Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Poll (Finally) - What Was The Big TV Moment in Calendar 2005?

In this case a "moment" can be an incident in a show, an episode of a show, or a show itself...but mostly the first two. I'm going to offer an observation and suggest that "moments" tend to occur most in live situations, and in non-scripted but edited shows (reality shows). I mean sure, series give us cliffhangers but when it comes right down to it we know that whatever catastrophic event happens at the end of the season, the writers are going to make sure that most if not all of the results will, on the whole be superficial changes at best. So with that as a base, here's what I've got.

Final episode of The Amazing Race 7 - Uchenna & Joyce come from having no money and being last to beat Rob & Amber. Their victory is made possible when a jetway that has been retracted is extended again to allow Uchenna & Joyce to get on the same plane as Rob & Amber.

Tarantino directed episode of CSI - Yes I know this goes against everything I said above, but this was one of the most talked about episodes of any TV series of the year. It's also one of the few episodes of any series that I know of which has been offered as a stand-alone DVD.

ABC's memorial to Peter Jennings - A two hour event that was offered commercial free and was an amazing study of Jennings's life and dedication to quality in journalism. One of the best biographies of a TV personality although the dedication to quality in journalism it represented was undercut by the fact that ABC's News Division was running an ongoing series about online dating that was more fitting as a reality series for the Entertainment Division.

Kanye West on the NBC Katrina benefit show - "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Randal tells Trump he should not also hire Rebecca on The Apprentice - Given the way the two had interacted over the previous weeks and just how close the final task really was, Randal's statement and his attitude was a real shock, particularly if you really accept that the show is a job interview rather than just a game. That is to say that if he's serious about being Trump's employee he should be willing to advise him to hire a qualified person that the boss is interested in. Instead he couched his response in terms that were related to the show.

Tom Cruise on Oprah and The Today Show - The destruction of the star's reputation will be televised.

Feel free to comment and add more options here.

Guilty Pleasures - A Meme

Sam had this meme on Sam-a-rama and after he listed the people he wanted to respond he opened it up to his entire blogroll so I'm taking the challenge and I'll even add one at the end.

Guiltiest Song: This is hard for me. I don't listen to much popular music - I listen to CBC Radio 2 for heaven's sake which is pretty much all classical, and I have a great fondness for big bands. I mean it was on Radio 2 that I discovered The Blind Boys of Alabama's tremendous version of "Amazing Grace" done to the tune of "House Of The Rising Sun", but that can hardly be a guilty pleasure. I could mention "Nessun Dorma" as done (to death) by Pavarotti for his encore piece, but when it comes to a really guilty pleasure I have to go with a classic, not classical. It is none other than Elvis Presley singing "Viva Las Vegas".

Guiltiest TV: Is it a guilty pleasure when you tell everyone you meet to watch a particular show? If so then my guilty pleasure is and has been for a while The Amazing Race. I just got my season 1 DVD set which totally makes up for a frustrating week of getting to places where they had the Firefly set on sale... but were sold out. Well almost. I honestly believe that its the best of the realitycompetition shows, which is what makes it painful when they produce a poor season like the Family Edition. Fortunately the real Amazing Race is back this spring, starting in late February or early March.

Guiltiest Food: Sushi from Sobeys. I mean really, a sushi snob (someone who knows the difference between the various qualities of tuna), or even someone who likes to go to a restaurant and get some nigiri or maki from time to time would turn their nose up at this stuff but I just love it, mainly because I can usually get it for Sunday lunch with little difficulty. I usually alternate between the mixed combo and the smoked Salmon. How great is my devotion? I learned to use chopsticks so I could eat it properly.

Guiliest Drink: Forgot this when I originally posted. I rarely drink alcohol (an occassional glass of wine, preferablly white because I usually have a reaction to some components in red wines) , and I also don't drink coffee or tea (neve acquired the taste). What I do drink whenever I get the chance is a Double Gulp Dr. Pepper from 7-11. I used to survive on these until they shut down (and then bulldozed) the neighbourhood 7-11 almost a year ago.

Guiltiest Crush: I don't know how you can have a guilty crush. What makes a crush guilty? Inaccessibility? Some other quality that makes them forbidden fruit? I mean I've mentioned my erotic dreams about Martha Stewart and about Donald Trump's associate Caroline Keptcher, but if you really want to talk inaccessible how about Batgirl and/or Supergirl. Yeah I'm talking about the ones in the comic books, not Dinah Meyer (although I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers) or Helen Slater (ditto), but the comic book versions were hot. But when it comes to crushes I guess I have to say Emily Procter, who plays Calleigh Duquesne on CSI: Miami. I enjoyed her and sort of had a crush on her on those episodes of West Wing that she did, and I did in fact see that scene in the TV movie Breast Men (and I can safely say that David Schwimmer is a lucky bastich for being in that scene) but it's Calleigh that really does it for me. There's one scene in the current season that sums it up for me. Calleigh has just retaken the ballistics lab from the slacker who was hired to replace her (after she quit because her ex-lover blew his brains out in front of her in that room) and she's test firing a pistol; when she finishes her two shots she breaks into the single most beautiful smile I've ever seen. I'm in love!

Guiltiest Man Crush: I mean I don't swing this way but if there is one man that I find particularly hot in that sort of way it is none other than Mr. Allyson Hannigan, aka Alexis Denisof. Now everyone knows him as Wesley from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, but I first became aware of him when he played the villainous Lord Rossendale in the last three episode of the Sharpe series. Rossendale is a cad and a bounder as well as a coward, but looking at a picture like this, one can readily understand why Sharpe's half-witted wife dropped her knickers at the merest indication that he would consider such a creature as she (but of course he was interested in her - she had all of Sharpe's not inconsiderable fortune).

Guiltiest New Fad: I'm addicted to doing Sudokus. I wish someone had bought me a book of them

Friday, December 30, 2005

Poll Results - What Was The Best New Show Of Calendar 2005?

A fairly good response for this question although I honestly thought that the results would be spread out a little more. There were fifteen votes cast. Numb3rs, Commander In Chief, and Everybody Hates Chris all tied for fourth place with no votes. The Office, which debuted last spring came in third with three votes or 20%. In second place with five votes (33%) was My Name Is Earl. The winner, although without a majority of the support was Prison Break with seven votes (46%). ( One note about a show that wasn't included. While Doctor Who debuted in Canada in 2005, it isn't widely available to our friends to the south. As a result I didn't include it although I at least think it was probably at least as good as most of the shows that I listed.)

What I was expecting: I had thought that, because of their ratings, Numb3rs and Commander In Chief, might get at lest one vote. Numb3rs has been a major success in terms of ratings, knocking off two highly regarded NBC series, while I suspect that Commander In Chief has benefitted from the rather lackluster Family Edition of The Amazing Race. How it will do against real opposition from other programs including a more traditional season of The Amazing Race is another matter. What did surprise me was that Everybody Hates Chris got no support. The series has been well supported by "real" critics (that is to say the guys who get paid to review TV shows), and has done well in the ratings, at least well for a UPN show. Maybe this represents a prejudice against UPN shows from my readership.

This brings us to the three vote getters I expected these three series to get the lion's share of the vote. It's representative of something important that NBC is using The Office and My Name Is Earl as a significant part of their strategy to try to salvage something out of their "Must See TV" Thursday lineup and weakening their position on Tuesday nights as a result. I haven't reviewed them yet but these two shows have a significant draw to them and are successfully pushing a different notion of what a situation comedy can be. I have watched Prison Break, and even given it a favourable review. The only problem is that I haven't stuck with the show after the first few episodes - it was on Monday nights which is a problem for me, and while I will make an effort for a show I'm addicted to - like 24 - Prison Break hasn't really gained any traction with me because I haven't been able to see every episode. It may indeed have had - as one voter commented - "plot holes you could drive a truck through" but the show is compelling enough to encourage willing suspension of disbelief, and this can't help but be a good thing.

New poll up shortly.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Latest Doctor

I had meant to post something earlier, either late yesterday or sometime earlier today, but in truth it is amazing what one drumstick of Tryptophan and a 3 year old nephew can do to me. Christmas night I had to wake up from my nap to go to bed. Monday I woke up too tired to go Boxing Day shopping even if that didn't mean standing overnight in front of some store to get the best possible bargain - I did that once and once was more than enough.

