Monday, July 31, 2006

New Poll - What SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries?

Nice small category this time around since we are in the waning days of the miniseries as a mainstream television form and even when it was more popular with the over the air networks it usually wasn't particularly well done. Only four nominees in this category. I wasn't entirely sure whether to run this one or the Made for TV Movies category but I basically liked the nominees in this one just a bit more. And hopefully we can at least beat the number of votes the Outstanding actor category got. As usual feel free to include comments here.

Poll Results - Who SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama?

A far better turnout for the poll this time than we had for the lead actors; I wonder why? We also had a clear winner.

Ten votes were cast. In a tie for third place we had Geena Davis from Commander in Chief, Mariska Hargitay from Law & Order: SVU, and Allison Janney of The West Wing with one vote (10%) each. In second place with two votes (20%) was Frances Conroy from Six Feet Under but the clear winner was The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick with five votes (50%).

I can't honestly evaluate Kyra Sedgwick's performance on The Closer since I don't think I've ever seen an episode of the show. The fact is that I think that she was in a rather lackluster field. Geena Davis is an excellent actress but I think she was ill-served by the writing and the upheaval surrounding Commander in Chief. Still I don't think what we saw of her performance was Emmy-worthy. I don't think I can say much about Mariska Hargitay since I also don't watch L&O:SVU. It just seems like her nomination is a matter of course for playing a strong role in a crime drama. Finally, based on the relatively few episodes I've seen of Six feet Under, I'm never sure exactly why Frances Conroy gets nominated in the Outstanding Actress rather than the Outstanding Supporting Actress category. That's probably just the way I see things though.

Now let me indulge myself for a bit to say why I think that Allison Janney should have received more support in this poll than she did - maybe not as much as Sedgwick but at least as much as Conroy. I'm probably a bit prejudiced since I've loved "Flamingo" (C.J. Cregg's Secret Service code name) since she fell off the treadmill in the pilot episode of The West Wing and some of my best fantasies involve Allison Janney, Kristin Chenoweth and creative ways of removing clothing. Those things being noted, I still say that Janney's work in the last season of The West Wing was some of her best on the show. The focus of the "administration" episodes of the season was focused far more on C.J. as the Chief of Staff of the lame duck Bartlett administration than it was on Martin Sheen's President Bartlett. We are made privy to her personal life and as the season drew to its end we became increasingly focussed on what she's going to do after leaving the best job she could imagine. I think she delivered a great overall season, although of course Emmy nominations are based on a single submitted episode rather than cumulative work over a season.

New poll (on miniseries so I don't expect a lot of votes - surprise me) up shortly.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Classic Comedy Lookback - The Phil Silvers Show

The second show I picked from the 1950s is probably a bit of a surprise. The 1950s had its share of great situation comedies of which several stand out. Amos & Andy may have been the first TV show to feature an all black cast although the style of humour made it extremely unpopular with groups such as the NAACP which were successful in forcing it off the air despite the fact that many comedians such as Redd Foxx were outspoken in their support of the show. Sam mentioned Mr. Peepers as a prospect for this sort of treatment and I would have loved to have done it except that I've never seen an episode (there's a DVD set out there which I intend to get if I can ever find a copy). The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show took the format in a different direction by having George continually shattering the "fourth wall" and not only speaking directly to the audience and commenting on the action of the show but actually joining the audience and watching the show on TV for a while when he was off-screen. Of course the second most famous situation comedy of the 1950s (behind I Love Lucy) is The Honeymooners, possibly the most famous one season show of all times - the show ran as a series for 39 episodes although the characters had been created for Jackie Gleason's variety show and would continue in his 1960s variety program. So why am I looking at The Phil Silvers Show? Well in my estimation it is one of the funniest series ever.

The Phil Silvers Show, also known as You'll Never Get Rich is best known to the world as Sergeant Bilko (the name seemed to change every season). It's a service comedy about a fictional peace time army post in an equally fictional Kansas town, and while the base commander, Colonel Hall is supposedly in charge the truth is the whole place is run by the chief of the base Motor Pool, Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko, and everyone knows it. He has a finger in every pie. He rents out army jeeps to just about anyone, sells raffle tickets, runs dances, and has a new way to separate soldiers from their pay at every turn. His platoon are equally his accomplices and his patsies.Bilko could lather on the charm, particularly to Colonel Hall's wife, or conceive a complex con game - sometimes at the same time. About the only person who could really halt Bilko was the camp chaplain, although a pretty girl could always through him for a loop, and sometimes (but just sometimes) his own conscience would get the better of him.

The mid '50s was a perfect time for a service comedy. There was a whole generation of men who had been in the service, either in World War II, Korea, or as a result of the peacetime draft. Inevitably they knew a Bilko, even if - in most cases - that person wasn't as outrageous as Phil Silver's character was. Bilko was a small time hustler who found a home in the army (he was actually decorated for heroism in battle in the Pacific), and he wasn't about to leave when the alternative was living by his wits on the streets, doing jail time or, horror of horrors, getting an honest job. The very prospect of that brought chills to Bilko's spine. It is difficult to imagine a show with the same theme as The Phil Silvers Show working during or shortly after the Vietnam War, let alone today, although there was an attempt with the Don Rickles 1976 series CPO Sharkey - it didn't work. The last service comedy I can really recall is the rather tepid Major Dad with Gerald McRaney. It lasted four years but had none of the bite or sheer hilarity of Sergeant Bilko. It's hard to imagine Major Dad, or even CPO Sharkey doing an episode in which a monkey joins the army (The Court Martial of Private Harry Speakup).

It's easy to say that what made Bilko work is Phil Silvers but it's not the whole story. Silvers was the perfect choice to play Bilko. A burlesque comic who graduated to Broadway and the movies (he's in the Humphrey Bogart movie All Through The Night and has at least one scene with William Demarest and Jackie Gleason), but the brash sort of comedic style that was a trademark of burlesque, combined with his strong New York accent and his rapid fire delivery made him the personification of a low level con man and hustler, which is precisely what Bilko is. It is also true however that even the best performer is nothing without good material and series producer Nat Hiken headed a large writing staff. Writers from The Phil Silvers Show were nominated for Emmys in each of the four shows that the show was on the air and won the first three years. In 1956 they beat I Love Lucy in the comedy writing category, while The Honeymooners wasn't even nominated. It's also a fact that for comedy to work an actor needs someone to play off of. Phil Silvers was gifted with two great supporting actors to work off of in addition to various guest appearances. I've briefly mentioned Paul Ford. He was nominated three times for Emmys in the Best Supporting Actor category, although he never won. With his long face and often blustering manner when he was out to get Bilko which turned to befuddled depression when his plans went awry he was a perfect foil for Silvers. Ford gave Hall just the right sense of being a man who knew that he was overmatched when dealing with Bilko but just had to try. The other major supporting character was Private Duane Doberman played by Maurice Gosfield. Gosfield, who was in his mid-40s when the show was on, was a short chubby man with an incredibly malleable face that was capable of delivering an almost child-like quality when he smiled or when he looked sad. It was a quality that was perfect for the character. In fact the Doberman character was so popular that there DC Comics produced a Private Doberman comic book. A young man who occasionally played an MP on the show was in fact a real Army officer assigned as a technical consultant for the show. His name was George Kennedy who won an Oscar as an actor for Cool Hand Luke. Other young actors who appeared on the show and would later become famous included Fred Gwynne, Dick van Dyke and Alan Alda.

The Phil Silvers Show was extremely funny but it tended to fall by the wayside in syndication - at least in North America - as colour TVs became more and more prevalent. Lesser comedies were seen for no other reason than that they were in colour. It hasn't even been on TVLand in years. This is ironic since the show was still popular when it ended at the insistence of CBS which wanted to rush the show into syndication. On the other hand in Britain The Phil Silvers Show is something of a national obsession. The BBC still runs the show occasionally as they have for 50 years. In 2003 The Radio Times (essentially the British TV Guide) polled its readers about the greatest TV comedies. The Phil Silvers Show was #1 with the people who responded, ahead of Seinfeld and Fawlty Towers. In 2004 Bilko finished fourth in a poll of "fictional characters who UK viewers would like to see as president (Homer Simpson finished first, Josiah Bartlett second, and Fraser Crane third). I defer to Ivan Shreve in his knowledge of British sitcoms, but I can't help but think that the show had some influence on British comedies like Porridge and On The Busses. Certainly the influence of Phil Silvers and Sergeant Bilko can be seen in Hogan's Heroes (a show I'll deal with in more detail next week) with Bob Crane's Hogan as the fast talking scheming con artist - this time working for a noble cause - irritating befuddling and manipulating his show's answer to Colonel Hall, Werner Klemperer's Colonel Klink. (If you really stretch the concept to its breaking point, you could consider Sergeant Schultz as Hogan's "Doberman". Of the 143 episodes of The Phil Silvers Show made over four years, only 18 episodes are currently available on DVD as a 50th Anniversary collection. It must have been very hard to pick 18 episodes because it's hard to find a dud in the entire run of the show.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Classic Comedy Lookback - I Love Lucy

I am, on the whole, finding this summer rather boring even if it is punctuated by occasional discoveries like Project Runway and hopefully, Psych. And then, over at Blogcritics I saw something that inspired me. What it was was a rather subjective ranking of the best situation comedies ever (even if it was titled "The True and Objective List of the Best Situation Comedies Ever"). And so, like all good creative people associated with Television, I took the idea and modified it enough to make it my own. I won't be presenting a list of the Best Situation Comedies Ever - subjective or objective. Instead I want to look at two sitcoms from each decade from the 1950s to the 1990s that have fascinated me. No judgement calls here, but maybe, just maybe, a few dark sides. I hope to do two a week, probably Tuesdays and Thursdays although since the idea just came to me toady this week is going to be a bit rushed. And so, without further ado I Love Lucy.

