Archive for the 'Television' Category


November 11, 2008

Holy cow:

 YouTube is by far the world’s biggest stage for online video. But in some ways Hulu is stealing the show.

With critical plaudits and advertising dollars flowing to Hulu, the popular online hub for television shows and feature films, YouTube finds itself in the unanticipated position of playing catch-up.

On Monday, YouTube will move forward a little, announcing an agreement to show some full-length television shows and films from MGM, the financially troubled 84-year-old film studio.

With YouTube, Hulu and Fancast (and who knows what site just around the corner), just give me my laptop and park me anywhere.


Spare me the reruns

November 6, 2008

Apparently, a lot of people have been so obsessed with politics that they’re suffering from post-election blues:

“This year more than in a very long time, come the day after the election, it’s going to feel like the entire nation has woken up in a collective political equivalent of Dec. 26,” predicts Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “The presents look more promising before they’re opened. The tree is starting to look a little funky. Reality sets in.”

Not me — I can’t begin to tell how relieved I am that the whole thing is over. I treated myself to a day without TV news yesterday, just to celebrate the overness of it. Watched a 30-year-old “Family Feud” on the Game Show Network (they’re all so serious about having fun, but they’re all older than me or dead now!). Caught “Myths and Legends” on TVLand (Jayne Mansfield was not decapitated, and Ricky Nelson’s plane did not go down because everybody was freebasing, so there!).

The one exception was “Inside Edition,” which is probably where all TV news shows are headed — lots of froth with a nugget or two of news thrown in. Tom Brokaw was shown saying he wished the election could have gone on and on forever. Sorry, Tom, only game shows do that.

Come to think of it, though, this has been the most intense game show in history. Maybe TVLand will start showing the reruns.

The party line

October 10, 2008

Are you sitting down? This might shock you. Sen. Lugar likes John McCain!

“I’ve had a very good association with Senator McCain in the U.S. Senate for over two decades,” Sen. Lugar said. “I’ve found him to be an independent spirit, a courageous person, a person who is outspoken. He’s described frequently in these terms, but I’ve had the privilege of seeing it firsthand.”

And Birch Bayh doesn’t!

He’s done a lot of things and can be proud of his service to country,” Bayh said of McCain, “but I don’t think he’s ever been out on a shop floor. I don’t think he fully appreciates the importance of collective bargaining.”

Bayh also criticized McCain for supporting privatization of Social Security, opposing health care for millions of children and wanting to tax the health care benefits of senior citizens, “or citizens of all ages.”

Why do we print such nonsense? I always try to catch “Indiana Week in Review” on PBS on Sundays, just to make sure I haven’t missed commenting on some big state issue, but it’s a frustrating show to watch. In addition to moderator Jim Shella, there are four panelists — two journalists and a Republican hack and a Democratic hack. I don’t use the term “hack” to be deliberately insulting. These two political figures always say exactly the party line, no more and no less, which is at least a distraction from any real discussion and sometimes a real impediment.

Zappa dappa do, nuttin but

October 2, 2008

Oh, well. I should have known that “America’s Got Talent” wasn’t going to end my way last night when Queen Emily was sent home as the No. 5 contestant. I had her in the top three. America may have talent, but it also has millions of morons who wouldn’t know real talent if it — well, fell into their living rooms. The act that should have won — Nuttin but Stringz — was dispatched in third place. At least the winner — operatic singer Neal E. Boyd — was also one of the top three in talent. He does have a remarkable voice. I’d probably appreciate him more if I liked opera more.

Nuttin but Stringz is still the act I’d pay my own money to see, especially if someone is smart enough to hook them up with the right people. Put them in front of a rock-funk-jazz-fusion-don’t follow no stinkin’ rulez band, and the avant-garde might finally meet popular culture.

Where’s Frank Zappa when we really need him? One of the birthday gifts I asked for and got last month was a CD of his “Grand Wazoo” album from the early ’70s. I’d listened to it on vinyl until the grooves wore out, and now I’m listening to it every second I’m in the car. You know how you listen to a song a few times and get used to its structure and then can anticipate what’s coming up next — even a complex, strange piece like most of the cuts on Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”? Frank’s music isn’t like that.

