40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Tootin' My Own Horn

The fine folks over at Blogcritics have picked my essay, "Reality Show Humiliation," as an editor's pick of the week! I blush in their general direction. Thanks! Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Bad Commercials

A quick roundup of some of the bad commercials currently airing:

Lee Iacocca and Snoop Dogg

What do you get when you pair an 80-year-old white guy with a popular rap star? Pure magic! Okay, no, you don't.

Chrysler's former chairman Lee Iacocca is starring in a series of commercials. One features Jason Alexander, another has Iacocca having breakfast with his "granddaughter" and yet another pairs Iacocca with Snoop Dogg.

You know, I don't really get Snoop Dogg. I don't know, maybe I'm just not hip to what the kids are into these days. I'm trying to imagine what Snoop and Iacocca were thinking when they first met. Which would be, "Who the hell is that guy?"

In the commercial, the two are golfing, with Snoop babbling on in his, I don't know you'd call it, Snoop talk, of which I understood not a single word. Iacocca echoes my sentiments in not understanding a word being said by Snoop. At the end of the commercial, Snoop puts his spin on Iacocca's signature line, "If you can find a better car, buy it" with "If the ride is more fly, you must buy."

Grade: D

Capital One David Spade "No" Campaign

With each viewing of the David Spade campaign I feel myself inching ever so closer to death, which would be a welcome relief from his horrible, horrible, horrible commercials.

Grade: F----

Citibank Identity Theft Campaign

Just horrible. You get 30 seconds of a horrible, horrible voiceover of someone who represents the identity theft thief babbling on about the things they stole, coming out of the mouth of a person of the opposite sex (to represent the victim, naturally). I hate each and every one of these ads with a passion.

Grade: F

What are some other choices for bad commercials?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Clapton Scolds Bo-Bo Twins: Shut up and Sing, or whatever

Walking dead legend Eric Clapton lashes out, in his mellow way, at mere-god, lesser talent Bono and try-and-spot-some-talent, Star Search washout Bob Geldof for being worse politicians than they are musicians.

Hear hear, Eric. I take back almost all of what I said about how snoozy your solo music has been the last couple decades. I draw the line, though, at giving up that song "Wonderful Tonight" as my own sure-fire insomnia cure. Zzzzz.

And the less said about the forgotten-before-it-ended, widely ignored, empty gesture Live 8 concert the better.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sitcom Ageism?

My family has a Saturday night ritual, where we tune in to Oregon Public Broadcasting to watch "Britcoms." The shows we watch are the wonderful As Time Goes By, starring Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer as a middle-age couple who rediscover each other 40 years after a romance they had in the 1950s; My Hero, a silly show starring Ardal O'Hanlon as the dim-witted super-hero Thermo Man; Keeping Up Appearances, with Patricia Routledge as the high-society seeking Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "bouquet") and her long-suffering husband Richard (Clive Swift); and finally, Last of The Summer Wine, about an aging group of friends and their misadventures (the show is the longest-running program on the BBC, debuting in 1973).

With the exception of My Hero, all of the shows feature casts of older actors, mainly in their 60s (and 70s on Last of The Summer Wine). These older characters are portrayed in a positive way, as real people and not the comic relief we see in American television. And it got me thinking, how many American sitcoms feature middle-aged actors? The Golden Girls comes to mind, but that's it. And I wonder, why is it that the BBC has no problems with using older actors, but American television shys away from it? Perhaps older characters aren't popular with American viewers, or at least with the target demographics.

Sure, some shows have older characters, but they are portrayed as either slightly crazy (Jerry Stiller on The King of Queens) or meddling (Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle of Everybody Loves Raymond)

It would certainly be a nice change if American sitcoms starred older actors and were portrayed as normal folks. Will that day ever come? Who knows. Until it does, I'll stick with my Saturday night Britcoms.

Monday, August 22, 2005

More on commercials...

