Archive for the ‘television’ tag
I’m not big fan of network sitcoms anymore, mostly because of their boilerplate predictability, but Michael J. Fox‘s upcoming show has the potential to be quite brilliant, and might I say, brave for Fox to come out with a work that essentially seems like an irreverent satire of his own condition and his experiences with Parkinson’s disease. It could be an entertaining show as long as the writers don’t go crazy with too many Parkinson’s jokes.
Here is a trailer:
Derek Thompson with The Atlantic has a recent article up highlighting the emergence of television as the new medium for gritty acting, quality shows and interesting characters. Shows like Lost, Fringe, 24, The Sopranos, The Walking Dead, Dexter, numerous HBO originals and now House of Cards on Netflix, have seemingly reversed a drama industry once dominated by Hollywood.
Edward Jay Epstein provides an excellent explanation on why television has gained transaction, and why Hollywood has largely floundered. Speaking about the example of HBO, Epstein writes:
It did not need to produce a huge audience since it carries no advertising and gets paid the same fee whether or not subscribers tune in. Nor did it have to restrict edgier content to get films approved by a ratings board (there is no censorship of Pay-TV). And it did not have to structure the movie to maximize foreign sales since, unlike Hollywood, its earnings come mainly from America. As a result, HBO and the two other pay-channels, Showtime and Starz, were able to create sophisticated character-driven series such as The Wire, Sex and the City, The L Word, and The Sopranos. As this only succeeded in retaining subscribers and also achieved critical acclaim, advertising-supported cable and over-the-air network had little choice but to follow suit to avoid losing market share. The result of this competitive race to the top is the elevation of television.
Sure, television executives found a workable model for taking advantage of the format, but the simpler answer, I think, that explains the rise of television is the fact that producers and directors began creating “sophisticated character-driven series” and not just for HBO or Starz, but for the networks.
When I was a teenager, in the 20s and even younger, cheesy slapstic, droll and boilerplate sitcom fare was about all from which viewers had to choose. Think: Alf, Who’s the Boss?, Family Matters, Full House, Growing Pains, Home Improvement, etc. As far as comedy goes, the most interesting shows were Seinfeld, Cheers and maybe Herman’s Head. Drama wasn’t much better. The 1980s and 90s had Dallas, Chips, Hawaii Five-O, Matlock, the prime time soap opera, Knotts Landing and others that were rather forgettable. Dallas was probably the most captivating show to come out of my younger years, and even then, the only serious question people were asking was the age-old: “Who Done It?” But even Dallas highlighted the era’s near limitless obsession with shallow soap operas. Law & Order and MacGyver arguably offered the most substance on the small screen.
Conversely, Hollywood gave us such gems as Casino, Heat, Scent of a Woman, Donnie Brasco, Reservoir Dogs, The Shawshank Redemption, Rain Man, Pulp Fiction, Philadelphia and many others. To be sure, Hollywood was offering plenty of trash like Kindergarten Cop and Look Who’s Talking, but if viewers wanted quality acting and sophisticated, nuanced characters, they went to the movies.
Today, they go to the couch. After enduring years of predictable plots, weak acting and lack of interesting and well-developed characters, I largely turned away from TV in the late 1990s, at least from sitcoms and drama. Only a few years ago did I give TV another try after the nearly ubiquitous praise that I was hearing about Lost, 24, Dexter, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and others. And the praise was not unfounded. TV and outlets like Netflix are offering a level of quality that, perhaps, has never been offered previously. We will never forget characters like Jack Bauer, Tony Almeida, Chloe O’Brien, Jack Shepherd, Jin and Sun and Sawyer, and now, Frank Underwood can be added to the list. The small screen, I would posit, is becoming bigger as we speak.
O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?
O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again. – Thomas Wolfe, “Look Homeward, Angel”
If the word has not already been coined, I’ll do the honors.
This year, I unequivocally became a Lostophile, that is, a person with a deep affinity for the philosophical nuisances of the television series, “Lost.” Granted, the TV show went off the air in 2010, but I only came to The Island, so to speak, this past fall (October 2011) when I began watching the series from start to finish on Netflix.
OK, that’s not quite accurate. My initial engagement with the show was so intense that I watched the first three seasons, started right back at Season One and then watched the whole way through. I recently finished Season Six a couple weeks ago.
Spoilers: Don’t read beyond this point if you haven’t seen the show and plan to watch.
