Saturday, August 30, 2008

New Poll – What Show Do You Think Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Comedy Series?

The Nominees:

  • 30 Rock
  • The Office
  • Entourage
  • Two and a Half Men
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm

A mixed bag here. A couple of well respected but not necessarily well rated comedies from NBC; an extremely highly rated show from CBS that gets no respect even though it probably deserves at least a little; two cable series that get tons of respect but can quite rightly be described as "inside baseball." Is it a huge surprise that three of the five nominees deal in some way shape or form with the Television industry?

As usual, vote for who you want to win not who you think will win. This poll will run two weeks.

Poll Results - What Show Do You Think Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Reality Competition Series?

This category showed a big drop-off form the Outstanding Actor in a Drama category in terms of number of votes cast. I suppose I should probably blame that on my singular lack of posting during the polling period. There are reasons for that – I wasn't feeling that great and I have been dealing with a serious bit of Writer's Block – but it's also the case that this category rarely draws a lot of voters.

So let's get down to the nitty gritty. There were four votes cast. With no votes we have Dancing With The Stars and Project Runway. Tied for second place, with one vote each (25%) are The Amazing Race, and Top Chef. And the winner with two votes (50%) is American Idol.

Now let's state for the record that this is not how it's going to go down in reality. The most likely winner in this category – as it has been since the category started is The Amazing Race although I will grant you that it may face a bit of a challenge this year from Dancing With The Stars. It was always my contention that The Amazing Race is the one reality-competition series that members of ATAS could vote for without feeling guilty because it was the one that was least insular. It seems classy, showing Americans the world. If Dancing With The Stars stands any sort of chance it is because it is a show that a lot of the actor members of the Academy would really like to participate in if only they had the time to do it. The show is sometimes criticized for getting "Z-List" celebrities, but the fact is that what they get are the people who are able to take weeks off their schedule to train to dance. That's more likely to be Marie Osmond than it is Marg Helgenberger. As for the rest of the shows, I find it odd that the same show was nominated twice. Because that's what Top Chef and Project Runway (and the other Bravo reality competition shows) are. They follow exactly the same format – a quick challenge to give someone immunity or some other advantage – followed by a major creative competition judges by a panel of judges including one guest judge, after which one participant is judged "the winner" and three others are selected for possible elimination. Strip away the details – replace food with fashion or hair or whatever – and they're all the same show. And what's more that show is Survivor except without the day to day struggle for food and fire. In truth I'd rather the Chinese edition of Survivor had been nominated than one of these shows. Finally we're left with American Idol, a show which still dominates the competition on the nights that it's on in terms of ratings. The problem for the show at least is that those ratings are declining to the point where they're doing some revamping for the coming season by adding a fourth judge. And if past performance at the Emmys is any indication it doesn't do well with Emmy voters. It certainly doesn't do well with me as a viewer.

Now if someone could explain to me why Phil Keoghan wasn't nominated for Outstanding Reality Host I'd be most grateful. I mean Tome Bergeron doesn't dance, and as for Jeff Probst, he kicks back at the crew camp drinking beer and watching satellite TV while those people on the show are getting bitten by malarial mosquitoes and gashing open parts of their bodies I don't even want to think about. Meanwhile Keoghan is racing around the world with the competitors on the show and he has to finish first every damned time.

New poll up shortly.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Poll – What Show Do You Think Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Reality Competition Series?

The Nominees:

  • Amazing Race
  • American Idol
  • Dancing with the Stars
  • Top Chef
  • Project Runway

I think it's pretty much well known that I have a particular favourite in this category, but I won't mention it lest it influence you.

Remember, I'd like you to vote for who should win, not who you think will win, and don't be influenced by my opinions. I'm giving you two weeks to vote on this one.

Poll Results – Who Do You Think Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Actor In A Drama?

The most votes cast yet in this Emmy cycle and a very interesting result. No one ran away with the title but there were definite front runners. One of them was not the actor considered by much of mainstream media to be most likely winner.

Okay, enough teasing of the result, here are the actual tallies. In sixth place, with no votes, is Jon Hamm from Mad Men. In a tie for fourth place with one vote (6%) each are Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad and James Spader from Boston Legal. In a tie for second place with five votes (28%) are Michael C. Hall for the lead role in Dexter and Hugh Laurie for the title role in House. But the winner, with six votes (33%) is Gabriel Byrne for In Treatment.

