Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tom Snyder – 1936-2007

I wanted to write this and get it posted sooner, but I've been having difficulty connecting to the Web courtesy of my McAfee Security Center. For reasons known only to it, it suddenly wouldn't let me connect with the Web: email? – fine, newsgroups? – great, online poker? – perfect, World Wide Web – verboten, ils ne pass pas, no frakkin' way.

This was unfortunate as I wanted to pay tribute to one of my favourite talk show hosts, Tom Snyder, who passed away of Leukemia. Others, notably Mark Evanier have mentioned Tom Snyder's facility as a TV News anchor, one of the last great "single" anchors in the business. Not living in Los Angeles, where Snyder did a lot of his local anchor work, I never saw that side of him. My blogging buddy Sam Johnson does mention him as an anchor in Savannah, although these seem to be second hand. I did hear stories about his adventures in local news after his Tomorrow show was cancelled by NBC, and one gets the impression that he didn't adjust well to working as part of an "anchor team." Or maybe it was just the jealousy of others that had them saying less than complimentary things about his abilities as a newscaster.

Snyder the newscaster wasn't my Tom Snyder. My Tom Snyder was the guy who hosted Tomorrow between 1973 and 1982, the guy who was given the timeslot after Letterman (by Letterman, who had a great appreciation for him) from 1995 to 1999. And my Tom Snyder was the guy who had a pioneering blog called Colortini.com (now long gone). My earliest Blogroll included a link to the site and it was there that we learned of the chronic lymphocytic leukemia that eventually took his life. This Snyder was a smart and savvy interviewer with a booming laugh and a willingness to talk to just about anyone.

Snyder was perfect for a University student working late into the night, which was how I first encountered him. This was late in the era of the original Tomorrow show when it was usually Tom and one or two guests – and of course Tom's then nearly ubiquitous cigarette – sitting opposite each other and talking. Snyder wasn't afraid to ask the hard hitting questions when they were called for, but most of the time Snyder maintained a conversational style without things degenerating into "puff-piece" questions. Probably his most famous interview was a prison interview with Charles Manson after which Snyder said that Manson was playing mind-games in prison, and knew exactly what he had done to be there. Tom didn't have a co-host, although author Nancy Friday was a frequent guest and at one point was a semi-regular contributor. He rarely had a studio audience during the original version of Tomorrow. It was intimate, and even when he had a comedian on it was seriously good TV.

The beginning of the end for Tomorrow came when Johnny Carson's show dropped from 90 minutes to an hour, at Carson's demand. For some reason NBC decided to expand Tomorrow to 90 minutes, add a studio audience as well as a co-host – gossip columnist Rona Barrett, who had been lured over to NBC with the promise of a big contract – whom he detested and engaged in a legendary feud with. The new show was dubbed Tomorrow Coast To Coast, and died a merciful death after just under two years. Watching the clip of Tom with Howard Cosell – with Frank Gifford trying very to stay out of the way – it's not hard to see why. He doesn't seem comfortable in the format.

I didn't see Tom's CNBC show or listen to his ABC Radio show that he did with Elliott Forrest but I was a total devotee of The Late Late Show which he did on CBS. It was different from the Tomorrow Show; more in the style of what Larry King (with whom Snyder had a celebrated feud, although the reasons were never totally clear) used to do. There were callers, although they weren't the dominant part of the format. What dominated was what David Letterman called in the clip that follows "the simple art of reasonable conversation." I loved The Late Late Show and watched virtually every episode. Tom was my first exposure to Molly Ivins and the first time I heard anyone call George W. Bush "Shrub" – as Ivins put it "because he's a little Bush." Harlan Ellison was another frequent guest. It was my first exposure to Jon Stewart as a "talking head" – I'd previously seen him as an actor/comedian but he was also an occasional guest and frequent replacement for Tom when he was ill or on vacation, as was Bonnie Hunt. Annual features included a display of Lionel Trains on set at Christmas (Tom was a collector and once had Neil Young on to talk about Young's ownership of the company) and a live broadcast after the Oscars that usually featured Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert, and Bonnie Hunt. In the last year or two of the show that was

A frequent guest was Robert Blake. Tom would bring Blake on and frequently he'd do the entire hour, talking about whatever he felt like. One night Blake spent the entire hour begging a woman with whom he had been in a relationship to come back to him – she didn't. Watching Blake on The Late Late Show, sitting on the edge of his chair waving a (usually) unlit cigarette was often a study in bipolar behaviour played out on our TV screen. Years later, after Blake had been accused and found not guilty of killing his wife Bonnie Lee Bakley (who Blake met after Tom stopped doing The Late Late Show) Snyder wrote in his blog that having known and experienced Robert Blake, he believed that Blake was a killer.

I think I speak for a lot of Tom's fans when I say that I was sad to see Tom Snyder leave The Late Late Show and even sadder to see him replaced, not with Bonnie Hunt or Jon Stewart in a continuation of what Tom had done, but by Craig Kilborn doing a pale imitation of Letterman and Leno, which – with due respect – is really an imitation of Johnny Carson (and in Leno's case in particular, a pretty poor one). When Tom Snyder left the air for good, an era epitomized by Jack Paar, Dick Cavett, and Tom Snyder on major network TV came to a close.

Following are a couple of YouTube videos. First is a tribute that Conan O'Brien did, featuring clips from some of Tom's most famous interviews from the Tomorrow Show, including Manson, Elton John, Johnny Rotten, Bono (and The Edge though he doesn't say a word), Muhamed Ali, and finally Howard Cosell. The second clip is the final portion of an interview that Tom did with his replacement at NBC and his boss at CBS, David Letterman. So as Tom would say, "Fire up the colortinis and watch the pictures as they fly through the air." And when you do, spare a few moments to remember our friend who we never met, Tom Snyder.

Monday, July 30, 2007

New Poll – Who Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama?

I assume you know the drill by now. Vote for the actor you think should win in this category rather than the one that you expect that the Television Academy will give the Emmy to. And of course feel free to add comments on this category in this post.

The poll will end on August 4th.

Poll Results - Who Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy?

We had a very good turnout this time around. Eighteen votes were cast and the voting was quite close between first and second place. In a tie for fifth place with no votes were Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds) and Holland Taylor (Two And A Half Men). In fourth place with two votes (11%) was Jaime Pressly, who plays Joy on My Name Is Earl. In third place, with three votes is Vanessa Williams as the deliciously devious Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty. However the big point getters were Conchata Ferrell as Berta on Two And A Half Men with six votes (33%) in second, and Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam on The Office with seven votes (39%).

While I'm not surprised that Jenna Fischer won this poll, I am more than a little surprised by the strength of support for Conchata Ferrell. Don't get me wrong, I've like Ferrell as an actress since I first noticed her on George Clooney's first series called ER (or rather E/R and okay it wasn't really his show, but those are mere details). In fact, about the only show that I haven't liked Ferrell in was Hearts Afire and that was primarily because of the way that the producers screwed up the series after the first season by "reimagining" it. It's fair to say that Ferrell plays a fairly stock sitcom character in Two And A Half Men, the outspoken housekeeper, but just because the character is a stock type doesn't mean that the right actor or actress can't make it memorable. As Toby OB, pointed out in the comments section, "When I do watch an episode, (and although that's rare, I always enjoy the show), I find it's her quick shots in a scene that are the funniest. She has a great sense of delivery and the writers give her great material to work with."

As far as Jenna Fischer goes, it's fairly obvious why her character is extremely popular as well. She is as close as The Office comes to a true female lead. Her character, Pam Beesly, is involved in the major on-going subplot – the complicated Pam and Jim situation which is full of that old debil "unresolved sexual tension." Fischer's role isn't as showing as Ferrell's – she's not firing off quick shots and one liners – and indeed it's almost a straight role when compared with Rainn Wilson's Dwight or even John Kasinski's Jim, but it is a crucial role if for no other reason than that it humanizes Jim while at the same time emphasizing the sense of quiet desperation that is a major factor in the humour of the series. You get the sense that Pam is capable of doing something better but that she, like most of the show's characters, is trapped. Pam has that look of someone trapped at a dead end in her career (and trust me when I say that it took a lot of self -restraint not to post the picture Jenna Fischer did for Jane magazine - it's in "naked Lucy" territory).

