Sunday, December 31, 2006

On The Sixth Day Of Christmas...

My true love (TV) gave to me - Six resolutions

I've been thinking this one over and I have decided to come up with six New Year's Resolutions that every network president and programming chief should make.

1. If I am going to steal an idea from anyone else I resolve to make it as original as possible. I will not, just as an example, take a British show like Coupling and remake it word for word. Rather I shall take the basic idea and turn it into How I Met Your Mother. This goes for British, Canadian, Australian, French, Japanese, and especially American shows that I steal.

2. I resolve that I will not commission a pilot for a new serial unless I am 100% absolutely dead sure that it will work. But if I do I promise on my sainted network owners that I will keep the God forsaken thing on the air until the earliest convenient moment for the writers and producers to wrap the story line up. Particularly if the only other thing I've got to put on instead is a rerun of a procedural.

3. I resolve to put more comedies on my network but first I will make sure that the situation comedies I do program are, you know, actually funny. I admit that a series with Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow together sounds like it should be funny but in practice not so much.

4. I resolve not to impose a moratorium on procedurals on my network unless the idea is really innovative and something that hasn't been done before (hmm, how about a show about Arson Investigators?). In fact I will just try to avoid shows that involve cops, lawyers and doctors all together and remember that there are other exciting professions out there. I mean if the British (Capital City) and the Canadians (Traders) can make shows about investment bankers that are exciting and sexy, why can't Americans.

5. I resolve that I if the Parents Television Council or the American Family Association tells me that one of my shows is lewd or obscene I will wear that as a badge of honour, particularly if they threaten to boycott my advertisers. If they get really obnoxious about it I will turn around drop my trousers and show them my fat furry ass. And if I'm taken before the FCC I will fight any decision against me all the way to the Supreme Court.

6. I resolve that if and when my schedule tanks thoroughly I will take the blame myself, and if necessary resign rather than force some other poor schlub to take the blame and be fired - probably by me.

Oh and as for me, well I don't do the whole resolutions thing. I do resolve to get a new computer - probably at the end of February, but that's because I've spent several months on an emergency substitute computer using Windows 98 and the only reason I'm waiting for February is to get a machine with Windows Vista rather than going through the process of buying a new machine and then getting the deal where I have to take it in and get the upgrade installed. I also resolve to get around to updating my Blogroll. Finally as God is my witness I'll never go hungry again - oh wait, that was Gone With The Wind. As God is my witness I will upgrade to the new version of Blogger by December 31st next year!!!!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

On The Fifth Day Of Christmas...

On The Fifth Day Of Christmas... My true love (TV) gave to me - Five broadcast nets.

As opposed to six last year. (Of course I'm not including My Network TV here any more than I ever counted PAX. It exists, but it's not thriving and it's not available here. So there.)

Beyond a doubt the merger of UPN and The WB networks was the biggest "industry" story of the year. I'm not sure what anyone expected but I'm pretty sure none of them got it. Let's start out on the business side. Both networks were hemorrhaging money. Now there's only one network but for reasons we'll get into, it doesn't seem to be awash in cash. Then there's the name. The CW? Where does that come from? Actually I know where that comes from - it's the Columbia-Warner Network - but how many other people know that. The name should have been changed but it wasn't. Unfortunately the logo was and it turned into that green on green monstrosity that looks like it came from the '70s or from CN Rail. And don't even get me started about the network web page, which is also that sickly green.

What I will go on about is programming and audiences. The merged networks commissioned a grand total of two new shows, one comedy and one drama. For the rest they went with shows that had been on the two networks previously. Virtually all of the comedies came from UPN and the network said quite openly that they were courting the African American market with them. The other major acquisitions from UPN were Veronica Mars, America's Next Top Model, and Friday Night Smackdown. Most of the dramas came from The WB including that network's most popular show ever Seventh Heaven which had actually declared that it was airing it's series finale the previous May. Other shows were dropped including Everwood, which sparked a considerable amount of anger from fans. They wanted their show to continue and for Seventh Heaven to go as scheduled.

Audiences for most of the CW shows are at or below the levels that they had achieved. This apparently came as a surprise to a lot of people including people at the network. They seem to have believed that merging the two networks would have the effect of merging their audiences. The belief that people who had watched (for example) Everybody Hates Chris and Love Inc. would migrate to Smallville rather than to shows on one of the other networks or to something on cable was obviously a pipe dream. That's not to say that there haven't been successes - on particularly weak nights for Fox, CW shows have actually finished in fourth place for the night. The problem is that such occasions are more the result of extremely bad ratings for Fox shows rather than particular successes for The CW. In short the merger hasn't been as successful as some people had hoped.

There are aspects of this that I can't help wonder about. Would The CW have been better off if they had dropped a higher percentage of their existing shows in favour of new programs? Those people who saw the Aquaman trailer seemed to like it. How about if they hadn't decided to group all of their African-American comedies into a single block? Probably most important is whether there was some way for the merged networks to lower expectations. After all, perception is half the battle, and if The CW didn't live up to the expectations of fans, critics and most importantly advertisers then they are perceived as losers and the downward spiral begins.

New Poll - What network has the fewest shows that you MUST see?

Once again the poll question is the inverse of the previous question - "What network has the fewest shows that you MUST see?"

Based on the previous results the answer might seem obvious but of course just because a network got high number from a small polling sample doesn't mean that it will get the same sort of response from a larger sample - or that a network that got small numbers will be the one with the fewest shows people must see if the sample is the same size but the voters are different. Which is why this isn't a scientific poll.

Feel free to comment on the whole business here.

Poll Results - What network has the most shows that you MUST see?

We interrupt the Twelve Days Of Christmas for the rather more mundane business of posting poll results. The question in this week's poll was "What network has the most shows that you MUST see?" Seven votes were cast. Finishing in fifth place with no votes was The CW. In a tie for third place with one vote each (14%) were ABC and CBS. Coming in in second place with two votes (28%) was NBC, while the first place finisher was Fox with three votes (42%).

I'm not sure what to make of this result. The Nielsen ratings continue to show that CBS draws the largest audiences for its shows, while it'd fairly safe to say that Fox seems rather uneven with its programming - either it's a hit like House, Bones, Prison Break and the Sunday night animation block or it's an unmitigated disaster. Maybe the biggest surprise was that NBC came in second. Then I thought about it. While NBC's line up was a disaster in many ways they do have a number of shows that are catching people's imaginations. Maybe not the great masses of people if the ratings for Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock and Studio 60 are to be believed, but I wonder how many of the great masses of people find their way to this blog?

New poll up later. Feel free to comment on my statements here. And maybe while you're at it you can explain why I can't seem to make the switch to the new version of Blogger. When I try they keep telling me that I've already tried to switch before and to check my email account for a message about the status of that attempt. The only trouble is that the last message I received about it was on November 13, telling me it had failed. The message was repeated five more times within three minutes of the first message.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On The Fourth Day Of Christmas...

My true love (TV) gave to me - Four big career moves

Every so often people in TV make big career moves. Some of them are bigger than others, but for right or wrong they took the big leap when those about them stayed on the safe secure boring path.

Retirement may well be the biggest career move of all. Giving up what you've been doing for more than half of your life - not just your adult life - is a huge career move. That's what Bob Barker did though. Admittedly he's 83 years old but he still seems to be in rare good health. When he retires in June 2007 he will have been doing The New Price Is Right (as it was called when it debuted) for 35 years, and he did Truth Or Consequences from 1956 to 1975, which means that he has been doing game shows for 50 years.

Now here's a confession - I don't like Bob Barker. He has always seemed to me to be, well rather phony to me. For me the straw that broke the camel's back was the firing of my favourite "Barker's Beauty", the somewhat klutzy but adorable red-head Holly Hallstrom. Nominally Hallstrom was fired for the "crime" of gaining 14 pounds as a result of taking prescription medications. She revealed to the press that she had actually been fired because she wouldn't support Barker in his lawsuit against Dian Parkinson. In the subsequent suit, long-time Price Is Right models Janice Pennington and Kathleen Bradley were both subpoenaed to testify on Hallstrom's behalf. Both were fired soon after with the excuse being that the show wanted younger models. It all comes across as the action of someone being vindictive rather than the vaguely suave but fatherly image he projects on the show.

The next career move is more of a lateral shift, but when Katie Couric moved from NBC's Today to CBS as the new anchor of The CBS Evening News it was a big shift. It is true that the morning shows have been the source for news anchors - Tom Brokaw at NBC and Charles Gibson at ABC are the major examples - these tended to be promotions from within and the people involved had a significant background in "hard news." Couric's background before taking on the CBS Evening News was primarily softer news. Needless to say her promotion to the anchor desk at CBS - the first woman to be the sole anchor of any network news broadcast - was greeted with scorn by a lot of people. This increased when the direction that the newscast was going to take was revealed. It was seen as a softer news presentation (even if Walter Cronkite provided the voice at the start of the newscast), and the inclusion of what amounted to a guest editorial didn't help. Hiring Couric for a huge salary was seen as a publicity move for a newcast that has been in third place for a while. If it was, it failed since ratings haven't improved since Couric moved into the anchor chair.

