Monday, August 31, 2009

Reviewing TV shows I've happily watched in the 08-09 season

Covered so far in last Blog Post
Sit Down, Shut Up, Fox
Burn Notice, USA
Important Things with Demitri Martin, Comedy Central
30 Rock, NBC
The Root of All Evil, Comedy Central

Other TV shows I've very much enjoyed watching this past year:
The Office, NBC-The Office certainly raised the bar with the introduction of three new characters on the sidelines and one massive reinvention of the existing dynamic:
-The introduction of Holly. The very sight of a female with as cringeworthy sense of humor was positively shocking.
-The introduction of Charles, who is truly Toby-like in that he represents the exact opposite of everything Michael stands for only he actually has power. Charles didn't just add an odd element into the office which raised the humor. Charles was genuinely scary and created a feeling of suspense. In other words, The Office was no longer just a comedy but a drama. You could have added psuedo action film music whenver Charles and Michael were in a confrontation and it would have fit together decently
-The introduction of Kelly "Erin" Hannon brought a reinvention of the Pam-Jim scenario in the form of Andy & Dwight-Erin, only with far less competent people in the art of romance doing the wooing. Jim and Pam were getting old anyway. I like how the writers on the Office had the audacity to give two characters the same name (I had long been wondering what might happen if a sitcom would ever get two characters with the same name) and then use it as grounds for a joke.
And the reinvention: Michael, Ryan and Pam formed an unlikely trio and all got closer to each other through an episode arc that tore the very safe confines of the show's premise apart. Michael quitting was not just one of the biggest things to happen on the show but it was clearly one of the biggest things to happen in the lives of the characters and the gravity shown through.

It goes to show that the writers of the Office are truly talented because they can move past that intiial spark of lightning to infuse something now.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-FX

Big Bang Theory, CBS

My Name is Earl, NBC

Parks and Recreation-NBC-Parks and Recreation is an interesting show with potential and it's got some talented people in it. Rashida Jones serves as a great counterpoint to the zany characters in the Parks and Recreation department. Tom is an underdeveloped character who could be taken by Azziz Azziznari (don't have enough internet capacity to open up another window and see if I spelt that name right, sorry folks) in so many wonderful directions and having seen Audrey Plaza on the Jeannie Tate show (a web series), you can't wait to see how April's extreme brand will clash with Leslie's manic level of enthusiasm. On the dissapointing end, Amy Poehler has shown on her time with SNL that she can do dozens of characters well but Leslie Knopp isn't one of them. It's worth giving her a chance to develop it, but she's already defined her along such unbelievably buffoonis edges. Was Michael Scott really this bad in his first season at the Office? I'm tempted to say yes, so this is worth a chance too. The other problem with the show is there isn't much of a sense of place. An AV Club review of an episode of Glee noted that shows create a unique sense of place that we go back to week after week. This is highly ironic since Parks and Recreation is about local government, an organization who's existence and vitality is entirely tied to a sense of place. Yet, I know nothing about Pawnee, Indiana. Is it a charming small town? A medium-sized rust belt city? a suburb to something else? A growing yuppie community? The setting effectively serves as the star character in some films and especially TV shows (think futurama, northern exposure, e.r., dawson's creek, etc).

South Park, Comedy Central-This show is something where you take the good and the bad. It's crude and its producers still are stubborn about keeping unneccessary bathroom humor and cheap shots as their trademark even as the rest of their tastes and instincts have matured to points where they're the most effective satirists on TV.

Royal Pains, FX-The show stars TV sitcom regular Mark Feuerstein as Hank, a doctor who had his medical license revoked because he made a triage decision to save a kid against an adult. His brother talks him into taking a trip to the Hamptons and due to a strange paradox that causes medical emergencies to constantly occur in Hank's immediate vicinity (see the TV show Monk for another example of this), it doesn't take long for Hank to show off his mind-blowingly awesome medical skills when a girl at a happening Hamptons' party goes into cardillac arrest. Go Hank! Word gets out so fast about Hank's skills, that be weekend's end he is convinced by his shallow brother (Paolo Costanzo) and an aspiring medical practitioner (Indian actress Reshma Shelly) to open up his own business to cater to the rich clientelle as a "concierge doctor." The show reminds me of Las Vegas or many other shows I haven't seen in that it showcases a world of wealth and blong and we're supposed to be living a fantasy through the characters as they experience this glamorous world. I think Royal Pains doesn't fall into that trap because through the main character, the wealth and consumerism is saterized.