Who do I think will win the Emmy in this category? It's a pretty talented field that makes it hard to eliminate people, however I have difficulty seeing either Perkins or, sadly, Ferrell winning. In the case of Ferrell it is the general critical scorn that is directed at Two And A Half Men in particular and the outspoken housekeeper role in general. Holland Taylor has a slightly better chance than Ferrell if only because the Academy and the critics tend to like the theatrically trained Taylor (I tried in vain to find the quote from a critic who said that Two And A Half Men was undeserving of any nominations...except of course for Holland Taylor). In the end I think it will come down to Fischer, Jaime Pressly and newcomer (in this Emmy category at least) Vanessa Williams. What Fischer has going for her is that The Office is an established show and a critical darling. The same is true of My Name Is Earl and Pressly is in an extremely showy role. Williams on the other hand is in a new show that is a critical and commercial success. And she's playing a villain which is always an asset – villains are freed of the restrictions that are imposed on "ordinary" people. While I fully expect Jenna Fischer to win the Emmy, I will not be at all surprised if Pressly or Williams (in particular) win.

New poll up in a few minutes.

Short Takes – July 30, 2007

Well this at least I'll be able to get out on time – or at least right now it looks like I'll be able to get it out on time – which means I can finally get back onto something like a schedule. Writing to deadline was never a strong suit of mine, even at the University of Saskatchewan. Now let's get on with the week's news and my opinions.

This is News?: All of the network news divisions seem to be out to redefine their prime time News shows and their News divisions. NBC is devoting a considerable portion of their Dateline NBC shows to the To Catch A Predator shows (a concept that I truly abhor – see below), while CBS long since converted their show 48 Hours (which I liked) into 48 Hours Mysteries (which I don't). However the News division which has adopted the most "flexible" definition of "News" is undoubtedly ABC. A couple of years ago (IMDB says 2004 but my records say the summer of 2005) ABC had a "documentary" called Hooking Up that was supposed to be a documentary about women looking for love and finding dates/relationships online. This pseudo-documentary came from ABC News. Now, ABC News is producing a "documentary" called 6 Degrees of Martina McBride in which aspiring country music singers who can prove some sort of "connection" to Country superstar Martina McBride in six moves or less – a la the 6 Degrees Of Kevin Bacon game – will get a studio session with McBride and the best will get a recording deal. The special airs on July 30, and it's a vaguely interesting subject (but I'll be watching Hell's Kitchen. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune ABC News Division executive producer David Sloane said that the show is "a serious examination of business school management theory." It's all part of Sloan's philosophy about News: "My definition [of news] is limitless. I think we constantly have to explore different places at the table for news. Just like you guys [in newspapers]. You have a front page. You have a [features] section. You have an entertainment section. You have a page 47. You have page 3. I think we're looking for new ways of engaging the viewer. I'm really all about that." In my book, while 48 Hours Mysteries and To Catch A Predator at least have the patina of news, Sloan's advocacy of shows like 6 Degrees of Martina McBride blurs the lines between News and Entertainment to virtual non-existence, and from a network that lauded the legacy of Peter Jennings this is disappointing to say the least.

Musical showrunners: Well not quite – that assumes that the people involved are swapping jobs in some sort of bizarre daisy chain which isn't what's happening here. What has happened is that Rob Thomas, who was creator and showrunner for Veronica Mars became showrunner for ABC's Miss/Guided when Veronica Mars was cancelled, left his new show after a month. The reason given was "creative differences." Apparently Thomas wasn't entirely happy with the decision to make the show "more of a straight-ahead comedy." The other departure is former Angel co-creator David Greenwalt, who left the CBS show Moonlight after two months in which every role except the lead had been recast. According to the Hollywood Reporter Greenwalt's departure is due to "personal, health reasons."

Comebacks, of sorts: Three shows and an actor to be exact, although the nature of the returns are not necessarily in the form that they previously held.

  • ReBoot was a groundbreaking computer animated series from Mainframe Entertainment which ran from 1994 to 2001 (and was one of my favourite series). The series had trouble finding an American network and when it did occasionally ran into censorship problems. Mainframe, now known as Rainmaker Entertainment after being acquired by Rainmaker Income Fund, will be producing three feature length films to relaunch the franchise. One thing that I find vaguely worrying is that Rainmaker will be working with the website Zeros2Heroes to allow fans of the show to choose between five "completely new takes on the ReBoot world" as created by five previously unknown writers.
  • Another show that will be returning as films will be Futurama. It was announced at ComicCon that the show will return as a full-length high-def movie called Bender's Big Score that will be sold on DVD. This will be followed by a further three films. The four movies will then be split into four half-hour episodes each (16 in total) to be aired on Comedy Central.
  • Also at ComicCon, Joss Whedon revealed that Anthony Stewart Head will be returning to the role of Rupert Giles in a movie for the BBC called Ripper. The project had actually been planned as a miniseries during the latter period of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's run but it was apparently difficult for the parties involved to come to an agreement. In 2005 Whedon had said of the project, "it's something I really want to get off the ground, but the ground is kinda sticky."
  • Finally (and this is a strange one) Rory Cochrane will be returning to the cast of CSI: Miami playing his original character of Tim Speedle. You may recall that Speedle died in an episode of the show's second season, at Cochrane's request because he disliked the "daily grind" and wanted to do more film work. However he later expressed his displeasure in the way that Speedle was written out of the show; his pistol misfired because he hadn't been diligent in cleaning it. A CBS spokesman confirmed to E! News that Cochrane will be returning to the show. There was no explanation of how the character will return except in this remark from the CBS spokesman: "He will be reprising the role of Tim Speedle and it's not a flashback. He will be interacting with his old partner and friend, Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez)." This has led to a lot of speculation of how the character can return after having his brains spilled over a jewelry store floor; one popular theory is a faked death and witness protection. However there may be a clue in the CBS spokesman's statement – "He will be interacting with his old partner and friend, Eric Delko." It doesn't say that he'll be interacting with any of the other characters on the show. This lead me to think that seeing Speedle will be a symptom of Delko own brain injury, suffered when the character was shot in the season which ended this past May. It makes as much sense as any other theory.

To Catch A Predator sued – twice: NBC's Dateline NBC has a major sensation with their To Catch A Predator episodes, but they may have gone too far. The show and NBC have been sued by the family of Louis Conradt who committed suicide after being confronted by police and NBC journalists at his home in Terell Texas. According to a Reuters report on the suit, Conradt had been targeted after he arranged to meet a "13 year-old boy" at a house in Marshall Texas. However Conradt did not actually go to the house. The "13 year-old boy" was in fact a member of the private vigilante group Perverted Justice posing as a child. When Conradt did not appear at the house, police and members of the NBC team travelled to his home, Conradt admitted them and then shot himself. The lawsuit, brought by his sister Patricia Conradt on behalf of his estate claims that the NBC team "steamrolled" local authorities to arrest the retired district attorney. To quote from the article, "The lawsuit said police and members of the Dateline crew traveled to Conradt's house 'with neither a search warrant nor an arrest warrant' that met legal standards. Both police officers and other members of the party were wearing cameras ... very large cameras, on the cutting edge of technology, that normally are worn only by television reporters,' the lawsuit said. 'They were met by (Conradt). He told them "I'm not gonna hurt anyone" and shot himself. Then a police officer said to a Dateline producer, "That'll make good TV." Death was an hour later,' it said."

