Tag: audience

Day 999: Buh-Bye, So Long and Hallelujah

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It’s a completely valid question.

For the past 50 or so days I have been fielding one question more often than most: what am I going to do for Day 1000? Will the final kilograph reflect upon the 999 that came before, like some extended clip show of my greatest guffaws and most aww-rending moments? Will I spend my final entry in closing-credits mode, thanking those who have made this all possible and put up with my considerable dearth of free time over the last 2 years and almost 9 months?

In short… no. While my original intent was to meander down that self-serving footpath for my final article, I decided that I would only do so if I could cite the Wikipedia page that had been created about me – as it turns out, that doesn’t exist yet.

In order to figure out my final missive, I felt I should turn to the moulder of my wisdom, the sage oracle who has helped to shape my morality, my perception, and even my understanding of the world: television. I have experienced the highs and lows of series finales – certainly at least one of them could illuminate the road to a poignant, entertaining, and (most of all) worthy coda to this monstrous undertaking.

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My first option is the beloved trope of bringing back a classic character for the finale. In my case I could introduce a surprise cameo by Yoko Ono, Craig David, Mary Nissenson, or if I really want to stretch to my roots, Phineas Gage. I could style the entire piece in a blend of haiku, musical theatre and secret code (did anyone ever figure that one out?). It sounds trite and cliché, but that’s always a place to start, isn’t it? Read more…

Day 908: It’s Hee-ere… This Article About Poltergeist

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Despite being physically nothing more than distortions of light and shadow on a few reels of tightly-wound celluloid, a movie can possess the power to frighten free the literal turds from viewers’ backsides. I was eleven or twelve when I first saw Poltergeist, and I remember clearly the electric squirms it blasted through my vertebrae.

I’ve since grown to find I’m more a fan of comedies, documentaries and films involving talking badgers than horror flicks, mostly because I find the tropes of the horror genre to be repetitive. Who dies, who lives – that’s the central question a typical slasher pic makes its audience ask, or in the case of the torture-porn subgenre (the Saw movies and their ilk), how grotesque can the human imagination become when there’s a multimillion-dollar budget at stake?

But some horror films are truly glorious in their ability to capture the human psyche and scare the ever-lovin’ bejeebus out of it. The Exorcist is one; The Ring is (for me) another. And I’ll drop Poltergeist into that column too, despite the fact that I can still only see the film through my eleven (or twelve)-year-old eyes. But there was a lot more to the weirdness of the movie than what we saw on the screen, which is why today it gets a kilograph of its own.

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For starters, we can’t even say for certain who directed this thing. Tobe Hooper (in the middle) gets the official credit, and if you ask him, he’ll swear it’s his picture. The guy had made his bones in the horror game, with the gore-fest Texas Chainsaw Massacre under his belt, as well as 1981’s The Funhouse. But if you compare the shot composition, the framing and the overall aesthetic of Poltergeist to those films, it just seems… different somehow. Read more…

Day 896: When Footy Gets Kooky

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Chances are, if you’ve even so much as sneezed in the same room as a computer connected to the internet this week, you’ve absorbed some snippet of World Cup fever. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world – more so than the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Full-Contact Bare-Knuckle Finger-Jousting Championships combined. And due to the current impressive girth of our pudgy modern internet, which is just right for streaming the games to every interested PC, tablet and phone, they’re predicting this to be the widest audience for anything, ever.

Soccer is the ultimate sport to bridge together the citizens of this floating rock, mostly because the rules are simple and you can make a workable ball out of trash and/or roadkill. It’d be hard for a poor rural village to fashion together functional sticks to play hockey, hoisted-up hoops to play basketball or crudely-crafted anabolic steroids to play baseball. Soccer (or “football” – I know, I know) is where it’s at.

Apart from the degenerate wuss-bags who perform acts of atrocious theatre in hopes of drawing a foul for the other team, soccer really is a great game. And even though I’ll be spending the next few weeks getting caught up on the new season of Orange Is The New Black, I might allow myself to sip just a little bit of the tournament’s excitement. After all, soccer can – in rare cases – get a little weird.

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In my neighborhood, local interest for the qualification round of the 1994 Caribbean Cup was pretty much nil. But for fans in Grenada, the January 27 game against Barbados was huge. Having lost to Puerto Rico already, Barbados would have to win by two points in order to advance to the final round and bump Grenada out. For a country perpetually mired in revolutions and/or hurricanes, this was a big deal. Read more…

Day 823: Trolling The Trough-Crusties – Worst TV Part 7

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Posting a list of bests and greatests opens the door to debate, dissent, and the occasional inter-cubicle pelting of office supplies. Posting a list of worsts never seems to stoke the same ire. I have offered a tankard of derision for the insipidly successful sitcom According To Jim throughout my 823-day journey and have yet to hear one person defend the show’s quality. I appreciate my audience’s congruity. Perhaps it’s a rare thing for someone’s “worst” to be another someone’s favorite.