There are a million shows about doctors out there but this is the only one I really like watching. It's one of the few that even interested me enough to want to tune in in the first place and there was a lot to keep me going, once that happened. In the same way that something like Touched by an Angel and Joan of Arcadia serves as entertainment that reaffirms our faith in the world, there's something in Royal Pains that does that too in a very topical way. In the midst of this health care debate, Hank symbolizes what we all need: A doctor who is fully committed to doing good and is willing to put his career on the line for it. Hank is insistent on treating people whether they can pay for it or not despite the musings of his accountant brother who is concerned about the bottom line.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Craigslist is a societal evil

First off, do make an effort to click here if you're reading this so that I can get revenue. Thank you so much

I really don't know much about economics, but I've always been taught as a child that nothing in life is free.

I would have thought that as I grew up, I would see more evidence of this, but at the same time, the world has changed in what seem to me to be bizarre ways. Things that used to cost money are now free on the internet. On the one hand we can celebrate the democratizing nature of this, but we also have to note the consequences. So much of our economy has shifted to the service and knowledge sectors that we threaten to put a lot of people out of business with the internet.

If someone posts real-estate or birdwatching advice for free online, you're taking away money from someone who does that for a living. I'm not suggesting that the person who's not a professional isn't allowed to write on the side as a hobby, but I am suggesting that he should have to acept money for it.

It's like how you are legally required to charge money if you are holding a public screening of a movie (except for outdoor screenings) because that is a law that benefits the greater good. You can't show something for free that was made to make money.

In this case, let's look at craigslist: The founder of craigslist, Craig Newmark, envisions himself as a do-gooder of sorts. He doesn't want to make money and therefore doesn't look at maximizing profit. He says in Wired Magazine "My big mission is to help make grassroots democracy as much a part of our government as representative democracy." Wired choses to attack Newmark on the grounds that he's somewhat dictatorial in the way he controls craigslist, but I won't even go to the absurdity of that since his site doesn't do anything political.

Let's just go to the question: Is someone who decides not to try to make money off his site becaue of altruistic reasons, actually doing good?

I'd say no. He might be saving people who want to advertise for jobs or housing a small amount of money, but he's also putting a lot more people out of business. Ads for housing and jobs have been the bedrock of the newspaper industry. How much does Craig Newmark contribute to the economy? He employs only about 30 people. Try measuring that against the number of people that the newspaper industry employed or the value that they had to society as a necessary component of democracy (something that Newmark proclaimed he wanted to improve, ironically).

I am glad that Newmark charged a small fee for jobs, but he should charge a fee for housing as well. People would usually be willing to pay it.

Where do Olympic Track and Field Athletes come from? (by college)

A little while ago, I compiled this list when I was bored one day. These are athletes in the 2004 or 2008 Olympics by college. Athletes in the 2009 World Championships which have the same stringent qualification standards are in brackets:

Florida: Hazel Clark, Kerron Clement, Reggie Whitherspoon, Kenia Sinclair (JAM), Moise Joseph (HAI)
LSU: Isa Phillips (JAM), Muna Lee, Lolo Jones, Kelly Willie, John Moffit, Kelly Baptiste (TRI), Sherry Fletcher (GRN), Nickiesha Wilson (JAM), Alleyne Francique (GRN), Bennie Brazelle, Derrick Brew, [Xavier Carter]
Arkansas: Dan Lincoln, Allstair Craig (IRE), Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, LaShaunte Moore, Amy Yoder-Begley, Neisha Burnett-Thomas (JAM), Deena Kastor, Virginia Miller Johnston, Christin Wurth-Thomas, April Steiner Bennett, [Dorian Utley]
Auburn: Kerron Stewart (JAM), Leevon Sands (BAH), Marc Burns (TRI), Maurice Smith (JAM)
Alabama: Miguel Pate, Tim Broe
Mississippi: Brittney Reese
Tennessee: Tom Pappas, Deedee Trotter, Anthony Famiglietti, Leigh Smith, Gary Kikaya (COG), [Aries Merritt]
Georgia: Hayleas Fountain, Debbie Furgeson-McKenzie (BAH)
USouth Carolina: Otis Harris, LaShinda Deemus, Natasha Hastings, Terrence Tramell, LeRoy Dixon, Tiffany Ross-Williams, Rodney Martin, Amber Campbell,[Jonny Dutch]

