Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Short Takes – August 21, 2007

I think I'm having one of those weeks. No, not that sort of week – well in my personal life maybe but in my blogging life no. It sort of like those old westerns or war movies where one guy turns to the other and says "It's quiet," And his pal says, "Yeah, too quiet." That's how I've been feeling this week about the sort of TV news I like to put into these Short Takes posts. There hasn't been anything that's really excited me. Casts of shows are set and the shows are out there being shot; schedules are set – or at least seem set; this is the television industry after all where schedules are set in Jell-o – and the most outrageous thing that I can find that has happened is that Drew Carey has sustained more injuries on the set of The Price Is Right before shooting has even started than Bob Barker sustained in thirty years of doing the show (if you don't count bear hugs from Samoan women or sex with Dian Parkinson). Yawn. I was worried that I wouldn't have much to write about beyond my usual ridicule of the PTC – which is both fun and righteous – but it's not enough to be really fulfilling. I think I've cobbled together a few worthy pieces though.

Oh by the way, I'm coming up with a couple of ideas for a second blog. I haven't hammered out the details in my mind quite yet, but it will be a sort of nostalgia/cultural history of the 20th Century thing (which makes it sound a lot more pompous than I intend it to be). Suffice it to say that the inspiration is the one episode of Mad Men that I've watched, combined with a Coronation of George VI drinking glass that my mother got at the time of the actual event. I'm leaning towards rambling tales related to some bit of topical material like a DVD release or something, or really whatever tickles my fancy (or fancies my tickle). I doubt that it will be more than about two posts per week. What do you guys think?

HBO cancels John From Cincinnati: I don't know that anyone is really surprised by this. The show had a lot of things going against it, starting with the fact that by all accounts (because of course I haven't seen it – if it airs here it is on one of those premium cable services that I don't get because I don't have to in order to get the services that I want) it was quirky to the extreme. I am, on the whole, convinced that there is a limit to the amount of quirkiness that people are willing to accept. Then too, there was probably a bit of a natural backlash since David Milch supposedly stopped doing the very popular Deadwood to bring John From Cincinnati to the air. I say "supposedly" because since the cancellation of John From Cincinnati there is more than a little evidence that it was HBO that cancelled Deadwood and used Milch's new idea as a reason. As for Milch, he is currently working with his friend (and NYPD Blue executive producer) Bill Clark on an idea for a cop show, set in the New York of the 1970s. According to Variety the lead character will apparently be a man who is "recruited as a soldier while he was overseas, to come back as a disaffected veteran and infiltrate the antiwar movement, as a shortcut into the New York City police force as a detective." Fans of NYPD Blue with good memories will recall that this is basically the backstory given to Andy Sipowicz as an explanation for his racism.

HBO renews Entourage and Flight of the Conchords: I've seen maybe one episode of Entourage, although it is more available to me than most HBO series – earlier seasons are on Showcase, I just can't remember to watch it – and I've never seen an episode of Flight of the Conchords, mostly because it's a new series and most HBO series go first to the premium services in Canada – Movie Central in Western Canada and The Movie Channel in Ontario and the rest of Eastern Canada. The renewal of Entourage for a fourth season is not a huge surprise even though some people apparently are not overly impressed with some aspects of the current third season. Apparently the renewal of Flight of the Conchords is a slightly bigger surprise, but only very slightly. But as I say I really can't judge whether the renewal is justified or not.