I Love Lucy

If you want to see the ancestor of the vast majority of sitcoms look no further than I Love Lucy - well at least on TV. The live studio audience and the three camera film technique were all invented for I Love Lucy - primarily because Desi Arnaz didn't want to move his family to New York and CBS and Philip Morris Tobacco which sponsored the show (this was in the days when a show was controlled to no small extent by a single advertiser) didn't want the show going to most of the United States as a poor quality Kinescope (live action filmed off of a monitor) of the sort that the west coast had been subjected to since network TV began there. That insistence on staying in California also created an asset that could be exploited by someone with business acumen. While others thought of TV shows as being transitory Desi Arnaz understood that these half hour movies that he and his wife and the rest of the cast had made didn't become worthless after one viewing (a lesson that so many have forgotten ever since - like the people who got rid of the early Doctor Who episodes, the ones who got rid of the Plouffe Family tapes in Canada, or the ones who blanked the early Carson Tonight Shows). I Love Lucy created the rerun. And like George Lucas getting all of the revenue from licensing for Star Wars, Desi Arnaz was able to build an empire out of exploiting the short sightedness of others.

The basic format was anything but new. The wacky wife-straight man husband - or vice versa - with funny neighbours format had been around since at least Fibber McGee and Molly on radio in the late 1930s (probably earlier than that but as I understand it most of the radio material still in existence comes from a period starting in around 1939). Indeed Lucille Ball herself had done that exact format with her radio show My Favourite Husband with Richard Denning. If all that I Love Lucy did was to port that format over from radio to television with Desi replacing Denning then I suspect that while the show would have been a hit at the time its eventual fate could have been summed up by what Lincoln said about his Gettysburg Address "The world will little note nor long remember what is said here." But the truth is that Desi and Lucy understood - because they came from the movies - that television allowed for visual as well as verbal humour. The show thrived on gags. In fact they even hired Buster Keaton as a gag consultant, although they never gave him an onscreen credit. And it was often the sight gags that got the biggest laughs. Reportedly the longest laugh in TV history occurred in an episode where Lucy tries to learn to dance ballet and gets her leg stuck in the barre. It was so long that the scene had to be cut to fit the show but still contain the sense that it was that funny. Everyone remembers sight gags from the show: the chocolate conveyor belt scene, the gigantic loaf of bread pinning Lucy to the kitchen wall because she didn't know how much yeast to put in bread, William Holden lighting Lucy's wax nose on fire, Lucy stomping grapes. While the show never reached the stages of sheer anarchy of The Three Stooges, it had moments of pure brilliance.

This is not to denigrate either the cast or the writing. The show had incredible writers who understood the characters and could work with the actors' qualities. They could work with Desi's accent to the point that "Lucy, you've got some splainin' to do" (usually combined with Lucy pulling a face and saying "eeewww") is not only still remembered, it's still funny - or at least gets laughs of recognition. Two of the writers - Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis - would stay with Lucy for the rest of her career, writing her last show Life With Lucy in 1986. They produced some exceptionally well written shows although for me their best bit of writing was probably the "Vitameatavegimin" commercial in which Lucy's repeated practice of the script, using the product, doesn't make perfect it just makes her drunk. It's not simply that the writers were creating something funny it was that they had an understanding of what their actor could do

As for the cast, the most import was Lucy but but right along side her has to be Desi. The series was something that they did for him - Lucy wanted to keep Desi at home rather than touring with his band and if that was going to happen Desi wanted a way to keep the band together with a little more exposure than working as the house band for the Bob Hope radio show (a job Lucy had got him). Ricky Ricardo served as both Lucy's straight man and her nemesis in trying to develop a showbiz career. He's an ineffectual rein for her most hare brained schemes. Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz also serves as straight man to Lucy, an even more ineffectual barrier to her schemes who is often converted from hindrance to Lucy's ideas to reluctant (and sometimes not so reluctant) accomplice. The final member of the primary cast, William Frawley (playing Fred Mertz) balances show by giving Ricky an ally/accomplice against the team of Lucy and Ethel, although even working together they are no match for Lucy alone. The characters have their own well developed traits; Desi with his fiery temper that inevitably caused him to lapse into rapid fire Spanish, Fred's cheapness, and Ethel's ongoing longing for the better things in life that she knows Fred's too cheap to buy her. The characters have their basic traits and although they grow some these are at their bedrock.

One interesting aspect of the show is how, through the course of six seasons and the hour long shows thereafter, how the lives of the Ricardos reflects the American dream. The original concept for the show was pretty much Lucy and Desi's lives - a glamourous movie star and a successful musician - but they were told that it wouldn't work. Instead they start as a band leader working in a club and living in a small walk-up apartment in a brownstone. They have a baby, get a better apartment and become a bit more successful. Then Ricky gets his big break. They (and their friends) go to Hollywood and hobnob with the movie stars of the day (the Hollywood episodes include such people as William Holden, Van Johnson, and John Wayne as well as Lucille Ball's friend Hedda Hopper). Ricky's success allows them to travel to Europe, and when they return to the United States Ricky's able to open his own nightclub - Club Babaloo - and the family (including the Mertzes) are able to move to a farm in Connecticut. Deliberately or not the show progresses and has a sort of weak continuity that so many later comedies lack. I Love Lucy is not merely a funny show it is a template for so much of what followed.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ready For Takeoff - Project Runway

I never thought I'd be writing a review of Project Runway. The show airs in Canada on the Life Network but is about a season behind the American schedule so I've never bothered with it. Actually I rarely bother with the Life Network except on those not so rare occasions when they're talking about sex and even then I don't think I've ever watched a complete show on the channel.

That's one of the reasons why I didn't expect to be reviewing Project Runway. There are others, surprisingly none of which have anything to do with threats to my masculinity. I suppose the first of the reasons is that I have absolutely no fashion sense or worse no interest in fashion. If these people could come up with something that would keep me cool in this weather I might be interested but otherwise fashion to me is like TV - I know what I like and frequently what I like in fashion is totally out of style. Then two I remember last season's The Cut featuring Tommy Hilfigger as a fashion mogul version of Donald Trump. It stank to high heaven. All of the descriptions of Project Runway reminded me of The Cut but with Heidi Klum as the ersatz Donald.

And yet, because I had nothing at all better to do I watched it last week when NBC wisely used it to replace a rerun of the previous week's Treasure Hunters. I watched it again on Monday night, and while I can't say that I'd go out of my way to seek it out I also can dismiss it out of hand as another inferior Apprentice clone, because like Hell's Kitchen this show has it's own distinct personality and style which lifts it above the raft of shows that wanted to be "just like The Apprentice" and were.

The show follows fifteen (fourteen in the episode that aired on Monday night after the first elimination the week before) wannabe fashion designers. Each week the designers are give an assignment by supermodel Heidi Klum. During the assignment they are watched over by Tim Gunn of Parsons The New School of Design. At the end of the episode their work is judged and one the designers is sent home in disgrace. Okay, from that description it sounds just like The Apprentice or (ugh) The Cut. Aha, but there are significant differences. For one thing, although the designers may on occasion pair up to work as a partnership on designs, there are no teams on this show. It's hand to hand combat - or at least sewing needle to sewing needle. For another thing, unlike The Cut the designers are actually (shock, horror) designing clothes, rather than creating billboards or painting private airplanes. I mean letting the designers design? What will they think of next? Admittedly some of the tasks may not be conventional - in the first episode of the show they had to dress models in clothes made from anything they found in their living quarters. It's quite amazing to see people ripping the leather off a chaise longue primarily to keep it away from everyone else.

