Thursday, March 29, 2007

Culture Wins One Over Commerce

So let me explain something. I'm not a musical person. I couldn't tell the difference between Nellie Furtado and Nellie McClung. Okay, that's wrong. I can tell you the differences between Nellie Furtado and Nellie McClung, but only because I know a little about Nellie McClung. When it comes to Nellie Furtado I'm a blank slate. So you can tell that the Juno Awards – Canada's answer to the Grammys and named for Pierre Juneau who as head of the CRTC introduced stringent Canadian Content regulations for TV and Radio – don't exactly turn my world upside down even though they're in my home town of Saskatoon. In fact if I got on my bike and used a short cut I know about I could reach TCU Place – formerly Saskatchewan Place – temporary home of the Junos and normally home of the mighty, mighty (pitiful) Saskatoon Blades in about 20 minutes. But I wouldn't because quite frankly I could care less. I mean right now I'm listening to CBC's Radio 2 right now and they don't play the sort of thing that gets honoured at awards shows, at least not on the TV broadcast. Face it, when was the last time you saw the Grammy for best Classical Album awarded during the television broadcast? Yeah that's right, never.

But I am all about the TV and that's where the Junos suddenly became interesting. You see the Junos were scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Sunday night. That's 7 p.m. Saskatoon time, which is Central Standard Time which really means it's Mountain Daylight Time (but just try explaining that to people around here). The problem is that we as Canadians live in a country that spans five and a half time zones, and if you'll recall the list of the most popular shows I ran last Monday, most Canadians watch The Amazing Race on Sundays. That includes me, as I`m sure you all know by now.

So the folks at CTV faced a conundrum: do they show the Junos live and move The Amazing Race out of its normal timeslot in most of the country, or run The Amazing Race at its usual time which coincides with the time that CBS shows it in the United States and cable systems across Canada (except of course for Saskatchewan which is too odd and unimportant for them to adjust the schedule so that US shows are seen at the same time that the American stations in Detroit show them). Really it was a no-brainer – they decided to do the right thing... and tape delay the Junos in most of the country, including Saskatchewan.

Apparently there was outrage. I`m not entirely sure from whom but there was outrage felt. When I first found out about this decision, I contacted Diane Kristine, who not only does the fine blog Unified Theory of Nothing Much but also created the website TV Eh! What`s Up in Canadian TV. Her reaction was admittedly a bit more musically interested than mine but still similar. Essentially she felt that the Juno show would receive better ratings with The Amazing Race as a lead in than going head to head with the American feed of the show. She did preface her statement with a "sadly", which I probably wouldn't have done. Actually I do know where a lot of the outrage came from – the Canadian music industry. According to a statement from CTV and the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, there was an "overwhelming feedback" from artists, managers and record labels. "They were feeling that . . . it really looked as though we were treating Canadian music in a way that made it look like second-class citizens," said CARAS chairman Stephen Stohn. "We reacted immediately to that and said, 'No, the important thing is: Canadian music comes number 1.' " Both CARAS and CTV had initially agreed to scheduling the Junos after The Amazing Race, which usually draws an audience of over 2 million viewers, as a way to increase viewership of the awards show. It's not without precedent – two years ago the Junos were tape delayed because it conflicted with Desperate Housewives. Initially the Junos were to air live in the Atlantic provinces (at 10 p.m.) and Alberta (at 7 p.m. – they get their American channels from Spokane in the Pacific time zone) and by tape delay in the rest of Canada including Saskatoon. The current plan has the show starting at 5 p.m. CST rather than as originally scheduled at 7 p.m. and airing live in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta. It will still be tape delayed in Manitoba and British Columbia, and will be reaired in Saskatchewan at 9 p.m.