(More) New cast members for Heroes: Just when I thought I'd have to resort to a YouTube video of Rob Mariano (of Rob & Ambuh) taking a swing at some guy at a San Francisco audition for Rob's new reality series Tontine (the guy totally deserved it by the way – he shoved Rob twice and splashed him with water before Rob hit him), I remembered some casting news from Heroes. The show added three new cast members last week. First was Janel Parrish who is currently starring in the live action version of Bratz (which quite frankly is a major box office bomb). The next casting announcement was that Nichelle Nicholls had been cast to play the mother of one of the other new characters. I may be mistaken but assuming that George Takei returns to play Hiro's father again this season, this may be the first time she's worked on a non-Star Trek series series with another member of the Star Trek cast – well except for Futurama which shouldn't really count. (The ideal of course would be for George and Nichelle to have at least one scene together). Finally, in perhaps the biggest casting news for the show, Kristen Bell, who starred as Veronica Mars until the series was cancelled, has signed onto the series. She had previously been rumoured to have accepted a role on Lost but this was denied by all concerned. The supposed reason for Bell not doing Lost was her desire to take over the role of Elle in the Broadway version of Blonde Ambition. Based on her decision to join the cast of Heroes this has also proven to be false. Bell will also be providing the voice of the unseen Gossip Girl on the CW series of the same name.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Well they don't hate the J.M. Smuckers Company. The PTC presented the jam company with their "Integrity In Entertainment Award" for, as the citation says, demonstrating "an enduring commitment to uplifting, enlightening, educational and wholesome media messages, and eschewing the harmful, offensive and undermining messages so frequently seen in our entertainment media today. We want to honor the J.M. Smucker Company for its commitment and history of sponsoring television shows that the entire family can enjoy." They add, "Corporations are starting to realize that it's good business to be socially responsible. Television sponsors contribute to the culture through their advertising dollars. The content they choose to underwrite is a direct reflection on their corporate values and beliefs. Through its sponsorship decisions, the J.M. Smucker Company shows that it values the family and will not help to finance the harmful, graphic and gratuitous content that airs all too often on television today." Call me cynical, but it's the old business of reaching your desired customer base that is motivating Smuckers to make the advertising choices that they do. I would argue that advertising on "family" programs has very little to do with being "socially responsible" (and I would almost guarantee you that the PTC's concept of "socially responsible" is totally different from mine) and has an awful lot to do with being the right venue to reach the parents and children that buy and consume jams and jellies. If the target audience for the Smuckers products were watching programming that contained "harmful, graphic and gratuitous content" (as defined by the PTC of course) wouldn't it be the responsibility of the company's advertising department to put their commercials on those shows in order to ensure the company's bottom line.

The PTC's Broadcast Worst of the Week is more than slightly bizarre. It is Killer Wave on ION. What, you've never heard of ION? Maybe you'd know it under its former identity – PAX. The PTC's objections to the show, which was a four hour mini-series was that the show "was clearly influenced by the violent anti-terrorism Fox show 24, both in style and content. Mass casualties, graphic gunfights, bloody fistfights, and foul language are found throughout the program, making it completely inappropriate for viewing by children and families." They detail some of the 24 style action, which includes the lead character bludgeoning a female assassin to death with a statue, a shoot-out between police and a hitman, and a woman being shot by a terrorist: "Her body slumps lifeless on the ground, with blood streaming from a hole in her forehead." They also object to the language that peppered the show "like "hell," "damn," "ass," and "g*ddamn." But the big objection wasn't any of this, it was that the show was on the network formerly known as PAX: "This week Bud Paxon, founder and CEO of PAX -- who started the network in an effort to bring family-friendly programming to the airwaves -- must have been disappointed to see the road down which his predecessors(!) are steering his former network." Of course they mean his successors. They underline the point though: "Killer Wave would have qualified for our pick for Worst of the Week on any network, but we at the PTC are particularly disappointed that it aired on ION. This once wholesome network is headed down the wrong path. It is our sincere hope ION corrects its course." Of course it amazes me that the PTC is so fixated on a network that rarely draws more than 1% of the total TV audience, and is losing affiliates. If PAX was the sort of network that the PTC would run if only they were able then it is proof that their programming philosophy would be a commercial disaster; if PAX was the model that the PTC wants to impose on all of the television networks then it would be the end of broadcast TV.