Then there's the judging. On The Apprentice George and the lovely Caroline tell Trump what they saw and how the teams did, and one person on a losing team names a couple of the others for elimination. It is left to Trump to be judge, jury and executioner when it comes to who will be sent home. By comparison Project Runway draws from the American Idol style of game Instead of one person picking the winner or loser there is a panel of three judges but with Klum having some input as well. In the episode that aired on Monday the judges were Nina Garcia of Elle Magazine, designer Vera Wang, and Tara Conner. The task had been to design a gown for Conner, the reigning Miss USA, to wear in the Miss Universe competition. The completed designs were judged based on the preferences that Conner had told each designer before the designs started. All but four of the designers were simply told that they were "in". The remaining four designers were told that they were either the "Best" or the "Worst". The designer designated as being the best at the task would not only have their design worn by Tara Conner at the Miss Universe pageant but would also be safe from eviction next time. The person deemed the worst would be removed. In the end the design from Malan was deemed to be the "worst" because it emphasized things that Tara didn't want emphasized in her gown and had the appearance of not being fully completed; Malan claimed that they ran out of fabric because their model was longer in the torso than the other models and he and his partner weren't able to adjust.

If Project Runway were to continue on NBC I'd probably keep watching it...unless there were something better on. It wouldn't have to be that much better. In fact it probably wouldn't actually have to be better it would just have to be new, or even just new to me. And yet I can't dismiss this show out of hand just because I am totally disinterested in the subject matter. It isn't a bad show. In fact the previous two seasons of the show have been nominated for the Reality/Competition Emmy (it lost of course to The Amazing Race in last year's Emmys). It takes a familiar format and if it doesn't turn it on its head it does at least deliver its own spin, giving the show its own distinct personality. Which is, as a certain lady who had her own reality competition show that failed in part because it never established its own personality) is a good thing.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

New Poll - Who SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama?

Continuing with our Emmy Polls, we move on to Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. The usual disclaimers apply - vote for the person you think should win, not the one you think will win. If you want to comment on the nominations or why you voted the way you did feel free to leave a comment here.

And please Please PLEASE could we have more than three voters this time?

Poll Results - Who SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama?

Wow, talk about a "kissing your sister the sister" moment this has to be one of the worst. This is probably the lowest voter turnout since I've been running polls on this blog. Only three of you bleepin' well voted! And it was another bloody tie!! What's the matter with you lot!?! Move your bleeping arses!!! (Can you tell that I watched Hell's Kitchen on Monday night. Say what you will about him I have a feeling Gordon Ramsay never has to worry about releasing bottled up frustrations.)

Okay, for the record here are the results, which prove nothing. Tied for fourth place with no votes are Martin Sheen of The West Wing and Peter Krause of Six Feet Under. Tied for first place are Christopher Meloni of Law & Order: SVU, Dennis Leary of Rescue Me and Kiefer Sutherland of 24. Yawn.

To the degree that anyone actually answered the question I think you got it right. I don't think too highly of Meloni, but then I don't watch the show. Dennis Leary's show is another one that I don't watch but in his case I think that the character and the storylines have far more depth than most of the other series. I think that Six Feet Under has been gone too long to really be considered in this category, and while I respect Martin Sheen's work on The West Wing in toto worthy of an Emmy, in Season 7 of the show, Josiah Bartlett was very much a supporting character in the series.

And yes Linda (and everyone else) Hugh Laurie did deserve an Emmy nomination. Give me a few hours and I could probably find some other actors who deserved nominations this year and didn't get them. But as the man said, don't hate the playa hate the game.

New poll up in the morning which will hopefully get a lot more votes than this one did. Please?!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Short Takes - July 24, 2006

It's hot here in Toon Town and apparently it's complicating my Internet connection because it has been dropping a lot in the past couple of days. Makes it hard to put stuff together. Oh, and by the way, vote in the poll - as of now there have only been three votes cast. I know some of you (Linda) resent the fact that Hugh Laurie wasn't nominated but that has nothing to do with me.

Oh, and by the way I have a new blog on Vox, which is basically a random thoughts sort of thing called Sleddog's Thoughts. I sort of like it.

There's this thing called the Internet: I think it might catch on. We've seen networks offer their content for sale online through venues such as the iTune Music Store, and we've seen networks offer exclusive content online, such as CBS is doing with its InnerTube service. We've also seen "viral videos" of the sort being offered by YouTube - videos of varying quality that have been posted online by people. Among the latter was an actual TV show created for a network. The WB ordered a pilot called Nobody's Watching, a show about two guys commissioned to create "the next great sitcom" but who were forced to do so in the context of a reality show. The network rejected the finished pilot - in favour of Twins according to Alan Sepinwall - and in the normal course of things, that would be that (although at one time busted pilots were shown on TV during the summer, that's not done anymore). In this case someone - no one is really sure who though there are suspicions - took the pilot and put it on YouTube, where it proceeded to become one of the most viewed things ever. This caught the attention of NBC - although there's some suspicion that it was NBC that released the pilot in the first place, which they deny - which produced the original pilot. They've ordered the production of more YouTube "webisodes" to keep interest up and also scripts for six episodes that might run on the network. This may well be something of a wave of the future; trying out shows that are marginal as far as network executives are concerned and giving them a chance to prove that they can find an audience. It is on the whole an interesting use of something like YouTube, which ironically was being sued by NBC for allowing material copyrighted by NBC - a sketch from Saturday Night Live, see the next post for the reason why I don't know what the sketch is. CBS is also considering offering snippets from their programming on the service. Now if someone can only figure out how to make money from YouTube and keep it being sued out of existence by copyright owners.

These cable TV channels might be around for a while too: Networks - well NBC - seem to be using the summer to showcase some of the shows from the cable channels they own. Last week NBC showed the premier episode of this season's Project Runway rather than repeating the previous week's episode of Treasure Hunters. It's also been announced that NBC will be airing two episodes of the new cable series Psych on the main network. This sort of cross-pollination isn't new. A few years back NBC condensed the Battlestar Galactica miniseries into a three hour movie which they then threw away on a Saturday night, and one summer ABC showed episodes from the first season of Monk. CBS went even further by showing four episodes from the first season of the (then) UPN series Veronica Mars. This sort of thing should probably happen more as an alternative to endless reruns and lame reality shows.

Katie Couric won't go to the Middle East - except she will: Earlier in the week there was a report from Access Hollywood which was reported by most of the TV critics that claimed that Katie Couric said that she wouldn't travel to the war zone in the Middle East when she takes over as anchor of the CBS Evening News: "I think the situation there is so dangerous, and as a single parent with two children, that's something I won't be doing." Given her personal circumstances I wouldn't blame her one bit. Except that as the New York Post reports Couric's statements were taken out of context. For one thing the original report was of statements she made in May after the injuries sustained by CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier in Iraq, not to mention ABC anchor Bob Woodruff. The Access Hollywood report ignored a more recent statement made by Couric during the Television Critics Association tour that referred specifically to the current situation in Israel and Lebanon where Couric said, "In terms of traveling, I think it will be done on a case-by-case basis . . . But clearly, if it's going to serve the story, advance the story, and be helpful to the story, I would like to be there. I think it really depends on the situation and what's happening." In other words working as an anchor covering an breaking story is significantly different from going to Iraq just to go to Iraq. And again, I agree with her entirely - sometimes you're better off covering a story from an anchor desk in New York than you are being on the ground.

You can't serve two masters mistress: Tina Fey is leaving Saturday Night Live where she has been co-head writer and co-anchor of Weekend Update. Now this does not particularly resonate with me since I've never watched SNL even when it was funny - although based on comments on various newsgroups over the years I'm not absolutely sure when that was. Fey of course will be the star and head writer of the new NBC series 30 Rock and basically feels she can't do both. She's probably right, although how long 30 Rock is going to last is anyone's guess.

Usually presidents only meet sports teams: George Bush will be meeting with the top ten American Idol contestants from the last season including winner Taylor Hicks. Apparently Hicks has ties with the administration - his 9th grade teacher is now Laura Bush's press secretary. Hicks received more votes in the American Idol finale than George Bush did in the 2004 Presidential Election, although unlike most voters in the Presidential Elections, people could vote more than once for the American Idol winner.

Cancer is political: We do love our Brent "Barney" Bozell here at I Am A Child Of Television. We love him because he is such an easy target that a blind man armed with a toothpick would have no difficulty in hitting him. As you may know, besides being the head of the PTC Bozell is also the founder and president of the conservative Media Research Center. He has now decided to take on Katie Couric and amazingly it is for her philanthropic works. Couric is the co-founder of the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (NCCRA). Her husband died of colorectal cancer and sister of pancreatic cancer. In a column that appears on the Media Research Council website and which has been syndicated to various newspapers, Bozell questions not the sincerity of Couric's activities, but claims that having "one of the nation's leading news anchors have an aggressive high-profile side career in philanthropy" might represent a political conflict of interest. According to Bozell - who compares Couric's activities with the NCCRA with Senator Tom DeLay's activities with his DeLay Foundation for Kids - Katie might be influenced in "how she reports the news, the stories she pushes - and perhaps more importantly, the stories she decides not to push at CBS?" by the people who assist her in her charity work. As a "smoking gun" he points to several interviews Couric has done with Michael J. Fox, where he advocates in Bozell's words "highly-controversial embryo-destroying stem cell research" - a cause that Couric has also raised money for. Bozell finishes his column by saying " Perhaps the media elite will insist on a double standard. Politicians (especially conservative ones) need special scrutiny of their charities, they will lecture us. Journalists, on the other hand, are to be seen as society’s helpers during their day jobs, so why discourage Katie Couric from a little moonlighting at saving lives, too? Media ethicists ought to be pressed to think hard about this new situation and state their opinion. CBS ought to explain its policy about disclosing any Couric conflicts before the new anchor’s era begins." Apparently Mr. Bozell gives far more weight to the notion that television news anchors personally shape the stories that get covered on their newscasts than most people do. Well at least he has a higher opinion of Katie Couric's abilities as a news person - or at least as someone who can work the system - than most people seem to. And while were discussing biases, perhaps the next time Brent Bozell goes on television pontificating in the name of children as the head man at the PTC he should also disclose his conflicts as head of the Media Research Council and other conservative organizations. Just a thought.

