Sunday, April 30, 2006

Short Takes - April 30, 2006

Another week of distractions and stuff that needed to get done and kept me away from Blogging.

Oh no, not HER: Meredith Viera will be replaced on The View by Rosie O'Donnell. So now we have a woman named Katie (and is it just me or would she be taken more seriously if she went by the name Katherine?) as the anchor of the CBS Evening News; a woman named Meredith doing puff pieces on Today, and a woman named Rosie doing whatever it is that they do on The View. Now on the whole I don't object that much to O'Donnell - I even think that she can act - but I'm just not sure of how well she's going to play with the other children. I can certainly see her and naive conservative Elisabeth Hasselbach having more than a few confrontations.

Prequels are a coming: While there's some discussion as to what the new Star Trek movie, to be helmed by J.J. Abrams, will be about what we've been told is that it will be a prequel featuring Kirk and Spock at Starfleet Academy. As the article indicates this may not be the case, although Abrams indicates that he's interested in possibly doing something contemporary to the Originals Series. Now it appears that Sci-Fi will be producing a prequel to Battlestar Galactica to be called Caprica. The new series will apparently be more of a family drama focussing on two families, the Adamas and the Graystones and will be set fifty years before the destruction of the Colonies at the time of the development of the first Cylons. Just to be clear this probably means that Bill Adama will probably just be getting ready to graduate...out of diapers. Some people aren't sure that the sequel is a good idea on the grounds that it's too soon or will dilute the franchise. However a combination of the two shows has some potential in keeping a Galactica related show on the air for an increased part of the season as well as giving viewers a sense of what Colonial society was like. It should also be noted of course that Doctor Who will be launching a spin-off this Fall to be called Torchwood (CBC has already signed on as a co-producer).

Don't do the crime if you can't do the time: Michelle Rodriguez, who has most recently been seen on the series Lost has done her time for a drunk driving charge in Hawaii. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to the charge last Tuesday and was sentenced to spend five days in jail and pay a $500 fine, or do 240 hours of community service, Surprisingly to some, Rodriguez opted to pay the fine and do the time, apparently on the grounds that "autograph hounds would hassle her if she did work hours." She went to jail on Tuesday and emerged on Friday, having been given credit for time already served immediately following her arrest. Personally I think there was a bit more to her decision. 240 hours of community service would have meant hanging around Hawaii for twenty to thirty days depending on how many hours she worked a day. Presumably this could have been disruptive to her work schedule. Doing the jail time, which she reportedly spent reading and watching TV, meant that she was free in a week.

Like a Swiss Watch: The Law & Order franchise just keeps chugging along. All three Law & Order shows have received early renewals from NBC, along with Crossing Jordan, Las Vegas and Medium. The Las Vegas renewal calms the fears of some fans that by assigning the show to the Friday night "death slot" in the second hour the network was hanging it out to die. No word as to what the network will do with Crossing Jordan and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which will both lose their timeslots to Sunday Night Football but I at least wouldn't be at all surprised if they stay on Sunday night and run straight through with new episodes after the football season ends. Of course with the renewal of the main Law & Order series came the announcement that the incumbent ADA under Jack McCoy, Alexandra Borgia (played by Anne Parisse) will be leaving the show. Since Jill Hennessy left the series there have been four ADAs, played by Carrie Lowell, Angie Harmon, Elizabeth Rohm and now Parisse. Her tenure in the role is the shortest yet, just a season and a half.

I you can't do fiction, play games: After this season's rather weak dramatic efforts and the sliding ratings for The Apprentice NBC seemed to hit gold with Deal Or No Deal, so what could be more natural than another game show. The network has given the greenlight to a show called 1 Versus 100 to be produced by Endemol Productions. The premise is simple - one player competes against a "mob" of 100 other people in a trivia competition. The more people the one player beats the more money to be won. A player can stop at any time and take the money but if the player outlasts all 100 of the "mob" they can win a multi-million dollar prize. Of course if the player gets an answer wrong the prize is nothing. The show, which has elements that are reminiscent of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is popular in a number of European countries and at least has the virtue of being more of a challenge than Deal Or No Deal which is also produced by Endemol.

A House is a Holmes: I've mentioned the various ways in which Dr. Gregory House is like Sherlock Holmes in the past, but one escaped me until the past couple of episodes - music. Holmes was an accomplished violinist who owned a Stradivarius and reportedly played professionally following his "death" at Reichenbach Falls. House is an accomplished piano player. Of course it helps that his residence - apartment B at 221 Baker Street (?) - is on the ground floor. So much easier to put a piano in there than in Holmes's second floor walk-up rooms. (Or maybe it's just because Hugh Laurie is a very good piano player.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New Poll - Which of these TV Shows from 1985-1995 has the best original theme music?

So here's the weird thing. I was going through the lists of shows from 1985-1995 and I can't get over just how many of them I can't remember the themes to. It's like there's a colossal black hole between 1993-94 and somewhere around 1987 or '88 where nothing really sticks out, let alone anything really good. I have a suspicion that part of this was one of those gaps where producers were saying that "the TV theme song is dead, it takes up too much time." There were also several shows that had themes that weren't original. I loved Doc Severinsen's version of Georgia On My Mind for Designing Women but it was Georgia On My Mind. The same goes for In The Heat Of The Night which used Quincy Jones' music from the original movie. The Cosby theme - which is included - changed each year in the style of music and the way it was presented but it was always the same song (composed by Bill Cosby and Stu Gardner).

Maybe some of you can remember themes from shows like Head Of The Class that aired during my "black hole" period. If so remind me of them in comments.

Poll Results - Which of these TV Shows from 1995-2005 has the best original theme music?

Wow that was interesting. Probably the biggest poll turnout that this blog has ever had (and I know what happened but I don't know why it happened - a little more on that shortly) and still we have a three way tie. Amazing!

We had nine shows listed, mostly dramas. Tied for sixth with one vote each (4%) were the themes from NYPD Blue, Angel, Firefly and Star Trek: Voyager. Big surprise for me from this group was the NYPD Blue theme which I thought would do better. The theme was a real signature piece that really fit the images used in the opening. The other surprise, I guess, was Voyager which always seemed a bit pedestrian to me. The Firefly theme is one of my personal favourites, a mournful little ballad that gives the sense of bitterness and hope that the ragtag crew of the spaceship Serenity faced.

In a tie for fourth place, with three votes each (12%) are the themes from JAG and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. This is a real surprise. I expected Buffy to be much higher and was frankly surprised that the JAG theme got any votes at all. Not that it isn't a good theme, all strong and heroic and all, and it certainly fits the material but it isn't really a challenging piece of music when compared with something like the NYPD Blue theme. I'd say that the Buffy theme should have ranked higher simply because of the popularity of the show.

In a three way tie for first place with five votes each (20%) are the themes from Frasier, The X-Files and The Simpsons. The surprise here is of course Frasier. In all honesty I can't remember the Frasier opening theme music being much beyond the sort of collection of notes that I complained about when I started creating this series of polls. What always stood out for me was the closing theme for Frasier - Baby I hear the blues a calling/ tossed salad and scrambled eggs etc. The Simpsons theme and the X-Files themes are iconic and with the X-Files creates the sense of mystery that was the essence of the show before the show began. As for the Simpsons theme the music has a quality reminiscent of a piece like Raymond Scott's Powerhouse which was used extensively by Carl Stalling for the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoon series.

This blog had a huge influx of visitors last Sunday. I didn't discover this until last Monday, by which time the evidence disappeared from my stats counting service so I don't know the cause. Still I doubt that the turnout for my next poll, which will be coming out later today and will continue to explore the world of theme music, will have the same sort of popularity.

Oh and by the way, the team that my cousin Larry is an associate coach for, the Powell River Regals, won the Allan Cup beating the Whitby Dunlops 7-1 in the final.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Short Takes - April 22, 2006

Some interesting tidbits from the world of TV. On a personal note, the Powell River Regals will be playing the Whitby Dunlops tonight for the Allan Cup which is the Canadian Senior AAA hockey championship tonight. One of the associate coaches for the Regals is my cousin Larry Cole, so a big shout out to La (although I'm sure he'll never see this) and best of luck to the Powle River Regals.