Television on Christmas, and for most of the week before and after, is pretty dire stuff mostly made up of reruns, made for TV movies and more reruns. Even sports were pretty weak. The NHL doesn't play on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day - never has - and the NFL moved all of its Sunday games to Saturday so as not to play on Christmas - which may be something new. There was probably a Bowl game of some sort (actually no, there wasn't), but the only pro league to be playing was the NBA, which had two game (I suppose I could wonder if this is some sort of commentary on the family values of the league or its players union but frankly I'm not that interested). About the biggest thing on TV on Monday was the last "episode" of ABC's Monday Night Football. This is of course one of the many differences between North America and Britain. While we become comatose from overingesting turkey and don't notice the raft of reruns on Christmas, the British eat goose - well except for the Scots who save their feasting for Hogmanay - and watch TV - usually special episodes of shows, some of which have long since vanished from the air except at Christmas. Of course the one special that was most awaited - on both sides of the Atlantic - was Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion if only because it was the first real appearance of the new Doctor, David Tennant. The show aired on Christmas evening in Britain and on Boxing Day evening in Canada and all I can say is that while I miss Christopher Ecclestone a lot, David Tennant really isn't bad at all, given just how much - or rather how little - we actually saw if him.

The episode actually starts on Earth, with Rose Tyler's mother Jackie decorating a tacky white artificial Christmas tree and looking wistfully at a Christmas package she has prepared for her daughter. The scene then cuts to Rose's old boyfriend Mickey as he's working at a garage. Suddenly both hear a familiar - to them - sound: the TARDIS. However, unlike most appearances of the time ship this time the old blue police box is falling out of control crashing into things before finally landing in the courtyard of the housing estate where Jackie and Mickey live. The doors open and from them emerges an unknown figure. He rushes around confused but knowing who they are. He finally says "Merry Christmas" and collapses. Rose comes out shortly there after and when her mom asks where The Doctor is she is informed that this is him to which Jackie responds "What do you mean that's the Doctor? Doctor Who?" At which point the theme starts.

I wanted to emphasize this because you really don't see much of The Doctor in this episode. According to the TV listings the episode was supposed to last 90 minutes but the actual running time was closer to 75 or 80 minutes with commercials which means that the show itself ran about 60 minutes without commercials. Of that Tennant's version of The Doctor was only active on screen for what seemed like 15 or 20 minutes. For the rest of the time the focus was on Rose Mickey and Jackie, and on Harriet Jones, Prime Minister. This emphasis on the human characters seems a bit odd. In the case of the Rose storylne it is in keeping with the series' concept in which Rose is less of a screaming sidekick and more of a heroic figure on her own. In this case though she is made painfully aware of just how dependent she is on The Doctor. When she, Jackie and Mickey are attacked by various Christmas related menaces (a quartet of musical Santa Clauses whose instruments double as weapons, and a whirling Christmas tree) she's forced to revive The Doctor long enough to defeat the initial menace - in this brief conscious moment he describes them as "pilot fish"; scavengers picking around a greater threat. This however disrupts his regeneration, to the point where one heart stops and he seems near death again. This has the side effect of stripping her of the ability to understand any language spoken, which is granted to her by the TARDIS. It's something that brings home not only how dependent she is on The Doctor but also how used she has become to being with him and to the adventure of being his companion. She loves it, and Mickey at least understands just how addicted she is to it, even though he doesn't like it.

The main crisis faces Harriet Jones as Britain's Prime Minister. As part of the "new Golden Age" Britain has launched a Mars probe - Guinevere I - which is due to land on Mars on Christmas Day. In fact the probe is intercepted by an alien space ship headed for Earth. The aliens, who we shortly learn are called the Sycorax, are claiming Earth - and its inhabitants - for their own. Jones is forced to choose to surrender Earth or else "They will die." As it turns out they are the roughly one third of the Earth's population who have A+ blood (this figure is totally accurate by the way; 34% of the population of earth has A+ blood). Every person with A+ blood goes to the highest building they can find and stand on the edge (this includes the Queen and the entire Royal Family) In desperation Harriet goes on television asking for the help of The Doctor, if he's on Earth. The Sycorax bring her and several of her advisors up to their ship where they kill the designer of the Guinevere probe and Harriet's UNIT advisor. They lose interest in Harriet however when they detect an energy source from Earth - the TARDIS, with Rose, Mickey, and an unconscious Doctor aboard. Rose and Mickey are captured, but some spilled tea helps to revive The Doctor, something which Rose realizes when she suddenly starts to understand the words of the Sycorax leader. Once he steps out of the TARDIS, he makes short work of the Sycorax plot (it turns out that they're using something akin to hypnosis as a bluff) and rapidly defeats the Sycorax leader in single combat. He tells the remaining Sycorax to leave Earth and to never return, and to tell any other races they encounter that Earth is defended. They don't get a chance - Harriet Jones uses an adapted alien weapon to destroy the Sycorax ship, angering The Doctor immensely. Harriet's logic for committing what The Doctor calls murder is compelling - the Earth survived this time only because The Doctor just happened to be on Earth this time - but he regards humanity as the real monsters, and he does take action against Harriet personally.

The episode has a nice fun feeling to it even without The Doctor being present as much as he normally is. He shows up and saves the day with incredible ease. The Sycorax as a menace are the sort that he can defeat. They seem to be a gentler version of the aliens from Independence Day travelling the galaxy looting what they can but I had the distinct feeling that they were more like interplanetary conmen, trying to convince the unsophisticated yokels that they have magic available to them. The Sycorax are defeated easily because they're an insignificant menace - to him. In fact he literally defeats them wearing a pair of pyjamas. It serves well in its role as an introduction for Tennant. On the whole he isn't bad, although at times his accent, enunciation and the speed with which speak can on occasion be hard to understand. Of course I at least initially said that about Eccleston as well. As an actor he's an interesting physical type, and once we see him more extensively in the role we'll probably become more comfortable with him in the part. Mostly though this is an episode isn't really about introducing us to Tennant and more about how humans interact with the Doctor and the degree to which his relations with them have an effect on their actions.

(I should mention Torchwood. We have the impression that Torchwood is the name of the weapon itself, but apparently it's something more. It is in fact a spin-off of Doctor Who - the name is an anagram - which will feature John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and will debut on the BBC in the autumn of 2006.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

I had planned something far grander than this, but circumstances intervened (I fell asleep).

To all of you friends and gentle readers (two groups which with relatively few exceptions are not mutually exclusive) I wish as Merry a Christmas as this Child of TV had when this photo was taken and the best of this Festive Season whatever tradition and beliefs you might follow.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dear Martha:

You really got the fuzzy end of the lollypop on this whole Apprentice thing didn't you dear. They come to you and ask you to do it and then things just sort of fell apart. First they give you a crappy time slot on Wednesday night and then when you don't perform immediately they move your show to an even suckier time slot so that Jerry Bruckheimer doesn't get irritated. (I was going to say pissed, but you are Martha Stewart - even when you were in prison people didn't use words like that around you.) I mean people actually watch Lost - his silly E-Ring wasn't going to beat that.

Oh but that was all was it Martha. There were the candidates. Trump got people like Randal, Rebecca, Felisha and Alla - okay Alla's a bad example; she would use words like pissed around you - and you got Dawna, Bethanny, Howie and nutso Jim. I mean darling I know you're Martha Stewart but even you can't make silk purses out of those sow's ears, anymore than you could make Charles and Alexa into George and Caroline. (Oh by the way Martha, I hate to tell you this - I've had more erotic dreams about Caroline than I've had about you, and I'm even counting the one with you and Alexa together, which I know is something you don't like to talk about). I mean sure Donald got saddled with Markus and the virgin Adam but you had Jeff, Jennifer and Chuck. Too much dear.

But of course it didn't stop there did it. There were other indignities. First Donald Trump shows up on your show, all sweetness and light, talking about how he's your friend and all that. Then when his ratings started to tank he doesn't blame NBC for their deteriorating Thursday night lineup or Jerry Bruckheimer for CSI being good this year, or the other networks for being like the crocodiles on Survivor: Guatemala in search of a vulnerable target. No Martha, he blamed you. Said you diluted the brand or some such bullsh....sorry Martha.... Bovine Scatology. So I suppose it's no wonder that the network weasels over at NBC - the guys who had been so welcoming to you when you got out of the Big House (no not your place in Maine; I'm talking about prison dear) - turned around and cancelled your show. Where is the love there?