This is not the first suit faced by NBC in connection with the To Catch A Predator series. According to The Smoking Gun former NBC producer Marsha Bartel has sued for wrongful dismissal after she was fired by NBC News less than six months after she became sole producer of the series. Bartel's firing came after she complained that the show violated journalistic ethics in a number of ways and many of NBC's own journalistic guidelines. These included the financial relationship between NBC and Perverted Justice that represents a "financial incentive to lie to trick targets of its sting", and that "Perverted Justice does not provide 'complete transcripts from its trolling operations,' so network officials 'cannot independently verify the accuracy' of the group's transcripts." She further stated in her suit that NBC has covered up various things about the To Catch A Predator stings including leading sting targets "into additional acts of humiliation (such as being encouraged to remove their clothes) in order to enhance the comedic effect of the public exposure of these persons", and police officers acting improperly when working with the NBC crew including "goofing off by waving rubber chickens in the faces of sting targets while forcing them to the ground and handcuffing them." When Bartel complained about controversial statements made by Perverted Justice founder David Corvo she was told by higher ups at Dateline NBC and NBC News, "We all know they're nuts." Bartel is seeking at least $1 million in her suit.

I may be alone in this but I find this whole To Catch A Predator concept to be a dangerous step down an incredibly dangerous slope. This is dangerous in so many ways. Start with this one – by partnering with Perverted Justice, NBC isn't reporting the news they are creating the news and doing it in such a way that violates virtually every journalistic standard. This isn't like the FOX series Cops which has documentary crews riding along with police officers, this is NBC subsidizing a private organization using potentially unethical means to target people. Does NBC's involvement taint the court process for the people that are caught – you know the ones who actually expect to have an untainted jury pool and a fair trial. The details of the Conradt case are even more egregious. The fact that he did not visit the "sting house", regardless of the reason – he apparently intended to go but his sister came to visit before he was going to leave – makes it questionable whether the police could have obtained either an arrest warrant or even a search warrant. In the normal course of events – like if this were a police sting rather than one set up by a private organization at the behest of a TV network – the procedure would probably have been to set up another meeting at a different time and location. But because of the involvement of the TV show and its limited time in the region – and no doubt because Conradt was a prominent member of the community that NBC and Perverted Justice wanted to out as a pedophile because of his prominence – little niceties like warrants and burden of proof were set aside. Based on comments in other forums, a lot of people don't find this particularly troubling, and a lot of people seem disappointed that more of the alleged pedophiles caught by Dateline don't take the route Conradt did (and some seem to think that they should be given some "help" with the process). For myself, between the questionable legal situation, the violation of journalistic ethics, the apparent targeting of some people because of their prominence in the community (the way they went after Conradt), and the financial relationship between NBC and Perverted Justice, I find this whole concept smarmy and more than a little disgusting. The sooner it is driven off the air the better.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Well, certainly not the FCC. The PTC has a press release making a very big deal of their appointment to the FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee. The fact that the release is dated July 26, 2007 is a bit misleading given that they were appointed to the committee when it was rechartered in early June (link is to a PDF file). The purposes of the committee – stated in the recharter document – are (1) Consumer protection and education (e.g., cramming, slamming, consumer friendly billing, detariffing, bundling of services, Lifeline/Linkup programs, customer service, privacy, telemarketing abuses, and outreach to underserved populations, such as Native Americans and persons living in rural areas), (2) Access by people with disabilities (e.g., telecommunications relay services, video description, closed captioning, accessible billing and access to telecommunications products and services), and (3) Impact upon consumers of new and emerging technologies (e.g., availability of broadband, digital television, cable, satellite, low power FM, and the convergence of these and emerging technologies). The committee has 28 members including the PTC including groups as diverse as the AARP, Appalachian Regional Commission, Communication Service for the Deaf, Communication Service for the Deaf, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, League of United Latin America Citizens, National Association of Broadcasters, and The Seeing Eye, Inc. Of course you won`t find any of this out in the PTC press release. It stresses items that the Consumer Advisory Committee isn`t even involved in: "The Parents Television Council represents 1.2 million parents, grandparents, and citizens who are concerned about the content on television and in other entertainment media. The PTC's voice will result in a positive impact for all Americans as we are distinctively positioned to provide opinion and insight into how consumers think about a wide range of communication issues facing our country."

Speaking of content, the PTC has added new content to their weekly best and worsts: Misrated! In this section they go after shows that they feel have been inaccurately rated by the networks in an effort to get innocent children and adult to see and hear smut and violence. This time around they have decided that the ABC summer series Greeks (which normally airs on ABC Family on cable) is misrated. Despite the fact that the series is rated PG-14 the PTC feels that "Parents relying on the TV Ratings or the V-Chip to protect their children from graphic sexual content would have been let down, because this TV-14 episode did not carry either the "S" or "D" descriptors." Their complaint focuses first on a scene where on character (Casey) confronts another character (Rebecca) about sleeping with her boyfriend (Evan). I won't reprint the dialog that the PTC shows in their release, not because it is "smutty" but because it is extensive. There is also a scene in which Casey receives a video message on her cell phone which shows Evan and Rebecca apparently having sex. This is how the PTC describes the scene: "Although the screen that Casey is viewing the video on is small, it is clear what is going on and the clip is rather intense. The video depicts Rebecca on top of Evan, without a shirt, with a clear instance of Rebecca thrusting while kissing Evan." This does not sound too unlike some scenes in mainstream movies or even some TV shows. However the PTC insists that this show is mislabelled: "Though the rating is TV-14 indicating that it is not intended for viewers under the age of 14, parents of teens would have been caught off guard by the intense sex scene between Rebecca and Evan which was not signaled by the presence of an "S" descriptor. Parents would have also been unprepared for the heavy sexual dialogue (with no discussion of risk, responsibility or consequences) because the episode carried no "D" descriptor. The TV-14 rating alone did not give parents adequate information to judge the appropriateness of this episode for their teen." The problem with this argument is that the "intense sex scene" is not seen clearly but is only visible on the screen of the cell phone. As for the dialogue, the bit that the PTC quoted was downright innocuous, with the most explicit statement coming after Casey accuses Rebecca of having sex with Evan but before knowing that he is Rebecca's boyfriend: "I did. Rush night, and it was amazing..." That's it. If there was more intense dialogue, the PTC certainly didn't record it for posterity.

I will pass over this week's Broadcast Worst of the Week only because the PTC, apparently having no new targets to overanalyse, has chosen to declare a rerun of My Name Is Earl to be the worst of the week. Instead, let us look at the Cable Worst of the Week which is the MTV series Scarred. According to Wikipedia "On each episode of Scarred, several real-life risk-takers share the stories of how they were scarred or injured while attempting dangerous stunts on, primarily skateboards (but, occasionally, in-line skates, skis, snowboards, and bikes). The show features a segment called "Scar Stories", which broadcasts videos caught on the scene of individuals dramatically injuring themselves to a great extent, (the wound often leaving a scar), hence the show's name." The Wikipedia article also notes that the show, "like many shows in the same genre, such as Jackass, provides a warning to audiences that they should not attempt the stunts or send in home videos." The PTC takes the opportunity of the return of the show for its second season to go through the five video sequences in the episode in aggressively describing each of the accidents in gory detail. This is one of the shorter descriptions: "Jared gruesomely cuts his face after his skateboard pops up into his eye. His eye is bloodied and bruised and his face is shown with blood pouring out, as Jared's friend exclaims enthusiastically, "Holy [bleeped 'f*ck'] dude, your whole face is a bloody [bleeped 'f*cking'] mess! Holy [bleeped 'sh*t'] dude! Your [bleeped 'f*cking'] eye is [bleeped 'f*cked'], dude…your eye is, like, popping out of your head!" The PTC sums up its review by stating "It is difficult to know which element of Scarred is most repugnant: that MTV considers such programming entertainment; that by showing it, MTV is actually encouraging other teens to mutilate themselves in hopes of getting on TV; or that every cable subscriber in America is forced to support this show through their cable fees."

