Tag: Ratings

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 935: Ah Yes, But Is There Any Evidence Of Semen?

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You can have your John McClanes, your Alex Murphys, your Jimmy McNultys. When it comes to picking out the Hollywood super-cops, we shouldn’t look any further than network television’s procedural potentate: the CSI family of formulaic programming. On the CSI shows, the stars are scientific swamis, investigative prodigies, precocious and apt interrogators, and almost inevitably the gun-bearing heroes who take down the guilty party, usually within 44 minutes.

Unsurprisingly, in the 14 years since Gil Grissom first suited up and embedded CBS’s flag atop the summit of Mount Nielsen Demographic Age 34-55, enrollment in college forensic courses has exploded, while the public’s perceived understanding of crime scene minutiae has ballooned. That’s perceived understanding – if one bases one’s knowledge on what Horatio Caine says or does right before he takes off his sunglasses and elicits Roger Daltrey’s unrestrained shriek, then one is most assuredly not a forensic specialist.

Experts in the fields of law, law enforcement and science call this the CSI Effect, and the reverberations of its repercussions can tingle the spines of professionals all across the justice spectrum. We know more, we expect more, and we understand more, but all stemming from the basis of fiction. If that doesn’t scare you just a little, then you simply aren’t trying hard enough.

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CSI was not the first dramatization of the justice system to throttle public perception into a bewildered shimmy. Jurors who regularly feasted upon the antics of Perry Mason between 1957 and 1966 often awaited the dramatic confession on the stand; one juror actually admitted to a defense attorney that his jury had voted ‘guilty’ because the prosecution’s key witness hadn’t erupted in a tearful admission of wrong-doing. 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 764: Happy Super Day!

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As you may have noticed by the disturbing lack of available Doritos at your local corner store, today is among the most revered and holy days in western culture. No, not the groundhog thing – around here that’s just a joke anyway. I live in a town where six more weeks of winter after February 2nd is actually a shorter sentence than we’re used to. No, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, the day when western culture grinds to a 3.5-hour halt in front of its TV.

But not everyone is a football fan. I get that. I live in a country where the blood is only as red as the centre line and our footsteps echo with the clatter of pucks against a garage door. American football fans here are more scarce. I grew up with a father who poured a heaping bowl of football into my Sundays every fall and winter, and I’ve found a distinct advantage to being an NFL fan in Canada: I have no geographical obligations, team-wise. I can cheer for the Denver Broncos because Peyton Manning is a blast to watch, but I can also get excited when the Seattle Seahawks show off a cartilage-crumbling defense.

So I’m a fan of 31 out of 32 teams (I still can’t bring myself to like the Patriots – they’re just so damn smarmy). Today’s game will feature the two teams who most deserve to be there, and I’ll be riveted to the screen – Big Rock beer in hand and home-made chili tickling my palate. And since I won’t be slapping a kilograph onto my creative grill every day next year at this time, I will take this last topical opportunity to write a little something about the big game.

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On the left is former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, presenting the sacred world championship trophy to Green Bay Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi after his team had won the first Super Bowl in 1967. Four years later, once the upstart American Football League had sewn its hem permanently to the NFL and the Super Bowl had officially acquired its name, the trophy was posthumously named in Lombardi’s honor. Unlike the Stanley Cup, which is perhaps the most sacred single trophy in professional sports, a new Lombardi trophy is minted every year for the winning team. Read more…

Day 757: Best Care Anywhere – 23 Things I Didn’t Know About M*A*S*H

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Up until the recent spate of Platinum-Age television brilliance forced me to redefine the parameters of small-screen excellence, I had always placed M*A*S*H upon a mighty khaki pedestal. The show wasn’t perfect, but it blended riotous comedy with deeply human drama and did so often within the same scene. As recently as last week I found myself reminiscing with someone about the most unforgettable episodes – “Point of View”, “Dreams”, “The Interview” – and I realized I have yet to pen a piece in tribute to this eleven-season masterpiece.

Hell, I’ve already written about Golden Girls; how have I not written about this show yet? I’m going with the ‘things I didn’t know’ format, since there’s simply too much interesting trivia to cram into a proper narrative kilograph. Also, I’ve got an extremely tight deadline.

Some of these I did know before today, but I learned them after the show’s initial run (which wrapped up when I was 8 – thank goodness for syndication).

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–       The TV show was based on MASH, an elegantly twisted 1970 film by Robert Altman. The film was based on MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, which was written by Richard Hooker.