Hang in there, Abe

September 24, 2008

I confess to being one of the ones surprised to find out he isn’t dead:

Abe Vigoda found out he was dead in 1982. He was doing a play in Calgary, Alberta, while a People magazine writer visited the “Barney Miller” wrap party in Los Angeles, California.

“Somehow it mentioned in the article that ‘the late Abe Vigoda’ was not [there],” Vigoda recalls.

The error was corrected, but the damage had been done. Vigoda’s “Barney Miller” character — the decrepit, downcast Det. Phil Fish — didn’t help the image. Never mind that the real Vigoda was a vigorous man just turning 60 at the time; the question of whether he’s shuffled off this mortal coil has followed him around ever since. There’s even a Web site devoted to his life-or-death status.

But Vigoda takes the attention with good humor (and occasional appearances on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien“). Now 87, he can look back on a successful career with at least two immortal characters: Fish and the “Godfather” lieutenant, Sal Tessio.

I liked “Barney Miller” a lot. It took its humor seriously and didn’t often have “very special episodes,” if you know what I mean. It’s not on Fancast yet, but maybe soon.

Speaking of “The Godfather,” CBS News had one of its “ask the candidates” segments last night, and Barack Obama listed it as his favorite movie. He also mentioned “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Casablanca.” John McCain named “Viva Zapata!” Let’s see, that’s two movies about war, one about a revolution and one about an organized-crime family. Interesting, huh?

Four out of five ain’t bad

September 19, 2008

I don’t know if it means my good taste or my bad taste has been confirmed, but the rest of America agreed with me on four of the top five on “America’s Got Talent.” The only one I picked who didn’t make the cut was Jessica Price; instead, Donald Braswell went on to the finals, and since he was my sixth choice, I guess I can’t complain too much. And here is the clip of what Nuttin But Stringz played Tuesday night that knocked me out. The clip I put up earlier was from a previous broadcast.

Nuttin But Stringz

September 18, 2008

I’ve been sticking with “America’s Got Talent,” even though it slowly transformed from a variety show to just another version of “American Idol” — nine of the top 10 finishers are singers. I watched last night, and it was pretty easy for me to choose my favorites for the five finalists. So long, Sinatra impersonator and Elvis impersonator; I’ll watch you on TV, but pay to see you in Vegas? Don’t think so. Goodbye to the 4-year-old — what was she doing there in the first place? Catch you later, Osmond Family wannabes. Donald Braswell almost makes the cut for me. Nice voice, but still . . .

My final five: Jessica Price, who made me actually listen to Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” again — I’d gotten so used to hearing it behind that cruelty-to-animals commercial that I stopped paying attention to it. Eli Mattson is a good singer and great keyboard player. Queen Emily and Neal E. Boyd have amazing voices.

But my favorite is Nuttin But Stringz. They have a unique act, and last night they did an original number that took me back to my rock-concert-attending days. It sounded like a cross between Led Zeppelin and an Irish folk number. Put those two in front of a hot band, and you’re looking at true superstars.

Oh, no, Mr. Pickle!

August 19, 2008

Some people can do clever, and some can’t. The people who do Burger King’s TV ads are definitely in the “can’t” category. The king mascot is just creepy, even when he’s running down a football field, let alone showing up in some guy’s bed or hanging out with his wife and kid in the future. How many ways are there to fall flat while trying to be funny? We took the Whoppers off the menu — ha-ha, fooled you!

Then, I stumbled across somebody writing about this, a print ad, on a paper tray liner. It’s definitely funny, in a dark, off-kilter B. Kliban kind of way, or at least it made me laugh. But then I started thinking about those vegetables on my hamburger . . .

Star crossed

August 4, 2008

Dan Quayle shows a little common sense:

Former vice-president Dan Quayle will not be strutting his way across the dance floor anytime soon — at least not on TV.

Quayle was invited to compete in the ABC series approximately four to six weeks ago, but declined the invitation immediately, Quayle’s assistant confirmed to Access Hollywood.

Maybe they could get Karl Rove; he’s showed some fancy moves in ducking Congress. Or, if they really want a superstar, Bill Clinton will do just about anything for a little more adoration.