The Cable Worst of the Week is Comedy Central's Flavor Flav Roast. I'm not going to defend this show on content. I thoroughly despise Flavor Flav and can't understand why anyone would watch anything that his name was attached to. However the PTC seems to have a far rosier picture of past celebrity roasts than those roasts deserve. "Celebrity "roasts" are a long-standing tradition among organizations of entertainers, with the famed Friar's Club roasts dating back to the 1920s. The "roast"
format first appeared on television as a segment on The Dean Martin Show during its 1973 season. A year later, NBC spun the concept into a separate series of specials, the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast." They then compare this to what Comedy Central did with Flavor Flav: "Comedy Central has opted to turn this set-up on its head. Instead of roasting a proven star, one with genuine talent and showbiz accomplishments to his or her name, Comedy Central's producers instead have opted to mock "stars" of limited talent, subjecting them to the crudest and most simple-minded humor. And who delivers the jokes? The crudest, most simple-minded quasi-celebrities available…most of whom are mainly memorable for not being memorable." Here's the thing though. The Friars Club roasts may well have "celebrated" bigger stars but they were usually as raunchy and ribald as they accuse the Comedy Central Roasts of being. As for the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, you might just have noticed that they were heavily edited. I'm not saying that they were as raunchy as the Friars Club Roasts or the Comedy Central roasts, but they were heavily (and frequently badly) edited. As for mocking "'stars' of limited talent'" I refer you to Wikipedia which includes a list of the people roasted by Comedy Central or by The Friars Club on shows which aired on Comedy Central: Drew Carey, Jerry Stiller, Rob Reiner, Hugh Hefner, Emmitt Smith, Chevy Chase, Denis Leary, Jeff Foxworthy, Pamela Anderson, William Shatner, and Flavor Flav. Hardly a list of people with "limited talent," even discounting Flavor Flav. The PTC ends with their usual complaint about "subsidizing" filth, but as usual fails to explain what you are to do if you object to this Roast, but are generally happy with the bulk of the programming on Comedy Central.

The PTC's new Misrated feature continues to provide plenty of fodder for ridicule. This week the "misrated" show is a rerun of Law & Order: SVU which was rated TV-14. That's a show that is not recommended from children under the age of 14, something which is consistent with the time slot that the show is normally seen in (third hour of prime time on Tuesdays). In this case the PTC's complaint is the lack of descriptors. They point to "violent" content and dialogue. In the scene described by the organization we see the body of a "murdered" woman ("Stabler pulls the sheet away from the murdered mother's body. The mother's face is shown with packing tape wrapped tightly around it, her arms bound, and her naked body covered in blood.") and discussion of the rape and murder of the woman and her ten year old daughter. This alone, says the PTC, warrants the application of "V" and "D" descriptors: "This scene is shown in the first five minutes of the program, even before the opening credits. Just this portion of the show alone warrants the "V" and the "D" descriptors because of the depiction of the brutally murdered bodies and the graphic discussion of what the rapist did. Of course, the rest of the show continues to depict the dead bodies, either in pictorial form or in the morgue, and the graphic discussion of rape continues." But does it? For a TV-14 rated show, the "V" descriptor is for intense violence, while the "D" descriptor is for highly suggestive dialogue. The scene described doesn't meet either of those criteria. We aren't seeing the performance of a violent act, we are shown the aftermath – the dead body. As for "highly suggestive dialogue," this is the most suggestive part I could find in the portion of the scene provided by the PTC: Beck: "Hands are bound, breasts and genitals slashed…" Stabler: "A sexual sadist gets off on pain and humiliation; it doesn't track that he'd cover 'em after. Is this how you found them, officer?" That doesn't came anywhere close to what either of the two descriptors mentioned are intended to cover and if they weren't so determined to find something wrong, the PTC would admit it.
But of course that would mean that the ratings actually do work and it is a central platform of the PTC's lobbying efforts with politicians that they have to do something because the inaccurate rating of shows means that the V-Chip is useless as a protection against objectionable programming.

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