Saturday, June 30, 2012

Poll Results–The Biggest Disappointments of 2011-12

When I started the poll of the “Biggest Disappointments of the 2011-12 TV season” I originally didn’t have a shutdown date for the poll. I thought I might let it run until the Emmy Nominations came out and I’d then launch my famous Emmy Polls. More recently I was leaning towards July 1st because it seemed to me that most of the people who were going to vote had voted. I am now pulling the plug effective immediately….because there is news.

In one of the greatest turnouts in the history of the polls I’ve run, 30 votes were cast in this poll. The following options received no votes:
  • “Working It getting on the air”
  • “2 Broke Girls having stereotyped secondary characters”
  • “The Secret Circle being cancelled while lower rated CW shows were renewed”
  • “Missing being cancelled”

These options received one vote (3%) each:
  • “Ringer not being a better show”
  • “The X-Factor not delivering the audience that Simon Cowell (and various “experts”) expected”

GCB not living up to the hype” got two votes (7%).

“NYC 22 not being as good as the people associated with it” and “Terra Nova delivering neither value or quality for the money spent on it” each received three votes (10%).

The big – overewhelming really – winner was “Unforgettable being cancelled despite the ratings” which picked up twenty (20!) votes or 67% of the votes cast. And just for the record, I don’t vote in my polls but if I had, I’d probably have been the 21st vote. Based on virtually every standard (except maybe the almighty demographic and even that wasn’t clear-cut) this was a show that shouldn’t have been dropped.

Which brings us to the news, and why I decided to pull the poll. On Friday CBS announced that they will give Unforgettable a second season. This preempts negotiations with the TNT and Lifetime cable channels to revive the show. Admittedly the circumstances aren’t the best. The renewal is for a 13 episode run, and the plan is that the show will air in the summer of 2013 but it’s a start, and I have a suspicion that we might be seeing this show sooner rather than later if some of the CBS line-up fails to perform as well as the network expects. After all Nina Tassler said that the big problem for Unforgettable wasn’t “what went wrong” with the show but rather “what went right with the new pilots.” If those pilots turn out not to have been so “right” after all, I hope that the network will be willing to swallow their pride and push the revival of unforgettable forward into the second half of the regular season. (I just wouldn’t bet the farm on it).

I had a couple of comments on the original poll so I might as well finish up with them. Todd Mason corrected me on the name of the creator of NYC 22 (Richard not Robert Price) and added this:
NYC 22, which (as I've noted on my own blog) managed to be more feckless and lifeless than ROOKIE BLUE (which I hadn't noted never quite admits it's set in Toronto, so obvious is that's even more blatant than HILL STREET BLUES being set in Chicago).

Being blatant isn’t the same as outright stating the fact, and to the the best of my knowledge (not that I watch the show) Rookie Blue has never admitted that it’s set in Toronto. Then again neither has Flashpoint, though on Flashpoint the crowns and Canadian flags on the uniforms suggest it.

Sadly, TWO BROKE GIRLS was created by Michael Patrick King, the hack behind the hack that is Darren Star, and the comedian Whitney Cummings, who is clever but is willing to go for the easiest imaginable joke, particularly in a sitcom context (hence the quick exhaustion of her other sitcom, WHITNEY... where we had the unusual result that her performance, rather than the writing of a comedian's sitcom, was what saving grace there was).

The thing for me about 2 Broke Girls is that I basically like the show, and am only vaguely bothered by the supporting characters because I’m focused on the leads. Or maybe I’m just an old fart who doesn’t see the racism in most of this.

pattinasse (abbott) wrote:
I would add ALCATRAZ and AWAKE, which both seemed promising. ALCATRAZ was too wedded to its central idea and AWAKE, not enough.

I definitely should have added Alcatraz, probably replacing Working It. Alcatraz was a show I really loved and was ready to review…right up to the moment when I saw the ratings for either the first or second week and knew that it was doomed. Too bad, because it was a fun show, and I’m a sucker for just about anything that Sam Neill does. Awake was a show that intrigued me and I was going to watch it, but then I missed recording the second or third episode and then lost most of what I had when the PVR expander died. I guess I should have also made mention of another show I didn’t watch but which some people felt disappointed about losing: Harry’s Law. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Season 1 Episode 1 Of The Amazing Race

After last year’s abortive attempt to recap Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip as a summer project, I’ve decided on something lighter and more easily digested. A sorbet as it were rather than seven course meal as it were. And since I have a reputation – mostly undeserved – of loving any and all reality shows (not true; I like reality-competition series – which should be called competition shows so as not to sully them by associating them with crap like Toddlers and Tiaras – and even then I hate dating shows, singing shows, series about dancers who aren’t untrained celebrities, and knock-offs of original ideas) I decided that the “sorbet” should be my favourite competition series, The Amazing Race.

My original plan for this summer was to take on both the first season of The Amazing Race and the seventh season, to show how the series had changed thanks to lessons learned in the original run. Those two seasons were, until recently, the only ones released on DVD, and they are the only ones to be sold in stores; the other seasons that have been released are only available from (and not from I have both the first and seventh seasons, and am hoping to be able to order some of the others from in the near future.


It was early September 2001. Survivor had debuted the summer before and the second cycle of the series had kicked off after the Super Bowl in September 2001. The American version of Big Brother had aired in the Summer of 2000, and was revitalised in the summer of 2001 to make it more like Survivor and less like every other version of Big Brother in the world. There were a flood of competition series following Survivor and Big Brother, shows like Temptation Island, The Mole, and Boot Camp. In the summer of 2001 FOX’s latest reality series Murder In Small Town X was won by a young New York Fire Department paramedic named Ángel Juarbe Jr. Fall 2001 would feature several new competition shows, but two stood out. One was called Lost and was to air on NBC. It was produced by Conan O’Brian’s production company Conaco. The other was called The Amazing Race, and would debut on CBS.

