Monday, August 04, 2008

What’s On My iPod

I haven't been posting much of late. I'm not going to say that it's because of my iPod Shuffle because it isn't. There are ... issues. And no, I'm not going to go into details. Suffice it to say that younger brother loves the HD TV for ball games and there always seems to be a ball game, and now that he's back with the City he's working conventional hours. I hope I might be able to at least see the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on the big screen but for just about everything else I'm stuck with my 25" CRT.

I do love my iPod, but there are things that I hate about the Shuffle. The big thing is that there isn't a screen which has an impact that I'll explain in a moment. It's not the capacity – I got the 2 Gig – it's that the Shuffle is smaller than the screens on either the Nano or the Classic, let alone the Touch (and the iPhone). Now when most people think of the screen on an iPod what they're concerned about is watching movies, TV shows, Video Podcasts, and probably YouTube videos. But for me the thing that I'd like to do, and which is possible on an iPod with a screen, is to go through a list of what I've got on the iPod and pick out what I want to hear rather than hitting the Forward or Backward buttons on the ring. That's truly inconvenient when you have something that has a definite order in which it should be listen to. I'm thinking of some podcasts and old radio shows, which appear with the most recently released item first. Annoying as all hell.

So here I am on the third paragraph, so I suppose it's time to tell you what's on the iPod. Well, what there isn't is music. I want to rip some music from some CDs I have but I haven't gotten around to that yet, and I don't have an iTunes account. So basically what I have on the gadget is free material, which is to say podcasts. The podcasts really fall into three or four different topics. First up is some tech related podcasts. They're all from Leo Laporte's TWiT network: This Week in Tech, The Tech Guy, and Windows Weekly. The reason for these shows is that I was a long time follower of Leo Laporte when he was on TechTV, and later when he had his revived Call For Help (which became The Lab with Leo) on G4-TechTV Canada. The latter show suffered because it was an advice show where people got the answers a month or more after they got the question. I loved the show (past tense - Rogers, which owned the Canadian version of the show, pulled the plug on it) but that sort of annoyed me. The Tech Guy and the Windows Weekly podcasts are really useful for someone interested in tech, and This Week In Tech (which I'm listening to as I type this) is a great gathering of friends to talk about tech news stories.

The next class of podcasts are podcasts about DC Comics. DC has its own "official" podcast which is really recordings of panels at various cons. There's been a huge influx of new posts following the San Diego Comic-Con, some of it fascinating, some of it totally irrelevant to anything that I'm interested in, so at least I'll know what not to get next time around. The other podcast is the Raging Bullets podcast. The podcast itself is great, but the damned thing is incredibly long...and most of the time it's just two guys talking. Most of the episodes have been two hours long and the last two episodes were five and six hours long respectively. Let's just admit that this is shocking and leave it at that.

Then there are the TV related podcasts. Marc Berman's Programming Insider podcast has what is almost an industry insider's feel about it. Berman does the Programming Insider column for Media Week which is indispensible for coverage of the previous day's ratings. The podcast is an extension of that but with added news and even commentary on shows. Compared to Raging Bullets, Marc's podcast is mercifully short – usually about ten minuteslong – though by now I've practically memorised his ad for Programming Partners and their new syndicated talk show Marie featuring Marie Osmond and debuting in September 2009. Still, once you get past the ads, Marc has an informative podcast. Sure he has opinions, some of which don't agree with mine (he says he refuses to watch Greatest American Dog because he can't bear to see an innocent dog evicted from a reality show) but that's part of why I subscribe. Then there's the podcast from The TV Addict featuring Daniel and his sidekick Ariel. Not as professional as Berman's podcast there's a lot of back and forth between the two...some of it even relating to TV shows. And it's Canadian which is always nice. It's a better podcast than I think I could have put together. Speaking of Canadian, there's also a podcast from the Canadian science fiction channel Space: The Imagination Station. There's discussion of shows on the network and interviews from actors on the network's shows, including Battlestar Galactica.

The biggest group of podcasts by far on the Shuffle are Old Time Radio podcasts from something called Humphrey/Camardella productions. They have a large number of podcasts from a variety of genres – westerns, thrillers, mysteries, comedies, suspense and the like. There are also a couple of podcasts from them on specific shows. There's a series of podcasts for The Adventures of Superman and another for The Jack Benny Program. The latter has shows going back to his time on the Canada Dry Ginger Ale show. Of course I'm not sure of the rights situation for some of the material that Humphrey/Camardella is presenting. Indeed the Superman podcast hasn't been updated since May, and there's only been one episode of the Jack Benny material added since May as well. Their other podcasts are updated two or even three times a week.