Who does the PTC hate THIS week? After last week's failure to find anything new to hate and being forced to hate America's Got Talent for two weeks in a row because of Michelle L'Amour, the PTC has found someone new to hate Big Brother All-Stars, although for the life of me I can't figure out why. They accuse the diary room sessions of "graphic descriptions, foul language, and even violent threats" but the only examples they could come up with were Howie saying "boobies" a lot and Allison saying "I'm probably gonna drag her by her fake hair and her fake boobs and drown her in the pool." This is worthy of their ire? Here's their summation though: "It is shocking that CBS would air many of the scenes from Big Brother 7 on network television at all, but to show them in the 8:00 hour is over the top. In fact, everything about the show is over the top. From the challenges to the contestants themselves, the show constantly pushes the limits of broadcast decency and never considers its message to families or children." It must either be a slow time at the PTC, or they found their most prudish member to do the review because if anything is over the top it is this assessment.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Jack Warden - 1920-2006

I started working on this earlier today but I was basically forced to abandon it by other things I had to do. It gave me a little time to think about Jack Warden and his life and times. Another blogger with considerably better credentials than I described Jack Warden as a great character actor. I disagree with about two thirds of that statement - he wasn't a character actor so much as he was a supporting actor, of the sort who never stood out as the star but used to be nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category at the Oscars before it became populated with "second" stars in a movie or other stars doing a quick cameo, and was really about the guys who put together strong performances in secondary roles in movies, that was Jack Warden. Think about the movies he did: Shampoo (for which he won an Oscar nomination), Heaven Can Wait (another nomination), All The President's Men, Death On The Nile, And Justice For All, The Verdict and so on. Sure he did crap - more than his share in fact - but he was from a generation that came of age in the Depression and took roles because, well it was work.

Jack Warden had an interesting life before he got into acting. Born John H. Lebzelter in Newark New Jersey he was raised in Louisville Kentucky. Expelled from high school, either for fighting or as he sometimes said for being a professional boxer, he once fought on a card at Madison Square Garden along with an equally young Charles Durning. Boxing wasn't particularly lucrative so he joined the Navy in 1938, serving mostly with the Yangtse River Patrol in China. Leaving the Navy in 1941 he entered the Merchant Marine but after a particularly harrowing period at sea he requested service on deck rather than in the engine room of ships. When that request was denied he walked across the street and enlisted in the US Army. Assigned to the 101st Airborne he was injured in a training jump before the invasion of Normandy. So badly injured that he was shipped back to the United States he developed an interest in acting during his recuperation when someone gave him a play to read. He returned to active service in time to fight at Bastogne. After leaving the army as a Sergeant he did a series of odd jobs including bouncer and semi-pro football player while learning his craft.

Of course this blog being what it is, I'm a bit more focused on Jack Warden's television career. He did a lot of memorable roles but looking at his filmography in the IMDB it seems that virtually all of the series he was in never lasted more than a couple of years. People of a certain age (mine) were really introduced to Jack Warden in Wackiest Ship In The Army a sort of World War II comedy with adventure overtones based on the 1960 film of the same name and a real incident during the war. The show only lasted a year but those of us who saw it remember it - and are amazed that it only lasted a year. The truth is though that Jack Warden's TV career began well before that. His first continuing role was as the coach in the 1952 Wally Cox series Mr. Peepers and throughout the 1950s he was a regular presence in the live TV anthology series that were a mainstay of that era. He appeared in Kraft Television Theater, Studio One, The Alcoa Hour, The US Steel Hour and Playhouse 90 among many others. Moving to California as film work increased he was a frequent guest star in series as diverse as The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, The Naked City and even Bewitched before getting the lead role in Wackiest Ship In The Army. That was followed in 1967 by N.Y.P.D. which lasted two years. That series was followed by a long period of film work which also included his only Emmy win as George Halas in Brian's Song. In 1976 he starred as the title character in Jigsaw John which lasted 15 episodes, and in 1979 he starred in an ill-advised attempt to bring The Bad News Bears to television (26 episodes). Perhaps his best series role was as aging private detective Harry Fox in the 1984 series Crazy Like A Fox opposite John Rubinstein as his very straight laced son. The series only lasted two years but it earned Warden two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Actor In A Comedy - he lost to Robert Guillaume in Benson in 1985, and Michael J. Fox in Family Ties in 1986. His last attempt at a series was 1989's Knight and Daye with Mason Adams. It lasted three episodes. Jack Warden's last television role was in an episode of 1999's The Norm Show with Norman MacDonald. His last film role was in 2000's The Replacements with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman.

Jack Warden died in New York on Wednesday. According to his business manager Sydney Pazoff "Everything gave out. Old age. He really had turned downhill in the past month; heart and then kidney and then all kinds of stuff."

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Fatal Flaw

America's Got Talent has a fatal flaw (yeah, hard to believe I know) and it was revealed by resident Brit, Piers Morgan, at the end of Wednesday's second semifinal episode. The three judges - Morgan, Brandy, and David Hasselhoff - have to pick one of the ten acts that appeared to go through to the finals, while the public gets to decide on the other act. The judges couldn't agree and at one point an exasperated Piers half shouts half moans in a way reminiscent of Gordon Ramsay contemplating the latest disaster in Hell's Kitchen (but without the"colourful" language) "This is a talent competition. You can't just have singers!" Singers Brandy and Hasselhoff (he is or was big in Germany although I think it was only West Germany) look at him as if he's crazed. The trouble is that Piers is right - and they're right. Because if this show didn't attract good quality singers who were underage or otherwise ignored by American Idol and the other shows, they wouldn't have much and certainly no act that they could build a live show around.

Take that episode as an example. Of the ten acts selected from a pool of 15 that had been brought to LA. three were singing groups, there was one classical pianist and six novelty acts. The clear class of the night was At Last an a capella singing quartet, while I was less impressed with N'Versity a trio of high school girls who reportedly sang a soul number - I was waiting for it to develop more of a beat. And all I can say about Sugar and Spice is that I'm surprised that they made it past the first round. The older girls were only average singers and the younger ones seemed to serve no purpose except as stage decorations, because they certainly couldn't dance. The classical pianist was an 8 year-old girl named Natasha Le who played Bach's Tocatta & Fugue in D Minor, a piece that I'm more used to hearing on an organ. And while the judges were really enthusiastic about her playing I noted a few wrong notes, or at least what sounded like wrong notes.

The novelty acts ranged from the brilliant to the incredibly stupid, but whose fault was it for letting them through the audition process. Some were great. Realis, a pair who performed a sort of acrobatic dance routine were strong enough to be the judges' eventual choice to go to the finals. "Bobby Badfingers" whose act consists of snapping his fingers to music was better than any description of his act, and hand balancing acrobat Vladimir did work which the judges didn't fully appreciate. Even "Leonid The Magnificent" (working this time without his wings, but appearing at the start in an indescribable pink outfit that looked like it could have come from a Marlene Dietrich movie) had a tremendous act that involved spinning and balancing a cube shaped metal frame. One of the judges described him as a Christmas tree in January, but while this act may have looked simple, I have an old high school friend who has been a professional juggler for over 25 years and he would probably say that working with that cube was quite difficult. Certainly Leonid was better than a number of the novelty acts, like Dave the Horn Guy who played The Star Spangled Banner on the variety of horns attached to his orange jump suit. The judges said that his act was corny but they were the ones who brought him into the semifinals. And then there was Mark "The Knife" Faje who made it into the semifinals by kicking a burning bowling ball with two steak knives sticking out of it onto his head while having a live scorpion in his pants. They loved that but when he came back for the semifinals he did the act that got him banned in England Scotland and Ireland; balancing a running electric lawn mower on his chin (the handle was on his chin) and having two assistants throw heads of lettuce.To say the least it was bizarre, and not in a good way.

The fundamental problem that America's Got Talent has is that if you were putting together a show featuring a single act - as the initial publicity seemed to indicate that the intention of the show was to put the winning act in a Las Vegas casino show - then the only suitable acts are the singers, dancers, and maybe the instrumentalists. Certainly the fans, who voted in young yodeller Taylor Ware last week and a capella singers At Last this week seemed to recognise it. If, on the other hand you were to put together a revue type show - like an old time vaudeville show - which featured a number of different types of act then the novelty acts, including someone like Leonid, would fit right in. The problem is that the show is about rewarding just one act and in that the novelty acts, which are what the show is building much of its fanbase on (it's been renewed for a second season on the basis of the highest ratings of any summer show), will inevitably lose out. About the only thing that novelty acts like Realis or Leonid The Magnificent can realistically expect from this experience is exposure that might possibly get them work

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

New Poll - Who SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama?