The career changes for Alec Baldwin and Matthew Perry weren't as extreme as those for Barker or Couric, but they were breaks from the way that they had been perceived by the public. In Baldwin's case he had already been developing a persona as a comedic actor - in fact one of his first major roles was in Beetle Juice. If you're like me though the movies you remember him from are things like The Hunt For Red October, The Getaway, and Glengarry, Glen, Ross. In more recent times his comedic side has emerged more. He has done voice work for the animated version of Clerks, appeared on Will And Grace a number of times, and of course done fifteen episodes of Saturday Night Live. The bigger thing is that he has chosen this time, only a couple of years after his Oscar nominated supporting role in The Closer to move into series television. His casting as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock will most likely earn him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy (whether he'll win or not is anybody's guess - he should but who knows when it comes to Emmy voters).

For Matthew Perry the jump is a lot bigger. Virtually his entire career, with the major exception of playing Joe Quincy on three episodes of The West Wing has been spent acting in situation comedies. And while some may debate the exact nature of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (well with so many people criticizing it for not being funny there must be at least some who think it's a comedy) there is no doubt that playing Matt Albie is considerably different than playing Chandler Bing on Friends. Matt doesn't get the laughs that Chandler did, although - and maybe I'm alone in this - I do see something of the attitude that Chandler had in the character of Matt Albie. Despite its fine ensemble cast, which includes Steven Weber, Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield, Studio 60 is very much Perry's show. He is the dominant figure in the cast which is another major difference from Friends. If the show were more popular I would expect a nomination for Perry as well, but as I said, with Emmy voters one never really knows.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On The Third Day Of Christmas...

My true love (TV) gave to me - Three brave decisions.

Well at least I think they were brave decisions, and they were made by NBC. It's no secret that this hasn't exactly been a shining year for new shows in terms of ratings. This season saw a promising crop of newcomers in terms of quality but going up against known quantities most of the new shows did poorly (to say the least) in the ratings. NBC did their fair share of canceling good shows (Kidnapped anyone) but they made a couple of choices that other networks wouldn't have. Despite ratings that weren't the greatest they not only kept Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock on the air but they renewed each of them for a full season.

Oh don't get me wrong, there were reasons for doing this that go beyond the altruistic. After all most network executives don't know the meaning of the word "altruism" or a lot of other words for that matter. For example, with Studio 60 they discovered that even though the show was and is getting blasted in the ratings by CSI: Miami, the network is actually making. The reason is that the audience that they are getting is particularly desirable in terms of buying power. In short the show may not be getting quantity but it is getting quality and advertisers are buying that.

30 Rock is a different story. I'm sure that one of the big reasons why the show is still around is that Lorne Michaels is one of the Executive Producers along with Tina Fey. And I'm willing to bet that the network doesn't want to tick off Mr. Michaels. Of course not even that is the major reason. 30 Rock was never a good fit with the show it was teamed with on Wednesday nights, the mercifully cancelled Twenty Good Years, and it was in a time slot along with Jericho (CBS), the Dancing With The Stars Results Show (ABC), Bones (Fox) and one of the few "hits" on the CW, America's Next Top Model. Now moved to Thursday nights opposite CSI and Gray's Anatomy, Supernatural and The O.C. it's still in a ratings hot seat, but it's a much better fit with the NBC Thursday comedy line-up of The Office, My Name Is Earl, and Scrubs. Besides, with this move NBC also reduces the over exposure that Deal Or No Deal was facing. That show is now down to one night a week.

The one show that I think may have been renewed entirely because it is good and has been ignored by most of the potential audience is Friday Night Lights. This is a good show that was being wasted in the first hour of Tuesday nights, up against several powerhouses from the other networks. It's now on in the first hour of Wednesday nights, but because of changes in the line-up of other networks it might have a better time of it than Twenty Good Years and 30 Rock had in the same time slot. Initially at least it won't be facing Jericho but a celeb-reality show called Armed And Famous on CBS and the "dynamic" duo of George Lopez and According To Jim on ABC. I think it has a better chance of surviving and maybe even thriving against those shows than it did on Tuesday nights. It deserves to survive - it is a great series.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On The Second Day Of Christmas...

My true love (TV) gave to me - Two couples doing it.

Ah unresolved sexual tension, that old favourite of series writers. Create that old "urge to merge" in the characters and make sure that the suckers viewers know about it. Then make sure that despite how much we want them to "bump uglies" there are compelling reasons why they don't. For the writers there's a compelling reason - I suspect that few of them have ever actually had a functioning relationship and so they wouldn't know how to write a believable one. Of course the writers will tell you that if characters consumate their relationship bad things will happen. Or to put it another way (and incidentally use a term that I abhor) the show will "jump the shark." I think I like my version better.

So one of the couples who came together in the past TV season wasn't really a surprise. That would be Josh and Donna on
The West Wing. The sexual tension had been there for quite a while. Joey Lucas apparently told Josh that Donna was in love with him back in Season 2 but things really started heating up after Aaron Sorkin left the show and John Wells took over as show runner. The tension became palpable when Donna left the White House to join the Russell campaign and she became "forbidden fruit." After she came to work on the Santos campaign things heated up and they consumated their relationship (twice) during the first part of the "Election" episode. But of course that was a show moving to its end so it was following the normal trend for unresolved sexual tension.\\ The coupling that really surprised people happened on CSI. At the end of the Season 6 finale "Way To Go" we see Gil Grissom in his bedroom apparently talking to some unseen person. Grissom is reclining on his bed, wearing a robe and talking about how he'd prefer to die of some slow cause like cancer so that he can do things that he's never done before or wants to do again. As the camera's perspective changes we discover who he's talking to. It's Sara Sidle, also dressed in a robe. Their comfort with each other indicated that we weren't seeing the start of the affair.

There was a big difference between the reaction that the two scenes received. Fans of The West Wing reacted in much the same way as Bradley Whitford's mother when he told her that he'd "spent the day in bed with a beautiful woman." She said "It's about time," and so did a lot of fans of the show. We wanted Josh to come to his senses finally. The reaction to the relationship between Grissom and Sara was far different - it was downright hostile. Even though there had been hints of a romantic attraction between the two going back several seasons the actual revelation of their affair shocked a lot of people who were pulling for other "candidates." Chief among them was the dominatrix Lady Heather (although I confess I was hoping he'd become involved with Catherine Willows, his right hand woman). Part of the reaction is probably because of the characters' comparative ages - Sara was one of Gil's students - and I suspect that part of it is that some people don't think that characters in procedurals shouldn't have their personal lives revealed. Even so, with the relationship being rarely referred to much less shown, the resolution of the sexual tension doesn't seem to have hurt the series much at all.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On The First Day Of Christmas...

On The First Day Of Christmas... My true love (TV) gave to me - The death of a beloved character. John Spencer died on December 16, 2005, but the character he created lived on. The character of course was Leo McGarry on The West Wing. There were reasons for keeping Leo alive after John Spencer died. For one thing Spencer had completed two episodes of the season before his death and one of them, Running Mates had his character as an integral part of the story line, and there were other episodes with completed or near completed scripts. The other consideration was that to kill the character off immediately after those episodes aired would have thoroughly disrupted the flow of the story that Executive Producer John Wells and his team were trying to tell - the election campaign between Matt Santos and Arnie Vinnick. Having the character die before the election would have suddenly stopped the dramatic flow while Santos found a new running mate. It would have made any sense that the election campaign was a "near run thing" utterly unbelievable.

This last aspect played into one of the most important aspects of fiction writing - dramatic impact. Having decided not to simply ignore the fact that John Spencer had passed away by keeping Leo's character alive but off-screen they then had to decide when to "stage" his death so that it would have maximum impact dramatically. As I've mentioned, too soon and it causes problems with the ongoing story arc, but too late and it doesn't have the impact that such a major event in the history of the show deserves. In a very real sense John Spencer's character was the real leading actor in
The West Wing, at least as much as Martin Sheen's President Bartlet, so it needs to have an impact. The show's producers decided that the proper time was the two-part election night episode. The first of the two episodes had Kristin Chenoweth's character Annabeth Schott entering Leo's room and (off-screen of course) discovering his body. The second episode showed the impact on the election, and more personally the immediate impact of Leo's death on those who knew him best: Annabeth, Donna Moss, and most critically Josh Lyman, for whom Leo had been a mentor and almost a surrogate father.

There was at the time no small amount of grumbling from fans about the way the episode in which Leo died was structured. Their belief was that the episode should suddenly devolve into some sort of reminiscence about the character as a tribute to him and to John Spencer. They were angered that the episode went from mourning Leo, to the impact of his death on voters instates where the polls hadn't closed, to partying as favourable results came in. I think it was fitting - a recognition that despite the death of a friend life goes on and in the business that these people are in that this involves celebration and anger. Besides, the second part of "Election Day" was really about Josh Lyman's reaction to his mentor's death at the moment of his personal triumph.

