an actor with real ability since he wouldn't actually be seen – would do the rest of the talking. And while David Hasselhoff might not have been as bad an actor as in the original concept, it is still worth noting that William Daniels (who voiced the car) could act circles around him without ever being seen.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Well not themselves of course. They were promoting a new website – www.howcableshouldbe.com – with a calculator which purports to inform us of the relative costs of various cable channels and how much the American consumer could save if only they were allowed the freedom to pay for only those stations they want to receive. One of the problems is the price they assert for the various networks. In a footnote at the bottom of the page the organization notes, "Cable companies and programmers do not reveal their contracted programming rates. Each of the 1,000+ cable operators in the US negotiates their network agreements separately, which will result in a range of programming fees. While every effort has been made to offer an accurate and representative picture of average programming prices, these rates should never been presented or published as fact." In other words, though the PTC says that ESPN costs the consumer $3.80 a month they're also saying that they don't know the actual prices because those prices vary between service providers, presumably with the bigger providers like Time-Warner having more clout with the networks than the small local companies (if any of them still exist). Another interesting point is the price that is charged on their lists. With the exception of seven networks (ESPN, Nickelodeon, ESPN2, TNT, CNN, The Sci-Fi Channel and what they label Regional Sports Network – by which they probably mean something like NESN or the various Fox Sportnets) none of the networks are priced at over $1 per month. Choosing to eliminate frequent PTC cable worst targets E!, MTV, FX, Comedy Central, and Spike would save the consumer $3.25 per month or $39 a year off a current cable bill of $375.60 per year. Among the stations absent from the PTC's list are religious stations – mostly of the conservative fundamentalist variety – and home shopping networks. Do Americans get those for "free"?

The PTC also seems to be branching out from "impure" TV content. They've always been adamant in attacks on video games but their new crusade is in support of a law that would restrict the sort of video content that the airlines can show on monitors in their cabins. In a press release in relation to a bill (which the PTC inaccurately refers to as legislation; legislation refers to a bill that has been passed and enacted as law) introduced in the House of Representatives related to airlines' in-flight entertainment programming. (The PTC also doesn't mention any details about the bill they're talking about, like the number or the member of Congress who introduced it.) In the press release, PTC President Tim Winter writes "We are asking the airline industry to take responsibility for the new barrage of adult-oriented entertainment they are forcing on captive audiences in the form of in-flight entertainment. It is ridiculous that this issue has become so commonplace, so outrageous, that our elected officials feel they have been left with no choice but to intervene." The "adult content" that Winter refers to includes the TV series Las Vegas and Desperate Housewives, the HBO series Rome ("that has been described as sadistic") and the Anthony Hopkins film Fracture which "features a graphic depiction of Anthony Hopkins shooting his wife in the face." The PTC uses some typically fallacious logic by saying, "Air travelers don't purchase tickets based on the airline's sexual or violent content on the in-flight entertainment system; therefore, there is no market demand for this type of material on airplanes with mixed audiences that regularly include children." Extending that logic, air travelers don't normally purchase tickets based on there being in-flight entertainment (or the food, or anything beyond the fact that the plane goes where they want to go at a price that they are willing to pay) therefore there no market demand for this type of service at all. Now it's been some time since I've flown and when I did there was no movies or video provided on flights to or from Saskatoon, but I was under the impression that airlines are increasingly moving to personal in flight entertainment systems of this sort which allows individual travellers a greater selection of what they want to watch rather than having to watch what everyone else watches no matter what. If these services are widely offered then surely it is the responsibility of the individual traveller to choose what they want to watch and what they want their children to see on their screens. And given that shows like Desperate Housewives and Las Vegas are broadcast on network TV without complaint except from organizations like the PTC it would seem to be an area that government shouldn't involve itself with.