Ah but the finale, the finale was where the final digs came in. Trump got a battle for the ages between Randal and Rebecca, and you got, well you got Dawna and Bethanny. I mean talk about white bread; and factory made white bread at that, not the stuff you (or rather your assistants) hand make yourself. They give Trump two hours to wrap things up while you get an hour between a game show for people too dumb to play Scrabble - oh sorry I forgot, wasn't it Dawna who had no idea how to play Scrabble - and a repeat of Law & Order four days before Christmas when no one is watching TV. I mean set aside the fact that it takes you an hour to wrap one Christmas present (what with making the wrapping paper, the ribbons, and those perfect name tags), just giving you an hour is a bit of an insult. And Trump gets Lincoln Center and a crowd of thousands while you get your daily show studio and a crowd of hundreds, well dozens anyway. So sad.

Now I have to confess I didn't watch all of the last episode. There was a particularly gripping episode of Call For Help on at the same time and I kept switching back and forth, so I missed the defense each of the candidates gave for their events, which as far as I could tell went off like clockwork. That may have been a problem. I mean remember all of the "sturm und drang" that Trump's show got out of things falling apart for Randal and Rebecca. Things falling to pieces and being "rescued" - or not - at the last moment is the stuff of drama. The best your ladies could come up was all the corrections that had to be made to the Liz Claiborne program, and that was well-defended. So no, Martha you weren't exactly up there on the drama part.

And then of course there was the live conference room. Let's just say that you made the safe choice, and of course the obviously correct choice. You need a team player and the very fact that Bethanny had to pick someone who hated her like Carrie or whoever it was did spoke volumes about her as a team player throughout the process. Even nutso Jim commented on that one and let's admit that he's pretty observant when it comes to gaps in other people's armour - ones he can use at least. (By the way Martha, if you and Donald Trump are still on speaking terms you might want to recommend nutso Jim to him, either as a candidate for Apprentice or for Court Jester. The guy is a funny Macchiavellian although he'd probably be insulted by the funny part of the description. Anyway, someone far more suited to working fro Trump than you.) You were left with the nice safe choice of Dawna, someone who doesn't make waves and can be left to submerge herself in whatever project you assigned her. Which turned out to be a position as Director of Development in one of your magazines based out of Boston. Is it really called Body & Soul? Apparently you are far less imaginative than I give you credit for in my erotic dreams. No matter, it's a good fit for her, and you even gave her a Buick Lucerne to escape from New York during the transit strike. Best of all you didn't put her on the hot seat by asking her if you should hire Bethenny too - that's not your style. Unfortunately the whole thing seemed anticlimactic (and no that's not a reference to erotic dreams) which made it seem, well... boring.

So dear Martha, this phase in your life has ended. I wish you good luck in your future endeavours but sadly in this circumstance you simply didn't fit in.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Deal Or No Deal - The Online Game

Last night I took a rip at Deal or No Deal as being a boring idea for a game show. I still think I'm right, but Mark Evanier doesn't agree. He likes it, in fact he likes it so much that he wrote not one but two posts about it. I still think I'm right, but it's a case of horses for courses and for him it's an enjoyable way to waste an hour.

However since I wasn't interested in the show enough to check out its website (and I rarely am by the way) it took a mention from Mark to get me to find out about the Deal Or No Deal online game, which is a rather interesting way to spend a few minutes. You can't win anything - that's left to their phone in thing that runs during each episode and seems about as interesting as watching paint dry - but you can take part in the sort of decision making that the players have to go through. As I expected there is no real optimal strategy for picking cases - picking 1-2-3-4-5 seems to work as well as randomization. The big question is when is the right time to make your deal. Unless you've had a truly atrocious run of luck you shouldn't make a deal before you get to the level of picking one case at a time. At the same time, unless the choice is between two extremely high amounts of money you should make a deal at some point in play - in other words don't open all of the suitcases. Beyond that, your strategy depends on perceived odds of winning. Try it yourself.

The Game Show For Dummies

According to the introductory narration for the NBC weak long "event" Deal Or No Deal, the show is a "hit" in over 35 countries. It seems obvious to me that these are countries that have yet to discover the thrills ofJeopardy or Wheel Of Fortune. In fact they probably haven't seen Family Feud yet. Frankly I found this show to be boring with a capital bore.

Deal Or No Deal seems to be a cross between Hide And Seek and "pick a number between 1 and 10". There are 26 numbered briefcases (the fancy metal kind) held by a racially diverse group of attractive young women. Each briefcase holds a sum of money ranging between 1 cent and $1,000,000. Well not really - it holds a card that states an amount between 1 cent and $1,000,000 which I think is missing a bet but more on that later. The player picks one briefcase as his or her own. Then the game begins. The player tells host Howie Mandel the numbers of six of the remaining briefcases which are then opened to reveal an amount of money. That amount of money is then removed from the possible amounts that could be in the briefcase. After six cases are opened the "Banker" calls down to Mandel with an offer. This is the amount of money the bank will pay the player based on the possible amounts of money that could be in the briefcase. If that offer is rejected the player names five numbers before a new offer is made, and so on with the number of briefcases picked being reduced by one each time until the player is left to pick one case at a time. The greater the number of high denomination cases remaining the greater the offer made by the bank. Just as an example if three cases remain with values of $10,000, $300,000 and $400,000 (as happened in tonight's episode) the Bank might offer $189,000. If you were to substitute $100,000 for $10,000 the Bank's offer would be higher while if the $300,000 amount were $30,000 instead, the offer would be substantially lower.

There is a certain, minimal amount of strategy involved. Obviously there's no way in which the selection of briefcases can be anything but random, therefore strategy really emerges when it comes to choosing at time to give up hoping for the "two in the bush" and take the "bird in the hand" - that is to say when to stop picking briefcases and take the banker's offer. It's an odds question worthy of a poker player. In the situation I mentioned above, the odds were two to one against that the player had the $10,000 card in his briefcase but those odds were grater than they had been before the last pick which had eliminated a $400,000 case (but the offer was better as well). He took the offer and was right - his case had the $10,000 card but even if he hadn't taken the offer the next bank offer, when it would be even money that what was in his case would be $10,000 his offer would have been lower, but still significantly higher than the minimum amount he could have made. Just from casual observation it would seem that the optimal strategy if you have a large number of high value cards remaining and a small number of low value cards left is to continue playing, while the correct strategy with significantly more low than high value cards - say eight cases under $100,000 and two cases above it - would be to take what you can get rather than risk losing your high value cases thereby lowering your offer from the Banker.

The problem is that I don't think that any of the contestants who are playing this thing has any idea of an optimal strategy. Of the two contestants I saw on Tuesday night, one was a carpenter who didn't like to say the "F" word - which in this case was fiancee, referring to his girlfriend - and invited his bartender to be one of his supporters on the show on the grounds that getting him some TV time would mean free drinks. And he was the smart one! The other contestant was supposedly a teacher who seemed all giggly and called one of the models her friend who she didn't even know but shared her name. Lord give me the strength to not watch this again.

The show is hosted by Howie Mandel. Now I liked Howie Mandel when he was on St. Elsewhere. Despite being a comedian (allegedly) he seemed like might actually have some ability as a dramatic actor. I won't say he was one of the best things about St. Elsewhere but he was far from the worst. Unfortunately he never followed up on acting and devoted his life to such things as sticking a rubber glove over is head until he blew out his sinuses. If you're in Canada what you've mostly seen Howie in of late is a bunch of commercials for Boston Pizza (a chain of restaurants which as far as I can ell has nothing to do with Boston). If you've seen those commercials you'll be happy to know that Howie has taken a couple of downers and is vaguely behaving like a calm human being he's about a 1 on a scale where 0 is normal and negative numbers denote needing pep pills. But please don't get me started on the soul patch beard. A man of his age - which is to say about 9 months older than I am - shouldn't look like that.

The truth is though that any problems I have with Howie Mandel are minor compared with the problems that this show has forced upon itself. At the top of this article I mentioned that Deal Or No Deal is supposed to be a hit in 35 over countries none of which have discovered the thrills of Jeopardy. The producers are proud of the lack of intellectual stimulation in this show. At the start of each episode they state that there are "no crazy stunts, no trivia questions." The problem is that I like a show in which the contestants are challenged to do more than think of a number between 1 and 26. Whether that's eating gross food - as in Fear Factor (and believe me I never thought I say that Fear Factor was significantly better than another show) - or answering a trivia question, I want something more. I want my winners to work for their prize, to achieve it, and - not to put too fine a point on it - earn their prizes. That's one reason why I like The Amazing Race. Those people have to accomplish a great deal in order to win a million dollars while the people on Deal Or No Deal don't. And frankly, when you're used to something better, a game show for dummies just isn't enough. Avoid this like the plague.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

TV On DVD (And A Little Bit More) - December 20, 2005

A very short but very strong list this week, which considering that I'm in my pre-Christmas funk, is probably a good thing. It started last night at my bowling league Christmas Party and let's just say I didn't have good time. Between poor bowling, selfish people, having to catch the bus and not wanting to get my bowling balls greasy I had a grand total of one piece of pizza. And that's how it starts.