Lost debuted on September 5th. It was a dismal production. The premise had three teams of two people who had never met before – along with a cameraman – deposited in the Mongolian desert with a small amount of money and instructions to get to the Statue of Liberty in New York, without resorting to contacting a US embassy. That was it, no tasks, no way to get money, no way to communicate with locals who didn’t speak English. One team eventually made it to New York, while another team decided to contact the US embassy and were disqualified. Lost was, in my opinion a dismal show. The contestants weren’t particularly attractive and they really didn’t have any quality that made you identify with them. The Gobi Desert setting was about all anyone saw of any country in the show was basically a featureless wasteland. But maybe the least attractive part of the show may have been that the contestants were essentially forced to beg for everything they got. The net result was, as I’ve said, dismal.

I mention Lost because its story is tied to The Amazing Race if only because Lost got it wrong while The Amazing Race got it right. Lost looked at every convention of the competition series – the competitions, the eliminations – and chose to ignore them. The Amazing Race looked at those same conventions and embraced them, but embracing them in a different sort of way.

The first episode ever of The Amazing Race opens with host Phil Keoghan standing atop a building with the New York skyline behind him. He explains that eleven teams are about to embark on a journey around the world. The teams are shown being driven in a bus into Manhattan and finally to Bathesda Fountain in Central Park. The teams are:
  1. Frank & Margarita, a separated couple with a young child.
  2. Paul & Amie, an engaged couple hoping to see how their relationship will handle the strain of The Race.
  3. Leslie & Kim, a pair of Texas school teachers and roommates.
  4. Lenny & Karyn, a dating couple; Lenny hopes to get the money he need to buy the ring that is appropriate for her.
  5. Dave & Margharetta, retired grandparents who have been married for 40 years – he was a former fighter pilot.
    1. Matt & Ana, a married couple who met in the US Army.
    2. Joe & Bill, aka Team Guido (they named themselves after their Chihuahua dog) life partners who have been together for 14 years.
    3. Pat & Brenda, two working mothers out for the adventure of their lifetime.
      1. Rob & Brennan, best friends and lawyers.
        1. Nancy & Emily, a conservative mother and her adventurous daughter.
        2. Kevin & Drew, best friends and former fraternity brothers.

        With the teams at the fountain and the introductions completed Phil arrives to explain some of what they need to know about The Race. There are eight elimination points along the race. Arrive at one of those last and you will be eliminated. Along the course of the Race are route markers where they have to pick up instructions. Along the way there are various tasks they have to accomplish; some are mental while others are physical. There first instructions are waiting at the top of the stair at the fountain. And with that he starts The Race.

        The teams thunder up the steps…well with the exception of Kevin & Drew who sort of amble up the steps at a walking pace. And why not. After all, when the teams reach the top they discover that they have to fly to Johannesburg South Africa on one of three specific flights; an Alitalia flight, a SwissAir Flight, and a South African Airways flight. So the first task for most of the non-New York based teams is to figure out which airport to go to – Newark, La Guardia, or JFK (the correct answer is JFK) – and figure out how to get there. They’ve only been given $90 for this leg of The Race to cover everything except airline tickets, so some budget minded teams try to take the subway. Well actually there were only two teams that took the subway, Paul & Amie and Matt & Ana. (Apparently it was slower and more complicated to use the New York subway system to get to JFK than it is now with the introduction of the AirTrainJFK shuttle service which connects with the A, the E and the J subway lines.)

        Team Guido arrive at the South African Airlines counter first ahead of Frank & Margarita, much to the consternation of Frank; Frank being upset at not being first even when being first doesn’t matter a bit will be a recurring theme not only in this episode but in the entire series. Then again so will Team Guido’s constant delight at being ahead of everyone…even when it doesn’t matter. What we didn’t see was the various other teams checking in at the airline counters, and while we did hear at least one team being surprised that the five sets of seats at South African went so quickly, we didn’t actually see it happen. The team’s flights were as follows:
        South African: Rob & Brennan, Joe & Bill, Frank & Margarita, Pat & Brenda, Lenny & Karyn
        SwissAir: Leslie & Kim, Dave & Margharetta
        Alitalia: Paul & Amie, Matt & Ana, Nancy & Emily, Kevin & Drew

        Arriving in Johannesburg the teams pick up their next clue from a guy holding a Yellow and White flag in the airport, not unlike those flags sometimes carried by tour guides trying to get their flock together. They have to drive to another smaller airport in the Johannesburg area, Landseria Airport, and reserve places on one of four charter flights with Ryan-Lake air to an unknown destination. The resultant footage shows the various teams from the South African Airlines flight jockeying for position while driving to the other airport. Eventually Frank & Margarita arrive at the office of the airline seemingly in first place only to find…Team Guido finishing up their reservations. This is too much for Frank who lets out a scream after getting their reservations that seems to attract the attention of one of the airport employees. The final shot in this sequence is Bill and Joe heading for what seems to be a room rented for the teams by the show, looking incredibly smug…as they frequently do.

        There are four charter flights to take the teams to the small airport at Livingstone Zambia. The show doesn’t make clear who is on each flight although it is clear that the first one carries Rob & Brennan, Joe & Bill and Frank & Margarita. Upon arriving there the teams need to pick an SUV and find the “smoke that thunders.” They have the choice of using a local driver who came with the vehicle or driving themselves (although I believe that the driver stays with each vehicle whether he drove or not). Rob & Brennan immediately ask the driver how much he’ll charge them and he tells them $50. They immediately decide to drive themselves without engaging in the ancient art of haggling to reduce the price (previously they had stiffed their cab driver in New York, demanding all of their change back). Most of the other teams had No matter whether the teams drive themselves or are driven by locals, they have to get directions to every location they need to go to from other people. The drivers have been instructed not to answer questions about where they have to go. Some of the teams are aware that the “smoke that thunders” refers to Victoria Falls, which is the principal tourist attraction in Livingstone Zambia.

