Analysis

Deeper pieces that may touch on a variety of television shows and the business in general.


The American Model is the Devil

2012 February 13
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They did it. And I’m done with it.

I’ve unlocked the “Cancel Season Pass to How I Met You Mother Badge.”

Cooking Channel or…Food Network Canada

2012 February 13
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I cook. A lot. I started at six or seven, worked in restaurants in college, have a semi-annual breakdown where I contemplate chucking it all in and starting a food truck, and spend a lot of time reading, studying, and practicing technique.

I was excited when Scripps announced it was launching a second cooking channel, more focused on teaching, technique, and training than the mothership.1 And it certainly does have a lot fewer celebrity-driven and spectacle-driven shows and more traditional half-hour shows given over to teaching and recipes.

But after a couple years of watching, it’s pretty clear what Scripps was looking for: a way to make a few easy dollars by airing the Canadian and Australian shows to which they already had rights, in addition to older Food Network shows that no longer fit its schedule or updated tone. There is precious little original programming on Cooking Channel, but a lot of shows aboot the way to cook.

All of this leads to a rather second-hand quality to the network that is a bit depressing; however, that’s not to say there are no quality shows on the network—I watch many of them myself—nor compelling personalities. So let’s focus on those.
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  1. I remember when Food Network was focused on those things; that’s a long time ago. []

TV for Dudes too Stupid to Read Maxim

2012 February 9
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I’m tired tonight and didn’t want to be up for two or three hours writing about a real network (or even NBC) like I did last night, so I wanted to pick on someone easy and quick. And then I just kept hitting refresh on Twitter and Tumblr instead of picking anyone, and suddenly it was two hours later than when I sat down to write and I still hadn’t picked anyone…

And then of course it came to me.

I haven’t watched anything on Spike since 2007 when Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo appeared in the miniseries, The Kill Point. I think I watched two or three hours of that before I wandered off to look at dust motes floating in a sunbeam. It was exceptionally entertaining, although I did find myself pondering how we each of us is so like those motes, swirling frantically when external forces act upon us, yet floating nearly weightless for most of our existence. Our lives, brief as the inexorable fall of the dust to the floor, but punctuated by moments of transcendent beauty and dance.

The Kill Point wasn’t nearly as interesting. I think. I don’t really remember it at all. There were manly men with guns and they did manly men things.

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Suddenly There is Music in the Sound of Your Name…

2012 February 8
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In the past three weeks, the following things have all happened on the National Broadcasting Company:

  • Mr. Daniel Radcliffe hosted Saturday Night Live
  • Smash, premiered to great fanfare (if NBC-level numbers)
  • Mr. Matthew Broderick appeared in a heavily promoted ad during NBC’s highest rated program of 2012 (I don’t think it’s premature to make that pronouncement now)
  • The NBC Promotions department put together a Superbowl spot in which the casts of many of its shows performed a slightly modified version of “Brotherhood of Man”.

Do you know what didn’t happen in the past three weeks?

  • The Parks & Recreation character Tammy Two did not appear in said promo spot.

Look, I know we fans of musical theater are only a diminishingly small fraction of NBC’s diminishingly small audience. And I know that the Radcliffe and Broderick appearances are mere coincidence that probably didn’t even register on anyone’s radar. But if you’re going to do that damn number, maybe you ask Megan Mullally—one of the all-time best Rosemarys, who has been awfully good for your network for a really long time—to pop in for a second.

Of course, that would require NBC’s promo department to know something about musical theater and they have enough trouble trying to figure out how television works, so I should let it go.

Maybe Brent Musburger could get me to care that THIS IS CBS

2012 February 8
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Since I started out my little project with a spotlight review of How I Met Your Mother, I might as well stick with CBS.

I bet that a clever monkey (like a Nielsen statistician) with access to Nielsen’s numbers (like a Nielsen statistician) and some secondary studies about television viewing habits, traditional vs. alternative broadcast models, and a well oiled slide rule could easily demonstrate that the lower overall numbers for shows with younger skewing demos are artificially depressed because many of those shows’ viewers watch through alternative, unmetered avenues. This problem is similar to that where the ratings service under-reports for shows that are commonly watched in groups. Then again, no clever monkey working for Nielsen is ever going to point out to its clients that its product is only good at figuring out what your mom likes to watch.

Top of the Nielsens (even if their demo still skews old) and able to successfully promote new shows and their overall brand from just about any timeslot, CBS has been the king for quite a few years now. They do an excellent job of building on their successes and duplicating a few formulas over and over, which means there are only a small handful of genera to which most of their shows fit.