Setting aside my personal view on shows like Scarred and Jackass, neither of which is to my taste and indeed Scarred sounds like an incredibly stupid show, I would like to tackle the whole assertion that a show like this is "encouraging other teens to mutilate themselves in hopes of getting on TV." Certainly it's a common accusation about this show and Jackass but how is this different from someone setting up a situation in which he gets injured in order to appear on America's Funniest Home Videos – assuming of course that such things occur on either show. In my opinion it seems to be a matter of degrees. The truth of course is that in this era of relatively inexpensive video equipment, and the usually exhibitionistic nature extreme sports types their accidents are likely to be recorded for posterity. A quick and by no means extensive search on Youtube for "Skateboarding Accidents" produced a listing of 1,440 videos. And it's not as if kids have ever needed the possibility of appearing on a TV show to do stupid things – when he was about 9 my brother Greg did a pretty good job of abrading his face when he tried ramp jumping something on his bicycle. So yes, a show like Scarred sounds quite repugnant to me and if it were to be taken off the air tomorrow I probably wouldn't shed a tear, but I am not the intended audience. And, not only does MTV "considers such programming entertainment" but so does that intended audience, an audience that also watches professional Wrestling and Ultimate Fighting. And yet again, people need to be reminded that this is a show that has advertisers. "Every cable subscriber in America" is not supporting this show with their cable fees, advertisers are, and if the show was not attracting an audience those advertisers would take their money and go elsewhere and hte show would be cancelled. But of course that wouldn't "prove" the PTC's point.

My Second Ever

And this time I made it pay!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

TV on DVD – July 24, 2007

Well better late than never on this. There have been a couple of breaks in the local hot weather – enough that I've been able to get ouside and do some much needed yard work – and I also confess to becoming obsessed with a new (to me) game. The downfall of my family I fear is that when we get obsessed with a new game it is to the exclusion of all else including concepts like time or at least day and night. Hopefully I can get things back on track soon.

Beer Nutz: Season 1
Okay, this might come as a surprise but I know absolutely nothing about this show. As in absolutely nothing – like who did it, what country it came from or what it's about. And apparently no one else does either. Wikipedia doesn't list it; TV.com doesn't; the IMDB lists only the host, while neither Amazon.ca nor Amazon.com have anything beyond the price and the day it ships. I can't even find a homepage for the show – if indeed it is a show – online! So finally I went to the source of the data for these posts, TVShowsonDVD.com and here's what they wrote (and apologies to them for pulling this quote in its entirety – I usually do my own homework): "If you've ever dreamed you'd hold the title of brew master, belly up to the bar as we travel across the country, one glass at a time. Discover America's beer capitals and learn the history and traditions behind the perfect pint to see if you can join the ranks of the most fanatical and wear the badge of Beer Nut.

Benson: The Complete First Season
Benson is one of my favourite series. Robert Guillaume's character Benson DuBois was quite clearly the sanest person in the series Soap and also one of the most popular characters, so it made sense to put him into a series of his own. The first season of the show had a lot the elements that we'd become familiar with – the genial Governor played by James Noble and Inge Svenson as the acerbic chief cook Kraus with whom he was always feuding – but it wasn't the show that it would become. It was almost as if they'd carried some of the basics of the Soap format over to the new show. Still worth a watch, even if you do miss Rene Auberjonois (he didn't start until the second season).

A Bit of Fry & Laurie: Season Three
A Bit of Fry & Laurie: Season Four
A Bit of Fry & Laurie: The Complete Collection... Every Bit

I first became familiar with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie from their work as the title characters in the 1990s Jeeves and Wooster TV series which was seen on Masterpiece Theater and which antedates their work on Blackadder (1986-89 for Laurie) and is contemporary with their work on A Bit Of Fry and Laurie. Which makes it odd – but only slightly – that I've never seen more than a few moments of this show. Actually I do know the reason; even though it was on the Canadian version of Bravo (which is totally different from the American version) I could never find it and when I did find it could never remember when it was on. The show is an almost entirely two-person sketch show even more than something like Little Britain. A gem.

TV Guide Presents: The Crow: Stairway to Heaven: The Complete Series
Our blogging buddy Bryce Zabel produced this follow-up to the two Crow movies. It was shot in Vancouver, and I remember it as one of the earliest original shows on Space: The Imagination Station – the Canadian equivalent of The Sci-Fi Channel (but better). While I generally enjoyed the show I sometimes found it difficult to follow and had hopes that a second season might have resolved some of my problems with it. Of course the show never had a second season. Unfortunately, even though the show did decently in the ratings it got caught up in the mess that was Polygram's sale to Seagrams and subsequent integration into Universal. What I wasn't aware of until I started writing this is that the star of the series, Mark Dacascos, is the Charirman on Iron Chef America. Julie Dreyfus, who appears on the show as the owner of the Blackout Club, was an occasional judge on the original Japanese version of Iron Chef.

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. 3
It was with a certain amount of sadness that I read in TVSquad that Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law had aired its last episode. Oh, not because I'm a particularly huge fan, but it seemed to me that this mining of a character who in his "dramatic" incarnation lasted only one season was an ideal venue for satirizing just about any subject you could think of. Much of the show was done using Flash in part because the Korean animation studio that was originally contracted to produce episodes couldn't keep up with the pace that the show required. The result was a rather interesting variation on the sort of limited animation that Hanna-Barbera – which created most of the characters used in the show – was famous/infamous for.

The Secrets of Isis: The Complete Series
As far as I know this series, which with its companion Shazam! was part of Saturday morning's The Shazam!/Isis Hour, wasn't seen in my little part of Canada so unlike a lot of guys I never lusted after Joanna Cameron. The series was a departure for Filmation in that both parts were live action shows rather than extremely poorly animated shows. A generation later Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess would be cultural phenomena but as far as I can tell Isis never caught fire. A mere 22 episodes were produced over two seasons, in addition to three appearances by Isis on the Shazam part of the show. The Isis character was an original creation by Filmation that later spawned a fairly short lived comic book series from DC which in turn led to the character being reworked and revived in the 52 series. Presumably somewhere along the line ownership of the character ended up at DC Comics.

Land of the Giants: The Complete Series
Can I just say WOW!!! This set not only includes the complete series on nine double sided DVDs but there are a ton of special features on the disks and other stuff in the box including a reprint of a Land Of The Giants comic book, trading cards, a shoulder patch and what looks like a toy version of the ship in the series. Land Of The Giants is the only one of the 1960s Irwin Allen TV series that I haven't seen – I saw Lost In Space and Time Tunnel when it came out and caught bits and pieces of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea when it aired on Space – but I've never managed to catch Land Of The Giants in almost 40 years. If it weren't for the price tag on this set (as big as the box) I might be interested just to see what I've been missing.

The Real McCoys: Complete Season 1
Rhino Home Video released a DVD of The Real McCoys back in 2003 but for fans of the show that was more than a bit of a disappointment since it wasn't a full season set but rather had four episodes of the series. This set, from new producer Falcon Pictures Group is the complete first season. Another show that I never saw back in the days of one local station, and while it may have popped up in syndication when we had more than one station it was at a time when I wasn't able to see it.

Todd McFarlane's Spawn: 10th Anniversary Signature Edition
Spawn is one of those "hey you kids get off my lawn" things for me. I just don't get it; not as a comic book, not as a movie, and most assuredly not as an animated series. Still who am I to argue with success; Spawn, and the toy company and licensing arrangements that went along with it, made Todd McFarlane an extremely rich man. Despite what's written on the box, the series only had three seasons of six episodes each – the 10th anniversary refers to the fact that the show debuted 10 years ago. And I still don't get it!!

Spenser: A Savage Place
Spenser: Judas Goat

A pair of made for TV movies that Robert Urich and Avery Brooks did in 1995 along with Canadian actress Wendy Crewson (the films were done in Toronto rather than Boston, and it sometimes shows). A Savage Place was Robert Urich's last appearance as Spenser (they're also the reason why Captain Sisko suddenly shave his head and grew a badass beard on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Certainly not as good as the series – Toronto ain't Boston, and Urich's health still wasn't the best – but the movies are reportedly relatively close to the original material, which is always good.