Fox to put most of its content online and affiliates like it: While Fox might be the last of the major networks to make their content online, they are going to be putting a higher percentage of it up than the other networks. Fox will have 60% of its content available for downloads this year and expects to have it all up by 2008. Apparently the networks are restricted in what they can put online by agreements with their affiliates. This restricts the amount that ABC (for example) can make available to 25%. The Fox deal gives the affiliates 12.5% of the revenue from downloads as compensation and in the future will allow affiliates to have content available for download from their own websites

Possible surprise renewals: There's a rumour out there that Scrubs will be renewed and that 7th Heaven will be one of the shows that survives the impending WB-UPN merger. This is despite the fact that The WB is promoting the next four episodes as the "last four episodes of 7th Heaven. This comes from TV Guide's Michael Ausiello although other sources - like the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Richmond - are unwilling to confirm the Scrubs announcement. As far as Scrubs goes it could be a good fit back in it's old Thursday time slot where NBC is losing Will & Grace and (I hope to all that is holy) Joey. On the other hand Ausiello is the only one with anything to say about 7th Heaven. I realize that the hip young froodlets (an expression someone I used to know used) hate the show, but the fact is that the show draws the highest ratings of any show on either The WB or UPN and (I say this with considerable trepidation since I know the anger it will bring from a lot of people) it consistently drew better ratings than Arrested Development when that show was on Monday nights. Obviously if The CW can possibly retain the show in its line up they'd be fools not to.

NBC wants Mike Wallace - in other news end of world approaches: I wouldn't mention this since the original report came from the New York Post's infamous Page Six column, and even before the recent revelations about the columnist taking payola for favourable stories I wouldn't wrap fish in the New York Post for fear of contaminating the fish, but the man himself has confirmed that NBC would very much like to have 88 year-old Mike Wallace in their news department doing whatever he wants to do for them. According to TVNewser "Mike Wallace confirms that NBC News execs have "been talking with me off-and-on for some time about coming over there." But "at the moment, I want to stay where I am," the veteran CBS newsman tells the AP. Wallace tells David Bauder that NBC has "suggested to me if I might be interested that they would very much like me to come over. [But] I'm not having serious talks with them." Wallace has been a fixture at CBS most notable spending 37 years as a correspondent on 60 Minutes where he is credited with developing "ambush journalism." His son Chris Wallace started with NBC, where he spend 14 years before going over to ABC for another 14 years before joining Fox News in 2003.

Cartoons going out of Cartoon Network - what else is new: Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew has been making several comments about Cartoon Network's recent efforts to stop actually showing animation at all. The first announced the network's decision to start production on an original live action series and was followed by a post on the network's decision to pick up reruns of Saved By The Bell. Finally there was a post about the feelings of people working for Cartoon Network and possible reasons for the change. I can remember when Ted Turner started Cartoon Network as a place to run all of those Fleischer, MGM, and Warner Brothers cartoons he had in his inventory so that they weren't cluttering up the early mornings on TBS. Now it's just about impossible to see them on TV. They've been pulled out of syndication on local channels and Cartoon Network seems more interested in original productions. Boomerang was supposed to become the new home to classic animation but all I ever see there (on those rare occasions when I get a chance to see the channel) are Hanna-Barbera series from the '60s, '70s and '80s and reruns of stuff that Cartoon Network made for themselves like Dexter's Laboratory or 2 Stupid Dogs. Still I can't see why anyone would be surprised that an American network would change like that. Unless you find Dog The Bounty Hunter entertaining, the Arts & Entertainment Network has long since ceased to be either artistic or entertaining, and we all know how far TLC has come from being The Learning Channel; Tuckerville with the disgusting Tanya Tucker and her brood are objective proof of that (I can remember when she was a sweet teen sensation who was determined to earn a horse from some fan by not smoking or drinking until she turned 18 or 21 or something - what a change). In Canada the CRTC makes if very difficult for a cable network to change it's focus radically without jumping through a lot of licensing hoops - it's one reason why the new MTV Canada doesn't show music videos (still operating under the TalkTV license) and why G4TechTV in Canada actually shows programs about technology and computers instead of reruns of The Man Show and every Star Trek ever made (they're licensed as an informational channel). In the United States, such licensing restrictions - if they exist at all - are extremely lax. So while I doubt we'll ever see the Cartoon Network without cartoons it wouldn't be impossible either and there's very little that anyone can do about it.

NBC pulls Celebrity Cooking Showdown - no one notices: NBC's initially decided to pull the last two episodes of Celebrity Cooking Showdown or whatever it was called and first make it exclusive to the Internet. Then they decided to bury the final two shows on Saturday, thereby eliminating the audience participation portion of the thing entirely. Of course based on the ratings the network was probably worried that there wouldn't be any calls to decide a winner.

CNBC irritates a Canadian - ME!: You all know I'm a big Poker fan but for a variety of reasons I missed the first round of NBC's National Heads-Up Poker Tournament. No worries though, the episode would be repeated on CNBC on Friday night. In fact CNBC was where I first saw the first season last year. Come Friday and no Poker!!! Instead there was a CNBC World show about business in the Middle East. Trump's pal Donnie Deutsch we get, but something that people actually might want to watch can't be shown in Canada. Sigh!

Friday, April 21, 2006

TV On DVD - April 18, 2006

Apologies for not getting this out a little sooner. I mean it's not as if it's a huge list, or even a big list like next week's is going to be, but I've had some other draws on my time. Tuesday and part of Wednesday were spent trying to get everything put together for my bowling league's annual windup banquet, which was Wednesday night. This of course fell on the League Executives of which I am one and because of my personal schedule I was able to do a bit more of the work than the others. It did keep me away from other projects however. And I won $10 for having the High Single Game of 358 (this is Canadian Five Pin Bowling which has a perfect game of 450 rather than 300 in Ten Pin Bowling.

An interesting list this time around with a nice mix of shows, and a couple of oddities. As usual the list is courtesy of TVShowsOn

Best Moments of the Amazing Kreskin
- For some reason I've always been rather fond of The Amazing Kreskin. He always looked like the kid who did magic tricks in school and probably got beaten up for it because not only was he a magician he was also a boy scout. I mean sure, he's a "mentalist" which usually implies some sort of "supernatural" hoaxing, but the guy has always presented himself with a great sense of humour, as if he's saying to the audience "look you know I'm a fake and I know you know I'm a fake. Play along with the gag and we'll all have fun with it." James Randi, for whom I have tremendous respect, may not like Kreskin but he has exposed people who are a lot more dangerous and a lot more serious about committing frauds. Kreskin puts on a show and promotes himself with his "psychic" predictions.

Doogie Howser, M.D.: Season Four
- The fourth and final season of Doogie Howser saw the format finally losing its novelty value. It was bound to happen of course - a show about a teenaged doctor only works so long as he's a teen trying to deal with his "teen angst" while he's working in an adult world. Once you get rid of that what you have is just another medical show with a lead character who may be a few years younger than the people he's working with.

Remington Steele: Season 3
- The third season of Remington Steele was quite interesting. There are a number of episodes shot in various European locations including the French Riviera, Malta, and Ireland. There is also an episode featuring old time Hollywood stars Dorothy Lamour, Virginia Mayo and Lloyd Nolan. Finally there's the only episode of the series written by Stephanie Zimbalist ("Steele In The Chips"). I loved this series for a lot of reasons: Brosnan's suave playing of the character in the style of Cary Grant; the witty writing; the fact that it was one series where the "unresolved sexual tension" existed for a quantifiable reason. I confess however that the main reason why I loved this series as much as I did was because I have been in love with Stephanie Zimbalist since she did one episode of the miniseries Centennial seven years before Remington Steele debuted.

Michael Palin: Sahara
- Everyone knows Michael Palin the comedian and actor - Monty Python's Flying Circus, Ripping Yarns, The Missionary and A Fish Called Wanda - but he's also carved out a bit of a career for himself as an adventure traveller for TV. It sometimes seems as though every one of his trips gets easier, if you can believe that. I mean after trying to go around the world in eighty days without flying - a far more difficult journey in modern times than it was for Jules Verne's fictional Phileas Fogg or for real life journalist Nellie Bly (who did it in 72 days) - a trip from the North Pole to the South Pole through Europe and Africa as close to possible to 30 degrees of Longitude would seem to be a piece of cake. This was followed by a trip around the Pacific Rim, a journey in the footsteps of Hemmingway (thought by many to be the worst of his travel documentaries) and this 2002 series in which he travels around the Sahara Desert. This was followed by a trip the the Himalayas, and there are rumours that there will be another series (check Palin's website, which incidentally allows you to read all of the book versions of his trips free of charge although not in a particularly user friendly manner).