Writer Denis McGrath who is a staunch defender of Canadian TV production was very much opposed to CTV's decision. In a post on his blog Dead Things ON Sticks he wrote "that pesky culture vs. commerce thing keeps rearing its ugly head, too, all because of the peculiarity of broadcasting in Canada: private broadcasters make their money by aping and piggybacking on U.S. nets, NOT by developing and broadcasting their own programs." He follows this up with an interesting observation "I've said this before, but it bears repeating: the very same arguments made against continuing subsidies and support for the domestic TV industry were made against Cancon in music. Yet Cancon rules for radio allowed the Canadian industry to mature, grow, and eventually become popular; popular enough that a Canadian private network would face a difficult choice between two properties.... If Canadian TV hasn't reached a popularity point with audiences yet that rivals the Junos, it's a problem of implementation – NOT basic philosophy." Frankly I think he's right to a point, although music – and a home-grown self-sufficient music industry – is a lot easier and less expensive to develop than television shows or a home-grown and self sufficient television industry. But that's a subject for another day. Suffice it to say that the current model, which not only allows Canadian stations and networks to buy American product but encourages them to do so through the mechanism of simultaneous substitution (which puts the Canadian signal – and advertising – over the top of the same American signal on cable systems) is not one that will encourage quality Canadian production or the development of a domestic industry. That's a crutch that private radio never had and may explain why the Canadian Content regulations for radio spawned a viable and vibrant recording industry in Canada.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Short Takes – March 25, 2007

Okay, I made the transition to the New Blogger and for the most part it was painless. All I had to do was create a new Google account and even that wasn't overly painful. Who knew? Apparently not the people who set up this transition process in the first place but that, of course, is a whole other story. Changes are coming; you may have noticed the addition of labels below the posts – and because I'm an anal sort I'll eventually get every post (over 500 of them) appropriately labelled – and then there's the long desired (by me) redefinition of my template. But that's for the future.

ABC renews shows for next year: I think this makes them the first network to do so. Among the shows renewed are new series Men in Trees, Ugly Betty, and Brothers & Sisters, and returning series Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelor, Boston Legal, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Significantly there is no word about Six Degrees (one of those rare shows that has returned from an early relegation to the status of "indefinite hiatus", but which has had a significant retooling by the network), nor is there any mention of the network's conventional comedy series including According to Jim and George Lopez as well as new shows Knights of Prosperity and In Case of Emergency.

Ratings show Canadians love US shows: In my last post I mentioned that of the Canadian broadcast networks CBC was the one I was most likely to watch because I chose to watch the other networks' offerings on the original American network. Here are the top 10 shows on Canadian TV courtesy of the BBM – essentially Canada's answer to the Nielsen Ratings:

  1. American Idol (Tuesday) - CTV
  2. Grey's Anatomy - CTV
  3. American Idol (Wednesday) - CTV
  4. Corner Gas - CTV
  5. CSI: Miami - CTV
  6. Amazing Race All Stars - CTV
  7. Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? - Global
  8. Criminal Minds - CTV
  9. Hockey Night In Canada – Game 1 - CBC
  10. CTV Evening News - CTV

Of the ten shows, only three are made in Canada – Corner Gas, Hockey Night In Canada, and CTV Evening News – and only Corner Gas is a scripted, non-news program. And we can see which network bought the most popular American programming.

Guidance and common sense: Patricia Harrison, the Republican appointed president of the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, recently made some wide ranging statements about the organization she heads. The principal thrust of her speech at a Media Institute lunch was primarily about seeking guidance from journalism schools to "define journalistic objectivity and balance on public broadcasting." According to Harrison, "public media consumers already believe noncommercial TV is nonpartisan and unbiased."