My vote for the worst commercial. First The Surreal Life and now this for MC Hammer. I think you can say that any commercial involving an old hip-hop star would make the short list.

Dan Tobin has a great post on ads that involve re-making old rap songs at Surgical Strikes.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Some News and Other Stuff

I've signed on as a contributor to Blogcritics, a blog that covers just about every topic you can think of, from politics to the media and pop culture. I'll be writing about the media, mostly, but with a few political posts to liven things up. I'll still be writing for 40 Hours, and my other blog, so basically I'll have no free time for anything, including sleep.

In the world of advertising...has anyone seen the new ads for Quaker Oats? In them some children are dragging along in a wagon a plastic statue of the Quaker Oats guy, who looks suspiciously like another famous plastic pitch-man, the creepy Burger King. Apparently we have a new trend on our hands. God save us all.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Your First R-Rated Movie

It's your 17th birthday, and you go out to celebrate by seeing your first (legal) R-rated film. So...which was it? For me, it was that Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, Commando, in 1985.

Tell us about what film you saw in the comments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Worst Commercials

I'm stealing this from an article I read on MSN, so they get the credit, but my question is this: what is your vote for the worst television commercial? It can be a current campaign or an older one.

There's so many to choose from, but my vote is for the whole campaign featuring Lee Iacocca, the former chairman of Chrysler in the 1980s. There are a few in the series (Iacocca golfing with Snoop Dogg...yikes) but the most annoying one is where Iacocca is enjoying breakfast with a little girl (the ad claims it's Iacocca's granddaughter, but obviously an actress) while babbling on about Chrysler, and the little girl delivers the "if you can find a better car, buy it!" line in a really annoying voice that makes me want to throw my remote control at the television.

A runner-up is the whole stupid "No" campaign starring David Spade for Capital One credit cards.

What are your choices?

Big Brother 6: 9 Lives for James

If you tuned into Tuesday nights episode of Big Brother 6 then you witnessed one of the biggest back-stabbings in the history of the show. It was enough to make a reality nut like me giddy. Everything you could ask for in a good drama was all wrapped up in one pretty little episode.
The many lies of Jenny confound the Sovereign Alliance as the sanctimonious Friendship Alliance show their true grit, deceiving, debasing and welching on their word to nominate James for eviction. Instead, they place Kaysar on the block after Rachel wins the Power of Veto in a coaster-toss competition and saves herself.
So Kaysar cuts a deal with Jennifer to put her in the HOH room, and she puts his tail up on the block. You could tell by watching that James knew for sure that he was going up. When Jennifer announced that she was nominating Kaysar instead, the look on James face was priceless. James has won the veto 3 or 4 times and now that he was all set up to be given the pass through the back door, he convinces everyone that Kaysar is more of a threat.
Do you think James will vote to evict Kasar or Janelle? Who goes? Who would you like to see win HOH for the next round?

I am pulling for James to win HOH. The squirming and positioning would be hilarious

Cross-posted on The Blogfather

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Imitation: the Highest Form of Flattery?

Oh, to answer Matt's question about cable vs. Satellite I'd say...I dunno, I can't afford either. I'd go with whatever gives you the best options about digital-quality programming, especially when it comes to HDTV if you're thinking in that direction.

Back to business. Remember when there were no reality shows on television? I know, it's hard to think of a time where there wasn't, but if you go back to the early 1990s, the only reality show was The Real World. The first series. Back then they didn't know what a reality show was, so the end result was something very interesting and watchable. Of course, reality television has "evolved" to where we are now, with your basic reality show template used for just about every reality show.

Since almost every conceivable occupation has been covered, the producers of reality shows are going to have to get really creative in coming up with the Next Big Thing.

NBC thought lawyers would make for a good reality show, which brought us The Law Firm, a show that lasted only two episodes before being slummed off to the Bravo network.

Something tells me we're not going to be seeing a lot of lawyer shows in the near future.