The same fans reacted equally badly to the next episode "Requiem" which featured Leo's funeral and wake (yeah I'm talking about you Alan Sepinwall). I don't know what they were expecting - possibly a clip show of Leo's great moments, an evening full of anecdotes and nothing that advanced the story. Maybe they wanted the cast sitting around and talking about John Spencer. What they got, in my mind was more realistic. The episode was in three parts, funneling down in degrees of intimacy. The funeral at the cathedral was the most inclusive - just about everyone who appeared on the show was there (although I didn't see any sign of Roger Rees as Lord John Marbury - maybe he decided to skip "Gerald's" funeral). It was also the most formal. Next on the level of intimacy was the White House memorial. The group of people at that was necessarily restricted. And, as at just about every funeral I've been to discussion at this event wasn't just about the deceased but about the everyday events in people's lives, including work. The fat that this part wasn't all about Leo irked some people. Finally there was the most intimate gathering of all in the residence. This was family, the extended family of the President and those who were closest to Leo, the people who knew him best - although for whatever reason the writers decided to exclude his long suffering (or long time cause of his suffering) secretary Margaret from this group.

The thing that seemed to come through with the death of Leo McGarry is the attachment that the writers of
The West Wing felt for the character and the actor who played him. It was necessary to work the situation into the fabric of the show; John Spencer had been too integral a member of the cast of the show, and Leo too important a character to simply have him disappear in the way that some shows have handled the deaths of actors. At the same time they had to integrate it into the story line without disrupting the story they were trying to tell. In my opinion at least they handled it well. Now the thing that they didn't do - because apparently it would have cost too much - was a show before the finale featuring the show's cast, where I think a lot of the talk would have focused on John Spencer. That would have been a fitting tribute, not for the character but for the man who played him.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas To All

I hope you've all been having a Merry Christmas. Mine's been so-so so far. As you know I spent the weekend and part of today at my brother's place looking after his dog while he was out in Vancouver. I just got back home about an hour ago as I write this. But it took me almost an hour for the cab I ordered to arrive at my brother's house. Such is the curse of getting a cab on Christmas Day - anywhere.

Everybody knows the song The Twelve Days of Christmas but not everybody knows what it actually refers to. In fact it refers to the twelve days between Christmas and the beginning of Epiphany or Twelfth Night which is January 6th. In Medieval tradition this was a time feasting and merry making - and gift giving. Although most of these traditions have disappeared (like the idea that all Christmas decorations including Christmas Trees have to be removed on Twelfth Night or the house is cursed with bad luck - unless of course the decorations are left up all year) one tradition that is still observed in navies that follow British traditions is that the highest ranking officer on a naval ship changes duties with the youngest enlisted man aboard. It happens every year in Canadian ships, even those in war zones.

In respect for the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas, I will be presenting my own version of
The Twelve Days of Christmas with a series of articles that are also my take on the events of TV in this year. Starting tomorrow.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

New Poll - What network has the most shows that you MUST see?

Okay, continuing on with the theme of this midwinter polling festival, our next question is which of the five American networks has the most shows that you must see. I am specifying American broadcast networks because not everyone has access to cable, and even fewer of my readers have access to Canadian networks. In fact, if we were to broaden the definition of networks to include Global's stand-alone CH stations, the CITY-TV station group, and their subsidiary A-Channel, I would be able to say that most Canadians don't have access to all of the Canadian networks. But that's an issue for another day. As usual, feel free to leave comments here.

Also coming up in the next week will be my take on the year and such, which will take up the period between Christmas and Epiphany (which should give the more savvy among you a hint as to how I'm going to set it up).

Also, I'll be off on dog-sitting duty as my brother is going to spent Christmas Day with his fiancee, her son, and his soon to be in-laws. I'll be back Christmas night, but I want to wish all my friends and readers (not always an inclusive group) Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Fine Festivus, Joyous Kwanzaa, a belated Super Solstice and any other seasonal greetings you might be able to come up with. In other words, Happy Holidays!

Poll Results - What night has the fewest shows that you MUST see?

Important stuff first - I have finished my Christmas shopping (Hurray!). For the record I'm right around where I wanted to be cost wise, but I got lucky in a couple of ways. There's a couple of other things I'll tell you about with my next post.

Now to the poll. This time around there were nine respondents. Tied for fifth place were Wednesday and Thursday nights with no votes. In a tie for third place with one vote each (11%) were Sunday and Monday nights. Solidly in second place was Tuesday night with three votes (33%). But the big winner, with four votes (44% of those cast) was Friday night.

Quite an interesting result. In last week's poll about the night with the most shows you must see Thursday got no votes and it got no votes in this poll. In short you don't like it or hate it. The other shocker for me was that the night that was categorized as having the most shows people had to see in last week's poll was also categorized as being second only to Friday as having the fewest shows people had to see. I'm not sure what we're seeing here with this result. I guess I could put it down to a wider polling sample this time around. The big vote getter was Friday, and I sort of half expected it. People keep telling me how Fridays are going the way of Saturdays and the US networks will be abandoning that night next. My contention is and remains that there is an audience for shows on Friday nights, but that it is a different sort of audience - parents who can't afford sitters, older people who want to stay in and rest after a long work week, and teenaged boys who can't get dates (the latter is what explains the popularity of The CW's Friday Night Smackdown).

What are my "Best" and "Worst" nights? Out of necessity the worst night is probably Monday since it has been my bowling night for 20 years. I used to try to tape a lot of stuff but right now I tape very little because I can never seem to find time to watch. I've got a backlog of Heroes episodes from practically the beginning, and there are a couple of Doctor Who episodes around here somewhere. As for best, that's currently Thursday. I watch five hours of major network shows - six if you count This Old House on PBS.

New poll up later today.

Friday, December 22, 2006


This is just a test. I'm trying out a new blog editor and I want to see how it looks. Hopefully it will be easier than using Word and then transferring to the Blogger Desktop.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Meta-Post: A Random Christmas Thought or Two

I was out Christmas shopping today and am preparing for a second strike tomorrow, when I might actually buy something, so chances are that I won't get around to doing a full blown review of Identity with Penn Jillette. Actually it's not as bad as I feared but it's not as good as it could have been. I never know what to buy for my brother, and no one seems to have exactly what I want for my mother except maybe one place. As for my nephew, at almost four he should be easy to buy for since over the course of the year he has essentially said he wants everything as long as it's not for girls. But this whole Christmas shopping thing has left me with a few ideas.
  1. Every mall or department store that has a Santa Claus should record what the kids ask them for and have that put on a computer so that parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles with aching backs can access the information. Think of it as a gift registry for kids.
  2. People who say that you don't have to get them anything for Christmas should get exactly what they ask for. It would simplify matters greatly for one year and generate suggestions in following years.
  3. Why is it that I keep promising myself that next year I'll do most of my shopping online but I never do?
  4. For that matter, I used to get my christmas shopping done before the Army-Navy Football game. Now, when I'm extremely lucky, I get it done a day or two before Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Joe Barbera - 1911-2006

Here’s another one of those obituaries that I hate doing, but if you are going to do an obit for Aaron Spelling as one of the great figures in television history – which I did – then you’ve got to do one for Joe Barbera who died Monday at age 95. Barbera was one of the great figures of television and one of the great figures of animation. And if his name is regarded with scorn by some fans of animation, it probably should be remembered that it Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera who most successfully made the transition from creating short subjects for movies to creating animated series for television. In a very real way they were the godfathers of The Simpsons in that they were among the creators of the prime time animated series with The Flintsones, The Jetsons and Top Cat.

Joe Barbera started in animation at the old Van Beuren Studio in New York. When Van Beuren’s studio closed in 1936 he briefly went to Paul Terry’s Terrytoon studio before eventually being lured to California to work at MGM for substantially more money that Terry was willing to pay anyone except himself. It was at MGM that he met a writer named Bill Hanna beginning a partnership that would last until Hanna’s death in 2001. Their first cartoon as a team featured a cat named Jasper and an unnamed mouse. The film was called “Puss Gets The Boot” and earned them an Oscar nomination. The cat was renamed Tom, the mouse became Jerry and the team of Hanna & Barbera was launched. They would continue to create the adventures of the house cat and his nemesis, the plucky little mouse for 17 years, until MGM shut down their animation studio in 1957. In the process they won the studio seven Oscars for animated short subject.

With the major studios all closing down their animation shops, Hanna & Barbera launched themselves into a new area – television. There had been cartoons created for TV before – Crusader Rabbit comes to mind – but product from the studios dominated. Television was a good secondary market for them and in the days of Black & White TV they could show all of their shorts. The first show they did for TV, Ruff & Reddy, featured a dog and a cat and ran from 1957 to 1960. This was followed by a veritable host of shows in the 1950s: Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and Quick Draw McGraw. These three shows adapted the format of the old theatrical shorts. The cartoons ran about six minutes and there were usually three cartoons in a show with two of the cartoons featuring supporting characters.