Harrison had opinions about other aspects of public broadcasting. She stated that she was shocked when the FCC fined a non-commercial station for airing profanities when it showed the Martin Scorsese Blues documentary. According to Harrison, "common sense could dictate that there is a world of difference between the casual, gratuitous profanity in a run-of-the-mill sitcom as opposed to its contextual use in a documentary like The Blues." She also worried about the effect that this sort of "censorship before the fact" will have a chilling effect on other stations and producers. She's a bit behind the times on this one. We know from the private sector that is has exactly that sort of effect. The decision by a large number of commercial stations not to air the movie because of profanity despite the fact that it had aired previously and had not been subject to FCC action is exactly the sort of chilling effect that Harrison is talking about. It is an action that says that it is better to be safe than sorry and it has become more pervasive in these days of increased FCC fines and advocacy groups mounting massive mailing campaigns with pre-printed form letters of complaint for people who are "outraged" even if they never saw the show in question.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Well they're still hating on the same episode of The Black Donellys as they were last week. And they are continuing their assault on the V-Chip. In an address to the Association of National Advertisers' Forum on March 20, as reported in Advertising Age, PTC President Tim Winter alleged that 80% of the V-Chip ratings assigned to shows were wrong as determined by a study undertaken by the PTC. According to Winter, this represented "fraud by many of the broadcasters and the networks. ... They rate [the programs] inaccurately and that way the V-chip doesn't block the programming. You're duped. Families are duped. And if the rating system is wrong, the V-chip can't work." However, it seems to me that a study by the PTC on the V-Chip is on the lines of a self-fulfilling prophecy; the ratings are determined to be wrong by the PTC but it is in the interest of the PTC for the ratings to be wrong. If all you see a statement that "80% of the V-Chip ratings assigned to shows are wrong" aren't you being duped if you aren't told that the organization that is making that statement is vehemently opposed to the very idea of the V-Chip?

Who hates the PTC this week?: As a matter of fact it's the very organization that Tim Winter was addressing, the Association of National Advertisers. Winter repeated the usual PTC line; the V-Chip doesn't work, that there needs to be a la carte pricing for cable so people aren't forced to subsidise shows that have graphic content, and that the PTC wants to work with advertisers so that they don't fund "evil" shows. Among Winter's statements: "I believe there is a cartel … a fraud that the cable industry … has perpetrated on consumers," and "Our goal is to have collaborative efforts to help you reach your demographic market. We want you to win. We want to do it a way that hopefully does not encourage or sponsor graphic anti-family programming."

Winter was in enemy territory on this one though as reported by Variety's Multi Channel News. Dan Jaffe, the ANA's executive vice president of government relations stated that "What we have always said is that we don't want to have censorship in this society, where some group becomes a surrogate parent, for a surrogate person to decide what should come into the home. Parents should have that power." At least one delegate suggested that companies who are targeted by PTC letter and email campaigns should be able to sue for restraint of trade. One attendee wanted his money back because he felt that the forum was a waste of time: "This conversation is ridiculous as an advertiser. You have a television. You have a remote control. Turn it off tell your daughter to leave the room." In a poll taken during the ANA panel, a significant minority – 41% – felt threatened by advocacy groups like the PTC, but not one felt that advocacy groups like the PTC should be given the responsibility of shielding children from what they watch on TV.

Winters reportedly appreciated the difference in opinion but "I think it's unfortunate that it has to be so venomous." Perhaps he should ask himself and his group who made it so venomous - I don't think it was the advertisers. Certainly through its Family Friendly Programming Forum and the Forum's Script Development Fund, the ANA has done more that is positive in terms of getting family friendly programming on the air than anyone at the PTC ever has.

Monday, March 19, 2007

My Top 15 TV Channels – At The Moment

The guys over at have taken note of a report from the New York Daily News (one of the great newspapers in my opinion) which says that while the average American household gets over 100 TV channels (104.92 to be precise) thanks to cable and/or satellite, most of them only watch about 15 of them on any sort of regular basis. Which is interesting and may explain the cable industry's reluctance – to say the least – to the idea of a la carte pricing, but that's a whole different story. The Daily News article doesn't give any listing of which 15 channels are the most popular amongst the viewers surveyed. I suspect that it would reveal that the mass of religious channels collectively are on the list of fewer people than any one of the shopping channels which are in turn dwarfed as a group by the stations that serve up that diet of violent and sexual content that the PTC rails against.