When I wrote the introduction to the original solicitation of votes I wrote "In my mind there are five great performances here (I'll give you three guesses which one I think doesn't belong; first two don't count)." The one was James Spader. I honestly don't think that his part on Boston Legal is anywhere near as strong as any of the other parts. Bryan Cranston has a truly meaty role as the dying high school teacher who turns to making Crystal Meth as a way of providing a nest egg for his family. Hugh Laurie is masterful as House. He is not, as my brother describes the character, "a doctor with a God complex," but rather a character whose brash exterior masks his internal self-doubts. I'm not sure what can be said about Michael C. Hall's performance as Dexter except to describe it as riveting. I don't kno what to say about Gabriel Byrne in In Treatment simply because I've never seen it, however Byrne has a long standing reputation as one of the best actors around. In fact, for me the only surprise in this one is that Jon Hamm, who plays the repressed ad agency executive Don Draper in Mad Men didn't get a vote. His portrayal of someone seeking a way to ameliorate the quiet desperation of his life is riveting.

New poll up in a few minutes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Who Does The PTC Hate This Week – August 15, 2008

I have been neglecting my self-appointed duty to tell you what the Parents Television Council finds objectionable. Perhaps that's partly because the PTC hasn't exactly been overly active of late. However a few things have cropped up over the past few days that I thought were worth mentioning. And unfortunately, to tell part of this story with full accuracy I am going to have to use a fleeting obscenity; a word that has appeared in this blog before, usually in connection with the PTC.

The first of these is a PTC press release expressing their outrage about something that happened on the August 5th episode of Big Brother. According to the PTC, "During last night's broadcast, a woman named Libra was arguing with a man and said: 'Memphis was in the f***ing room!'" I'm shocked to have to say that on this one, the PTC was right – Libra did say "fucking" when she was arguing with Jesse. But here's the other thing though, I watch Big Brother including that particular episode and I don't remember her saying it. And I'm not the only one. In his August 6th Programming Insider podcast Mark Berman's guest mentions that the PTC was protesting the use of "the word" and Berman was amazed, because he didn't hear it either. So, in an effort to discover whether she did or she didn't I asked the question at Jackie Schnoop's The (TV) Show Must Go On blog (the place to stop for Big Brother discussion). I got a reply from "Clementine" who pointed me to the appropriate clip of the show on YouTube (unfortunately the clip can't be embedded). The incident took place at around the ten minute mark of the clip. And sure enough, Libra does say "fucking." Just one thing though; I had to listen to the clip six or seven times before I could actually tell what she was saying. Now admittedly, I've been having some temporary hearing problems over the past little while, but even so it normally doesn't take me that long to pick out that word (and believe me I hear it often enough). What I think happened is that whoever was handling the editing at CBS simply missed the word – believed it was unintelligable. Why do I think so? Simply because the Big Brother Houseguests use the word "fucking" often and it has always been censored in the past. Indeed it was censored on numerous other occasions, so why let this one through unless the editor in question simply didn't hear the word. In other words, it wasn't even a simple case of human error but rather a case where someone was genuinely unable to determine what was being said.

Of course, that's not the way the PTC sees it. In their press release, which includes a link to a prepared form email that's all ready to be sent to the FCC, PTC President Tim Winter writes the following: "There is absolutely no justification for allowing an 'F-word' like this to air unedited on prime time broadcast television. There can be no question that this was an intentional act on the part of the network; someone actually had to edit the scene with the word into the show. Just this past November, CBS hypocritically entered into yet another consent decree with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) promising not to air indecent material. But apparently, CBS will break its own formal promise – again. Last time it was to air a teen orgy; this time it is for the opportunity to air the 'F-word.' CBS' behavior is a direct result of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on so-called fleeting profanity – a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this fall. But let me be clear: Unlike the facts of that legal challenge, this was no live broadcast. It was an intentional airing of pre-packaged program that contained obscene language. The network's reprehensible decision to air it cannot go without consequence."

Well let's look at this in a couple of different ways. First, let's look at why the word aired. As I've said, there is a plausible explanation of how the how the word might have slipped by, namely that the person editing the episode either did not hear the word or misheard the word either as something else or couldn't be sure of the word that Libra said; in other words the word was unintelligible to him. The other aspect to consider though is Mr. Winter's interpretation of the 2nd Circuit's ruling on fleeting profanity – not "so-called fleeting profanity" but actual fleeting profanity as defined by the FCC itself before the current administration. His interpretation of the ruling was that it only applies to live events. In his majority opinion on the Pacifica case (which the PTC is so fond of quoting), Justice Stevens wrote, "This case does not involve a two-way radio conversation between a cab driver and a dispatcher, or a telecast of an Elizabethan comedy. We have not decided that an occasional expletive in either setting would justify any sanction or, indeed, that this broadcast would justify a criminal prosecution." In the case of an Elizabethan comedy of course one would be dealing with scripted, and one would presume previously recorded, material. Even in 1978, Stevens recognised that not all uses of expletives in pre-recorded programming would be actionable.