Then came The Flintstones. The show was sold to ABC (which at the time was quite desperate for content) as a cartoon for adult audiences to run in prime time (the adult nature of the show would have been clear to contemporary viewers – the main sponsor was Winston Cigarettes). In form the series was variation on Jackie Gleason’s classic Honeymooners shows, half hour shows that were essentially sitcoms done in animation rather than shorts for TV. Fred and Barney were always trying to sneak away from their wives to go to lodge meetings or poker games, or becoming involved in “get rich quick schemes” which inevitably backfired on them. The series lasted from 1960 to 1966 in prime time and encouraged ABC to try several more prime time cartoons: Top Cat, The Jetsons, and Johnny Quest. None of these lasted more than a single season but all four shows were constantly repeated.

Hanna-Barbera dominated Saturday morning animation in the 1960s and ‘70s with shows that included
Josie & The Pussycats, Wacky Racers, SuperFriends, and of course Scooby Doo. Production quality wasn’t always that great. The only way the Hanna-Barbera studio could churn out the massive amount of material they did was by cutting corners. They would animate fewer frames than a theatrical short would have – sixteen frames and sometimes less. They would repeat walks and actions. They would rely on talking heads, and stage events off screen with the sound track carrying the action rather than the visuals. As a result a half-hour episode of something like Josie & The Pussycats cost the same amount – $48,000 – as an eight minute Tom & Jerry theatrical cartoon from the 1940s. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were actually rather pleased with this. When they explained to their former bosses at MGM how they were able to produce this much product for such an affordable price, the executives asked why they hadn’t proposed doing that when they were at the studio. It turns out that they had, but the plan had been rejected in favour of closing the studio.

Over the years the quality of the material that the Hanna-Barbera studio was producing declined. The company was no longer independent, having been sold to Taft Broadcasting in 1967 but the parent company had considerable financial difficulty. Quality of the material produced decline markedly. They would churn out licensed material like cartoons based on The Dukes of Hazard or Laverne & Shirley, or rehashing older material like Scooby Doo. Moreover according to Mark Evanier, who worked at the Hanna-Barbera Studio during this period, Barbera was well aware of the decline in what they were doing, and not particularly happy about it although he was also constantly hopeful that the next show would be the one to turn things around. I come at the work of Joe Barbera and his partner as a fan.

One of the first shows that I have any memory of was
Ruff & Reddy, and my old high chair had decals of Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy and Huckleberry Hound on it. Those old shows were the ones I remember most and with the greatest fondness. And of course there was The Flintstones possibly the best thing that the Hanna-Barbera Studio ever did. I know them all and for a very good reason. One of the stations here in Saskatoon ran The Flintstones every weekday at Noon (except for most summer) for over 25 years – requests from adults that the station get a different series were greeted with the explanation that there were always kids who hadn’t seen the shows before.

Mark Evanier’s blog has an
extensive appreciation of Joe Barbera from the point of view of someone who knew him very well. It is a heart-felt appreciation of someone Mark clearly admired. Amid Amidi on the Cartoon Brew blog has some other remembrances of Joe Barbera from people who knew him.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Short Takes - December 17, 2006

An all censorship edition of Short Takes this time around I’m afraid (because there were a couple of other bits of news that need to be cur for space). The PTC has released a major report on the depiction of Religion on TV. Before that we have a reaction to some of what FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is doing, with a couple of interesting comments on one of the PTC’s fellow travelers in the battle against what they perceive as indecency.

Right again: I reference the Creative Voices In Media blog here a lot. Mostly because I agree with a lot of what they have to say, particularly about the FCC and the efforts of certain groups to make the Commission all about censoring TV and making everything suitable for kids to watch. Perhaps I should say what these organizations regard as suitable for kids to watch. Most recently the blog reprinted part of a column from Ad Age’s “Media Guy” Simon Dumenco in which he called on FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to resign. The Dumenco article, titled “FCC Chairman Martin? It’s Time For You To Resign” is quite interesting. Dumenco notes “Martin has pumped up his case for a morals crisis in American broadcasting by allowing the use of fraudulent complaints to shape the FCC's great crusade. We're talking about just another form of un-American ballot-box stuffing: quasi-automated complaint e-mails about ‘indecency’ that are invariably generated by a handful of religious organizations that whip their members into click-and-send frenzies, usually with few of the members ever having witnessed any (supposed) broadcast offense.” As an example he cites a report in Broadcast & Cable that noted an increase in indecency complaints from 1,798 in January 2006 to 138,527 in February, fueled in large part (approximately 134,000 complaints) by an organized campaign by the America Family Association “a powerful religious group.” This is dangerous: “Liberals and conservatives alike should be panicking about this, because the FCC absolutely shouldn't be beholden to any one minority group, let alone a religious lobby that's manufacturing the appearance of mass outrage. The FCC should be striving to reflect the views of the majority of Americans; the commissioners should not be held hostage by one hyperactive, megaphone-wielding group looking to impose its point of view on the rest of us.” Dumenco compares Martin to Donald Rumsfeld as having “stubbornly and willfully relied on faulty intelligence that does not reflect reality outside of a certain hermetically sealed bubble.” Dumenco’s major point on the FCC’s recent push on indecency (he also spends time attacking Martin on the issue of media mergers and acquisitions) is worth noting:

Martin and his ultra-conservative religious allies would have us believe that they've found the moral equivalent of WMDs on our airwaves: an epidemic of foulness that necessitates the FCC's invasion of American living rooms to protect us from broadcast evildoers.

But the average American simply does not want the government deciding what adults can and cannot watch -- and certainly doesn't want censorious rules to extend to pay-cable networks (such as HBO), as Martin hopes to do. All TV can't, and shouldn't, be reduced to the level of
Blue's Clues (or The 700 Club, for that matter).

If the vast majority of Americans are not freaking out about naughty broadcasting -- and they're absolutely not -- then the FCC is overstepping its mandate and creating a political and regulatory crisis where one does not exist.

Who does the PTC hate this week: And speaking of a “one hyperactive, megaphone-wielding group looking to impose its point of view on the rest of us,” our “friends” at the PTC have finally stirred themselves out of their election induced torpor and come up with several new things to hate. The PTC now has it hate on for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show which aired on CBS for the sins of presenting “Degrading imagery, themes of bondage, nods to voyeurism and fantasies of teenage girls.” They back this up by pointing out a model in a dog collar, a model who “stomps down the runway wearing a large key around her neck. On her underpants, a padlock has been embroidered in sequins.” But it’s the “teen imagery” that bothers them most. They say about the sequence promoting the Victoria’s Secret “Pink” line, “the segment that showcases it looks as though it is intended for girls who have yet to get their drivers licenses. On the runway, models are dressed as not-so-subtle tributes to the kinds of dates a teenager would go on. One model is dressed as a box of popcorn and carries a bottle of soda while another model has what looks like a picnic blanket tied to her lingerie. It also pays homage to a teenager’s hobbies and ambitions. One model is dressed as a cheerleader while another carries a glittery electric guitar. To top off the segment, a model dressed in graduation regalia struts down the runway to illustrate the rite de passage of every high-schooler.” Or it could be the right of passage (I hate people who pretentiously use faux French) of every college woman, whose interests – including cheerleading, music, and dates at the movies (and later, perhaps, removing her Victoria’s Secret “Pink” underwear for the guy she was dating) – are remarkably similar to high school girls.

What else? The PTC hates the fact that the networks have the absolute gall and temerity to use their legal right of appeal to go before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In not one but two postings on their main page the PTC attacks the networks: “The networks are in court right now, suing for the right to use the publicly-owned broadcast airwaves to air indecent content and claiming their right to use the f-word and s-word on television regardless of context or time of day.” And then there’s this report of the PTC filing an amicus brief with the Second Circuit: “Unwilling to abide by the law and accept additional guidance from the FCC about what would be found indecent, the major networks have taken those rulings to federal court and now hope to undermine the very existence of broadcast decency law.” Apparently only the PTC and it their allies in this crusade for “decency” – Reverend James Dobson’s overtly religious Focus On Family, Concerned Women For America (“US coalition of conservative women which promotes Biblical values and family traditions.”), and Citizens for Community Values (“We strive to be a leader in the restoration of those Judeo-Christian moral values upon which this country was founded…”) are allowed to appeal a previously made decision.

But the big thing from PTC-land was the release of their report on “Entertainment Television & Religion 2005-2006” called Faith In A Box . Brent Bozell announced the report on Fox News, saying “The results of this study clearly show that the entertainment industry is not reflecting the strong religious beliefs of Americans in its television programming. The industry is in fact hostile to people of faith – no matter if the person is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim,” The report finds that Fox had the most anti-religious depictions – one out of every two – while CBS had the highest percentage of pro-religious depictions at 47%. It’s mainly the Christian religion although there are mentions of positive and negative depictions Judaism, Islam and even Hinduism. Of course the definition of pro and anti religious is somewhat suspect in my mind – Lisa Rinna on Dancing With The Stars saying “Some higher power came in and started dancing through me” is classed as positive; on The War At Home Larry telling the person on the other end of a wrong number “No thank you, I don’t want to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.” is classed as negative.