Dan Quayle has an assistant?

Bring back variety

July 31, 2008

Yeah, I watched “America’s Got Talent” again this week, and, apparently, I’m not alone. It was the highest-rated show last week. The thing is, if you strip away the competition part and the inane chatter of the judges, what you have is just an old-fashioned variety show of the type introduced by Ed Sullivan and then slicked up a little by Dean Martin and Carol Burnett. I think there’s room for another one of those now.

And somebody in TV-land thinks so, too.

What I’m told is that Ben Silverman and Jeff Zucker like the idea — and it’s a great one that Rosie’s had for a long time. The new show could turn out to be a 2009 version of Carol Burnett or even “The Ed Sullivan Show.’

The latter would even be better with Rosie presenting it all live — as in not on tape — from a Broadway theater, possibly on Sunday night. The show would have skits but more importantly O’Donnell could feature all kinds of acts from comedy to drama to music — exactly what’s missing from prime time.

Rosie’s not my favorite entertainer, but she was an OK comedienne before she got so political. I’d probably check her show out a few times just to see how good the acts were.

Dancing with Dan

July 29, 2008

Hoosier Dan Quayle hasn’t been in the news much lately, but that might change, unfortunately:

There have been murmurings recently that a major American political figure is being aggressively courted by ABC to compete on the next edition of “Dancing With the Stars.”

But then Monday, gossip news site reported that the person in question is merely former vice president Dan Quayle, who served under George H. W. Bush.

As this brief report (from the Philadelphia Inquirer) makes plain, the press hasn’t forgotten how to pile on Quayle. Appearing on such a silly show won’t do much for his image.

Out of touch

July 25, 2008

I was all set to enjoy a pleasant evening of blogging last night. One of my favorite old black-and-white movies, 1935’s “G Men,” with James Cagney and Margaret Lindsay, was playing on Turner Classic Movies. With my laptop set up in front of the TV, I could half pay attention to the movie (old favorites are comfortable background noise) while composing posts to thrill and astound my readers. But at 7:58 p.m., two minutes before the movie’s start — Zap! Comcast Cable went out. “This channel should be available shortly,” the message said — on every channel.

Oh, well. It wouldn’t be quite as much fun, but I could blog while listening to some albums or the radio. Except for the fact that I discovered my Comcast high-speed Internet wasn’t working, either. And I was in complete ignorance — no TV news guy to tell me what was wrong with the Internet, no Internet bulletin to tell me what was wrong with the TV, and nothing from Comcast’s customer service line except a busy signal. I called a friend to see if she could get online and find out what was going on (thank God I still have Verizon phone service), but there was nothing. Finally, after a couple of hours, they were both back on. By then, though, I was ready for bed and not in the mood.

What happened? Here’s the unhelpful story from WANE-TV:

The worker says sometime after 7:30 p.m., the fire alarm went off causing a fire suppression system to kick in. As part of the system, some type of gas was emitted that forced workers to evacuate the building.

Fire alarm? Gas emission? Building evacuation? What pitiful excuses for ruining my evening. Two things:

1. We have the most sophisticated system of communications the world has ever known; anybody can reach anybody else with any message, at any time, in any place, under any set of circumstances.

2. I pay Comcast an obscene amount of money each month.

So, the next time, I want something a little more specific and encouraging than “One moment please, this channel should be available shortly” on every cable station and something better than “This site is currently not available” on every Internet address. I want something like: “We know this is inconvenient and upsetting, Mr. Morris. Our service should return in about two hours. We know you had your heart set on ‘G Men,’ so we will be repeating that from 8 to 9:30 p.m. every night for a week on Cable Channel 400, just for you. And we are sending by mail a check in the amount of quadruple the pro-rated cost for the time you will have been out of service. Half the staff here has already been fired over this regrettable interruption and, rest assured, more heads will roll. If there is anything else we can do, please let us know. Oh, and a piping hot pizza should be at your door any minute now.”

Is that too much to ask?