This fall we'll get two versions of The Apprentice, one starring Donald Trump, the other Martha Stewart. Other networks attempted The Apprentice format without success (The Benefactor, The Rebel Billionaire, and the hilarious My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss). We'll get one series on Wednesday and the other on Thursday. Is NBC overdoing it? Perhaps, considering how the ratings for the third installment of The Apprentice (school smarts vs. book smarts, which began just a couple of weeks after series two ended) were lower than in previous series.

Fox is messing around with it's American Idol format with a show about...dancing. Not only have I not watched it, but I'm even too lazy to look up its name for this posting.

In the 1970s, when Stephen King was writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, he wrote a story called The Running Man (which was made into an almost-good '80s flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger). In Bachman's tale, reality game shows are all the rage, and the main character is participating in a show where he is on the run, followed by teams of bounty hunters out to kill him. Should he survive the 30 days on the run, he'll win a huge cash prize. And I wonder, is it realistic at all to think that in the coming decades, we'll have reality shows that actually feature the death of contestants? It may sound far-fetched...but who knows. It wouldn't surprise me at all.

Your opinion: Cable or Satellite?

My wife and I have decided that it is time to get cable. I have been pushing for this for a long time; however my better half has been reluctant. Due to the fact that the daily dose of Shrek, Shark Tales, The Wiggles, and Baby Einstein are getting very old. Compounded by the angst my wife has been experiencing over our lack of CourtTV, The Discovery Channel and TLC. I might finally win the debate.

I am currently in the process of comparing prices and services between Cox Cable and Dish Network Satellite. I would like to hear opinions on which would be better, and some advice on which channels I should make sure we get.

Thanks for the help!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I Need New Reality!

As I've mentioned numerous times here, I've decided to pursue a degree in political science. At the age of 36 (a month away from 37...sigh) it's a bit of a challenge. I'm getting my freshman and sophomore requirements away at the local community college, and then will transfer to Portland State University sometime before the age of 40.

And while I intend on continuing discussions of the media from a critical viewing point of view, there is one thing I'm a sucker for: a good reality show. I've mainly gotten my fix from Fox. In fact, for the last, I don't know, maybe five years I haven't tuned in to ABC or CBS. I'll watch NBC for The Apprentice (and sometimes the horrible Joey) but that's about it.

I've also mentioned that I had to get rid of standard cable TV in order to trim down the monthly expenses of my family. So, I'm stuck with basic, basic cable (broadcast channels, E! and The Discovery Channel is all I get). Which brings me to my question: am I missing out on any good reality shows? I'd love some suggestions, so if you have any, leave them in the comments. Thanks!

The Blog Fear Factor

Jim and Tanya Ryno are a married couple attempting to get selected as contestants for the show Fear Factor. They've created a blog to drive attention to their goal. I can't imagine actually wanting to be on the show, but Jim and Tanya are very determined. Check out their web site, Fear Factor's Million Dollar Couple, to learn more about them and perhaps send out an e-mail to Fear Factor to let the producers know you'd like to see the Rynos on Fear Factor. FYI, Tanya is a movie producer whose works include Coney Island Baby and is a producer of the incredibly funny Robert Smigel cartoons that appear on Saturday Night Live (including my favorite, The Amigiously Gay Duo).

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Thanks for having me

Greetings readers! Thanks, Scott. I have to admit I may not be able to compete with the likes of Scott and Billy when it comes to writing abilities. However, I am intrigued and challenged by the concept of this blog. The media has had a huge impact on me and the lives of those around me. Spanning from my two year old daughter and her fascination with Shrek, The Wiggles, and Barney to the current tidal wave of reality shows that have struck American television. The media is constantly affecting our lives like it or not. Some of my favorites you should look forward to hearing about are; Big Brother, Survivor, The OC, Hell’s Kitchen, and Everwood to name a few. I am looking forward to the discussions, and continued brain mushing.

Don't touch that dial…

Friday, August 12, 2005

Please Welcome Matt Wisner!

