Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Short Takes – June 26, 2007

Welcome back to your favourite NC-17 blog. Actually I think of that NC-17 in the same way that Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert regarded it when it replaced the X Rating. They hoped that the rating would be applied to films with artistic merit which also included adult themes but not to movies that were pornographic or "dirty". Mostly they wanted a rating that allowed deserving films to get newspaper and TV advertising because most theatres wouldn't book films that they couldn't promote. It didn't work out that way of course – NC-17 replaced X entirely, newspapers still refused to take the ads and films like most of Pedro Almadovar's work either wasn't shown in most North American cities or, once they figured things out, simply weren't submitted to the ratings boards at all. Anyway, I probably won't be using any of the words that got me the NC-17 for a while. Well okay, I'll probably use "dead" and "death" a bit. And I may use "enema," if only because it's sort of a silly word.

We`ll always have Paris: Which I guess is what I`m vaguely afraid of. I mean sure, I liked Paris Hilton in the Carl`s Jr. Ad, but what red-blooded North American male who didn`t have a stick permanently wedged up their backside (by which I of course mean the males in the PTC) didn`t. But mostly I`m like Evil Willow on Buffy The Vampire Slayer – "bored now." But they keep giving her to us. And sadly by "they" I don't just mean the tabloid TV shows and the stupid reality show. No it's now the mainstream news shows. ABC bids $100,000 to get the first interview with Hilton after she got out of the "Big House" after her harrowing 23 days in "Stir," but they get outbid by NBC, the network that piously proclaimed that that the story wasn't newsworthy. Or at least it wasn't until they could spin it in such a way that it was. NBC offered $1 million, and then when it became public knowledge and there were protests from the news division they not only withdrew the bid but proclaimed that the thing was only a rumour. So now we'll see Paris Hilton interviewed by Larry King – and presumably Larry's research staff will read any necessary books for him and provide him with questions that aren't too tough for either of them. CNN claims not to have spent any money to get this interview, and maybe they're even being honest about it, but setting aside whether Hilton got a sentence that other people in a similar situation – except for not being rich or "famous" – would have received (and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that she was treated differently by the judge because of her celebrity) what has she got to say that could possibly be worth a million dollars, a hundred thousand dollars, or whatever "consideration" CNN might be giving her. There is probably a story – even an hour-long news magazine report – on how the justice system treats celebrities (good and ill treatment alike) but this hype around Paris Hilton hasn't done anything like that.

(By the way, once upon a time I used to like Larry King. That was when he was the King – so to speak – of late night radio and operated out of Washington. He worked well with callers – except for anyone calling in to criticise Psychiatrists, who were immediately labelled Scientologists and cut off – and had interesting guests. These days, operating out of Los Angeles, he has his lips so firmly attached to the backsides of anyone in Hollywood that there are still some parts of the United States where he could be arrested for unlawful sexual activities. And he still doesn't read the damned books.)

Couric-watch: Which network has seen its evening news audience drop more since Katie Couric debuted as the host of the CBS Evening News. If you said "Well duh, that would be CBS," You would be, well duh, wrong (come on, you didn't think I'd post something like this if the answer was the obvious one did you). According the Nielsen ratings, as reported by TVNewser, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric has lost 287,000 viewers from the same time last year. That's a drop of about 4%. The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams has lost 533,000 viewers over the same period, a drop of 5%. It is almost twice as many viewers as CBS lost (185.71% to be exact) but then CBS obviously had a smaller audience to begin with. And while it can be argued whose fault that is, the one thing that is abundantly clear is that you can't blame Couric for having a smaller audience before she even arrived.