        Their destination is “the Knife’s Edge,” a scenic overlook of Victoria Falls that requires the racers to cross a small foot bridge that is drenched in the spray from the falls. There are clues at the overlook wrapped in plastic, but most of the people rip them open immediately. As a result the ink on most of the clues runs a bit. The clue tells teams to go to Abseil Zambia at Batoka Gorge. There is also a Fast Forward option available. Teams who get the Fast Forward are able to immediately go to the next Pit Stop where teams have to spend a mandatory 12 hour rest period. Rob & Brennan immediately decide to go for the Fast Forward even though a team can only use the Fast Forward once. In this case the Fast Forward requires them to find “The Boiling Pot,” a place below the falls where the current has carved a sort of pool that in high water features enormous swirls and boiling turbulence (according to Wikipedia, it is also where debris sometimes including animals and people that have been swept over the falls can be found). The way to the Boiling Pot is a steep footpath which Rob & Brennan are sure no other team will attempt. They’re wrong as Dave & Margharetta, the oldest people in the race, also make it down to the Boiling Pot, only to find the Fast Forward gone.

        While Rob & Brennan go ahead to the Pit Stop at Songwe Village the other teams have to find Abseil Zambia. What followed can probably be described as a mix of a comedy of errors, a comedy of miscommunication and a case of two peoples separated by a common language. And the biggest thing is that it probably all could have been resolved if the Racers had done something as simple as picking up some local tourism pamphlets (assuming any were available). Of course at the time the viewers were at as much of a loss as the Racers, but ten years later a little Internet research shows the depth of the misunderstanding.

        To fully understand what is going on, it is useful to refer to a map on the Abseil Zambia website. It shows some of the key tourist destinations and landmarks in the area, and while it isn’t a cartographically accurate map it does show most of what the teams need to know. The instructions say to go to Abseil Zambia at Batoka Gorge. The problem is that they are extremely vague directions because Batoka Gorge is essentially the canyon that the Zambezi River flows through once it passes over Victoria Falls. there are six gorges that come off the river on the Zambian side. They apparently represent the location where the Falls had been in the past. The First Gorge is where the Falls are today. The Second Gorge is the location of the Boiling Pot, where Rob & Brennan and Dave & Margharetta went for the Fast Forward clue. The Third Gorge is the location of a power plant on the Zambian side. Abseil Zambia is located at the Fifth Gorge. And Songwe Village, the Pit Stop for this leg is located at the Sixth or Songwe Gorge; called that because the little Songwe River flows through it into the Zambezi.

        Maybe the best way to explain this is to imagine people who have never visited Manhattan and know nothing about New York. They get instructions to go to Pier 92 on at Hudson River. Not knowing anything about New York they ask locals for directions, but they decide that the important part of the instruction isn’t Pier 92, it’s Hudson River, so they ask for directions to Hudson River. So the New Yorkers give them directions to the Hudson River but not specifically to Pier 92. Some of them actually do give directions to Pier 92 and include a local landmark that everyone in New York knows. It might even be included on local tourist brochures. The trouble is that the name of the local landmark is so generic that it sounds as though it could be any of a number of places, even though the name that the New Yorker uses is the correct name for the landmark. The person looking for Pier 92 comes away thinking that New Yorkers are stupid and that they have to find Pier 92 on their own, thereby leading them to blunder around Manhattan, while the local people wonder why these tourists are so dense that they can’t follow simple instructions.

        Not all teams have trouble with directions. Bill & Joe seem to have no trouble at all finding Abseil Zambia for example, but for Kevin & Drew there is nothing but problems. Drew, the more affable of the pair – at least in this stage – buys a guide book which causes Kevin to to blow up at him (for spending money). Later Drew stops a bus to get directions and the driver tells them to turn left at “the big tree.” This sounds like nonsense to Kevin, and even worse was that Drew got out of the car to ask. And while the directions do sound vague, I would like to refer you to the map from Abseil Zambia which shows one of the major landmarks to be “Big Tree Lookout Post” (it’s apparently a large and ancient Baobab Tree). However the landmark isn’t of any use to them. Next they stop at a building where they try to get directions. Another team having troubles are Paul & Amy who go down one road and then apparently reverse course and think they see a sign (although the camera doesn’t show the sign that they apparently see). Matt & Ana stop to talk to a woman and ask her if this is “Batoka George” but she doesn’t give them much in the way of directions, or maybe she indicates that this whole area is part of Batoka Gorge – we’ll never really know because Ana almost immediately states that “she doesn’t know.” They pass a man walking down the road and they don’t even stop because they immediately assume that “he doesn’t know.” In an interview Matt said that “they might understand some words like ‘Gorge’ but they didn’t know nothing.” Well maybe (although English is the official language of Zambia), but at least they weren’t lost, and they weren’t asking very generic directions. In the car (before the interview) Ana is exasperated, wondering how people can live someplace and not know where anything is. As I’ve said this wasn’t a case of them not know where things are but of the Racers asking the wrong questions.

        The first teams to reach the Abseil Zambia location are faced with a Detour, the choice of two tasks with different advantages and disadvantages. The choice here is “Air” or “Land.” In “Land” teams have to follow a path down to the bottom of the gorge to get their next clue. In “Air” teams first have to ride a zipline to the other side of the gorge and then use the “Gorge Swing” to get to the bottom of the gorge. While several of the teams call this a “Bungee Jump” it isn’t because the person making the jump isn’t dropping vertically they’re swinging like a pendulum. Bill & Joe are the first teams to make the jump, and Frank & Margarita see at least part of the action. Margarita isn’t sure that she can. It’s at this point that Frank sort of pushes her physically a few times, which would lead to controversy a day or two after the episode aired when Rosie O’Donnell (whose syndicated talk show was huge at the time) called him a “wife beater” for the way he treated Margarita. Viewed in context however it seems playful, and certainly not at the same level as at least one contestant in a later season, particularly given the way that he embraces her once she actually makes the jump. Other teams soon cross the zipline and then make the leap. Perhaps the most endearing are Dave  & Margharetta; she thinks the zipline was “way cool” while Dave tells the man helping him to put on the harness that “that’s one heck of a woman over there,” with obvious love. On the other hand the dark haired Texas teacher (I never was able to tell Leslie and Kim apart) claimed to have trouble holding up the harness. She literally said “I’m not good at holding things.” Considering that she said at the beginning that her biggest fear on the Race was “dying” this didn’t bode well for her. Nancy & Emily enjoy the crossing, though they enjoy being ahead of Paul & Amie even more. Paul & Amie are perhaps the funniest people at this stage of the Race. Amie is determined to do Air no matter what Paul wants to do, while Paul is convinced that they’re in last and – not for the last time – thinks maybe they should just quit. Throughout this task, Amie is the intrepid one while Paul is the self-described “puss.” His expression after crossing the zipline and finding out that “that was just the warm-up” is only surpassed when he finds out what the real thing is. But perhaps the defining moment of the episode was when Kevin & Drew arrive (in last place at this point) and Drew jumps. Kevin shouts out to his friend “Swing you fat bastard, swing!”