The Sentinel: The Complete First Season
- I'm not entirely sure, but it seems to me that The Sentinel was probably the first UPN drama - maybe the first UPN series - other than Star Trek Voyager to last more than one season It ran for three seasons, and after being cancelled with a huge cliffhanger the show's fans were able to get UPN to do an extra half season for the show to wind the show up properly. While I confess that I enjoyed the show, primarily for the relationship between Detective Jim Ellison (Richard Burgi now on Desperate Housewives as Susan's jerk of an ex-husband) a former Army Ranger, and long haired anthropologist Blair Ellison (Garrett Maggart), I have to say that it is on the whole pretty light stuff, and UPN had other early shows that I would much rather have seen have had a longer run - Legend, Live Shot and Nowhere Man come to mind. Still it is a fun series.

Thundercats: Season 2, Vol. 1
- Okay, so I guess we can't avoid "kidvid" for more than a couple of weeks. I don't know much about this series and to be honest I don't think I care that much.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Not really a TV post but just how freaky is it that Tom Cruise's daughter with Katie Holmes, and Brooke Shield's second child with husband Chris Henchy were born on the same day? You will of course recall that Cruise toed the Scientology party line against psychiatry when he critcise her use of the antidepressant Paxil in an interview with Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. Shields had bee prescribed Paxil for post-partum depression following the birth of her first daughter Rowan. He also implied that the drugs - which Shields weaned herself off of before becoming pregnant the second time - had put her career in the crapper. Shield's response to Cruise's "concern" for her was an op-ed piece in the New York Times that outlined exactly what she went through.

The new "Tomkitten" is named Suri (which means "princess in Hebrew and "Red Rose" in Farsi). Shield's second child is named Grier Hammond Henchy.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

New Polls - Which of these TV Shows from 1995-2005 has the best original theme music?

Carrying on with what I mentioned in the previous post, let's have a look at the most popular theme music from the period between 1995 and 2005. With the exception of The Simpsons these shows are no longer on (and The Simpsons is only here because I forgot to put it on the previous list - I had to bump the Walker Texas Ranger theme for it). Once again the music on this list is mostly based on my own favourite shows and features original theme music not adaptations of existing songs. There are gaps - I used Wikipedia's listings of US network TV seasons as a memory aid and there are gaps in their show listings. Feel free to comment and tell me what I foolishly missed. I have a couple of suspicions as to what might get the most votes.

Poll Results - Which of the following TV Shows has the best original opening theme music?

Another poll with a good voter turnout so much so that I think I'll continue an a similar theme for a while with theme songs from the past. Maybe by going in 10 year increments we'll construct a list of the "Best TV Show Themes Ever". But first, the results of this poll.

Logging in with no votes and in ninth place was the theme from NCIS, which is actually a personal favourite of mine (or it wouldn't have been on the list!). Apparently it is the first effort from the composers Matt Hawkins, Maurice Jackson and Neil Martin. There's a logjam in fourth place with one vote (6%) each for Gray's Anatomy, Smallville, ER, Crossing Jordan and Cold Case. I think you'll agree that this is a fairly diverse group in terms of styles. In third place with two votes (13%) is the theme from House.

This brings us to the two top vote getters. They're both older pieces of music (but not as old as the ER theme) and instantly recognisable. The theme from Law & Order finished in second place with three votes (20%). It is probably the theme that is heard most often on TV as it is the only theme with variations - there are differences between how the theme is presented from the original show to the two existing spin-offs, to the now defunct Trial By Jury and maybe even to Crime & Punishment the reality show that NBC ran for a couple of summers and which was under Dick Wolf's Law & Order umbrella. However Our winner, with five votes (33%) is the theme from The West Wing. It's a worthy choice. From the drum solo that constitutes what I suppose you could call the "pre-theme" to the actual theme itself the music has a sort of power and bearing that reflects the majesty of the office of president (if not necessarily many of the incumbents in that office).

I should have a new poll up later today.

How Badly Can You Mess Up A Cooking Show? This Bad

Normally I don't think that it's good practice to write a review of a movie or TV show when you fall asleep part way through it.There are exceptions to this rule of course and Celebrity Cooking Showdown is one of them. It is hard to find a word that is really suitable to describe just how bad this show is so I'll go with a word that I normally don't use: this show sucks, or as Ned Flanders might put it, it "suck-diddly-ucks".

Now strictly speaking I didn't fully fall asleep, I sort of dozed into that happy land of closing your eyes and opening them and realising that five minutes have passed and you have absolutely no memory of what happened in those few minutes except that your eyes have been closed and you liked it. As opposed to keeping your eyes open and actually seeing this steaming pile of crap.

The first sign that this show was going to be awful is when Howie Mandel handed off to the new show's host - Alan Thicke. Now I'm a Canadian and have fond memories of when Alan Thicke hosted an afternoon talk show up here but since then I've increasingly found him to be living up to his name - Thicke, as in "thick as a brick". Somehow he seems pompous and maybe a bit arrogant. Suffice it to say that I haven't been able to stand him since Growing Pains.

In this show Thicke's job is a sort of combination of game show host and colour commentator. In the game show host role his job is to introduce us to the contestants and their professional chef advisors, as well as to explain the rules of the game. The trouble with that is that there seemed to have been more rules than were needed and they kept adding rules. The celebrities had to make three dishes - a salad, a main course and a desert - in a period of 50 minutes. If they'd left it at that it might have been okay but the producers seemed to be adding rules. The celebrities have all the ingredients they need to make their dishes ... except for for two which are hidden in the pantry. The professional chefs have already taught their celebrity proteges how to make the dishes and can't help them ... except that the celebrities are allowed to help the celebrities twice, for two minutes each time when either the celebrity or they decide that they need help. In fact after the last "professional intervention" occurred Thicke stepped forward and threw some sort of red flag onto the ground, presumably to indicate that no further aid would be permitted. Then suddenly he tells us that the professional chefs would be allowed to help the celebrities in the last three competitive minutes of the show. It almost seems as if Alan Thicke had forgotten to tell us this little detail or the producers suddenly realised that these people needed help so they'd better give them a few minutes with there pro at the end of the show to make sure things are edible.

The truly ridiculous part of Thicke's participation isn't his role as "game show host," it's his job as colour commentator. I have to admit that his failings here aren't his fault. Thicke doesn't know much about food which would seem to be a handicap for someone hosting a show that is essentially a cooking competition but the fault lies more with the producers for forcing him into this sort of double duty. At times Thicke has to resort to asking the celebrities' professional teachers what they're doing and how they're doing, a practice that frequently leads to the pro cheerleading for his celebrity. The best solution would be to hire a second host to serve as a neutral expert - a Phil Gordon or Phil Hellmuth to Thicke's Dave Foley - who would explain what the celebrities are doing and more importantly whether they are doing it well.

The professional chefs are an interesting group, probably more so than the celebrities. The chefs are Wolfgang Puck (chef to the stars and "media whore" - who appears occassionally on the NBC series Las Vegas), Cat Cora (the first woman Iron Chef on Food Network's Iron Chef America), and hot young L.A. chef Govind Armstrong. As for the celebrities, On Monday the three celebrities were supermodel Cindy Margolis (who on Monday was showing a ton of cleavage), Kansas City Chief's All-Pro Tight End Tony Gonzalez, and Days of Our Lives star Allison Sweeney. To say the least none of them looked particularly comfortable in the kitchen, which as far as I'm concerned is a problem. Most of these people are as bad in the kitchen as I am, if not worse. I at least want to see people who know what they're doing in the kitchen. Since this is a competition there are judges. Here the show has shown some sense. The two judges are "lifestyle consultant" Colin Cowie and former New York Magazine restaurant critic Gael Greene (who is either nuts about hats or desperate to hide her identity by looking absurd). Their task, at least in the first three shows, is to judge the celebrity's food - usually based on one taste - based on flavour and presentation. On Thursday night viewers will judge the winner's dishes at least as far as presentation (obviously) with the judges votes only counting for taste.

I am not prepared to say that the producers of this show got it all wrong. There was one aspect that I thought was brilliant and that was running the show in real time. Rather than breaking for commercial and carrying on after the break without apparent interruption - and yes this would involve editing but it's what all the versions of Iron Chef have done - action occurs while the show is in commercial. I suppose this could get a bit confusing on those occasions when a pro chef has gone down to help his celebrity and returned, all while the TV was showing GE appliances and an assortment of other consumer goods. On the other hand the show falls down with the provision of a large and boisterous crowd which is extremely extracting for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Thicke seems to be forced to shout all the time. They do seem to insist on counting down time any opportunity they can get.