What is really interesting to me is that the PTC is even commissioning such a report. The obvious connection is that somehow respect for, and indeed support of, religion should be regarded with equal weight as broadcast decency. If the PTC’s central objective is “to promote and restore responsibility and decency to the entertainment” then positive depictions of religion over negative depictions would seem to be irrelevant. But of course, positive depictions of religion aren’t irrelevant to the organizations that the PTC is allied with they are integral.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New Poll - What night has the fewest shows that you MUST see?

An easy one this time around, the flip side of last week's poll. In short, what night (besides Saturday) is the biggest loser TV wise for you, the one where most of the shows are ones that you couldn't be bothered to waste electrons (and neurons) on?

As usual, feel free to put any comments you need to make here. And remember vote in the poll!

Poll Results - What night has the most shows that you MUST see?

There was a small but interesting turnout for this poll. Five people voted – fewer than I’d hoped but probably about what I expected if I’m going to be honest with myself. No one categorized Sunday or Thursday as having the most shows they must see. One person each (20%) picked Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The winner with two votes (40%) was Tuesday.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this result. It’s possible that the smallish turnout had an effect, and of course I’m locked into the network mindset in part because I can’t see what the American cable channels are presenting. I certainly expected Thursday to get some consideration; it’s one of the major nights for me even if Fox is at its weakest – in my opinion it’s a strong night for the CW , NBC (its comedy lineup capped with ER), ABC, and of course CBS. I don’t find Tuesday to be as strong – CBS can’t find a show to work in the third hour – although there is strength from all five American networks. Friday is weak for Fox and ABC, but good for NBC and again CBS (and I suppose the CW – I’ve never fully understood the attraction of pro-wrestling in the Vince McMahon era).

New poll up in the morning.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I'm A Lovable Hostoric Lunatic

I hadn't planned on posting this but then I saw who I got. Let's face it, if you're going to be a known historical lunatic, this guy is probably the one to be. Plus he appeared on an episode of Bonanza (played by Sam Jaffe) along with his subject Sam Clemmons.

I'm Joshua Abraham Norton, the first and only Emperor of the United States of America!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Peter Boyle - 1935(?)-2006

I’ve tried to get away from writing obituaries for TV performers, but sometimes you just can’t avoid it. This is one of those times.

Peter Boyle died today at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital. Until fairly recently Boyle was probably best known for his screen roles – notably the campaign manager Lucas in The Candidate and the Monster in Young Frankenstein - he also did considerable television work before Everybody Loves Raymond. One of his first acting parts was in the 1970 CBS summer series Comedy Tonight. He played Senator Joseph McCarthy in the TV movie Tailgunner Joe, and the title character in a short-lived show (six episodes) called Joe Bash about a lonely cop. This show is so obscure that only the barest of episode descriptions can be found. In 1994 he played “Stanilslas Kelly” in an ABC pilot Philly Heat, the cast of which included Ving Rhames and Tate Donovan. Most of his other pre-Raymond TV work was as a guest star. In Midnight Caller he played the Gary Cole character’s father J.J. Killian in two episodes. He played Dan Breen, Andy Sipowicz’s AA sponsor who is eventually killed by his abusive, mentally disturbed son. Perhaps most famously he played Clyde Bruckman in one of the most famous episodes of The X-Files “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, the role for which he won his only Emmy Award.

Of course it was for the role of Frank Barone that most TV viewers know him today. Amazingly he was the only member of the adult cast of that show not to win an Emmy award, despite having been nominated seven of the nine years the show was on the air. Boyle was perfectly cast as the sarcastic, angry, Frank, and you could always see a sort of twinkle in his eye when his character put one over on his wife Marie, played by Doris Roberts. Reportedly, when he auditioned for the part of Frank, producer Phil Rosenthal kept him waiting, which made the actor increasingly angry so that when he finally came in to read, “He came in all hot and angry, and I hired him because I was afraid of him.” Because of efforts to cross several of CBS’s Monday night sitcoms over, Boyle appeared in an episode of Bill Cosby’s last series Cosby. That show co-starred Madeline Kahn, who had appeared with Boyle in Young Frankenstein and before that in Comedy Tonight.

Peter Boyle met his wife Loraine Alterman on the set of Young Frankenstein - she was a reporter for Rolling Stone. Through her close friendship with Yoko Ono, Boyle developed a friendship with John Lennon, who served as Best Man at the couple’s 1977 wedding. They had two daughters. In recent photos he appeared increasingly gaunt and ill, possibly as a result of the multiple myeloma (a form of plasma cell cancer) and heart disease that he suffered. Peter Boyle was either 71 (according to most sources including IMDB) or 73 (according to Wikipedia).

Sam's Christmas Meme

My blogging buddy Sam Johnson – sorry, The Real Sam Johnson! – sent out a meme for some of us and I decided that it was worth doing. I’ll let Sam explain the premise:

I gotta Christmas meme for everyone and it's very simple. Santa Claus has sent out an X-mas Genie to only the super good boys and girls out there and he's come to your house. Genies only give out three wishes, but X-mas Genies give four for Christmas. What do you ask for and remember, nothing is off bounds.

So what do I wish for, remembering that nothing is out of bounds?

1. Personal Poker lessons from the greatest and most beloved living poker player, Mr. Doyle Brunson. He can bring some of his friends along with him, Johnny Chan, Howard Lederer, his son Todd Brunson, Annie Duke, Jennifer Harmon, but mostly I want to learn from The Master. And then I want to play in the main event of the World Series of Poker, but I think that with Doyle’s teaching I can handle getting the $10,000 entry fee together myself. Or at least win an online satellite.

2. A home entertainment system set up to my personal standards. I’m thinking a 42 inch LCD, surround sound stereo system HD cable box, DVD Recorder with hard drive, plus a Windows Media Center computer (or maybe something similar from Apple), a Slingbox, a US satellite dish, and a lifetime subscription to every available station on both my Canadian cable and my US satellite system.

3. A spot as a Racer on The Amazing Race (and oh yeah, I'll probably a partner too, one who can drive). I can’t participate in The Amazing Race because I’m a Canadian, but of all of the reality shows in the world this is the one I would do just about anything to be a contestant on. I quite literally dream of being on The Amazing Race and afterwards hobnobbing with other Racers past, present and future including – yes I admit it – Rob & Amber. Oddly enough, in my dreams I never win The Race – I usually come in third or fourth – but the producers like me as a contestant so much that they immediately invite me back for the next installment.

4. This is a tough one, but I suppose it would be to obtain gainful employment as a TV critic with a newspaper – in other to get paid money to do something I enjoy, and oh yes get the screeners and promotional material that real critics get. The part of me that associates Christmas with trains wants the time, money, materials, and a suitable location to build my dream model railway. I suppose that with gainful employment you could build a great model railway, but then again I suspect that if I were paid to watch TV for a living I’d be too busy watching TV do actually run or even build the railway.

You’re supposed to forward a meme to others in hopes that they’ll do something with it. I guess I pick Tim and Linda.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Amazing Race Finale - Sunday!

If you've been reading this blog for any serious length of time you will know that I am a huge fan of The Amazing Race. I watch Survivor, I tolerate Big Brother, I enjoy Hell's Kitchenand I am occasionally amused by Beauty and the Geek, but for me the best reality-competition series on television - bar none - is The Amazing Race. I love it because of the people, the originality of the tasks but most of all for the different locations they visit. Often enough the American contestants find themselves amazed at how giving the "foreigner" can be and the audience often get to wonder whether they would display the same attitudes that people on the show do. Most of all, The Amazing Race is the most accessible of the Reality-Competition shows. I couldn't imagine myself on "the island" in Survivor, and I'm not pretty enough to be on Big Brother (although I'm getting to "sacrificial wily old guy" age), but I could very easily see myself with a partner being "Philiminated" late in the game. I can't see myself actually winning anymore but the thing about this show is that just about anything is possible.

While I wouldn't rank this season of the race up with the best ever (my absolute favourite has to be TAR7 - the season of Rob & Amber and the miracle airplane situation that allowed Uchenna & Joyce to get on the plane and win) I has been a pretty good one. The show managed to add another six countries to the list of places they've taken viewers to - Mongolia, Kuwait, Mauritius, Madagascar, Finland and Ukraine - and without the showiness of Survivor's "segregated tribes" managed to have one of the most diverse casts ever, including two South Asian players (Vipal & Arti), two followers if the Islamic faith (Bilal & Sayeed), two people of Korean descent (Irwin & Godwin Cho), two African American single mothers (Lyn & Karlyn), a pair of recovering drug addicts (Tyler & James), a father trying to restore his relationship with his Gay daughter (Duke & Lauren), a Kentucky coal miner and his never travelled before wife (David & Mary), and an amputee who runs triathlons teamed with the guy who built her prosthesis (Peter & Sarah). It made the requisite Gay couple (Tom & Terry) seem positively pedestrian.