As I never get tired of reminding you gentle readers, I am Canadian. This means that most of my pop culture is American but the delivery mechanism is usually from Canadian channels. Some of them are tied to an American partner, like HGTV or Food Network Canada, while others are independent and only linked to American channels by buying their product. The History Channel in Canada is one really big example. All it shares with the History Channel in the USA is the name. The point is that while there are apparent similarities between any list that I can produce and an American viewer's list, there are big differences. And as I implied in the title for this post what stations are on my top 15 list can change – often quite quickly. Right now for example I`m beginning to become interested in the W Network (formerly The Women`s Network) in part because they`re showing The Closer.

Before I reveal my list, I should present a few statistics. My cable service provider is Shaw Cable and I subscribe to their digital cable package. I have access to 157 channels – not counting listings channels, text channels, Pay Per View channels, and HD channels – of which I take 89. This includes time shifting stations for ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and PBS as well as three CW stations (now that Shaw gives us the Chicago feed of WGN rather than the national feed). And my top 15 channels (in approximate order of popularity) are:

  1. CBS
  2. NBC
  3. ABC
  4. FOX
  5. TSN (sports)
  6. Sportsnet
  7. Space: The Imagination Station (science fiction)
  8. The History Channel
  9. G4-TechTV
  10. BBC Canada
  11. Canadian Learning Television
  12. Food Network
  13. CBC
  14. The Score (sports)
  15. The Weather Network

There's only one Canadian broadcast station on that list – the CBC – and there's a good reason for that. CTV and Global, the two private networks available in this area, are primarily in the business of rebroadcasting American shows and normally I tune to the US stations to see those programs. And the Canadian stations know that which is why they schedule most of their American shows at the same time as they air in the US market and simultaneously substitute (simsub or as most people prefer simulcast) their signal over what is coming from the American source. There are no all-news channels on that list since I tend to browse for that sort of thing. If there were the list would have CBC Newsworld and BBC World far ahead of CNN and Headline News (particularly since Headline News abandoned its original premise and has become the Glenn Beck-Nancy Grace Network). And despite three CW feeds there's really only one show that I watch on that network, Smallville.

So those are my 15 networks. What are yours?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The New Computer Is Here!

It arrived Friday, just after noon, which is odd since I got a phone call the day before from Dell that it had been shipped. Of course that was a week after the Dell website told me that it had been shipped. I'm confessed that I'm very excited but I'm sure that will wear off. No trouble setting it up except for getting the speakers to work – turns out I forgot to plug them in. You're going to have to indulge me on this for a minute or two and then I promise not to write anything more about it – yeah right.

Instant observations:

  • This thing is fast. On the computer that I was using since my old E Machine died I would sometimes type faster than the computer was ready to accept characters. Not happening here. In performance terms the difference is like between a Ferrari and a Lada or a Trabant.
  • The other big thing that I've noticed is just how quiet this machine is compared with every other computer that I've owned, with the possible exception of my first computer, an XT clone. Compared this with either the E Machine or the PII that I've been using is like the difference between a hybrid cars, like a Prius, and a 747.
  • As far as Vista goes, I haven't had any problems with it. There are some nice gimmicks, but I don't know that it is a huge jump up from XP. If I didn't need a new computer I wouldn't have upgraded (not that the E Machine would have been up for it) but since I did have to get a new machine I am glad that I waited for Vista.
  • I'm also enjoying using Office 2007. The ribbon bar looks like it could take some getting used to but it seems reasonably intuitive. One thing I like is the ability to write blog entries and post them directly to Blogger with no intermediary.
  • The one problem so far is really outmoded technology on my part – not only does the machine not have a floppy drive (by my choice – they actually do offer one) but there`s no parallel port for my printer. I can`t get to the back of the printer right now but hopefully it has a USB port or I`ll have to figure something else out.

All in all I`m very happy. We`ll have to see how long that feeling lasts.

Update: No problem with the computer, but when I tried logging into Blogger I had a problem, namely that I can't log into Blogger! At least not the version that I use, and I can't change to the new one, so I have to post this using Word and hope that it posts properly. In the immortal words of Chester A. Riley (who was played on TV by both William Bendix – who created the role on radio – and Jackie Gleason) "What a revoltin' development!"

Update to the Update: Problem resolved. I don't know how but it's fixed!