NBC seems to be pretty desperate to get onto the whole "celebrity/reality" concept which saw C listers dancing with professional dancers on Dancing With The Stars and figure skating Skating With Celebrities on Fox. There's even celebrities playing Poker on Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown. I suppose that some one at the network thought that combining "celebrities" with cooking would be a good match, drawing in people who watch celebrities and those who watch something like food network to see how to cook the sort of food they will in reality never even try to prepare. The result was bad: the UPN version of Iron Chef USA was bad but this was ten thousand times worse. In watching the celebrities trying to cook I always had the distinct feeling that the gimmicks of the competition's rules - like hiding two key ingredients - took away from any weight that the show might have had. In the end it came across as a poorly thought out mess. My one hope is that once this week of episodes of this ends someone will be wise enough to consign this show to the in sink garbage disposal of history.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Short Takes - April 15, 2006

- Coming this summer All Star Big Brother and you get to choose: Apparently nobody sent Mrs. Moonves the memo that said that Survivor All Stars stank because there will be an All Star Big Brother this summer. Fans will get to choose the contestants from a pool of 20 previous houseguests. I actually have a group of dysfunctional individuals who I would like to see in the Big Brother shack. They include Kaysar from last season (who was run out of the house not once but twice, the second time immediately after the great American Public voted him back in with the cry of "This is our game not America's game"); one legged Eddie McGee, winner of the first season, Tonya from season 3 (who organised the infamous "peanut butter bikini affair"), "Evil" Doctor Will, the winner of Season 2, Jack the FBI guy, his in-house bed buddy Erika, and Allison the slut from Season 4 (and Amazing Race 5), from and of course Chicken George from Season 1. I'm willing to bet that more than half of those people won't even be asked.

- NBC's new 900 pound canary; what will the other networks do?: There are already rumours that ABC is running scared about the prospect of Sunday Night Football on NBC. According to the rumour printed in The New York Post the "alphabet network" (as "scribes" are wont to call ABC perhaps because it increases their word count) is considering moving either Grey's Anatomy or Desperate Housewives - or both - to Monday nights. For the article the Post interviewed Marc Berman of Mediaweek who said, "I can't imagine ABC would move 'Housewives' because it's anchoring Sunday nights and is already working at 9 p.m., so why move it? "They could move 'Grey's Anatomy' to Mondays at 9 since they don't have football there anymore and they need to build that night ... and set up a long-term schedule." Berman also suggested that either show would not be moving to Thursdays because "Thursday would be dead-in-the-water for them." I mention this because John Doyle from Canada's national newspaper, the Globe & Mail, mentioned on Thursday (as part of a piece on the return of Commander-in-Chief to the lineup and the rough ride that show has had after its debut with huge ratings - not a mention of the fact that it isn't very good being as part of the problem of course) writes "And don't expect Commander-in-Chief to return to Thursday nights next season. The prevailing rumour is that ABC wants to move Grey's Anatomy into the time slot in order to compete with ER and crush it." (This article isn't available online unless you're willing to pay the Globe & Mail $14.95 a month - I'm not.) Of course the viewers might have a little something to say about this - while the ratings for Commander-in-Chief's Thursday debut were the lowest the show has had, it improved over its lead-in American Inventor and finished second beating a repeat of ER but not a new episode of Without a Trace.

I think that ABC would be dumb to move either or both shows from their Sunday night line up. These are shows that skew heavily to the young female demographic which will be going opposite the male skewing football. Monday might work but that's already a tough night with CBS's Monday comedies and CSI: Miami which people - for reasons not entirely known or understood by me - seem to like. Still this speculation has me thinking about what the other networks might do up against NBC's gorilla. I don't see CBS making any radical changes - their made for TV movies have been a staple there for decades. Nor do I expect Fox to do anything with their animation/comedy block at least until something goes wrong. The network I think has the most potential to try to shake things up - if they want to and are able to - might be The CW. What if they were to move WWE Smackdown from Friday to Sunday. They don't have anything in the Sunday time slot anyway with the imminent departure of Charmed so why not move a show that's popular with the younger end of the male 18-49 demographic in there and try to take a bite out of the football audience? I'm not offering this as rumour or speculation except as something I might do if I were an evil network weasel.

- Fight the good fight: The four major networks have announced that they will appeal the fines levied against ABC, CBS and Fox - NBC is filing as an intervener in the other cases since the FCC didn't fine them.The major thing in this battle isn't that the networks are appealing the decision it is that they are each joined in the case by their affiliate organizations and by the Hearst-Argyle Television group which owns affiliates of five of the six current broadcast networks. The appeal is aimed at overturning a 2004 decision which found that tightened up indecency regulations tot he point where the use of certain expletives - regardless of the situation - would be deemed profane and obscene. In a statement the appellants claimed "In filing these court appeals we are seeking to overturn the FCC decisions that the broadcast of fleeting, isolated - and in some cases unintentional - words rendered these programs indecent." This appeal does not touch on the recent FCC decision against the CBS show Without A Trace or the former WB show The Surreal Life 2. Naturally PTC head kahuna Brent Bozell has something to say about this: " "It's beyond preposterous that the networks would even propose that airing the 'f-word' and 's-word' on television is not indecent. The networks' principles have now been unmasked for everyone to see. Their actions today are indecent in and of themselves."

- I think I'm going to start calling Brent Bozell "Barney": It seems that the fearless leader of the Parents Television Council has opted to mobilize his legions against MTV for committing blasphemy. The object of his righteous wrath is a show called Popetown which depicts the Pope as, in the words of the PTC "an uncontrollable, infantile character who pogo-sticks around a Vatican populated by corrupt, money-grabbing cardinals," and in one scene has Jesus (a statue I assume) coming down off the cross to watch TV because, as he says, "It's better than hanging around." Bozell writes, “When foreigners see shows like this, they are getting the worst of the very worst of American culture. No wonder so many hold us in contempt." Of course this is totally different from the protests over the cartoons of Mohammed: "This is yet another example of how some in Hollywood are spitting on religious figures and showing their contempt for people of faith. The cartoons about Mohammed may have been in bad taste but they were political satire. This is worse. This is ridicule for the sake of ridicule. And not coincidentally they’re doing this during Easter week, the holiest week in the Christian year.” Setting aside the fact that ridiculing the leader of a great world religious sect is probably not as major a thing as depicting the founder of one of the great world religion as a suicide bomber, it's absurd to say that the latter is legitimate political satire while the former is - as the headline for Bozell's statement puts it - blasphemy. Besides which I don't see anything in the PTC's raison d'etre that has anything to do with protecting religion from blasphemy or ridicule, let alone one specific religion (Christianity - remember Bozell said that the Mohammed cartoons were just political satire not blasphemy; presumably anyone who disagreed was just overly sensitive).

But here's the kicker and the bit that gets Bozell the "Barney" monicker. You won't be seeing Popetown on MTV unless you live in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. It isn't airing in the United States. It isn't even an American show - it was created in Britain (where the BBC received so many protests that they refused to air it) by a company called "Channel X", and was first seen on New Zealand's C4 network which is owned by the Canadian company Canwest. Apparently either Bozell and the PTC think that they should be spreading their revolution for broadcast decency - as interpreted by the PTC of course - around the world, or in the grand tradition of Barney Fife Bozell wants to "nip it in the bud" before it gets a chance to infect America. "You gotta nip it!"

"What Was That Show?" - A TV Detective Tale

From time to time I get comments or emails asking for help in tracking down information on TV shows. It's not exactly my field but I love doing it. It reminds me of the years I spent sneezing in the library stacks while getting my history degree, trying to find the books with the right arguments for the paper I was writing. So this time around I got a comment from Mechie who wanted to know about a particular TV show. Well I'll let Mechie explain:

Help me, Mr Television! Think early 70's Canadian Saturday morning children's programing. Two girls (long blond and in pigtails named susan and one dark haired kinda snarky one) and two boys. They sang, danced, variety show kinda thing and each week they did a segment on viewer's fathers or mothers and what they did for a living. Sound familiar? I can't find any reference to it. Thanks

The whole thing sounds vaguely familiar but I'm not sure that the show I'm thinking about is the same show Mechie is thinking about. The show I have in mind is Drop-In but it was a weekday show which initially ran three and then four days a week on CBC between 1970 and 1974. That's just the first problem we have with this series being the one that Mechie was thinking of. The usual cast of the show was two guys and two girls - the guys were usually Rex Hagon and Pat Rose while the girls were Susan Conway and either Linda Griffin or Susan Anderson (although I swear I remember Trudy Young being on the show). Hagon and Conway had been part of the original cast of the 1960s series The Forest Rangers. Conway was a dark haired girl Griffin was a blonde, and I'm pretty sure Anderson was as well. The trouble is that a big part of the show description - the singing, dancing, variety part - doesn't fit the show as I remember it.