In a strange sort of way these Old Time Radio shows are relevant to TV today. Oh, to be sure the subject matter is different, but some of the trends and concerns resonate today. In some ways we're in the realm of "everything old is new again," even though we seem to regard these things as bad. Take reality shows. The grand daddy of reality shows – not the competition ones but the ones that purport to show "real people and real events" – is probably FOX's series Cops. It debuted in 1989 and has been running ever since, despite an effort by FOX to kill it and its partner on the night America's Most Wanted. Well, what would you say about a show that followed real life cops on patrol one night and we heard the cops doing their job. It sounds exactly like Cops but in fact it was a 1954 radio show called Nightwatch. In fact we even got to hear the cops violating a suspect's civil rights when they forced entry into a car without a warrant because they suspect the owner of using the demon marijuana – which as we all know is a gateway drug to heroin. Or so they said on Nightwatch.

How about this one: a show where contestants are sent out tasks which are supposed to earn them prizes but have a surprise twist that the contestant isn't aware of, and which tend to involve people who don't even know they're part of the gag. Sound like a great idea for a reality competition? Maybe, but if anyone tried it they'd have to make sure that copyright on People Are Funny isn't owned by anyone. Indeed the threat of "non-scripted" programming isn't even new. The legendary Fred Allen's show was knocked of the air in part by a game show hosted by Bert Parks called Stop the Music in which people were called at home were called to participate. Naturally if they were listening to Fred Allen they couldn't answer the questions on Bert Parks's show. Of course not many thought about the odds of being called by Parks, though Allen offered $5,000 to any person listening to his show that was called by Parks – he never had to pay up.

And then there are "product placements." Reading comments from professional critics and bloggers alike, you'd think that product placement was both new and a huge threat to the "sanctity" of television. And while it's true that the practice today is more blatant than it has been at times in the past, it is hardly new. There was always a big box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes in the kitchen of the Clampett mansion in The Beverly Hillbillies, and most shows had a credit acknowledging that a specific car company provided the cars for show. And of course in an era when shows were sold to single sponsors, it was quite common for the shows to include mentions of the product in the episode. Desi Arnaz was particularly adept at this sort of thing. Not only did the Ricardos and Mertzes stop smoking Philip Morris Cigarettes when the company stopped sponsoring the show, but Ricky Ricardo extolled the virtues of the new 1955 Pontiac convertible that they'd be driving to California in Season Four to Fred Mertz. But the practice wasn't even new then. Radio shows like Fibber McGee And Molly and the various incarnations of The Jack Benny Program thoroughly integrated their commercials into the actual shows with their commercial announcers, like Harlow "Waxy" Wilcox (for Johnson's Glow Coat), and Don Wilson actually becoming members of the show's cast. In the case of Jack Benny's shows this integration of product announcements into the actual show goes back at least as far as 1933 and '34 when the show was sponsored by Chevrolet. And there was always the way that Benny greeted his audience when he was sponsored by a particular desert from General Foods – "Jell-o again, this is Jack Benny talking."

One thing – and this really has nothing to do with any other show than the Jack Benny material – is just how long it took for Jack Benny to develop his on-air persona. Listening to the material that is available in these podcasts from the beginning (they have a couple of Canada Dry shows, and what seems to be most of the Chevrolet shows before he went to Jell-o, and up to late 1936 and the miserly persona hasn't really come into play. To be sure there's reference to Jack's ego, and to a lesser extent his bad violin playing (but even that isn't being pushed too strongly). Most of the people were in place with the exceptions of Mel Blanc and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (and Dennis Day but Kenny Baker had the same personality that would later be adapted for Day). But maybe this does relate to TV today insofar as it represents something that doesn't really happen anymore. The show adapted, and more importantly had time to adapt. To be sure this may be that the immense popularity of the show allowed Benny and his writers to develop new ideas, and it may be that this option to change and adapt was restricted to the largely extinct comedy-variety type show. What I know is that most TV shows today, be they dramas or sitcoms, are remarkably static. Cast members may come and go but the premise of the show stays the same, and for the most part there isn't a growth or development in the characters.

So that's my rambling account of what's on my iPod. Maybe it give you a bit of an idea about me and my tastes, to the point where you can offer some suggestions about what I'd like, or maybe it will give you a few ideas.

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