Worth noting at this point is a recent Amicus Brief submitted in the FCC appeal of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling to Supreme Court. The brief, was submitted by a number of former officials of the FCC including former chairmen Newton Minnow, Mark Fowler, and former acting chairman and longest serving appointee to the Commission James Quello. Quello was a commissioner at the time of the Pacifica case. In the Amicus Brief, the former FCC officials stated that "... we have been dismayed by a series of recent [FCC] decisions that have transformed a hitherto moderate policy of policing only the most extreme cases of indecent broadcast programming into a campaign of regulatory surveillance that will chill the production of all but the blandest of broadcast programming." Likening the current FCC's enforcement program to "a Victorian crusade" they stated that "To effectuate its new clean-up-the-airwaves policy, the Commission has radically expanded the definition of indecency beyond its original conception; magnified the penalties for even minor, ephemeral images or objectionable language; and targeted respected television programs, movies, and even noncommercial documentaries." While one would hardly describe Big Brother as a "respected television program" there could hardly be a better definition of "minor, ephemeral...objectionable language" than the incident in the episode of Big Brother.

(Actually the former commissioners went further than just calling on the Supreme Court to uphold the 2nd Circuit Court ruling. According to Broadcast & Cable the Brief calls on the Court to remove the FCC from the business of regulating content. According to the article, "They said the court's work would be incomplete if it simply struck down the 'fleeting expletives' policy, arguing that the FCC's indecency calls in cases of nudity and nonfleeting profanity were inconsistent and that the commission was using 'context' as a 'talisman to ward off serious questions about the extreme subjectivity of the agency's determinations.'" They also argued that the basis of the original Pacifica decision – the uniquely pervasive nature of the broadcast medium – had ceased to exist in the era of the Internet and multi-channel video (by which I assume they mean cable TV). "It is time for the Court to bring its views of the electronic media into alignment with contemporary technological and social reality. As former regulators, we appreciate that the FCC is in an uncomfortable position, buffeted by the turbulent passions of anxious parents and threats from excited congressmen. But that is precisely why the matter must be taken out of the agency's hands entirely." Needless to say, the PTC is not pleased by the Brief.)

Of course you don't actually have to say or be seen to say bad words to arouse the ire of the PTC – not if you're Big Brother anyway. The series was described as "Misrated." This was before the August 5th incident although that incident (which I still contend was an accident – they do happen you know no matter what the PTC thinks) although it did rate a mention – in boldface type no less – in the article. No, what the PTC objected to was words that you couldn't hear uttered by lips that you couldn't see. They claimed that the episode of July 31st should have been rated TV-14L and state that there was no rating applied to the episode at all, something that I find extremely hard to believe. Anyway, here's what they have to say: "The episode's opening recap featured a shouting match between Jerry and Memphis. The latter was upset over Jerry attacking his character. 'You calling me a ______ (bleeped, blurred f***ing) womanizer?' Memphis asks. 'You wanna see me get ______ (bleeped, blurred f***ing) real? I'll get really real, old man!' Memphis' outburst was shown several times, each with another f-bomb. 'Are you out of your mind, old man?' Memphis shouts, 'Are you _____ (bleeped, blurred f***ing) out of your mind?' Later in the episode, Jerry strikes back at the four contestants who have ganged up on him. 'You think I'm going to kiss your ass? You guys _____ (bleeped, blurred f***) me, I'm gonna kiss your ass?...You come and jump on me with your friends. Four of you. Four of you on my ass. You want? All four, come on! Let's go and get it on. ____ (bleeped, blurred F***) ya!'" Now remember, you can't hear the word "fuck" and its variants, and a lip-reader couldn't pick up on it either because you can't see the people's lips (and they did a really good job of completely obliterating the lips). And yet here's what the PTC has to say: "Given the frequency and severity of the swearing, the show should have been rated TV-14 L." By the PTC "standards", the show clearly wasn't censored enough even though – as even they state you couldn't hear or see the words in question – so one has to ask, where exactly does it stop?

