Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Short Takes – November 4, 2008

As a lot of you might know, in the past I used to do a regular series of posts called Short Takes in which I wrote about TV related news and gave my opinion on stuff. I sort of gave up on it, primarily because I got behind in grabbing stuff for the column and it got to be a bit of a hassle, and mostly because, by the time I had the column written it was usually old news. I can't say that I really miss writing those pieces but there is a bit of a hole, so I've decided to try to revive the idea. Well sort of. This is an experiment undertaken largely because I want to write about someone that I don't know much about who is in a situation that I don't know much about, but what I know about him, mostly his writing, I basically like and what has happened to him I basically don't like.

Another TV Critic Fired: Eric Kohanik, one time president of the TV Critics Association has been fired as editor and TV critic for the TV Times booklet that appears in most of the CanWest newspapers, including my local rag, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. According to Bill Brioux, former TV columnist for the Toronto Sun who currently does a weekly column for the Canadian Press (a column that is not seen locally) and produces the blog TV Feeds My Family the fault isn't with Kohanik's work but the general malaise that has infected newspapers in general: "TVTimes, one of the more handsome weekend TV supplements, has been deemed dispensable in this age of high newsprint costs, declining ad revenues and on-screen TV listings. At one time it appeared in 33 newspapers across the country as part of the Southam and later CanWest chains. Like the print edition of TV Guide in Canada, it is being phased out of circulation, reduced to mere listings without editorial content."

Making this about me for a moment, this leaves me without a TV critic that I can read in the local paper, as the local rag basically depends on the syndicate for most of its entertainment content. Now admittedly, even when the StarPhoenix was part of a two paper family owned chain as often as not they farmed out TV criticism to outside sources. For a long time in the 1960s they had a local critic – a man named Ned Powers, whose brother-in-law I bowl with, and who sometimes bowled with my mother – but he usually wrote about once or twice a week and I don't remember much of what he wrote. After all it was nearly 40 years ago. In the 1970s and early 1980s the paper had a column written by Gary Deeb of one of the Chicago newspapers. I think it was the Tribune but I'm not sure. Deeb used to infuriate me when he criticised shows I liked but that's part of being a TV critic. Deeb's column vanished rather suddenly as I recall, and I don't really recall anything replacing him. Eventually, along came Kohanik but I confess I wasn't really aware of when he started being a big part of the TV Times experience for me.

The death by inches of the TV Times and paper TV listings in general is something else that bothers me considerably. To be sure I have issues with the TV Times. For one thing it doesn't carry listings of the full spectrum of cable channels available to me while carrying listings for other channels that I have no way of getting, but I truly like having a full week listing even if it is a listing of majority of the channels rather than everything. Sure, my digital cable has a guide function, and there's a listings channel on the analog part of the cable, but the analog listings channel only covers the next hour or so, and the digital guide at most lets me see a day or two into the future. Beyond that I have to schlep off to the computer to check Zap2It. Sure it doesn't sound that arduous – and it isn't really – but so much easier just to have it in a magazine beside my watching position.

Of course, more important to me than the listings is to have someone who can give me their opinion of a shows, and just to write about them, and that's going, moving to the Internet. Maybe that's a good thing. If you read Ed Bark's blog you'll eventually discover that he has more independence now than when he was working for the Dallas Morning News which was owned by Belo Corporation, which also owned one of the Dallas stations. Bark wasn't allowed to critique local TV news stations even as the newspaper was moving its national TV coverage to wire service copy. I'm not going to speculate that Eric Kohanik had to deal with similar problems while working for the newspapers owned by Canada's third network (newspapers which conspicuously don't take ads from either CTV or CBC, and probably not from Rogers in areas where Rogers' CITY-TV stations are operating). He's always seemed pretty fair and balanced to me, calling crap crap regardless of the station on which it aired. What I am more than willing to say though is that having this sort of thing in my local newspaper is useful to me. And my local newspaper is giving me short shrift when it comes to TV coverage. The daily primetime listings were discontinued to give readers a full page of comics (up from the previous half page – the local rag doesn't like comics – takes away from ad revenue). TV get short wire service news squibs in the Entertainment pages...sometimes. On the Saturday there are a couple of columns that tells us the highlights of TV on Saturday and Sunday (no Sunday papers in the CanWest chain). But TV criticism? They spend more column inches on a snarky gossip columnist, and he doesn't get that much space in a week. Sure, TV criticism on the Internet is fine and may even be where it all ends up, but for me, I like being able to immerse myself in it in a way that I can't while sitting in front of a computer screen and can while reading my newspaper. I guess I'm going to have to buy the Globe & Mail more often.

Network Cancellations: Five so far this year. Do Not Disturb went first, in September. Next, ABC dumped the Ashton Kutcher created game show Opportunity Knocks on October 16th after three episodes. Then CBS dropped The Ex-List on October 27th after four episodes. Finally Media Rights Capital, which was programming Sunday nights from The CW has dropped two of their series, Valentine and Easy Money, although they will apparently burn off the remaining episodes produced of both series. The cancellation of The Ex-List comes as sweet vindication for those of us who came to love Moonlight. On the other hand I am one of those who is still mystified by the CBS decision to cancel the relatively successful Close To Home to create a hole for Moonlight.

I did review Do Not Disturb – found it dreadful – but missed the other four. Actually I had no earthly intention of writing anything about Opportunity Knocks which sounded like one of the worst ideas ever. I had no real desire to write or even view either Valentine or The Ex-List, so the decisions by their respective networks saved me the trouble

Network Renewals: NBC has given back nines to Knight Rider and Kath & Kim. They`re both mysteries to me but Kath & Kim is probably the bigger one – I just don`t get it. CBS's The Mentalist also received a full season order, not surprisingly given that it seems to be the only true success so far this season. They've also increased the order – although not yet to a full back nine – of their Thursday night drama The Eleventh Hour. The CW has given a back nine to their highly publicized 90210 although not to the show that follows it, Privileged. I mention Privileged because while the show loses audience out of 90210 its audience seems to consistently increase by 20-30% when the DVR "Live +7" audience is factored in.

Network Movements: NBC has announced that they will be bringing the original Law & Order back on Wednesday nights in the third hour. The show was originally intended to air on Sunday nights once Football ends but will instead replace the underperforming Lipstick Jungle. That show in turn will move to the third hour of Friday night, unseating the sophomore cop show Life which moves to the second hour of Wednesday night, reducing Deal Or No Deal to one episode a week. With the first hour of Wednesday being Knight Rider, the result is a new Wednesday block of shows labelled "Crime Night" by NBC.

Olbermania: Okay, I confess that since I've been able to get MSNBC for "free" (thanks to Shaw Cable which made it part of the Digital Basic package – though personally I'd rather they'd done that with BBC World instead) I've become a huge fan of Keith Olberman, who for better or for worse has been a huge part of this election cycle. Oh I don't really watch Olberman for his political views, though I largely agree with them, but because the guy is hugely entertaining. The guy's an okay interviewer but I don't watch him for that. I watch for his opinions – and he is opinionated – for his "Worst Person in the World!!!" bits and for those times when he goes on one of those famous rants of his. I mean if I want calm rationality I'll watch Rachel Maddow (I'm in love with Rachel, albeit a mostly platonic love that acknowledges her Lesbianism). I watch Olberman for the crazy. And as the election campaign has gone on the crazy has been infinitely entertaining. Thus it was probably inevitable that Saturday Night Live would turn its satirical light on Olberman. All that was needed was someone who could "do" justice to Olberman. Enter Ben Affleck...

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