FOX – the clone network: A funny thing seems to happen when some networks come up with a reality or game show idea; FOX comes up with an idea that's almost exactly the same. Sometimes they even get it on before the network that came up with it in the first place. ABC brought Supernanny to American audiences, but FOX had Nanny 911 on the air three or four months earlier. ABC had Wife Swap; FOX came up with Trading Spouses and put it on the air before the ABC series. The similarities between the two shows were so great that ABC sued FOX for copyright infringement. And now Fox is doing it to NBC. One of the "highlights" of NBC's new fall line-up was a show called The Singing Bee in which contestants have to sing a song and remember the lyrics accurately after the music stops. The "bee" part comes in because the format is supposed to be like a Spelling Bee with eight people from the audience competing against each other. The show was supposed to start airing in the Fall, sharing a Friday time slot with 1 vs. 100. Except, FOX announced a new series called Don't Forget The Lyrics. In Don't Forget The Lyrics contestants have to sing the correct lyrics to songs of various genres. Oh there are "differences" – the FOX show doesn't use the Spelling Bee format. Instead a single contestant sings at various levels with the difficulty of the song increasing as the prize amount increases. So you can see, they're totally different shows. As I said, NBC planned to debut The Singing Bee in the Fall but when they got wind of FOX's plan to start Don't Forget The Lyrics on July 11 from 9:30 to 10 p.m. Eastern, that plan went out the window. NBC will debut The Singing Bee on July 10, with a second half hour episode appearing on – wait for it – July 11 from 8:30 to 9 p.m. Eastern; in other words an hour before the debut of Don't Forget The Lyrics. I love this, if only because if both of these shows suck as much as I anticipate (and to be honest devoutly hope) they may kill each other off before the start of the Fall season which will give 1 vs. 100 (a show that I really do like) a straight run.

Who does the PTC hate this week: Boy the stuff you miss when you skip a week. Before I get to that though, I want to remind all of you of the single issue on which I agree with the PTC, which is unbundling cable services and allowing consumers to choose which channels will be seen in their homes. This came up because Representatives Dan Lipinski (D, Illinois) and Jeff Fortenberry (R, Nebraska) introduced a new bill called the "Family and Consumer Choice Act of 2007" which would allow consumers to pick and pay for the channels they want. Of course the PTC and I totally disagree on why this should be done. I just don't want to pay for TV channels that I only see when I'm clicking through the channels to get to the shows I want to see. I don't particularly care for most music channels so why should I pay for Muchmusic, CMT, or MTV Canada. And if I save money by not watching those channels maybe I'll spend the money on other channels I want to watch but can't afford at present. The PTC on the other hand sees "pick and pay" as a way to punish the evil entertainment industry. Almost as soon the PTC's press announcement finishes praising Lipinski and Fortenberry (praise that consisted of most of the first paragraph) it spends eight paragraphs talking about the evils bestowed on the poor, innocent American public by cable and network TV (despite the fact that Lipinski and Fortenberry's bill probably wouldn't negate the FCC's "must carry" rules that were further strengthened by the US Supreme Court in 1997). Here's a little bit of the overheated rhetoric of PTC Governmental Affairs Director Dan Issett:

Last year, Congress acted to increase the maximum possible fine for violation of broadcast decency law, but the reaction from the entertainment industry was to file suit, claiming that the 'F-word' and 'S-word' were appropriate to air during prime time television, and that – of all things – a striptease in the middle of the Super Bowl was somehow not indecent. Clearly, the entertainment industry has lost its way, and is failing to live up to its legal obligation to broadcast in the public interest.

Last week, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals rendered a decision inexplicable to Americans families: that the 'F-word' and 'S-word' should be ok to be broadcast on the public airwaves at hours when tens of millions of children are in the audience. While we're a long way from the end of the judicial process in that case, and Congress may weigh in yet again, one thing is clear – if the entertainment industry really want to give parents 'complete control' of their televisions, as it says it does, then it would endorse the concept of cable choice.

And then there's his conclusion:

We commend Congressman Lipinski and Congressman Fortenberry for their excellent leadership on this critical issue, and we thank Chairman Martin for his thoughtful and forthright determination that parents must be given more and better tools to control the graphic sexual and violent content that comes into their homes. It takes real political fortitude to side with families and stand up to the millions of dollars the entertainment industry spends to buy influence in Washington. But make no mistake - the American people are grateful that this legislation is being offered today.