Miami: Lauryn Williams, Ginou Etienne (HAI)
Florida State: Rafeeq Curry, Walter Dix, Dorian Scott (JAM), Tom Lancashire (GBR), Andy Lemoncello (GBR), Ricardo Chambers (JAM), Brian Dzinghai (ZIM), Barbara Parker (GBR), Ngoni Makusha (ZIM)
Georgia Tech: Angelo Carter, Chaunte Howard, Fatmatah Fufana (GIN)
Clemson: Itay Maghidi (ISR), Shawn Crawford, Ato Stephens (TRI), Crowin Mills
Duke: Shannon Rowbury, Jillian Shwartz
Wake Forest: Michael Bingham (GBR)
Va Tech: Queen Harrison
UNC: Shalene Flannagan, Erin Donahue, Monique Hennigan, Allen Johnson, Blake Russell, Alice Schmidt

Big East:
S. Florida: Damu Cherry
Georgetown: Jesse O’Connell
Villanova: Adrien Blincoe (NZL), Carrie Toffelson, Jenn Rhines
Providence: Martin Fagan, Kim Smith (NZL), [Dylan Wilkes (CAN)]
Notre Dame: Thomas Chamney, [Molly Hurdle]
Cincinatti: Mary Wineberg, David Payne

Brown: Anna Willard
Dartmouth: Brian McGovern (Triathlon), Adam Nelson

Other Schools in the East:
Arkansas St: Jeff Hartwig
Northeastern LA: Beaux Greer
Northwestern State University: Kenta Bell
E. Carolina: LaShawn Merritt
St. Augustine College: Bershawn Jackson, Anwar Moore
Hampton: James Carter
GMU: Richard Phillips (GMU), Maurice Wingall (GMU)
Howard: David Oliver
USMA: Dan Browne
E. Michigan: Jamie Nielson
Miami (Ohio): Dan Huling

Big 10:
Indiana: David Neville, Aarik Wilson
Purdue: Kara Patterson
Missourri: Christian Cantwell
Wisconsin: Matt Tegenkamp, Simon Bairu (CAN), [Evan Jager], [Chris Solinsky], [Tim Nelson]
Michigan: Nathan Brannen (CAN), Nick Willis (NZL), Alan Webb, Kevin Sullivan (CAN), Alan Courtney Babcock, Nicole Forrester, [Geena Gail]
Minnesota: Shani Marks
Michigan State: Paul Terek
Ohio State: Rob Gary

Big 12:
Colorado: Dathan Ritzenheim, Jorge Torres, Billy Nelson, Kara Goucher, Jennifer Barringer, Alan Culpepper, [Eduardo Torres]
Kansas St: Christian Smith
Kansas: Charlie Gruber
Nebraska: Dusty Jonas, Dimitris Milkjevics (LAT), Priscilla Lopes-Schlep (CAN), [Peter Van der Westerhuseen (SAF)]
Texas: Sanya Richards, Marshavet Hooker, Leonzel Manzano, Andra Manson, Michelle Carter, Trey Hardee
Texas A&M: [Jessica Beard], [Tyrone Edgar]
Baylor: Jeremy Wariner, Darold Williamson
Texas Tech: Johnothan Johnson: Johnothan Johnson
Missourri: Christian Cantwell

Conference USA/WAC/MWC:
Rice: [Pablo Solares (MEX)]
TCU: Stephen Coventry, Khavendis Robinson, Darvis Patton, Kim Collins (SNG)
University of Houston: Brendan Christian
UTEP: Chaundry Martina
BYU: Josh McAdams, [Kyle Perry]
Air Force: Dana Pounds