Swingtown yet again earns the "accolade" of worst show of the week. I won't go into detail on what the PTC states – since I don't watch the show I'm really not in a position to judge or to entirely contradict what the PTC position – however based entirely on what the PTC says and what the series producer has claimed about the show, the episode that the PTC is complaining about is concerned with the consequences of the protagonists' actions. The consequences of these actions include jealousy and the weakening of the familial bonds. And these are consequences that the characters are aware of. The PTC summarizes a scene between a father and his teenage daughter by saying: "Bruce attempts to scold Laurie for being involved with her older teacher, but when Laurie shoots back with 'What about what you two were doing?' Bruce realizes he and Susan have no moral ground to stand on. Bruce muses, 'No wonder our kids are off the rails. The buck stops here. We are taking back control of this family.'" The PTC ignores this business of consequences of course. Instead, in their conclusion they write, "By airing content intended for premium cable channels on network television, CBS has subjected families to topics that only adult couples should be discussing. And like so much of TV today, by suggesting that monogamy is stifling and, therefore, unhealthy, the show fails to promote positive exploration of sexuality within the confines of marriage." And yet surely scenes like the one they themselves quote are indicative that even the characters of the show are coming to realize that the lifestyle they've adopted is the unhealthy one rather than monogamy. But surely the most absurd thing is the assertion that, "by airing content intended for premium cable channels on network television, CBS has subjected families to topics that only adult couples should be discussing." They seem to be taking the truly absurd position that premium channels like Showtime and HBO are only subscribed to by families without children. Premium channels are available to all who are willing to pay for them... including families with children.

The PTC has been running their TV Trends column dutifully each week while I haven't been writing about them, but quite frankly their weekly Jeremiads have been the typical reactionary stuff we've come to expect from the author of these "think pieces." In the July 17th column, for example, he expressed the opinion that supposedly child-friendly shows were dens of filth and inappropriate language. Proof? Hugh Hefner and his three Girl Next Door girlfriends were on Celebrity Family Feud against some actors from The Sopranos including Vincent Pastore ("Big Pussy" Bonpensiero.) and Hefner said "I think [the girls] are going to do very well against Big Pussy." Smutty double entendre of course – at least in the PTC's view. And there was "Busty Heart" crushing beer cans with her boobs on America's Got Talent (I'd be more upset that kids would try to imitate the sword swallower myself), and a singer supposedly singing "I Kissed A Girl" which supposedly were an "explicit endorsement of drunkenness and promiscuity." You can tell it was bad because they underlined it and put it in italics. If they could have bold-faced it without being to obvious you can bet they'd have done it. In the July 25th column the writer goes on and on about TV's fixation with breasts. The writer states, "It is pathetic that a medium with the tremendous power which television possesses is willing to objectify one-half of the human race; but increasingly, remarks about breasts, scenes emphasizing breasts and even entire storylines about breasts are becoming commonplace on TV. Such a focus ignores intelligence, personality, charm, integrity and the entire host of human qualities, and essentially reduces women to objects valued only for their anatomy." Of course that doesn't stop the writer from going into exacting prurient detail about every specific incident, making sure to mention "the formerly clean" My Name Is Earl (which was also mentioned in the July 17th column as the "increasingly raunchy" My Name Is Earl). In the current column, the writer is practically gloating over the failure of Swingtown in the ratings symbolized by the network decision to move the show to the Friday at 10 p.m. timeslot – "a day and time widely regarded within the entertainment industry as the Place Where Series Go To Die" (an assessment that ignores CBS's general success on that night, a success so great that CBS has been able to cancel shows that have won their time slot in the past two seasons: Close To Home and Moonlight) – and trumpets the decisions of major advertisers not to put commercials on the show. But yet again the writer lovingly delineates, in detail more graphic than anything actually seen on screen, the evil sexual misdeeds depicted on the show, and thoroughly doesn't get the nuances of the show, which as one of the writers pointed out included the fact that these people's actions have consequences that they don't foresee; not necessarily punishment but definitely consequences. But of course acknowledging that the show doesn't actually send "the messages Swingtown is sending to young viewers: marriage vows are meaningless; teachers kissing students is acceptable; and any kind of sex, with any number of people, has no consequences whatsoever." Nuance is lost on the PTC.

