Thursday, July 05, 2007

Short Takes – July 5, 2007

Summertime, and the livin' is easy. Well not noticeably so but you know how it is. My mother got back from Vancouver (bringing my nephew back to his mother) after spending a week with my brother, his fiancé and her son and parents. She said that Greg sent something back for me with her – it turned out to be my tax information (he did them for me because I didn't have a printer until after the income tax season ended). The weird thing was that not only wasn't I disappointed, it was way more than I expected.

A belated Happy Fourth of July to my American readers – well USAian, since Canadians and Mexicans and everyone else south of the Rio Grande are also "Americans" but you get my drift. As usual, I watched 1776 rather than the totally botched presentation of the Boston Pops 4th of July concert that CBS will be putting on. I loved it on A&E but when they moved it to CBS the quality of all three went way down. I had planned to get this out sooner but stuff kept getting in the way. Not that there's much to report beyond the usual PTC stuff but let's try.

Washington week in review: Isaiah Washington continues to try to apportion blame for his no longer being on Grey's Anatomy. You may recall that he first blamed ABC for firing him after he had done everything (and more) that the network told him he needed to do to stay on the show. The words "law suit" were even uttered. Then he blamed the media – always a favourite for actors and embattled politicians. Next he blamed T.R. Knight, or at least said that Knight should have been fired instead of him. Apparently (and no I don't get this line of reasoning) Knight should have been let go because he was offended by Washington's use of the derogatory term, and because he was angling for a raise. Most recently Washington has decided to blame Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey. He told Larry King that he got into the infamous fight with Dempsey after Dempsey wanted to delay shooting a scene until Ellen Pompeo arrived on set. Washington told Dempsey that he didn't need Pompeo and "I can act," which supposedly sent Dempsey into another zone. "He became unhinged, sprayed spittle in my face. I'm asking him why is he screaming at me. ... He just becomes irate." He says he used "the word" not as a homophobic slur but that it "implied 'somebody who is being weak.'" – presumably Dempsey. So far Washington hasn't blamed any of the female members of the Grey's Anatomy cast. Nor has he put the blame on the person who really deserves it – the man in the mirror. The whole matter would have blown over if Washington hadn't made the incredibly stupid decision to deny using "the word" by actually using "the word". Isaiah Washington needs to "ferment son bouche" stop digging a deeper hole for himself before he ends up doing dinner theatre in Arkansas.

Casting news: Dana Delaney will apparently be cast as Bree's "long lost sister," a passive-aggressive conservative Republican woman who used to live in the neighbourhood and is married to a much younger man. Reportedly the producers are looking at Nathan Fillion, the 36 year-old Canadian actor who starred in Firefly and Miss Match to play the 51 year-old Delaney's husband. Fillion most recently starred in Drive and may be getting a reputation as the new Ted McGinley for the number of series he's been in that died quick unnoticed deaths but remember, Firefly and Drive were on FOX while Miss Match was produced by 20th Century Fox. Maybe Fillion just has to keep away from projects associated in any way with Rupert Murdoch.

Recasting news: Also known as "the pilot was sold, now let's get rid of the cast who were in it." I'm not sure how much of this is a result of Newtork weasels sticking their snouts into projects that have been already sold but it seems that after pilots are sold there comes a sudden spate of recasting which leads to people who worked well in the pilot being replaced for no apparent reason. Just consider the following:

  • Marrin Dungey, who played Dr. Naomi Barrett in the backdoor pilot of Private Practice is out; Broadway actress Audra McDonald in.
  • Brett Cullen (Governor Ray Sullivan in The West Wing), who played the father in the pilot of The CW's Life Is Wild is out; D.W. Moffett from Hidden Palms and For Your Love in, playing the father.
  • Mae Whitman (Ann Veal on Arrested Development) out as Becca Sommers on Bionic Woman out; no replacement announced but the character will no longer be deaf.
  • Amber Valetta out as Coraline in Moonlight; Shannyn Sossamon (Kira on Dirt) in.
  • Shannon Lucio (Lindsay in The O.C.) out as Beth in Moonlight; Sophia Myles in.
  • Rade Serbedzija (Dmitri Gredenko on 24 this season) out as Josef, Jason Dohring (Logan from Veronica Mars) in.