Now here's where things get tough. Assuming that Mechie is right about it being a Saturday morning show I Googled Canadian children's TV series and didn't get much. There does exist a very good site maintained by the film department at Queens University in Kingston. It is a pretty complete database of CBC shows made between 1952 and 1982. It is searchable but if you don't know what you're looking for it isn't easy. I finally entered "Saturday" as a keyword. This produced 66 results of which most were afternoon or evening shows. I did look at morning and afternoon shows and found Children's Cinema hosted by Bob Homme, "The Friendly Giant", broadcast between 1970 and 1974, which fit the time frame but not the description. There was also something called Peanuts and Popcorn, broadcast between 1975 and 1979. The description of that show doesn't sound promising either: "The CBC moved into children's programming on Saturday mornings with a ninety minute package of films. The program included a cartoon, a serial, and a one hour film. The Canadian component was an animated series called The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo. It told the story of Captain Mark Nemo and his young assistants, Christine and Robbie, in their nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus. The cartoon was produced by Rainbow Animation Ltd. of Toronto. The whole series was coordinated by Nada Harcourt (1975-77) and Suzanne Garland (1977-78)."

Now here is the really frustrating part. There is no similar database available for CTV or any of the private networks and the very little written material about Canadian TV shows is at best extremely spotty. And of course, if the show were produced by a local station, well the simple fact is that there's virtually no way to get an answer for that. I can remember local shows that aired on the local station here in Saskatoon on Saturdays. In fact I made my TV debut and swan song in an episode of one of them, the Children's Film Committee which was actually a partnership between the TV station and the Public Library's Children's Department to show films made from famous children's books, like Tom Sawyer - they had kids, like me, from the local elementary schools read book reports related to the movie being shown. But by the 1970s most private stations were just picking up packages of cartoons from the American networks or - more often - older material.

As a last resort I checked out one of my old TV Guides from the 1970s - 1972 to be exact. This, I admit was a long shot for several reasons. The only issues I still have are the Fall Preview issues, but stations tended to be on their summer schedules when the Fall Preview issues came out. Does it make a difference - yes. Just as an example CFQC in Saskatoon apparently didn't turn on the transmitter until 10:30 on a summer Saturday morning. Moreover the main part of the Guide - the part showing all the new shows and listing new Saturday kids' shows in the Fall Preview - was still being printed in the United States and would be until 1977. There was a "Canadian Preview" in the listings section but it has limited information. However the evidence from that 1972 TV Guide holds a great deal of information. All of the CTV stations in the "Manitoba-Saskatchewan Edition" were showing American cartoons on Saturday morning, but the "Canadian Preview" lists two Saturday kids shows to debut that year on CTV (but that didn't necessarily mean that every station showed them): The Waterville Gang, "animated underwater adventures for small fry", and Puppet People, "another kiddies show, this one with hand puppets and a couple of different youngsters appearing in each episode." Puppet People may be a possibility - it ran from 1973-1975 and featured ventriloquist Jerry Layne and two puppets created specially for the show. According to Wikipedia "Puppet People combined pre-taped comedy sketches featuring a cast of full size figures. These sketches were played into a game show featuring children answering questions based on the sketches." I don't think it's the show Mechie's looking for, but except for the weekday show Drop-In, which I suppose some stations might have shown on Saturdays, it's the only on that sounds even vaguely close.

If this were an American show I have no doubt that I could have found far more information than this far more easily. The history of Canadian made programming, particularly on the private networks is not consistently or effectively chronicled, either online or in print. As for local programming at any hour, well it exists mainly in anecdotal form. I hope this was of some help, but I don't think it was.

Feel free to keep asking about shows though, I enjoy the detective work!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

New Poll - Which of the following TV shows has the best original opening theme music?

Periodically there is an attempt by some of the networks to to get rid of the opening theme music for series. You may have noticed for example that ABC has cut the opening themes for a number of their hit shows including both Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. The usual explanation for this is to "fit in more show" which should be another way of saying that there are too many commercials but no network will admit that. ABC has cut the themes - and the opening title sequences that go with them - for a number of their shows to a few notes.

Personally I think it's wrong headed. A TV show's theme is almost instant recognition to the point where music from other sources used as themes instantly becomes identified with a show. Who won't admit that when they hear the last section of Rossini's William Tell Overture they don't at least think the words "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hiyo Silver!' The Lone Ranger rides again!" I know that I can't watch the movie Backdraft and hear the movie's soundtrack without expecting a flamboyantly dressed Japanese gentleman to suddenly appear and take a big bite out of a yellow bell pepper - that's how much the music is tied to Iron Chef in my conscious mind. And what about The Who's music and it's links with the various CSI series?

The idea behind theme music is simple enough - that you can hear a particular piece of music and instantly identify it with the show, whether you're seeing the show or just hearing the music incidentally. I once had the experience of sitting in a half full theater waiting for Three Men And A Baby (with Tom Selleck) to start when the theatre's incidental music started to play the theme from Magnum P.I. You could literally feel the collective sense of recognition in the crowd and the expectation that the start of the movie was close at hand...but preferably not before the Magnum theme ended.

What I really want to do is to come up with a definitive poll to find the best TV themes in TV history but I'm sort of struggling with how to work that out. It will probably mutate into a series of polls. In the meantime I'm offering this poll which I confess is more than a little skewed towards shows that I watch. This means no sitcoms because I rarely watch them. I was tempted to add the Survivor and Amazing Race themes but reluctantly decided against it, so basically what we're left with are dramas that I watch, and because few people outside of Canada know it, I haven't included Canada's second national anthem, the Hockey Night In Canada theme. I was also tempted to exclude ABC themes because they started this whole thing but in the end I couldn't ignore the Grey's Anatomy theme.

Any suggestions on current original themes that you prefer, or general comments would be appreciated.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How Do You Say Farewell To A Friend? - The West Wing's Election Night, Part 2

One of the TV critics - the ones who actually get paid for this - that I respect a lot is Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Ledger. I remember Alan from the time when he was a regular on the newsgroup back when you didn't have to step over the racists and raging Right posters to find something interesting. Now Alan not only has his Star-Ledger columns, but also his personal blog, and he's still worth reading, and sometimes worth disagreeing with. His assessment of Sunday's West Wing episode in his personal blog and for the Star-Ledger is one of those times.

If I can briefly sum up the gist of both the articles, he takes the position that having Leo's death (necessitated by the death of John Spencer) occur at the start of the second part of "Election Night" was disrespectful to the character. In the Star-Ledger article he writes "But by having Leo's death take place on Election Day, then using it as a plot device to create tension about how it might affect voter turnout on the West Coast, Wells has done a disservice to the fans and himself." He wants us to see the initial reactions of the various characters to the news to the exclusion of other aspects of the story. Again in the Star-Ledger he writes "Aside from Josh (Bradley Whitford) and, to a lesser extent Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and C.J. (Allison Janney), none of the characters who were so close to Leo in the first six seasons get time to show much, if any, reaction to his passing. Toby and Charlie don't even appear, and several of the characters who do, learn the bad news off-screen. How do you fail to show the initial conversation between C.J. and the president? Or the reaction of Leo's long-suffering assistant, Margaret? How do you screw up something that obvious?" Worst of all, by the mid-point in the episode, Leo's death seems to have been forgotten and people are dancing and singing (I think here he's referring to the scene where the Santos election team sing "The Eyes Of Texas Are Upon You" when they learn that the candidate has won Texas). In his personal blog he adds "Would it have been so hard to wait a week, keep Leo off-screen during the election stuff (I think the audience would have accepted whatever excuse they gave for Leo not being on stage for the acceptance speech) and deal with his death more fully at a time when we could devote an entire episode to the reactions of the original characters?"

Well in truth I think maybe it would have. I have high admiration for John Spencer as an actor (I've always thought that he as much as Martin Sheen should have been nominated for Outstanding Actor In A Drama at the Emmys) and Leo McGarry as a character but I can't help but think that focussing an episode on the character's death would have been anticlimactic in that hit wouldn't provide any dramatic depth. It may well be that having Leo die while the polls are still open on the west coast is cynical ploy, but as a dramatic device it works. It does add to the tension that we feel as the election results come in. But it's more than that because it makes this episode about two people, Josh Lyman and Arnie Vinnick.