Star Trek Captains Log
Captain's Log...Stardate ... some random numbers in ... the script...point 6. Iconic words indeed whether uttered by Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway – Archer came before Stardates although he did do log entries. The good folks at Paramount Home Video (it should be mentioned here that most executives in the Home Video companies and branches of companies are slightly below "Network Weasels" in terms of being "good" for reasons that usually quite apparent), having released every episode of Star Trek ever made in overpriced boxed sets, are still determined to wring cash out of the fans. Unlike the people who do Farscape sets with their multiple versions, or Andromeda with their overpriced part of a season sets followed up by a complete season set that was a fraction of the price of the individual discs needed to make up the complete season, the Star Trek folks have been ingenious. What they've done is to package episodes from different series in the franchise along a common theme; Klingons, or The Borg for example. This set is an interesting one. There are ten episodes – two from each captain – chosen by fans of the series in an online poll, but in addition each of the five actors who played a captain chose one favourite episode of their own. And of course there are plenty of special features. As Spock would say, "Fascinating."

Stargate SG-1: Season 10
I was never a huge Stargate SG1 fan. Oh I'd watch it if I saw it and once I got into the story I'd enjoy it, but I never actively sought it out. This is the tenth and final season although, like Star Trek the franchise just keeps rolling along with Stargate Atlantis and a projected third series as well as some TV movies from the original franchise. The tenth season makes a quite conscious effort to wind things up, and there are apparently more than a few stand-alone stories as well as a number of resolved plot threads (for those movies). From a non-fan like me this gets a half-hearted recommendation though I'm sure every fan will be lining up to get it (if they didn't pre-order).

Suspense: The Lost Episodes Collection, Vol. 1
When commercial television revived after being halted by World War II it seemed only natural to transfer the popular radio shows of the day to the small screen. One of the most popular radio shows of the day was Suspense. On radio the series had high production values and attracted some of the leading lights of the day including comedians like Jack Benny and Jim and Marion Jordan, appearing in dramatic roles. The show ran a surprising six years on television, and attracted its share of famous talent. On the cover of this DVD I recognise Leslie Nielsen and George Reeves as well as Boris Karloff. There is a bit of a bait and switch going on here in a couple of ways. The legendary Boris Karloff is featured on the cover as if he were the star of the series when in fact he only appeared in six episodes during the show's entire run. Secondly the show is listed as being "filmed in Kinescope" as though that were some revolutionary process. In fact the "process" consisted of filming the show off the TV monitor as the show was being done live. The result was for the most less than satisfactory by even the standards of a few years later. Shows on this set start in 1949 and run the complete length of the series. Good stories with great casts and a glimpse into the early days of Television; what more could you ask for?

Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Sixth Season
I've been told that the sixth season of Tales From The Crypt is one of the weaker ones for the show. I couldn't honestly tell you – on those occasions when I've managed to see episodes of the show (or parts of episodes, usually) I haven't been able to tell whether an episode was from season one or season seven. The show is quite interesting; an ensemble series based on the sort of stories featured in the classic EC Comics that were scandalous in the 1950s (the comics were deemed so graphic by the Kefauver Commission that they spawned the Comics Code Authority – after trying to buck the system in couple of ways publisher William Gaines stuck with his one remaining title, a juvenile humour comic that became a magazine called Mad). The stories attracted a really impressive list of directors and actors. Regardless of the season this series is a good watch.

Three Sheets: Season 1
Zane Lamprey drinks his way around the world in HD. I can't see anything in the concept that would tempt me to part with 25 bucks, but your mileage may vary.

The Ultimate Underdog Collection, Vol. 1
The Ultimate Underdog Collection, Vol. 2
The Ultimate Underdog Collection, Vol. 3

We all know why this series is coming out now – it's a prelude to the new live action (with CGI) Disney movie Underdog, Here's an instant tip for those of you with kids. Take the money you would be spending to take your spouse and your two and a half kids (is that still the average?) to the multiplex, pay for parking and the overpriced food at the theatre, and buy these DVDs. You'll probably save money and you will undoubtedly have a lot better time and not just because you can put real butter on the popcorn. I find it vaguely disturbing just how much I remember from this series that I didn't see that many times; from "Not bird nor plane nor even frog, it's just little old me (CRASH!!) Underdog," to "without my super energy pill I get weaker and weaker and weaker still," to Sweet Polly Purebred's "Oh where oh where has my Underdog gone, Oh where oh where can he be?" At a time when Batman was pushing the "camp" humour angle to adults while being taken seriously by kids like me (who didn't see the "real" Batman until years after the show left the air), and Hanna-Barbera were doing shows like Space Ghost and Birdman that were played with deadly seriousness, Underdog is pure fun. And as an added bonus, these are complete episodes – like a lot of cartoons in this period there were two six minute episodes featuring the lead character and a single episode of a secondary character – which means episodes of Tennessee Tuxedo and my personal favourites the Go Go Gophers. And besides the movie doesn't have the voice of the sadly underappreciated Wally Cox.

Weeds, Season 2
Weeds: Season 2 [Blu-ray]

Another show that I really haven't caught even though it is now available on basic cable here. The series obviously has something worth paying attention to given the number of awards the show has been nominated for and won, including Emmy nominations for this season for Mary Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins. The subject of a fortyish suburban widow who also happens to be a pot dealer just doesn't seem to attract me I guess. Still the cast is superb and I confess that I'd probably like it if I ever gave it a chance. Worth noting that the series is available on standard DVD and the high definition Blu-ray format (but not HD-DVD). I'm no expert on the DVD format wars so I won't express an opinion on this. Either one format will win out or dual format players will become the norm until, in the long term one format wins.

The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Collection
This is the reason why I won't be buying Underdog or anything else for a while. I'm not sure what inspired Universal to release these cartoons but I'm glad they did. In fact if it weren't for the hot spell we've been having (and the need to do work around the house when the hot spell occasionally broke) I'd have this set already. Walter Lantz never had the biggest or the best studio in Hollywood; he was pretty much a second tier studio behind the Disneys, Warners and MGMs of the world, but he did have a knack for self promotion that led him to be as famous as Disney for a time while his TV show ran in the late 1950s. And truth be known he made some pretty good cartoons (he also made theatrical shorts longer than just about anyone else, though given the quality of some of the last shorts he did that's not really something to brag about). This set if full of great material that isn't just Woody Woodpecker. The last shorts that Tex Avery did are here as are some cartoons that Lantz was forbidden to show on TV (some of his Swing Symphony cartoons were deemed to be racially touchy by censors in the 1950s). One thing. My friend Jaime Weinman warned in his MacLean's blog that there is a problem with the Canadian sets of this – Disc 1 is labelled as Disc 2 and vice versa. It doesn't make much of a difference, since all the material is there, but it's worth mentioning.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Poll – Who Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy?

Pretty straight forward getting the poll up – easier in fact than I anticipated. There are a couple of interesting things that I might want to play with at a later date, but right now we've got the next Emmy Poll to deal with. The rules are the same as before, namely that you should vote for who you'd like to see win, rather than the person that you think the Academy will vote for.

One interesting thing in this list is that there are six names. This actually happens several times in the list of nominees. Apparently the TV Academy has a rule that says that if the number of votes to nominate between fifth and sixth (and seventh and eighth on a few occasions) falls within a certain range, it will be considered a tie and the sixth (and seventh and eighth) person will be included on the nomination list. This is in contrast with the policies of Oscars and Tonys which require the number of votes to be exactly the same for a tie to have occurred and an extra name to be added to the nomination list. In most cases I'd agree with that policy, but given that I think that five nominees is too few in most Emmy categories – given the sheer number of shows that are produced each year – I think that in this case it is an appropriate response.

This poll ends on June 30. As usual feel free to comment on how you voted – or what I wrote about the number of nominees – in the comments section of this post.

Poll Results – Who should win the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy?

Here are the first results on the 2006-07 Emmy Award Poll. Five votes were cast, which isn't the worst voter turnout one of these has ever had.