So now we turn to the PTC's Broadcast Worst of the Week. Not surprisingly it's Prison Break on Fox, primarily for the violent content in the first hour of prime time. But they start with a scene that they object to for an entirely different reason: "The show opens with Michael trapped in a Panamanian prison run by a dictatorial warden. One of the warden's mistresses is shown getting dressed after an implied sexual encounter with the warden. As she stands exposed in her bra and panties, she picks up a crucifix and holds it close to her partially covered breast. There is no apparent meaning to this shot other than to show a disregard for the sanctity of such a symbol." Far be it for me to contradict the PTC...oh hell, I love to contradict the PTC. The PTC is so busy being outraged that they don't bother to offer context to a scene that they're ripping to pieces. From this description we have no knowledge of the status of the woman involved. Rather than the warden's willing mistress she might very well be the wife/lover/girlfriend/sister/mother of a prisoner forced to surrender her sexual favours in return for better treatment for her husband/lover/boyfriend/brother/father. Her action in holding the crucifix to her breast could – and indeed would – be seen as a part of a prayer, an act of contrition of a devout woman for her sin. And the warden? He isn't the warden, he's the meanest toughest inmate in the Sona Prison who has engineered the takeover of the place. There is no warden; there are no guards. That's important for the next two scenes that the PTC cites. In one "the warden threatens an inmate, to the point that the inmate wets his pants in terror." But of course he's not "the warden", he's one of the inmates which takes away all of the protections that even the warden of the worst South American prison would be bound by. In other words if this guy threatens to cut off your testicles and make you eat them to you there is absolutely no reason to believe that he won't do it. And then there's what the PTC calls the most violent scene of the episode, "when Michael is forced to fight to the death with another, much larger, inmate. Michael and the man engage in a fierce battle that ends when Michael breaks the man's neck, killing him." But as the preview in TVSquad says, "Internally run by inmate Lechero (Robert Wisdom), Sona is like one big Thunderdome where people settle their differences by killing each other. Lechero calls all the shots within the prison, including who fights, who eats, who gets water and, as we see early on of Bellick, who gets clothing."

Now here is where I'm going to shock you. The PTC's conclusion is that "After two seasons of Prison Break, it is still shocking that Fox has such a lack of concern for family viewers at 8 o'clock in the evening. Violent content such as this is suited for extended cable and R-rated movies, not the Family Hour." Set aside the comment about the non-existent "Family Hour" and the claim that the scene is suited only to R-rated movies or extended cable. I honestly don't think that Prison Break should be on in the first hour of prime time. It is violent. It should be on at a later time. But since Fox only programs two hours a night (for legal reasons that are too complicated for my poor wee brain, and also because their affiliates make a lot of money from early local news and an extra hour of old sitcoms) they can't put their most violent shows at a later hour. That said, if you don't know after two seasons that this show is totally unsuitable for kids under a certain age then I feel sorry for you.

Next up is the Cable Worst of the Week and this week it is the TNT series Saving Grace about a female cop played by Holly Hunter, whose lifestyle is on a self-destructive downward spiral of sex and booze. For whatever reason (I don't watch the show) she has a "last chance angel" beside her, named Earl. In the season finale, Grace has gone off on one of her typical assignations. I'll let the PTC pick up the description here: "To differentiate this instance of gratuitous sex from the many others, a naked Grace is tied down on her bed. But this unconventional foreplay comes at a cost: Grace is abandoned by her lover, and is left confined to her bed. Grace seeks Earl's help, but his own hands are tied. This angelic creature can transport Grace instantly to the Grand Canyon, but apparently untying Grace would violate a divine prohibition—or TNT's salacious ideas about programming. But worry not: Grace is eventually freed by her partner Ham." Now I'm not entirely sure what the PTC is objecting to here so I clicked on their handy video file. As it turns out Hunter is in fact naked but she is lying on her stomach and for most of the scene she is shot in such a way that we most we see is the side of her buttocks. The final shot in the clip is an overhead shot where we actually see her whole ass but frankly it is no more than we used to see on NYPD Blue in the days before Janet Jackson's nipple. Now I don't get why the PTC objects to the angel Earl not being allowed to untie Grace, except as being an instance of TNT's "salacious ideas about programming" it allows us more time to look at Holly Hunter's (not unattractive for a woman of 49) bare butt. I'm sure that in the context of the show it makes perfect sense – probably something about being found in this humiliating situation being a necessary step on the road to redemption or something. But then the PTC offers what to my puny brain is a non sequitur: "And what do viewers see after this sexually-charged instance of supposed character development? The dead body of Ella Duncan, with a knife lodged in her chest. Fellow investigators Butch and Henry offer graphic detail to Ella's death:
Butch: "She was tortured."
Henry: "Yeah. These slash marks, none of them are fatal. The killer spent some time hurting her."