  • Copus forensicusCSI and all its offspring. Numb3rs also fit in this genus when it was on the schedule (though a case could be easily be made that it could have been classed as Copus giftus).
  • Copus darkus - Here’s where you’d find your Criminal Minds, NCISes and Person of Interest. Given that CSI: NY tends to embrace the darkness  more than its kin from sunny climes, it could also fall into this classification.
  • Copus giftus - That special someone with that special gift. Poppy’s idiot show1 and the Unfunny Version of Psych slot in here.
  • Chuckus lorre - You’d better believe if I were in Moonvest’s place I’d give Chuck Lorre free reign to give me at least one hour of programming for the 8-9 timeslot each weeknight. My only special request would be that he provide a family-friendlyish block of shows for Friday nights in the mode of ABC’s old TGIF.
  • Survivus maximus.

That’s a whole lot of CBS shows. If you look at their schedule, there aren’t that many outliers. And that programming model has worked brilliantly for them. It’s not exactly niche programming, but they’ve found what works (and works well) and know how to stick with it.

But let’s not heap the praise too high here; as successful as they are from a numbers standpoint, their demo is getting older. And on a personal note, I just took a look at my DVR’s list of season passes…of the 44 current season passes, exactly three are for shows on CBS (and one of them, as you can imagine from yesterday’s post, is holding on by a thread).

So after the jump, let’s take a quick walk through the CBS week. I’ll try not to forget any shows that aren’t airing right now but make no promises.

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  1. I gather from the ads that criminals must spend a lot of time hanging around crime scenes when the police show up; else, how would her gift be of any damn use? []

How I Wrote About Your Show

2012 February 7
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So let’s talk about The View.

What? You didn’t think I was going to write about How I Met Your Mother just because the title of this piece clearly implied that, did you? No, no. Titles are contrivances, mere fluffery. They don’t constitute a contract between author and audience.

Just because the show seems to be framed as the first-person narrative of how its nominal protagonist met his children’s mother doesn’t belie the authors’ true intent. And since deconstruction is a passing fad, we’ve got to pay attention to all that stuff external to the text. If Carter Bays and Craig Thomas say HIMYM is a show about five friends on the cusp of delayed-onset adulthood that only tangentially concerns the romantic journey of one of them, then clearly that’s the way it is. You’re wrong. Each and every single one of you.

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A Man, a Plan, a Channel a Day…this isn’t a very good palindrome

2012 February 6

There are a lot of reasons this blog has been inactive—work has been emotionally taxing, life has been filled with complications, I’ve been generally blocked—but those tell only part of the story. I’ve not been writing about TV; I’ve not been watching very much of it either.

Television breaks my heart.1

Whether it’s a once-brilliant show dragging itself along for years after it should have exited gracefully—like some revenant haunting the moors—or a challenging show that falters in its final moments with a clumsy deus ex Ron Moore’s ass,2 or just the realization that Whitney Cummings has two shows on the air while there are seasoned show runners with actual talent who can’t get a pilot shot…

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  1. Hyperbole is the currency of the Internet. Hypobole (spellcheck doesn’t appreciate that neologism) only works if your name is Bob Newhart or Steven Wright. []
  2. While there are some who feel the ending was such a misstep that it invalidates the hours that preceded it, I’m not one of them. I think the ending was a creative whiff, but at least they didn’t just take the strike. []

Mad Men and the problem with shallow readings

2011 March 5
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It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I’ll be trying to rectify that. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not a TV show but a piece of piss-poor criticism that’s inspired me to write.

I finally got around to reading Daniel Mendelsohn’s piece on Mad Men in The New York Review of Books and…well…wow. What a piece of garbage.

My first thought was that Mendelsohn was just trying to be contrary to earn style and courage points. Then I read further. Turns out he’s just an idiot.

Example:

The writers like to trigger “issue”-related subplots by parachuting some new character or event into the action, often an element that has no relation to anything that’s come before. Although much has been made of the show’s treatment of race, the “treatment” is usually little more than a lazy allusion—race never really makes anything happen in the show. There’s a brief subplot at one point about one of the young associates, Paul Kinsey, a Princeton graduate who turns out—how or why, we never learn—to be living with a black supermarket checkout girl in Montclair, New Jersey. A few colleagues express surprise when they meet her at a party, we briefly see the couple heading to a protest march in Mississippi, and that’s pretty much it—we never hear from or about her again.