For anyone not familiar with the plot — that’s probably not many at this point — here’s a brief rundown. Oceanic Flight 815 crashes onto an island that viewers learn has some mysterious properties. We follow the main characters as they come to learn about The Island’s unusual forces and attempt to find a way off The Island. While the main island plot is taking place, viewers see flashbacks of the survivors’ lives, including Jack, Kate, Sawyer, John Locke, Hurley, Jin and Sun, Charlie and others, at certain points before they boarded the plane. Generally speaking, most of their lives were falling apart before boarding the plane (John, for instance, had been pushed out of a window and had become paralyzed in real life) and Jack’s wife had left him. Their presence on The Island is seen, in ways that aren’t quite clear, as a means or method by which the characters have the chance for a second start or a rebirth. In the most obviously example, John, regained the ability to walk after the plane crashed. A testament, again, to The Island’s unusual properties … maybe.
While viewers are learning about their sundry pasts, the characters in present day on The Island are dealing with the entity they call The Monster, which is a cloud or stream of black smoke, a polar bear, another group of people called the Others, the appearance of Jack’s dead father on The Island (wearing the same tennis shoes in which he was laid in the coffin) and other mysterious elements. Season Three deals with the growing conflict between the crash survivors and the others. In Season Four, we begin flashing forward to scenes after the “Oceanic Six” were rescued and returned to America, where they tried to resume their normal lives without much success. Jack eventually realizes that he was actually meant to remain on The Island, and the Oceanic Six eventually return. In the plane as they pass over about the same spot as before, they crash again, and by fate … or whatever … all of them survive the second crash. Because of high levels of elctromagneticism, which we learned caused the first crash (a consequence of another important character, Desmond Hume, who is named for David Hume, failing to enter the numbers, 4 8 15 16 23 42, into a computer as commanded), some characters returning to the island land in 1977 and some landed in 2007, or three years after the initial crash. Also because of electromagnetic events on the island, some characters of the original clash were sporadically hurled through time until finally landing in 1974. They worked with the Dharma Initiative for three years before uniting with some of the other characters from the second trip The Island. Juliet eventually sets off a nuclear bomb, which in theory was supposed to prevent the original crash from happening in the first place.
In Season Six, viewers follow the original survivors who have now landed in present day on The Island, while a flash sideways plot line shows them interacting as things should have been in in a more perfect world, presumably in the after life. In addition, viewers are also presented with the apparent struggle between two deities (brothers) who control the island, Jacob and the Man in Black. Jacob hand-picked the characters to come to The Island to serve as “candidates” to protect The Island. The original Hurley of the present day eventually became the protector, while Jack (an earlier protector) dies at the same place that he initially woke up from the original plane crash after a battle with the Man in Black. One of the last scenes we are left with is of his father’s white tennis shoes hanging from a tree, which were also seen in Season One, Episode One. The original survivors Kate, Sawyer and Claire, fly off the island from the second plane on which Kate and Sawyer returned. In one of the last scenes, Jack watches the plane cross the sky with a smile on his face as he dies.
I have only scratched the surface on how complicated this show became in the last three seasons. I think the writers possibly went a little overboard in introducing the deities into plot and trying to somehow explain the unexplainable. I would almost have been satisfied with the approach of the writers of the movie, Cloverfield (Reviewed here). The monster in that movie wasn’t explained. The audience was just left with the brute fact that it simply existed and writers didn’t bother with coming up with a wild explanation about aliens or other worlds.
Jacob and the Man in Black aside, the interesting element about Lost was the philosophical questions that were raised and the implications of following certain paths. Jack, for instance, was a man of science and facts at the beginning of the series and did not give much weight to fate or faith, while John was a man of belief and thought that he had a purpose on The Island that was bigger than himself. Sawyer, saying numerous times in the show, to paraphrase, “We have to look out for ourselves,” had a self-interested philosophy, while Desmond Hume in some ways mirrors David Hume:
In his posthumously published essay “On Suicide,” Hume firmly advocates that it is neither against the laws of God nor nature for people to end their own lives. This argues that people have complete freedom over their own bodies and what they do to/with them. Using the failsafe in the Swan, Desmond apparently takes this right upon himself in a way that David Hume did not consider – self-sacrifice.
Books have been written and whole college courses have been devoted to deciphering the philosophical implications of the show, so I won’t go into any more detail. Here is a rundown of the various philosophical references in the show and how they might relate to the characters.