Let's look at Josh first. This election is his moment of personal triumph - he has found and groomed the man who can be the next president of the United States. If Leo's death weren't included then it would simply be one in a series of triumphs for him. By having Leo die during election night makes it a bittersweet triumph which only his constant companion, colleague and most recently lover Donna is able to fully understand. Even Annabeth Schott (Kristin Chenoweth - and will someone make sure this woman gets a job in a really high quality drama as soon as possible; forget the voice, this lady can act!) who we are led to believe has fallen in love with Leo (although I didn't see the part of the episode where it is suggested that they have something other than a work relationship) doesn't feel his death in the way that Josh does. Her scene at the hospital, where she tells Josh that Leo has died and then collapses into his arms in tears is utterly devastating but it's Josh's reaction that is more telling and apparently longer lasting. Leo is a father figure for Josh - more since his own father died eight years before on the night that President Bartlet won the Illinois primary - and he's forced to hold onto his grief while trying to manage the final stages of his victory. There's work to be done but he can't fully delay the grief to complete the job. There's that moment in Leo's hotel room where he tries to take the blame for Leo's death. He says "I talked him into this", by which he really means "If it weren't for me Leo would still be alive." It takes Donna to remind him that Leo couldn't be talked into doing anything he didn't want to do, and because it's coming from Donna he knows that it is true. Only Donna who can say this; coming from any other character present in the election war room - Lou, or Santos, or even Annabeth - it would be hollow simply because they didn't know Leo in the same way that Josh and Donna did. That's the reason why the others can sing "The Eyes Of Texas Are Upon You" - they don't have the intimate connection with Leo.

The effect of Leo's death on Arnie Vinnick is different. Leo is someone that Vinnick has had numerous dealings with over the years. They've known each other a long time, possibly even been "friendly enemies". More to the point they're contemporaries, so Leo's death could just as easily have happened to him. He can't regard it as a subject for mere strategy in the way that all of his advisors except Bruno Gianelli do. Particularly angering for him must have been the incredibly insensitive comments from Jane Braun (Melinda McGraw) about the Democrats practically wheeling Leo from his previous heart attack to the nominating convention in the hopes that he might have a couple of thousand more hours in him. By ridiculing Leo, Braun - the Conservative Bitch who was forced on Vinnick following the nuclear accident in California - points out all that is wrong about politics. Her insensitivity insults Vinnick to his core because he is in the end an honourable and compassionate man. This is his ally? The inevitable result is that he decides that he will behave in an honourable manner - he won't contest the close votes in Nevada and Oregon but will trust the decision of the voters even if it means that he loses the election.

The fact is that I'm not sure what would have been gained by making Leo's death the centre piece of an entire episode. Would the viewer have been better served by watching Leo's loyal if somewhat strange former secretary Margaret break down in tears; by seeing the shock register on C.J.'s face as she answers the actual phone call from Donna or Annabeth; by watching Toby and Will talking about their old friend; by seeing Jed and Abbey flying on Air Force One to comfort Josh and Donna? I don't think so. We need the shock of discovery but it needs to have meaning within the dramatic scheme of things and while staging the discovery of Leo's death at the end of the episode, just before Santos's acceptance speech it wouldn't have given us this intimate view of Josh or shown us once and for all the compassionate and honourable side of Vinnick. In truth I can't see this situation being dealt with in a manner that would work as drama any better than the way it has. At least not by John Wells and probably not by Aaron Sorkin (or do we choose to forget the death of Mrs. Landingham). I can't say that this is the best episode of the season, but I won't say that it is as bad a handling of the situation as Alan Sepinwall thinks it was.

TV On DVD - April 11, 2006

My bowling league ended on Monday night, so I should be able to get a few more things done - including reviewing some shows that debuted last fall. Or maybe not. All I know at this moment is that I'm bone tired, frustrated at my online Poker playing and very grateful to be able to get this out of the way. Not that I mind doing it, just that there are times when I'm grateful for a list like this one.

It is a tremendously abbreviated list this week, a mere four items, and not a sign of "kidvid" among it. Oh well the end of the month is going to be much longer. While the comments are mine alone, the source of the list itself is, and needless to say, I couldn't do this without them

The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Third Season
- This is the one where he's the pshrink and not the one where he's an innkeeper (or perhaps a pshrink dreaming that he's an innkeeper - what would Freud say about that). The series was one of the most highly regarded of its time and I think it holds up well today. For one thing, in comparison with a lot of modern sitcoms, it is entirely believable for Bob to be married Suzanne Pleshette. Then too the supporting cast is both deep and strong. Finally the writing staff, which included Lorenzo Music, Earl Pomerantz, and Jay Tarses, really understood what made Bob Newhart the stand-up comedian funny and used it to create the character for Bob Newhart the comic actor. Definitely recommended.

Farscape: Starburst Edition - Season 3, Collection 3
- Every time they release one of these Starburst Editions I ask why. It's getting a little monotonous don't you think.

In Living Color: Season 5
- By its final season (which I didn't see because we didn't have Fox on cable her when this show was on) In Living Color had become not even a shadow of itself but rather a wraith. All of the Wayans family, including series creator Keenan Ivory Wayans, had gone by the fifth season, and with them had gone the writing spark that had made the show special. On the other hand there is Jamie Fox, David Allan Grier Jim Carrie and frequent appearances by Chris Rock, which salvages it at least somewhat on the cast side, Still, I think it could be argued that the disk is for completists only.

The Merv Griffin Show: 40 of the Most Interesting People of Our Time
- Recently we've seen Episodes of Dick Cavett's old talk show released, and now it's time for Merv Griffin's show - whether we like it or not. Amazingly this syndicated afternoon show ran for 24 years and presented first rate entertainment for virtually all of that time. Along with Mike Douglas, Griffin was an afternoon version of Johnny Carson and was able to get guests the likes of which afternoon hosts today would dream about. Among those to appear on this DVD set are Martin Luther King, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Jerry Seinfeld, Ingrid Bergman and Tom Cruise. Unlike the DVD sets of Cavett's program, this one only features excerpts rather than complete episodes . Still, probably worth having if you're a fan of talk shows or celebrities.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Poll Results - Which of these shows was the best "prematurely cancelled" show?

This poll had one of the best turnouts that I've seen of late. I'm not exactly sure why but it is gratifying. Maybe it's because deep down all of us can remember series that we loved and which were cancelled far too soon. Not that any of you gave me any ideas of what they would be - well except for Ivan who let me know that I was wrong for not including the Dennis Leary series The Job. This time Ivan may have a point when he says that Dennis Leary is an acquired taste. That's true and I will confess that I liked his performance in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair - he was the second best thing in the movie...and if you have to ask what the best thing was you need to either see the film again ore get your eyes examined. Oh yeah, and Hal Horn backed him up on The Job and also mentioned Sledge Hammer. If I do a follow-up poll - and I might - that'll be on it.

Ah, but we're getting slightly off topic. Here are the results. There were 18 votes. In a tie for sixth place, with no votes were Action and Crime Story. In a tie for fourth place with one vote each (5% of the total) were Wonderfalls and Arrested Development. In third place with two votes (11%) was Sports Night. In second place with six votes (33%) was Firefly. And the winner, with eight votes (44% of the total votes cast) was The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.

As for myself, I'm glad I didn't vote - I would have been wracked with indecision since there were three shows on that list that I really really liked - Firefly, Sports Night, and Crime Story. I'd probably have eliminated Firefly because I know that the "Browncoats" would be out in force, so then it comes down to Crime Story and Sports Night. I absolutely loved the ensemble acting in Sports Night, including Joshua Malina, Sabrina Llloyd, Robert Guillaume and Felicity Huffman. On the other hand the cast of Crime Story was incredible as well - Dennis Farina, John Santucci, Stephen Lang, Anthony Dennison, Bill Smitrovich, Bill Campbell, Ted Levine and Andrew Dice Clay - and to top it off it had as its theme a new version of "Runaway" performed by Del Shannon himself. How do you decide between two shows like that?

A new poll will be up as soon as I come up with something.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Katie Couric And the Force Of Gravitas

I've been doing a lot of thinking about Katie Couric and I'm afraid. Not of her, for her. I get the distinct impression that she's being perceived as the "saviour" of The CBS Evening News, and if - or probably more accurately when - things don't improve for the program people are going to look for someone or something to blame and it's going to be her. It's starting already - most of the comments on the CBS News blog The Public Eye seem very negative and it all comes down to one thing, "gravitas" and her lack thereof.