Actually, Paul’s dalliance “on the dark side” said a lot about race relations in the early ’60s. Here was an ivory tower liberal out to prove his bona fides at any cost, in this case using a young girl to prove to everyone (himself included) how progressive he was. That pretty clearly sums up the “how” and the “why”. As for why we never heard about her again after the trip to Mississippi, that’s because Paul, when confronted with the brutal reality on the ground, came home with his tail between his legs. Of course he didn’t brag about running from the fight: that didn’t fit his personal narrative.

Or…

…Lane Pryce, the buttoned-up British partner who’s been foisted on Sterling Cooper by its newly acquired parent company in London—you know he’s English because he wears waistcoats all the time and uses polysyllabic words a lot…

Actually, I know he’s British from his OxBridge accent and the fact that he’s Richard Harris’s kid. I’m sure Mendelsohn is most familiar with Harris pater as Dumbledore; perhaps when he grows up he can watch some of the movies from before he was able to speak.

Or…

But then, why not have captions when so many scenes feel like cartoon panels? The show’s directorial style is static, airless. Scenes tend to be boxed: actors will be arranged within a frame—sitting in a car, at a desk, on a bed—and then they recite their lines, and that’s that. Characters seldom enter (or leave) the frame while already engaged in some activity, already talking about something—a useful technique (much used in shows like the old Law & Order) which strongly gives the textured sense of the characters’ reality, that they exist outside of the script.

*sigh* Do I really need to explain how the static blocking echoes the rigidity of the culture? How people rarely move in or out of scenes because they are locked in place?

The way that the scene about Lane and his black girlfriend somehow morphs into a scene about an unnatural emotional current between him and his father is typical of another common vice in Mad Men: you often feel that the writers are so pleased with this or that notion that they’ve forgotten the point they’re trying to make. During its first few seasons the show featured a closeted gay character—Sal Romano, the firm’s art director (he also wears vests). At the beginning of the show I thought there was going to be some story line that shed some interesting light on the repressive sexual mores of the time, but apart from a few semicomic suggestions that Sal’s wife is frustrated and that he’s attracted to one of his younger colleagues—and a moment when Don catches him making out with a bellhop when they’re both on a business trip, a revelation that, weirdly, had no repercussions—the little story line that Sal is finally given isn’t really about the closet at all. In the end, he is fired after rebuffing the advances of the firm’s most important client, a tobacco heir who consequently insists to the partners that Sal be fired. (Naturally he gives them a phony reason.) The partners, caving in to their big client, do as he says. But that’s not a story about gayness in the 1960s, about the closet; it’s a story about caving in to power, a story about business ethics.

(Emphasis mine.) Jesus. Fucking. Christ. This ridiculously shallow criticism from someone who a) was paid to write for a real live magazine and b) claimed to have watched the first four seasons in a marathon session.

It was because Don saw Sal making out with the bellhop that he knew he was gay. And, as it was believed of homosexuals at the time that they were perverts with no control over any of their sexual impulses, he fully expected Sal to service Lee Garner, Jr., just like he’d have expected one of the secretaries to do so. Thinking Sal was an independent agent free to choose whom he would and would not engage with never crossed Don’s mind. That is absolutely a story about gayness in the ’60s.

There really should be an intelligence test given before someone can post their opinions.

Trust Me: Why I won’t quite miss you

2009 April 8
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I really wanted to like TNT’s Trust Me, thinking that a lighter, modern take on the advertising business would be a nice counterpoint to Mad Men‘s meditation on mid-century America. With a cast mostly populated by actors I’ve liked before and the cushion of working for a cable network willing to give shows room to breathe and find their own way, Trust Me looked like a shoo-in on paper.

But no matter how many checkboxes get filled in, it’s the execution that matters.

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Great Moments in Battlestar Galactica, Pt. 1

2008 December 14
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bsg_41

So! Battlestar Galactica: what should we talk about? Hmmm… How about the new Gaeta-based webisodes that kicked off last Friday? (Blood! Drugs! Interdepartmental kissing! Lost in space!) Or the cryptically irritating teasers that Sci Fi is doling out, web-wise, and those new Angry Adama promos? Or the baffling Starbuck’s Boobs poster that just popped onto the radar? Or how about the final half of the final season starting in less than six weeks, and the fact that we’ve been waiting since JUNE 14 TO GET THE FRAK ON WITH IT?

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