At least two of the cast changes on Moonlight relate to the arrival of former Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel producer David Greenwalt as Executive Producer/Showrunner. The replacement of Serbedzija with Dohring is particularly jarring since Serbedzija is an older Eastern European type guy and Dohring is – you know – neither of those things. I suppose that making Josef a "young, mischievous hedge-fund trader" rather than an old-school vampire who is mentoring the lead character in an uneasy alliance is meant to attract a hip young audience as well as being in keeping with the notion that vampires don't age, but for me there's something to the notion of having someone who looks and sounds as if he could have been best buds with Vlad the Impaler acting as the lead character's mentor rather than some guy who looks like he should be going to Grad School regardless of how long ago he went through the change. I also don't get what the reasoning could be behind changing the Becca character on Bionic Woman from deaf to hearing, since none is given. Is it because deaf people aren't supposed to be attractive, or audiences can't relate to the deaf? Which is obviously why I am neither a Network Executive or a Showrunner

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Well obviously they hate TV violence, so it's no surprise that PTC President Tim Winter was at the Senate Commerce Committee hearings on Violence on Television talking up the organization's position on the badness of violence on TV. He cited the PTC's study which claimed that e TV season which concluded last year was the "most violent that the PTC has ever recorded – averaging 4.41 instances of violence per hour, every hour, during prime time, or one instance every 13½ minutes – an increase of 75% since the 1998 television season." A little later we'll see just how restrictive the PTC's definition of violence is, but first let's look at the trends that the PTC is seeing. Winter told the Committee, "In addition to the marked increase in the quantity of violence, we are seeing several other disturbing trends. First, the depictions of violence have become far more graphic and more realistic than ever before, thanks in part to enhanced computer graphics employed in television production today. Second, there is an alarming trend for violent scenes to include a sexual element. Rapists, sexual predators and fetishists appear with increasing frequency on prime time programs. Third, we are now seeing the main character – the protagonist the audience is supposed to identify with – as the perpetrator of the most violent acts. And lastly we are seeing more children being depicted as the victims of violence." Which is worrying if taken entirely at face value but I'm not entirely convinced that you can. The appearance of "rapists, sexual predators and fetishists" does not necessarily mean the actual depiction of their activities, and certainly not in graphic detail. The PTC cited a number of examples including episodes of NCIS and CSI. They also cited two FX cable shows – The Shield and Nip/Tuck – for special recognition, even though both shows are scheduled for times later than those when the PTC's supposed concern – children – would normally be watching. But of course the PTC has long ago ceased to be truly concerned with protecting the children and is actually focussed on deciding what everyone should be allowed to watch regardless of age or the time that the show appears.

Of course what would a Winter appearance before any governmental hearing (and TV camera) be without touching on certain favourite topics that are not directly related to TV violence. These include the Second Circuit Court decision and the Janet Jackson incident – "After the Janet Jackson incident, television executives were quick to come before the Congress to pledge zero-tolerance for indecency. Subsequently they filed a federal lawsuit which would allow them to use the F-word at any time of the day, even in front of millions of children. Sadly they managed to find two judges in New York City who agreed with them. And now the networks are in Court again, this time saying that the Janet Jackson incident was not indecent." – the V-Chip – "recall that when the V-Chip was introduced the television industry denounced it as censorial heresy. That is, they denounced it until they found a way to manipulate what was supposed to be a simple solution for parents. Instead the industry turned the V-Chip into a means for even more graphic content while using it as an excuse to violate the broadcast decency law." – and the industry's efforts to educate people on the V-Chip – "Through efforts like the 'TV Boss' campaign, the industry promised you hundreds of millions of dollars to educate parents on content-blocking technologies, yet all objective data shows that parents still have no constructive grasp over the TV ratings system or the technologies that are reliant upon them." – and cable choice - "And Senators, if you subscribe to a cable or satellite service, you are forced to pay almost $9.00 every year to the FX network so they can produce and air this kind of material. And with tens of millions of Americans forced into the industry's bundling scheme, FX reaps hundreds of millions of dollars each year to produce this material, and that is before they sell even one TV commercial." All of these – with the possible exception of the cable choice issue, although I do wonder how much of the $9 subscription fee for F/X the network actually gets – are examples of the PTC manipulating facts to fit their thesis and using dubious surveying techniques as with their survey "proving" that efforts to educate parents on the V-Chip don't work which was included in a general survey not specifically aimed at parents.