The usual rules apply. Remember to vote for the actor you think should win, rather than the one you think the Academy members are going to crown with the laurels (okay I admit it, I'm feeling in a classical Roman mode today for some reason). It's a reasonably good category - I can think of about three nominees that it wouldn't be a total disgrace to see win. If you have any comments, feel free to post them here.

Poll Results - Who SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy?

They say that a tie is like kissing your sister. Sometimes it is. Last week's results for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy was like kissing your sister the nun. On the other hand sometimes a tie is like kissing your hot (and possibly horny) cousin in that it holds out the promise of things that could possibly be (I never had a sister but I did have a hot and possibly horny cousin - but that's a whole other story). I think the result of this poll leans more towards the latter.

There were twelve votes, a significant improvement over our last poll. Coming in last was Charlie Sheen of Two And A Half Men with no votes. Probably correctly too, I never get a chance to see the show so I can't judge but that seems to be more of an ensemble cast, at least this year. In a tie for third place are Larry David for Curb Your Enthusiasm and Kevin James for King Of Queens. I was honestly surprised to see the vote for Kevin James since a lot of people seem to have the same opinion of this show as Will & Grace, increasingly unfunny. I would have expected Larry David to have received a somewhat higher vote count. Tied for first are Tony Shaloub for Monk and Steve Carrell for The Office. This is the "hot (and possibly horny)" cousin moment. I tend to lean a bit more towards Carrell than Shaloub, mainly because I've seen more episodes of The Office than of Monk but I think that both performances are excellent, giving us multidimensional portraits of their characters rather than the sort of stick figures that are found in so many comedies. The quality of the performances are essential to making their shows work - if they don't deliver then their respective shows are no better than something like According To Jim.

New poll up in the morning - right now my back is killing me.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Short Takes - July 16, 2006

Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's the fact that in the two Full Tilt Poker Fantasy League tournaments I've managed to qualify for I've been acting behind incorrigible chip bullies on tables where only two players - me and he - were actually present; I do much better when people are actually playing against me. Maybe it's spending a couple of days away from my air conditioner and with a three year old who only wants to watch one episode of one show over and over again, and knows how to use the remote. Did I mention that his father, my brother doesn't believe in air conditioning because it costs money?. No, I think it's the heat. Suffice it to say that I am feeling somewhat irritable of late. Still I shall soldier on.

Too Big: The biggest news in Canadian television at the moment is Bell Globemedia's friendly takeover of the CHUM Media Group. Based out of Toronto the CHUM group includes the CITY group of TV stations in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver; the smaller market A-Channel group, 33 radio stations and 21 cable specialty channels including MUCHMusic (Canada's MTV) and Space: The Imagination Station (Canada's answer to the Sci-Fi Channel but in the opinion of our friends at TVSquad, better). BellGlobe Media owns the 17 station CTV network and 17 specialty channels including Canada's answer to ESPN, TSN. The deal is expected to pass through the CRTC's regulatory process unhindered as Conservative Industry Minister has "recently instructed the CRTC not to interfere in the media marketplace except when necessary."

Personally I think that this is a case where interference is necessary. Even though Bell Globemedia has announced plans to sell off CHUM's A-Channel stations, this deal would still result in the company owning two stations in five of the largest English language TV markets in the country as well as 38 specialty channels. This would seem to represent unfettered capitalism at its most unfettered, and while Bell Globemedia has generally been good as far as producing new Canadian shows (well better than Canwest Global at any rate) this has to have an impact on the production of original Canadian programming. This doesn't even begin to deal with the impact of the sale on the news media, where CITY-TV (the chain's Toronto station) had a particularly innovative look and feel. According to Toronto Star media analyst Antonia Zerbisias the merger is a bad thing because “mergers and acquisitions always result in job cuts, consolidation of operations and reduced newsgathering resources.”

Speaking of Canadian TV: I would be remiss not to mention Dianne Kristine's one woman effort to gather all the news about Canadian shows in one place. The new site currently called Canadian TV (as generic a name as it is possible to imagine) the blog is full of news about shows, synopses of series and descriptions of upcomng episodes. In my wildest dreams I couldn't hope to pull together the material the Dianne has access to. An excellent job.

Who'da thunk it: The producers of the series Rock Star: Supernova were hit by a lawsuit from an Orange County California punk band called Supernova. It seems that the band, which has been in existence since 1989 and recorded four albums, have taken umbrage at the use of their name. Naturally they have sued. According to an MTV article the Supernova that doesn't want to be associated with Tommy Lee (and really who can blame them) wants "the destruction of all "labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, containers, advertisements, electronic media and other materials bearing the Supernova mark" as well as forcing the TV show producers to "publish clarifying statements that [the show is] not associated with [the punk band]." Finally they are seeking punitive and compensatory damages, attorneys fees and the "profits and all damages sustained by [the band] due to [the] misuse of plaintiff's Supernova mark." I suppose there's a certain justice to this, although there is a certain foolhardiness of a punk band going up against a company that hires lawyers like some people hire gardeners. My only surprise is that they've only one band suing over a name so generic and hackneyed as Supernova.

Now that's writing: On occasion I stand in awe of real writers. Take Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times. In an article about America's Got Talent (registration required but I've never had any trouble with The Times) she stated that "the contest is cheerful, vulgar and unembarrassed, a liberating belch in an increasingly proper and sleekly self-conscious television landscape." In other words the show, which is the most popular series of the summer with over 12 million viewers (about 3 million more than So You Think You Can Dance) is pretty much successful for the reasons that most critics hate it. The show's popularity is probably similar to the reasons why Dancing With The Stars was popular last summer. For all that it featured "celebrities" that show worked because it was something that you didn't see much of in the sophisticated world of dramatic TV. It was fun, it was different and on the whole it revelled in its difference. Now I watched last Wednesday's two hour show - one of the semi-final episodes - and I didn't like it as much as I did the qualifying rounds. Not all of the acts that qualified were given a chance to perform (I think they had 15 acts in the back stage area but only 10 performed and the 5 that didn't won't be given a chance to show their stuff). The acts didn't get the snarky commentary from the judges and what the judges said didn't matter anyway. That said it was still a reasonably fun show.

Amazing Race cast list released: Although the names aren't up at the CBS website, the cast list and details for Amazing Race 10 has been released at the summer meeting of the TV Critics Association. In addition to the usual teams - a gay couple, models and/or beauty queens, dating couples trying to define their relationships, a parent and child, and a team of brothers - there's a married Indo-American couple, two Muslim friends, and a woman with an artificial leg. This season's race will start in Seattle and go from west to east. Destinations include at least three places the show has never visited before - Mongolia, Kuwait, and Madagascar - as well as China (which they've visited several times in previous seasons) and Vietnam (which was memorably visited in Season 3 by a group including Vietnam War veteran Ian Pollack). According to series creator Bertram van Munster "This cast is as different as it's ever been," executive producer Bertram van Munster told the Television Critics Association's summer meeting. "It's meltdown city on this trip."

Let us go forward slowly: I heard this on a couple of Leo Laporte's podcasts last week. According to Media Daily News, Mike Shaw, ABC's President of Network Advertising had held preliminary discussions with cable companies (I think - this article is full of acronyms) with the objective of disabling the Fast Forward button on future Digital Video Recorders so that people would have to watch commercials. According to Shaw "I would love it if the MSOs, during the deployment of the new DVRs they're putting out there, would disable the fast-forward [button]." He expanded on this saying that as cable companies are currently beefing up their own local advertising sales "They've got to sell ads too. So if everybody's skipping everybody's ads, that's not a long-term business model for them either." He just keeps digging in deeper too: "It really is a matter of convenience - so you don't miss your favorite show. And quite frankly, we're just training a new generation of viewers to skip commercials because they can. I'm not sure that the driving reason to get a DVR in the first place is just to skip commercials. I don't fundamentally believe that. People can understand in order to have convenience and on-demand (options), that you can't skip commercials." Presumably Mr. Shaw is all for the rewind button not being disabled at the same time since that might force people to watch the commercials over and over again.

Here's an idea - make commercials that people don't want to fast forward through, or integrate advertising into the show itself more effectively. Product placements have been around since TV started - check out I Love Lucy when the show was sponsored by Philip Morris (in one scene where Lucy is trying to entertain Ricky's Spanish speaking mother she offers the woman a cigarette but not knowing the word in Spanish she says "Philipa Morris" - Ricky's mother exentually understands), and old time radio experts like Ivan Shreve and Harry Heuser will recall days when people like Don Wilson or Harlow "Waxy" Wilcox would do commercials that were integrated right into radio shows like The Jack Benny Program and Fibber McGee & Molly. I realise that would be close to impossible in most shows today but it just shows that it is possible to make commercials that sell the product and ar entertaining.