Even the shows I can’t stand today – and I make no apologies to fans of Two And A Half Men or The Big Bang Theory – I would hardly consider them to be among the absolute worst fare in the medium’s history. Just as I’m certain those folks who abhor shows I enjoy, like The League or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, would likely not plunk them at the bottom of the proverbial barrel.

Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves just how low art can sink, which is why once every month or so I like to pick apart the worsts of things – most often television because she was my third parent and we still keep very much in touch. Just as we eventually grow to learn that our actual parents are flawed and imperfect, we must also acknowledge the defects in TV’s past, the moments we all wish she could take back.

And these are just the sitcoms.

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Concocting satire surrounding one of the worst genocides of the past century is a painfully delicate operation. The British nailed it in the 80’s with ‘Allo ‘Allo! and the Americans found a winner years earlier in Hogan’s Heroes. But check out this pitch for Heil Honey, I’m Home:

“It’s a parody of the cutesy family sitcoms of the 50’s and 60’s. We’ve got Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun living in an apartment building, and their next-door neighbors are… wait for it… Arny and Rosa Goldenstein, a Jewish couple! Oh, the hijinks! Oh, the hilarity!” Read more…

Day 772: Shock & Roll

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These days it seems that if a musical artist wishes to ‘shock’ their audience they either have to piss in a hotel mop bucket or declare themselves to be a genius whilst naming their offspring after a compass direction. Where are the ornithological decapitations? The pseudo-sanguine fluid cascading from a bass player’s chin stubble? How can it be that today’s demographic of millennial youth have tamer, less interesting incarnations of shock within their musical landscape? I know, on the fringes of fame that gaggle of Juggalos continues to stoke the presupposition that clowns are inherently scary. And misogyny is alive and well in what’s left of the world of gangsta rap.

But so what? My generation sang of big butts and their prodigious appreciators. Color Me Badd wanted to sex us up. And our rock stars didn’t put on makeup and dress like some clown school dropout who has made some bad choices. No, they went and got intimate with the ugly end of a shotgun. The makeup thing had already been done to death by the time I was a teenager.

Ever since the birth of rock there has been shock. Parents have turned a furrowed scowl at their children’s godless music, and enterprising musicians have sought to ingratiate themselves to the masses of youth by offering more godlessness and weirdness, even if it was just for show.

Godlessness sells, baby.

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That scary guy with the skull is the great Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. In the 1950’s, when the older generation was still scared of the seductive power of rock ‘n roll (and let’s face it, they were still scared of black people), Screamin’ Jay was the show kids probably shouldn’t have gone to with their parents. After his manically glorious 1956 song “I Put A Spell On You” became a hit, disc jockey Alan Freed paid Jay three hundred bucks to pop out of a coffin onstage. This gave Screamin’ Jay the inspiration to take it even further. Read more…

Day 771: On Tonight’s Show… History.

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Once the collective click of a few million TV sets shutting off had resonated throughout North America in the shadowy hours of February 9, 1964, the pentimento of American culture as it existed before that day was almost invisible. This is the news blurb that kids – and I include here many in my generation, those who played their opening number on this earthly stage some years after the 60’s had taken their bow – will gloss over and ignore. Precisely one half of a century has elapsed since the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Trying to rationalize the significance of this broadcast to my children is a fruitless endeavor. Even in my limited history, the only television “events” that embedded a rusty touchstone in our shared timeline were series finales (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld), sporting events or news stories. The first two would get us talking, but eventually they’d meander under the covers of the past. And while the scope of our world might have shifted after we all watched O.J. race through the arteries of Los Angeles in a Ford Bronco or after we saw the towers fall a few years later, television was merely the window through which we’d all observed a salient chapter in history. When the Beatles splashed down into 74 million pairs of eyeballs for the first time, it was culture announcing through its own mouthpiece that everything was about to change.

There had never been an equivalent in the world of popular music. And given the splintered state of our popular tastes and the three-block buffet of media options at our disposal, such a singular jarring of our culture is not likely to ever occur again.

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First of all, there is no parallel to Ed Sullivan today. Sullivan’s show was a weekly stage for performers to hurl their skills at a national audience in hopes the exposure will crank their success meter up to the next notch. You’d see plate-spinners and dog trainers, classically-trained actors and world-renowned singers. The late-night talk show circuit is the closest to an equivalent today, but Ed’s show was about showing off his guests, not interviewing them to hear pre-rehearsed stories about the time George Clooney pranked them in the studio commissary. Sunday nights were our culture’s window into the wider world. Read more…

Day 740: You Bring The Gags, Charley Will Bring The Laughs

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It was once so commonplace, so natural, so subconsciously integral to the very essence of comedy that we hardly noticed it. The laugh track came with the medium; it was swept in as part of the original package, like the wheels on the first car or the door on the first refrigerator. It was the oily black fingerprint of television comedy, first by tradition then by mandate. If you didn’t hear laughs, you weren’t meant to laugh. Bing Crosby’s team brought the technology to radio in the 40’s when they had to jazz up the flaccid responses to some flat jokes. It seeped into  the realm of TV with ease.

