Archive for the ‘Television’ Category
I was just getting a little more comfortable, now that Michael Jackson Media Madness is (for the moment) stabilized.
Then three things happened.
Last week, Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984. The news hooks for the video being shown continuously are that this is newly uncovered footage, and that the pain killers he used during his recovery started him on the road to addiction that led to his death.
Yesterday, Howard Kurtz of CNN’s Reliable Sources had Nightline’s Terry Moran as a guest. Kurtz asked Moran why Nightline had opened with Michael Jackson stories on 13 of 15 shows during the past few weeks. Kurtz wondered if the story could possibly be the most important on all of those nights. Moran hedged a little, then admitted that the most important stories are the ones that viewers think are the most important stories. Kurtz stopped pushing the point, and I’m still pondering.
Also yesterday, Don Henley’s song Dirty Laundry came on the radio. Not great art, but it is a good example of pop music as social commentary. No doubt informed by the Eagles’ years in the spotlight, the song sure seems to fit some of the Michael Jackson coverage:
I make my living off the Evening News
Just give me something–something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry…
We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde
Who comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash
With a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry…
Dirty little secrets
Dirty little lies
We got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie
We love to cut you down to size
We love dirty laundry
Now here’s the interesting connection: When I went looking for those lyrics, I discovered that Lisa Marie Presley covered Dirty Laundry on her second album in 2005. It was the first single released from the album. If anyone knows something about media airing dirty laundry—particularly the posthumous kind—there are few others I can think of who are better qualified.
I know I sound like a broken record (that’s one of those black plastic discs, oh, never mind, you had to be there), but I continue to support the vitality of print media.
So does the New York Times. But as I noted before, the appearance of the New York Times on The Daily Show didn’t do the Times any favors. Especially baffling was the interview with Times Assistant Managing Editor Rick Berke. I thought Executive Editor Bill Keller was realistic and thoughtful, but he apparently didn’t like his own performance, as he says in this week’s Time magazine 10 Questions feature:
You recently appeared as part of a Daily Show segment that treated the paper as a comical anachronism. How do you respond to those who seem eager for newspapers to die out?
Tommy Giglio, CHICAGO
Bill Keller: Well, that’s the last time I try to be a good sport. Even my wife told me that I looked faintly ridiculous, and she was trying to make me feel better. Among the people who would miss us most would be the wise-guy pundits and scriptwriters for satirical TV shows, because they riff on the news we produce.
That’s an okay point about riffing on traditionally gathered news, but good satire doesn’t necessarily mean cheap shots. In this case, they pointed out—and the New York Times agreed—that the news in the print paper is at best yesterday’s news. That’s just a fact.
What struck me as ironic about Bill Keller’s appearance on the 10 Questions page is that the questions from Time readers were collected online, and the page also recommends “To watch a video interview with Bill Keller and to subscribe to the 10 Questions podcast on iTunes, go to time.com/10questions.” But what’s really weird is the graphic that depicts Bill Keller in a Polaroid photo, which unlike struggling but still kicking print media is an actual extinct medium.
A newspaper, Web, video, podcast and iTunes page in a magazine, with a Polaroid twist. That’s what I call synergy.
Yesterday, cable television’s Sci Fi Channel officially changed its name to Syfy.
Skipping the first three questions of the Syfy FAQs (including why?), here’s the answer to the most important one:
4. How do you pronounce Syfy?
No change there. It’s pronounced just like “sci-fi” is.
This move was announced months ago, but the appearance of the new logo on-screen was the first many people had heard about it. There have been lots of comments, including intelligent analysis of the business aspects and merits of this rebranding. There are also plenty of more direct comments, many of them from viewers who frequently used the word “stupid” and the like.
I can talk about rebranding too, but it’s much more fun to take a ride in the Wayback machine and look at coverage of the original announcement back in March. There was a TV Week piece that began
Sci Fi Channel Aims to Shed Geeky Image With New Name
‘Syfy’ Will Announce Name Change, Other Plans at Upfront
By Jon Lafayette
In some universe, the name “Syfy” is less geeky than the name “Sci Fi.” Dave Howe, president of the Sci Fi Channel, is betting it’s this one.
To that end, the 16-year-old network—owned by NBC Universal—plans to announce that Syfy is its new name March 16 at its upfront presentation to advertisers in New York.
Skipping the media and demographic discussions, there is this nugget about the creative rebranding process
The network worked with the branding consultancy Landor Associates and went through about 300 possibilities before selecting Syfy.
The renaming process does generate lots of possibilities, from the pedestrian to the truly bizarre and unusable. But of all the things I’ve read from the time of the announcement, of all the things that appear today and down the road, nothing makes me more curious than that.
There were about 300 other possible names for the Sci Fi Channel. This may count as an LFAQ (least frequently asked question), but here goes: What were those 300 names other than Syfy?
No doubt, inquiring minds and Sci Fi (Syfy) viewers want to know.
I’ve explained before that there is a certain American Idol “enthusiasm” in my world that, as predicted, has not completely waned with the end of the season.
For non-Idol folks, yesterday was a watershed day. It was the first of fifty concerts by the Idol finalists, this one in Portland.