Who does the PTC hate THIS week? Clearly the diligent monitors who seek to keep our eyes from being corrupted have cut back on TV viewing for the summer. The PTC is still outraged over the rape scene on Rescue Me, Circuit City for advertising on shows that the PTC doesn't like, and that same episode of America's Got Talent with stripper Michelle Lamour (who bills herself as "The ass that goes POW!"

Don't forget to vote in the poll!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Big Brother All Stars - Where's the Sturm und Drang?

So when I adopted my normal television watching position on Tuesday evening to see what was going on at the Big Brother House it was with a mixture of anticipation and dread. I've been reading Jackie's reports of what's been going on inside the house via the Internet live feeds that I'm to smart, cheap or disinterested (take your pick, I couldn't care less) to pay for and she's managed to make it sound uninteresting which is not a good sign. And yet it should be good because the very fact that these people wanted to do this again makes it sound as though it should be a colossal clash of egos. After seeing both episodes so far all I can do is quote from a Wayne & Shuster sketch (Shakespearean Baseball): Ministers of grace protect us he hath flip-ped his lid.

Actually there are at least two he's in this case whose lids hath been flip-ped, maybe three. One is the guy who sat at a meeting and said, "Hey let's make the next Big Brother the "All Star" version." Then there's the guy who said, "Great Idea! We can have America vote on who gets in, just like at Baseball's All-Star game." Finally there's the guy whose lid did a two and a half somersault, the one who approved the idea.

As you can tell, I'm not particularly enamored of the whole Big Brother: All Stars concept and the comparison to the Baseball All-Star game is part of it. The All Star Game fan voting procedure has a tendency to produce "anomalies" - in the past they've voted on players who were out for season long injuries and at other times voted in substandard players in preference to better ones. This season they put three New York Mets on the National League team but the name Barry Bonds appears nowhere on the line-up. The usual explanation is that the public tends to vote for players that they remember and like. I suspect that this was what was operating in the Big Brother All Stars vote. Twenty "house guests" from the six previous seasons were available to be voted in with the top six - later changed to eight - vote getters going into the house. The producers would select the remaining six houseguests, in much the same way that the manager of a Baseball All-Star team selects members of his team. There was one Season 1 player, four Season 2 players, three Season 3 players, three Season 4 players, four Season 5 players, and five Season 6 players. And who did America pick? They picked the people they knew - seven of the eight (Howie, Kaysar, James, Janelle, Jase, Nakomis and Dianne) were from Seasons 5 and 6, only one, Erica, from an earlier season and that was Season 4 - and the people they liked - the only Season 6 contestant not picked was the always shrill enemy of the Friendship Alliance Ivette, and the only Season 5 candidate miss was dumb as a post Cowboy (who I swear looked like he was going to cry when he wasn't picked). It was left to the producers to make the final picks. I think they were probably taken aback somewhat by the way the voting had gone, giving them a preponderance of people from the last two seasons and it may have hurt their plans to put people in the house who were "natural enemies" of the people the public selected. Instead they had to put in players to represent previous seasons. They selected "Mike Boogie" and "Evil Dr. Will" from Season 2, Marcellas and Danielle from Season 3, and Allison from Season 4. The final pick came as a surprise to most people, including the CBS camera man. The assumption was that they would balance the house equally between men and women, and since three men had already been picked by the producers. On the other hand there was only one Season 1 representative (and only one "older" guy) "Chicken George". He was picked for the final slot.

I think we can see part of the problem here. Marcellas and Danielle hate each other, so do Erika and Allison, and I don't recall the Season 5 trio of Jase, Nakomis and Danielle being that close. The only "natural" alliances in the house are Will and Mike and three of the four from Season 6 (none of whom really trusts James and probably shouldn't). But there's more to it than that. The players not only know each other and have pre-exisitng relationships within their season but with the exception of George they know how the other players play the clutching and grabbing (for backstabbing and backdooring) game from previous seasons. George is a total cypher; no one knows how he'll adapt to life as a conniver since about the only "underhanded" thing he did in Season 1 was the art project, making "Keep George" signs he used in the diary room. The point is however that players - particularly players from later seasons - know how others play. Players from the later seasons probably have more of an advantage because they were watching the early seasons intently because they hoped to get on the show. Players in earlier seasons probably have less understanding of later players because they never expected to be playing the game again. Collectively this shows. When "Evil Doctor Will" claimed that he was insulted that he hadn't been nominated it showed his lack of understanding of the dynamics of the All-Star version of the show. They know his strategy, how he plays the game and here are other players who are more dangerous at the moment. They can deal with him after Allison, who's good at competitions and manipulates men, or Danielle, who is good at playing the backstage game and getting others to do her dirty work. With Will it's a case of knowing that when he opens his mouth he's lying and the game has grown beyond that.

The show hasn't been without entertaining moments, just not that many. I suppose that one of the funniest things has been the improvised "slip & slide" that the houseguests came up with. Various guests went slipping and sliding on this thing made up of a line of black plastic garbage bags, lubricated not just with water but with dish soap, shaving cream and other material. The longest slide was probably by Kaysar who went off the slide across the grass and into the fence, but probably the funniest moment came when Will offered to go "dual sliding" with one of the guys and George took him up on the offer. Marcellas came out of the house just as George was lying on top of Will. It was almost enough, he later said, to make him turn straight. Another aspect is the opinions that players have about each other - mostly wrong. Will was of the opinion that Kaysar was "arrogant", which under the circumstances was the pot calling a dirty dish black. Meanwhile Allison foolishly dismissed Janelle as being "just a cocktail waitress", an opinion that went beyond the absurd given Janelle's performance in Season 6. Allison was thoroughly outmatched.

I had originally intended to get this out after the Tuesday show, but circumstances have dictated otherwise (one thing being that I was following the World Series of Poker's $50,000 buy in HORSE Tournament - the people who have entered make this one like Baseball's All-Star Game except this one means a lot more to the players). So I caught the live eviction episode on Thursday. It's hard to say much about this show. They presented a profile of Allison as seen by Justin, her ex from Season 4, and her current boyfriend - apparently an extremely naive doctor - and totally ignoring Donnie her boyfriend when she was in the house originally (and with whom she battled during the first two legs of Amazing Race 5). Suffice it to say that editing and music made the good doctor look as though he was a fly in the spider's web. There were the usual, not very deep, interviews with the two Heads of Household and goodbye statement from the potential evictees after which Allison was tossed out with a vote of 8-2. About the only excitement was during the later HoH competition. Based around the players guessing what Allison's answers to questions about the various guests was, it came down to a battle between Kaysar and Nakomis, which Kaysar won. Except that host Julie Chen didn't realise it. She (or more likely the person inputting stuff into her teleprompter) said that Nakomis had won much to Nakomis's astonishment and Kaysar's befuddlement.

Of the four major reality competitions that I watch, Big Brother is probably my least favourite. The show has become cut rate Survivor without the rigours of living on a deserted island. The competitions are a minor concern occupying relatively brief periods in the show so the drama - such as it is - comes from getting to know the players and seeing how they react to each other. It is a sad thing to say but the truth is that observing the conflicts between people who are artificially forced together and have to deal with each other in a situation that forces antagonism is the entertaining part of this show. We want to see arguments and catfights (and okay, the occasional peanut butter bikini would not be unappreciated). It's early in the season but so far there's very little of the sort of conflict and manipulation and the blame can be laid clearly at the feet of the All-Star format. This shouldn't really surprise anyone - Survivor All-Stars was a less than stunning effort, the only real revelation being the emergence of Rob & Amber as a dominating partnership - the two hadn't been successful as individual players but together they clicked (in more ways than one - they came second in The Amazing Race and got married to each other). I have a suspicion that unless the game is a competition that doesn't require alliances but is entirely skill related - like The Amazing Race - the All-Star concept is not one that works in reality competitions for exactly the reasons I've cited. The players know each other, either from being on the show together or from watching the show, and this can both reduce conflict and produce prefabricated alliances, reducing the dramatic tension of the season. This season's Big Brother would have been a better show if they'd stuck with the old format and stocked the house with strangers who had never been on the show before. As it is, so far at least this seems to be shaping up as the most boring season of Big Brother since Season 1. Maybe even ever.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

New Poll - Who SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy?

Okay, let's set aside last week's misadventure in polling and move on to the Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy category, where at least some of the nominees are worthy of a shot at winning on Emmy. the nonimees are: Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Kevin James (The King of Queens), Tony Shalhoub (Monk), Steve Carell (The Office), Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men).

Please I beg of you VOTE!!!!!

Poll Results - Who SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy?

Well that certainly worked out well. Not.