Tied with no votes are Kevin Dillon of Entourage and Rainn Wilson from The Office. In a tie for second place, with one vote each (20%), are Jon Cryer from Two And A Half Men and Jeremy Priven from Entourage. However, with three votes (60%) is Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Barney on How I Met Your Mother.

Given that I've only seen about one episode of Entourage, I think it's a pretty good result. As virtually everyone who has read this blog during the main TV season knows, I bowl on Monday nights and so I miss a lot of shows. I don't feel deprived by missing Two And A Half Men and I know that there are a lot of people – okay, mainly the people who get their writing on TV into newspapers and magazines – who don't either. If I were being mean-spirited, I'd say that the show received the huge number of Emmy nominations that it has because it gets huge Nielsen ratings. That said, I will admit that Jon Cryer is great as a straight man for Martin Sheen to play off of. As I said, I've only seen one episode of Entourage, but I really enjoyed it. The thing was that I enjoyed it more because of Jeremy Priven as super-agent Ari Gold rather than Kevin Dillon as Drama. I think that Ari is a far flashier role, and one which probably deserves an Outstanding Actor nomination rather than one in the supporting actor category – I think you could build an ordinary sitcom around Ari Gold's character far more easily than around the other characters on the show. One thing that I'm rather surprised about is the lack of love for Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute on The Office. The character's inherent absurdity and the his straight faced serious manner perfectly realised by Wilson.

Ah, but then there's Neil Patrick Harris. Barney Stinson is a perfect supporting character. You can't imagine his character as the focus of a successful sitcom – if Barney were spun-off into his own show it would be the next Joey not the next Fraser – and yet Barney is a dominant factor in How I Met Your Mother's success. If, as I've always maintained, How I Met Your Mother is the "real" American Coupling then Barney is the show's equivalent of Richard Coyle's character 'Jeff, ' at once absurd and yet kind of lovable. Harris brings a sort of goofy energy to the role too – you get the sense that he really enjoys playing Barney.

How do I think the Academy will vote? I think it may come down to Priven vs. Harris, with Rainn Wilson having an outside chance. Ari Gold is probably the role that is closer to a lead, and Priven has the advantage of having won last year (and was nominated the year before, losing to Brad Garrett in Everybody Love's Raymond's last season). On the other hand, Harris is in a true supporting part even though the show is very much an ensemble show, not unlike Friends or Coupling. Wilson's part in The Office is very much a supporting role, he's rarely the focus of an episode given the attention on Steve Carell's Michael, or on the Jim-Pam relationship. On the whole, I think Harris has a pretty good shot at winning this.

New Poll up shortly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Short Takes – July 24, 2007

Apologies are in order. I meant for this to be longer, earlier, and more interesting. The longer and earlier were harmed by a bit of a problem that's developed with the fingers of my right hand; I suspect it's arthritis, and me without any of Granny Clampett's (well strictly speaking Granny Moses's) Rheumatis medicine. It's made typing a bit of a pain literally. I have a system, really I do, but implementing it has been a bit hit and miss.

Given that this is the time when the professional critics head for Los Angeles for the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour there's more than a little news out there, but in most cases the news tends to be in the form of who is in what (Katee Sackoff – yay – and Isaiah Washington – not so much of a yay – have both been signed to play recurring roles in Bionic Woman; just an example) and promotional material. It doesn't mean that I wouldn't love to be down there (all I need is someone to pay me for writing this stuff in dollar amounts large enough to pay the costs of two or three weeks in Los Angeles every six months), but the fact is that a lot of what the TCA press tour is about is the attempt to spin the stories about the networks and their new and returning shows. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Oh, by the way, don't forget to vote in the poll!

The new host of The Price Is Right is...: Drew Carey. One of the only good things about this problem with my hand is that I'm able to feed you this bit of fresh news. Carey, who is hosting the new CBS prime time game show The Power Of 10, revealed that he had finalized the deal to host The Price is Right during his appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on Monday night, although since the show is taped earlier in the day it was actually completed Monday afternoon. According to Carey he was notified that the deal had been completed less than fifteen minutes before his appearance on the Letterman show. Drew Carey will probably do all right as the host of The Price Is Right. On the plus side, he has had experience hosting a live or live to tape show both from The Power Of 10 and earlier with Whose Line Is It Anyway? In addition he's personable and has something of an everyman vibe about him. On the downside he's not as polished as Barker was and hasn't shown that much experience in dealing with the mass audience on a personal level. The biggest strike against him may be that he's a comedian and sometimes has something of a sarcastic bent to him. The thing about The Price is Right or almost any game show is that you have to take it and the contestants seriously. It's going to be interesting to see how Carey adapts to his new job. The pressure is going to be on him, not unlike the way it was for Katie Couric, to live up to the standards of his predecessor while still making the job his own. But I don't expect Drew Carey to be under the same sort of constant and hypercritical scrutiny that Couric has had to endure.

Schedule changes at NBC: You know what they say about an old broom seeping clean? Well Ben Silverman hasn't exactly swept the NBC schedule clean of the shows that his predecessor as head of the NBC Entertainment Division announced but he did shake the schedule up a bit. He started by moving the new series Chuck from the second hour of Tuesday night to the first hour of Monday as a lead in for Heroes, making Monday night "Science Fiction Night" (Chuck, Heroes, JourneyMan). Next, he extended Biggest Loser from one hour to ninety minutes and put a half-hour version of The Singing Bee on from 9:30 to 10 p.m. (Eastern). The Singing Bee, which had a very successful debut two weeks ago and had been scheduled to alternate with 1 vs. 100 on Friday night. On Friday night, 1 vs. 100 has been shelved and replaced by the second episode of Deal Or No Deal. The game show will serve as the lead-in for Friday Night Lights, which has swapped with Las Vegas, which moves to Friday's third hour.

On the whole I think that this tinkering has been an improvement to the NBC schedule. It gives Friday Night Lights a more accessible time slot with a stronger lead while allowing the comedy-drama Las Vegas to play around with more adult storylines (although the PTC will likely insist that Friday Night Lights is too smutty even for the second hour in much the same way they did with Las Vegas). The Singing Bee will probably do better in its current format as a half-hour show than it would have done at an hour. My one reservation here is that the later time slot puts it up against the last half hour of the Dancing With The Stars results show. The Singing Bee could very easily work as the first show of the night, particularly up against ABC's Cavemen. Finally, by moving Chuck to the first hour of Monday night Silverman has not only established a clear theme for the night but installed a show that probably going to be "friendly" to the "family" audience – youth oriented – in a time slot where it will be effective. There's a lot less contrast in having that show leading out a themed night than serving as the jump between Biggest Loser and Law & Order: SVU. About the only show that is really screwed by these changes is 1 vs. 100, a show that I personally enjoy more than either The Singing Bee or Deal Or No Deal. Best of all this is not the sort of mass schedule modification that Kevin Reilly engaged in last year to "save" Studio 60 from the combination of Grey's Anatomy and CSI, which was immensely destructive to NBC's line-up and didn't even accomplish its main goal. This is more along the lines of surgical tinkering with a sense of logic to it.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Well the PTC positively loves the US Senate Commerce Committee for "protecting children from indecent content on television." The Committee passed a Bill (do committees actually pass bills?) to institutionalize the ban on any use of "profanity and indecent images" that the FCC attempted to enforce, including the notion of fleeting obscenities that was struck down by the Second Circuit decision. As the PTC writes in their press statement, "We applaud the Senate Commerce Committee, and especially the bipartisan leadership of Senators Rockefeller, Inouye, Stevens, and Pryor, for putting the interests of families above the self-serving interests of the broadcast industry." They further go on to say that "It is clearly in the interest of children and families that nudity and inappropriate sexual content -- such as the infamous Super Bowl strip show -- should not be shown on television before 10 pm. The public interest was clearly served by today's bipartisan Senate action, and we now call on the full Senate to vote on this measure before the August recess." What the PTC misses in its self-congratulatory rhetoric is the quite serious question of whether any such bill would be able to withstand challenge on constitutional grounds, which after all was a major point of the Second Circuit Court's decision. But no, they don't seem to believe that the Television industry has the simple right to sue for redress against arbitrary actions or to seek a clear and consistent definition of what constitutes acceptable behaviour. Note in this excerpt how they define the industry's efforts as "absurd," that the FCC's ruling was an example of "common sense," and how they make it a point to downplay the validity of the Second Circuit's decision by pointing out that it was only two judges: "Through their lawsuits asserting the 'right' to air profanity during the hours when children are in the audience, and the absurd notion that a striptease during the Super Bowl is not indecent, the broadcast networks continue to show they are not responsible stewards of the public airwaves; but as licensees, the responsibility is theirs. The FCC's authority to enforce common sense decency standards, which were recently stripped by two judges in New York City, must be restored. Today's action is a significant step in the right direction." Of course if the two judges had been a majority in favour of their position, the PTC would have said that they were more than enough and would deny any attempt by the industry to appeal to the Supreme Court, an option which the broadcasting industry does not deny to the FCC.