I'm really not sure what the PTC is getting at with this juxtaposition except, I suppose, to say that the show is evil not just because of sex but also because of violence as well. Anyway, here's the PTC's conclusion with my own editorial content in parentheses: "Not long ago programming like Saving Grace was relegated to premium cable, permitting consumers to choose what kind of cable fare they paid for. (Untrue. As I pointed out the scene described and viewable on the PTC's website is not unlike scenes that were seen on broadcast TV until three and a half years ago on NYPD Blue.) But basic cable programming has dramatically changed. A&E re-runs HBO's Sopranos (without the nudity and with the obscenities removed) and TNT now emulates the FX network's successful expansion into TV-MA programming. While some basic cable subscribers may revel in this expansion of original basic programming, others are stuck with the bill. Households merely wanting CNN or ESPN must now subsidize programming they would find repulsive and would never watch." And here we run into the usual PTC nonsense about "subsidization of programming." Apparently we are supposed to believe that the $12 a year that the PTC claims that cable subscribers pay to get TNT underwrites this show without considering that profits from the network might also go to pay for other shows that the network presents that the PTC doesn't object to. Surely if you object to a show on TNT the proper course of action isn't to throw out the baby with the bathwater – not subscribe to the network even though it has more shows that you like than you object to – but to just not watch the show in question in the hopes that the decline in ratings will make it unattractive to advertisers.

Finally (and this has turned out to be a long piece hasn't it) we come to the PTC's Misrated section, which never fails to give me something totally ridiculous to, well ridicule. This time around the show was the series debut of Private Practice. The rating was TV-14 but the PTC felt it deserved a "D" (suggestive dialog) descriptor. The reason seems to be the use of the word "sperm." The episode's plot revolved around a couple, Ken and Leslie, who were trying to get pregnant. Because Leslie is having difficulty conceiving, the couple turns to Oceanside Wellness Group for help. Ken is required to produce a sperm sample, leading to crass dialogue like:
Ken: "Put my boys in a cup! We're gonna get Leslie pregnant."
Leslie: "I'm ovulating, finally."
Sam: "Uh, congratulations. That's great."
Ken: "I've never done it in a cup before."

Setting aside the fact that it was only one of about four plots in the episode (the others were Addison being forced to perform and emergency C-Section on a teenage girl; Violet and Cooper dealing with a woman having a psychological episode in a department store; tension over Naomi hiring Addison without consulting the partners in the clinic) and not even the dominant one (that would probably be Addison's case) the question is one of what, even in the context of the plot, deserved the "D" descriptor. Well the PTC tells us: "Over the course of the episode, the word "sperm" or a reference to sperm was used 22 times. But according to ABC, discussion about ejaculating into a cup, and then hearing the act being performed, and then a woman asking for a dead man's sperm, is not "intense" enough to warrant the "D" descriptor, indicating sexual dialogue, in the episode's rating.The Private Practice premiere's TV-14 rating gave parents no warning of the constant and consistently intense sexual dialogue that this episode contained." In my opinion the answer is that the TV-14 rating, which means that such programs are "unsuitable for children under the age of 14 without the guidance of a parent." The "D" descriptor is used "for highly suggestive dialogue" and I don't think that the material in the episode reaches that standard. (By the way, what the PTC interpreted as the sound of "the act being performed" sounded to me more like the sound of a man having a stroke. It was interpreted by the doctors standing outside as the sound of "the act being performed" because that's what "Ken" went into the room to do.) As usual the PTC not only takes material out of context and interprets it in the most salacious form, but they tend to impose a standard with an extremely low threshold for what it takes to trigger either a change in rating or the use of a descriptor. Of course that's not surprising given the PTC's central contention that the ratings system is irretrievably broken and the only way to make television safe for all viewers (since they attack shows at all hours not just when children are likely to be watching) is through legislative intervention, presumably with the PTC as the sole advisor to the government or the FCC as to what should be allowed.