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Dead Do Tell Tales

Like Allison Dubois, Detective Michael Raines sees dead people. But at least he knows he’s nuts.

A few years ago television took a dip into the supernatural or the otherworldly. Maybe it started with Touched By An Angel or even earlier with Highway To Heaven. The trend continued with Joan of Arcadia where Amber Tamblyn’s character talked with God although God tended to take on different faces from episode to episode. Things turned a bit more secular with Ghost Whisperer starring Jennifer Love Hewitt where an antique dealer helps the spirits of the dead “cross over”, Medium where Patricia Arquette gets psychic visions. Then there was the short-lived Tru Calling where Eliza Dushku tried to prevent the deaths of people she encountered in her job at the morgue. Famously, when Les Moonves cancelled Joan Of Arcadia he made a comment about ghosts being more relevant to younger audiences than God.

The thing that sets these shows apart is belief. Patricia Arquette’s character Allison Dubois (based on a real-life psychic of the same name) believes in her visions in the same way that Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character (who has some qualities in common with “medium” James van Pragh) believes in her ghosts or Joan of Arcadia believed in her discussions with God. A lot of people would look at these characters and their beliefs and claim that they are crazy. Indeed I am aware of people who won’t watch Medium because of the connection with the real life Allison Dubois because of what they believe is her insanity. Personally I fund such an attitude unfortunate since it isn’t a bad show even with the premise.
Raines is a show that takes the premise in a different direction.

Michael Raines is psychologically troubled, following the shooting of his former partner during an encounter with a drug dealer. He seems to have been under psychiatric care and we know that his Captain (played by Matt Craven) is concerned enough that when he hears that Raines has been talking to himself he worries that Michael might not be capable of doing the job. When Raines goes to the apartment of murder victim Sandy Boudreau he encounters a woman who is a dead ringer for the young woman. Dead is the operative word – she is Sandy Boudreau, or at least Michael’s vision of her. He has hallucinations about her but the hallucinations are based on what he knows about her at the time and what he sees changes. He discovers in the course of his investigation that Sandy wasn’t just a college student but was in fact a high-class escort and this changes her somewhat. When it seems that she is involved in a blackmail scheme, his vision of Sandy briefly changes into a version of Kathleen Turner in Body Heat – complete with cigarette – and just as quickly turns back when Raines calls her on it.

The mystery in the pilot episode of Raines was relatively straightforward with the usual sort of twists and turns that one finds in this sort of detective show. The first person arrested for the crime quite obviously didn’t do it, and while the victim’s ex-boyfriend initially seems to be an obvious suspect he is also cleared, although he provides an important clue in solving the mystery. What makes this show tick is Raines himself and his ability to identify with the victim and give them a personality based on what he knows about them. As his ex-partner Charlie (played in the pilot by Malik Yoba and in later episodes by Luis Guzman) reminds him, with Raines it’s all about the victims. (There’s a revelation about Charlie at the end of the episode that I won’t reveal here but which should have been patently obvious to anyone with half a brain.)

The supporting cast of Raines is reasonably good although in truth they haven’t been given too much to do so far. Besides Matt Craven, the cast includes Nicole Sullivan as civilian employee Carolyn Crumley, and Dov Davidoff and Linda Park as a couple of uniformed cops. On the whole though the supporting characters didn’t have that much to do in the pilot episode. It was all about Raines, which means that Jeff Goldblum is front and center for virtually the entire episode. Goldblum is an actor that I have always enjoyed going back to his first series, 1980’s Tenspeed and Brown Shoe with Ben Vereen. Goldblum isn’t breaking new ground here in terms of expanding his range; he is playing his standard brilliant but eccentric character which he does very well. He’s a good fit for the character and that’s a good thing considering how much of the show revolves around him. I can’t say that there aren’t others who could play this role and do a very good job with it, but there are none that could do it better than Jeff Goldblum.