Matt Wisner from The Blogfather has joined the happy family here at 40 Hours of TV. Stay tuned for Matt's first post.

My goal for ver 2.0 of this blog is to expand our coverage of the media, and with three different points of view, things should be interesting.

Drop me a line if you have any suggestions on topics you'd like to see covered here.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Dying to Play That New Game

I don't know what it is about South Korean gamers, but for some reason they are really into their games...to the point of death. Literally, people have died after playing a video game for dozens of hours.

It's weird, because the deaths have occurred at Internet cafes, and you'd think management might get a little concerned that the same guy had been in the cafe for over two days (I take it the cafes are open 24/7) and only left his computer to use the bathroom and take quick naps (they allow gamers to sleep at the cafes?)

The latest death claimed the life of a 28-year-old gamer, playing in an Internet cafe in the city of Taegu.

An official of the Taegu police said the cause of death was probably heart failure stemming from exhaustion.

The man had quit his job to play computer games (including Starcraft, which is hugely popular in South Korea).

Actually, South Korea is a huge market for video games, with the online game Lineage having over four million subscribers in Asia alone.

But playing a game to the point that your heart gives out due to exhaustion? I don't think any game is that good. Well, maybe Everquest -- which I do NOT play any more due to its rather...addictive nature.

Are there any video games you'd play until you died?

Bow Down Before My Brilliance!

Remember when I posted on July 29th the following about NBC's The Law Firm:

I'm predicting this show will be cancelled within the next four weeks.

And I was right! NBC has cancelled The Law Firm after airing only two episodes. The unaired episodes will be broadcast on the Bravo network.

It just goes to show that while a few lawyers on a reality show is (barely) acceptable, an entire show featuring lawyers is akin to torture.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Term is Over

Summer term is coming to an end, and Wednesday will be my final day of Philosophy 197, the class I've based this blog on. And while class may be over, we'll continue to discuss the media at 40 Hours of Television. And in case anyone is wondering, I came pretty close to getting in my 40 hours of television required for the class. It's harder than it sounds! But, I'm happy to report, my brain did not turn to mush, as I expected it to.

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far, and I hope folks will check back in and continue the conversations.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Classic Crock: Part II

At the outset of the Shears relo-trek north, o those long months ago, we were mightily encouraged to chance upon, while dial-scanning in our Conestoga wagon, an FM station up here in Northeast PA (Here's a guide to the dialect.) broadcasting out of that media mecca, Pittston, PA. It sounded just what the rock doctor ordered for a sick-of-the-same-old-same-old fan. The Mountain 102 promised an open playlist format and crowed about their DJs as "musicologists", who'd add context to the music with details about the bands and rock history, etc.

Musicologist...that should have been a clue. For one man's mixologist is another's beer slinger, and one gal's hair dresser is another's cosmetologist.

By and large the DJs are tolerable, but for the one, the one who shall remain nameless, the one who always ALWAYS says at least one sentence too much. Usually this extra bit is what he considers the capper to his mini-lectures, but more often it adds just that extra layer of facile politics, cloying pedantry (as a my friend, the other Bill S, describes it) and/or empty-gesture anti-corporate rant. You know, somehow, that he knows that without corporations there'd be no radio, no cars or computers, no music business and no Johnnie Cougar Mellencamps; but somehow he forgot that we know he knew. That makes it worse.

Luckily he telegraphs these little unwanted lagniappes with a kind of whiney twist in his voice in the first few words of the sentence-too-much. If you're quick you can hit the Seek button before the actual -- usually wrong-headed -- opinionoid begins. For instance, while teasing a not-so-rarely played Jimi Hendrix cut, he took an offhand swipe at the music market in the sixties as it related to social change.

"Nnnnneeeyyyyyaaand don't think the reason Hendrix recorded this in England had nothing to do with civil rights."