The ultimate question about the show, in my estimation, and one that still rages today, is did the characters survive the crash in the first place? Did the entire show take place in the after life? Was it all a dream? The writers themselves have denied most of the theories, and the established view is still that the characters crashed and really did survive, but that the plot line of the last season did take place in a kind of limbo, and at the very end of the show, they “moved on” into heaven … or wherever. Christian Shephard in the final scene of the show explained that the characters had created “this place” so that they could find one another and remember that they had spent the most important parts of their lives together on The Island. Thus, when the original Jack died after the battle with the Man in Black, he really did die, and eventually, Kate, Sawyer and Claire died in real life after escaping The Island and joined Jack in the after life, ultimately reuniting in the church:
Of course, if we think about the actions on The Island taking place in reality, we then must assume that the deities that live there, Jacob and the Man in Black, are localized deities and also exist in reality. This isn’t much different than assuming that limbo or the after life exists, but there are some problems. While Jacob does come to the U.S. mainland to influence the lives of his “candidates,” he lives on The Island and seems to only care about protecting it. Jacob and the Man in Black are also mortal since they are both killed. Not very powerful deities. Since becoming a “protector” apparently doesn’t save one from death, how does this qualify the chosen candidate to protect The Island? Further, given the still images of the vacant island that were shown as the credits rolled after the last episode, I still think that a plausible case could be made that the characters did die upon the initial crash, and The Island is, indeed, hell (since midway through the series, viewers learned that the survivors were “picked” because they were flawed and were being given the chance for redemption). I don’t know that I believe this theory, I’m just saying that’s it’s an intriguing one to think about.
In any case, however lost the characters might have been within the framework of the show, the viewing experience almost defies definition. The show’s producers created a true Alfred Hitchcock-like sense of a complete separation from reality and hope. Once a person becomes that lost, in other words, they are really lost, with any number of unfound doors, always and forever, just out of reach.
With major newspapers struggling to stay afloat these days, I thought it might be interesting to briefly take a look at a specific segment of the media: that of sports journalism, and attempt to figure how that branch of journalism is faring and the implications on the craft in general.
I was listening recently to the radio interview of an ACC Sports Journal writer, who mentioned that one reporter, previously working as the beat writer for an ACC school at an independent newspaper, had recently taken a position to be the official “vessel,” as it were, for that school’s football coverage. I wish I could remember the reporter’s name who took the position. I think it was for Virginia Tech. The fellow interviewed on the radio was making the case, I would say quite ably, that the face of sports journalism was changing toward more, not less, bias. That’s to say that, while you still have independent media organizations covering college and pro sports, you also have many schools (and, obviously, professional ball clubs now hiring reporters, i.e. Zach Eisendrath with the Denver Broncos) to come on staff and be the “official” voice of the Hokies, Cavaliers, Broncos or whatever. The person interviewed said this practice, in ways, presented challenges to independent news organizations because, while the independents fish for information, colleges or professional clubs have their “inside men” (my quote) who, at times, have unrestricted access to practices, the locker rooms and have no trouble getting news because they are employed by the school or ball club. Thus, the news we have coming out of those ball clubs, at least from the “filtered” reporters, is largely positive, at least upbeat, and never scandalous, is a far cry from the scrutiny to which these clubs should be subjected.
Ball clubs and colleges are well within their rights to hire journalists to attempt to “control the message,” as it were, and journalists are well within their rights to seek greener pastures. As the person interviewed from the ACC Sports Journal said, some consumers care about the distinction between beat reporters employed by the teams and writers from independent sources and some consumers don’t. But there is an important distinction, and it creates the issue of bias regarding the out-feeding of sports news that comes out each day. That’s why seeking information from multiple sources is important to getting the truth of what is really happening. While there is much truth coming out of denverbroncos.com on rote football topics like who’s impressing coaches in practice or which quarterback is likely to get the starting position, other topics get more complicated. For instance, how the official Broncos Web site handled coach Mike Shanahan’s ouster after the lackluster 8-8 season in 2008. I attempted to find old articles from the official site about the story, but came up empty.
The four major U.S. sports now have their own cable channels and Web sites and contracts with television networks. All major colleges have communications departments, which issue press releases with their “messages” via their Web sites or hard copy releases.
Some major newspapers also cast a suspicious shadow over their sports writing with their various interests in sports teams:
Several prominent teams are still owned by media companies; Cablevision owns the Knicks and Rangers, The New York Times owns nearly 18 percent of the Red Sox, and the Tribune Company, pending a sale, still owns the Cubs. The relationship between teams and the sources covering them has unsurprisingly led to suspicions of bias. — “Examining the Future of Sports Media,” July 2, 2009
It’s a fair question to ask, as this story does, “What happens when the people we cover start to control the news?”