Other Schools in the West:
Oklahoma Baptist-[Michael Rogers]
N Arizona: Lopez Lomong, [Kyle Alcorn]
Weber State U: Lindsey Anderson
Western State-Elva Dryer
Cal-San Luis Obispo-Stephanie Brown Trafton
Cal St. Dominguez- [Carmelita Jeter]
Wilamette Valley- Nick Symmonds

Arizona: Abdi Abdiraham, Bob Kennedy
Arizona State: Dwight Johnson, Seth Amoo (GHN), Lewis Banda (ZIM), Trevell Quinley, [Kyle Alcorn]
USC: Jesse Williams, Torri Edwards, Felix Sanchez (DOM), Raphael Arsafo Argeyi (GBR), Eva Orban (HUN), Marvin Anderson (JAM), [Lionel Larry]
UCLA: Amy Acuff, Sheena Totsi, Suzy Powell-Ross, Meb Kefghlezi. Jessica Cosby, Dawn Harper, Monique Henderson, Yoo Kim (KOR), Rhonda Watkins (TRI), [Chelsea Johnston]
Cal-Berkley-Grace Upshaw, Magdenna Lewy Boullet, Marc Martin (CRO), Kristin Heaton, Travis Nutter
Stanford: Ian Dobson, Ryan Hall, Grant Robinson, Michael Robertson, Jillian Camarena, Erica McLain
Oregon: Andrew Wheating, Galen Rupp
Washington: Brad Walker, Arethra Thurmond, Christian Belz (SWZ), Shane Charles (GRN), [Ryan Brown]
Washington State: Bernard Lagat, Ian Waltz

Friday, August 21, 2009

With TV, you are not the customer and art is math

I love TV but the people who are running TV stations really annoy me.

A very high proportion of the shows that I like get canceled too early. Rather than being angry at what gets canceled too early, we can try to appreciate the fact that some shows lasted as long as they did. The fact that relative to other shows, Arrested Development, My Name is Earl, News Radio, Boston Public, 8 Simple Rules, Joan of Arcadia and Pushing Daisies lasted multiple seasons is great news to me. That shows like Aliens in America and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip got full season pickups is good as well. In absolute best-case scenarios, Family Guy and Futurama returning gives me hope for a better tomorrow (Futurama, in particular).

The problem is I have to look at the downside here. These shows get canceled too early. It's not something I think I can let slide until I realize that there's virtually nothing I can do, so I begrudgingly find new shows to get and just hope that they don't suffer the same fate.

Why do I feel so powerless? Is the same case as in the movies? No, it’s actually not.

In movies, the consumer pays directly for the content and the value of that content is measured very accurately. Studios and the Hollywood industry on the whole can very easily trace how many people are viewing the content through box office receipts.

In TV, they are beholden to advertisers who look at one thing only: ratings. Since the number of people watching the show is only affected through Nielsen ratings, there's nothing that I can do about it if I don't have a box. I feel powerless in that regard. At the same time, the advertisers miss a lot of things by only looking at ratings:
1) Cultural appeal/Name Recognition: Star Trek was cancelled after only three seasons but it became a cultural phenomenon and a recognizable name brand. After it became popular enough, Star Trek standed to benefit on merchandise sales, tickets to conventions, the potential for more movies. If you're show is well-known and loved by people and it's not showing in the ratings, there are other ways to make money off the show.
2) Syndication potential: My Name is Earl got cancelled just before the 100 episode mark. At two seasons, a show like Sports Night really has very little to offer in terms of syndication even though fans could grow to appreciate it. Syndications is where shows would make the most money and if the show is quality television, there is no reason for a network to pass up on the show's syndication potential and no reason for people not to watch it.
3) An enthusiastic fan base-Josh Wheedon's Firefly and Bryan Fuller's Pushing Daisies both were low in the ratings but had a group of hardcore fans who would follow the show enthusiastically. In the digital age and in Web 2.0, the ad revenue to be made off of online networking alone should have been significant enough for the network to realize the potential in connecting to that core fan base (especially in the latter case since Firefly predates Web 2.0). Instead, the networks alienated them by cancelling the show. Another good thing about an enthusiastic fan base is that they'll keep spreading the word about the show to others, so odds are the ratings will go up.
4) Critical Success-Arrested Development got cancelled even though it won the Emmy for best comedy. Movie studios are willing to go in the red on Oscar-winning films because it gives them more positive attention and helps give a boost to all their other shows. Why don't TV studios work the same way? I believe this is because everybody knows where NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox are on the dial so they don't need more attention. Upon closer examination, it seems like cable networks work hard to get their shows shows critical recognition and stick with them when they do so. Cable, in fact, is a better creative breeding ground these days.

