Thursday, August 31, 2006

This Justice Is Swift

I wasn't sure what the quote from People Magazine that was used in the ads for the new Fox series Justice meant: "like CSI at warp speed." Having seen the first episode of the show, I begin to understand. What I don't know is whether or not this sort of speed is a good thing or a permanent aspect of the show, but if ever a series cried out for a two hour pilot episode, I think it was this one just so that we could have a bit more time to understand what was going on.

Wednesday night's episode of Justice started with the body of a woman floating face down in a swimming pool, the water around her turning increasingly red with her blood, and the sound of a 911 emergency call from her frantic sounding husband, Kevin O'Neil. This leads to the credits, but as seems to be the trend with the first episodes of Fox series this year the credits do not lead to the first commercial. Instead, using the show's crime infotainment show American Crime as a framing device, the show vaults us ahead several weeks. We're shown a helicopter shot of a large number of police cars racing down the street and are informed that the police are on their way to arrest Kevin O'Neil for the murder of his wife and making it clearly seem as though he's guilty, particularly since he's hired the law firm of Trott, Nicholson, Tuller & Graves. His lawyers are at O'Neil's house; they know that he was going to be charged with his wife's murder but they believed that he would get the opportunity to surrender himself into custody rather than have the media show of an arrest, but the DA has apparently decided that he needs the publicity. The lawyers decide that they're going to thwart this ambition by sneaking Kevin out of his house and over to the local sheriff's station where he can surrender himself into custody voluntarily. Perception, according to Ron Trott (Victor Garber) is everything. It is a point that he will continually make to his client during the period leading up to the trial. According to Trott, in the weeks before the trial, guilt or innocence is decided based on a 60 second video clip on CNN. Trials used to be about the law, now they're about the law and media, so the way that the client is seen in his every action is carefully scripted.

The problem that I was having with the show is that we're introduced to concepts very quickly that develop results very quickly. No sooner are we told that the firm's forensic testimony expert Alden Tuller (Rebecca Mader) has to get to work finding a forensics expert and work out a scenario for what happened than we see the man finishing up production on a computer reconstruction of events, and getting reamed out by Trott for using big words. Similarly when Luther Graves (Eamonn Walker) is briefing a room full of "worker bees" (they can't all be associates or law clerks or even secretaries) on how they're going to scan all of the material that the prosecution has sent over as discovery evidence - show arriving in many many cartons - and then using the computers to search for key words in order to find out what the DA is hiding from them it is a matter of seconds really before he is holding the smoking gun - a lab report that shows that the murdered woman was having an affair, hidden amongst other extraneous material. This shows that the DA will be claiming the motive for the supposed murder is jealousy rather than to get the victims money which is what the defense team had assumed. Obviously the producers have cut the scene in order to eliminate the "boring" process of actually finding the document, but if nothing else showing a bit more would have given us a better sense of the process for future episodes.

All of this and more happens in the first half hour or thirty five minutes (including commercials) of the episode. The pace slows somewhat in the second half hour as the case goes to trial but there are still things that are extremely annoying. We're introduced to a jury consultant who tells Tom Nicholson (Kerr Smith), the lawyer who will actually be leading the defense in court, to reject a specific juror because he's a divorced Republican and more likely to vote to convict. We're given no sense of how she decides on what makes a good juror for this case. Later she's seen telling a "sample jury" what they have to do - watch the trial on TV and indicate the arguments that are working and the ones that aren't. The trouble is that we're given absolutely no indication of how the sample jury is picked. Are the people off the street or have they been chosen to reflect the actual jury? A couple of minutes of exposition on this point would have been helpful.

All of this makes it seem as if I don't like the show which isn't the case at all. For all of the fast pace so many elements of the principal characters come through with absolute clarity. Victor Garber has an amazing time showing us the arrogance and aloofness of Ron Trott. At one point Kevin O'Neil asks Tom if Trott will be trying the actual case and Tom asks him if he likes Ron. Kevin says no and Tom replies "neither do juries." And yet Trott is a master of what he does, spinning the media as shown by his statement to the press as Kevin is being whisked away from his house to surrender at the sheriff's station or in his interview on the clearly hostile host of American Crime. He's not only seen but the reaction of people is shown through audience meters. His polar opposite is Kerr Smith, whose Tom Nicholson has a loathing of dealing with the media even though he's the "all-American face of not guilty." His personality and abilities come out in alternately charming and persuading the jury. Separately Trott and Nicholson wouldn't be successful but as a team they're perfect partnership. Luther Graves' contribution to the mix is his understanding of the other side as a result of being a former prosecutor. He knows that the DA is grandstanding and knows the tricks that the prosecution is using because he's used them himself. So far at least Eamonn Williams hasn't been given much opportunity to show what he can do with the character. As the female member of the team, Alden Tuller, Rebecca Mader is also playing a secondary character but she does more with it. Alden is observant - she's the one who spots a key omission in the prosecution's demonstration of how the murder occurred - and is able to make the defense's forensic expert, a man with a habit of using Latin terms and big words, into following her lead and keeping the evidence he presents easily comprehensible.

The series is interesting in that it doesn't seem judgmental about it's characters, with the possible exception of the Nancy Grace clone who hosts American Crime and is clearly hostile to the team at TNTG, as she calls them, even as she uses them to get ratings because they (and in particular Ron Trott) are good television. As we saw in several of Dick Wolfe's series, and in particular his foray into a pure court drama Law & Order: Trial By Jury, he has a tendency to regard the police and prosecution as heroes and defense council as mercenary slime who are worse than the criminals they defend because they know that their clients are guilty. Last season's In Justice gave us a team of underfunded defense attorneys trying to protect those who have been wrongly convicted because the power of the state was opposed by poorly chosen or underfunded defense lawyers. Justice makes it clear that its defense attorneys aren't saints - they don't necessarily care or want to know if their client is really guilty. As Trott says at the end of the episode, in another interview with American Crime "If you've got the right lawyer we have the best legal system in the world" the clear implication being that the "right" lawyer is an expensive lawyer and the team behind him. On the other hand the cops and the prosecution on this show are little better. The DA is out for publicity at every turn, but in particular the way he stages the arrest of Kevin O'Neil, while the lawyer who is actually prosecuting the case is a tremendous grandstander who at one point produces a golf club - not the "murder weapon" but one obtained for demonstration purposes - and proceeds to smash it into a law book to show how the victim was murdered. This is during his cross examination of the defense forensic expert, and when the man restates his position that given the injuries it was more likely that the woman slipped getting out of the pool and struck her head twice, the prosecutor dismisses the statement by saying "that's what you were paid to say; you can stop now." But perhaps the most telling was the behaviour of the lead detective on the case. It's initially pointed out that he didn't try to verify any of O'Neil's statements about what he was doing while whatever happened to his wife took place. Worse, what would turn out to be a key piece of evidence - a patio umbrella - simply vanished. Certainly it wasn't included in the prosecution's demonstration video in which the detective participated. Just how important that umbrella was would be shown quite graphically in the court. In a demonstration in court, created because the sample jury "wanted to see blood", a dummy head with a blood pack built in was struck by the detective and showed that the missing umbrella would have collected cast off blood if the crime had been committed in the way the prosecution had said.

In perhaps the show's most important gimmick, after the trial had been completed and Kevin O'Neil had been found Not Guilty, the audience of Justice were shown what actually happened. In it we're shown Kevin's wife getting out of the pool... and slipping, hitting her head, trying to stand but in her disoriented state falling and hitting her head again before collapsing into the water. We, unlike the world of the show, know that Kevin O'Neil was not just Not Guilty but also Innocent of the crime for which he was charged.

On the whole I loved the show except for the minor quibble about the pacing of the pilot episode. There's a reason that CSI isn't presented at "warp speed" and that's so that the audience can get a sense of what's going on. I need a little more information on what a jury consultant does before seeing one tell a lawyer not to select one specific member of the jury. I need to know a bit about how a sample jury is picked in order to know that it is a valid technique for the defense. Before I'm shown a forensics expert creating a computerized reenactment of the wife's death, I'd like to know how he arrived at the specific sequence of events he is reconstructing. It's not necessary every time, just as it isn't necessary to explain how the equipment on CSI works every time, but it's helpful to my understanding of what's going on if it's explained at least once. With that caveat, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the show because of the quality of the acting and the way the actors settled into their characters. It's an involving show that examines the real complexities facing the criminal justice system in the age of cameras in the courtroom, and trials as mass entertainment. I'm impressed that the show hasn't taken the easy route of making one side or the other perfect; the defense attorneys are sharp but mercenary and the prosecution is not above using less than admirable tricks. Despite the problems that I had with the pilot, this show is going on my list of shows to watch this season.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fall Series Debuts - Wednesday August 30, 2006

Another day another pair of shows from Fox. Debuting for the season are:

Bones is back for its second season featuring Emily Deschannel as coroner and novelist Dr. Temperance Brennan and David Boreanaz as her partner in crime fighting FBI Agent Seeley Booth. One cast change for this season is that a new character will add an extra layer of bureaucracy to the Jeffersonian Institute where Brennan works. Federal Coroner (whatever that may mean) Dr. Camille Saroyan will be played by Tamara Taylor has been added to the cast for at least six episodes which may mean a reduced role for Jonathon Adams who played Jeffersonian head Dr. Daniel Goodman in the first season. It's probably not a good sign though that Adams's bio is not on the Bones webpage. It seems that Saroyan and Booth have had a prior relationship of the personal kind. Not that that matters to Temperance of course.

Incidentally, the other day I had the rather odd experience of going into a book store and seeing a number of Kathy Reich's books featuring coroner and novelist Temperance Brennan - a character who bears no resemblance to the woman on the TV show who is in a relationship with a man who is not Seeley Booth. A couple of feet away was a copy of Max Allan Collins's book Bones: Buried Deep which does feature the man and woman on the TV show. This sort of thing is what our pal Tele-Toby unravels in his blog Inner Toob.

Justice is a new series from Jerry Bruckheimer about a law firm that provides what might best be termed "the best defense money can buy." According to the show's website, the law firm of Trott, Nicholson, Tuller & Graves mixes the different skill sets of four lawyers and "the most cutting-edge forensic technology" to defend their clients. The firm uses all of the techniques available to the modern defence attorney including jury consultants, forensic interpretation, mock juries and media spin. The show has a strong cast headlined by Victor Garber (formerly of Alias), Kerr Smith, Eamonn Walker, and Rebecca Mader. Presenting an opposing view on whatever high profile case the firm is dealing with this week is an "infotainment court show" (presumably modelled on Nancy Grace) called American Crime. People Magazine describes Justice as "like CSI at warp speed" whatever that is supposed to mean. I have a couple of misgivings about this show, which I'll discuss when I review it.

Celebrity Duets - Last Of The Summer Shows

Let me just state right off the bat that I'm not the best judge of singing ability at the moment. Actually I'm not the best judge of singing ability at the best of times but this cold that I'm currently suffering with has really done a number on my hearing in both ears, with the left ear totally stuffed up and ringing. So you should probably take my opinion of the singers on Celebrity Duets with a grain of salt. What you shouldn't take as a part of a sodium free diet is my assertion that this is a fun little show with people who really are able to sing, and for the most part at a pretty high level of competency.

The premise is simple enough. Eight celebrities best known for work in other fields who are less well known for their abilities as singers. The whole thing sounds like Dancing With The Stars there are a couple of significant differences. The biggest of these of course is that the stars on Dancing With The Stars have comparatively little experience with ballroom dancing. On Celebrity Duets all of the celebrities are singers with more than a little experience. Even Cheech Marin has done some singing although most of his musical experience has been in character during his animation work rather than in his own voice. A second difference is that while the stars on Dancing With The Stars work with the same partner during the entire series and learn various styles of dance with them, the celebrities on Celebrity Duets change singing partners every episode and the professional singers change every week. Also, unlike Dancing With The Stars the celebrities on this show are competing for $100,000 for their favourite charities.

So how did the celebrities do? Well on the whole not top badly at all. Lucy Lawless started the evening off, teamed with Michael Bolton to sing Bolton's Time, Love, and Tenderness and I thought she did quite well, with her strong voice working quite well with Bolton. The judges - Marie Osmond, Little Richard, and David Foster - mostly liked it although Little Richard wasn't too sure. Then again, as the evening progressed I wasn't entirely sure about Little Richard - he seemed to talk more and say less as the night progressed. Next up was Alfonso Ribiero. Although best known as Carlton on Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and the "Carlton dance" he is in fact an experienced dancer (who worked with Little Richard during one of his tours) and appeared on Broadway. Ribiero teamed with Michelle Williams from Destiny's child to sing I Knew You Were Waiting For Me and suddenly the bar went way up for the people to come. Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson was the third performer, singing Somewhere Out There with James Ingram. To me she seemed to have a "little girl's voice" and didn't really work well alongside Ingram. Cheech Marin was next, singing Baby I Love You Way alongside Peter Frampton. It wasn't great in part because I don't think Cheech was singing in his normal range and was really trying to match Frampton. The judges were not happy with it. Lea Thompson was teamed with country singer Randy Travis to do Travis's hit Forever and Ever Amen. It sounded to me as though Thompson was limited by trying to sing country as shown when her voice slipped into a bit of a bluesy style before Travis came on stage. It was something that Marie noted. Next up was what was the hit of the night. Jai Rodriguez thoroughly connected with Gladys Knight and the whole idea of duet singing, probably not surprising since he did play Angel in Rent on Broadway. The performance earned a standing ovation from the audience and the statement that Jai has set the bar for the competition. It's not a bar that the next competitor, professional wrestler Chris Jericho comes anywhere close to reaching. Part of it is choice of song and partner. He's teamed with country singer Lee Ann Womack for Mendicino County Line and it's immediately clear that soft and slow isn't Jericho's style of singing. He does badly with the song. The final celebrity to sing was actor and comedian Hal Sparks who had to sing Track Of My Tears with Smokey Robinson, a song which initially forces him into a falsetto that is not his strong point and always manages to keep him a bit higher than what his normal range probably is.

Tuesday night's episode was a two hour show, at the end of which the judges would eliminate one singer. The first duet in the second hour featured Lea Thompson and Michael Bolton and it was a much better fit for her style of singing. They did the Sinatra standard That's Life and it really gave Lea a chance to show off the jazz quality of her voice. Little Richard doesn't like it but both Osmond and Foster do. Carly Patterson also finds that her new partner sings in a style she's more comfortable with. She's singing with Lee Ann Womack. It's a nice performance and David Foster tells Patterson that if he were producing her, this is the type of music he'd have her doing. Next up were Alfonso Ribiero and James Ingram doing I'm Going To Be There. David Foster thinks that Alfonso was a bit out of tune but the other two judges loved it. Chris Jericho was teamed with Peter Frampton on Signed, Sealed, Delivered and if nothing else it really showed off just how much singing with Lee Ann Womack had restricted his singing style although at times it was hard to tell when Frampton was singing and when Jericho was. Next up was Lucy Lawless singing with Lucy Lawless. She looked gorgeous (not hard of course) but quite frankly the song wasn't exactly suited to her and she didn't deliver a great performance. Hal Sparks was teamed with Gladys Knight and the two of them did I Heard I Through The Grapevine. It was an interesting performance and Sparks voice seemed to be where it should be (although I swear he often sounded higher than Gladys). Marie summed up his performance as "a little bit white." Cheech Marin followed, teamed with Randy Travis on Pickin' Up Bones. It was definitely a song and style that was better suited to his voice which is closer to a baritone than a tenor but from what I've seen doesn't appear to have an extensive range. Foster told Cheech that while he didn't think he'd produce Cheech and didn't think Cheech would win the competition, as far as he was concerned Marin wouldn't be going home that night. The final contestant was Jai Rodriguez performing with Michelle Williams. Singing Say My Name, Say My Name it was absolutely clear to everyone that he understood how to sing duets. It was a great performance and David Foster admitted that in his mind Jai was leading the pack so far.

Unlike future episodes of the show, which will have the audience deciding who goes home, on this first show the decision was left to the judges. One by one the contestants were told that they'd be going on until only Hal, Carly and Chris remained. Then Hal was told he was safe and Carly and Chris were on the block. Finally Carly was told that she was going on and that Chris was eliminated. While I think he showed a bit more ability on his second song, this was probably the best choice.

Fox is billing this show as a Fall series. I'm not entirely convinced of this. I tend to think of it as the last Summer series. The show will be on the air for five weeks on Thursday and Friday nights. Coincidentally this will mean that the series will end just as the baseball playoffs begin. After this series ends the Thursday time slot will be taken over by the truncated order of The O.C. while the Friday time slot will be occupied by Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy. It seems at the very least to be a space filler, maybe with the hopes that if it becomes a hit in its time slot it might be renewed, and if it's a big hit, like Dancing With The Stars it might be injected into the regular season. As far as the show itself, I found it diverting and enjoyable. In truth it is less of a "reality show" or "reality-competition show" than it is a true "music-variety program" (to use the Emmy terminology). The "non-singers" on this show are for the most part actually talented singers who are either not known for their singing or have taken a career path where singing is not primarily what they do. When you consider how many of the contestants have done Broadway shows - Thompson, Lawless, Rodriguez, and Ribiero - the level of talent in this competition is apparent. At two hours the premier episode of the series was too long, but at an hour I think it will probably work better. It is true that it seems as though the class of the field at the moment are Ribiero and Rodriguez, but how well they'll adapt to a style of singing that isn't what they're used to will be telling. On the whole I enjoyed it although I can't see it as much more than a Summer series that happens to be airing at the beginning of Fall. It's not brilliant - it's not Dancing With The Stars - but it is enjoyable and in my opinion at least it's probably worth sticking with as long as there's nothing better on, and for most of its run, there really isn't.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fall Series Debuts - Tuesday August 29, 2006

Coming tonight to a television near you courtesy of Fox:

Celebrity Duets
Take eight celebrities not known for their singing ability. Team them up with eight professional singers. Have them sing competitively. Get Wayne Brady to host and David Foster (music legend and failed reality TV subject) to be one of the judges. Sounds like Dancing With The Stars crossed with American Idol right, although presumably without the sex scandal of Skating with Celebrities (where Lloyd Eisler dumped his pregnant wife to go make a baby with his celebrity partner Kristy Swanson). I mean we like to watch celebrities doing stuff they don't normally do and making fools of themselves in the process - hence the popularity of Dancing With The Stars and Celebrity Poker Showdown. Here's the interesting thing though. While I'm not sure about everyone in this cast I know that most of the people appearing on this series can actually sing. The celebrity cast are wrestler Chris Jericho, actresses Lucy Lawless and Lea Thompson, actors Alfonso Ribiero, Cheech Marin and Hal Sparks, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy "culture vulture" Jai Rodriguez, and Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson. Jericho is part of the satirical heavy metal band Fozzy, while Lawless, Ribiero and Rodriguez have all appeared on Broadway (and Lawless rather infamously sang the US National Anthem at an Anaheim Mighty Ducks game, during which she suffered a quite legitimate "wardrobe malfunction" that fully exposed one of her breasts). So has Lea Thompson, although she was originally a ballerina who trained with the American Ballet Theater. Hal Sparks appears with a metal band called Zero 1. Patterson has a demo contract with Joe Simpson, father of Ashley and Jessica Simpson. About the only person in the cast whose musical talent I'm not entirely sure of is Cheech Marin's. This could be an interesting show, although I suspect it won't have the drawing power of Dancing With The Stars.

An Emmy Summary - Because I Was Too Tired To Liveblog

I've been struggling to write about Sunday night's Emmy Awards, to find a way to write about them that didn't seem boring and did seem at least a little original. I've come to the conclusion that the only way to make that happen would have been to "liveblog" the event with entries as things happened, and given the way I was feeling on Sunday that wasn't going to happen. So, because I made such a fuss about polling about the Emmys I thought I'd compare the results of my polls to what actually happened.

Outstanding Actress In A Comedy
Poll: Four way tie between Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Stockard Channing, Lisa Kudrow, and Jane Kaczmarek.
Emmys: Julia Louis Dreyfus
Comment: Fairly obvious. Of the five nominees hers was the only show that is going to be back this year. Scarcely an edgy choice by the Academy but a fairly safe one. Maybe Kaczmarek, who has been shamefully overlooked by the Emmys for Malcolm in the Middle will have better luck in her new role on the new Ted Danson comedy Help Me Help You, but I doubt it.

Outstanding Actor In A Comedy
Poll: Tie between Tony Shaloub and Steve Carrel
Emmys: Tony Shaloub
Comment: There are some people who consider this a bit of robbery and maybe they're right but what the Academy has done is what they often do, given the Emmy to someone whose work they know and like rather than a relative new show. I would not be surprised if Carrel gets it next year.

Outstanding Actress In A Drama
Poll: Kyra Sedgwick
Emmys: Mariska Hargitay
Comment: This was robbery but it should scarcely have been unexpected given the way the nomination process is handled, where I believe only a single episode from each actor is submitted. Sedgwick had a great season but Hargitay had a great episode, and on a network rather than a cable series, and given the field she was facing it isn't that surprising that she won. Just disappointing.

Outstanding Actor In A Drama
Poll: Three way tie between Chris Meloni, Dennis Leary, and Kiefer Sutherland
Emmys: Kiefer Sutherland
Comment: With Martin Sheen's West Wing part really being secondary to the election arc, which was rewarded when Alan Alda won the Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy, and Six Feet Under really a distant memory, it came down to the people the poll picked. And in truth while Meloni was for the most part workmanlike he had - and submitted - one good episode. It was really between Sutherland and Leary and it's my impression that the Emmy was awarded to Sutherland as much for the fact that without him there literally is no 24. Everything revolves around him and has for five seasons.

Outstanding Miniseries
Poll: Bleak House
Emmys: Elizabeth I
Comment: I'll be dropping this category next year because quite simply no one seems to see the nominated material. The look and the cast behind Elizabeth I is certainly enough to get me interested in seeing the thing if it ever comes my way, and certainly the Emmy voters rewarded it with Emmys not just for the show but for Helen Mirren as Elizabeth and Jeremy Irons as the Earl of Leicester.

Outstanding Reality-Competition
Poll: Survivor
Emmys: The Amazing Race
Comment: I hate to say I told you so....actually I don't. I told you that The Amazing Race would win its fourth Emmy in a row, in spite of the Family Edition.

Outstanding Comedy
Poll: The Office
Emmys: The Office
Comment: At least they got this one right. Not just the winner but most of the nominations (the exception being Two And A Half Men. Playing against Arrested Development was the simple fact that while the critics and the Academy loved it, it was simply impossible to keep it on the air given the commercial nature of broadcasting. The Office, along with the unnominated My Name Is Earl, and is one of the few comedies on broadcast television today that is both fairly innovative and actually works.

Outstanding Drama
Poll: House
Emmys: 24
Comment: The poll on this one was close and I can't help but think that it was also close in the Emmy voting. If anything the season long arc in 24 should have had voters going toward the more episodic House. Possibly the biggest thing in 24's favour may have been that it has established itself as a strong and intelligent action series for five seasons and has essentially paid its dues. It's the serious established show which has established itself but unlike The West Wing and probably The Sopranos isn't seen as diminishing in quality just yet.

Other Emmy Notes
- At no time during the opening sketch did I think of any plane crash except the one on Lost, a point made clear by the presence of Hurley, even if he wasn't "really invited". I thought the sketch was funny but NBC has already wimped out and apologized for airing it after the crash in Kentucky that afternoon.

- Writers give the best acceptance speeches but comedy writers give the funniest. Not thanking your Eighth Grade Social Studies teacher for telling you you're not funny is funny; not thanking God because you're bald and that was at least partly his fault - brilliant.

- I thought the best presentation of an Emmy was by Hugh Laurie and Helen Mirren when Hugh translated Helen's statements into French, but then John Stewart and Stephen Colbert came on - "Worship before your Golden Idol Babylonians!"

- Least funny presentation: John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor with Heidi Klum sandwiched uncomfortably in the middle. I like Tambor - have liked him since at least his time on Hill Street Blues but Lithgow's charms as a comedic actor elude me.

- Irony: The director of the Emmy Telecast was Louis J. Horvitz who was supposed to keep the show to time. He won an Emmy for directing the Oscars. His acceptance speech went long.

- The Music, Variety, and Comedy categories are the catch basin for anything that doesn't fit into the rigid categories of Comedy Series, Drama Series, or Reality Series. This includes Talk Shows, Awards Shows, and one increasingly rare noccassions actual Music and Variety specials. I saw a panel discussion on the increasingly annoying (to me who has recently entered the codger demographic - you kids get off my lawn!) Attack Of The Show saying that giving an Emmy to Barry Manilow proved that the Emmys had "lost their edge." Well beyond the fact that you had to have an edge in order to lose it and the Emmys have never ever been edgy, Manilow was the only performer who actually did music and variety on his show.

- Apparently NBC thinks that you can say "ass over tits" on network TV and not just if you're Helen Mirren, since Callista Flockhart said it too. We await the PTC complaints and the FCC reaction.

- The tribute to Aaron Spelling was yet another reminder of just how many shows in how many genres he was responsible for. It would have been nice to have seen one of the stars from one of his shows from the 1960s or '70s up there with Steven Collins instead of either Joan Collins or Heather Locklear. And did you notice that they showed one shot of Tori Spelling but several of Candy Spelling weeping appropriately?

- Jacklyn Smith still looks better than either Kate Jackson or Farrah Fawcett, at least in my book.

- The ultimate award show fashion accessory - not borrowed diamonds but the security guard who follows you while you're wearing the borrowed diamonds.

- Bob Newhart may be the funniest man alive. Who else can get a laugh with just a raised eyebrow the way he did on Sunday night? It's a pity that I suspect several other segments featuring him were cut for time.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Poll Result - What SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Program?

We have a winner and a vote count that makes the poll relatively valid, which considering some of the previous polls in this series of Emmy Polls is a big change. I suspect it was the category.

Eighteen votes were cast. In fifth place with no votes is The Sopranos. In fourth place with one vote (5%) is The West Wing. In third place with three votes (16%) is Grey's Anatomy. Second place went to 24 which got six votes (33%). And the winner with eight votes (44%) is House.

You'll have to excuse me a bit on this one as I have a nasty cold. I totally agree with this result ... and I would have been totally in agreement if the vote had gone the other way. And that's speaking as a big fan of this season's West Wing. Of the shows nominated these are the two best and either one is deserving of the Emmy. But that's the problem you see; of the shows nominated these are the two best. The problem, which has been apparent throughout this edition of the Emmy Awards has been that the shows and people nominated haven't necessarily been the best possible (and this isn't just because I'm a big fan of Lost and Battlestar Galactica). While I'm not prepared to say that this is the worst collective set of nominations ever it does serve to highlight problems in the system, the sort of problems that my previous "modest proposal" post (see below) was directed at. The Emmy voters have a habit of finding a show that they like and sticking to it, that's true, which has a tendency to exclude new blood. The fact is that this year's nominations only managed to exclude last year's Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy (and most of the other nominees in that category from last year), and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. Say what you want about last year's nominees, this sort of collective snub is unexpected. At the same time there's something unreal about an actress from a so-so show that was cancelled in the first half of the season getting a nomination as Outstanding Actress in a Comedy (Stockard Channing) or Chris Meloni getting a nomination as Outstanding Actor in a Drama because he had one great episode while Jame Gandolfini and Michael Chiklis aren't in the running. But then again, Jackie Gleason never won an Emmy.

I have an idea for a new poll which will be up shortly.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Modest Proposal - Fixing the Emmys

With Emmy weekend upon us, and this being regarded as one of the worst sets of nominations in a long time I'd like to offer a few suggestions on how to deal with some of the problems that the Emmys are exhibiting. And no I'm not talking about the length of the show or the boring acceptance speeches or any of the other stuff that we - we meaning most viewers including me - like to constantly complain about because let's face it that's not what really really bugs us about the Emmys. No what really bugs us is that shows we see as being superior end up on the outside looking in on the night. You know, shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars. And this year is a good time to bring it up, because the "Blue Ribbon Committee" system that was meant to open things up to shows like these not only didn't give them a look but ended up not nominating two of last year's big winners, Lost and Desperate Housewives.

I gave this article the title A Modest Proposal. Those of you with more than a small education will recall that this refers to an essay by Jonathon Swift, the full title of which is A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public. In his satire Swift proposed eating the children of the poor - and presumably Catholic - people of Ireland. While I do not propose the ingestion of the members of the Television Academy - most of them look to be a rather tough and stringy lot - or their children - which in some cases would involve the intake of dangerous levels of chemical substances not recognised by the FDA - I would like to suggest some fairly radical changes to the way the Academy does things. None of them are as radical as what AP reporter Fraser Moore proposes. In his article 1 and done: Stop rampant re-Emmying Moore suggests that you get one Emmy nomination for any particular series or role. Or as he puts it, "Any program, and the individuals attached to it, get one shot apiece at an Emmy. One and done. Only a clear and demonstrable change in a series, or in a character or other aspect of the series, could warrant Emmy reconsideration." As a model he offers the Tonys, in which a play - Phantom of the Opera for instance - can't be nominated every year that it runs. The same applies with the Oscars, Grammys and Pulitzers. To which I say, in the words of Colonel Sherman T. Potter (whose actor, Harry Morgan was nominated for 8 Emmys for the role and won one): "Horse hockey!" The reason if obvious: CDs, articles and movies don't change as time passes, and a Broadway show that opened in 1998 hasn't changed every time it's performed. Broadway shows are stagnant, TV shows are dynamic in that they have new scripts and new situations at least 22 times a year. In his opening paragraph Moore cites Allison Janney's nomination for playing CJ Cregg in The West Wing, but the woman that Janney played in the first episode seven years ago is not the same woman she played in the series finale; CJ Cregg grew and evolved and that's something that a character in Phantom of the Opera doesn't get to do.

Of course I'm not the only one to have ideas on how to change the Emmys in the face of this year's mess. Robert Bianco of USA Today has some ideas in an article entitled Emmys need a fast fix. He has some good ideas - in fact so good that I've integrated some of them into my own proposals. Some of his ideas are impractical though. You are never going to eliminate "category shopping" (where a star of a show is nominated in the supporting category so that the other star of the show doesn't have his vote split and both lose) - I mean let's face it, that's been going on in the Oscars for decades. And forming up his "policing committee" who would "clean up" the nominations from network executives has a bit of a ring of the fox guarding the hen house about it. On the other hand his idea about the need to expand the Academy membership to bring in new voices which might prove to be a bit more representative is an interesting one. I'm not sure if it's practical but it is interesting. (Oh yeah, and he's right; the Emmys shouldn't be at the end of August just because NBC has Sunday Night Football, they should be at the traditional start of the TV season, the middle of September.)

So having disposed of Mr. Moore's arguments and acknowledged Mr. Bianco's, what are my proposals?

1. Increase the maximum number of nominees in each category to ten from five
Why are there only five nominees per category? Is it because that's what the Oscars do and the Emmys want to be like their older brother? At one point five nominees made sense. In the 1975-76 season (which I chose because it was 30 years ago) there were three networks, each broadcast 3 hours per night six nights a week (they programmed Saturdays then) and four hours on Sunday. That's 66 hours per week. Setting aside news magazines, variety shows, and scheduled movies, the networks were broadcasting (at the start of the season) 39 hour long dramas and 20 half hour comedies. Five nominations for Outstanding Drama Series and five for Outstanding Comedy Series translates to one nomination for slightly under 8 dramas, and one nomination for every 4 comedies. By way of contrast in the 2006-07 season five networks (My Network isn't being counted here because of its format) will be programming a total of 82 hours. Excluding reality programming and news magazines this means 45 dramas and 26 comedies (including several hour long shows classified as comedies). That's 9 dramas per nomination and 5 comedies. That's without counting original series made for cable networks which is a growing area of the industry and a sector which is producing product that is often of a higher quality than the networks are able to produce. There's more TV being produced so why not more nominations.

2. Scap the Blue Ribbon Panels
(This is one of Bianco's) The system of sending screeners to members and letting them vote on the nominees was actually putting different shows into the lists - it wasn't happening fast but it was happening - while the Blue Ribbon Panel system didn't achieve the goal that its creators set for it, opening up the Emmys to shows that had been excluded. It's arguable that if you didn't have the panels you wouldn't have had the Hugh Laurie situation where House is nominated but Laurie isn't, or the mess surrounding Desperate Housewives, not to mention the Outstanding Actress in a Comedy situation. The voters aren't perfect though - they were the ones who gave Ellen Burstyn a nomination for a 15 second appearance.

3. Change the composition of the Blue Ribbon Panel
If you don't scrap the Blue Ribbon Panel, change who makes it up. One of the early critiques of the Emmy nominations actually made the point that some shows - Lost was one that was cited - weren't nominated because they didn't "play the game" properly. The game is providing the right episodes for the people who come up with the preliminary nominations and the Panel. In the case of Lost the episodes they provided were what the producers regarded as the best episodes of the season. The problem was that these episodes were heavily tied into the show's "mytharc" and don't make that much sense to people who don't watch the show on a regular basis. Shows that were nominated were either shows without a heavy arc quality or provided episodes that stood on their own more readily. The Blue Ribbon Panelists were people in the business of television production in one capacity or another and therefore aren't people who watch a lot of TV (they're too busy making it). The obvious answer, and it's not one I'm entirely comfortable with, is to reach outside the television production business and form a panel of people who watch a lot of TV to weed out the duds from the preliminary rounds of voting. In short, critics.

4. Restrict the number of nominations a show can have in a given category to two
This is mainly directed at the writing and directing categories but sometimes shows up in the acting categories. Is there anything more annoying than seeing your favourite show not getting a nomination because some other series had two, three, or even four nominations (like The Sopranos did for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series in 1999)? Sure you've got different writing teams but still there needs to be a limit. In truth if the nominations are kept at five, I think the limit should be one nomination in the writing and directing categories - the producers should have to pick the outstanding work that was done on their show before submitting it - but I'll settle for two.

5. Give any Blue Ribbon Panel a little extra to do
Another activity for the Blue Ribbon Panel could be to "vet" the nominations in all categories to remove the truly absurd choices like the Ellen Burstyn nomination. Their job in this area would be more along the lines of what the role of the Canadian Senate is supposed to be, a chamber of sober second thought. Their job in this area wouldn't be to pick and choose nominees, it would be to get rid of the real absurdities. As much as I feel that Stockard Channing's Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy nomination is a case of "hey I know her name, she's always good", that's not an absurdity; nominating Ellen Burstyn (who's always good) for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for 15 seconds of work is an absurdity.

6. Try a little honesty
Let's admit the fact that the Emmys aren't really about acknowledging the Outstanding Drama Series or the Outstanding Supporting Actress. The Television Academy doesn't see the complete series for the year or the whole work of the actors and actresses. What they're looking at is two or three episodes which obviously leads to cherry picking - submitting the best two or three episodes. Or rather submitting the best two or three episodes that play the game, the game being to submit the episodes that don't require you to know what happened before and what the consequences of this episode would be later. Lost lost in the nomination process because they submitted "best" episodes which they thought of as best but which required a lot of set up. Which is one reason for scrapping the Blue Ribbon Panel system, because with at large at home voting - the system that was in existence for the past few years - there were at least some voters whose memory or knowledge of particular shows extended beyond the episodes submitted. The other option is to do what the Writing and Directing categories do; nominate an actor or a show for one episode. Say specifically that the Emmy for the Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actress in a Drama goes to Allison Janney of The West Wing for her performance in this one episode. If you can't judge a show or a performer by their full body of work for the year then acknowledge the fact. It won't help Lost get a nomination - despite being one of the best series on TV - but for now at least I don't how to change the game extensively enough that it doesn't favour the producer who works the system. And at least with this suggestion the public knows what they're getting.

I would really be interested in seeing some comments on this.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Vanished - A Vague Sense Of The Familiar

Let's see if this sounds a bit familiar. You have a male FBI agent who has a female partner. The male FBI agent has something dark in his past which affects the way that he approaches his job. He's also got a problem with authority. Not that he isn't good at his job because he is. There are those who even respect him, but he wants things done his way and doesn't want interference from above. The female agent is there to work as his partner but also to rein him in. Oh yeah, and there's a huge conspiracy running through the series that the FBI agents are initially unaware of, but put the pieces of the puzzle together to discover more.

Sounds sort of like The X-Files right? Add in the notion that the series is devoted to one case, the solution of which presumably will also reveal the true nature of the conspiracy and it sounds like a cross between the X-Files, 24 and more than a small amount of The Da Vinci Code. And if the thing is done right it could be worthy of those comparisons. The trouble is that based on the first episode (which aired on Monday and re-aired on Tuesday in Fox's second hour), it doesn't seem worthy of the lineage. There's something there, at least in terms of potential, but so far at least it feels as though it's all being badly mishandled.

The episode starts calmly enough with a hook for the viewers. Sara Collins (Joanne Kelly), second grade teacher and wife of Senator Jeffrey Collins, is sitting in her home office correcting papers. The hook is that she's also talking on the phone and she's agitated with the person that she's talking to. She ends the phone call abruptly when her husband comes home and tells the caller not to call her at home again. After a brief interlude at home which is intended to indicate how much in love the Senator and his wife are we go with them to an event for a charity that Sara is instrumental in organizing. At the event we're given indications that the Senator has political enemies. After a cute scene in which a little girl gives Sara a macaroni necklace and Jeffrey lets her replace the diamond necklace he just that day bought her with it, she's called away by a concierge to answer a phone call...and vanishes.

We're next given a couple of vignettes from the lives of what I think will be the other two key characters. FBI Special Agent Graham Kelton (Gale Harold) is seen reliving the ransom drop for a ten year-old kidnapping victim named Nathan Miller. Everything seems to be working out all right when an FBI sniper kills the kidnapper. And then it suddenly goes horribly wrong. Nathan has a bomb strapped to his body and the kidnapper has a "deadman switch". When the man's thumb goes limp the switch is released and the bomb on Nathan blows up. It's something that haunts him even as he watches his daughter Inez prepare for her first Communion. That's when he gets the In the other vignette we see a beautiful woman removing her bra in a high end apartment and hopping on top of a somewhat scruffy looking man. She's obviously used to being in charge, to the point of telling her lover which cheek to kiss. They are getting into their sexual frolics when the first news report of the kidnapping comes in. Immediately she gets off her lover (talk about your coitus interruptus!) and, naked except for a thong, calls in to her TV station telling them (not asking them) that she's covering the story and telling her lover/cameraman to get his clothes on. She is reporter Judy Nash (Rebecca Gayheart) and you just know that she and Kelton are going to tangle in one way or another (or possibly many).

All of this occurs within what seems like the first ten minutes of the show. Suddenly things shift into light speed. We meet Kelton's partner on this case Lin Mei (played by Ming Na) whose job is to rein him in from ruffling too many feathers and breaching too many procedures. Before the first commercial - which admittedly occurs about fifteen minutes into the episode) they lift a finger print from the chair that the Senator's wife had been sitting in and which the fake concierge pulled out for her when she left for the phone call, learned that the Senator's daughter was also missing and seen the SWAT Team - led by Lin Mei - go into a house where the daughter and her boyfriend, with whom she's running away to get married, are starting to do much the same thing that the reporter and her cameraman were doing. In the course of the episode we see two more forced entries into houses or hotel rooms by the FBI, a car chase which ended with the discovery of the fake concierge shot to death in the trunk of his own car and a couple of clues that are mentioned and processed almost as soon as they're found. If you thought that the CSI shows processed clues fast, they're positively snail-like compared with these guys. The pace is often frenetic which is a problem with this size of cast and the apparent complexity of the mystery they're trying to solve. What's worse is that in those moments when the pace slows down for what little character development there seems to be, the show seems to drag. This is particularly true when the Senator talks to Kelton about Nathan's death, or the scene where the Senator's daughter discovers that her boyfriend has a bloodied jacket in his washing machine and a sports bag full of money sitting beside it.

If you get the feeling that I'm not overly enthusiastic about this show, you're partly right. There are elements that I like. Kelton's a brash character who is invariably the smartest man in the room but I'm not sure that's entirely a bad thing, and he does have a line when he first meets Nash (and everyone thinks that the Senator's daughter has also been kidnapped) that largely sums up certain parts of the news media these days: "You want these women to stay missing so that maybe someday you'll be as famous as they are." The Senator comes across - initially at least - as a concerned and loving husband who doesn't know why this happened to him. The conspiracy elements are not seen much in the first episode but are just intriguing enough as a hint to start us wondering. The fake concierge has a symbol tattooed on his hand that everyone seems to believe is the numeral 9 rendered in an angular shape, although I'm not convinced. The mystery gets even deeper when the ballistics test on the bullet that killed the concierge comes back to an extremely rare gun, and there's only one in the Atlanta area. The address tied to the gun is an abandoned house that looks like something out of Gone With The Wind where the agents come upon the perfectly preserved body of the wife of the former Mayor of Atlanta who also disappeared...ten years ago. She's clutching a prayer card featuring Saint Nathan.

The acting in this series seems highly variable. John Allen Nelson is very strong as Senator Jeffrey Collins, a man who is used to being in charge and suddenly isn't, but I'm less than impressed with Gale Harold who may be best known for playing Wyatt Earp in two episodes of Deadwood and Brian Kinney in the American version of Queer As Folk. Rebecca Gayheart does what she can with the character of Judy Nash but she seems to be an amalgam of all the bad things people think about the press. Two quite strong actors seem like they're being wasted in this. While Ming Na is Kelton's partner but after the first episode we still know literally nothing about her. So far at least a piece of wood could have been cast. Another strong actor in the cast is Esai Morales, who played Lieutenant Tony Rodriguez on NYPD Blue. Here he plays Kelton's boss, Supervisor Kyle Tyner, but he seems to have even less to do than Ming Na. This is annoying because I think he'd be much stronger than Gale Harold in the role of Kelton. But casting isn't the major thing that's bothering me in this show.

What does bother me is the combination of pacing and character development. The first season of 24 offers a clue about how this first episode should have gone. In that first episode we met Jack Bauer, his wife Terri, and his daughter Kim, and we found out about them. We met many of the people at CTU and picked up some details of their lives. We met presidential candidate David Palmer and his wife and kids. The essence of the plot was introduced but the episode was primarily about discovering the people. It wasn't until towards the end of the episode that the first overt act - the kidnapping of Kim Bauer - took place, and because of what had come before it was a shocking event. That pilot episode built gradually so that we were prepared for the action that followed in subsequent episodes. The pilot of Lost gave us characters to care about before introducing us to the mysteries of the island. Even reality shows understand the need to give us "characters" that we can root for or regard as villains. By comparison Vanished dumped us right into the action without the opportunity to gain any sort of depth of understanding of most of the characters. More to the point the degree which any character development was undertaken seems to indicate just how important the principal characters are: Senator Collins - important; Kelton - important; Lin Mei - not important; Judy Nash - important; Tyner - thoroughly unimportant. I'm not sure that we even care that much about Sara Carter except as a Hitchcock style McGuffin. At this level of character development I wouldn't be surprised to see Lin Mei killed, and if she was I can't see myself caring that much. I'm not suggesting that the show should have delayed the kidnapping of Sara Carter until the end of the episode, but to stage it in the first five minutes makes the investigation the focus of the show without giving us people to care about.

In the end I'll watch a few more episodes of Vanished hoping, perhaps vainly, that it might improve. The concept is intriguing and I'd like to see the conspiracy elements being introduced into the show further. What I fear however is that if the pace is maintained without giving us people to care about, I'll end up not caring - and not watching - by the time the mystery is fully developed, if indeed the show lasts that long. I'll mark this series down as a guarded maybe.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fall Series Debuts - Monday August 21, 2006

And so it begins.

You'll have to imagine that in a "trailers announcer's voice" but you get the idea. The first series debuts of the 2006-07 season start tonight on Fox of course. Fox has this 800 pound gorilla sitting on their prime time schedule called Baseball - specifically the Divisional playoffs, the League Championships and the World Series - and since premiering the bulk of their shows after the Series has tended to land them with an audience already set in their viewing habits, they've decided to start their series before anyone else. A good plan I guess, we'll see if it works. Debuting tonight is the second season of Prison Break and the new series Vanished.

Prison Break
Last year's big hit featuring Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell picks up where last season left off, with the Fox River 8 taking it on the lam with Captain Bellick and an assortment of Feds - some good and some bad - in pursuit. Added to the cast is William Fitchner as FBI Special Agent Alexander Mahone who will be leading the pursuit. Presumably Patricia Wettig as the murderously unscrupulous President Reynolds and John Billingsley as her supposedly dead brother - whose supposed murder by Lincoln Burrows set everything in motion - won't be making many appearances as both actors have shows on other networks. I tried to follow this show last year but my schedule (bowling on Monday nights) made it extremely difficult for me to keep up with it.

When the wife of prominent Georgia Senator Jeffrey Collins (John Allen Nelson) vanishes it seems like a normal, albeit high profile, missing persons case. Of course there's more too it than that. As FBI agents Graham Kelton (Gale Harold) and Lin Mei (Ming-Na) and investigative reporter Judy Nash (Rebecca Gayheart) dig into the disappearance of Sara Collins (Joanne Kelly) they find a myriad of secrets, some personal and some leading deep into a centuries old conspiracy. The concept sounds interesting, but then again so did the concept behind last season's Reunion which turned out to be one of the season's biggest duds. To succeed this show, which the producers promise will combine "the investigative twists and turns of 'CSI,' the nonstop pace of '24' and the scope of 'The Da Vinci Code,'" must first have an understanding of where the plot is going, both in the short term and the long term, something which Reunion really didn't have based on what has subsequently come to light. Probably worth at least a look. I don't think it'll become this year's Prison Break let alone a hit of the magnitude of 24 or The X-Files (which it may resemble) but you never know. As usual with a series of this type the big question is what they'll do if they're renewed for another season.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

New Poll - What SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Program?

Our final Emmy poll and by now the pattern should be obvious. Remember you're voting on which show you think should win rather than which show you think will win. Because of course there could be a difference. Comments should be posted here of course.

Poll Results - What SHOULD win the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Program?

A bit better turnout this time over last time - once I managed to get the poll question right the numbers picked up a bit.

Seven votes were cast. In last place, with no votes, was Two And A Half Men. In a three way tie for second place, with one vote each (14%) are Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Scrubs. In a clear cut victory The Office finished fist with four votes (57%). I basically agree with this assessment.

A couple of things bother me about the nominations in this category. Because of the small number of episodes that aired in the 2005-06 season I'm not particularly happy to see Arrested Development nominated. Not that it wasn't a great show mind you (I honestly don't know - I never watched it) but the whole thing seems like the Emmy nominators and the Blue Ribbon Committee that made the final choices were basically giving the one finger salute to Fox for cancelling the show or to the viewers for not watching it. The other nomination I disagree with is Two And A Half Men, which gets huge ratings and anchors the CBS Monday line up but in all honesty isn't that good when compared with other shows. I wouldn't be mentioning this if it weren't the case that there are either better shows or shows that ran for the full season that didn't receive a nomination. In this area I'm thinking particularly of My Name Is Earl and any one of Entourage, Weeds or even Desperate Housewives although that show was very lackluster last season.

New poll up in a few minutes, since I'll probably be at my brother's place tomorrow.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Happy Birthday Philo T. Farnsworth

August 19, 2006 is the 100th birthday of Philo T. Farnsworth.

For those of us who are children of television, and really that's most of us, Farnsworth might rightly be described as our grandfather because Philo T. Farnsworth is generally acknowledged as the father of television. Or at least the father of television as we know it. The British inventor John Logie Baird developed the first practical television device, a mechanical system using a spinning disk to scan the image in the 1920s. In fact the first television transmission in Canada took place in Saskatoon in 1930 using a mechanical system modelled on Baird's. When the BBC began scheduled broadcasts in 1936 they were using both a Baird mechanical system and an electronic system. However mechanical television was a Neanderthal thoroughly outclassed by Cro Magnon, in the form of electronic television, and the heart of electronic television was Philo T. Farnsworth's invention, the Image Dissector.

Philo T. Farnsworth was born in Beaver Utah and grew up in Rigby Idaho. He became fascinated with electronics from the time that he made his first long distance telephone call. At high school he excelled in chemistry and physics, but although he enrolled at Brigham Young University he was forced to leave to help his mother before he completed his degree. Farnsworth had developed the basic idea of the Image Dissector when he was a 14 year old high school student and completed the first operational tube in 1927 when he was 21. The way the Image Dissector worked is described in a Wikipedia article as follows: The image dissector sees the outside world through a glass lens, which focuses an image through the clear glass wall of the tube onto a special plate which is coated with a layer of caesium oxide. When light strikes caesium oxide, the material emits electrons, somewhat like a mirror that reflects an image made of electrons, rather than light (see photoelectric effect). These electrons are aimed and accelerated by electric and magnetic fields onto the dissector's single electron detector so that only a small portion of the electron image hits the detector at any given moment. As time passes the electron image is deflected back and forth and up and down so that the entire image, portion by portion, can be read by the detector. The output from the detector is an electric current whose magnitude is a measure of brightness at a specific point on the image. The Image Dissector was not a perfect device. It had pure light sensitivity. However it was the idea of scanning that was a major breakthrough. The basic television camera tube until the 1960s was the Image Orthicon Tube, which was a combination of Farnsworth's Image Dissector tube with Vladimir Zworykin's Iconoscope tube (which had great light sensitivity).

Philo T. Farnsworth never got rich from developing the Image Dissector even though it was essential in creating the Image Orthicon Tube, largely because he ran into David Sarnoff of RCA and NBC. In 1930 Sarnoff sent Vladimir Zworykin who was working with Westinghouse but would soon be employed by RCA, to spend three days at Farnsworth's lab under false pretenses. Zworykin was so impressed with Farnsworth's work that he integrated it into his own without acknowledging Farnsworth's patents. Farnsworth sought royalty payments from RCA at which point Sarnoff reportedly said "RCA doesn't pay royalties, we collect them." The RCA claim was that Zworykin had patented his Iconoscope in 1923 and this superceded Farnsworth's 1926 patents. However RCA was unable to prove that Zworykin's device produced "an operable television transmitter" and Farnsworth was able to produce evidence - including a drawing he had made for his high school science teacher when he was 15 - that proved that he had the idea first. Farnsworth's claims were upheld in 1934 but Sarnoff (who was really one of the last great robber barons) continued to fight in the courts over specific details for a number of years. Farnsworth would eventually sell his television patents to RCA for $1 million. Most television cameras until at least the 1960s used at least six of Farnsworth's patents.

Unfortunately Farnsworth's later life was plagued by deteriorating health, depression, and financial setbacks although he continued to invent. He served as a Vice President of research at ITT from 1949 until the early 1960s and worked on fusion research both at ITT and at a company he established himself, Philo T. Farnsworth Associates. He died in 1971 of emphysema at age 64, shortly after his company went into bankruptcy due to lack of financing.

What did Philo T. Farnsworth think of his child, Television? His youngest son Kent claimed that his father told him “There’s nothing on it worthwhile, and we’re not going to watch it in this household, and I don’t want it in your intellectual diet” but this was apparently not a quote but Kent's summation of his father's feelings on the matter (Zworykin apparently held similar feelings: "I hate what they've done to my child...I would never let my own children watch it."). And his views may have changed a bit after one special event, the moon landing. According to a 1996 interview with Farnsworth's widow Elma (Pem) done by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences "We were watching it, and, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Phil turned to me and said, 'Pem, this has made it all worthwhile.' Before then, he wasn't too sure."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Classic Comedy Lookback - Soap

Parody: a work that imitates another work in order to ridicule, ironically comment on, or poke affectionate fun at either the work itself, the subject of the work, or another subject.

They say that dying is easy; comedy is hard. If that's the case then I think that parody might well be the form of comedy that is hardest of all to pull off consistently. You do it right and you come up with a Blazing Saddles or a Young Frankenstein. Do it wrong and ... well can you say Men In Tights? (Although I confess to the following - I liked Men In Tights better than I liked Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.) I think it's probably easier to do parody in a one off situation as in a variety show. Wayne & Shuster and Carol Burnett were always pulling off great parodies - Carol Burnett's takes on Sunset Boulevard and Gone With The Wind are classics. I can't imagine how hard it must be to pull off a parody for 22 half hours a year for four years the way the writers and producers on Soap did. Of course parodying a style of program the way that Soap did with soap operas is probably easier to do than a specific show or concept. Of course that's not to say that things for Soap were easy.

Even before it began Soap was mired in far more controversy than it ever really deserved. In a June 1977 article in Newsweek called "99 and 44/100% Impure" (which unfortunately I haven't been able to find online) it was reported that the show would feature, among other things, a woman seducing a priest in a confessional, and a gay man who would undergo a sex change. Apparently the writer never actually saw the pilot for the show and either got the facts wrong or thoroughly misinterpret them by not seeing them in context. The net result was one of the most amazing alignment of forces against one TV show imaginable. It was probably the only cause that could bring the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Gay Task Force and the International Union of Gay Athletes together, with support from the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and the National Council of Catholic Bishops (although to be fair these groups asked their members to do something radical like actually watching the show first). ABC received nearly 32,000 letters of complaint before the show even premiered. Could it possibly have lived down to the expectations of the protesting groups? Well of course not.

Soap focussed on two families, the wealthy Taits and the middle class Campbells. They were linked because the matriarchs of the two families were sisters. Jessica Tait was an optimistic bubble brain while Mary Campbell was down to earth but perhaps a little frustrated. Jessica's husband Chester was a philanderer who couldn't keep his pants zipped but then it seemed as though no on in that family could, with the possible exception of "The Major" - Jessica's senile father who spent his days in his army uniform and addressed Chester as General. Supposedly frigid daughter Eunice was carrying on an affair with a married congressman, while the only thing holding youngest child Billy back was an inability in finding a girl willing to put out. In the first episode Jessica had sex with Peter, the new tennis pro. Shortly after she left her daughter Corrine came into his room and assertively said "Take of your clothes." As for Mary, her new husband Burt was apparently impotent (because unknown to her he killed her first husband); her eldest son from her first marriage, Danny, was an aspiring Mafia hitman - just like his late father - while her younger son Jody was gay and determined to have a sex change operation to be able to openly live with his lover, an NFL quarterback. Rounding it all up was the only apparently normal person in the whole cast, the Tait family's sarcastic butler Benson Dubois who hated Chester but was devoted (in a non-romantic way) to Jessica. Yes there was sex. Yes there was a homosexual planning to get a sex change operation. There was even a priest. But what the infamous article missed was a couple of things. Corinne's repeated efforts to seduce Father Tim occurred because she had been in love with the man since they were in school, it wasn't some effort to seduce a priest because he was a priest and thus the ultimate challenge. And the gay character was neither an effeminate stereotype or someone who was going to be "cured" by the end of the season as the Gay groups accused (although as the series went on the Jodie character was repeatedly attracted to women, to the point where I've often suspected that he was a closet bisexual) and probably was one of the better portrayals of a homosexual man in a comedy in this period or some later periods. More to the point the concepts and plot lines, while exaggerations, weren't that much different from the material being shown each day on real soap operas. After all, during the run of Soap Laura Webber Baldwin (on General Hospital) was raped, divorced her husband and married her rapist Luke Spencer, but of course to censors - then as now - that wasn't important because it wasn't on "prime time" even if it was on at a time when children and teenagers were likely to be watching.

