This year's letdowns

It was kind of funny to see someone like Lyle, with whom I have some real taste-and-viewership overlap, post his“TV’s Ten Biggest Disappointements in 2007″ and discover that it doesn’t have a single item of overlap with what mine would be. But, then to make that definite, I would have to list what mine would be…

  • 10. Buck Henry hasn’t been recurring on The Daily Show
  • 9. Thank God You’re Here shows that if you take improv comedy and remove the chance for improv, you also remove the chance for comedy.
  • 8. Orville Redenbacher is not allowed to rest in peace but is badly zombified in order to sell popcorn. And to voice his support for Fred Thompson (oh, wait, that part was just a dream.)
  • 7. WKRP in Cincinatti minus the music – the DVD set hits while still missing some of the key music. It’s hardly the first case of vital soundtrack weakness, but it may be the most blatant. I’m not one of those who think the law should be changed to stop this problem, but I do wish the industry could settle on some standard payment structure for such occasions.
  • 6. Rescue Me didn’t remember that it used to be about something. Or maybe that was an illusion.
  • 5. The Black Donnellys – the man behind Due South and E-Z Streets, Million Dollar Baby and Crash, returns to TV… to nobody’s benefit.
  • 4. The Big Bang Theory – the man behind Dharma & Greg and Two-and-a-Half Men takes on the topic of nerds… and despite some good casting, does nothing but play to stereotype and try to derive humor off of that, and fails.
  • 3. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Already disappointing going into this calendar year, fails to sufficiently save itself during the year. Sorkin displays most of his strengths, but all of his weaknesses, and the latter wins.
  • 2. Raines – c’mon, Graham Yost! I mean, after Boomtown, I suspected he could do no wrong. And there’s a good star. And we quickly learn it’s set in the Boomtowniverse. But… it doesn’t gel, it’s sloppy in notable ways, and it disappears quickly.
  • 1. Lack of TV due to the writers’ strike – this is being felt most fiercely in the lack of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (although I expect that lack to continue when the writerless versions of those return to the air shortly), and that’s extra-painful during an election season. In general, well, my ReplayTV is empty of new episodes that need to be watched, and I’m Netflixing as fast as I can.

Published in: on December 31, 2007 at 4:18 pm  Comments (3)  

The fluidity of news

Sometimes the need for the news to say something outraces the actual existence of the news having something to say.
When first reported, the assassination in Pakistan yesterday was done by explosion. Then it was reported that she was killed by being hit by bullets before the explosion. So I get up this morning and see a CNN.com link saying she was killed by shrapnel… but by the time my click on the link went through, the headline and article are saying that there was no shrapnel in her body, she was killed by the sunroof.
Meanwhile, in the case of the killed by a tiger on Christmas Day in San Francisco (and there is a description of a death that would have seemed unlikely to have been heard a week ago), we’ve gone from not having the event reported on the actual day it happened to the individual simply having been attacked to suggestions that he was dangling his leg in the tiger pit to statements suggesting that they were taunting the tiger to learning that while, yes, he was taunting the tiger, it was after the tiger had already escaped and was mauling someone and this brave young man was trying to save the existing victim.
Add in all the things that are inherently non-information, and the constant flow of news seems ever more pointless.
Veering a little away from the original topic: I want a good news filter. One that can rank news on this scale:

  1. Something major happened.
  2. Someone with actual power is in efforts to make something happen.
  3. Someone of actual power made a statement that could impact something actually happening.
  4. Someone of power made a statement defending their past acts.
  5. Someone of power made a statement about someone else of power.
  6. Someone of power made a statement about someone else without real power.
  7. Someone without real power made a statement about something.

Most days, I wouldn’t set my filter to show me anything lower than a 3. Beyond that, it’s just mostly entertainment value at best.

Published in: on December 28, 2007 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Zeus is gone

News comes across the line that Paul “Zeus” Grant has passed. I’m mainly posting this here in case any of our old CompuServe Comics Forum pals are reading this. He was a good, robust man. I’m not shocked by this – his health had had its irregularities over the years – but I am saddened.
To those of you reading this who don’t know who he was – go read some good comics. That’ll make everyone happy.

Published in: on December 27, 2007 at 2:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Friends of Hulu