There were several changes from previous seasons, one good, one bad, and one which needed some work. In the first episode, two teams were Philiminated, one without warning. This was not received well by fans of the show. On the other hand the punishment for finishing last on a non-elimination round was changed from losing your possessions to having to finish first in the next leg or being "marked for elimination", an automatic thirty minute wait after reaching the mat before checking in at the Pit Stop - if there was at least one other team behind you when the penalty expired you were safe otherwise you were out. That was well regarded by the fans. As for the one that needs work, that would be the newly created Intersection. This forces two teams to work together as a four person team until they are told to stop. This one showed up when there were six teams left and teams essentially chose who they would work with. Things would have been much better both in dramatic terms and probably in show terms if the Intersection had been implemented earlier in The Race when there were more teams and if the teams had been forced to team up with the next two players to arrive, given the animosity between a couple of the teams.

But the big thing in The Race are the people and how they faced the tasks. This season's most memorable team was the Dave & Mary a couple so isolated that they didn't know any Asian people and had never met any Gays until they met Tom & Terry: "But I like 'em!" It was hard not to enjoy the enthusiasm that Mary felt at every new experience during The Race, and even the most hated and aggressive team on the show - Dustin & Kandice, "the Beauty Queens" - regarded them as good people. They managed a first for The Amazing Race, an alliance that lasted longer than the time between tasks and where alliance members actually stuck together and tried to help each other. The "Back Pack" and later the "Six Pack" alliance died after Dave & Mary left but it was amazing while it lasted. There were other things to remember as well. There was Tom & Terry who, failing to defeat the currents in a Vietnamese bay by rowing a sampan jumped into the water and pulled it in the style of Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. There was the sight of Sarah, the woman with a prosthetic leg and a "racing" foot climbing up the Great Wall Of China, up a cliff, and up the outside of one of the famous Kuwait Towers, while her able bodied partner waited on the ground cheering her on. There was a Beauty Queen driving a Ukrainian T-64 tank like a pro while her male counterpart from the Models team of Tyler & James stalled it, got soaked to the skin crossing a small stream, collided with the only other tank on the course and - as he put it - "drove like a girl"

So we come to the big questions: Who remains and who will win?

Lyn & Karlyn - Team Bama: These are the single mothers. Based on the way the show has been edited I don't like them. They don't seem to take any joy in the places they're visiting. They're in it for the money and that seems to be it. They have endured a great deal, and if I'd been asked at the start I would have picked them to be eliminated very early in the game, not to be the first all-female team to make it to the final three and to actually cross the finish line. They aren't particularly fit physically but they have a ton of grit and determination plus a willingness to be unsentimental. They are definitely tougher than they look. I still see them as the probable third place team.

Tyler & James - The Recovering Addict Models: The Amazing Race has a tendency to cast Models. It's an occupational advantage for them since the show requires all participants to be able to take off about 30 days from work. Models are able to arrange their schedules to do that in the same way that struggling actors, self-employed entrepreneurs and retired people can. What makes Tyler & James unusual is their back story. They are both recovering from serious drug addictions, and in fact they met in rehab. This has definitely made them a strong team. They are the team in this season of The Race that has finished first in more legs than any other team. And yet there sometimes seems to be something lacking in them. I wouldn't be surprised to see them finish first but I also wouldn't be surprised to see them make some minor error and finish second or even third.

Rob & Kim - Relationship Challenged: Every season there is a team that is testing their relationship, trying to see if it will survive going to "the next level". Actually there are usually several. This season there was Rob & Kim and Peter & Sarah (who ended their romantic relationship after they were eliminated). It's a dumb Idea unless you want to spend 30 days, literally 720 hours together, usually no more than 20 feet apart as mandated by the Race rules. This more time in one stretch than most adults ever spend with another adult. The situation is full of stresses that are nearly impossible to describe. Teams usually end up fighting with each other, and again there is usually one team that stands every season for their fighting. That was Rob & Kim. Everything was drama with them and they wouldn't be in the final three if I had anything to say about it, but I, and the other fans, and the producers, don't have any say which is the great thing about The Amazing Race - it is all the abilities of the players, not popularity. Rob & Kim have only finished first in two legs, but after the first two legs they've never finished lower than third. I'm willing to suggest that they are the team that Tyler & James are going to have to defend against most if they hope to win the million dollar first prize.

The Amazing Race has had it's best season ever in terms of ratings helped, ironically enough, by the thing that fans of the show feared would hurt it the most, overruns of NFL football games on CBS. Ratings on nights when football games ran long, delaying the start of 60 Minutes have been among the highest that the show has ever experienced. The one hour finale of the 10th Amazing Race airs this Sunday following the Denver San Diego football game and 60 Minutes. After that the show will be on hiatus until February (I believe) when the All-Star version of The Amazing Race begins. I have some thoughts on that, but they'll keep until the teams are announced.

New Poll - What night has the most shows that you MUST see?

It has been a while since I have done a poll for this Blog and I thought it was high time that I did another one. Besides we have reached what in some ways is the halfway point in the TV season, in so far as most series have shown us perhaps half of the shows they'll be doing this year - or close to it - and some shows have entered a midseason "we don't repeat well" hiatus, so it's about time that we answer the questions that we've been dying to know a collective answer to.

I've been tweeking the list of questions I'll be asking to add a few more categories to what I asked last year during November sweeps, but I thought I'd start out with a fairly simple one. Essentially I'd like to know what night is "must see TV night" for you this year. What night has the most shows that you absolutely have to see each week? (In TV terms of course, which means that there's no Saturday since no one is actively programming it.)

As usual, feel free to comment here. Poll result will be up next Saturday Morning, when I'll also have my next Poll question.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This Class Gets A Failing Grade

(I should have written this yesterday, but a number of things kept me from doing much of anything Tuesday.) One of the things about reviewing a show that has entered a string of reruns - particularly if you don't or can't watch the show on a regular basis - is that you don't know whether the show has improved since the episode you're reviewing. Of course its the same with judging a show by its pilot or second episode. When a show is good that's not a problem because the expectation is that they'll keep up the standard, but when the show is bad or at least underwhelming then you wonder if it will get better or work out the problems. That's the problem I had with The Class. I don't normally get to see the show, since it runs on my bowling night but my current sojourn at my brother's place gave me the opportunity to watch it. I was less than pleased. The episode I saw was "The Class Blows The Whistle", which was the fourth episode of the series. In it Lina (Heather Goldenhersh) goes out on a second date with Richie (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), while her twin sister Kat (Lizzy Caplan) initially balks at and the decdes to fix Ethan (Jason Ritter) up on a blind date with a woman who is "really easy." Meanwhile Nicole (Andrea Anders) is dismayed to discover that her husband Yonk (David Keith) is becoming friends with her old high school boyfriend Duncan (Jon Benrthal) for whom she still has feelings (and maybe more - it wasn't clear from the episode). Finally Holly (Lucy Punch) is driving Kyle (Sean MacGuire) and his boyfriend Aaron (Cristian de la Fuente) to distraction with her efforts to to get her daughter Oprah into the exclusive private school where Kyle teaches. That's a very basic summary of the episode and I think it illustrates one of the major problems that this show has, at least at this stage of its development - too many storylines without providing a real focus for the episode, or even tying the stories together. There were four unrelated story sequences and except for a couple of phone calls between Kat and Lina there is nothing holding the elements together. It was as if the writer and producers decided that they had to use the entire cast in the episode even if there's really no reason for it. The Class was created by David Crane - who was the creator of Friends - along with his life partner Jeffrey Klarik. Seemingly he has forgotten one of the things that helped hold Friends together as a show. While the series had a large cast it usually had a primary story thread and a secondary storyline with at least some connection between the two. There are other problems with the show. The character of Perry Pearl (Sam Harris) who is married to Holly is so highly effeminate as to represent a gay stereotype, to the point where Holly seems to be the only person who doesn't realize that her husband is gay. It is a concept that gets very old, very fast. Another joke that got old fast was Holly's inability to understand Aaron when he was speaking. Although Aaron (who is Hispanic) speaks with little or no accent, to Holly he is virtually incomprehensible. Either this is an effort to show how stupid Holly is, or whether it's meant as a way for Holly not to interact with Aaron, it's not terribly funny. The acting here is adequate even though none of the actors really delivers a standout performance. That in itself is vaguely disappointing, given that the cast contains a number of reasonably good young actors including Ritter, Anders and MacGuire. They have the ability to deliver strong performances but at least in the episode that I saw they were betrayed by the less than stellar writing and the format that the producers decided to impose on the episode. With all of the elements taken together (and remember I was only able to see one early episode so there is the chance that this show might have improved from what I saw), it's hardly a series that I can recommend. Find something else to watch in this half hour. It's better than some of the comedies that debuted this season but there are plenty of shows that are superior to this.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Short Takes - December 3, 2006

I'm doing this from my brother's computer as he's away for about ten days and someone has to look after his house and dog - not necessarily in that order. One thing this will allow me to do is watch some Monday night TV without the problems inherent in taping stuff - you wouldn't believe the backlog of Heroes episodes that I have. On the other hand his keyboard is extremely stiff.