In the early 1990’s, the state of small-screen comedy began to transform, and with this came a subtle erosion of the dominance of the laugh track. Those shows with the broadest base appeal – by which I mean the ratings hogs that comedy connoisseurs and critics tend to loathe… yes, Two And A Half Men, I’m talking about you – still make use of laughter prompts. But for the most part, as an audience we’ve decided we don’t need them.

Good for us, not so much for the fleet of companies that made their mint by plopping requisite ha-has into prime time programming over the past half-century. Except there is no fleet. Most of the laughter beamed into our homes all those years ago came from the fingertips of one man.

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That’s Charley Douglass, who was a sound engineer in the nascent days of television at CBS. Back then, many comedies were broadcast live from the stage to the screen. Those that weren’t live were shot with a single camera, with scenes re-staged several times to capture different angles. Studio audiences were used, but they couldn’t be counted upon to deliver the chortles when the writers wanted them to, particularly on the third or fourth take. Charley came up with a process to ‘sweeten’ the laughter. It was brilliant and effective, and when Charley was ready to leave CBS in 1953, the network claimed it was their intellectual property. Read more…

Day 712: Big Bucks… No Whammy… Ever!

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As a child raised within the warm glowing bosom of television, coming down with a cold had its advantages. A day off meant I’d have access to those glorious programs with the flickering lights, sonorous bells and adrenaline-drenched, screaming contestants. The game shows. Sale of the Century. Card Sharks. The Price Is Right. It was an opportunity to drink in the enthusiasm of strangers winning fabulous prizes. I loved it.

There was no game show that better served the entertainment-starved eyes of a mid-80’s child than Press Your Luck. There was a board with bouncing lights and tempting prizes, players would yell at the fates with the passion of true desperation, and when bad luck would fall, an adorable cartoon creature would worm his way onto the screen and sweep away their money. The Whammy. The contestants hated him, but he was the reason I watched.

Then one day, someone beat the system. A man figured out the guts of the show and changed everything. Meet Michael Larson.

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Michael was, according to his own family, an odd man. He drove an ice cream truck in Lebanon, Ohio for at least ten summers, and worked as an air conditioning mechanic for the rest of the year. He had a common-law wife and three kids, but more importantly, he possessed an entrenched belief that he was savvy enough to earn a heap of cash, ideally through legally grey means. When a bank would offer $500 to each new customer, Michael would open an account, take the money, then close the account. He’d then open another under a different name. Michael was the kind of guy who liked to exploit the flaws in the world around him. Read more…

Day 461: Friday Night Lights-Out

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Are you planning on watching TV tonight?

Sorry, that was a rather personal and forward question, but I assure you, I’m only trying to survey the bleak and unloved landscape of a network TV Friday night. Purely for scientific reasons. You see, network executives have held Friday night with a degree of disdain for years. For the past three decades it has either been a deathtrap where shows were sent to die against unbeatable competition, or else it has been a vacuum. Viewers either don’t stay at home on Fridays, or else they use that night to get caught up on pay-per-view movies or PVR’ed programs they’d missed.

Hence the term Friday Night Death Slot.

For reasons that will soon become obvious, most images that turn up on a Google search for this term feature the show Fringe.

For reasons that will soon become obvious, most images that turn up on a Google search for this term feature the show Fringe.

The history of this phenomenon dates back to the 1960’s. When Star Trek failed to perform well in the ratings, NBC could have cut off its head and slapped something new in its place. But the network had begun looking at demographic profiles a few years earlier, and they knew the young crowd – the ones with the disposable income that advertisers love – dug the show. Then, in one of many acts of idiocy in NBC’s long and textured history, they moved the show to Friday nights for season two. Read more…

Day 353: The Contest

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Fans of the show Seinfeld are the perfect demographic to mesh up with fans of my site. Both are really about nothing, and both (hopefully) leave their viewers with some little bit of meaninglessness they can carry through the day. For Seinfeld viewers, it might be a new term, like “low-talker” or “mimbo”. For my readers, it might be the knowledge that a book with 24 gas station photos could be worth $35,000, or that causation law could be applied to Sharktopus attacks.

And while only the true fans of Seinfeld will know each episode by name (almost all of them are named “The (something)”, everyone who watched the show during its original 1989-1998 run will remember “The Contest.”

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In November of 1992, the landscape of television was very different. Seven of the top ten shows were sitcoms, all of them three-camera style, with a live studio audience that had been beefed up for our enjoyment with a thick laugh track. Seinfeld wasn’t even in the top 20. Sex was common fodder for subject matter, particularly when it came to Sam Malone on Cheers or that skanky character from Designing Women (I want to say… all of them?), but it had to be handled delicately in order to sneak past the censors. There was no AMC, nothing worth raving about on Showtime, and HBO had just begun to demonstrate how much more daring and innovative a standard-format show could be on cable six months earlier with The Larry Sanders Show. Read more…