Writer and producer Graham Yost has given us a show that isn’t overly challenging in the way that his previous effort Boomtown was. Raines is a fun show and if one were to offer comparisons – as TV critics inevitably do – it would be to a show like Monk or Psych rather than to heavier, more serious fare like the Law & Order franchise, or even to a show like Crossing Jordan. In fact the comparison with Monk may be the most accurate of all in that both Adrian Monk and Michael Raines are psychologically damaged goods, due in part at least to a traumatic and violent experience in their recent past. What I liked about the show and what impressed me most about it is the way it took the fascination with the paranormal and reversed it. Michael Raines doesn’t believe that he’s seeing real ghosts or that he has somehow been gifted with some sort of great power. He knows that he is psychologically troubled but he also comes to realise that his hallucinations and delusions are his way of organizing his thoughts about the cases that he is dealing with. I like this show well enough to recommend it for what it is, a light entertainment with a first rate actor and one which takes a different, more rational, approach to this whole business of communing with the dead. NBC cut their order for Raines from thirteen to seven episodes but I for one wouldn’t mind seeing more.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Short Takes - March 12, 2007

A short one this time around. I've got a list of reasons for not writing much, mainly things I did today. We had a lot of snow over the winter and it is starting to melt. Which is good. On the other hand if the snow is packed around your basement windows then when it melts the water on the outside can very easily end up on the inside - of my basement. That's a bad thing. I also had to dig some channels to get melting water away from the part of my garage where most of my brother's stuff is stored, and also open the storm drain which the city so kindly covered with about four feet of snow. And then after that I assembled a flat pack desk for my mother. The door on the desk wouldn't open properly so screw it. So basically not much time to aggregate news about TV today.

Sitcom Wars: From my friend Teletoby over at Inner Toob comes word of a March Madness style survey from the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville to "Pick the greatest character in Television history!" At least that's what they say at the top of the survey although what they actually mean is the greatest sitcom character. And actually it is the greatest American sitcom character - no foreigners need apply. (Toby actually apologized to me for the lack of international representation but when it comes to Canada pickings are slim; Red Green and his nephew Harold, and Brent Leroy from Corner Gas leap to mind but there isn't much else - no one associated with Pardon My French or The Trouble With Tracy would ever be confused with great sitcom characters). Actually the big scandal isn't the lack of international representation but who isn't on the list. Only 64 characters were on the list but over 300 were considered and I'm still trying to figure out how you miss some of these people. Among the absent are:
  • Dr. Johnny Fever, WKRP in Cincinnati
  • Granny Moses (listed as Granny Clampett by the paper, but she was a Jed's mother-in-law), The Beverly Hillbillies
  • Oscar Madison, The Odd Couple
  • Maynard G. Krebs, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis
  • Chandler Bing, Friends
  • Fran Fein, The Nanny
  • Niles the Butler, The Nanny
  • Wilhelm Klink, Hogan's Heroes
  • Bert Campbell, Soap
  • Jessica Tait, Soap
and a host of others. The newspaper has it's reasons but frankly some of them seem kind of weak. But anyway go there and make your voice heard, and I'll respect you ... even if you do prefer Norm Peterson to Sergeant Schultz.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: And the winner is CSI:Miami. The episode in question is the February 26 episode, described by the PTC as "a horrific display of sexual violence, murder, and political scandal." The episode is difficult to explain but apparently the PTC disliked the fact that one of the victims was a stripper/prostitute who was accidentally killed giving a blowjob (not of course the word the PTC used) to a guy who was sitting on her chest. Things are further complicated by the deliberate murder of the prostitute's bodyguard. Or maybe it was that Horatio discovers that - horror of horrors - a politician was patronizing the same service that provided prostitute who was killed. The PTC says that "Graphic dramatizations of strippers, murder and the dead bodies that result, earn C.S.I. Miami our pick for Worst of the Week." This is followed by the concluding statement "Graphic murders and prostitutes being raped are simply not appropriate for family entertainment. Such themes should be troubling to all who are exposed them, yet shows like this champion the effort to make them appear normal and even acceptable." Sorry but even for the PTC this is weak. For one thing I'm not entirely sure what they're objecting to. For heavens sake this is a cop show and more over it is a cop show that airs in the third hour not in the first or second. There wasn't that much about the episode that was particularly graphic. Let's face it, the PTC is grasping at straws in calling this their worst of the week and not doing a very good job of holding onto them.