This makes the idea of independent journalism all that more important, and quite unfortunately, as big newspapers continue to struggle, less and less space is available for that coverage. This is compounded by the fact that newspapers are still the best source for detailed news about topics of the day. Or, as The Times’ magazine article (linked above) puts it,
Newspapers remain the primary source of news-gathering in America. And unlike so many Internet “sites,” they are firmly grounded in a geographical place. To read a newspaper is to know what town you’re in.
We can know this to be the case when we find Sean Hannity (CNN is guilty of doing the same, wham-bam-style interviews and news pieces) and Christopher Hitchens debating God in a five-minute segment. Two hours of discussion could not do that particular topic justice, but such is the world of television and radio news. “Just give us the talking points and no details so we can all get on with our lives,” seems to be the rallying cry. Newspapers, and to some degree, magazines, depending on the publication, compel us to sit down and spend time with the news and with the issues facing us today. Newspapers in hard copy form will one day go the way of the dodo, but I think it’s important for us to recognize the service they provide in holding those in high places accountable for their actions with our tax dollars. It’s important, at least to me, as it should be for anyone who appreciates and loves information, that they continue as long as possible. Or, if not, at least their online counterparts. Sports journalism, perhaps, doesn’t hold the same immediate consequence as, say, government beat writing, but the trend toward closer relationships between sports teams and the organizations covering them is troubling, and it makes the work of The Associated Press and others more laudable. Here is a detailed study of four newspapers regarding bias compared to the AP.
As I said here, I like words, and I like information. While pictures and graphics can provide some level of information, I think solid reporting and well-crafted stories serve our communities the best. I think The New York Times’ traditional design is a beautiful thing. Newspapers such as that offer less filler and are teeming with information. As such, I would probably fit perfectly well in some 18th century London coffeehouse or pub reading the latest edition of The Spectator. But then again, and for better or worse, I’m not the average Joe.
Print media, as is evidenced by the recent demise of the Rocky Mountain News, the Detroit Free Press scaling back to only three days per week, Knight Ridder’s purchase by McClatchy, among others examples, print media is tanking. Perhaps sooner than later, the days of sitting in the local Huddle House or at your kitchen table reading the morning paper may be one and done. Today, at least among small to mid-size dailies, there’s this dire atmosphere, almost like a desperation, to sell papers. I saw it at a local daily I used to work for. The leadership wanted giant photos, “teasers” everywhere, sports cut-outs … basically as much crap as one could pile above the fold, the better, information and usefulness of such “elements” (as they called them) be damned. For a national example of this, see USA Today.
The problem with that model is that a publication could offer the most artistic, elegantly designed and well-photographed publication in the country, but if it missed the boat on content, it has failed in its duty to inform and educate the community it serves. After all, with all those “elements” flying around everywhere, something has to be compromised. And the content usually gets the ax, and at this aforementioned paper, that’s exactly what happened. Thus — and I know to the budget-minded publisher or editor this is unpopular territory — but the public is shortchanged when elements take precedence over content. The job of newspapers is to add to the intelligence and knowledge of the public, not take away from it or contribute to the general dumbing down taking place in other outlets like radio and television. Have we lost our muster when we simply can’t sell newspapers by compelling headlines and probing reporting? Have J-schools across the country failed us in producing a generation of editors and publishers who are OK with this nonsense? Can’t we be everything television and radio isn’t?
As an example, Stephen King’s name doesn’t jump out at you because he’s got lots of cool pictures and graphics in his books. In fact, it’s hard to find a single picture anywhere! His name jumps out at you because he does something with words and ideas that few others can. We are raising and educating a generation of journalism amateurs — or wimps — in this regard. What King does and what journalists do are polar, of course, but I’m arguing that words, in and of themselves, can be compelling and can make newspapers or books or whatever fly off the racks. Journalism is not for the bashful. True journalism doesn’t hide behind snazzy graphics or photos. It can be powerful, and it can change communities. I’ve seen it happen. But I’m probably arguing in 20th century, or even 19th century, terms.
