Quality Over Quantity in TV

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NBC’s Debacle Machine-Or Give Shows a Chance

Once the home of the new, fresh and exciting ER, NBC as of about ten years ago has gone stale in the realm of hour long drama. Even the venerable “Must-See-TV” has disintegrated into “Must-See-9:00p.m.-Thursday-TV.” It really seems like the attitude with the entertainment brass is to produce shows that deserve a lot more script tightening. What inevitably happens however is they throw a ton of production budget at an unprepared show, move it around the schedule wildly to see if they can grab an audience and then dump it before it builds anything more than a cult following.

Case in point, Freaks and Geeks. Clearly the network thought is was getting the new Wonder Years. What they got was an edgy, pointedly funny, nerdfest. It was too specific for a large audience to pick up on as quickly as the NBC needed it to, so they axed it. If they had used the same logic with another quirky, specific show we would have lost Seinfeld before the third episode. Only in the second and third season, did Seinfeld get some traction. But that was the old NBC model–wait and give a show with a good script time to prove itself and the ratings will come.

Now lets see where we are this season. We have a show called Knight Rider, which is NBC’s attempt to revive another kitchy show from the early eighties a la Bionic Woman from last season. Both of these shows were favorites of mine when i was growing up and I liked them for their action, yes, but more for their kitch value and suspension of disbelief. They didn’t take themselves too seriously. Ok maybe Hasselhoff did, but that was worth making fun of at least. These remakes however strip the fun from the shows and replace it with too earnest characters in far too many explosion filled action sequences. It doesn’t work. Who is buying it?

Antoher show I was hoping to like was My Own Worst Enemy. This show was greenlit without a pilot, which means that they were relying on the pitch form the producers and the casting of veteran film actor Christian Slater. I wish they had produced the pilot because a lot of the nuance this show lacks would have been discovered in that process, I am sure. Now, this show has some great sequences and a surprisingly good performance from comedian Mike O’Malley as Slater’s colleague, best friend and fellow covert agaent. The glitz that NBC has given this show, has done little to the give heart they also failed to give to the Bionic Woman. What they don’t seem to realize is that what you have to concentrate on are moments. In action dramas it is the poignant moments that pave the way for suspension of disbelief and allow the viewer to forgive plot incongruities. That doesn’t happen in Bionic Woman and as yet hasn’t happen on My Own Worst Enemy. I’m still watching and waiting, but not for long fellas.

Last season, forgotten amid the writers strike, but more likely the schedule juggling was a show that did accomplish this. It was called Journeyman and even though it was another recycled premise, that of Quantum Leap as a man unwillingly transported back and forth in time putting things right, it worked. It worked because it had grit and developed relationships between sympathetic characters. I haven’t seen an episode yet, but ABC has co-opted the premise once more with the new Life On Mars. We’ll see if they give that gripping, but oft canceled premise a chance.


October 28, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Quality of airtime in the Campaign Season.

Since the 1960 debate between Nixon and Kennedy we have see the importance of how a campaign handles perception. Both Nixon and Adlai Stevenson before him betrayed the conventional wisdom of the newday of marketing. Ad men in 1952 made a succint and impactful case for Dwight Eisenhower with the “I Like Ike” catchphrase and jingle. Meanwhile, Stevenson bought 30 minutes of airtime to appeal, dryly, with his standard stump speech. No one watched those “infomercials” and due to other mischances to connect, Ike won handily.

Nixon, of course famously shunned the use of makeup on the first televised debate in 1960, while Kennedy had his own personal make-up and hair team. Kennedy won by a slim margin. That margin may have been the thousands of dead people that voted for him in the Chicago area thanks to Kennedy stalwhart Mayor Daley. Perhaps it was way a fresh faced Kennedy came accross on TV. Either way, It was clear that marketing and charsima on television were to become a mainstay of the electoral process.

This election cycle is no different. What experience Obama lacks in the legislature he makes up tenfold with chemistry and a telegenic personality. McCain also has learned lessons over the years, the many years,  that give him experience in the art of perception. Unfortunately It isn’t about policy, as Adlai Stevenson hoped. Policy has become a minor feature compared to who has control of the “news cycle.”

The news cyle used to be a weekly concern and whoever got the best negative attack ad or lucked out with the best photo op by Friday afternoon would rule the weekend. That too has changed in the past 15 to 20 years with cable news. Cable news has ensured an almost constant back and forth game of new campaign promises or rebuttals and newly released personal photos or relationships. It has influenced how voters view the candidates because of immediate impact of polls and ratings. We can see the reaction and see all kinds of pundits rate the validity of the latest campaign video. We are barraged with all of these images and messages that would have been impossible to diseminate through papers or on the radio.