Finally (well not finally; there's a rather absurd study presented by the PTC on how TV is devaluing marital sex and emphasising premarital sex, extra-marital affairs, and perverted practices – of course being the PTC the methodology is incomprehensible and the study doesn't consider or worry about either context of nuance) we have the return of The Worst Show on Cable. For months, literally, the PTC was stuck calling a particular episode of Nip/Tuck the worst show on cable. Now they've gotten outraged by the latest episode of Saving Grace. Why? Well there's a "bigger picture" thing going on here which we'll get to but to illustrate the "big picture" badness they have to illustrate it with a specific incident. In this case it is a sex play scene in which Grace and her lover play with food. Of course the PTC lovingly describes the scene in explicit detail:

The episode opened with a shot of Ham's naked rear-end as he and Grace wake up on her living room floor, presumably after a night of drunken lovemaking. Grace tries to rouse Ham by smacking his buttocks, to which he mumbles, "Much harder." Grace obliges by licking a dirty fork clean and jabbing him with it. The couple then migrate to the kitchen, where Ham tells Grace that he has left his wife. Clearly upset, the commitment-phobic Grace sprays Ham with ketchup. Not to be outdone, Ham grabs Grace and shoves ice cubes down her panties. Grace responds by emptying a bottle of mustard on his chest. Clearly aroused, Grace straddles Ham, licks the condiments off of his body, and proclaims, "You taste like a corndog." Grace is then seen kneeling in front of Ham, licking the mustard and ketchup mixture off his abdomen. Ham reaches into the refrigerator and dumps milk all over her head. The couple finally collapse to the kitchen floor and began having sex. All of this occurred before the opening credits.

Now here's the big picture, in the words of the PTC itself: "Touted as a redemptive series chronicling a troubled female detective's struggle against her personal demons, the show's underlying positive themes are often undercut by over-the-top depictions of sex and drug use." So basically what the PTC is saying is that the eventual redemption of Grace Hanadarko's character is a "good" thing – a positive theme as they put it – but that theme is hurt by showing her the drug use, the alcohol abuse and the irresponsible sexual activities that are why she needs redemption. The thing is though, that if you simply say that Grace's activities are bad it doesn't have the impact of showing it. It's a standard dramatic maxim "show it, don't say it." But the PTC says "don't show it and don't even go into details in saying it." But of course it is perfectly alright for the PTC to show it – describe scenes in exquisite detail, and at least in the past show video clips of "bad" scenes from cable shows – rather than simply saying it – telling us that the show has explicit sex scenes and scenes of drug use. Anything is acceptable in their cause, the demand for cable choice. Cable choice is something that I agree with in principle but am realistic enough to understand that until every cable user has to use a specialized set-top box like the digital box I have on my TV. But even if you have cable choice available on your cable system, the fact that not every program on the cable channel represents "objectionable content." Do you throw out all of the "good" because of a little bit of the "bad?" (And by the way this description of "good" and "bad" is theirs not mine. Having seen several episodes of Saving Grace, my opinion is that the show is one of the better things on television, showing the complexities of a woman who seeks to escape the traumas in her life in a miasma of sensation – drugs, alcohol, and sex. The major question for me is not why she needs redemption but rather why God, through the mechanism of the angel Earl, has chosen to try to offer Grace the option of redemption. But then again I don't see things from the same obsessed single-minded perspective that the PTC adopts.)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

New Poll - Who Do You Think Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Actor In A Drama?

The Nominees:

  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • James Spader (Boston Legal)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)

A six horse race – something I'd like to see more of from the Emmys because there are too many programming sources to make an Oscar like restriction to five entries per category – and this category is the one where we really see the sudden dominance of cable. In my mind there are five great performances here (I'll give you three guesses which one I think doesn't belong; first two don't count) and while I have my favourites I can any one of those five winning. I just wouldn't like it to be the sixth one.

Remember, I'd like you to vote for who should win, not who you think will win, and don't be influenced by my opinions.

Poll Result - Who Do You Think Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Actress In A Drama?

I'm a little late on this one. I essentially forgot all about writing this poll on Friday, because there were a bunch of other things that came up not restricted to trying to keep up with the Olympics (and that's more complicated than you can possibly imagine). I wanted to compare the coverage by CBC and NBC but I only managed to catch the NBC coverage. I'll get something out eventually though I'm not sure when. But suffice it to say that Friday was essentially a mess. In terms of getting things done.

And so to the poll results. We had eight votes cast – one today I think. Tied with no votes are Glenn Close and Holly Hunter. In third place with one vote (12.5%) is Kyra Sedgwick from The Closer. In second place, with two votes (25%) is Sally Field of Brothers and Sisters. The winner is Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit with five votes (62.5%).

Okay, I guess I don't get this one. I mean maybe it's because I don't watch SVU, but I guess I find it really difficult to see here performance equated with what Glenn Close and Holly Hunter have been doing. I mean I've seen Hunter's work at least, and in Grace Hanadarko she has created a dark, tormented and self-destructive character who is compelling at the same time that she is vaguely REPULSIVE. You probably wouldn't want to spend much time with Grace in the real world unless you were getting in her pants (which seem to have an "all-access pass" provision) but at the same time she seems compelling to watch, at least for me. In her own way the character is as compelling as Dennis Leary's Tommy Gavin in Rescue Me. I haven't seen Glenn Close or Sally Field for that matter, and the episodes of Kyra Sedgwick's The Closer that I've seen are older, but I have to say that I have difficulty seeing Hargitay as anything but the least in this category, but to paraphrase someon (the L'il Abner comic strip?) "you has spoken" and Hargitay it is.