        Shortly after Frank & Margarita complete the detour – at least in the way the episode has been edited – Rob & Brennan arrive at Songwe Village, which despite the name isn’t an African village but rather a small resort on the edge of Songwe Gorge styled to look like an African village, but with many modern conveniences including what are described as the “best baths in Africa. (According to the link posted here, the resort was destroyed in 2008 and there were no plans to rebuild it, however other websites I’ve looked at indicate that it is still in operation; either the resort has been rebuilt – which is to be hoped for – or those sites haven’t been updated since before the fire.) The other teams obviously took longer, and again directions appear to have been a major problem for some teams although it wasn’t shown. Clearly though last place finishers Matt & Ana got horribly lost. The teams partied into the night but they were apparently all asleep by the time that Matt & Ana rolled into Songwe Village to be greeted by the local greeter, and host Phil Keoghan. They had the dubious honour of being the first team ever to be eliminated on The Amazing Race.

        The order of finish was:
        1. Rob & Brennan
        2. Bill & Joe
        3. Frank & Margarita
        4. Lenny & Karyn
        5. Pat & Brenda
        6. Kim & Leslie
        7. Dave & Margharetta
        8. Paul & Amie
        9. Kevin & Drew
        10. Nancy & Emily
        11. Matt & Ana (Eliminated)

        The first episode of The Amazing Race came second in its time slot, losing to the season finale of Fear Factor on NBC. The Amazing Race had an 11.5/11 rating with 11.8 million viewers and a 5.1/14 rating in the 18-49 demographic. By comparison, Fear Factor had an 8.8/13 rating overall with 11.9 million viewers and 5.5/15 rating in the 18-49 demographic. Also for comparison, Lost finished first in its timeslot opposite Big Brother, with a 7.5/12 rating but lost to Big Brother in the 18-49 demographic with a 4.1/13 rating to Big Brother’s 4.6/14. Both shows were repeated later in the week; Lost on Saturday September 8th, where it had a 2.6/9 rating overall, and The Amazing Race on Sunday September 9th where it had a 5.9/10 rating and finished third in its timeslot to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and a Simpsons repeat.

        There are several things viewers would notice from the this season of The Amazing Race as compared with almost every season since. There are no formal clue boxes and the flags indicating the locations of the clues are Yellow and White rather than the familiar Yellow with Red Stripes. There doesn’t seem to have been that much of an effort to indicate the position that the teams were in at most stages of the leg; Phil only mentions the team positions once during  the episode, and the editing doesn’t give us a clear picture of where the teams are relative to each other. Indeed it sometimes appears that they are all bunched together. There are no prizes for finishing first in a leg; this was actually an innovation not seen until the fifth or sixth season as I recall. Finally Phil doesn’t greet any of the teams except the last team to finish – everyone else is met by the local greeter alone.

        In watching the first episode of The Amazing Race I can’t help but thinking that it isn’t as polished as the show would become even as soon as the second season. Not knowing the actual positions of the teams at various stages of the episode made things more than a bit confusing, and in my opinion detracted from the story-telling component of the show. And yet there were a lot of good things to say about the episode and the show as a whole. For one thing, it was brighter and more adventurous than Lost. It seemed like a lot more fun than the NBC show. Unlike Big Brother and Survivor it wasn’t confined to a single location; the first episode featured three countries – the USA, South Africa, and Zambia. It didn’t just seem like something the average person might be able to do, it seemed like something they’d want to do, particularly when compared to the dismal conditions on Lost or the sometimes disgusting tasks on Fear Factor. And of course it had the most important commodity for any reality-competition series, great casting.

        Season 1 of The Amazing Race is available on DVD. Someone has also posted full episodes of the series on YouTube. Here is episode 1.

        Thursday, June 21, 2012

        People Who Live In A Glass House... Shouldn’t

        Imitation is the sincerest form of Television. – Fred Allen

        TheglasshousetitlecardCBS went to court to try to prevent ABC from airing their new series The Glass House. They claimed that the show was a blatant copy of their network’s summer series Big Brother to the point where it constituted copyright infringement and “misappropriation of trade secrets.” I can’t speak to the question of “misappropriation of trade secrets,” but base on what I saw on Monday night I would suggest that it comes awfully close to copyright infringement if it doesn’t cross the line.

        The Glass House features fourteen players of various ages, occupations, sexual orientations and attitudes towards the game and how it should be played. On one hand there’s Apollo, a poet, who proposes to make no alliances but rather to decide who he’s going to vote for based on having people pick cards. On the opposite side is the exceptionally obnoxious Alex – or as he calls himself at least twice in the first episode “primetime 99 Alex Stein” – who asks America if he should become “the most epic villain in the history of reality TV” but who seems to be getting a good start on that project even before America tells him “Yes!”

        Audience participation is a big part of this show, far bigger than on most seasons of the American version of Big Brother after the first season. The home audience votes or has input on virtually every aspect of the game. In the first episode the audience (entirely made up of people who watched the show’s live feeds online since the episode was recorded) voted on which “guests” would occupy some of the rooms for the week – they put the oldest and youngest women in the “Enemies” room. The viewers decided on what sort of party the “guests” would have (Pool Party beat Pajama Party), the kind of drinks they’d have, and the party favours they’d receive (feather boas and Mardi Gras beads). The home audience even decided on the party game the people inside would play.