Now first of all, this comment threw some light on the sham that is the station's open format. All the comments these DJs make are calculated, sure, but this one was obviously more-than-a-little measured. Because what he really wanted to say was "American racism" instead of civil rights. But someone who checks his copy, maybe even he himself, flagged it as too much of a hot-button word. It's one thing to pose as out-spoken, quite another to risk offending what few sponsors you have. So it would be "civil rights." Yes, Martin Luther King and Selma and Jim Hendrix not finding a US record company are all of a piece. Mm hm.

And Mr Musiclogist is conveniently not remembering back well enough. Hendrix was a questionable commercial commodity on many fronts. Race was a minor factor, if a factor at all. Did Motown Records record him? If not was that a civil rights issue?

But I digress.

Gradually, as with all things, the honeymoon with the station ended and I hardly listen anymore. Yes they go deeper into the albums and play some offbeat stuff, but all the patterns of commercial radio are there. They have their little features -- like the three-song block matching game worthy of pre-schoolers. And Saturday night has a show devoted to the patronizingly overindulged "blues" music. Come on. It DOES all sound the same, guys. And they'll sprinkle in songs by some local "homegrown" artists. Hey, dudes, the artists are local for a REE-zon. We definitely prefer Led Zeppelin's somewhat spicier "interpretations" of the blues, plus, they're decidedly world-class, i.e. not local.

Very occasionally I will check back in, especially when chased from other dial stops. The Mountain is now my fourth choice and I'm actively looking for something to knock it lower. Still get nervous when I do choose it. The risk of unnecessary Fleetwood Mac exposure is too great.

Then again, credit-where-due, on my most recent try the other morning, they played "Mandolin Wind" from Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story album. You never hear that anymore. And they have played the epic, near-literary, young-man-sets-out-into-the-world saga ("Down in Rome I wasn't gettin' me none...of the things that keep a young man alive.") title cut from that album, which also has the horrifically over-played "Maggie May." Then right after "Mandolin Wind" they played "Where to Now St Peter" from Tumbleweed Connection, song-for-song Elton John's best album, with Bernie Taupin at the height of his lyrical powers. That album gets, shamefully, nearly ZERO play on the more mainstream stations. Why?

But that dial-in I was as likely to hear Johnnie Cougar or Stevie Nicks. I would have immediately jumped, probably to Rock 107, the local "Home of Rock and Roll" standard Classic Crock format.

Or another possibility now is a jump to the local crooner station -- the existence of which indicates a profitable market niche of radio-listening pensioners here in coal country -- where Sinatra and Nat King Cole and the like hold forth. Yes, the former is overplayed and the latter under, but at least here you'll hear some actual musicianship in the big band swing that backs them all up.

Big band swing -- the heavy metal of its day -- will emerge in some future time, we predict, as the most enduring and the ethnically agnostic (and thus, unifying) of American art forms. It came back briefly a few years ago and will likely again. (Question: Are Gap commercials part of the culture, or merely reflective of it?) Also on WNAK, beaming to you from the media mecca of Nanticoke, PA, Saturday night is actually "JukeBox Saturday Night," a time- warp back to the '40s, when the media could really get behind a war against fascism.

But there is a downside to this too. Listening to this station there is the distinct hazard of hearing Barbra Streisand -- the most "overappreciated" talent of our time -- screech something at you. Or that skin cancer commercial they play is a sure dial-spinner. Streisand...skin cancer...two facets of the same cosmic phenomenon somehow.

Then again, though, stick with WNAK and you'll find it's the only station around where you'll hear Dinah Washington, a saintly and near forgotten talent who, if a comparison is possible at all, makes Streisand sound like a sick cat.

Every station has its traps. So just as the 40-50s classics stations fall into the Streisand trap, so too do the Classic Rock stations fall into the Mellencamp-Fleetwood Mac trap. This includes The Mountain. They may go deep into the albums, but they lose whatever credibility they may have built with us when they spray a Johnnie Cougar song.