Still what I find most amazing is that the PTC wants this to be a one way street where they can complain without contradiction but any effort by the TV industry to defend themselves either must be barred or is regarded as an act of evil-doers: "As troubling as those content examples are, Mr. Chairman, I am equally dismayed by the seeming contempt the industry has for anyone who would suggest reasonable self-restraint. Recently the CEO of Time-Warner decried this hearing, likening your concerns to Nazi Germany." This is interesting since surely any action that the Senate Committee would require of the networks would not be "self-restraint" but rather legislatively imposed restraint in the form of increased regulation of content. And then there's this: "Every time the public – and our public servants – call for more responsible behavior, the industry refuses to have a meaningful dialog or offer real solutions. Rather than coming before you to address the negative impact their products have on children, they turn the conversation into a lecture on broadcast standards and the Constitution. Rather than acknowledging the scientific evidence manifested in over a thousand medical and clinical studies, they underwrite their own research and point to its differing conclusion. And rather than focusing on their statutory public interest requirements for using the public airwaves, they shift the conversation to entertainment in general and invoke the always-sobering term, 'chilling effect.' But I wonder how 'chilling' things really are if, as we've read in the press, the Fox broadcast network airs a program this fall where an amorous monkey joins a man and woman in a sexual encounter." Because of course the PTC doesn't seem to believe that the protections of the Constitution of the United States extends to Television industry – their attitude on the appeal of the "fleeting obscenity" case came perilously close to saying that the industry should not be allowed to appeal the FCC decision and that the networks were not eligible for the constitutionally guaranteed right of appeal.

In fact although many members of the committee supported increased regulation there are genuine concerns with regards to First Amendment rights. Broadcast and Cable stated that the concerns were bipartisan. Both Ted Stevens (R – AK) and John Sununu (R – NH) raised the issue According to Broadcast & Cable Sununu "said that as 'bothered or disappointed' as he and his colleagues might be by what they see on TV, 'it is very difficult to solve or address with a rule, regulation or law....' Anytime you address the quality, form or content [of programming], he said, 'you run into genuine, important First Amendment questions.'" Broadcast & Cable also reported that Senator Frank Lautenberg (D – NJ) "was concerned about violence, but placed it in a wider context. While he said that TV programming was often vulgar and discouraging and opined of the 'depravity' ruling our behavior, he said regulating that behavior didn't work. 'We tried it once,' he said. 'It was called prohibition.' The key, he said, is finding out how to curb the appetite for such programming--check with the hotels and see what kind of movies people most download, he said – while not violating speech freedoms."

Which brings us to the PTC's Cable Worst of the Week which directly ties into what exactly the PTC counts as "violent content". The show is The Closer which the organization actually praises in the first paragraph of their review. However after that it turns into an attack on the content of the premiere episode. "Unfortunately The Closer's June 18th season premiere injected unneeded and disturbing graphic violence into a mystery about a murdered family. In the episode's opening, the camera focuses on the dead body of Jenny Anne Wallace, a murdered twelve-year-old. Bloodied stab wounds cover the girl's body. And, to eliminate any doubt about the brutality of the crime, Brenda crouches down and points out: 'There are three visible wounds: one in the back, one in the chest, and one in the throat.'" But of course we aren't seeing "graphic violence," we are seeing the aftermath of violence which isn't shown on screen. The PTC adds "Scenes and descriptions of murder on a show about homicide detectives are to be expected. But there is nothing to be gained in airing the grisly details of a child's murder." In fact there is and it is shown in the clip that the PTC uses to illustrate the "graphic violence" because the characters' reactions reveal something of them. Lt. Provenza (played by Anthony Dennison) is visibly disgusted by the scene and attempts to block the documentary camera shooting the scene. In previous episodes, Provenza has been seen as a callous hard-ass and showing his reaction humanizes him a bit. Brenda's clinical detachment as she examines the body is likewise in keeping with her character. She is reacting on a professional level even though that she will be passionate in her efforts to bring the killer to justice no matter what.

By way of contrast, the show that the PTC labels as the Best of the Week was, amazingly, the finale of ABC's Fast Cars and Superstars, a show in which "celebrities" drive stock cars in a series of racing challenges. I won't go through the description of what the PTC loved about the show – it was more in the way of an episode recap done as breathlessly as is possible on a computer screen or printed page. What was particularly laughable however was the final paragraph: "Fast Cars and Superstars was a huge success. It provided high-intensity, entertaining television that people of any age could appreciate and enjoy." Which of course is why it garnered huge ratings during its run and the admiration of all the TV critics. Oh wait. The critics who bothered to review the show loathed it and the viewers who are supposedly craving this sort of "high-intensity, entertaining television that people of any age could appreciate and enjoy" stayed away in droves. After the series debut, which drew 5.5 million viewers, subsequent episodes lost viewers with the finale drawing 2.15 million viewers and finishing fifth, behind reruns of Reba. This goes to show how out of touch the PTC is with the tastes of the American public. They don't want to see drek like Fast Cars and Superstars and do want quality programming like The Closer or entertaining programming like Hell's Kitchen.

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