The constant news cycle also means that producers are always scrambling to find the dirt on all potential candidates. That may also change the makeup of people willing to put themselves up for public office. Gary Hart was a victim of the intense scrutiny when a picture of him with a woman other than his wife showed up on the news. Kennedy, with all of his infidelities would have been screwed.

October 16, 2008 Posted by | politics, Television | , , , | 1 Comment

Mad Men-Or Why Can’t I Stop Watching?

As an insomniac I have a lot of late night hours to kill and if I find a show that grabs me, like The Wire did, I will download and watch the entire series 3 episodes per day until the series is exhausted. Mad Men is one of those shows. I resisted watching at first because I thought it would be another Wonder Years. Not that that was a bad thing… Oh Winnie Cooper. But a period series done badly can be a really bad thing…like The Wonder Years season 4.

The overwhelming critical accolades and the good word of mouth convinced me to give ‘er a go. So I downloaded the first episode and haven’t looked back since. Each character has been brought to life with the loving care of a parent, the scrutinty of an FBI background check and the honesty of my mom in confession.

Don Draper, played subltly by Jon Hamm appears at first glance to be the Every-executive and out of touch dad of the sixties. He is perfectly groomed and rugged in appearance, but just look below the surface and wonder why he drinks and smokes so much. Elisabeth Moss plays Peggy Olsen, Draper’s new “girl friday.” She is cute and demure and is eager, but she is also sad, needy and strong.

A friend of mine told me she wouldn’t watch the show because of how sexist it is. That is true to a point. Under all of the “coffee, tea or me” and 10 feet thick glass ceiling is the reason the sixties had to exist and why they surely had to evolve and end.

The behaviour of these characters is something short of watching a train wreck, they are flawed and funny and all kinds of interesting. You get invested in all of the supporting players too. The struggle to make it in a cut-throat business and the generational influence of the older and younger generations on the middle-aged Draper.

Anyway, this is the kind of show I was desperate for in the mid-90’s and am so glad to have now. It is one of the most well-rounded shows I have had the pleasure to watch and when I am caught up with the most current episodes in season 2, I think I may need to start smoking again, because I am soaking up so much nicotine from the screen.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Television | , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog Assignment For 9/22 Part 2-Still Diverging

Next I took a look at Show Tracker from The LA Times


This blogs stock and trade is to report the breakdown of what happened on a particular show, be it political or funny, relevant or irrelevant. It seems they have a team of bloggers contributing singly or in tandem. One blog had just a run-down of David Lettersman’s top-ten list of Things overheard at Sarah Palin’s debate camp. It was in repsonse to McCain’s last-minute appearance cancelation.

In another post, a set of bloggers dissect an episode of The View where Elizabeth Hasselbeck was feeling left out of the politicall discourse with her co-hosts. It is interesting how the blogs short form really works as a small news piece in the guise of fluff.

The bloggers get to the point and make it easy to understand the goal of the individual entries. Further, the LA Times has a great deal of credibility in the Hollywood industry as well as the publishing and blogging world. (http://www.burrellesluce.com/top100/2008_Top_100List.pdf)

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Television | Leave a comment

Blog Assignment For 9/22 Part 1-A Divergence

So I checked out The Medium, a blog from New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan. The focus of her blog seems to be whatever sparked her interest as she clicked mindlessly on stumbleupon.com. In one entry she is nuts about an internet only series about The History of Drunkedness. In reference to a bit about a drunken Pres. William Henry Harrison she bemuses, “I’m now confident I will never have to learn another thing about him. ”

She also takes wicked shots about a Gwyneth Paltrow interview where she was promoting her new self-improvement website. “My life is good because I am not passive about it,” Gwyneth states to the the interviewer matter-of-factly. “Who cares,” Heffernan writes in response to that interview, “I feel undernourished already.” It seems like she has found a strong, opinionated niche for her blog, it is for the sarcastic, intelligent, “new-sincerity” set.

Her credibility in the world of blogging has a lot to do with the support she has from The New York Times. I am not sure if she can necessarily be trusted because she deals very much in opinion. From what I have seen in the quality of her writing, she can be trusted to give a strong and insightful position.


October 2, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Television | 1 Comment