New poll up in the morning.

Monday, August 04, 2008

What’s On My iPod

I haven't been posting much of late. I'm not going to say that it's because of my iPod Shuffle because it isn't. There are ... issues. And no, I'm not going to go into details. Suffice it to say that younger brother loves the HD TV for ball games and there always seems to be a ball game, and now that he's back with the City he's working conventional hours. I hope I might be able to at least see the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on the big screen but for just about everything else I'm stuck with my 25" CRT.

I do love my iPod, but there are things that I hate about the Shuffle. The big thing is that there isn't a screen which has an impact that I'll explain in a moment. It's not the capacity – I got the 2 Gig – it's that the Shuffle is smaller than the screens on either the Nano or the Classic, let alone the Touch (and the iPhone). Now when most people think of the screen on an iPod what they're concerned about is watching movies, TV shows, Video Podcasts, and probably YouTube videos. But for me the thing that I'd like to do, and which is possible on an iPod with a screen, is to go through a list of what I've got on the iPod and pick out what I want to hear rather than hitting the Forward or Backward buttons on the ring. That's truly inconvenient when you have something that has a definite order in which it should be listen to. I'm thinking of some podcasts and old radio shows, which appear with the most recently released item first. Annoying as all hell.

So here I am on the third paragraph, so I suppose it's time to tell you what's on the iPod. Well, what there isn't is music. I want to rip some music from some CDs I have but I haven't gotten around to that yet, and I don't have an iTunes account. So basically what I have on the gadget is free material, which is to say podcasts. The podcasts really fall into three or four different topics. First up is some tech related podcasts. They're all from Leo Laporte's TWiT network: This Week in Tech, The Tech Guy, and Windows Weekly. The reason for these shows is that I was a long time follower of Leo Laporte when he was on TechTV, and later when he had his revived Call For Help (which became The Lab with Leo) on G4-TechTV Canada. The latter show suffered because it was an advice show where people got the answers a month or more after they got the question. I loved the show (past tense - Rogers, which owned the Canadian version of the show, pulled the plug on it) but that sort of annoyed me. The Tech Guy and the Windows Weekly podcasts are really useful for someone interested in tech, and This Week In Tech (which I'm listening to as I type this) is a great gathering of friends to talk about tech news stories.

The next class of podcasts are podcasts about DC Comics. DC has its own "official" podcast which is really recordings of panels at various cons. There's been a huge influx of new posts following the San Diego Comic-Con, some of it fascinating, some of it totally irrelevant to anything that I'm interested in, so at least I'll know what not to get next time around. The other podcast is the Raging Bullets podcast. The podcast itself is great, but the damned thing is incredibly long...and most of the time it's just two guys talking. Most of the episodes have been two hours long and the last two episodes were five and six hours long respectively. Let's just admit that this is shocking and leave it at that.

Then there are the TV related podcasts. Marc Berman's Programming Insider podcast has what is almost an industry insider's feel about it. Berman does the Programming Insider column for Media Week which is indispensible for coverage of the previous day's ratings. The podcast is an extension of that but with added news and even commentary on shows. Compared to Raging Bullets, Marc's podcast is mercifully short – usually about ten minuteslong – though by now I've practically memorised his ad for Programming Partners and their new syndicated talk show Marie featuring Marie Osmond and debuting in September 2009. Still, once you get past the ads, Marc has an informative podcast. Sure he has opinions, some of which don't agree with mine (he says he refuses to watch Greatest American Dog because he can't bear to see an innocent dog evicted from a reality show) but that's part of why I subscribe. Then there's the podcast from The TV Addict featuring Daniel and his sidekick Ariel. Not as professional as Berman's podcast there's a lot of back and forth between the two...some of it even relating to TV shows. And it's Canadian which is always nice. It's a better podcast than I think I could have put together. Speaking of Canadian, there's also a podcast from the Canadian science fiction channel Space: The Imagination Station. There's discussion of shows on the network and interviews from actors on the network's shows, including Battlestar Galactica.