        The audience also decided how the players would be split into teams for the competition which was the main feature of the week. Given a choice between “Men vs. Women,” “Older vs. Younger,” and “East vs. West,” the viewers chose “East vs. West.” One of the players, Jacob who lives in Oregon, didn’t know whether he lived in the East or the West. The only choices left to the players was who would be their team captains for the competition. Being a team captain puts the person selected (or volunteering) in considerable danger. Two members of the losing team are placed in “Limbo” – sequestered from the other players in the game but not out of the game. One of the players sent to limbo will be the losing team captain, while the other will be a member of the losing team voted for by all of the players, both from the winning and the losing team. Jacob, the guy from Oregon who doesn’t know that he’s from the West volunteers to lead the Western team, while the Eastern team is led by Jeffrey, a self-proclaimed fat Gay guy working as a receptionist in Brooklyn, who also volunteered to be team captain.

        The first competition is a relatively simple puzzle. Names of members of the opposing team were on the left side of a board, and some attribute or activity that they participate in was on the right side. Separating the two sides was a four-by-four grid of squares. The squares were in fact the faces of a three sided object (there couldn’t be more than three sides or they wouldn’t have turned properly in the space allotted to them. Four team members were placed on lifts controlled from a panel behind them. Two of the remaining players operated the lifts following the instructions of the team captain. Once the competition started the players would flip the squares revealing coloured lines. The lines connected the names to the attributes. The clock would stop when when the correct people were connected by a coloured line to the correct attribute.

        As I’ve said this is a relatively simple puzzle if you ignore the attributes and concentrate on getting the lines within the grid of squares to connect to each other. The West team were the first to tackle the puzzle and did exactly what they shouldn’t have done. They tried to guess which person had which attribute and tried to find lines which connect the person to the attribute that they expected them to have. It took them over seven and a half minutes to complete the puzzle correctly. The East team took the correct approach, turning the outer sets of squares – the ones by the names and the attributes – and then finding the correct paths in the middle group of squares. It took them just over three and a half minutes. The West team lost and Jacob was automatically placed in Limbo.

        What remained was for the players to select the other player to go into Limbo. Throughout the time that they had been in the Glass House, Alex had been making himself the most hated person in the house. He strutted around the house in his underwear, pretending to hump Andrea, a married Mormon woman with three kids, denigrated Joy – a nurse who has also appeared in Playboy several times – as a stripper and sex worker whose opinion doesn’t matter because of that, and attacked cocktail waitress Erica for being fat. It was all part of his effort to be “the most epic villain in the history of reality TV,” but the other great reality TV villains such as Dr. Will and Evel Dick on Big Brother and Russel Hantz on Survivor had a greater plan behind their “villainy” (and in the cases of Will and Dick, it was a successful plan in that they won their seasons of Big Brother). Alex’s “plan” was to be “evil” (or rather hateful and obnoxious) for no other reason than to be evil and obnoxious. It certainly won him few friends and allies in the house. While Apollo stuck with his “plan” to vote for the person who picked a specific card, and another vote went a different way, pretty much everyone voted to send Alex to Limbo. And while Jacob quit the show shortly after he went into Limbo that doesn’t mean that Alex is safe; it is left up to the viewers to decide if Alex will be going back into the Glass House.

        So is The Glasshouse guilty of copyright infringement and “misappropriation of trade secrets?” Well I can’t speak to the latter – reportedly the “misappropriation of trade secrets” included someone from ABC “acquiring” the CBS policy handbook for the show – but speaking as someone who isn’t a lawyer (and doesn’t play one on TV) and who isn’t certain as to what constitutes copyright infringement legally, I have to say that it certainly feels close enough to what Big Brother is like – and of almost equal importance what the international versions of Big Brother produced by Endemol are like – for it to be almost the same show. The basis of both shows is a “houseful of people living their lives under a ‘microscope’ with no privacy”, constantly under video and audio observation (and they know it). There are differences from the American version of Big Brother: there is no “Head Of Household” and the nomination ceremony is significantly different from the current American version of the show – they use a video screen and what appears to be a variation on the XBox 360’s Kinect movement system  for selection of one of the people to go into Limbo – and of course the evicted “guests” are decided by the votes of the audience rather than the fellow competitors. Then there’s the idea that the actions of the players are controlled by the audience. The problem for me is that virtually everything that sets the show apart from Big Brother is stuff that the American version of the show has done in the past, mostly in a limited manner, and/or is stuff that is commonly done in the international versions of Big Brother. The CBS show has had contestants “remotely controlled” by the audience in that past; in one case they had an “America’s Player” was controlled by the audience right up until the moment he was evicted. Big Brother routinely has audience votes on punishment foods and a variety of other conditions within the house. And while they no longer do it, in the first season of Big Brother the houseguests nominated people for eviction but it was the audience that decided by their votes who would be evicted. It didn’t work in the first American season which is why the format of the show was changed to make the evictions more Survivor-like. It is however very similar to the way that every other entry in the international Big Brother franchise operates. On the face of it I’d say that CBS has a strong case that the similarities between The Glasshouse and Big Brother are close enough to constitute copyright infringement.