Why doesn't it work for TV shows if it works for networks with the Oscars?

critical success, name recognition, fan base.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to save the Washington Post or any newspaper for that matter

I have been very interested in media and how to revive the dying industry of newspapers. I do believe newspapers have a tremendous amount to offer over the internet as I wrote here.

I've been reading a couple really good blogs that talk about the issue of how new media is disastrous for old media and such. The first is Andrew Keen who wrote the book Cult of the Amutuer. The second is by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who has a lot of good insight into technology.

Nonetheless, I keep reading a lot of articles about how much trouble the Washington Post is in. A lot of these articles are written by writers of the Washington Post themselves commenting on how much peril newspapers are in in their paid sections. People are being laid off multiple times every year and I read columns by editors saying "I'm sorry to go because I accepted the buyout package."

Here's how I recommend it be saved:
1. Don't fire columnists who have built a following. Consider those people insispensable when making layoffs. I liked the "Magazine Reader" for example and I'm not sure if there are other examples I can remember offhand of columnists I was familiar with accepting a buyout and leaving, but that's certainly big. In fact, have your columnists appear in public more (like the Post Hunt) so they can be more recognizable and be personalities that people are invested in (an example of this is Michael Wilbon from PTI)

2. Become non-profit and accept donations or just accept donations period. You've pleaded your case with your readers quite gallantly in the newspaper with this string of articles about how newspapers are dying. I think people are starting to get the point that at 75 cents an issue and pretty much all of it online for free, that the newspaper can't keep running as is and plenty of people are invested in saving it. If you haven't made the point, keep making the point more. Let the public know that if they like this institution they'll have to support it.

Or better yet....
3. Find things for them to pay for and remind them that your purchase helps keep the paper alive. Only allow online discussions for subscribers and if they're not subscribing, charge for them: ESPN the magazine does it and it works. Just as people will pay for concerts because they wish to see and interact with artists, do the same thing. Charge an admission fee for the Post Race. Charge to get a file out of the archives. There are plenty of newspapers like the Virginian-Pilot in Eastern Virginia have done this. Economic incentive plus a little bit of the feeling that you're making that purchase for altruistic reasons is a good combo.

4. Be unapologetic when you are making money. A dinner recently got cancelled that would have connected lobbyists to power players in Washington. I might be naive (and this is something I will admit, I'm entirely uneducated on and wouldn't mind being corrected on if I'm wrong) but as far as unethical things go, that wasn't so bad. I think that your critics just have to realize you're on life support.

5. Lobby for stimulus money. Newspapers are one of THE most-troubled and necessary industries today and if cars and banks can get the stimulus money, why can't you?

In my view...

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Hangover and two other films reviewed

The Hangover stars 4 B-listers, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha. What an interesting cast: Ed Helms is a former Daily Show star and something like the 5th or 6th most popular character on the Office; Justin Bartha is best known as Nicholas Cage's sidekick in the National Treasure films; Brad Cooper was a member of New York's prestigious actor's studio (think James Lipton) who went on to star as the villanous boyfriend in Wedding Crashers; Zach Galifianakis is known so much more for his stand-up then his acting career that it almost seems like him being in this movie is cross-promotional for his latest comedy tour.

This didn't affect whether I saw the film or not, but without a big name star, the general public is less likely to see this film. However, they did see the film in large droves because it was really good, and therefore, all four actors now will have bigger careers.

Sorry, I'm not giving much a review, but in a nutshell:
The movie is about four friends who go to Vegas for a wild weekend before one of them gets married. They wake up after a really crazy night of partying in a lot of trouble and their friend missing. The plot sounds like something that's been done before but the way surprises come out of left field and hit you before you saw them coming is what makes the film a really fun and unique experience. The movie is entirely solid with very few bad or off-color jokes, which is surprising considering it goes to places that are so ripe for such things to happen.

Here are two other movie reviews: