Sunday, November 05, 2006

Short Takes – November 5, 2006

First an apology. I am finding that blogging on this old computer (or probably more accurately this old operating system) isn’t exactly convenient and therefore I’m doing it less. For one thing the blogging software I’ve been using – w.bloggar – doesn’t seem to work with Windows 98. Then again my mouse isn’t performing the way it would on XP either and the performance of my new keyboard is less than optimal too. Oh well, four to six months to a new computer.

I never noticed before: For those of you who get Turner Classic Movies, they’ve been showing the Kirk Allyn Superman serial from 1948 on Saturday mornings just before their Cartoon Alley show (one of the only place on TV where you can see classic Warner Brothers and MGM animation on an actual TV without shelling out for DVDs). The serial featured the always reliable Carol Forman as the “Spider Lady”, mostly hiding her dark hair underneath a platinum blonde wig. And it features Noel Neill as Lois Lane, a role she’d reprise in the 1950 serial Atom Man vs. Superman and then in the TV series The Adventures of Superman. I am used to seeing Neill in the short, heavily permed hairstyle that the character had from the 1950s and which was a favourite of Kurt Schaffenberger, so seeing Neill with longer, shoulder length hair is a revelation. At 27 or 28 she was a real cutie, which isn’t something you really notice five years later. Maybe I’m just a sucker for longer hair. TCM will wind up the 1948 serial next Saturday (November 11) and then start Atom Man vs. Superman (featuring the only appearance of the Lex Luthor character in either the live action movies or TV until the 1978 movie) the week after.

Why does NewsCorp hate Studio 60?: Maybe hate is an overstatement, but there’s something going on. First Fox News reported that NBC was on the verge of canceling Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, or as the Fox News article put it “putting it out of its misery” and replace it with “Deal-No Deal: The Next Generation, or some such thing. So the losers here will be the audience, which is about to be pummelled by more reality and game shows.” Not so said NBC. Not only have they ordered more episodes but the show is actually profitable for the network, because while the audience is smaller than expected (or hoped for) it tends to be a more affluent audience for which the network can charge a premium to advertisers. Then, after NBC ran a new episode of Friday Night Lights in Studio 60’s Monday time slot which got marginally higher ratings than the previous week’s episode of Studio 60, Michael Starr of the New York Post wrote an article headlined “Lights Dim Hope For Studio”. The article conveniently ignored the fact that while Studio 60 has been up against new episodes of CSI: Miami – the most popular show in the world based on international syndication – while Friday Night Lights was against a CSI: Miami rerun and a Monday night football game on ESPN that was essentially a blow-out. Under those circumstances one would tend to expect a better performance. In fact Studio 60’s rating had improved the week before against a new episode of CSI: Miami. It wasn’t a huge improvement but it was an improvement. NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly has stated – in reference to Studio 60, Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock – "I'm sitting here right now with some very good television shows that I think have a lot of promise that need to be nurtured a little bit...I'm pulling for these shows and I'm trying to figure out what's the midseason schedule that can give them a chance, because I really believe some of these can really grow into bigger commercial assets." Fox News and The New York Post are both owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp.

Gone in 60 minutes: On Wednesday Fox debuted a new game show called The Rich List in the second hour in the time slot previously occupied by Justice. I missed it. It was on opposite Criminal Minds and Lost. Fox pulled the show from its line up and from the network’s website on Friday. They also pulled, and apparently canceled Happy Hour at the same time. Also canceled – again – by NBC is Kidnapped, which got one airing in its Saturday nighttime slot before the network dropped it. The remaining episodes will be made available online, not that this helps a Canadian fan of the show (like me) due to rights issues.

The PTC rates the young people’s favourites: Our “friends” at the Parent’s Television Council have analyzed the top 20 shows among “children ages 2-17, according to a ranking by Nielsen Media Research.” The PTC article The Cleanest TV Shows for Children are Reality Shows? uses the organization’s Red, Yellow and Green light system to show the “suitability” of the show. Green Light shows – most suitable – are (from best to worst) are Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, NBC Sunday Night Football, Deal or No Deal, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and American Inventor. Yellow Light shows – questionably suitable – are So You Think You Can Dance, The Simpsons, America’s Got Talent, Biggest Loser, and Survivor. The Red Light shows – unsuitable – are Lost, House, The War at Home, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, American Dad, Family Guy, Desperate Housewives, and C.S.I. As the PTC notes, none of the shows that the PTC deems as “suitable” and only one of the “questionably suitable” programs is a scripted series. On the other hand it does raise a certain concern about the PTC’s methodology. By lumping two year olds with 17 year olds they create the impression that five or seven year olds are watching Desperate Housewives or CSI. As most people realize there is usually a significant difference between what pre-teens watch and a teenager prefers, not to mention what’s suitable for a pre-teen as opposed to what’s suitable for an older teen. The PTC doesn’t seem to recognize this, or perhaps in an effort to rally the righteous indignation of their members has chosen to present the data this way.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Last week (when I didn’t post) the PTC renewed its attack on Cable and Satellite pricing. They want a la carte pricing to combat the “full-fledged programming conveyor belt taking sexually graphic and violent shows from premium cable to basic cable, and some from basic cable to broadcast.” The PTC is making this call “citing evidence that several television shows have moved from premium cable to basic cable, and some to broadcast. A current series on the FX Network, The Shield is also being aired on the CW Network. Originally developed for HBO, Six Feet Under, is now airing on Bravo. In January, HBO series, The Sopranos will begin airing on A&E. And former HBO series, Sex and the City, which was one of the first to be syndicated on basic cable, is now being carried on the CW Network.” The PTC notes that “The former HBO series, Sex and the City, was one of the first to pave the way into basic cable syndication on TBS and WGN, which are carried by virtually every cable and satellite customer in the country. And now this program is being aired on the CW Network as well. A whole new audience that doesn’t pay premium prices for soft porn now can get the same slutty product, diluted – with a little less nudity and the word ‘freaking’ where the obscenity used to be. If given a choice, how many families would choose to take this type of programming?” First I don’t think it’s airing on the CW network but rather on affiliated station. Second, the show has been edited to remove the nudity and to replace offensive language – presumably by the same people who replace “sumbitch” in the Smokey and the Bandit movies with “scumbum”. One has to wonder how a PTC member would regard real soft porn if they think that Sex and the City is soft porn.

The irony for me is that, on the whole, I support the idea of a la carte cable, although on the grounds that there are networks that I am currently forced to take that don’t broadcast shows of any interest to me – music networks of virtually any format come to mind. That said I don’t think that most TV viewers would make use of an a la carte system. I would suspect that if the cable companies were to offer a la carte pricing they would also offer programming bundles that would mix popular and less popular networks at a lower price than one would pay for a similar number bought individually. I am convinced that if the public were offered a bundle of five “good” channels (as defined by the PTC) and three “bad” channels for a price equal or less than the price of the five “good” channels bought separately, most would by the package.

The Worst Show of the Week is Boston Legal. According to the PTC “With three sex scenes and a murder trial surrounding an incestuous relationship, Boston Legal is an easy pick for Worst of the Week.” They cite Alan Shore having “explicit” sex with Sally on two occasions before sleeping with one of his partners: “Portraying Sally in a humorous manner as sexually promiscuous with a total disregard for emotional and physical consequences is irresponsible and in poor taste for prime time.” The main area of concern is the plot in which a man on trial for murder is revealed to have been involved with his mother in “had an ongoing sexual relationship for six years.” After the son is acquitted of murder “he and his mother exchange a deep romantic kiss privately in the courthouse.” Boy, wait until they find out about Denny and Bethany!

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