        For me the big question is whether The Glasshouse is good TV and as far as I’m concerned the answer is that it is pretty awful TV. The show comes across as almost an afterthought; while most shows, including Big Brother, have online components as an adjunct, The Glasshouse feels as though the TV show is less important than the online component. The show’s live feeds from within the house are the primary content while the TV show is merely a summary of what people saw there over the week. The one thing that ABC didn’t steal from Big Brother was multiple episodes each week (three episodes in most weeks for Big Brother including one live episode). For a show like this multiple episodes are necessary for those of us who don’t watch the live feeds obsessively (in other words those of us who have lives) multiple episodes in a week help viewers to develop a connection or empathy – or hatred – for the people on the show. It also helps to enhance the flow of the show allowing storylines to be picked out an developed. After one episode of The Glasshouse I really don’t feel any connection to people on the show. My “hatred” for Alex is based entirely on his over-the-top “villainous” behaviour (or if you prefer his general “douchebaggery”), not because I’ve seen his behaviour develop over any period of time. ABC seems to care less about their TV audience than their online audience (one sign: the contestant bios list how many Facebook Friends each player has). If you watch the show’s online components on a regular basis maybe you develop this sort of flow but from a TV point of view it that contributes nothing. The sense of dramatic flow that even shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race are able to develop in an episode was totally missing from the first episode of The Glasshouse. The web content isn’t being seen by most of the people who are the potential audience for the TV show. And since I happen to be writing about the TV show (and okay I admit it, because I had such a hard time trying to use the online content – maybe because I’m Canadian) my assessment is that The Glasshouse is pretty abominable TV.

        Thursday, June 07, 2012

        How Canadians Get Their TV

        Michael sent me this comment about a month ago and I thought the topic was interesting enough to coax an article out of. It concerns the mechanics of how TV is delivered in Canada.

        I am curious about how the Canadians get their TV. Cable, satellite, downloading (such as NetFlix, iTunes, and Amazon) or DVDs.

        How many channels are available to view? How much of the country's area is reached by TV in any form? What percentage of Canadians watch TV? Is it based on the free commercial model, the pay-tv model (cable for example), or license fees of the British?

        To answer part of the last question first, Television in Canada is largely based on the free commercial model, although certain premium stations – HBO Canada, Sportsnet World, The Movie Network (in Ontario and east), Movie Central (Manitoba and west), and Superchannel – are commercial free but operate on a pay-TV model by charging significantly higher subscription prices than other channels. Apparently there was, in the early 1950s, a short-lived attempt to intrdoduce a licensing system such as the British use to help fund the CBC but that effort apparently died because Canada and the United States use the same technical standards and equipment and it was nearly impossible to stop people from buying (unlicensed) sets in the US and bringing them into Canada.

        According to the CRTC, virtually all Canadians have access to over the air broadcast (OTA) signals but about 92% Canadians get their TV with cable and satellite. There are two major cable companies (Rogers and Shaw), three smaller regional companies (EastLink, Cogeco and Videotron) and a number of small independent companies, some of them community or cooperatively owned. There are two satellite companies Bell ExpressVu and Shaw Direct. Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) offered by several of the telephone companies including Telus in BC and Alberta, Sasktel Max in Saskatchewan, MTS in Manitoba, BellTV in Ontario and Quebec, and Aliant in Atlantic Canada has a far smaller penetration in Canada than in the United States. Shaw, which is the primary cable TV provider in Western Canada and Northern Ontario is both the largest service provider in Canada and the largest Digital Cable provider. Part of this is because of their ownership of the Shaw Direct Satellite service which is significantly smaller than the Bell ExpressVu service.

        Downloading is an available option although penetration is relatively low. According to a 2010 CRTC report in a typical week less than 25% of Anglophones and 20% of Francophones watched TV programming – defined as including “a TV program, newscast or clip from a TV program available on the Internet” – as opposed to over 40% of Anglophones and 35% of Francophones who watched amateur videos online. Sources appear to be somewhat restricted. Hulu is not legally available in Canada although there are people who try to avoid these restrictions. Apple has a Canadian service that appears (to a non-user like me) to be fairly extensive. In most cases you order from Canadian service providers such as CBC, CTV, Global, and CityTV and the cable service providers. NetFlix introduced a Canadian service in 2010. Again I’m not a subscriber so I can’t speak to the selection. Amazon Instant Video isn’t available in Canada. A potentially major problem for downloading may be the ownership issue. Shaw, Bell, and Rogers are among the largest Internet service providers in the country and the principal suppliers of broadband Internet services as well as the major cable/satellite Television providers. They also own the four largest broadcast stations – CTV (Bell), Global (Shaw), CityTV and Omni (Rogers) – as well as a high percentage of the Canadian cable channels. There is a benefit to them in restricting the penetration of downloading commercially made videos online.

        The number of stations available to Canadians gets very complicated. Let’s start with broadcast. There are three English language networks – CBC, CTV, and Global – and two major English language systems – CTV Two, and CityTV. Systems are defined by the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission as groups of stations that don’t have outlets throughout the country. There are two French Language networks – Radio Canada (which has stations in all provinces) and TVA (stations in Quebec, cable deals in the rest of the country) – and one French language system – V (formerly TQS or Quatre Saisson). There is one multilingual network – APTN or Aboriginal Peoples Television Network with broadcast stations in all three territories and cable coverage in the rest of Canada which broadcasts in English French and several Aboriginal languages – and one multilingual system – Omni, which has five stations and broadcasts in no less than twenty different languages including Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Portuguese and Italian. People in border regions can also receive broadcast stations from nearby American cities.

        Turning to cable/satellite, most Canadians have access to at least five American network stations as part of the most basic cable package, with others available depending on what sort of cable package they subscribe to. Four US “superstations” (WSBK, WGN, Peachtree and KTLA) are available depending on service provider – some require a subscription to premium movie services to get these stations. Canadians also have access to 110 Canadian owned English language, 33 French language, and 54 multilingual analogue and digital services. There are 67 English language, 26 French language and five multilingual High Definition services but most of these duplicate existing analogue, and to a lesser extent digital TV services. This is in addition to a number of American and Foreign broadcast and cable stations carried in Canada. Most Canadian cable subscribers also have access to more American and international specialty channels than I choose to count. Needless to say, no cable or satellite system carries everything, either because of limited bandwidth or because of rivalries between the various cable companies which are also cable channel owners.

        I hope this gives you some answers about Canadian TV. It’s not the whole story – I haven’t even touched on simsubs and why Canadian stations schedule shows the way they do – but it’s a start.