Nowhere Man: The Complete Series
- Nowhere Man debuted in the second season of UPN's existence after the network dropped everything on their schedule that didn't have the words "Star" and "Trek" in the title. Now setting aside the fact that I happen to think there were a couple of good shows besides Voyager in that first season lineup, I have to admit that Nowhere Man was one of the best shows the network ever put together. Its cancellation after a single season was a real shocker, although UPN execs at that time were quicker to pull the trigger on a new show than someone at Fox who saw a science fiction series on the schedule. There was an attempt at resolution of the main story line but there is still argument today as to whether it was tacked on or if the series was even meant to continue beyond one season.

Seaquest DSV: Season One
- Roy Scheider starred in this series which had Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer. The first season wasn't that great and there was a lot of dissension on the set. Still I liked it better than the following seasons. A large number of the first season cast was either dumped or jumped ship (so to speak) as the whole concept was revamped. The kept Jonathon Brandis and the talking dolphin though.

The Shield: Season 4
- I've never seen The Shield although it has aired on Global here in Canada (although I don't think the fourth season has been seen here yet - it is notoriously difficult to find out what show's that network is airing at any given time) which shows the difference between Canada, where this show can be seen on broadcast TV, and the US where the PTC is trying to get it run off of cable. Season Four was the one with Glenn Close cast as Michael Chiklis's boss, a role which earned her an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Actress in a Drama.

Tracey Takes on: The Complete First Season
- Tracey Takes On never aired in Canada except on the pay movie channels (if there) so I know nothing about it except for the brief clips I used to see at Emmy time when it was almost invariably nominated and frequently won in a number of categories. Star Tracey Ullman is one of those chamelon-like actors who can take on a variety of parts (the IMDB lists 10 roles for her in Tracey Takes On and adds "other roles") and be unrecognizable as herself in most of them. Tremendous talent.

The Twilight Zone: Season 5 - The Definitive Edition
- The final season of The Twilight Zone which saw the series revert to the tighter half hour format. The season as a whole has the usual great casting but in particular this season features the episode "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" with William Shatner. This was later remade in the Twilight Zone movie with John Lithgow and parodied in Third Rock From The Sun with Lithgow and Shatner together.

And now for a little bit more:

Serenity (Widescreen Edition)
- I know this isn't TV but I was a big fan of the TV series Firefly (and I really want to get that gorram DVD set!) and the movie is really a continuation of the series. The special effects are tremendous and the characters pick up from where they left off with barely a pause. The writing is incredibly witty ("This is the captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight... turbulence and then explode.") and while some critics didn't get it, Science fiction author Orson Scott Card has called Serenity "the best science fiction film ever." For reasons which escape most fans, the movie never really found an audience - worldwide box office was below budget (not helped by Universal cancelling the theatrical release in seven countries) but there's hope that if DVD sales are strong Universal might consider a second sequel to be made for its SciFi Channel. So buy the gorram DVD!

Monday, December 19, 2005

New Poll - What Was The Best New Show Of Calendar 2005?

In our year end round-up we've surveyed the worst new show of 2005 so it's only fitting that we now turn to the bestnew show of the year. And the nominees are:
  • The Office - the NBC version of the hit BBC series

  • My Name Is Earl - NBC's comedy about a man trying to reay oll the bad things he's done

  • Numb3rs - The CBS series about a mathematician who helps his FBI agent brother solve crimes

  • Commander In Chief - ABC's series about the first Woman President of the United States

  • Everybody Hates Chris - The fictionalised version of Chris Rock's childhood on UPN

  • Prison Break - Fox's series about an engineer trying to bust his wrongly convicted brother out of death row
As usual, feel free to comment here and tell me what series you think I should have put on the list.

Poll Results - What Was The Worst New Show Of Calendar 2005?

A larger turnout than last time but still comparatively small with eight voters. Obviously I need to promote the blog more at BlogExplosion to get more voters.

Here are the results. In a tie for fifth place were The Law Firm and Head Cases with no votes. In fourth place with one vote (12%) is Just Legal, the Don Johnson series that lasted just a few weeks on the WB. In a tie for second place with two votes (25%) are Blind Justice and The War At Home. But the winner - or at least the show with the most votes - with three is Stacked.

I have a suspicion that with a few more votes this result would have changed. I have to confess that I rather liked Blind Justice (even with giving a blind man a gun) which may have done better if it hadn't been placed in the old NYPD Blue slot. I missed Just Legal (it was on a Monday) and I only saw the pilot episode of Head Cases which I thought was borderline adequate although the pilot isn't enough to judge the show by. I did watch The Law Firm and it was awful, but it was nothing when compared to the big steaming pile of bovine scatology that is The War At Home. Which is why I'm convinced that if I had more voters Stacked would not have been the winner in this poll. I've never seen it - I have a low tolerance for Pamela Anderson after I saw Barb Wire on TV once (the woman was stark naked for part of it and still boring while the actual movie gave me a raging migraine) - but any series with Christopher Lloyd can't be entirely bad and I seem to recall that Anderson had some slight comedic ability. Besides, I've actually heard that librarians and small bookstore owners have actually credited the series for increased patronage. I know that if I'd voted in my own poll, which I occasionally do, it would have been for The War At Home..

New poll shortly.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

John Spencer 1946 - 2005

I hate writing obituaries but sometimes there are people who you just have to write about. John Spencer, who died late on Friday, was one of those. He would have been 59 on Tuesday.

On TCM they sometimes have a brief segment following some of their movies called Damned Good Actors. It think that this is a description that fit John Spencer to a T. He made his television debut as a teenager on the second season of The Patty Duke Show. His character disappeared when production of the show moved from New York to Hollywood after Patty Duke turned 18 (New York Law was less restrictive with regard to the hours a juvenile actor could work than California law). He was a student at New York's Professional Children's School where some of his fellow students were Liza Minelli and Pinchas Zuckerman. Spencer worked in regional theatre and off-Broadway productions for much of the 1970s and '80s, winning an Obie for his role in the play Still Life and a Drama Desk nomination for The Day Room.

His film career began in the early 1980s with small parts, like one of the airman at the missile silo at the start of War Games, and often parts in cheap movies. In 1990 he had a major supporting role in the Harrison Ford movie Presumed Innocent which probably led to his first major break, the role of Tommy Mullaney on L.A. Law. He was perfectly cast as the gruff former prosecutor whose alcoholism had led to the end of his marriage and nearly the end of his career before he got a second chance with Mackenzie Brackman. Adding Spencer was a major - and positive - addition to the cast of L.A. Law and he was one of the outstanding figures on the show particularly after Susan Dey, Harry Hamlin and Jimmy Smits left the cast. Spencer's role on L.A. Law helped his career insofar as it got him a better class of supporting roles including parts in forget Paris, The Rock, Copland and The Negotiator although he still appeared in some pretty awful movies. In 1998 he was one of the leading characters in the short-lived NBC series Trinity, co-starring as Jill Clayburgh's husband.

It was with The West Wing that actor and character came together in one of those perfect fits that happen so rarely. Although Spencer said of Leo McGarry "He has qualities that I wish I had more of. I often say to Aaron [Sorkin], 'You're writing the man I'd like to be.' " the two men were close in a lot of ways. Like McGarry, Spencer was an alcoholic and a workaholic. In an interview for AP he said "Like Leo, I've always been a workaholic, too. Through good times and bad, acting has been my escape, my joy, my nourishment. The drug for me, even better than alcohol, was acting.'' Spencer was nominated for five Emmy Awards as Best Supporting Actor and won once in 2002. It always seemed to me to be a bit of a snub to nominate him in the Supporting Actor category as it always seemed to me that the role of Leo was very much the equal of Martin Sheen's Josiah Bartlett, and it seemed particularly strange in those years when Stockard Channing was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for doing far less. True, Bartlett was the showier part but in so many ways Spencer was the glue who held the show together, who linked Bartlett with the bulk of his staff. Indeed, if the original plan for the series had proceeded, where the President either wasn't seen or rarely seen, McGarry would have been the principal character even if Rob Lowe was getting more money per episode. Spencer brought the proper weight to the tough brilliant and occasionally troubled character of Leo. There are so many great scenes with Leo that John Spencer made live. My favourite Leo scene was one where Spencer made the words seem like his own experience. He's explaining to his lawyer - played by Joanna Gleason - that he can't have just one drink, that he can't understand people who can only have just one drink. It's a rivetting near soliloquy and one of his best performances on the show.