Here in the 21st century, the Internet provides a literal free for all of information, thus rendering newspapers largely irrelevant, except only to a select few still enamored with their morning coffee-paper routine. I’m in that crowd, but admittedly, we must move on. Insomuch as small- to medium-sized dailies are going to continue to offer their daily fare of elements, giant photos, graphics simply for the sake of graphics and cartoon-sized headlines, they should just fold up shop and put all that time and effort into the Internet, as witnessed by this publication:
Whoever created this is probably quite proud, but this is a newspaper, not a graphic showroom. And by the way, to further illustrate why this is trash, where is the local news on the front page? Can you find it? Clemson Tigers basketball is local, but that’s sports. A local feature story about an artist is not local news. Photos and graphics have all but consumed this paper. I am sure local news in short supply can be found inside, but it should be found out front, and it’s not. (The paper recently reformatted to this tabloid design.)
Almost all of this paper’s readers — and millions more — are online, so why not scale back the effort, stop contributing to the trash heap and publish solid reporting and well-crafted writing on the Web site. And, the money saved from going virtual could be put into increased attempts to sell ad space on the Web through banners, specially-priced ads based on where they appear on the page, Web design, hosting and other ventures. In short, if the goal is to abandon the traditional model for newspapers as we know them, get on with the end game. Get completely virtual, stop publishing graphic-laden, information-less trash and give up the ghost. I’ll never read books online and if there is still a local or national newspaper still putting out quality work in print form, chances are I’m going to read it. But thankfully, books still have a market in print form. Of the former newspapers, I’m not sure. We are too enamored with the sound bites of FOX News and CNBC and CNN to care about newspapers anymore. And that’s fine. But it’s time some papers stop pretending to be relevant, if that relevancy means compromising journalistic integrity to en masse photos and graphics signifying nothing.
Those who blog anonymously, behind some WordPress (or Blogspot or whatever) screen name that shields you from the blowback of your own views, you are bored, pathetic liars, at least according to Sarah Palin, in these comments.
“Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me….I’ll tell you, yesterday the Anchorage Daily News, they called again to ask — double-, triple-, quadruple-check — who is Trig’s real mom,” she said, in an interview to be published in the magazine’s (Esquire’s) March issue.
The Anchorage Daily News’ editor supplied his response here, attempting to validate rumors (the real story was, in fact, to the advantage of the Palin family!) that the “nonsense” heard surrounding the kid’s true birth mother, was just that.
Over the last year or so, Palin has had an odd relationship with the media. Recently, she has been conducting a voluminous amount of interviews after her ticket lost the election — perhaps as early preparation for Campaign 2012. But prior to Election Day, she was scarcely allowed to be interviewed, and the few sit-downs she did were disastrous. Also, for all her wailing against the media, she seems to now be using it in some way toward her own ends. Interesting. The fact is that if she is to advance her political career, perhaps to a White House run in a little less than four years, she will need the media — and she knows this. If that’s the goal, it would probably also behoove her to read more, particularly the media outlets she bashes, and to learn more, so that when asked which newspaper she regularly reads for information, she can not only be more qualified and well-informed to make a case for herself on a presidential ticket, but be able to give intelligent answers to convince the rest of us — if that’s even possible.
If football season gives me the opportunity to watch something on TV other than The History Channel and Comedy Central, that can’t be a bad thing. I got bored with sitcoms about 10 years ago and don’t have the patience, nor want to expend the time, to watch dramas like Cold Case Files and CSI: (name your city). Though I do enjoy those shows, when and if I take the time to watch them.
But with football, both college and professional, I will take the time to sit there and watch an entire game, that is, if it’s one of my two favorite teams: the Denver Broncos or the Clemson Tigers. Other games I like to have on the TV while working on other things. My wife doesn’t like watching football, to my utter dismay and disbelief, so I may be forced this fall to by a cheap 19-inch and hunker down in the bedroom for about six hours on Sundays. Such is life.
A few words on Denver, since I follow the Broncos more closely than I do the Tigers. After last year’s disappointing display, Denver will, of course, be expected to make the playoffs this year. Fans expect Denver to be a playoff contender every single year, and anything less is disappointing. This is probably true of most every team that’s not in the midst of a rebuilding year, but this is especially true of Denver. After Elway’s retirement, the team has been up and down, but never all-that “up.” This year will hopefully be Cutler’s year to shine. Shanahan has taken some rather large steps to beef up talent on the offensive and defensive line, and I think that will pay off. I expect Selvin Young to do well in the backfield.
As for the Tigers, expectations are high there too … as they are every year. If Bowden doesn’t make a big splash nationally in the next year or two, he could be in trouble. The Tigers are again positioned in the top 10 via preseason polls, but the season hasn’t started yet, and the team seemed to falter when it counted. Let’s hope the team can actually match the hype this year.