New computer watch: Expected delivery date is March 19 (seven days!) but my mother's friend Mary (the one who persuaded me to buy a Dell) figures I should get it by the end of the week. Which means I have some files to transfer before it gets here.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dudes I'm Gettin' a Dell

I just ordered my new computer from Dell. It's a Dimension E351 with the AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 4200+ processor, 2 Gigs of memory, NVIDIA GeForce 7300LE with TurboCache video card, 250 Gig hard drive, a 2.1 Speaker system, DVD ROM and DVD +/- RW drives, Vista Premium, Office Home Student edition. Oh yeah, and a three year subscription to McAfee Security Center. No monitor - I have a very good low mileage CRT. It's probably not the best system I could have set up for my needs, but it's a damn sight better than what I'm currently using and a lot better than my old (and now dead) E Machine.

The whole ordering process was quite frankly a nightmare. Any time I clicked on a link for information it opened a pop-up and then the whole thing refused to let me go any further with a handy "page not found" error message. Had me half-way to ripping out my hair even if I can't afford to lose any more.

By the way (to steer this peripherally back to TV for a moment) have you noticed that Dell computers are increasingly more visible on TV shows? As everyone knows, the Mac used to dominate on TV shows. The heroes would use a gleaming white Mac while the Evil Bad Guys - and this extended down to their well intentioned but misguided dupes - would be toiling away on a generic beige PC box. Increasingly you are seeing more and more Dells - or at least Dell monitors with that big DELL logo discretely embossed on the back - being used by the heroes of various TV shows. That's not why I bought one of course.

Feel free to forward words of congratulation, condolence, or advice. Offers of financial aid wouldn't be rejected either.

Is This The Medium For This Message?

Monday night I wasn't feeling well. Actually I was feeling like crap, spelled with and "s" and a "t", so with great reluctance I decided not to go bowling. So what do you do when you're too sick to really do much of anything. Well being a good child of TV it decided to veg out in front of the Tube and be entertained. Well strictly speaking I fell asleep in front of the TV and woke up part way through Heroes. I did however watch the second episode of The Black Donnellys.

Maybe it's because I wasn't feeling good or maybe just because I hadn't seen the first episode, but the truth is I wasn't impressed.
The series focuses on the four Donnelly brothers - Jimmy, Kevin, Sean and Tommy - and Jenny Reilly, who is described as being "attached at the hip." The story is told by "Joey Ice Cream" an associate of the Donnellys who, while he isn't a major character in the show may be one of the most interesting parts of the concept. The Donnelly brothers are, to use an extremely appropriate British expression, "bent." Even Tommy Donnelly (Jonathon Tucker), the family's only honest man, is really only honest in relative to his brothers. Tommy believes he owes a debt to his brother Jimmy (Tom Guiry) who was crippled in a childhood accident that Tommy caused and which led Jimmy into drug addiction. Things are set in motion when Jimmy kidnaps and then kills Louis, his brother Kevin's (Billy Lush) bookie. The trouble is that Louis is the nephew of Sal the head of the local Italian mob. The Italians pay a ransom Things escalated further out of control when youngest brother Sean was nearly beaten to death by the local Italian mob, and the deal that Huey, local Irish mob fixer negotiates means that Jimmy will be killed. Tommy came up with a "brilliant" plan that included killing both the Italian and Irish bosses, and getting his brother Jimmy arrested so that he can get rehab for his drug problem.

That much I figured out about the first episode from watching the second. For me the second episode was a problem. It involves cleaning up the mess that the events of the previous day had left. Tommy Kevin had to replace the clothes they were wearing when they killed Sal Huey which meant some shoplifting (aluminum foil - who knew!) but the biggest mess was the body of Louis the Bookie which Jimmy "hid" in the dumpster behind the bar he owns. The need a place to dump the body and it's sort of a dark comedy of errors (the Jersey swamp where Kevin suggests dumping it has been turned into a shopping mall) but at least half of the episode's 57 minutes (with commercials) is given over to getting rid of the body. I thought it was a bit too much. But then I was sick at the time so maybe my patience with the episode was less than it could have been.