        Wednesday, June 06, 2012

        New Poll–Biggest Disappointment Of The 2011-12 Season

        What constitutes a disappointment when it comes to a TV series? It varies I suppose. Sometimes it’s as simple as a show being cancelled. Sometimes it’s that a series isn’t cancelled and maybe should have been…at least in your opinion. Sometimes it’s that the show isn’t as good as you thought it would be, and sometimes it’s that the show is good but somehow does something that rubs you the wrong way. Mostly though a show disappoints when it or its fate doesn’t live up to expectations. No one – except maybe the people responsible for it – would call the fate of How To Be A Gentleman a disappointment because no one thought it was going to do anything except get cancelled quickly. Thus there was no disappointment when it died a quick (and well-deserved) death.

        So what I’m doing with this poll is to present a list of ten series that were somehow regarded as disappointments. Some of these shows came from the outrage of fans, as expressed on forums and comments pages for news stories. Some of them come from critics. And a few of them come from me. As always, feel free to justify your votes by offering comments here.

        Why is it disappointing? It didn’t live up to the hype I suppose. GCB was basically being sold as the logical successor to Desperate Housewives. It was scheduled to follow Desperate Housewives presumably to build and transfer “brand loyalty” from the older series. I remember when Pan Am was facing collapsing ratings my ratings guru, Marc Berman, kept emphasising that GCB was going to replace Pan Am at the mid-season mark and would undoubtedly perform significantly better than Pan Am. In fact GCB was only marginally better than Pan Am in overall viewers (about 480,000 more viewers) and the share and ratings in the 18-49 demographic (Pan Am 2.4 rating 6 share; GCB 2.6 rating 7 share). So GCB can be labelled a disappointment because it was a show that people expected a lot of and which didn’t deliver.

        Work It
        Why is it disappointing? Because ABC bought it. Pretty much everyone could tell that How To Be A Gentleman was going to die quickly based on the clips and trailers that aired before the season started so it wasn’t a disappointment that it failed. In fact it would probably have been a disappointment if it had survived. Work It has to be regarded as a different case. Everyone could see that this show was going to die quickly based on the description. The show, about a couple of guys who dress up as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps, was part of ABC’s group of shows that were attempting to look at the “plight” of the American male in a world where(supposedly) women have the upper hand. That part of the premise was in itself somewhat offensive but the approach they took to it was even worse. They had the men dress as women which opened a whole can of worms with the transgender community who felt the series trivialized the barriers facing them. But that wasn’t even the key element in why the show failed. It lacked the charm that a show like Bosom Buddies had, and by the very nature of the main conceit – that women have it better than men in the current job market – trivialized a lot of issues. The disappointment here wasn’t that it ran just two episodes, but that given the network’s lead time and the failures they had with their other comedies in the “plight of the American male” genre a major American network actually put this steaming pile of you-know-what on the air at all.

        NYC 22
        Why is it disappointing? When you look at the people associated with this project I don’t think that anyone could have been blamed for expecting more and better. The show had Robert DeNiro, Jane Rosenthal and Robert Price as Executive producers. Price, whose long list of writing credits includes the The Wire, for which he won one Writers Guild Award and was nominated for another. With the talent attached to this project it would not seem unreasonable to expect something edgy and pushing the boundaries. What we got was a pedestrian and well worn show about rookie cops. Even that doesn’t have to be bad – you need only look at the parts of the first three seasons of Southland that dealt with Ben Sherman’s (Benjamin MacKenzie) time as a rookie to see what can be pulled form this sort of material. But they didn’t go that route. The result was that CBS had a show that was more like ABC’s summer series Rookie Blue but set in New York instead of “nameless city that is Toronto without actually saying its Toronto.” It should have been better.

        Why is it disappointing? It was cancelled. Judged purely by the storyline of the series that wouldn’t seem to be a huge loss. The show appears to  be a fairly run of the mill procedural, with the hook being that the lead character is a woman has hyperthymesia, a mental condition that will not let her forget anything that she consciously saw. Not only does this help her as a detective, it makes her hard to beat at Poker and Blackjack. In fact the only thing she can’t remember clearly is what happened on the day her sister was murdered. So as I say, it looks like a fairly run of the mill procedural. What really sets it apart is that it finished 24th in the ratings for the 2011-12 season and averaged 12.11 million viewers. Admittedly it did not perform as well in the 18-49 demographic, averaging a 2.5 rating and a 7 share finishing in 70th place in that area, but even so it outperformed CBS’s entire Friday night line-up in the demographic. The simple fact seems to be that Unforgettable was cancelled because it was on CBS. The network has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to programming. This actually becomes a problem because it keeps new shows from getting a chance to develop. Other networks would kill to have a problem like this; NBC would round up virgins to sacrifice to have a scripted show that did these sorts of ratings even with that rating in the demographic. There’s been some talk that the series might be picked up by a cable outlet in the US – both TNT and Lifetime are said to be interested – but it is a disappointment that it was cancelled in the first place when other, less worthy shows stay on broadcast TV.

        2 Broke Girls
        Why is it disappointing? I really enjoyed the first season of the show, particularly the relationship between Max (Kat Dennings) and Caroline (Beth Behrs). I liked that Caroline was portrayed less as a Paris Hilton style millionaire bubblehead and more as an Ivanka Trump type…with maybe a just a touch of Paris (Ivanka would know how to marry the ketchup). I was particularly impressed with Behrs whose biggest role up to this time was as a caroler in an episode of NCIS. However critics have been disappointed with the show because of the three – now four – main supporting characters, Earl (Garrett Morris), Han (Matthew Moy), Oleg (Jonathon Kite) and the most recent addition Sophie (Jennifer Coolidge). While the characters of Caroline and Max are well drawn, the supporting characters are regarded as stereotypes. Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker wrote that the way the supporting characters are written is “so racist it is less offensive than baffling.” Another critic said that the show relies on “racial humor [that] consists entirely of having a stereotype show up, portraying it in the most obnoxious way possible, then having everybody make fun of it.” The portrayal that has been found particularly offensive by some is Han Lee, the manager of the diner. Andrew Ti in Grantland as “it's distressingly easy to imagine the writers sitting around and listing off every single ching-chong stereotype, ultimately deciding with some sorrow that a Fu Manchu mustache would be impractical for budget reasons.” And that doesn’t even mention the New Zealand critic who gave up on the show because of “those two rape jokes in the first three episodes.”