The fact is that the FCC decision overturned by the Second Circuit was not an example of "common sense decency standards" because it went against previously established precedent on the handling of such situations which had been the standard of behaviour for thirty years. Indeed the FCC has contradicted itself since their decision on obscenities by saying that it was in fact acceptable for stations to air Saving Private Ryan with the language uncensored despite the fact that it was an example of scripted obscenities rather than "slips of the tongue" or incidental uses of words like "fuck" or "shit" during something like an awards show. This in and of itself is representative of an inconsistent standard on the part of the FCC. If the words are acceptable in Saving Private Rayan then why not NYPD Blue?

The Cable Worst of the Week is Rescue Me. The Cable Worst of the Week is almost always Rescue Me. And it is almost always Rescue Me for the same reason every time. Details change but the essence lingers on. Allow me to summarise the PTC's complaints in the stylings of Mr. Charles Brown: "Blah blah blah 'graphically and crudely'. Blah blah blah 'hand job.' Blah blah blah, 'eye-popping view of Tommy and Janet sexually healing their ruinous relationship.' Blah blah blah 'nymphomaniac former nun.' Blah blah 'sex during church services.' Blah blah 'penchant for pornography.' Blah blah blah 'salacious slate of programming.'" After that there is of course the usual condemnation of the "fact" that "all cable subscribers are forced to subsidize such programming." I put quotes around the word 'fact' because the PTC insists on using the word "subsidize" which my dictionary at least defines as "to aid or assist with a grant of money or by guaranteeing a market."And while I suppose that the existence of FX as a cable network where shows are – for now at least – unrestricted by the regulations that the FCC imposes on over the air stations might be defined as "guaranteeing a market" the implication of a subsidy is that the product or the manufacturer would not continue to exist without the payment of the grant of money. The only way in which cable subscribers are "subsidizing" Rescue Me is by making FX a profitable corporate entity and the degree to which they do that is subject to scrutiny given that FX sells advertising time of the channel. Certainly it is unfair to say that cable subscribers are subsidizing the program when, at the same time, the PTC condemns advertisers who put their commercials on the show. In fact it might be more valid to say that cable subscribers who pay for FX are subsidizing the commercial-free Fox Movie Channel since the fees paid for FX go into the coffers of News Corp which owns Fox Movie Channel.

Broadcast's Worst of the Week is Big Brother. They state that "In the first two episodes this season sex and foul language dominate" and it seems as though the PTC has feels the need to be more explicit about the language in their press release than the show ever was. The PTC's normal method of dealing with obscenities – and they have a far larger list of such things than most people – is either to give only the first and last letter or to use the initials, like "the S-word" or "the F-word." Here's what the PTC press release on Big Brother being the worst of the week said: "Foul language on the two episodes included poorly bleeped words such as 'asshole,' 'shit,' 'tits,' and eleven instances of the word 'fuck.'" Of almost as much interest as the fact that the PTC used the actual words in their press release is their reasoning for condemning the program (well one of them; we'll get to the other shortly). They acknowledged that the words were bleeped, including the ones which have been used on TV before, but it's not good enough for them. The show should be condemned because the bleeping of the words in question does not meet the PTC's standards for such things!

Ah, but that wasn't the only reason for the PTC to be down on the show. There was it seems explicit sexual references on what the PTC is now describing as "the traditional Family Hour." These references came from "flamboyantly homosexual housemate Joe," and dealt with his accusation against his former boyfriend Dustin. "Joe openly and unapologetically announces that he has contracted the disease from implied unprotected sex with Dustin. Dustin adamantly denies that it was he that gave Joe the STD." I'm sure of course that the PTC would just as rigorously condemn any statement by a heterosexual houseguest about contracting gonorrhoea from a former long term relationship, but they seemed to take inordinate glee from pointing out that it was Gay people having unprotected sex.

The PTC finishes their comments on Big Brother with the almost ritual condemnation of the TV ratings system. According to the PTC "With a TV rating PG-L, no parent could rely on the V-Chip to protect young viewers from such content. Both episodes were unconscionably aired promoting promiscuous and crude behavior in the homes of unsuspecting families." According to Wikipedia, PG-L refers to "mild coarse language." The other "descriptors" at this level are V-moderate violence, S-sexual situations, D-suggestive dialog. The PTC has acknowledged that the strongest language used by the "houseguests" was bleeped, even if it wasn't up to the PTC's standards (they also omit the fact that CBS "fuzzed" the mouths of houseguests when necessary to protect lip-readers). And given the reaction of people both inside the house and outside to Joe's repeated comments about the STD that he claimed Dustin gave to him, it can hardly be seen as "promoting promiscuous behaviour." I would be interested in knowing exactly the PTC would rate any episode of Big Brother using the V-Chip. But of course they will not say what they think would be acceptable, because of course the V-Chip and the ratings system doesn't work.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Here’s What I Was Watching 38 Years Ago Tonight

Me and just about everyone else on the planet, supposedly. Oh there were some who didn't see it. They didn't have TV in South Africa until 1975 which quite frankly is a real shocker. I doubt that the people in the People's Republic of China – or as we called it then "Red China" to distinguish it from Chiang Kai Shek's truly "democratic" Republic across the Taiwan Strait – saw it. And you can be damned sure they weren't watching in North Vietnam or North Korea. Anyway, here's the clip.

The question I guess is whether the United States could do it again; an eight year program to do the near impossible because it was a challenge. I'm not sure. A few years ago I posted a challenge on soc.history.what-if asking whether, if Bill Clinton had said in the first year of his presidency that the United States had to put a man on the Moon by the turn of the millennium in 2001, the country and industry could do it. The responses I got weren't yes or no answers, or programs, they were diatribes on how Clinton in particular and the Democrats in general hated the space program. It degenerated from that into the usual Clinton hatred and politicized policy bashing of the Democrats that was so prevalent in the early days of the Bush presidency and still exists today. Looking back, I have to wonder if the United States could ever unite itself behind a leader and a policy as completely as it did around John Kennedy and the mission to the Moon (and yeah, I know it was hardly unanimous support but far more than any other recent president has been able to put together, let alone for anything so daring)? Right now, I despair about the possibility.

New Poll – Who should win the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Yes, my infamous polls are back, with a new poll service provider – Bravenet. There was actually a provider that I liked better, but unfortunately their code had a tendency to take out virtually everything on my sidebar! And I can't figure out why. If I can ever figure out why the code didn't work I might go back to them

Okay, so here's the rules part. Vote for the actor who you think should win the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy, not the one that you think the Emmy voters will choose. Feel free to make comments on the poll in this post. Simple right.

Voting on this category ends on the morning of July 25. (That's one thing I did like about both my old polling service and the one I couldn't get to work – they'd automatically end the poll on a specified date. With Bravenet I have to watch the date myself.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Emmy Nominations 2007

The 2007 Emmy nominations are out and that means the usual run of analysis – and that`s just for the actors who are feeling down on themselves for not being nominated and need their shrinks (Thank you; I`m here all week, try the veal, tip your waitresses well). But seriously folks, once the nominations are announced it is inevitable that people who write about TV, both the professional TV critics in the newspapers and magazines – because when was the last time you saw serious TV commentary on entertainment "news" shows like Entertainment Tonight – as well as amateurs with Blogs (like I don`t know...me) like to look at the nominations and tell the Television Academy where they screwed up. And this year – like most years – they did indeed screw up.