On the question of who should win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy, we have a grand total of 4 votes. I want to believe that it's because everyone who came across this poll was of the opinion that none of these actresses should win on general principle. I have to wonder whether, if I'd included "None of the above" as an option I would have received a higher total number of votes? But I felt that, to be true to the traditions of this blog and the Emmys themselves I should force my readers to hold their collective noses (or close their eyes and think of England as the saying goes) and actually vote for one of the women nominated. Four of you did just that.

reversing the normal order of things, I shall tell you that Lisa Kudrow, Jane Kaczmarek, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Stockard Channing each received one stinking lousy vote each (25%, duh) tying them for first place, which means that the big fat loser that no one could bring themselves to vote for was Debra Messing from Will & Grace.

Let us admit that this category was ill-served by voters and blue ribbon committees alike and move on.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Short Takes - July 10, 2006

I should have written a bit earlier about the Big Brother: All Stars selections but to be honest with you when I made my little excursion on the "new look" Saskatoon Transit System I got a little too much sun - which is a euphemism for a lot too much sun. It hit me that night and I was in no shape to do anything for a couple of days really. Not the transit system's fault though but my own for trying to walk a couple of miles that afternoon. I think I'll wait until Tuesday - first Power of Veto day - to give an opinion, which should give me a lot more information. Meanwhile check out Jackie's blog for up to the minute details of that minimum security prison I call the Big Brother house. See Jackie has the live feeds, which is giving me a little preliminary feeling of what's going down in the house. Here's a little taster: Nakomis to someone Jackie doesn't identify: "I was an odd child." Why am I not at all surprised.

I shot an arrow... Speaking of odd reality show winners, let us consider the recent exploits of Survivor: Thailand winner Brian Heidik. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Heidik was arrested last Tuesday for shooting a five month old German Shepherd-cross puppy with a bow and arrow. He claimed that he thought the animal was a fox or a coyote, but his wife and former fellow soft-core porn star Charmaine (who also filed charges against him for domestic violence after he grabbed her face and pushed her down) said that he had shot the dog from a range of about a foot saying that he was "tired of stupid dogs on my back porch." Heidik and his wife are legally separated but still live in the same house. Heidik made bail on Wednesday. The dog, Edgar, was being picked up from the by his owner on Thursday.

And yet another crazy: We all know that the United States is a litigious society, but this one just makes you want to shake your head. According to the Boston Herald, Nicholas Christakis is suing Donald Trump and Mark Burnett because he wasn't selected for the first edition of The Apprentice. The suit for $250 million claims that Burnett and Trump (who Christakis never met) engaged in “improper business practices and ethics” and that Burnett “'defamed, slandered and libeled' him in front of a California casting crew during the August 2003 final interviews conducted to hand-pick 16 contenders to become Trump’s one and only first Apprentice.” Christakis's credentials to become the Apprentice might not have been the best though. In 2001 he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy while in 2002 his family's breakfast restaurant "The Cove" was shut down by health inspectors - the family has sued. According to Christakis, “Mark Burnett passed judgment on me. He thought I was a lunatic.” Well I know where I stand on that one.

Emmy stuff: Of course the big TV news was the Emmy's and that seems to have pushed all of the other business off to the side once they were released - or escaped in some cases. For example Emmy rules VP John Leverence explained to Variety that says Desperate Housewives might not have nee funny enough and Lost too complex to be nominated. "At the panels, the ha-ha comedies had 'em rolling in the aisles whereas Desperate Housewives does a both a drama dance and a comedy dance. Having the dramatic elements in with the comedic perhaps tended to dilute the force of the comedic." About Lost he said "If Lost in fact chose an episode that was midway into a very complex action and you had people in that room who were seeing it for the first time, there's a distinct possibility they might not have gotten it. It might not have had that kind of resonance that a non-serialized program would have." So if I read this right the "Blue Ribbon Panel" system benefits shows that aren't complex and don't require you to watch more than one episode.

Here's another point of view from Tom O'Neil who does the Gold Derby blog on the LA Times' The Envelope awards show site. In the article Emmy Reax: 3 Experts' Smackdown O'Neil takes a contrarian view from most people including the other two people he's talking to (and me): "I think these are some of the gutsiest and best Emmy nominations ever. I agree that they failed to achieve their goal to boost shows on those alternative networks like the WB, UPN, FX, TNT, USA and Showtime, but there's not a single nominee that doesn't deserve to be on the list. Some of the choices are kooky, sure, but marvelously courageous — like Stockard Channing in Out of Practice, Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback and Geena Davis in Commander in Chief. I just love it when the Emmys totally go their own way and don't care if a show's canceled. Well I'm glad someone liked them but really - "not a single nominee that doesn't deserve to be on the list?" - isn't that going just a little bit far even for someone who likes the nominees? He even lauds the fact that four fo the five "Oustanding Actress In A Comedy" nominees came from cancelled shows. According to him that's "what is so GREAT about the Emmys! Shows what great guts Emmy voters have and how little value they put on Nielsens when they look at shows carefully."

A blow for censorship?: That's one way to interpret a recent court ruling. U.S. District Court Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled against firms which "sanitizes" movies (and presumably TV series as well) that are released to home video by selling versions without nudity, sex and violence - but mostly nudity and sex. The suit, brought by sixteen Hollywood directors including Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcese, alleged copyright infringement against three companies: CleanFlicks, Play It clean Video and CleanFilms. In a statement after the decision Michael Apted, president of the Directors Guild of America declared that "These films carry our name and reflect our reputations. So we have great passion about protecting our work ... against unauthorized editing. Audiences can now be assured that the films they buy or rent are the vision of the filmmakers who made them and not the arbitrary choices of a third-party editor." In his ruling Judge Matsch stated "Their objective ... is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies. There is a public interest in providing such protection." Meanwhile Ray Lines, the president of CleanFlicks one of the firms named in the suit stated, "This is a typical case of David vs. Goliath, but in this case, Hollywood rewrote the ending. We're going to continue to fight." He can believe that all he likes, but the fact remains that by producing unauthorized, edited versions of these films for sale these companies were acting in violation of copyright. Bowdler existed in a time before copyrights and even so he was content to "improve" the works of a man two centuries dead.

What the PTC hates now: In what I think might become a new feature here, I'm going to list a few items that the PTC hates, as found on their website.
  1. The rape scene in Rescue Me: they're calling for members to send warning letters to Wendy's, Staples, Visa and Toyota, as well as calling for legislation on cable choice.

  2. Circuit City, for advertising on "shows like Nip/Tuck, Las Vegas, C.S.I. and C.S.I.:Miami - all of which contain either brutal violence or explicit sexual content. Other shows sponsored by Circuit City shared storylines that dealt with child pornography, rape, racial slurs and a young child killed by a sniper while on a playground.

  3. CBS for not paying the Janet Jackson indecency fine yet - they've even set up a little countdown clock.

  4. The "Worst Show of the Week" - America's Got Talent - not because it's a "so good it's bad show" like most of us thing but because "While America’s Got Talent gives every appearance of a being a family-friendly program, on the June 28th episode the highlighted act of the night was a strip tease." Yeah they didn't like Snow White the stripper and forget the fact that the real highlighted act of the night was 11 year old Bianca Ryan. According to the PTC "Should a stripper be competing against an eleven year old for one million dollars?" I'm betting that the eleven year old will be the one who gets closer to the money.

Friday, July 07, 2006

New Poll - Who SHOULD win the Emmy for Oustanding Lead Actress In A Comedy?

With the announcement of the Emmy nominations we also start the first of our Emmy polls. In this case I'm not asking who will win the Emmy but rather who should win the Emmy. There's a difference of course. Admittedly in this category in particular it's not easy to pick a winner and I was tempted to add "None of the above" but I resisted the temptation. As usual, feel free to add comments in the comments section.

2006 Emmy Award Nominations

I should have had this out earlier but I chose today to try out Saskatoon's newly revamped transit system (as commented on several times by Tim Gueguen most recently here). To put it in short terms - DART busses nice, walking 4 or five blocks to actually be able to catch a bus not so nice - and it's worse for my almost 77 year old mother.

On to the Emmys. This is the product of the revamped system?!? Time Magazine critic James Poniewozik describes it Thursday in his blog as "finding new ways to reward mediocrity", while Alan Sepinwall wrote "I'll rant more about this in the comments after I've had some time to process and to think about what I'm going to write for tomorrow's paper, but my initial reaction is that this is even worse than I was expecting." And Boston Globe critic Matthew Gilbert had this to say: "Yet if anything, the new voting system created to make the nominations more relevant has had the opposite effect." Why the upset reaction? Well I'll have further explanations when I comment on each the nominations but to quote the French novelist and journalist Alphonse Karr (I had to look up the originator) "Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose" - "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

Outstanding Drama Series
Grey's Anatomy - ABC
House - FOX
The Sopranos - HBO
24 - FOX
The West Wing - NBC
Comment: Not one show here has not received at least one Emmy nomination in this category before, and yet last year's winner Lost isn't included and not one new show is nominated. The nomination for The West Wing is so clearly a "lifetime achievement" nod, but I wish someone would explain to me why Desperate Housewives is a comedy but Grey's Anatomy is a drama. Notable by omission: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars and a fair number of other good shows which probably says a lot more about just how good TV drama has become than anything else.