        Why is it disappointing? This series was supposed to be the triumphal return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to television, and on the successor to the network where she earned her primetime fame, The pilot for show was originally made for CBS but when that network passed on it they moved it to The CW (of which it is part owner). The show had an intriguing premise: Bridget, a stripper and recovering drug addict on the run from the mob assumes the identity of Siobhan, her wealthy married twin sister who has apparently committed suicide, only to discover that Siobhan had secrets of her own. The show received a lot of press and Internet buzz during the summer and reviews for the pilot were generally good, although with a few dissenters. The pilot received the highest ratings that a Tuesday night show on The CW has ever gotten. This didn’t translate into ongoing success as ratings dropped significantly, and the critics who initially loved the show came to dislike it, finding it convoluted and silly. Worst of all it didn’t seem to fit the  network. So in the end the disappointment here is that The CW didn’t take the momentum and anticipation that built up during the summer and translate it into a long term success, and that they didn’t produce a series that was worthy of the quality of people that starred in it. Or maybe it is just that he network was incapable of breaking the mould of the sort of shows that people expect from The CW.

        The Secret Circle
        Why is it disappointing? This show was cancelled, and as with Unforgettable it is a little perplexing. Maybe more perplexing than Unforgettable when you come right down to it. The Secret Circle was the third highest rated series on its network. Now admittedly the network was The CW which has rating that can most flatteringly described as anemic, but according to the traditional season ratings compiled by Nielsen it had a larger audience than several other shows on the network including Gossip Girl, 90210, Hart Of Dixie, and Supernatural, all of which were renewed for at least thirteen episodes. In fact the only shows on The CW that had higher average ratings than The Secret Circle were the show that preceded it on Thursday night, The Vampire Diaries (from the same producers as The Secret Circle and a book series from the same author) and cycle 17 of America’s Next Top Model – cycle 18 of that show had an average viewership that was less than The Secret Circle.

        Why is it disappointing? For a long time I had The Finder in this spot. That was justified because a lot of people, including at least one critic who I think a lot of, said that on seeing FOX’s new line-up they increasingly thought that the network should have kept The Finder as a nice compliment to Bones. They tended to think that FOX mishandled The Finder for most of its run. As much as I enjoyed The Finder though I just can’t muster up that much disappointment that it was cancelled. As I said, I liked the show and its incredibly quirky nature. The problem is that I fully expected that it would be cancelled. Besides, I was far more disappointed about another show that was cancelled, and that is Missing. Missing starred Ashley Judd as Becca Winstone, a woman who was a CIA agent and whose son was kidnapped. The show had Judd’s character kicking ass throughout Europe. Locations for the show included Italy, Croatia, France, the Czech Republic, Austria and Turkey. All the while she is trying to unravel the conspiracy that took her son and remembering things that she did while she was a CIA agent, much of which she is not proud of. The cast included Keith Carradine, Cliff Curtis, Adriano Giannini, and Nick Eversam. Best of all it has the distinction of starting by killing Sean Bean and ending with him alive and well – the reverse of most of Sean Bean’s roles. And while it had an end that went full circle and delivered an satisfying resolution to the disappearance of Becca’s son the final minutes set things up so there could have been a second season. I was disappointed that it was cancelled.

        Terra Nova
        Why is it disappointing? This show had so much potential, but it was potential that was never realised. The idea of a dystopian future society attempting to save itself by colonizing the prehistoric age of the dinosaurs is full of potential. Unfortunately this Steven Spielberg produced series managed to ignore the storylines with real potential and turned the show into a rather uninteresting juvenile series. The focus of most of the episodes was on the children of the main adult characters having adventures and managing to save the day. Or screwing up and being forgiven. Or wanting to keep a pet dinosaur. In general it seemed as if the kids were, if not smarter than the adults then at least the ones that the most interesting things happened to. The adult characters were, for the most part boring. Worse, the overriding mytharc was both confusing and not particularly interesting. At times it seemed as if they were making it up as they went along. The show was tremendously expensive and delivered neither value for the money nor the quality expected from the producers. The show that replaced it, Alcatraz, was (in my opinion anyway) more interesting and more exciting than Terra Nova. At the time that the series appeared, when I was attempting to write a review of Terra Nova, my opinion was that sometime in the future Terra Nova could be remade into the series it should have been rather than the series that it was.

        The X-Factor
        Why is it disappointing? This isn’t my assessment but the disappointment here lies in the show’s ratings. Before the show debuted it was claimed that if the series drew “anything less than 20 million viewers” it would be a flop. Those words came from the series’ producer and star Simon Cowell. He felt that anything less than the sort of ratings American Idol had received the season before would represent failure. Others took up the cry; I remember listening to Marc Berman’s podcasts and in every episode he claimed that The X-Factor would be a giant-killer, a success of immeasurable proportions. In the event, the show finished in 19th place in the ratings with 12.67 million viewers, although it did well in the 18-49 demographic (4.4 rating and a 12 share for the performance episodes). For comparison, the performance episodes of American Idol – on the same day and time as The X-Factor performance episodes – averaged 19.81 million viewers and a 16.2 rating and 17 share in the demographic. NBC’s comparable series The Voice (which Cowell recently suggested was the place were X-Factor rejects should try out) finished 9th in the ratings (15.77 million) and did a 6.1 rating and a 16 share. This put it in 3rd place in the 18-49 group, just behind American Idol and seven places ahead of The X-Factor, which finished 10th with the 18-49 crowd. By Cowell`s own expectations and what people where hyped into believing this make The X-Factor at least a disappointment of not an actual flop.