In ancient Rome gravitas was one of the virtues that a public man was expected to have; it "communicated a sense of dignity, seriousness, and duty." In modern times it has come to mean "a sense of substance or depth of personality." Of course it most cases what it really means is to be perceived as having a substance or depth of personality. Certainly that would seem to be the case of TV news anchors - they need to be seen to have a depth of personality and substance, and even the Roman virtues of dignity and seriousness, regardless of whether they actually possess those qualities in any real sense. Consider if you will the great anchors of the past - Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and of course Walter Cronkite. They practically oozed gravitas. There was a reason why Cronkite was known as "the most trusted man in America" - and would probably still be anchoring the CBS Evening News if he wanted it - and it was because he was perceived by the viewing public as having the sort of substance and depth of personality that demanded to be trusted. Even his personal prop (if you want to call it that) - his pipe, which he occasionally smoked during shows although not during the evening news - signified depth, dignity and seriousness. Cronkite probably understood it. Certainly Lyndon Johnson got it; Johnson's response to Cronkite's 1968 report during the Tet Offensive that the Vietnam War was unwinnable "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Johnson decided not to run for reelection soon after, influenced I suspect by polls which showed that his evaluation of the situation was correct.

You may have noticed that my listing of anchors with gravitas did not include Peter Jennings. Jennings is a special case, maybe the case that proves the theory. By the time of his death last year Jennings was one of the most trusted figures active in American broadcasting, certainly better respected than Dan Rather was following the "Memogate" scandal, but it was not always so. When he started as anchor of the ABC News the first time, back in 1965 he was inexperienced as a journalist and in American topics. Even at his own network in this period he was known as "Stanley Stunning" and "Peter Pretty". It took years of working in the field as a reporter, primarily covering the Middle East, to earn respect both from his colleagues and the public, so that when he was named as sole anchor of ABC's World News Tonight in 1983 following the death of Frank Reynolds he had a stature greater than that of "Peter Pretty" almost 20 years before, and the trust in him grew as his depth of personality, dignity and seriousness were revealed to the public.

So what does this have to do with Katie Couric? Through no fault of her own she lacks gravitas and has been thrust into a situation where gravitas is demanded. For the past fifteen years she has been the co-host of NBC's Today Show starting in 1991 and for two years before that, while she worked as an NBC correspondent she was also filling in for absent cast members on the Today Show. The perception is that her actual journalistic abilities is next to nil even though she has in the past served as a replacement anchor on the weekend NBC Nightly News, was a "contributing anchor" at Dateline NBC and had filled in for Tom Brokaw as anchor of the NBC Nightly News on occasion. The problem is that the Today Show isn't seen as a news program or journalism so much as it's seen as an entertainment program that occasionally dips its toes into news stories. It doesn't help her credibility that when she guest hosted on The Tonight Show on May 12, 2003 the desk was cut away to show off her legs (in fact there's a website devoted to Couric's legs). Such things don't exactly help to build a sense of "dignity, seriousness, depth of personality or substance".

Certainly this feeling is reflected in the comments to The Public Eye that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. One person called her "a mere lollipop", while another called her "giggle-box". Yet another commenter wrote "I don't think I thought at all about her gender, hairstyle, age, etc. I thought about her credibility. She has been a morning host doing hard hitting interviews with Gwyneth and cooking with Emeril in the kitchen. Are we to assume she can put the moves on Chirac or Putin and be taken seriously?" It's that matter of gravitas again, the notion that Katie Couric hasn't paid her dues and isn't fit to fill the shoes of Cronkite, Rather or interim anchor Bob Schieffer. The initial impression of people - who of course haven't seen her in the new job - is that she's all perky style and no real substance. Instead of being perceived as a serious appointment, it is - fairly or unfairly - seen as a cynical move on the part of CBS President Les Moonves and the new President of CBS News and Sports Sean McManus to undermine the importance of journalistic experience and to emphasize the importance of personality by hiring an underqualified "star".

I'm not sure that Katie Couric will be successful in her new role. It's not a matter of her gender but whether people will take her seriously. There are other women who would probably be able to muster the gravitas that the job requires - Dianne Sawyer and Christianne Amanpour come to mind immediately. I'm afraid that I have to come down on the side of those need to have it proven to them that she can be effective at doing more than raising the ratings temporarily. I know she'll be successful in that; the question is whether she'll be able to earn the trust and respect of the viewers that is needed to keep the ratings up after the initial curiousity has worn off. I just don't know if perky and gravitas can co-exist in the same person.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Short Takes - April 8, 2006

I confess that I didn't think I had much for this piece. In fact I was thinking about not writing it and instead trying to figure out my feelings (and how to present them) about Katie Couric going to CBS to anchor the CBS Evening News. I'll probably get that out eventually but the short answer is that I'm not sure she can fully pull it off. Hey, personal opinion okay. I do have a couple of things though.

- Liberalism on morning TV is poison?: When Couric announced her move to CBS, her former employers at NBC's Today show were forced to find a replacement for her. In all honesty I don't think they were scrambling because they announced that Meredith Vieira will be the new host of Today the day after Couric announced her departure. Vieira is one of the five women on ABC's "after Good Morning America morning show The View as well as the quiz master (I desperately wanted to say the "hostess with the mostest") on the American syndicated version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Now I don't have much of an opinion on this - I'm never up early enough to watch Today, and my exposures to The View have been few and mercifully brief even if I have seen it more than Live With Regis & Kelly. So beyond a vague feeling that CBS owes ABC a coupe of draft choices and a journalist to be named later I don't have any opinions on Vieira or her fitness to work on Today. There are those who do. Apparently during her time on The View Vieira expressed her opposition to the War In Iraq literally from the beginning, and at one point said "Everything's been built on lies. Everything! I mean the entire pretext for war." She's also expressed her opposition to the death penalty on the air and when Ann Coulter, a guest on The View, repeated her claim that "liberals hate America” Vieira called her view "stupid". All of this has led to conservative websites such as to condemn her appointment, as has Brent Bozell. When he's not trying to save America from what he and his acolytes regard as violent, obscene and otherwise objectionable television - all in the name of protecting the children of course - as head of the Parents Television Council, Bozell is also the founder of the conservative media watchdog Media Research Center. In response to Meredith Vieira being hired to host Today Bozell issued a statement on behalf of his groups that said in part that "NBC promises to poison Americans' mornings with liberal bias."

My take: Setting aside my personal biases (except to say that anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to call something that Ann Coulter says "stupid" to her face is all right by me) but if we're going to talk about bias, what about Bozell's own. I have to wonder just how much of Bozell's own pro-conservative bias filters into his work with the PTC? Isn't that as legitimate a question as wondering about Vieira's opinions, probably even more given Bozell's efforts to set his group up as the protector of American morals (in defense of the children of course)? When are we going to see Bozell come out with a statement that "NBC promises to poison America's children with liberal bias" since Today does air when America's children are getting up and getting ready for school?

As for Vieira and her views - the show she was working on when her opinions came out was called The View. The hosts are expected to express their opinions, as she did and as did Elizabeth Hasselback who happens to be a Republican. If you were to only watch Meredith Vieira on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, would you know her political stance? No. During her period working as a journalist on West 57th and 60 Minutes were her political opinions readily known? I don't seem to recall them being featured. I fully expect that Vieira will be able to be as successful in reining in her political views as Couric has been.