There is a certain irony to a couple of events on the show in light of John Spencer's death. In the sixth season episode "Birnam Wood" Leo suffered a near fatal heart attack which took him away from his job at the White House. The episode seemed to have an impact on Spencer. He stated that "I do not want to have a heart attack. Since (I shot that episode) I have taken much better care of myself. I did the thing I have been trying to do for years - I stopped smoking." Reportedly the next episode of The West Wing which was to air on January 6 was to feature Leo in a Vice-Presidential debate where the issue of health care comes up. Reportedly the character was supposed to say "By an overwhelming percentage, the first warning symptom of a heart attack is death. I'm fortunate to be here." There are no reports at the moment of how The West Wing will be handling John Spencer's death.

Spencer was an only child who was married and divorced in the 1970s. According to his publicist he is survived by "cousins, aunts, uncles, and wonderful friends." Not to mention a great many stunned fans.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Apprentice Finale - And Aftershock

It isn't often that the word "aftershock" is really appropriate when talking about a television show, and particularly a reality show, but I think you can argue that the decision of one player at the end of the fourth season finale of The Apprentice set off something of a firestorm. Or an aftershock.

At the start of the two part Apprentice finale Donald Trump had narrowed the field of 18 candidates to two, Randal Pinkett from Somerset New Jersey and Rebecca Jarvis from Chicago. As usual in the show, the final task for each was to coordinate a charity event, with a staff made up of three previously fired candidates each. In this case each potential Apprentice had to deal with a corporate sponsor. Randal was put in charge of a celebrity softball game for the charity Autism Speaks with Outback Steak House as corporate sponsor, while Rebecca was given a comedy event for the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Aids Foundation with Yahoo! as corporate sponsor. Both Randal and his group and Rebecca and her group encountered problems. In Rebecca's case the problems were twofold. The original host for the comedy event was supposed to be former Saturday Night Live cast member Joe Piscopo, however soon after a meeting with two of Rebecca's employees, Piscopo pulled out claiming resistance from "the union". (Since there isn't a "comedian's union" I suspect the resistance may have come from either AFTRA or Actor's Equity concerning payment from the producers of The Apprentice, but I haven't seen any specific union claim.) She responded by contacting various comedy clubs and finding a replacement MC for the event. A bigger problem was staunch resistance on the part of Yahoo! to attempts at direct fundraising during the event. Randal found similar resistance from Outback Steak House but after hearing details about Autism from the representative of Autism Speaks he and his team were able to persuade the company to give in on that point. A bigger problem for Randal was the weather - on the day that he developed his plans for the event the weather was excellent but the day of the event had heavy rain and the groundskeeper at Brooklyn's Key Span Park where the softball game was to be held felt that even if it stopped raining the field wouldn't be ready in time for the game. Randal was forced to improvise a "Plan B" in a matter of hours.

The events went off with some difficulty. Randal decided to crowd the various celebrities and VIP guests into the dressing room for the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team and proceed with a planned auction sale there with proceeds going to Autism Speaks, with bins for personal donations also provided. In his opening remarks Randal gave a spirited explanation of the need to donate to the charity, however during the course of the event the celebrities - who were invited to participate in the softball game - were spread throughout the room rather than placed in a position where they'd be visible to the crowd. Worse, by the time that Donald Trump arrived for the event it had stopped raining and he wondered aloud whether the game could have been held as planned. (In Randal's defense, in such matters one should usually defer to the opinion of the experts, in this case the stadium groundskeeper.) Still Randal managed to raise $11,000 for Autism Speaks.

As for Rebecca, she seemed to have totally caved in to Yahoo!'s demands. The whole place was resplendent in purple and white (the Yahoo! colours) including the drinks - Yahootinis and drinks with purple blinking ice cubes. The only visible mention of the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Aids Foundation was one rather small banner placed above the bar, and while Glaser's son did speak to the crowd at the start of the comedy performances, and the MC did from time to time mention the group, there was no way to directly contribute. Gift bags were given to the attendees at the end of the event which included a brochure and a donation form but no money was raised directly from the event. At the live "board room" in the second hour of the show, an executive from Yahoo! tried to make up for this by donating $50,000 each to Autism Speaks and the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Aids Foundation - the executive who told Rebecca that they didn't want direct fundraising at "their" event was seated beside him looking somewhat shame faced.

The final boardroom, broadcast live found Trump faced with the choice between two of the best candidates he's ever had. Randal's education (five degrees from Rutgers, MIT, and Oxford - where he was a Rhodes Scholar), business acumen and leadership skills were up against the younger Rebecca, a financial journalist who had attended the University of Chicago and as a teen had founded her own charity which raised over $750,000 and had involved both Bill Clinton and Colin Powell. For this she had been named in 2000 as one of Teen People's "20 Teens Who Will Change the World". Still things came down to performance both in the final task and long term. Randal questioned Rebecca's youth and lack of practical experience in the world of business while touting his own success as an entrepreneur and his greater success as a team leader during the interview process. Neither George or Caroline was particularly kind to either candidate's plan. Caroline in particular was unimpressed with Randal not having a well considered Plan B in the event of rain or checking with the weather service regularly to be sure that the softball game could go ahead, while George wondered why Randal didn't make sure that the celebrities in attendance weren't more prominently on display. The George's point has somewhat less merit than Caroline's although there was probably a better way to make use of the celebrities in the auction situation. The big criticism went to Rebecca for losing sight of the fact that her client wasn't Yahoo! but the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Aids Foundation.(It should be noted here that the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Aids Foundation is a particular favourite charity of Mark Burnett's production company - proceeds from the auction of Survivor props from each season goes to the Foundation as do proceeds from auctions of Apprentice memorabilia.) In the end it came down to Donald Trump's own decision. He chose Randal.

And then he asked the question excited the aftershock. I don't think that anyone either present at Lincoln Center or in the TV audience would disagree that Randal was deserving of being selected as Trump's Apprentice, even though there was a general sense that if Rebecca were selected it wouldn't be a bad choice either. Certainly the final two this season were far superior to either of the Season Three candidates Tana or Kendra, and perhaps the best final two of any season of the show. So maybe it shouldn't have come as a big surprise when Donald Trump asked Randal if Rebecca should also be hired. And then Randal surrendered all the considerable good will he had won. With Felisha and Alla both shaking their heads so hard that you could probably hear them rattling, Randal said ''No, Mr. Trump. It's not called The Apprenti. There should only be one.'' There were boos from the audience at Lincoln Center but even greater were the comments at various online locations. Before TVSquad shut down their comments for maintenance, they received 116 comments most of which could be summed up with the statement "Randal is a jerk." At The Donald's Trump University blog there were 276 comments the last time I checked, the essence of which, in virtually every case was "Randal is a jerk and you should hire Rebecca anyway Mr. Trump."

As for me, I'm not sure. If Trump had wanted to hire both he could have. If he felt that it was for the best for his organization he should have, and probably still should. More to the point he shouldn't have asked a newly hired employee whether he should hire her unless it was a case of having her work for him as an assistant or as part of his team. At the same time however, Randal is probably obliged to tell his employer whether he thinks the company would be better off if he were to hire Rebecca. And there hangs the real seed of any controversy. The reasons expressed by Randal are personal rather than business related, related to his interests and the name of the show, The Apprentice. He won; he is The Apprentice but in saying that he is going against the final line of the show's intro - "It's not personal, it's only business." By not offering a sound business reason for not hiring Rebecca, he has put the personal ahead of the business, and if that doesn't make him the things that people have been calling him, perhaps it does make him less sound as a businessman, which after all is what Trump is hiring.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

TV on DVD - December 13, 2005

Well yes, I know I missed last week, and considering what this week's DVD list looks like compared with last week's I suppose some people could accuse me of skipping the hard weeks. Truth is that there was a lot of stuff on my not blogging plate, complicated by the fact that I haven't been sleeping well the past little while - don't know why not but I haven't. I've been compensating - or have been forced to compensate by my body - with afternoon siestas which in turn mean I haven't been getting as good a night's sleep as I should, but what can you do when you almost fall asleep while typing. And yeah I did get the final result of Survivor wrong but the optimal strategy was still right.