I get almost all my Idol news second-hand, with very few stops at what I take to be thousands of Idol Web sites, blogs and other media options. But the Idol concerts are such a big thing that I couldn’t resist a truly unique opportunity. Here’s how it works:
One of the best-known Idol sites is Rickey.org, which has had over 22 million visitors since April 2004:
Rickey.org is the essential American Idol and Reality TV fansite — and also the official website of Rickey Yaneza.
What I now know is that among its many resources, Rickey.org features Rickey on live video talking about Idol. But yesterday was more special than that. Rickey arranged with a friend in Portland to broadcast audio of the first concert live from her cell phone. Unfortunately, the cellcast did not include video, though there were people their chatting about what they witnessed, along with photos via Twitter. Rickey also filled in the visuals by commenting, mugging and dancing in his video box.
Around 3,000 people showed up for this cellcast. You might imagine that the audio originating from a cell phone in the audience and mediated by all the stops along the way to our computer might sound pretty bad, but it was worse. Some of us know what these performers sound like, and are familiar with the songs, so we can fill in some of the noise and the blanks. But really, it was almost painful to listen to.
My insight was this. It is the 21st century, which I grew up thinking was going to be super-slick in media and in general. In some ways, this experience did employ some pretty amazing tools along the way. But in total, all these cool tools were being strung together ad hoc in a bizarre chain to produce something that sounded worse than the wax cylinder of Thomas Edison reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb.
This is not the 21st century I signed up for.
If you happen to live in an American Idol household, resistance is futile. In the past few weeks, unrelated conversations slid stealthily into deep and extended talk about Adam, Kris, Danny, whoever, along with speculation about voting, judges, telephone technology, and just about anything else that might be loosely relevant. The days of the week were defined by the show: Monday the day before competition, Tuesday the day of competition, Wednesday the day for results, Thursday the day to talk about results and start speculating about next week.
The point is not that I was uninvolved. I watched, I was interested, though I stopped short of being invested. When asked to vote by my beloved, I voted. While I think that Idol should operate on the American principle of one person, one vote, that isn’t the way it is, so I made multiple calls, nearly injuring my thumb in the process.
I long ago realized that American Idol is not primarily a contest. It is a contest, and depending on whether it is supposed to be a singing competition, or a performing competition (singing plus stage presence), or a star competition (singing plus stage presence plus star quality), it is a competition among talented people, some more (some a lot more) talented than others.
But it is not primarily a contest. It is primarily, maybe almost solely, a commercial entertainment enterprise, with a contest in the middle, like the Tootsie Roll in the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. Admitted or not, there are certainly factors that are manipulated (which is not a bad word and does not imply illegitimacy) to maximize the audience and optimize commercial impact. There are storylines to be pushed, rivalries or friendships to be established, strategic judging comments to be made, etc.
As I considered this sort of manipulation, in the very last week of American Idol I realized where I had seen this before.
I grew up a big fan of professional wrestling. In junior high school, my friends and I all had our own set of pro wrestling heroes and villains. We followed sports like baseball, too, where we also had our favorites. We weren’t stupid. We knew the difference. We knew that baseball players were athletes competing in a difficult sport, trying to perform well and succeed. We knew that pro wrestlers were athletes also competing in a difficult sport, with the one exception that the outcomes were set.
This didn’t bother me or my friends. We recognized that what these wrestlers did in the ring was difficult and artful (we learned this the hard way by trying to imitate some of the trickier holds and moves). It was fun to watch, not just for the results, but for the entertainment. Those who study professional wrestling (yes, there are such people) refer to it as a “simulated sport” or “athletic performing art.” These were real athletes, and they were performing, and we loved it.
Looked at from that angle, American Idol could seen as the same type of competition. Just as professional wrestlers are genuine athletes, Idol contestants are genuine singers and performers. There is no suggestion that American Idol has a set outcome. But there are enough factors that might keep the most talented performers from necessarily winning the contest. Who cares? If it is like professional wrestling, maybe the best thing for fans to do is support your favorites, enjoy the entertainment, and argue about the results, knowing that it doesn’t really matter. My friends and I learned that in junior high school, and it never once took away from our fun.
It started out plainly and sensibly. News channels such as CNN had Web sites, and it made sense to have an integrated presence by pushing viewers to those sites. It made sense to ask viewers to send in comments and questions by e-mail. It even made sense for on-air personalities to maintain blogs.
But a while ago, there were unsettling signs. The first one that caught my attention was when CNN began showing other Web sites on their news shows. At that point I began shouting at Wolf Blitzer (shouting because I knew he couldn’t hear me): I have a computer, I have an Internet connection, I have a Web browser, and I am not alone in this. If we want to see what’s being covered online, we would go online, and we wouldn’t be watching you,
Then came the social media explosion. Rick Sanchez is the current king of this. While Rick is on the air, you can e-mail him, you can Facebook him, you can MySpace him, you can Twitter him. And yes, Rick will actually be showing us your tweets. That’s right. One of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated news organizations will be using those powerful assets to show us 140 character messages from completely unknown senders—messages that I could easily retrieve on my own computer or cell phone.
If the world was perfect, and we were already getting all the important reporting and information we could use, I guess that filling valuable time by showing people’s Twitter tweets wouldn’t be so bad. But in the event the world was still in trouble, and that we might expect more from professional news empires, this is nothing but strange and disheartening.