I got my pass to the beta version of Hulu, the NBC/Fox online TV system, a while back, but have only just gotten to take it out for a spin. They have a combination of full current/recent shows, old shows from the catalog, and clips from clippable shows. They’ve got the uncensored version of SNL‘s “D– in a Box” song and the still-censored version of Playboy photo shoots from The Girls Next Door. Oh, and they have some feature films.
The basic problem with taking it for a spin before now is that, well, it’s on my computer. And these days, I’m rarely watching TV without multitasking on the computer. I prefer to have my TV shows on the TV; once they solve that problem of the last three feet, internet video will rule.
To take it for a test-spin, I tried the first episode of the recent Sci-Fi channel miniseries Tin Man. (I’m still on my no-watching-the-SciFi-channel stance, because they aired a “psychic” fraudster for so long – but I guess it can’t count as a strong protest if I end up watching their shows on Hulu or slowly going through Battlestar via Netflix.) It’s one of those revised-take-on-Oz things. “So what would it be like if the version of Oz we’re used to is just analogies? So what if we made ‘Scarecrow’ a man who had his brain removed? So what if the Wizard was stoned?” The various, seemingly random revisions not only fail to leave much of a core, but they also don’t leave any consistency. There are failed attempts at whimsy, failed attempts at seriousness, lines that were clearly written to be comedic but which don’t fit in to the actual. There are some good actors (I love Neal McDonough when he has material to work with, which he doesn’t here), but only Richard Dreyfus as the Wizard stand-in actually pulls anything from this mess. It fails to build an integrated world view, an integrated whole, and just left me saying “so what?”
As for the Hulu operation itself, it went rather smoothly. Things open up in a quarter-of-the-screen-sized window, but with a button click they do go to full screen, only a mite fuzzy. I didn’t find the interface problematic; I was able to rewind a bit when I needed to, and the controls disappear when you’re not mousing around. There’s a timeline which shows you when the ads are going to pop up, and bless ‘em, at this point the ad breaks are a mere 15 seconds, which means that this episode, which I presume was 2 hours when originally aired, flew by in less than an hour and a half. (But make no mistake, there are ads, and the space is there to put more. There will be money in this, and the WGA would be foolish to not negotiate a cut for the writers.)
This is not to say that all was flawless. For some reason, the ads kept coming in a few seconds before they were supposed to, which meant that the episode would stop abruptly, the ad would run, then the last few seconds and fade out and fade in again.
Some of the ads left a lingering logo or clickable link for a few seconds after show restarted. I didn’t mind that too much. But the SciFi channel bug on the corner of the screen at all times was distracting. I understand those bugs on broadcast, so you can recognize when you’ve found the right channel when scanning, but I’d much rather they threw in a couple of 15 seconds ads for SciFi channel shows and left them off the screen. I’ve also now “watched” an episode of Nanny and the Professor, a sitcom I enjoyed as a wee Nat. I let it run in the background, just listening to it whilst working on something else on my computer. There were other shows on their list which I’d hoped to be able to run similarly in the background, but it turned out that their Inside The Actors Studio content was just a handful of clips.
Not that their pickings aren’t slim even on the shows they carry. On some they just carry the first five episodes (or, with Nanny and the Professor, episodes 2-15), on others the first five from each season, on others all of season 1. This makes it a resource, and a worthwhile one, but a limited one. But it;s just starting out; let’s see where it heads!

Published in: on December 27, 2007 at 2:40 am  Comments (2)  

How to fill airtime

I was expecting all kinds of things to happen as the networks try to fill their schedules during the WGA strike. However, one idea that hadn’t crossed my mind is two of the Big Three networks both simultaneous airing the same sporting event. Egads!

Published in: on December 26, 2007 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Legend Be He

With Mrs. Nat’s TV and the wee one off visiting the in-laws (my in-laws, not theirs, to be clear), and with little else to do on a Christmas day, I headed off to go see the movies. Walked there, in fact; no reason not, and besides my gym is closed so I won’t be getting my usual daily workout,
I walked there, which actually proved quiet a good set-up for this post-holocaust picture.. walking by the empty, uninhabited shopping mall between here and there felt much like walking through a deserted city… which is what I Am Legend depicts. And that’s where its greatest strengths lie – the empty New York falling into decay is done beautifully, to the degree that it leaves me feeling that there is no visual that the modern movie cannot depict, so long as enough money is thrown at the screen. Will Smith does a good job as the lone actor in much of the film, letting the psychological effect of lone survivorhood slowly build in the viewers mind. In a way, it leaves one wishing that the zombiesque aspects of Richard Matheson’s story could have been stripped away, and just given more time to just life in the empty city… or maybe that’s me trying to push something I’m working on (news to come) onto something I’ve seen.
And then I head home and have to get some work done, signing royalty checks (actually a favorite activity here), so I reach into the pile of cheap VHS tapes I picked up at some point to have things to watch during dead times like these holiday/writer’s strike days. Somewhere in Time, a time-travelly romance starring Christopher Reeve that I don’t think I’d seen since the late 1970s. And as it starts up, I see that it’s based on a Richard Matheson story (in this case, he adapted it into a screenplay himself.)
So I’m having a very Richard Matheson Christmas…

Published in: on December 25, 2007 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

A good wash-out

So many companies are licensing their famous brands to appear on faux “vintage” t-shirts, designed to look like they’ve been damaged by wash after wash after wash. But there’s one brand that has done the nice thing of selling the vintage T’s with their logo for charity — and I give them bonus points because they’re one brand where the “washing multiple times wears out your clothes” effect is not an endorsement for their product.

Published in: on December 24, 2007 at 1:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Elmo breaks the law?

The FCC has some strict rules regarding advertising on children’s television, notably disallowing ads that support a product (it makes the FCC consider the show to be a program-length commercial.)
Which is why it was shocking when Mattel repeatedly ran ads for Tickle Me Elmo Extreme during tonight’s Elmo Christmas special on ABC. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe somehow an Elmo special isn’t aimed at the under-12 crowd. But even if it’s somehow legal, it still comes off seeming a mite slimy (and in stark contrast to what one expects from something linked to the PBS show.)

Published in: on December 23, 2007 at 11:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

What will who tell what?

The CNN.com RSS feed at the moment has, as its number one story, “What will you tell your kid about Britney’s sister?”
Yes, the news media has now decided that it’s important that everyone know that Britney is gonna be an aunt… and of course then makes it important to talk about what we’re going to say about it.
Good thing there aren’t any wars going on to cover, isn’t a presidential election at hand, isn’t anything more important to talk about than talking about Britney’s aunthood.

Published in: on December 19, 2007 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Writer-free zones

Perhaps I’m not union-friendly enough, perhaps I just see a strike as a negotiation, but I really don’t get that how-dare-people-who-don’t-do-our-jobs-do-their-jobs attitude that has people taking offense at talk show hosts going on with their gigs. If writers are needed to make a show good, there’s likely to be no quicker way to prove that then have the show go along without writers.

And if they can cut a deal with the Letterman folks, I think they should. I mean, what would show the differential better than to have a writerless Leno show getting trounced by a with-writers (and, admittedly, a with-guests-who-wouldn’t-cross-picket-lines) Letterman show?

Published in: on December 18, 2007 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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