Mercifully short list this week and quite a bit of it good stuff.

Dukes of Hazzard: The Complete Fifth Season
- Ah the most infamous season of all for the denizens of Hazard County, when "them Duke boys" weren't Bo and Luke but Coy and Vance. John Schneider and Tom Wopat got into a salary dispute and Warner Brothers, apparently forgetting what happened with Clint Walker and Jim Garner back in the late 1950s, decided that their young stars were interchangable cogs which could be swapped out at will. Coy was Byron Cherry (and whatever happened to him) while Vance was Christopher Mayer who actually had a career after driving the General Lee, usually working as Chip Mayer. They were on the show for 18 episodes before vanishing - quite literally - from the Duke Family Tree never to be spoken of again to this very day. In fact neither set of cousins appears on the front of this set - though Coy and Vance seem to appear on one end - all we see are The General and Daisy. And after all those were the main reasons a lot of us watched the show.

Family Bonds: The Complete First Season
- Never heard of it. Apparently a 10 part HBO "documentary" series (read non-competitive reality show) following a family of bailbondsmen and "recovery specialists" on their job. No appeal to me at all, and since it appears that HBO isn't actually going to do a second season, not much appeal to anybody else.

Farscape: Season 3, Collection 1 (Starburst Edition)
- I've said it before and I'll probably have to say it again, how many different ways can they find to package the same thing? Starburst Edition, full season edition etcetera etcetera.

Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fifth Season
- I don't think I've ever watched a full episode of Gilmore Girls but from what little I've seen, the show has some excellent witty writing, and the fact that it doesn't really appeal to me only means that it doesn't appeal to me. Certainly it is one of the most successful WB series, and the stars are very appealing.

Miami Vice: Season Two
- Miami Vice was as much a product of its time as any series can be. It not only reflected its time and place but also set trends. Who could forget the cars, the pastel shades and modernistic chic of Miami, and Don Johnson's purposely stubbled face, not to mention Jan Hammer's score. In a very real way Miami Vice also served as a starring vehicle for Edward James Olmos. Sure he'd done some work before Miami Vice including The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez which he not only starred in but wrote produced and even composed the music for, but Miami Vice was his big break as a mainstream star.

Rambo, Vol. 5: Snow Raid
Rambo, Vol. 6: Face of Freedom

- Just what we need more badly animated Rambo for kids - the horror, the horror. And remember, this was a daily cartoon show for a year.

Reba: Season 2
- I know that there are some people - no, make that a lot of people - who don't understand why Reba McEntire not only has a sitcom but how that sitcom has managed to survive into its fifth season. Well the fact is that the show is funny, although most of the credit for that doesn't go to McEntire (who isn't the worst actor in the world but isn't going to win any Emmy's either) but to her supporting cast and in particular Melissa Peterman as Barbara Jean (a woman who at best marches to the beat of a different drum - her logic is not the same as our earth logic). The interaction between Reba and Barbara Jean is classic, and is only compounded when Reba's not terribly bright son-in-law Van (Steve Howey) is added to the mix.

The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season (Collectible Marge Head Pack)
The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season

- Two packages for the latest compilation of Simpson's episodes. One is a boring old regular box for those of us who have shelves for out DVDs and one is a match for the Season 6 Homer's Head package, this time featuring Marge (but her hair is scaled way down). Obvious must for Simpsons fans of course.

Tour of Duty: Entire Series
- All three seasons of Tour of Duty brought together in a single set in a package made to look like an Army footlocker. Usual warnings apply - buy only if you don't already have the individual seasons, but if you know someone who likes the series and doesn't already have the DVDs, this could be a great Christmas gift.

Monday, December 12, 2005

New Poll - What Was The Worst New Show Of Calendar 2005?

While Christmas is occupying our attentions, we shouldn't forget that the end of the year, with it's tradition of Best and Worst lists is coming up. With that in mind I present the first of three end of the year poll questions.

It's always more fun to pick the Worst rather than the Best, but I've got two bests and Worst is first. What was the worst network TV show to debut in the 2005 calendar year? (Note that I did say the calendar year which allows me to do a season long poll at the end of the year.)

Just to refresh your memory - because some of these came and went so fast that even the people who were in them don't remember them - the six contenders are:
  • Blind Justice - a blind cop with a dog and a gun. Replaced NYPD Blue on ABC.
  • Stacked - Pamela Anderson in a book store. On Fox
  • The Law Firm - A wannabe Apprentice with lawyers. Lasted two episodes on NBC in the summer before being dumped onto Bravo.
  • The War At Home - Fox moved Arrested Development off of Sunday nights for this.
  • Head Cases - Another Fox series, this one lasted a whole three episodes. I confess I liked the pilot and some of the cast but didn't see enough to have an opinion.
  • Just Legal - This time The WB cancelled a show after just three episodes. Come on this is The WB - they don't cancel shows after three episodes!
Please feel free to comment here and if there are worse shows that debuted in 2005 that you can think of feel free to mention them.

Poll - What TV related gift would you like to find under the Christmas Tree?

Well after the highs in voting we experienced in the last poll, this one was quite a come down. Either I didn't promote this one as well as I could have (entirely possible) or everyone is content with the electronic gear they have. And yet even with a voter turnout of four (4!) there does seem to be a clear concensus. If the number of hits I get in a week is accurate, virtually everyone is content with the stuff they've got. Of the people who expressed an opinion however, none wanted a Universal Remote, a DVD Recorder, a new TV, or Home Theatre Seating. Despite all of the problems with the initial run of them, a quarter of respondents (that's one person to you) wanted an X-Box 360. The big winner, with 75% of the vote (three people) wanted a Personal Video Recorder.

This one is interesting even with the low turnout. It seems clear that people want a replacement for the VCR, and the preferred choice, I suppose because of its flexibility, is a PVR like a TiVo or what the satellite and cable companies are offering bundled with their equipment. I confess that I'd like to replace my VCR as well, but the options to me as a Canadian with Digital Cable are severely limited. I can buy a TiVo and just recently the company has started offering scheduling services for Canadian channels even though the company does not sell the device in Canada or offer service to Canadian owners. The problem is that some of what I regard as the functionality of the TiVo would seem to be lost if I'm forced to record only what's on my digital box, or to get a second box just for the TiVo in order to be able to watch one show in digital and record another. How is that different from what a DVD Recorder or my current VCR does? I confess however, that some of the DVD Recorders with the built in Hard Disk Drive are appealing as a way of having your cake and eating it too, but I tend to be wary of any sort of combination unit of this sort - if one thing breaks you lose the use of both while getting it repaired, always assuming you can get it repaired.

New Poll (on a better topic I hope) later today.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Holiday Gift Suggestions - A Brief Guide DVDs

Here's the second installment of my holiday gift list. This one is a far less specific about products than my earlier listing. I had planned to make specific suggestions but as I point out these would reflect my tastes and that doesn't really help anyone. It's less about suggesting specific material than perhaps offering a little guidance as to directions that someone buying DVDs as gifts might find helpful. (In other words I'm weaseling out a bit on my title.)

Since the format debuted DVDs have been a natural gift choice, just as prerecorded tapes were before them. I'm not going to try to suggest movies. For one thing there are so many choices out there and individual taste is the most important aspect of this. I can recommend The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection (and it is something I want in case someone who is buying for me is reading this) but most people would look at the words "Silent Movies" and run in terror (probably including anyone who is buying for me), so I'll mostly restrict myself to an overview of TV related material.

Season Boxed Sets
Boxed sets of seasons of TV series are a perfect gift, and practically suggests itself. If someone has the first three seasons of 24 for example, what could be a more natural Christmas gift than 24: Season Four. You can also make choices based on what a person watches on TV or in reruns what they'd like or the sort of show they might enjoy. A Smallville fan might appreciate The Adventures of Superman: The Complete First Season and Lois and Clark: The Complete First Season. It's tricky though. A Star Trek might not be interested in Babylon 5 and vice versa. I could list a number of titles - indeed that was my intention when I started to write this - but those would reflect my tastes and even when they are outstanding productions, both in terms of the programs themselves and what is on the DVD, they aren't ideal for everyone.