Much of the credit for Soap has to go to series creator Susan Harris who wrote or co-wrote every episode of the show. The humour was quite sophisticated and betrayed an understanding of the underlying structure of soap operas as multi-levelled structures. Thus you had plot lines that ran the length of a season, like the murder of Peter Campbell, while others ran for most of the series, like Jodie's ongoing struggle to gain custody of his daughter and keep her. Still other plot lines were dealt with over a relatively short period of time. As a result the show not only had and maintained continuity - a must in any attempting to parody a form where continuity can stretch back ten or twenty years - but also had a depth in the story telling. Some story lines existed that initially seemed innocuous but grew in importance as the series progressed. There were other, less obvious nods to soap operas. While no characters went up stair and didn't come down for years, none of the three pregnancies on the show (Carol's, Corinne's or Mary's) actually lasted more than a few weeks, and while Jodie's daughter Wendy apparently doesn't age from the time she's introduced until the last episode where we see her, Jodie's half-brother Scottie - who was born after Wendy - is a year old by the end of the show. Jessica's son Billy turned 18 a mere seventeen episodes after he turned 15. While some may consider things like these as continuity errors they're the sort of things that happened all the time in soap operas.

And yet it wasn't just the writing that worked for Soap. Of necessity the show had a large cast, some of whom were regulars and others guest stars who appeared for extended periods of time. It was an excellent cast, a mix of young talent and veteran performers. Both Robert Mandan and Donnelly Rhodes had appeared in real soap operas, while Mandan, Katherine Helmon and Cathryn Damon had extensive Broadway experience. Mandan brought a perfect blustery quality to the role of Chester Tait, the supposedly smart patriarch of the Tait family who lorded his superiority over everyone else but wasn't nearly as smart as he imagined. Soap represented a breakthrough role for two members of the cast. Robert Guillaume, who had primarily been a Broadway actor with a few film and TV roles was able to make the role of the sarcastic Benson stand out so strongly that he not only won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy for the role in 1979 he was also given a spinoff series called Benson which ran seven seasons - three more than Soap - and earned him five more Emmy nominations including one win. Billy Crystal's portrayal of Jodie, which was done with considerable sensitivity and which highlighted a number of contentious issues including a gay man winning custody of his child, earned him notice even though it was his year on Saturday Night Live that was really the springboard for his success.

For my money however the biggest reason for watching Soap was the performance of Richard Mulligan as Bert Campbell. Mulligan was a TV veteran who had done drama as well as sitcoms, including the lead role in a short run show called The Hero and a supporting role in the Dianna Rigg comedy Dianna. However he may have been best known at the time that he appeared on Soap for playing General Custer in Little Big Man opposite Dustin Hoffman. His version of Custer is the gallant if somewhat pompous leader on the surface but under the surface is thoroughly and hilariously insane. While the strength of Soap was in the writing and the crafting of the story lines, Mulligan brought a tremendous physicality to the part of Bert that had something of the quality that he gave to Custer. You could never be sure that Bert was entirely sane even when he wasn't trying to appear insane. Mulligan was particularly good when reacting to others. Bert was a collection of physical tics that were waiting to be unleashed. It's astonishing to me that while Muligan was nominated twice and one once as Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy at the Emmys, he earned three nominations (including one win) and all of his three Golden Globe nominations (including on win in a tie with Judd Hirsch and Michale J. Fox) for the far more sedate and conventional role of Harry Weston in Empty Nest.

Soap was very much a product of its time. The show didn't play it safe but pushed the envelope of the acceptable which was what got the show into trouble in the first place but also what got it noticed. The show wasn't grounded in the sort of realism that you found in All In The Family or other shows of this period, which was sort of the point. The characters were for the most part caricatures - whether it was Jessica blithely sailing through the perils of her everyday life, Chester blustering and scheming to keep his latest infidelity from his wife, or Bert being Bert - and the situations they found themselves in often exaggerated as much as the characters. The show truly was a parody, and a brilliant one. Although cancelled prematurely (in my opinion) after four years I can't help but wonder how much longer the show could have maintained the quality it showed in its first three seasons in particular (the fourth season was something of a mess because of the SAG and AFTRA strike and some decisions by ABC which seem intended to kill the show). But it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hapy Birthday to umm Me

Not to make too big of a deal out of it but the little guy in the upper right hand corner of the sidebar has passed out of the "key 18-49" demographic today. Yep, today, August 15th is my 50th birthday. Or as Jack Benny - who is still one of my favourite comedians - would put it I'm 39, but I have 50 year old corpuscles.

Emerging From Hell - A Chef

Every so often you know what is going to happen on a TV show. It's not just mysteries where you know whodunnit fifty minutes before the detective, or bad comedies where you can write out exactly what's going to happen from the summary some guide, or even without it. No, it sometimes even happens on reality shows. Not as often but it does happen. For example I knew at the end of the second episode of this season's Hell's Kitchen that Heather was going to win the thing. If you will recall that was the episode where she burned her hand and as she was being treated she was shouting out instructions and information to the members of her team. At that instant you knew that she was hungry for this job and that she had what it took to run a kitchen. And as more and of the other competitors were eliminated she started showing up as the class of the group. When it came down to Virginia versus Heather, well Gordon Ramsay should have just given Heather the keys to the restaurant as soon as K-Greasy's stupid face was out the door. But then they wouldn't have their "exciting" finale".

Not that Virginia was without skills of course. According to Ramsay she had an amazing palate that was an absolutely miraculous gift (and if she wants to keep that gift she should immediately stop smoking through whatever means possible, because nothing dulls your taste buds like smoking - apparently Ramsay doesn't smoke and all of his London restaurants are non-smoking). The trouble is, as anyone who has seen the previous episodes of the show could tell you, she is absolutely hopeless when it comes to actually cooking or running the line. She has other weaknesses too as we shall see. Heather, on the other hand, has a rather undistinguished palate - she's also a smoker and I suspect that Ramsay would tell her (as he told a female celebrity cook on the British version of Hell's Kitchen) that she had a palate like a cows backside because of it. But she has energy and passion which is what counts.

The season finale of Hell's Kitchen began with a recap of all the previous episodes and the departures of previous chefs culminating with Keith - or as he prefers "K-Grease" - telling Ramsay that he had a "bleep" (apparently he said "a hard-on") for Virginia. This was followed by a visit from some "special guests"; Heather's mom and dad and Virginia's mom and husband. Much weeping and celebrating occurred before they left. The next morning was taken up with a press conference culminating with a curtain dropping down the middle of the "restaurant" (which is of course actually a studio set up as a restaurant). Each chef would have half the restaurant and a pair of designers to create a space to reflect her vision. Heather wanted something youthful and family oriented while Virginia wanted something mature and upscale (with a water wall).

Of course having chefs hanging around while their restaurant is being remodelled is not a good idea, particularly when the remodelling has to be accomplished in under two days, so Gordon whisked his smoky kitchen divas off to Las Vegas by limo. This was actually for the final challenge. Vegas is going to be their market after all so he wanted to see how their signature dishes would go down there. The test bed was the Green Valley Ranch Resort and Casino, which (surprise) is owned by the same company that owns the Red Rock Resort and Casino where the winner's restaurant will be located. Each woman had to produce portions of their "signature dish" for twenty people apparently selected at random. Virginia did a Poached Chicken Rouladen with Prosciutto in a Beurre Blanc sauce, while Heather made a Chilean Sea Bass on Pureed Cauliflower. Of the twenty people who tasted both ten liked the chicken and ten liked the fish. A twenty first person was selected and he liked the chicken (me, I'd have picked the fish; the chicken seemed rather ordinary). This meant that Virginia won the challenge, but what that meant would only become apparent when the got back to the restaurant.

The morning after they returned from Vegas they got a new surprise - six previously eliminated cooks from Hell's Kitchen arrived bearing food. They were to be the staff for the kitchens along with Ramsay's two sous chefs, Scott and Mary Ann. The previous day's competition had been to decide who would get first pick, and Virginia had won it. She immediately proceeded to squander it. Her picks were Keith, Tom and Giacomo. The latter two had been eliminated early in the competition and Tom in particular had shown little or no ability. Heather had Rachel (her closest friend during the show), Sara (her bitterest enemy but one of the best cooks) and Garret. During the time spent briefing their brigades, Virginia made the comment that she had deliberately picked the weakest cooks (aside from Keith) because if she could get quality results out of them it would show that she deserved to win! This irritated the men and Keith told Virginia that he wasn't cooking unless there was a little something in it for him and his boys if she won - say $1,000 each. Virginia was disgusted but agreed. If I had any doubt that Heather would win before they were erased with Virginia's selection of assistants and her giving in on the demands for a bribe.

Finally it was time to open, but not before Ramsay had critiqued the menus and the restaurant design. He basically liked both designs but he wondered a bit about some "graffiti walls" that had been set up in Heather's restaurant. He like the way that Virginia's restaurant was lit in a way that would flatter female patrons. Then it was time to cook. Right off the bat Heather was assertive with her crew - a mini Ramsay demanding times for things and getting dishes to the hot plate fast. After some troubles with appetizers being sent back Heather's side seemed to be working like a well oiled machine, albeit one prodded, cajoled and yelled at by Heather. Virginia's side on the other hand was not working well together. Orders were piling up because she insisted that she be the only one handling plating, and communications between her brigade wasn't good. Tom in particular was uncooperative, saying in private that he didn't like being bossed around by women. At one point Tom cut his finger while slicing servings of Snapper and had to go "backstage" to have it looked at - he was hustled back to the kitchen by Ramsay calling him a "drama queen". When a serving of fish is returned for being too oily - Virginia had decided to increase the pace of service by allowing dishes to be sent out without checking them thoroughly - she found that she didn't have any fish to make a replacement meal. Eventually the customer who sent the dish back decided just to go on to desert.