A tale of two women

July 23, 2008

I have dismissed the Olympics as anything but the noble competittion of amateurs they are claimed to be. But I’ve gotten caught up in the Dara Torres story. Who wouldn’t? At first, everybody thought it would be a nice nostalgia story, 41-year-old mother, retired from swimming, comes back for one last shot at the Olympics, the old lady might even make the team for a record fifth time. But she started kicking teen swimmers’ butts, and suddenly it’s a very real story of perseverance and achievement.

I have announced rather proudly that I take no notice of those silly reality shows, yet this summer I find myself semi-hooked on “America’s Got Talent.” The atrociousness is more varied — instead of just awful singers, there are awful dancers, awful jugglers, awful comedians and just plain awful people who defy description. And there are the surprising performers who pop up. Last night there was a ventriloquest who actually brought something new to that art form and a guy who made amazing hand shadows. And there was Queen Emily (watch video), the last performer of the evening, who came out and just knocked everybody’s socks off.

Be careful of what you publicly mock, I guess is my point.


July 21, 2008

Well, we’ll all sleep better now, won’t we?

A federal appeals court on Monday threw out a $550,000 indecency fine against CBS Corp. for the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show that ended with Janet Jackson’s breast-baring “wardrobe malfunction.”

The three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Federal Communications Commission “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in issuing the fine for the fleeting image of nudity.

The 90 million people watching the Super Bowl, many of them children, heard Justin Timberlake sing, “Gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” as he reached for Jackson’s bustier.

The court found that the FCC deviated from its nearly 30-year practice of fining indecent broadcast programming only when it was so “pepervasive as to amount to ‘shock treatment’ for the audience.”

Next, we’ll have more arguments and the continuing and expensive litigation over whether unscripted expletives (like Bono’s “F” word) should be fined.  Isn’t it time to just dissolve the FCC? The only excuse for its existence — allocation of limited spaces on the electromagnetic spectrum — has beeen eliminated.

N-word of endearment

July 18, 2008

I once remarked to a friend that somebody must be watching Steven Seagal movies; otherwiswe, they  wouldn’t keep making the damn things. I feel the same way about “The View,” although the demograpics of its audience would probably scare me to death.

“View” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck was in tears Thursday after a discussion about the use of the n-word, in which fellow co-host Whoopi Goldberg told her the two “don’t live in the same world.”

During a segment covering Jesse Jackson’s recent use of the n-word while preparing to tape an interview on FOX News, Whoopi and co-host Sherri Shepard, who are both black, contested that the word has a different meaning for black people.

“It’s something that means something way different to me than it does to you,” said Shepard. “I can use it as a term of endearment.”

Shepard also said to co-host Barbara Walters: “I don’t want to hear it come out of your mouth.”

[. . .]

Goldberg, who used the n-word repeatedly during the broadcast (it was bleeped out), said that “We don’t live in the same world. What I need you to understand is the frustration that goes along with when you say we live in the same world. It isn’t balanced.”

Goldberg and Hasselbeck can fight over what worlds they’re in all they want to, as long as they stay off my planet. (Here’s video if you can stand it.) The dual use of racial and ehtnic epithets has long been the subject of debate. I’ve gone back and forth on the issue, but I find this persuasive:

Still, despite the best intentions, critics argue that using the N-word, particularly in entertainment, does more harm than good and gives others — whites and minorities alike — the impression that it’s no longer offensive in every context.

And don’t call me hillbilly, unless you’re going to buy me dinner first.

Smooth talkers

July 8, 2008

Getting rough out there in talk land. Third-best recent putdown by one celebrity of another — Anderson Cooper’s producer on Fox’s Gretta Susteren:

The executive producer of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 last week called Susteren’s On The Record  “not a news program. It’s missing-person of the day.”

Second-best: Sustern’s 1,000-word response:

Best: Rush Limbaugh, in New Work Times Magazine interview, on Bill O’Reilly:

At dinner the night before, Bill O’Reilly’s name came up, and Limbaugh expressed his opinion of the Fox cable king. He hadn’t been sure at the time that he wanted it on the record. But on second thought, “somebody’s got to say it,” he told me. “The man is Ted Baxter.”

As this writer  points out, somebody else has already called O’Reilly that: Keith Olbermann, who’s also called him the “Frank Burns of news.” But Olbermann feels that way about all conservatives, so it takes on a little more weight when Limbaugh says it. I’ve only been able to take O’Reilly a few minutes at a time, so I’m not really sure the conservative label fits. Mostly he just seems like a populist blowhard.