Children's Programming
Anyone buying DVDs for children needs to be aware of a few things. Age is very much a consideration. Brian, my almost three year old nephew loves Thomas The Tank Engine and The Wiggles but will he like them when he's six? I can practically guarantee you that he won't like them when he's nine. Another thing to be aware of is that if you're a parent you had better like the DVDs because you are going to be seeing and hearing them a lot. Particularly with the youngest children they want to see the same video - and sometimes the same episode - over and over again in a period of minutes not hours or days. Would your sanity survive that sort of repetition of Barney the Dinosaur, Blue's Clues, or The Wiggles? Incidentally one interesting idea that I've heard of is playing old silent comedy shorts like Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton for younger children (I haven't had a chance to try this with Brian yet). Apparently they appreciate the slapstick comedy and the music and don't mind that it isn't in colour and that the people don't speak. There are some very affordable sets of this material out there, although of course it's a case of caveat emptor and you get what you pay for.

Special Interest DVDs
There are a lot of DVDs that fit into this grouping, touching on just about any interest, and not all of them were TV shows but it is an area that people might want to consider when giving DVDs for Christmas. lists the following categories: Art & Artists, Cooking & Beverages, Crafts & Hobbies, Dance, Educational, Fitness & Yoga, Health, History, Home & Garden,Metaphysical & Supernatural, Nature & Wildlife, Outdoor Recreation, Parenting & Childcare, Religion & Spirituality, Self-Help, Sports, Transportation, and Travel. And I'm convinced that if you put a little more work into searching for DVDs - looking in hobby publications and the like - you can find even more material, often from small producers who aim for a very specialized market.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Survivor: Guatemala - My Prediction

Back when Survivor first debuted, in the summer of 2000, it was a big hit among players of the boardgame Diplomacy. Where most people saw Richard Hatch as a conniving backstabber who hoodwinked the other people on that island, we Diplomacy players saw a kindred spirit who was playing the other people in order to accomplish his series of goals - "going for the 18 centre win" as we'd put it - by establishing an alliance and using that alliance to eliminate other players and controlling the game throughout. All the while he was also manipulating other players in such a way that they would see him as the lesser of virtually every alternative in the final jury session. Hatch's opponents took too long to fully understand what was going on. A perfect example of how he handled things was final Immunity Challenge of that first season. It featured Hatch, whitewater rafting guide Kelly Wigglesworth and former US Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch. Hatch knew that neither he nor Wigglesworth were likely to beat Boesch who was well liked by many of the members of the jury primarily because he hadn't engaged in the sort of intrigues that Hatch and Wigglesworth had been part of. Hatch also knew that he couldn't vote Boesch off lest he lose the older man's vote in the final Tribal Council. Therefore he eliminated himself from the competition leaving it a battle between Wigglesworth and Boesch, certain that he would be in the final two either way - Wigglesworth would take him believing that she could win against Hatch and couldn't win against Boesch while Boesch would remain loyal to their early pact. In the end Wigglesworth outlasted Boesch in the endurance challenge, but it was Hatch, who had created the alliance strategy after researching the Swedish show Expedition Robinson on which Survivor is based was able to convince the other players - famously including Sue Hawk - that he was the lesser of the two evils they had to choose from.

Subsequent seasons of Survivor weren't as popular with Diplomacy players, in part because the lessons of the first season were often only half learned. Survivor: Outback featured Colby Donaldson, a player who physically dominated the individual Immunity Challenges but made a major mistake by choosing the more popular (and manipulative) Tina Wesson before the jury instead of the far less popular Keith Famie. Wesson won because she was better at the non-challenge part of the game. Similarly Kim Johnson chose Ethan Zohn in Survivor: Africa because she wanted him to win the money and didn't think she could win against either Zohn or third place finisher Lex van der Berghe. Subsequent seasons saw the rise of the "under the radar" strategy pioneered by Vecepia Towery in Survivor: Marquesas a strategy which has the problem of being seen as riding on a stronger opponent's coattails as happened in Survivor: Palau Katie Gallagher. Something vaguely similar to the "under the radar strategy" occurred in the All Star version of Survivor in which Rob Mariano (who hadn't been a particularly effective player in Survivor: Marianas but obviously had been studying) played master manipulator to reach the final two along with his ally, the virtually invisible Amber Brkich (who had tried the coattails thing in Survivor: Australia - she won as the lesser of two evils. Increasingly the strategy which has been most successful is a strong two person alliance with temporary alliances with others to reach the final four or three - in fact the same essential strategy pioneered by Richard Hatch in the very first Survivor, although in many cases players haven't had the Machiavellian willingness to subtly pull the trigger on their principal ally that Richard Hatch did when he pulled out of the final immunity.

So what, in this old (and bad) Diplomacy player's mind, is going to happen in the two hour finale of Survivor: Guatemala. The final four are Stephenie La Grossa (who had been a contestant in Survivor: Palau), Rafe Judkins, Danni Boatwright, and Lydia Morales. Of the four, Rafe and Steph appear to have the closest alliance, although it seems to be under a lot of pressure. Lydia had been a partner in this alliance and ridden along on its coattails but was increasingly seen as an outsider. Danni is the only surviving member of the original Nakum Tribe. Rafe and Steph are the two most dominant players in terms of being competitive in challenges - both immunity and reward. Lydia has not one an individual challenge of either type while Danni won a crucial immunity when it seemed likely that she would be voted out as the last Nakum member. For a Diplomacy player the best situation is to go into a head to head contest with a player who is at a positional disadvantage on the board. In terms of Survivor: Guatemala, this is Lydia who has been the weakest remaining player throughout the season. Having her in the final two will insure her opponent the win, so if anyone is playing optimally she should go before the jury. Assuming that either of the two strongest players - Rafe or Steph - wins the first immunity of Sunday night's show that person should work with Danni and Lydia to eliminate the strongest remaining player. That is Steph should try to eliminate Rafe and vice versa. This means of course that whoever wins the final immunity should keep Lydia and vote out the other player.

I can practically guarantee you that this will not happen. While it is optimal play it isn't expected play. I expect Lydia to be eliminated for the exact reason that she should be kept on - she hasn't been a strong player and it may be that the stronger players will find her unworthy of having even a slight chance at the million dollar first prize. The question then becomes whether Rafe or Steph will take Danni to the jury or each other. If the final is Steph versus Danni I would expect the vote to be 4-3 for Steph. Rafe versus Danni would either be 5-2 or 4-3 for Rafe. Rafe versus Steph is a bit harder to call and will probably depend on the winner of the final immunity challenge, although I lean towards Rafe winning because he hasn't antagonized as many people as Stephanie has. Rafe beats Lydia, Danni and probably Stephenie, while Stephenie beats Lydia and probably Danni. Danni is only certain to beat Lydia, meaning that the most likely winner of Survivor: Guatemala is Rafe Judkins.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

John Lennon

It was twenty-five years ago tonight that John Lennon died, shot to death by Mark David Chapman who fulfilled John's own prediction of how he'd die "I'll probably be popped off by some loony."

Like everyone else I heard about Lennon's death on television. If I'm not mistaken I was watching Carson. The first announcement of John Lennon's murder had been made by Howard Cossel on Monday Night Football because a producer for WABC-TV in New York had been in the Emergency Room of Roosevelt Hospital waiting for some X-Rays. He called his station with the news which was then confirmed and relayed to Cosell. Details were promised on Nightline but there were certainly some reminiscences from Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford. John and Yoko had been on Monday Night Football at least once - a famous incident where John had appeared with Ronald Reagan.

I however was not a Monday Night Football fan - in 1980 I was a devotee of Lou Grant among other shows - and was watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when NBC News interrupted with the report that John Lennon had been shot and killed. I suspect that CBS also broke in whatever they were showing at the time with a report. No network news director wanted a repetition of what happened at CBS when Elvis Presley died. Cronkite was on vacation and Roger Mudd was the anchor which also meant that he was setting the running order for the show. When the news came in that Elvis had died, Mudd decided that Elvis had been out of the public eye too long and wasn't "important" enough to lead the news so he moved the story to the middle of the broadcast - and came off looking like an elitist when ABC and NBC ran the story as the lead item on their newscasts. Some people mark that event as the end of Mudd's pre-eminence in the "fight" to replace Cronkite. Certainly no network news director was prepared to make a similar decision about Lennon, even though he'd had been out of the spotlight longer than Elvis had at the time of his death.