It also may have to do with the loathsome and exploitive sex product commercials (including something that sounds like a paste, of which enough has already been said here.) I hit the buttons every time. I'm sure many others do too. But hey, they must be starved for sponsors.

Could be that but it's also as much that this station is as locked into the canned rebellion and social pretense, and -- subtler but no-less-annoying -- relentless self-promotion, as the more mainstream classic rock stations. Yet The Mountain acts otherwise.

What is the word that describes that, acting one way and being another? Deception? Give me skin cancer any day.

So you're tooling along in your Conestoga wagon and, bam, they play some trite and derivative Johnnie Cougar song. At times his theft goes down to the cadence level. Quick trivia: "I fight authority, authority always wins." and "I fought the law and the law won." Which came first?

Then we head over to WNAK, until, ooof, no not a Streisand strike this time, no. They play Rod Stewart rasping, actually rasping, "It Had to be You" from one of his recent, entirely unlistenable, albums of standards.

Rod "Shanghai Lil-never-used-the-pill" Stewart on the geezer crooner station. The circle is complete.

So over to 107 and then. boom, Eric Clapton's there, and he's singing "Cocaine." Zzzzzz. Could it be possible for someone to make a song about a powerful stimulant that was so BORING. Eric has managed it. But then, he's a legend. Living? Debatable, but a legend nonetheless.

And around and around we go.

So it's back to NAK for the swing, and the pure voices, and the musicians, and the artful arrangements and, like Night-Train Lane, back to pining for Dinah.

Salman Says

The man with the fatwah, Salman Rushdie, on the London bombings. If anyone should be heard, it's the author Islam doesn't want you to hear...permanently. Kudos to the Post for not selecting away from such as he. But then, Salman Rushdie submits an article. How could you live it down if word got out that you rejected it? "Er, no thanks, Salman.We'll pass on that one."

Friday, August 05, 2005

What Is Real?

When it comes to reality television, a question to ask is, "how real is it all?" Some would argue that there's nothing "real" about it at all, considering how shows have teams of story editors and producers who take the footage, craft a narrative, and even at times create the conflict between contestants.

The other point of view is that, even with the tricky editing and story editors, reality programs are as real as anything else in life, considering that real people are involved. After all, in life we "edit" ourselves by dressing or acting a certain way in public; most of us have a "public" face and a "private" face. Although at times I wish I had some story editors to make my life more compelling...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Slate's Dana Stevens watches...

...Al Gore's latest venture, Current TV, so you don't have to.

I'd provide a link to the Current web site, but the page has been stuck at this point...

...and is still loading over my sprightly DSL line for the last ten minutes. I'm not making this up. Maybe you'll have better luck. (We'll refrain from comments about the internet's self-proclaimed inventor. Too easy.)

Seems like someone might have told the designers of this doomed-from-conception project that to emulate MTV was a non-starter, since MTV doesn't even emulate MTV anymore.

Air America Cares

The radio scandal most of the press has managed to avert:

Nicely blogged by Brian Maloney...

And Michelle Malkin extrudes some interesting details regarding some well-known but oddly quiescent media hawgs.

Tip to Air America: Easiest way to avoid this kind of thing...get listeners.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Men Are Stupid

If you believe television advertising, or even television programs, you'd come away with the idea that men are really, really stupid. The hamburger chain Carl's Jr. has an ad campaign featuring stupid men who are really stumped with the complexities of making breakfast. On television (especially sitcoms), men are immature boobs who can barely handle a family.

NBC is playing up the male stereotype with a new reality show called Meet Mister Mom, where dads are left with their families for a week while mom is whisked away on a cruise. And, of course, men are so stupid they'd never puzzle out how to load a dishwasher or change a diaper.

Sure, some men are incompetent idiots, but then again, so are some women. Stupid people are everywhere. You've seen them. You probably work with some.

Will we ever see on television a positive portrayal of a father? There may be a few on TV now, but those are the exceptions.

We'll see if the reality genre adopts the stupid husband/father bit with other shows featuring "Mister Mom."