- Who "owns" Smallville?: This is a rather complicated legal story. As virtually everyone knows, Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938 but through a variety of legal methods the rights to the character were owned by Detective Comics, the company which eventually became DC Comics. What's not so well known is that the character of Superboy was created separately by Siegel alone. He submitted the idea of Superboy to Detective Comics several times starting in 1938 and in 1940 he wrote a complete story which laid out the basis of the character. According to the reports of the case at comics news site Newsarama this included "his family life, his small town upbringing, and concealing his powers and true self while using his powers to help others." Sounds of sort familiar doesn't it. Siegel's pitch was rejected three times between February 1941 and August 1942. Subsequently Siegel went into the army and was stationed in the Pacific. In November 1944 More Fun Comics #101 hit the news stands with the first Superboy story, based on Siegel's materials but not credited to him. He sued, and in a 1947 decision the courts determined that Siegel owned the rights to Superboy while DC owned the rights to Superman. Siegel then sold the rights to DC - at a price that was favourable to DC. This would seem to be the end of it, but in the tortuous realm of copyright law a new element has appeared. There have been various copyright renewal laws - starting with the Copyright Act of 1976, and most recently the Bono Amendment (the Copyright Extension Term of 1998) - that have extended the duration of existing copyrights. A key beneficiary of these laws has been Disney, but other organizations have benefitted as well including DC Comics and its parent company Time-Warner. These extension laws also included provisions for creators or their spouses (if the creator is deceased) and direct descendants - and under the Bono amendment their executors - to terminate the transfer of copyright for material transferred under the old laws. Jerry Siegel's widow Joanne and his daughter Laura Siegel Larson filed Notification of Termination in November 2002 to take effect in November 2004. DC has subsequently argued that Siegel's work on Superboy was a work for hire situation. In a March 23 decision reported by Mark Evanier Judge Ronald Lew tossed out Time-Warner's arguments against the Termination Notice stating that the 1947 court case which awarded the copyright for Superboy to Jerry Siegel clearly proved that it wasn't work for hire, confirmed by DC Comics' purchase of the copyright. In other words the Siegel family has owned Superboy since November 2004. What hasn't been ruled on yet is what effect this will have on the TV series Smallville. In his decision, Judge Lew stated that "Smallville may be infringing upon the copyright to Superboy" In their argument Time-Warner states that Smallville "does not feature Superboy, but rather a young Clark Kent, which appeared in Superman comics prior to the first publication of Superboy in comics (1944). In making this claim, Warner Bros. said that the use of Clark Kent in Smallville are not subject to the termination of the transfer of copyright filed by the Siegels – even if the court does find the termination to be valid." However comic book scholars and the Siegel family attorney Marc Toberoff have noted "that images of a young Clark Kent that pre-date 1944 were limited to showing Superman as a baby, or as a toddler, not as a teenager or adolescent." Profits from Smallville are undoubtedly the most valuable aspect of this case particularly since, in the current comics Superboy (two versions of him actually, neither Superman as a boy in the current continuity) has been killed off during the current Infinite Crisis series. There's undoubtedly more to come in this case.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

TV On DVD - April 4, 2006

I missed last week's TV On DVD feature for which I'm sorry. It was a truly huge list, all of which leads me to question why DVD producers insist on releasing things on schedules that bunch stuff in specific weeks and occasionally months. I mean take a look at this week's list - it's not exactly huge. And it's pretty close to being the longest list for the entire month. I guess it just doesn't make sense to me. (P.S.: I was going to have this out last night, but Blogger vomited it back at me - in other words while everything else was working like a Swiss watch or at the very least an old fashioned Timex, I was unable to even get a Blogger screen that told me I couldn't reach Blogger.)

Speaking of stuff that doesn't make much sense to me, this week's list - provided by and embellished by myself - is a veritable flood of stuff from the 1980s. I think the only shows on the list that didn't start, end or exist entirely in the 1980s are Dawson's Creek, 3rd Rock From The Sun and Tripping The Rift. Not that there's anything wrong with the 1980s, but it was an era when a lot of TV lept headlong into gimmickry - and those were the dramas.

3rd Rock from the Sun: The Best Episodes in the Universe, Really
- This DVD release purports to answer the question of what the best episodes of 3rd Rock From The Sun are. Well actually no it doesn't. What in fact you have is a package of four episodes, three of which are already out on DVD in the season sets, or will be in about a month. Are they the best episodes in the Universe, really? Well since I never watched the show you aren't going to be able to prove it by me, but I suspect studio hype.

The Adventures of the Little Prince: The Perfect Planet
The Adventures of the Little Prince: The Star Gazer

- I'm really not sure how you turn Antoine de Saint-Exupery's charming tale of life and love and human foibles into a cartoon series, but apparently the Japanese were able to and were able to sell it internationally including to Nickelodeon in the US. Something else I don't understand is why, having released the complete series last year, Koch Entertainment has chosen to episodes in single disc packages with three episodes each. Maybe that's the bigger puzzle. If you're really interested by the complete series set.

The A-Team: Season Four
- More excitement and non-fatal machine gun fire from the world's favourite band of troubleshooters on the run. I mean in the first four seasons every episode seems to blend together with the only differences being whether there's a fifth - female - team member. Someone needs help and somehow finds out about the Colonel Smith and his friends. The Team confronts the bad guy minions and defeats them, the bad guys themselves come back and forces Hannibal to come up with a plan which involves BA building stuff, all while Face romances pretty girls, and Murdoch behaves in a manner that would be classified as insane except that he probably isn't really. Scenes of BA being tricked into flying are optional. It's fun, but it's also cookie cutter stuff. About the only thing of note here is the presence of Tia Carrere in the final episode of the season. The plan was that she would be a series regular in Season 5 but various contract difficulties meant that she wasn't able to be on the show and her character was never mentioned again. At least her credentials as an action star were earned early on.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Sixth Season
- I never saw this show (on the other hand I have been to the real Dawson's Creek - or at least the town in British Columbia by that name; just thought I'd share). I didn't have The WB until the end of 2001 and by that time it was too late for me to inject myself into the habit of watching this show. I probably wasn't in the right demographic anyway. For what it's worth, I can tell you that this is the final season.

Full House: The Complete Third Season
- What to say about this show? I'm tempted to use the standard advice given to kids "If you can't say something nice about something say nothing at all" and end this review right now with a hearty "Nothing at all." The trouble is that for all of its sugary sweetness and tendency to deal with complex problems in thirty minutes minus commercials, a cast that included Bob Saget John Stamos and four of the most annoying kids you can think of including the Olsen Twins, it still had redeeming qualities. Dave Coulier could be funny in his goofy way, and there was always Lori Loughlin. I've lusted after her since she was on my longtime favourite soap opera The Edge Of Night. But that's about all I can think of now and for the foreseeable future.

Garbage Pail Kids: The Complete Series
- This show is an obscure bit of TV history. CBS ordered the series in 1989 but the mere mention of the concept set waves of soccer mom protests into action spearheaded by the group "Action for Children's Television". This despite the fact that the only thing they ever saw was an early teaser ad. It did air in Europe and I've even heard of an Icelandic DVD set (and I'm sure there are others of course - Iceland isn't the world's biggest market) but has only been seen in America in bootleg tapes and R2 DVDs - until now.

Knight Rider: Season Four
- Glenn Larson has said that with Knight Rider he wanted "to do The Lone Ranger with a car. Kind of a sci-fi thing, with the soul of a western." On the other hand I've read that the real origins of the show came from an NBC executive who was so exasperated with the pretty boy actors with no talent that kept being given shows that he came up with a concept called "The Man With Six Lines." The actor would have six lines per week - the same six lines - and the car would do the real acting. Either way it's an interesting concept and whether you see "Michael Knight" as sci-fi Lone Ranger, a modern day knight errant or as a man with six lines, I think you 'll have to admit that the show may have been a lot of fun but it was scarcely great art.

Magnum P.I.: The Complete Fourth Season
- Of the series from the 1980s that came out this week, my obvious favourite was Magnum P.I.? I mean what's not to love. The characters are well rounded, there's a sense of humour that doesn't get in the way of either the action or the drama. It's a neat balancing act, one which makes this show one of the classics of the genre. There are some real gems in this season including Home From The Sea an episode which focuses almost exclusively on Magnum's memories of his father and his life while treading water for almost 24 hours. This season also features Carol Burnett's first of two episodes on the show and the first two shows featuring broken down private eye Luther Gillis. What more could you hope for?

Star Trek: Fan Collective - Time Travel
- A few weeks ago Paramount released a themed Star Trek collection dealing with the Borg. This time around the new theme is Time Travel. Most of the Star Trek series have done it and most are covered in this set. There are two Original Series stories including "The City on the Edge of Forever", four Next Generation episodes with "Time's Arrow" being a two parter, two DS9 episodes including both "Trials and Tribble-ations" and the hilarious "Little Green Men", and three Voyager shows including the series finale. The only series missing (besides the animated series of course) is Enterprise and their time travel story "Carpenter Street".

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 4
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles confuses me, or more accurately the packaging of the series confuses me. These episodes are from the "original" series which was in production from 1987 to 1996. There's also a series that began production in 2003 and is also being released on DVD. This set is Volume 4 but is actually made up of a dozen episodes from Season 3. I guess you could describe this series as the more "kid friendly" version than either the original comic books, although after the series debuted the original comics would become less prominent as the "kid friendly" Archie Comics version - based on the TV series - began circulating widely. For many kids, the only version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles they knew was the sanitized version created for the first TV series.

Tripping the Rift: Season Two
- I've heard of this show but never seen it for more than a couple of seconds. As a result I can't really say much about it except that if the concept of a perpetually horny three-eyed multi-armed space ship captain and his crew of misfits in a universe that parodies just about everything sounds intriguing, this is the show for you.