And then it was over. A special guest was revealed to the two chefs, the president of the Red Rocks Casino Resort, who had sampled dishes from each of the chefs and complimented both women on some of their dishes. It was left to Ramsay to make the final decision though, aided by customer response cards. He claimed that the customer responses had given a slight edge to one cook, and of course that this was the hardest decision he'd had to make. The two women were taken to an upstairs area in front of two doors. Each was given a key to the specific doors and was told that the winner had the key that would open her door. From inside the restaurant we saw the door open and the winner was.... Heather (but of course I gave that away at the start of this post).

Gordon Ramsay explained his decision by saying that he liked Heather's determination and the way that she handled her kitchen. It was a case of stating the obvious. It was really obvious from the start that Heather was the superior candidate, the best of what really was a fairly bad lot of would be restauranteurs. There were perhaps four chefs who really deserved to be on the show and I'm not sure that Virginia was one of them despite her amazing palate. When it came to working on the line and producing during service her performance could best be described as weak and sometimes pitiful. If she was having trouble working on the line what hope did she have running the line. Virginia's management skills were also questionable. She deliberately picked two of the worst cooks available to work for her on the grounds that if she could get them to perform it would show that she deserved the restaurant but then didn't make them work to any sort of effective level. For me the amazing part isn't that Ramsay picked Heather but that he actually thought it was a difficult decision. Of all people Ramsay should know that a chef can't run a restaurant based solely on a superior palate - or even superior dishes - alone. A top chef needs to be able to command his or her staff, to demand a high standard of performance and get it. Those are the qualities that Heather exhibited throughout the series and that Virginia never did learn even though she was on the receiving end of it for every service from Ramsay himself. Hell's Kitchen will be returning next summer. I can't help but hope that more of the contestants then will possess the sort of qualities that made Heather stand out from the beginning.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Classic Comedy Lookback - All In The Family

I'm not sure when it happened but somewhere along the line I started feeling sympathy for Archie Bunker. Or maybe not sympathy, maybe just empathy. I mean I don't like the guy, and I think that his attitudes on race ethnicity and sexuality are about as repugnant as you can get, but somehow I can muster at least a little feeling for him. Maybe because I've known people like him all my life. Not the bigotry and racism part - although I've known people like that too - but the whole sense of Archie as a hard working average guy in a world over which he has no control. And worst of all, Archie has to deal with his son-in-law the Meathead.

All In The Family came to CBS at a very interesting point in the history of the network and television, the rise of Demographics. At the time CBS had a string of extremely successful shows including, but not limited to, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Mayberry RFD, The Ed Sullivan Show, Gunsmoke, Gomer Pyle USMC, The Jackie Gleason Show, Hogan's Heroes, and Hee Haw. The networks were starting to become more interested in who was actually watching their shows - demographics - and at CBS what they were discovering was that the people watching their shows were older and a higher percentage than with the other networks lived in rural areas. Then as now these groups tended to be less attractive to advertisers so that while the shows were still popular they weren't attracting the people advertisers were interested in. (I've read that there was a sound technical reason for the high rural viewership of CBS, although I don't know if it is entirely accurate. At the time many of the CBS affiliates were Channel 2 in their local markets and the frequencies assigned to that particular channel carries further than frequencies for stations higher on the dial.) What CBS TV president Robert Wood proposed was to sweep out the older skewing rural based programming and introduce newer, more sophisticated programming focussed on winning the urban market. When head of programming Mike Dann objected to cancelling shows that were still successful he soon found himself replaced by a young executive named Fred Silverman. Of the shows named above only Gunsmoke survived the infamous CBS "rural purge". Among the shows brought on to replace the rural shows were M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore and All In The Family.

Based on the BBC series 'Til Death Do Us Part, All In The Family had in fact started at ABC in October 1968 as a pilot called Justice For All (the family name at the time was Justice) and a second pilot was shot in February 1969 as Those Were The Days, but ABC became nervous about the content of the show and passed on the concept. CBS picked it up and shot a third pilot retaining Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton - their characters now renamed Archie and Edith Bunker - but adding Rob Reiner as Michael Stivic and Sally Struthers as his wife (and Archie's daughter) Gloria. Although the basic conflicts between the bigoted and conservative older man and his more liberal son in law were retained from the British series, by the time All In The Family debuted in January 1971 there were other, uniquely American sources of conflict arising. All In The Family wold be one of a rare breed, a relevant topical network situation comedy.

Archie Bunker is clearly meant to be the antagonist of the piece. He's a combative, uneducated, opinionated, bigoted and whiny blue collar worker, a man who demands to be the lord and master of his home ruling from a well upholstered throne placed squarely in front of the television. He uses the whole gamut of racial slurs, including on vary rare occasions the N-word. He verbally bullies his wife, the naive but goodhearted Edith, who has a significantly less well-upholstered chair next to his in front of the TV. The principal irritant in Archie's happy home comes in the form of his son-in-law Michael who is all the things Archie hates - a liberal, a Polish-American, and an unemployed college student who is eating Archie's and having sex with Archie's daughter. It seems relatively clear that not only aren't we supposed to like Archie, but that Archie was created to ridicule bigotry by making him such an unattractive character and one who generally loses because of it. Indeed the network sought to make this clear in a disclaimer that ran before the first episode: "The program you are about to see is All In The Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are." However CBS did a survey after the show had become a hit and writers were suggesting that by making Archie Bunker and his prejudices a figure of ridicule it would reduce prejudice. The survey showed that All In The Family actually reinforced prejudices; William S. Paley, had it repressed.

The show debuted to controversy about everything from Archie's language and bigotry to the fact that for the first time on television we actually heard a toilet flush, things which also CBS chairman William S. Paley. However in the first season - or rather half season since the show debuted in January - the show did not perform well, finishing in 34th place and facing the possibility of cancellation. The next season though the show finished in first place, and for the remainder of its run it never finished lower than 12th and that was only in one season 1976-77. The 1971 ratings can probably be explained by noting that in that year the show was airing right after CBS's rural block of The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Hee Haw while for the 1971-72 season it let off the Saturday night lineup, a lineup remade to eliminate the rural shows.

Archie Bunker has been referred to as "a lovable bigot" and it's probably true. There were people who could identify with him, and people who knew people like him who were basically good people except for some of the views they held. The truth is that Archie was a basically good person who held views that more "enlightened" people found repugnant. Archie worked hard, sometimes driving cab at night in addition to his day job at the loading dock in order to support his family. For all that he told Edith to "stifle yourself" he was devoted to his wife and wanted only the best for his daughter. He was ecstatic the first time that Gloria got pregnant even though it meant another mouth to feed and when she suffered a miscarriage he was there for her. Perhaps the most absurd thing that I have seen from time to time about Archie is that the character was a bad father. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

While Archie was clearly meant to be the show's antagonist because of his views the character who was meant to reflect the "more enlightened" viewpoint was Michael. And yet viewed over the course of the series and a bit beyond, Michael is essentially a mirror image of Archie and not necessarily any more attractive. Through most of the series their relationship is combative. Michael always seem to be poking Archie, attacking the older man's preconceived notions with his own positions, which in their own way were just as preconceived and biased in their self-righteousness as Archie's. There were other sources of antagonism. Michael's education fuelled his self-righteous side - he was smarter than Archie and so knew better on the "important issues." It entirely ignores the root causes for Archie's lack of education; like many men who came of age in the 1930s he was forced to quit school to work to help support his family during the Depression, after which he found himself in the military during World War II after which he had to get a job to support himself and his wife and eventually his daughter. And I suspect that that is another reason why Archie has problems with Michael - he doesn't believe that "The Meathead" is good enough for his "little goil" and in the end (although it is long after All In The Family ends) we find out that he's right. While Michael works on his Masters and his PhD in whatever he's studying, Gloria is the breadwinner for her family. She has bought into the notion that so many women did of supporting her man while he goes through school, and even though she considers working to be "liberated" behaviour in the end she doesn't benefit, particularly since his attitudes towards women aren't nearly as progressive as his positions in other areas. At times he makes her feel stupid and inadequate because she doesn't have his level of education, even though he had promised that she'd get the chance to go back to school once he completed his degree. Eventually, established in a home of their own in California and away from Archie and Edith, Michael and Gloria's marriage crumbles. Although there had been signs before the true rift is first seen in the two part episode "California Here We Are", where the couple have separated because Gloria has had an affair, and later - after the show become Archie Bunker's Place - we learn that Michael has abandoned his wife and son and taken up with a "flower child" on a commune (this was part of the set-up for the short lived Sally Struther's spin-off series Gloria).

All In The Family was one of the truly great television shows of all time. Although it was followed by a number of socially relevant series over the years, some adapted from British originals - notably Sanford And Son which had originally been the British Steptoe And Son - All In The Family seemed consistently willing to tackle taboos, more so than other shows. All In The Family did episodes about menopause, breast cancer, miscarriage, rape, homosexuality and the right to die. For that it's noteworthy, but for the creation of a character like Archie Bunker it shines. If the show had simply been Archie and Michael squabbling, with Archie being perceived by us as just a stupid bigot then the controversial material wouldn't have been enough for it to become the most popular show on TV and stay there for several seasons. The writing was excellent, and the cast one of the best in television then or now. But for me, perhaps the most important aspect was that Archie wasn't a static character. He evolved. While he may have remained a bigot he grew increasingly accepting of people and their differences. In the end that sort of character development is what sets All In The Family apart from so many other series