My viewpoint? If the vast majority of the "American people are grateful that this legislation is being offered today" it isn't because it will keep them from seeing the shows cited in the PTC's press announcement – Rescue Me from FX, South Park on Comedy Central, and the cleaned up version of The Sopranos that airs on A&E. It will be because it will save them money and maybe allow them to rid their TVs of multiple shopping channels and religious networks that they never watch. It is also a fact that the "American people" will vote with their pocket books and if the cable industry is smart – and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that they aren't – they package their product in such a way as to make picking and paying for individual channels the least attractive option, and packages with a mixture of channels based around an apparent theme the most attractive. Those packages are what most people will buy.

I confess that one of the reasons why I look forward to Hell's Kitchen is because of the fulminating (a particularly appropriate verb for any pronouncement from the PTC – one always gets the impression that an over-abundance of righteous indignation on their part will lead to a massive explosion) they engage in when his show airs. Last week's Worst of the Week was no disappointment. The PTC had this to say of Ramsay (who "clearly plays the role of the Devil in Hell's Kitchen) and the show "What makes this show so bad for family viewing is that it is presented as "reality," when in reality no one would endure the Nazi-like persecution Chef Ramsey dishes out. In that sense, this show is unlike all other reality shows, as it tells young viewers that this type of behavior is what one can expect to encounter in life, and that obscene language, backstabbing, and vile personal attacks are acceptable in the workplace." Well setting aside the assertion that Gordon Ramsay is somehow Hitler-like, the fact is that Ramsay's own early training made Hell's Kitchen look like a stroll in the park. Marco Pierre White was notorious for his rages and bullying – indeed White's recent biography has a picture of Ramsay in tears after being screamed at by White making a mistake. Ramsay's behaviour in his working kitchens as depicted in the documentaries Boiling Point and Beyond Boiling Point is exactly as seen in the show. But perhaps the most telling proof that people will "endure the Nazi-like persecution Chef Ramsey dishes out" is that his restaurants have an astounding 85% retention rate for staff since 1993. (I'd ask Orac for the loan of the brain eating Hitler-zombie, but of course this is the PTC and the poor critter would starve looking for brains among that bunch.)

This week the PTC's Worst of the Week is the FOX series The Loop. This is a series that the network is burning off – airing the episodes during the summer – and doing so in a way that is reminiscent of a high powered industrial incinerator. FOX ordered episodes of this series as a midseason replacement after a brief run in the 2005-06 season but then changed their minds, first cutting the order from 13 to 10 episodes, then not running it at all during the main season, and finally running two or three episodes in a single night instead of one a week like even the weakest series being run in the summer. In other words it's business as usual for FOX where the network weasels are particularly obtuse. And yet the PTC treats it with far more respect than the network does, viewing it as "one of the crudest shows on television" terrible threat to the (non-existent) "Family Hour." The episode in question is called "The Window" (except that it isn't – the actual title is "Windows" which shows the usual PTC level of accuracy). The PTC quotes five "vulgar examples of sexual innuendo and dialogue from this week's episode," including "Sam: 'Did my package come?' Sully: 'No, but mine did.'" I'm not even sure I understand what that means out of context – and all of the quotes in question are out of context – let alone why I should regard it as vulgar. They finish their hatchet job review by saying "The Loop is has a simple formula: place the main character in a random conundrum, litter the script with taboo sexual dialogue and situations, and put it on the air in the family hour. The writers of this program show no regard for younger viewers or families who may be watching their program." I'm not going to defend this show as not being full of sexual innuendo; even though I haven't seen it I have seen reviews by people who have and either hate the sexual content and think that the show is getting what it deserves, or enjoy it and think that the network is treating it shamefully. But you know as well as I do that this series could air in any hour of primetime and the PTC would be condemning it as filth, all in the name of protecting the children.

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