Borrowing trouble

June 25, 2008

I don’t expect I’ll watch it, but The “Baby Borrowers,” on NBC tonight, is a reality show that might actually contribute something to society:

The show is based on a controversial British series in which teen couples considering parenthood are given  a taste of what it might be like. In many cases, the participants succumb to soul-crushing stress. Rifts in the relationships develop. Frayed nerves, tears and arguments are plentiful.


Executive producer Tom Shelley claims it’s an “entertaining, family-friendly” program with a vital “Scared Straight”-style message for teens: Think twice about sex and pregnancy. Along those lines, NBC has partnered with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to deploy “The Baby Borrowers” as an educational tool.

The only problem is that the ones who would benefit most from the message probably won’t be watching, and the ones who do tune in won’t be the ones who need to see it. Maybe some schools should get tapes of the series and show them in health class.

Keep the hot air on MSNBC

June 20, 2008

Oh, no, please, God, no:

TIM Russert’s body wasn’t even cold in the ground before MSNBC anchors Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann started jockeying for his job, sources claim.

Oh, wait: “Russert himself wanted Chuck Todd, the NBC News political director he hired, to succeed him, said one source, who added that MSNBC hosts don’t stand a chance of landing ‘Meet the Press.’ The insider said, ‘They’re cable. They’re far too partisan. They have no gravitas. If gravitas is eight letters, they’re about seven letters short.’ ” Whew! May have dodged a bullet.

Reality bites, then hurls

June 20, 2008

This story asks the question “Has Reality TV Hit Rock Bottom?” and the answer is obvious:

Maybe you thought reality TV hit the lowest of the low when “Fear Factor” contestants devoured cockroaches, or when gold diggers paraded their wares in hopes of marrying a millionaire, or when Tila Tequila got a second shot at “love” with 10 guys and 10 girls.

Those shows look like “Masterpiece Theater” compared to what’s coming.

Take, for instance, “Hurl,” an eating-and-regurgitating competition in which contestants gorge themselves on everything from chicken pot pies to peanut butter sandwiches, then get strapped into spinning contraptions — whoever vomits last wins.

I wrote a long time ago, it seems now, that it became impossible to parody TV when it embraced self-parody with a made-for-television movie called “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.” That was, I now understand, the Golden Age.

The linked story is from ABC News. “Rock bottom” will be when “Good Morning America” or “Today” has the winner of “Hurl” — or the most recent contestant disqualified — as a guest the morning after. Don’t bet against me on this one.


June 2, 2008

The won’t even leave the classics alone:

Everything old is new again. And we’re not just talking about Indiana Jones and the raiders of the movie box office or that remake of “Get Smart.”

Coming to the small screen this summer are “Million Dollar Password” and “Celebrity Family Feud,” updated versions of vintage game shows.

The original “Password” started on CBS in 1961 with Alan Ludden as host. It eventually ran on ABC and NBC and was on and off in daytime through the 1970s.

I caught the premiere of “Million Dollar Password” last night, and it was: bad, terrible, awful. I was trying to get you to think of “atrocious.” With the word “millionaire” in the title and Philbin as the host, the show was about what you would expect — lots of flashing lights and swelling music and sweeping camera shots, plus lots of giggles and bantering from the “celebrities” Rachel Ray and Neal Patrick Harris.

Watching the old “Password” was like being in a library — you wanted to be quiet and respectful, even if there wasn’t a librarian going, “Shhh.” There was Ludden with his glasses, the static and boring set, the announcer actually whispering the word so we’d know the contestants couldn’t hear. The classiest of game shows, and now they want to trash it up.

Baba Wawa’s wuv wife

May 2, 2008

Geez. I already knew many in the press were in bed with politicians, so I didn’t really need to hear this:

NEW YORK (AP) – entertainmentminute After three decades of keeping mum, Barbara Walters is disclosing a past affair with married U.S. Senator Edward Brooke, whom she remembers as “exciting” and “brilliant.”

Appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” scheduled to air Tuesday, Walters shares details of her relationship with Brooke that lasted several years in the 1970s, according to a transcript of the show provided to The Associated Press.

A moderate Republican from Massachusetts who took office in 1967, Brooke was the first African-American to be popularly elected to the Senate. Both he and Walters knew that public knowledge of their affair could have ruined his career as well as hers, Walters says.

On “Oprah,” no less, to sell her stupid tell-all book. Call me old-fashioned, but I think affairs should be kept secret, and whatever happened to the idea of being discreet and circumspect and private? Oh, wait, this is a TV star. Maybe Baba can interview herself. “So, what kind of tree did you think you were while having the affair?”

Whimsical justice

April 29, 2008

Justice Antonin Scalia was on “60 Minutes” trying to explain Originalist constitutional thinking to Leslie Stahl, and he might as well have been talking to the wall:

Scalia has no patience with so-called activist judges, who create rights not in the Constitution – like a right to abortion – by interpreting the Constitution as a “living document” that adapts to changing values.

“It is an enduring Constitution that I want to defend,” he says.

“But what you’re saying is, let’s try to figure out the mindset of people back 200 years ago? Right?” Stahl asks.

“Well, it isn’t the mindset. It’s what did the words mean to the people who ratified the Bill of Rights or who ratified the Constitution,” Scalia says.

“As opposed to what people today think it means,” Stahl asks.

“As opposed to what people today would like,” Scalia says.

“But you do admit that values change? We do adapt. We move,” Stahl asks.

“That’s fine. And so do laws change. Because values change, legislatures abolish the death penalty, permit same-sex marriage if they want, abolish laws against homosexual conduct. That’s how the change in a society occurs. Society doesn’t change through a Constitution,” Scalia argues.

Values do change, and that’s what the law is for. Bedrock principles do not change, and that is what the Constitution is for. That seems so basic to any understanding of a constitutional republic’s operation, but so many people are willing to blur the role of the Constitution and the law. If you really buy into the “living Constitution” argument, you’re willing to let nine people tell you what the law of the land is. And they might do things you like or things you abhor, and you will live under the tyranny of the whim of the moment. 

Idol chatter

April 24, 2008

A few Americans come to their senses:

It had to happen sometime: American Idol is showing signs of mortality in its seventh season.

Ratings for TV’s top show are down 7% to an average 29 million viewers for regular episodes and down 10% among adults ages 18 to 49, the main currency on Madison Avenue.

It’s still big enough for Fox to be the ratings champ, though. Might I suggest a night at a karaoke bar? The entertainment value will be the same, and you’ll get out of the house.

The Church of O

April 11, 2008

When thinking about Oprah Winfrey’s approach to the metaphsyical, writes Indiana Unviversity professor Kathryn Lofton, it’s important to make a distinction between religion and spirituality:

The only way religion or religious belief works for Oprah is if it is carefully coordinated with capitalist pleasure. Thus, the turn to ‘spirituality’ — the non-dogmatic dogma that encourages an ambiguous theism alongside an exuberant consumerism,” Lofton said.

In Winfrey’s view, Buddhism isn’t about meditation and renunciation, it’s about beaded bracelets and fragrant incense. “Christianity isn’t about Christ’s apocalyptic visions or the memorization of creeds, it’s about a friendly guy named Jesus and his egalitarian message. As long as you can spend, feel good about yourself and look good, your religious belief will be tolerated on Planet O. The religion of Oprah is the incorporated faith of late-capitalist America,” Lofton said.

Spend and feel good. Works for me. 


It’s Miller time

April 10, 2008

Oh, come on:

For more than 100 college presidents and athletic directors, beer and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament don’t mix.

The college leaders — among them the top officials at Harvard, Abilene Christian and Georgia State — wrote a letter to NCAA President Myles Brand on Wednesday calling beer advertising “embarrassingly prominent” during tournament broadcasts. They asked the organization to reconsider its policies on alcohol advertising.

Sports plus beer ads; what a shock. If the college presidents and athletic directors want to talk about something that’s “embarrassingly prominent,” how about near-professional sports teams that have become the tail wagging the college dog. Oh, wait, this just in: Eric Gordon is going pro after just a year at Indiana Univeristy.