Over the next few days television news gave extensive coverage to the mourning for John Lennon. Some of it was moving - the vigil at Central Park and the ten minutes of silence the Sunday following the murder - some of it was newsworthy - putting together the sequence of events that brought John Lennon and Mark David Chapman together that night - and the trivial - John and Yoko had just recently bought bullet proof vests for the NYPD. Then of course the story faded from the news coming up on the anniversary of John Lennon's death and when there were other assassinations or attempts, as when Ronald Reagan was shot less than six months later. Over time the media remembrances of the event grew fewer even as nostalgia for The Beatles grew.

I think you could call John Lennon and The Beatles creations of Television in some way. John didn't grow up with TV - although regular TV broadcasting in Britain began in 1936 it was mostly restricted to London into the early 1950s and for a long time was a toy for the rich, and Lennon's family were scarcely affluent. Their influences were different - movies and radio - than a later generation's. Still, television would have an important influence on how their careers developed. They had paid their dues in the cellar clubs of Liverpool and then in Germany where they got their first recording contract ... as a back up band to Tony Sheridan and then as featured performers, but it wasn't until they signed with EMI that that they rose to prominence. Their first EMI recordings in September 1962 were followed within a month with their first TV appearance on Granada TV (one of the stations that made up the ITV network). Within a year they were appearing on ITV's national show Sunday Night At The Paladium as well as a number of other British programs. They still hadn't caught on in the USA despite the efforts of Dick Clark to promote the band on American Bandstand by playing "She Loves You" on the show. According to the Wikipedia entry on the Beatles "A testing of the song ... resulted in laughter and scorn from American teenagers when they saw the group's unusual haircuts." Their first appearance on American TV came on the CBS News in December 1963 which ironically described their act as "the latest non-music from Britain". This report however led a Washington radio station to begin extensive play of an imported copy of some Beatles music which in turn led to Capitol Records' early release of "I Want To Hold Your Hand".

It was the band's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that really made them an international phenomenon. The Sullivan appearances on three consecutive shows (February 9, 16, and 23) were the first time that I saw the band. And I do mean saw - if you've ever watched the tapes of those appearances you'll notice that the band could barely be heard over the screams of the teenaged audience (in fact the four Ed Sullivan Show appearances are available on DVD). It was one of the great television moments and it occurred in part because Brian Epstein was trying to promote the group in America and in part because Sullivan was receptive. Say whatever you want about Ed Sullivan, he had an incredible eye for talent and if he didn't think that the Beatles were good no amount of cajoling from a manager/promoter would get them on his show.

In the post Beatles period, John Lennon's TV appearances were fewer. He spent a week as "co-host" on the Mike Douglas Show (something that I find incredibly difficult to picture to be honest) and did a three Dick Cavett Shows which are available on DVD. His last TV appearance was on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show in April 1975. Increasingly Lennon was withdrawing from the spotlight, becoming something of a recluse and raising his son with Yoko Ono. At the time of his murder he was re-entering the music industry and would probably have made more TV appearances had his life not been cut short. He was inextricably tied to television as a promotional tool; besides, he was good at it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

New Poll: What TV related gift would you like to find under the Christmas Tree?

Based on my Christmas gift suggestions from Saturday, this poll deals with the sort of TV and tech related gifts that you'd like to find wrapped up shining under the Christmas Tree (which is to say that I'm not touching on Books or DVDs this time around). Feel free to comment. In fact feel free to use this blog as a surrogate Santa Claus and "suggest" that your loved ones take a look at the comments here to see what "someone" might like.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Holiday Gift Suggestions - Gadgets

Here's the first installment of my holiday gift list for the TV lover. First up I thought I'd start with gadgets and accessories. Please not that I'm generally not recommending specific models or manufacturers but rather items you might want to look at.

TV Sets: I'm not going to suggest a new TV. There are a couple of reasons for this. Everyone has their own preferences of course and a discussion of the relative merits of CRT, Plasma, LCD, Rear Projection and Projectors wouldn't be that useful. More to the point however is the fact that if you're anything like my brother - who is in the market - you should be doing diligent research about what to buy. After all, while the prices for 4:3 CRT TVs has gone down considerably since I bought my 27" TV a few years ago (and that was down a lot from prices before that), most of what you want to buy is going to represent a major financial expenditure and you want to go into that knowing what you want and what you can afford. I do recommend a 16:9 TV for anyone who is buying a new television, but be aware that most of these are "HD Ready" which usually means that they need a tuner of some sort to be fully functional.

Game Consoles: Another area where I'm going to recommend holding off if you're after the latest and greatest. Although Microsoft has recently shipped their "next generation" system, the X-Box 360 a major problem remains in that the unit is is short supply in the stores. It seems like they made a supreme effort to have something out for the Christmas shopping season even if the supplies are low. Also be aware that although Microsoft is quoting a low price, this is for a very stripped down unit - the "core system" - and to get a lot of what you really need you'll have to pay more. (Of course even the core system probably has more computing power than most home computers.) Beyond that there appear to be some problems with the initial release units which are likely to be worked out with time. Once Sony's Playstation 3 and Nintendo's Revolution are released, probably by the third quarter of 2006, you should see some price competition. You might look for good prices on some of the earlier systems now.

DVD: DVD players are today at the stage that VCRs were a few years ago. It is literally possible to get a bottom of the line DVD player for $40 or $50 and that's in Canadian money. I don't recommend the very low end players as some of them have problems with overheating and problems reading discs. You're probably better to pay a little more (and based on prices at Future Shop here in Canada it's a very little more) and get a better quality name brand unit. I'd probably stay away from High Definition DVDs for the moment to see which of the two formats - Blu-Ray and HD-DVD - gains becomes the standard.

Recording Devices: With the VCR going the way of the dinosaur (Future Shop currently offers one model, and no longer sells blank tape - combination DVD players and VCRs are only slightly more common) people who want to time shift programs need to look at the two major alternatives - Hard Drive units and DVD Recorders. The most famous name in stand alone Hard Drive devices is TiVo and although TiVo isn't available for sale in Canada the company has recently made it possible for Canadians who buy the units to program them for Canadian cable and satellite companies. Programmable PVRs - where a user can program the unit using an online guide - are are only available through the cable companies and satellite service providers, usually integrated into their HD tuner boxes. There are some DVD recorders that combine a Hard Disc Drive with the DVD Recorder so that you can record a show on the Hard Drive and then transfer it to a recordable DVD if you want to save it. Units with HD Drives often have built in software to allow you to edit programs before you commit them to recordable DVD. In Canada these sell for $450 and up. Somewhat more affordable are DVD Recorders with built in VCRs which also allow some editing between VCR and DVD. Most name brand standalone DVD Recorders sell between $200 and $350 in Canada which is about what I paid for my first VCR about fifteen years ago.

Home Theatre System: My brother built his home theatre system piece by piece, but he was an audiophile before he became interested in home theatre and had most of the components ahead of time. If you aren't an audiophile you might want to consider a Home Theater System which has all of the components you need, and in a lot of cases one you might not - a DVD player. Prices for name brand systems range from about $200 and up. As usual in such cases the difference in price is often driven by power use and manufacturer names. offers reviews of systems in various price ranges. One thing I'm not sure of is just where a system reaches a point where the average person can't detect the difference between systems. In most cases that probably depends on the end user.

Remote Controls: If you're like my brother you have too damn many remotes. In my brother's case, to watch a DVD he has to use the remote for the TV, the remote for the DVD player and the remote for his home theatre system, and that's only about half of the active remotes that he has. The obvious answer is to get a universal remote. There are a lot of them out there, and most of them have some drawbacks. offers reviews of most of the major lines, splitting them into Budget, LCD, PC Programmable and High End Remotes. The line that most people are used to seeing is the One-For-All remotes. The company dominates the market and generally offers a good product. A major drawback for their top of the line Kameleon series is depressingly short battery life and lack of customizability. A better choice might be a PC programmable remote like the Logitech Harmony series. These can be programmed for your equipment by connecting the remote to your computer using a USB cable and entering the model number of the components in your system. While online the Remote Control Programming Wizard helps you to set up macros that literally allows one touch operation of your equipment. Instead of using three remotes to do several actions to watch a DVD, my brother would literally have to press one button, labelled Watch DVD to do all the procedures required to play a DVD. Some of the higher end models in the Harmony series even include recharging stations.

Home Theater Seating: So you've got your TV, high end remote, DVD player/recorder, game console, and perfect audio setup and you still have money that you need to spend on your TV watching needs? offers a large variety of home theater seating available, both refurbished seats salvaged from theaters and new seating from a number of manufacturers. And if money isn't an object, you might consider something like this.