NBC shuffles its schedule: Probably not as much as I would have but they have made some adjustments. They've moved Friday Night Lights to the first hour of Wednesday from the first hour of Tuesday and are following it with Deal Or No Deal. Dateline NBC moves to the first hour of Tuesday, as well as appearing in the first hour of Sunday (opposite 60 Minutes) and airing reruns on Saturday night in the first hour. In addition to Dateline NBC, Sunday nights will feature a new reality show called Grease: You're the One That I Want, which will be auditioning people for a new Broadway revival of the musical Grease. This will be followed by the latest revival of The Apprentice, this time coming out of Trump's Southern California holdings. Finally (and I do mean finally since it will be debuting on January 21 after two weeks of Grease: You're the One That I Want and The Apprentice running for an hour and a half each) will be the much awaited - by me at least - return of Crossing Jordan.

I really would have liked to have seen a much more sweeping change in the NBC lineup given the trouble that a number of shows have been having. Since Heroes isn't really helping Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip in building an audience, why not move a much more compatible series - Medium - into that time slot. Why not move Law & Order: Criminal Intent to the third hour of Wednesday opposite CSI: New York and put Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip into the Tuesday time slot.

Perhaps an idea that should catch on: The CW has announced that they will be airing two highlights shows of the series Britain's Next Top Model in the Wednesday time slot currently occupied by America's Next Top Model. The episodes will air on December 13 and December 20, the two weeks following the finale of America's Next Top Model. The two episodes will summarize the two cycles of Britain's Next Top Model in single one hour episodes. This might be a way to beat those mid winter (and full summer) TV blahs. There are any number of British or Australian versions of American shows - particularly reality shows - that the Americans have either "adopted" or (more rarely) had taken from them. Instead of whatever CBS is intending on showing on Sundays this summer, what would they lose by showing the Amazing Race Asia which is done in English with an Asian American host (most of the cast speak English better than some of the teams on the US race), or maybe a summary from the British or Australian versions of Big Brother. ABC could serve up Britain's Strictly Come Dancing or the Australian Dancing With The Stars.

Another more than likely stupid idea: I like reruns. They give me a chance to watch shows that either I haven't seen before or really, really liked the first time I saw them. Networks it seems, do not like reruns. They used to but now they complain about shows "not rerunning well." It's not all shows - the CSI series works so well in reruns they're like a great utility baseball player. But of course most shows that are rerun are rerun in their usual time slots, which means that they're being rerun to an audience base that they already have. And so, as we enter the period that we fans of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel knew all too well as "Rerun Hell", I offer this probably stupid idea: when a show goes into reruns, put it in a different time slot for the duration of the rerun period. I mean I'm sure there is a very good reason why the networks don't do this but I don't know what it is. What strikes me is that you have good shows, like Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and Friday Night Lightsthat aren't finding an audience in their current time slot and might benefit from moving to a different day and time to see how well they do there. Why not try rerunning Studio 60 in the second hour of Tuesdays and putting the reruns of Law & Order: Criminal Intent in the third hour of Mondays? And if both shows prosper then make the change permanent. But I'm sure that smarter people than I have thought about this idea and come up with reasons why it won't work.

Who does the PTC hate thisWeek?: Apparently our friends at the PTC are in some kind of mourning for the Republican Congress because for the fourth straight week in a row their Worst Show of the Week is that same damned episode of Boston Legal. And they still hate Clorox and Microsoft. (yawn)

With that in mind and feeling rather bored, I've decided to take a look at what the PTC thinks of some of the new shows that debuted this year (and are still with us). As some of you might know, the PTC rates shows using a traffic light motif: Green for "Family Friendly", Yellow for shows containing adult themes and dialogue, and Red for shows that "may include gratuitous sex, explicit dialogue, violent content, or obscene language" and are unsuitable for children. They rate shows for Language, Sex and Violence and produce an overall evaluation. Of course, like a lot of things on the PTC website, what they've evaluated is not exactly up to date.
  • The Class gets an overall "Yellow" rating. "The Class is a show about adults, so the content is for more mature audiences. Language on the show includes uses of the words “crap,” “suck,” “hell,” “ass,” and “bitch.” Sexual content is frequent but not overly offensive. Two characters, Nicole and Duncan, are having an affair behind her husband’s back and there was a penis joke in the first episode. Which sounds like the PTC is loosening up their standards. Compare this with the evaluation they gave of the other CBS comedy in the first hour, How I Met Your Mother: "This sitcom may have a reference to parenthood in the title, but it is about adults and contains a lot of adult content and humor. Language used includes “damn,” “hell,” “bitch,” “bastard,” “crap,” “suck,” and “ass” with moderate frequency. Sexual humor is relied upon heavily in this series as well. Men on this series have visited strip clubs more than once: episodes have included Barney getting Ted a date and Ted thinking she was a prostitute, Ted dating a porn actress, Lily and Marshall urinating in front of each other, and other racy themes. Barney doesn’t believe in committed relationships, so there are also frequent references to his promiscuity and using women for sex and then dumping them." How I Met Your Mother gets a Red rating.

  • Heroes gets a Red Rating, except for language where it gets a yellow despite including such words as “hell,” “damn,” and “bitch” frequently. Where it really falls down is on violence (as you might expect) and on sex: "While one might think, based on the name of the show or its premise, that Heroes is a show for everyone, these heroes are not your All-Americans like Superman or Spiderman. For instance, one “hero,” Niki Sanders, is a single mother living in Las Vegas who provides for her son by stripping on her internet porn site. Her alter ego randomly takes over her mind and body and is capable of committing unspeakable acts of violence and sexual deviance." In fact Niki seems to be the major cause for concern for the PTC as far as sex goes, since they reference her Internet business later in the review.

  • Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip gets one of the stranger evaluations. It gets a Green light for violence (there's none that I've seen on the show) but Reds for Language and Sex and Overall. Language is the principal concern: "'Hell,' 'damn,' and 'ass' are used frequently as well as harsher words like 'bitch,' 'slut,' 'screw,' and 'son of a bitch.'” But it is Sex where the weird evaluation comes: "Sex has not been an issue at this point in the series, but as relationships progress, sex scenes can be expected." And because of that they gave it a Red Light for sex. There's no sex in the show but it still gets condemned for having too much sex! (Okay, admittedly there's been a bit more of what they would consider sexual content recently - Harriet seen apparently naked except for her panties in a seem where Tom and Simon enter her dressing room without knocking; Harriet seen changing for a scene, showing her bra; Jeannie getting a B12 shot just below her panty line; Jordan revealing her "out of wedlock" pregnancy - but they wrote this review before any of that was seen.)

  • Jericho gets Yellow lights across the board. The PTC doesn't consider language an issue with the show although "the words used include 'hell,' 'damn,' and 'ass.'" As for Sex, in a show where Deputy Mayor Eric Green is having an extra marital affair, "Sexual content isn’t very frequent either, but the character of Eric Green is shown kissing a woman that isn’t his wife and later sleeps with her." But it's violence where they seem particularly lax, particularly in view of what happened in episodes after the PTC did their evaluation: "Violence is mostly implied death and injury with scenes of crashed vehicles, airplanes, and the distant mushroom clouds on the horizon. There were two gun-play confrontations as well, when some escaped prisoners killed a policeman and then in the following episode were killed by a local cop and a civilian." Setting aside for the moment the fact that it was Jake Green who shot one of the convicts and he wasn't a cop, this totally ignores subsequent events like the visit to the Rogue River hospital, the battle at the bridge with the mercenaries and the murder of Gracie Leigh. But the PTC apparently doesn't revise these assessments, so Jericho is rated as more suitable for younger viewers than either Bones or America's Next Top Model, and the same as Biggest Loser (although Loser's only Yellow light was for language it got a Yellow overall).

  • The Nine got a Red Light for Sex and Yellow lights for Language and Violence even though they state that their major concern is " that the violence seen in these flashbacks may be too intense for children. The violence has been primarily limited to these flashbacks throughout episodes, but involves the thieves threatening hostages with handguns and the implied murder of two major characters." Language included "hell" and "damn". As for Sex, "Sexual content has involved post-coital couples kissing in bed and also a few other scenes where characters kiss." Now remember, they gave this series a Red light for Sex and a Yellow light for Violence, but at the end of their review they say, "Due to intense violence, The Nine is not appropriate for children under the age of 14."