I mentioned earlier that one of the most interesting concepts in the show might be the use of "Joey Ice Cream" as the narrator. Joey, played by Kevin Nobbs, is telling the story of the Donnelly Brothers while he is in jail - to two cops in the first episode, to his lawyer in the second. While there are other shows that use narrators to tell their stories, they are for the most part both omniscient and trustworthy. Mary Alice Young (and in the most recent episode Rex Van De Kamp) on Desperate Housewives and Meredith on Grey's Anatomy come to mind. "Joey Ice Cream" isn't trustworthy which leads us to question whether he's actually omniscient. We know that he inserts himself into the story to elevate his status. At various times he tells us that the Donnelly's don't make a move without him, but we know that he inserts himself into scenes where he wasn't originally present. On at least two occasions in the second episode when his lawyer asks how he knows certain things he says that he was there, which comes as a surprise to the characters in the story he's narrating. Which of course leads to a question of trust. If we can't believe that Joey witnessed these events how can we be sure that they actually happened or that they happened in exactly the way that Joey says they did. How much of the story that Joey is telling is real and how much of it is fiction?

The Black Donnellys
has a lot of the things that a show needs to have to succeed. The performance from Tucker and Lush, who were the two main characters that we saw were quite strong, and many of the lesser characters were well acted as well. Of particular interest was Kate Mulgrew as the flinty matriarch of the Donnelly family. She didn't have many lines but her actions - as when she adjusted Kevin's jacket to hide a blood stain indicated that she knew her boys had done something bad but she was standing behind them without question. The writing was also quite good in that for the most part we believe in the characters and the character who we are least able to accept is the one who by definition we aren't supposed to find acceptable, "Joey Ice Cream."

Still, on the whole the thing doesn't work, at least not on network television. And it's not as if the show's creator, Paul Haggis, doesn't know how to do network TV. Before he wrote Crash and entered a creative relationship with Clint Eastwood that created things like Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima he did a lot of TV including thirtysomething, Family Law, Due South, and even Facts of Life. He's even credited with creating Walker, Texas Ranger. But The Black Donnellys doesn't work. For one thing it's continuity-heavy in a television environment that right now at least doesn't have much patience with continuity-heavy television. For another thing I'm not entirely certain that the show works well with the commercial interruptions that are a requisite of TV's "big tent". The biggest thing though is that for me at least there was always the feeling that "real" small time Irish hoods - and their Italian counterparts for that matter - would be using language that is far stronger than what the FCC will allow to assault the pristine ears, let alone show scenes of sex and (in particular for a show like this) violence that a network executive wouldn't allow on the air even if the FCC didn't exist. I think that The Black Donnellys would be earning far more acclaim (not to mention higher ratings) if it were allow to show what these people would be like on one of the higher end cable stations. Because as it stands I don't think the show works and most of the problems could be solved if the show weren't restricted by laws and network presidents.

But then again I had a raging headache that got progressively worse on Monday night, so what do I know?

Friday, March 02, 2007

I Return From Hiatus - Unlike A Lot Of TV Shows


I really didn't intend to go that long without posting or without hoisting the old Campbell's soup can, the internationally recognised symbol of an extended period of not posting. Thing is that we've been so focused on getting the last of Greg's stuff out of his old house and transferring the property to the new owners that it took up most of the time when I'd be doing the stuff I'd normally do, like writing (or even reading) and playing Poker online. I started a couple of posts but just haven't had time to wrap them up.

Fortunately the new owner of my brother's place took possession on Thursday - actually we gave him the keys on Wednesday so my brother - who had already moved to the Vancouver area at the start of February which was why our mother and I had had to deal with so much of the property situation - can get on with his life (or more likely worry about other stuff) and I can get back to doing the stuff I enjoy. At least I can after I rest up for a couple of days.