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!"

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