Outstanding Comedy Series
Arrested Development - Fox
Curb Your Enthusiasm - HBO
The Office - NBC
Scrubs - NBC
Two And A Half Men - CBS
Comment: I'm going to antagonize a lot of people here by saying that the Arrested Development nomination was a heart-felt FU to the Fox Network and by extension to the American public for not supporting the show. I'm sorry but the number of episodes that this show aired this season doesn't warrant an Outstanding Comedy Series nomination, one which could have gone to My Name Is Earl or Everybody Hates Chris or even Desperate Housewives. Well at least Will & Grace wasn't nominated

Outstanding Miniseries
Bleak House (Masterpiece Theatre) - PBS
Elizabeth I - HBO
Into The West - TNT
Sleeper Cell - Showtime
Comments: None.

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race - CBS
American Idol - FOX
Dancing With The Stars - ABC
Project Runway - Bravo
Survivor - CBS
Comments: The usual suspects were rounded up.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Christopher Meloni - Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - NBC
Denis Leary - Rescue Me - FX Network
Peter Krause - Six Feet Under - HBO
Martin Sheen - The West Wing - NBC
Kiefer Sutherland - 24 - Fox
Comments: I hate to denigrate Martin Sheen but he gets a nomination but Bradley Whitford doesn't? Odd given that Whitford, and Jimmy Smits for that matter, had more screen time on The West Wing than Sheen did this year. Okay, that's that moment out of the way. I honestly don't know that Christopher Meloni or Peter Krause deserve nominations either, when Hugh Laurie, and James Gandolfini don't get them.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Kyra Sedgwick - The Closer - TNT
Geena Davis - Commander in Chief - ABC
Mariska Hargitay - Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - NBC
Frances Conroy - Six Feet Under - HBO
Allison Janney - The West Wing - NBC
Comments: I'm not going to argue about Allison Janney in this one because I think she deserved it. On the other hand I will argue against Geena Davis because even though the collapse of Commander in Chief wasn't her fault but rather the fault of bad scripts, a lack of direction and a determination by ABC to meddle with the show repeatedly, she wasn't the best actor on the show (that would be Donald Sutherland) let alone the best actress in a drama. Where's Kristen Bell's nomination, or Edie Falco's.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lisa Kudrow - The Comeback - HBO
Jane Kaczmarek - Malcolm In The Middle - FOX
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - The New Adventures of Old Christine - CBS
Stockard Channing - Out Of Practice - CBS
Debra Messing - Will & Grace - NBC
Comments: It says a lot about a lot of things when only one nominee in this category will be returning next season. I'm not going to mention the fact that not one of the Desperate Housewives got a nomination including the won who got the award last year, you know, the one who picked up an Oscar nomination . No let's spend a few minutes remembering that the actresses on Big Love didn't get any recognition nor did Mary-Louise Parker from Weeds, not to mention Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls. I guess that says a lot more about the nominating process than about the quality of comedy roles for actresses, although it says something about that too.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Larry David - Curb Your Enthusiasm - HBO
Kevin James - The King of Queens - CBS
Tony Shalhoub - Monk - USA
Steve Carell - The Office - NBC
Charlie Sheen - Two and a Half Men - CBS
Comments: More of the usual suspects. Obvious switch is Jason Lee of My Name Is Earl for Kevin James, but what's the point? Most of the nominations in this category are adequate.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Sandra Oh - Grey's Anatomy - ABC
Blythe Danner - Huff - Showtime
Candice Bergen - Boston Legal - ABC
Chandra Wilson - Grey's Anatomy - ABC
Jean Smart - 24 - FOX
Comments: Setting aside for the moment the question of whether Grey's Anatomy - or Boston Legal for that matter - is a drama when Desperate Housewives gets to be a comedy, I think this is actually a pretty solid slate of nominees, although I've heard some questioning about Gwyneth Paltrow's mother's nomination for Huff.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
William Shatner - Boston Legal - ABC
Oliver Platt - Huff - Showtime
Michael Imperioli - The Sopranos - HBO
Gregory Itzin - 24 - FOX
Alan Alda - The West Wing - NBC
Comments: I'm not sure it's a good sign when the the only nomination in the acting categories that The Sopranos gets is for Imperioli. Not to detract from his work of course, I just think it's strange. I guess I could get all sentimental and say that it's a shame that they didn't nominate John Spencer but the fact is that there were other actors that are more deserving.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Will Arnett - Arrested Development - Fox
Jeremy Piven - Entourage - HBO
Bryan Cranston - Malcolm In The Middle - FOX
Jon Cryer - Two And A Half Men - CBS
Sean Hayes - Will & Grace - NBC
Comments: I made my argument about Arrested Development earlier so I won't repeat it here. Instead I have to say something about Neil Patrick Harris not getting a nomination for How I Met Your Mother, and the fact that three of the nominated shows won't be back next year.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Cheryl Hines - Curb Your Enthusiasm - HBO
Jaime Pressly - My Name is Earl - NBC
Elizabeth Perkins - Weeds - Showtime
Alfre Woodard - Desperate Housewives - ABC
Megan Mullally - Will & Grace - NBC
Comments: Okay, so let me get this straight now. The only nomination that Desperate Housewives got this year was for the character who locked one of her sons in the basement for most of the season and in essence did not one thing to contribute to the comedy of the show and whose character was one of the reasons why the show rapidly descended to the ordinary? Okay, I thought so. Meanwhile neither Alyson Hannigan nor Cobie Smulders gets nominated for anything for How I Met Your Mother. Of course neither do Alexis Bledel for Gilmore Girls or Tichina Arnold as the mother in Everybody Hates Chris but given the way the Academy - new procedures or old - treats the weblets, it's hardly surprising.

The Emmys will be awarded on August 27, with Conan O'Brien again hosting.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Correction - Why A Family Sells Ad Space On Their RV

In the final part of my Short Takes piece last Saturday I mentioned the Illinois family that had put advertising rights on their RV up for auction on eBay. The rights were snapped up by CBS who also hired the family to promote The Amazing Race and the show's move to Sunday night come September at various landmarks and events around the United States. In my article I made the statement that the family - who weren't named in the CBS press release - "thought they'd subsidize their summer vacation by selling ad space on their RV." That was entirely my assumption; again the CBS press release didn't mention the family's motivation in putting the advertising rights up for sale. I received a comment on the piece from Mike Aldrich, the man who actually owns the RV.

Mr. Aldrich stated that his intention in putting the advertising space up for auction was not to subsidize the family vacation but rather to "help with our air time cost for a kids sport highlight show we air in our home town." For getting that wrong I apologize but I suppose it's a natural assumption based on the lack of any explanation from CBS. In fact, Mike's C.I.K. TV (Central Illinois Kids Television) will be going national in the fall using the online service Lasoo On-Demand TV for which I definitely wish him and his family the best of luck.

One other thing that I got wrong, but which can be laid entirely at the feet of CBS is the availability of content that Mike and his family will be producing on their trip. It will not be uploaded to InnerTube but is in fact being prepared for "educational segments for our show." In a way I'm sort of unhappy about this since I for one would like to see the progress of the "Amazing Race Promo-mobile" and the people that they meet across the country. I think it would have been great summer content. I suppose that we'll just have to be satisfied with the Aldritch's C.I.K.TV Blog, which is offering extensive coverage of their trip as well as some photos.

Anyway I thought I'd send along my apologies to Mike and his family for getting it wrong - I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one who made assumptions about what they were intending when they put the RV advertising rights up for sale.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy July 4th For Those Of You Who Celebrate it

I'm going to celebrate the anniversary of the day that those traitorous scum to the south - sorry, Americans - decided that Good King George wasn't good enough to lead them the way I usually do - by complaining about the CBS coverage of the Boston Pops concert and watching my copy of 1776. The movie is a veritable treasure trove of faces for the discerning TV viewer. Most of the cast came from the original Broadway show and a lot of them did soaps and bits in New York based series during the 1960s. Here are some faces that are a little more familiar.

Here's William Daniels (St. Elsewhere, Knight Rider, Boy Meets World) with Ken Howard (White Shadow, Crossing Jordan) with Howard DaSilva, who did a lot of guest shots after the Black List was lifted

Then there's Major Hochstetter himself Howard Caine (Hogan's Heroes of course).

One of the showiest parts of the film belongs to John Cullum (Northern Exposure and Mark Greene's dad on ER).

Here, dancing with William Daniels, is Blythe Danner most recently of Huff and mother of a girl with the name Gwyneth.

And how could we forget Governor Gene Gatlin from Benson, James Noble.

And this guy? The actor is Daniel Keyes, but more importantly the character is Dr. Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire whose TV descendant and namesake Dr. Josiah "Jed" Bartlet recently left the office of President of the United States on The West Wing.

All kidding aside, to my American friends and readers, have a safe, happy and relaxed Fourth Of July - Independence Day - and be careful with those fireworks.