Boston Legal
Grey's Anatomy
The Sopranos

Commentary: It`s not a horrible set of nominations, and the nomination of Heroes even throws a bone to Science Fiction fans. The thing is that it`s mostly a safe list with all the usual suspects. Snubs, you want snubs? Set aside Battlestar Galactica, which could probably put a nominee in most of the Drama categories and I'll prove it, how about these: Friday Night Lights, Deadwood, The Wire, The Shield, Rescue Me. In fact you could probably come up with a list of great shows that the PTC hates that would also be shows that would deserve to win here.

The Office
30 Rock
Two and a Half Men
Ugly Betty

Commentary: I'm not really up on the current state of sitcoms, or comedy in general, but this at least seems to be a pretty good list with the exception perhaps of Two and a Half Men but that's just me. Trouble is that there are a couple of other shows that could probably qualify as well. They would be the departing King Of Queens,How I Met Your Mother and most importantly, Extras.

The Amazing Race
American Idol
Dancing With The Stars
Project Runway
Top Chef

Commentary: All the usual suspects except for Survivor, which really deserves to be up there after their most recent season. I hate to say it (but of course I will), but I think that the domination of this category by my beloved Amazing Race will probably end after the lacklustre All-Star edition.

Antiques Roadshow
Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan
Extreme Makeover Home Edition
Kathy Griffin: My Life On The D-List
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

No Commentary

The Colbert Report
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Late Night With Conan O'Brien
Late Show With David Letterman
Real Time With Bill Maher

Commentary: No real commentary except that notable by his absence it the jaw that walks like a man, Jay Leno and The Tonight Show. Someone has obviously gotten wise.

The Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner
The Kennedy Center Honors: A National Celebration Of The Performing Arts
Lewis Black: Red, White & Screwed
Tony Bennett: An American Classic
A Tribute To James Taylor (Great Performances)
Wanda Sykes: Sick And Tired

No Commentary

Broken Trail
Prime Suspect: The Final Act
The Starter Wife

No Commentary

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
Inside The Twin Towers
The Ron Clark Story
Why I Wore Lipstick To My Mastectomy

No Commentary

James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Hugh Laurie, House
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
James Spader, Boston Legal
Kiefer Sutherland, 24

Commentary: Okay, I said I could do this, so here goes – Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama. In addition to my Battlestar Galactica snub, I`ll also add Ian McShane for Deadwood, Michael Chiklis for The Shield and Matthew Perry for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I know the show died an ignominious death but Perry was perfect as the cynical, sarcastic and troubled writer producer Matt Albie.

Patricia Arquette, Medium
Minnie Driver, The Riches
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

Commentary: Katee Sackoff as Starbuck. Her scenes under the psychological torture from Callum Keith Rennie`s Leoben are absolutely chilling. A good list on the whole, particularly the nomination of Kyra Sedgwick. One big snub is Connie Britton as Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights who provides humour and stability into what could be at best a weak supporting role if the show was really what people thought it was. The problem in this category is just how male-centered most TV drama is.

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Ricky Gervais, Extras
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men

No Commentary

America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

No Commentary

Jim Broadbent, Longford
Robert Duvall, Broken Trail
William H. Macy, Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From The Stories Of Stephen King
Matthew Perry, The Ron Clark Story
Tom Selleck, Jesse Stone: Sea Change

No Commentary

Queen Latifah , Life Support
Debra Messing, The Starter Wife
Helen Mirren, Prime Suspect: The Final Act
Mary-Louise Parker, The Robber Bride
Gena Rowlands, What If God Were The Sun

No Commentary

Michael Emerson, Lost
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Masi Oka, Heroes
William Shatner, Boston Legal

Commentary: A real surprise to see another nominee from a Science Fiction series. Galactica snub: could I suppose be James Callis as Gaius Baltar, the Quisling-like puppet president the Cylons had running New Caprica, but my personal preference is for Michael Hogan as Colonel Tigh, a man who lost his eye, his wife and his humanity over the course of the season – and that was before we found out he was a Cylon. Other snubs would have to include Gerald McRaney in Deadwood, and Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen in Friday Night Lights as a kid who has been forced to step up both in football and in life and is thoroughly overwhelmed by it. Another great supporting turn comes from Steven Webber as network executive Jack Rudolph in Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. The role is totally unlike anything we ever associate with Webber based on shows he's done before, a man who has to hold his personal preferences in check for the business realities inherent in his job.

Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos
Rachel Griffiths, Brothers & Sisters
Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Aida Turturro, The Sopranos
Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy

Commentary: My Galactica snub in this one is really big – Tricia Helfer as Six. The nature of the Cylons means that Helfer has to play a number of different characters who just happen to share a body "model", and sometimes she has to play them in the same scene! Otherwise, do we really need three actresses from Grey's Anatomy?

Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Kevin Dillon, Entourage
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Rainn Wilson, The Office

No Commentary

Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
Jenna Fischer, The Office
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Jaime Pressly, My Name Is Earl
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty

Commentary: I guess I'd have tried to find a place to nominate Alyson Hannigan from How I Met Your Mother. The woman has a quality about her that's hard to explain but I love it.

Edward Asner, The Christmas Card
Thomas Haden Church, Broken Trail
Joe Mantegna, The Starter Wife
Aidan Quinn, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
August Schellenberg, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Commentary: Nothing really except to note that Augie Schellenberg has been a fixture in Canadian TV and radio acting for a couple of decades now.

Toni Collette, Tsunami, The Aftermath
Judy Davis, The Starter Wife
Samantha Morton, Longford
Anna Paquin, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
Greta Scacchi, Broken Trail

No Commentary

Tim Daly, The Sopranos
Christian Clemenson, Boston Legal
John Goodman, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
David Morse, House
Eli Wallach, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Forest Whitaker, ER

Commentary: Wow! I'm shocked that the Academy has seen fit to nominate the two performances from Studio 60 that immediately sprung to my mind; Goodman as the Judge in Pahrump who provided a sane voice for the people who didn't like the values promoted by the fictional Studio 60, and Eli Wallach as the elderly comedy writer who was blacklisted in an earlier period where the arts were under attack. Galactica snub: Carl Lumley from the episode Hero in which he plays a pilot who escaped years of Cylon captivity and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Kate Burton, Grey's Anatomy
Leslie Caron, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Marcia Gay Harden, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Elizabeth Reaser, Grey's Anatomy
Jean Smart, 24

Commentary: Compared with last season, Jean Smart's role isn't as pivotal as it might be. Interesting, and vagely shocking, that except for Smart the nominations all come from just two series and those are broadcast series. As for Galactica this one is hard. The nature of the series is such that it's difficult to introduce a guest performer – the fleet is large but the show focuses almost all of the action on Galactica, and it's not as if you can suddenly introduce a new Cylon model. Worst of all, Academy rules now require that nominees in this category submit a paper copy of their on-screen "guest starring" credit. Still, using the old criteria of six or fewer episodes, I'd suggest Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh, whose love for her husband led her to prostitute herself to Brother Cavil, and eventually to betray the Human resistance on New Caprica, which led to her death.

Beau Bridges, My Name Is Earl
Martin Landau, Entourage
Sir Ian McKellen, Extras
Giovanni Ribisi, My Name Is Earl
Stanley Tucci, Monk

No Commentary

Dixie Carter, Desperate Housewives
Salma Hayek, Ugly Betty
Judith Light, Ugly Betty
Laurie Metcalf, Desperate Housewives
Elaine Stritch, 30 Rock

No Commentary

The Emmys air on Septenmber 16. I hope to start running polls on some of the categories starting tomorrow. I just have to work out the schedule and maybe look for a new polling service.