  • Ugly Betty - a show which recently received the Best New Series award from the Family Friendly Programming Forum for helping to "promote the development of and airing of family-oriented television programs during prime-time hours" and which received funding from the Forum's Script Development Fund - got a Red Light from the PTC. According to them, "Sexual content is the main concern with this show. With the exception of Betty herself, it seems that every character engages freely in casual sexual relationships, but most of the sexual content stems from Daniel. In the premiere episode there is a scene in which it is implied that he is receiving oral sex from a woman hidden under his desk and he has often been seen in post-coital situations. In one scene Betty offers to sell diet pills to resident homosexual Marc and he replies, 'Unless it’s Taye Diggs covered in baby oil I’m not interested.'" Language is apparently also an issue: "Foul language includes words such as “damn”, “ass,” and “bitch,” are used frequently on the show." Violence is not listed as a concern, but the web page for the show gives it a Yellow light for Sex, a Green light and a Red light for Violence.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Well That Sort Of Sucks

No sooner did I finish posting my review of 3 Lbs. than a report popped up in TVSquad stating that Broadcast & Cable is reporting that the show was canceled by CBS after three episodes. According to the report 3 Lbs. received ratings that were 16% lower than the show it replaced, Smith which also ran three episodes.

And I'm not kidding about that "
No sooner did I finish posting my review..." bit. If you check the time on the TVSquad report and compare it to the time of my review, you'll discover that it was posted slightly more than two hours later.

Wow, talk about bad timing.

What Makes Us Us

3 Lbs.

It is the weight of the human brain. The weight of memory, of knowledge, of inventiveness, of personality. The weight of the soul. Your real weight when it comes down to it.

It is also the title of a quite involving new TV series starring Stanley Tucci and Mark Feuerstein as neurosurgeons. And because people who write about TV for a living like to say that a show is like something else, this show gets compared to House for what I feel are largely superficial reasons. But I’ll get to that later.

In the episode I saw on Tuesday night featured two stories (I hesitate to call one of these stories a case). In the main story Kathleen Ellis, a woman that Dr. Doug Hanson (Tucci) treated three years ago for a cerebral aneurysm, has returned to the hospital complaining about double vision, symptoms similar to what she exhibited before. Tests conducted by Hanson and his new associate, Dr. Jonathon Seger (Feuerstein) reveal that not only has she developed a new aneurysm but it is located in a part of the brain that is extremely difficult to reach and nearly impossible to operate on without either killing her or leaving her with extreme brain damage. Hanson is all for trying to deal with the aneurysm surgically, but Seger expresses doubts about whether it might be better to do nothing and let nature take its eventual course. He and Hanson go with the patient to a nearby park to discuss her options and in a move that thoroughly surprises Seger, Hanson clearly and concisely tells her off all the risks that go along with the surgery. Her trust in Hanson and his abilities is so complete that she gives her consent to the operation without qualm despite Seger’s insistence on repeating his reservations.

Things are complicated by the arrival of the patient’s brother, Brad. He’s a lawyer and immediately on arrival at the hospital he cancels the woman’s surgery and is intent on taking her out of the hospital as soon as she awakens from some medication that the doctors gave her to sleep. He is convinced that because Hanson operated on her successfully the first time he is able to exert undue and improper influence on her to get her to agree to the surgery. He demands that Hanson give him the odds that his sister will die during the surgery. Hanson has no patience with the man and tell him that the odds of her dying are 100% since the procedure requires that he reduce the body temperature to induce hypothermia and stop her heart for exactly thirty minutes while he repairs the aneurysm. And then he goes ahead and prepares to do the surgery anyway. After all, the brother can’t revoke the approval that his responsible adult sister gave. When the Brad finds out that the surgery is going ahead he flies into a rage, threatening to sue the hospital and getting into a physical confrontation with Seger, who isn’t part of the surgery because of the doubts he’d expressed to Kathleen about the surgery. Eventually Brad settles down and starts to play a piece of classical music on a piano that is located near Hanson’s office.

Eventually, Seger decides to go to the OR, persuaded by his colleague Dr. Adrienne Holland (Indira Varma) that he needs to participate in the operation. He arrives at just the right time. The heart surgeon who is working on the case and needs to do a bypass before the cooling procedure can be accomplished doesn’t believe that he can harvest a viable piece of vein to do the surgery and wants Hanson to go ahead without the bypass. Seger informs the heart surgeon that the likelihood of success goes from 23% to 25% if the bypass is done, but if the operation is done without the bypass and fails people will blame the heart surgeon while if the bypass occurs and it fails the blame will go to Hanson. The bypass is successful, as is Hanson’s surgical procedure although he finishes just seconds before the time limit for the hypothermia.

The “B” Plot in this episode is not quite comic but is far less serious and more personal than the main story line. A visiting professor of Astronomy who starts to see his student’s faces only as smudges. He is suffering from something called Prosopagnosia or “face blindness.” He goes to see Dr. Adrienne Holland about his situation and she puts him through a series of tests to determine if he actually does suffer from the condition. At the same time she is feeling an intense attraction to him – he’s handsome, gentle, intelligent and she has always had an interest in astronomy. In conversations with Seger she goes over the ethics of doing other tests when she knows that there is nothing medically that can be done for the condition. Eventually, after she admits to the patient that there is no medical treatment and that there are no more tests she can perform, he invites her out on a date, which she accepts. And suddenly things go all wrong. When he arrives at the hospital for their date, he asks Adrienne if Dr. Holland is in her office. He doesn’t know her face, just the context of her in the office. She claims that she has work to do and can’t go out on the date and then agonizes over her decision. It all ends up well in the end when he shows up at her home shortly before he is supposed to leave the city. He takes pictures of parts of her face and it is highly implied that they made love.

3 Lbs. is an interesting show although not one that is easy to dissect. The two principal actors are excellent of course. I first became interested in Stanley Tucci when he played Richard Cross in the first season of Murder One opposite Daniel Benzali. I first saw Feuerstein when he played Cliff Calley, one of Aaron Sorkin’s assorted “good” Republicans in The West Wing. Tucci brings the right degree of arrogance to the role of Doug Hanson without being over the top about it. It is a similar quality to what the character Richard Cross had. On the other hand Feuerstein is nicely positioned to play the less arrogant and more wondering Seger. I am less impressed with Indira Varma’s performance as Adrienne Holland, which seemed to consist mainly of bantering with Seger and looking beautiful. I have a suspicion that this might have been the fault of the episode that I was watching rather than of the actress or the character. One character whose existence in the episode, and possibly the series, I did not understand was Dr. Thomas Flores, played by Armando Riesco. In the episode I watched he seemed to do nothing beyond drinking coffee and acting hyper because of it. Oh yes, he also broke up the fight between Seger and Brad Ellis, but mostly his role seemed to be comic relief and not very good comic relief at that.

I found the writing good at points, uneven at others. There are things – like the piano outside the office – that I’m sure would have become clear to me if I’d seen the earlier episodes, but there are other things that seemed just too convenient. At other times, as when Kathleen’s brother Brad cancels the surgery and said that if he hadn’t been in Asia when his sister had the first surgery he wouldn’t have permitted that, when I wondered at the character’s motivations. Did he want his sister dead, paralyzed or otherwise subjected to the effects of the aneurysm exploding? It was even more convenient at the end, after Kathleen’s surgery had been a success and he was waiting for her to regain consciousness, that he suddenly became Hanson’s biggest booster. It is too sudden a transition. The secondary plot was fun but it really felt as though it had simply been tacked on to give Indira Varma something more to do in the episode than just banter with Seger.

The obvious comparison is made to House, and as usual with such comparisons I think it is made simply because writers need to compare shows to each other. For all that House the show is interesting to watch because of the performance that Hugh Laurie delivers as Gregory House, the character is damaged. I’m not talking physically but rather emotionally. This emotional damage makes him susceptible to addictions, it makes him treat the people around him badly, and yes it makes him arrogant. Hanson on the other hand is arrogant because he’s a surgeon. He’s not just any type of surgeon either, he’s a neurosurgeon, on of the two sorts of surgeons – along with heart surgeons – for whom the old line about the difference between God and a surgeon (God doesn’t think He’s a surgeon) truly applies. In short he comes by his arrogant manner honestly. He’s not damaged. He doesn’t treat his subordinates like ignoramuses even while he doesn’t treat them as equals. On the whole, House is a more complex character filled with various nuances, while I suspect that Hanson is more realistic in that he feels (at least to me) closer to what a real neurosurgeon would be like.

As for the show, I have to say that House is far superior to 3 Lbs. but they are different shows in tone and substance. I hate to suggest that 3 Lbs. is the more realistic program but it seems more grounded in reality. The show is reasonably interesting, and probably worth watching at least a few times, even with the things that irritated me about the writing, but I can’t say that it falls into the top echelon of shows that must be seen. And opposite Law & Order: SVU and Boston Legal that might very well be what it would need to be.