The biggest group of podcasts by far on the Shuffle are Old Time Radio podcasts from something called Humphrey/Camardella productions. They have a large number of podcasts from a variety of genres – westerns, thrillers, mysteries, comedies, suspense and the like. There are also a couple of podcasts from them on specific shows. There's a series of podcasts for The Adventures of Superman and another for The Jack Benny Program. The latter has shows going back to his time on the Canada Dry Ginger Ale show. Of course I'm not sure of the rights situation for some of the material that Humphrey/Camardella is presenting. Indeed the Superman podcast hasn't been updated since May, and there's only been one episode of the Jack Benny material added since May as well. Their other podcasts are updated two or even three times a week.

In a strange sort of way these Old Time Radio shows are relevant to TV today. Oh, to be sure the subject matter is different, but some of the trends and concerns resonate today. In some ways we're in the realm of "everything old is new again," even though we seem to regard these things as bad. Take reality shows. The grand daddy of reality shows – not the competition ones but the ones that purport to show "real people and real events" – is probably FOX's series Cops. It debuted in 1989 and has been running ever since, despite an effort by FOX to kill it and its partner on the night America's Most Wanted. Well, what would you say about a show that followed real life cops on patrol one night and we heard the cops doing their job. It sounds exactly like Cops but in fact it was a 1954 radio show called Nightwatch. In fact we even got to hear the cops violating a suspect's civil rights when they forced entry into a car without a warrant because they suspect the owner of using the demon marijuana – which as we all know is a gateway drug to heroin. Or so they said on Nightwatch.

How about this one: a show where contestants are sent out tasks which are supposed to earn them prizes but have a surprise twist that the contestant isn't aware of, and which tend to involve people who don't even know they're part of the gag. Sound like a great idea for a reality competition? Maybe, but if anyone tried it they'd have to make sure that copyright on People Are Funny isn't owned by anyone. Indeed the threat of "non-scripted" programming isn't even new. The legendary Fred Allen's show was knocked of the air in part by a game show hosted by Bert Parks called Stop the Music in which people were called at home were called to participate. Naturally if they were listening to Fred Allen they couldn't answer the questions on Bert Parks's show. Of course not many thought about the odds of being called by Parks, though Allen offered $5,000 to any person listening to his show that was called by Parks – he never had to pay up.

And then there are "product placements." Reading comments from professional critics and bloggers alike, you'd think that product placement was both new and a huge threat to the "sanctity" of television. And while it's true that the practice today is more blatant than it has been at times in the past, it is hardly new. There was always a big box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes in the kitchen of the Clampett mansion in The Beverly Hillbillies, and most shows had a credit acknowledging that a specific car company provided the cars for show. And of course in an era when shows were sold to single sponsors, it was quite common for the shows to include mentions of the product in the episode. Desi Arnaz was particularly adept at this sort of thing. Not only did the Ricardos and Mertzes stop smoking Philip Morris Cigarettes when the company stopped sponsoring the show, but Ricky Ricardo extolled the virtues of the new 1955 Pontiac convertible that they'd be driving to California in Season Four to Fred Mertz. But the practice wasn't even new then. Radio shows like Fibber McGee And Molly and the various incarnations of The Jack Benny Program thoroughly integrated their commercials into the actual shows with their commercial announcers, like Harlow "Waxy" Wilcox (for Johnson's Glow Coat), and Don Wilson actually becoming members of the show's cast. In the case of Jack Benny's shows this integration of product announcements into the actual show goes back at least as far as 1933 and '34 when the show was sponsored by Chevrolet. And there was always the way that Benny greeted his audience when he was sponsored by a particular desert from General Foods – "Jell-o again, this is Jack Benny talking."

One thing – and this really has nothing to do with any other show than the Jack Benny material – is just how long it took for Jack Benny to develop his on-air persona. Listening to the material that is available in these podcasts from the beginning (they have a couple of Canada Dry shows, and what seems to be most of the Chevrolet shows before he went to Jell-o, and up to late 1936 and the miserly persona hasn't really come into play. To be sure there's reference to Jack's ego, and to a lesser extent his bad violin playing (but even that isn't being pushed too strongly). Most of the people were in place with the exceptions of Mel Blanc and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (and Dennis Day but Kenny Baker had the same personality that would later be adapted for Day). But maybe this does relate to TV today insofar as it represents something that doesn't really happen anymore. The show adapted, and more importantly had time to adapt. To be sure this may be that the immense popularity of the show allowed Benny and his writers to develop new ideas, and it may be that this option to change and adapt was restricted to the largely extinct comedy-variety type show. What I know is that most TV shows today, be they dramas or sitcoms, are remarkably static. Cast members may come and go but the premise of the show stays the same, and for the most part there isn't a growth or development in the characters.

So that's my rambling account of what's on my iPod. Maybe it give you a bit of an idea about me and my tastes, to the point where you can offer some suggestions about what I'd like, or maybe it will give you a few ideas.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Keepin' It Clean - For Now

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou - Online Dating Service

Thanks to Bill Crider and Ivan Shreve for this one. (I've always wanted to know, has anyone ever called you Shrevey, Ivan?)

New Poll - Who Do You Think Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Actress In A Drama?

The Nominees:

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

And can I just say "wow, what a field!" And did you notice, not one actress under the age of 40 not to mention a total of ten Oscar nominations which yielded three Oscar wins. Not to mention a host of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and wins. And that's just for Close, Field and Hunter!

Remember, I'd like you to vote for who should win, not who you think will win.

Poll Results - Who Do You Think Should Win The Emmy For Outstanding Actor In A Comedy?

Did you notice that I changed the title of this from what the question I put up on the poll was? This better reflects what I wanted from you. And indeed it seems to have been a bit of an issue for the one person who offered up a comment, my dear blogging friend Linda who said "As for the new poll: it would be more my voting for who I would want to win. (I can't vote for who I think WILL win; I don't even like the guy.)" I'm not sure this makes the poll result more or less valid, but to make it clear what I want is to know who you think SHOULD win not who you think will win. Then again with just six voters I'm not sure that validity actually comes into the equation. But am I bitter? No, actually I'm really not. Given my level of posting recently I can't really expect a lot of people to drop around to hang on my every word. I don't really have a reason to be bitter...over this. There are plenty of other things from me to be bitter over but that's a whole other story that I'm not going to tell.

Okay, here are the results. As I've said there were six voters. Tied for fourth place with no votes are Lee Pace from Pushing Daisies and Charlie Sheen from Two And A Half Men. In third place with one vote (17%) is Steve Carell from The Office. In second place with two votes (33% is Tony Shaloub from Monk. But the winner, with three votes (50%) is Alec Baldwin from 30 Rock.

Right now, this is a category where I don't really see most of the shows – well okay any of the shows – except in moments of boredom when I'm flipping through channels. Sitcoms aren't my thing. I've seen parts of some old episodes of Two And A Half Men and like the Odd Couple style relationship between Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer even if it is an inferior copy of the brilliant original. In fact I might even go so far as to suggest that the reason why the show gets such good ratings – something that is incomprehensible to many and is probably why it gets Emmy nominations but never won the award – is because it is familiar. Pushing Daisies is an undiscovered country for me. Last season I was pretty much locked on CBS on Wednesday nights pre-strike and ABC wasn't good enough to either produce new episodes after the strike or to repeat the show. I know it's a show I should watch if only because it features one of the great objects of my affection, the dynamic Kristin Chenoweth. But I didn't get a chance, and maybe it's really not a show you can pick up in mid-stream.

Moving on to Steve Carell and The Office it's a show that I haven't see much but which I know in my heart is good. Carell's performance as the terminally oblivious Michael Scott, who think that he's a good boss and that the people who work under him actually like him and his team building exercises, is beautifully realised. Or you know, so people tell me. As for Tony Shaloub in Monk, well that's a show that I haven't seen since ABC aired some first season episodes years ago. Yeah I missed the handful of episodes that NBC aired earlier this year as an aftermath of the strike. It's not available here or at least not on any channel that I'm able to get (but that leads to a whole discussion of how broadcast rights are handled in this country which is a topic for another time). As a result I don't think I get why Shaloub is constantly on the list for this award. I mean I enjoyed the episodes that I did see enough so that I hoped that episodes beyond the first season would somehow find their way to something that I could get, but I'm not entirely sure that this really qualifies as a comedy. Sure there are funny moments but there were funny moments in Columbo (a show that Monk is occasionally compared to) and all of Peter Falk's nominations and wins for that show were in the Drama category.

But the big thing about Shaloub is that in my opinion at least I don't think that he rises to the level of the man that the poll results – and I – think should win this category, Alec Baldwin as NBC executive Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock (I'm also betting that this is who Linda was talking about in her comment). Granted, Baldwin plays Jack as someone with an outsized combination of ego, bombast and self-importance, but let's admit that these are exactly the qualities that you'd expect someone in his position to have. In fact I have a suspicion that the Donaghy character is a not particularly subtle caricature of Jeff Zucker, or at least what people think Jeff Zucker is like. It's an outsized unrealistic character (at least it is to those who aren't in the entertainment business if some of the stories that Ken Levine tells are even half true) but Baldwin is strong enough to pull it off. I think he's going to win.

New poll up in a few minutes.