–       Richard Hooker doesn’t exist. He’s an amalgam of writer W.C. Heinz and former US Army doctor H. Richard Hornberger, who served as a military surgeon in the 8055 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

–       Many of the stories in the first few seasons of the show were based on actual tales from former army doctors. Hornberger’s quarters in Korea were actually nicknamed ‘The Swamp.’ 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 699: Fumbling The F**ked Up – Worst TV Part 6

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My American readers are no doubt burping through the last of their tryptophan intake from last night, or else slipping on their spiked cleats so they can better trample over their fellow Walmart shoppers in search of the Greatest Deal Ever. My Canadian readers are scowling in their cubicles, wondering why none of our holidays merit a four-day weekend. Either way, it’s a good day to talk about sports.

The NBA and NHL seasons are in full swing, and teams in the National Football League are prepping for the frantic shoving match that will lead twelve teams to the playoffs at the end of next month. NASCAR racers are tuning up their rides and practicing turning left for next year’s season, while baseball players are the fortunate spectators. There’s college sports, an upcoming Olympics and probably something going on in the fencing world. Those fencing bastards are always doing something.

Of course, you won’t see fencing on TV – even during the Olympics you have to be lucky to find a match amongst all the basketball, swimming and beach volleyball on NBC. But what interests me today are not the sports we’ll be gazing vacantly at this weekend, but the atrocities in televised sport that have befallen our culture in the past. I’ll start with the most offensive.

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Hockey has always been the neglected child in American televised sport. Practically a religion in Canada, it has taken years for the sport to spread its infectiousness into some of the warmer-climate markets in the U.S. The Fox Network, which in the mid-90s was dealing with its own struggles for legitimacy, picked up a contract to air a number of NHL games. After doing some market research (presumably among the unrepentantly insane), they sliced open the puck and stuck a circuit board inside. Now people could see the puck glow on TV, with CGI blue streaks appearing when the puck was passed, red for a mighty shot. Read more…

Day 651: When The Whole World’s Watching

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A couple Sundays ago, over the course of 75 minutes that some of us are still trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to wash out of our brains, Breaking Bad aired its series-concluding episode. 10.3 million people tuned in, scoring a 5.2 share – a phenomenal success, considering the previous season’s finale (the unforgettable Face Off episode that wrapped up the Walter White vs. Gus Fring conflict) only drew in 1.9 million viewers.

For those who spend a much more logical amount of time thinking about television than yours truly, that 5.2 share means that 5.2% of running televisions during that time-chunk were tuned into AMC’s broadcast. In 2013, that’s pretty impressive, especially for a cable series. When The Sopranos clocked out with a cut-to-black curtain in 2007 the numbers were only slightly better, with 11.9 million fans watching. Somehow they can tweak the numbers to account for PVR recordings, but of course the ratings-counters can’t keep track of illegal downloads, a very real player in how a lot of people catch up on their favorite shows. But still… 10.3 million? I feel like that number should be higher.

The fact is, we live in a world filled with gazillions of channels – undoubtedly it was hard for some viewers to turn away from 12-year-old reruns of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on the Game Show Network to catch some fresh drama. We’ll probably never hit the big numbers that have defined our most shared TV experiences again.

Sometimes you just can't beat some classic Regis.

Sometimes you just can’t beat some classic Regis.

Any list of the most watched shows around the world is bound to be suspicious. FIFA would have us believe that their World Cup broadcasts – inarguably the most beloved sporting event across the globe – bring in billions of viewers. But even they have admitted that some of their figures are exaggerated while others are an outright guess. Read more…

Day 588: 15 Minutes Of Fame… And Counting

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I have made no secret about the fact that the Kardashians, the most unredeemably useless potholes along the seedy boulevard of our popular culture, will never be the focus of an article here. They serve no purpose, except to draw ratings away from people who actually work for a living to produce television content aimed at something above the lowest common denominator of drek-slurping zombies.

Yet despite my inherent loathing, I am nonetheless fascinated – not by the sisters themselves, but by a culture that would allow such talentless cuntery to blossom into a royal-esque adulation. Radio personality and cultural philosopher Ralph Garman once pointed out that despite Kim Kardashian’s rise to fame via a sex-tape, she doesn’t even deserve the title of ‘porn actress’, because at least porn actresses actually work for their paychecks.

She’s a celebutard, a tragic deviation from our one-time unmitigated respect for actors, musicians and even politicians who have made a positive difference in the world. But neither Kim nor her vacuous sister of the small screen, Paris Hilton, can lay claim to being the first model of fame for fame’s sake.

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The term ‘celebutante’, a portmanteau of ‘celebrity’ and ‘debutante’ was first ascribed to Boston-area heiress Brenda Frazier. She was young and beautiful, and deviously clever enough to ensure that her photo was taken at every society function she attended. Gossip columnist Walter Winchell used to write about her, launching her into some weird orbit of fame that not even Brenda could have predicted. Along with the likes of Gloria Vanderbilt and Doris Duke, she became famous simply because she existed. Read more…

Day 552: Her?

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This is, of course, the day after the day when Americans join together, partisan strangleholds aside, and revel in their love for their country and mutual enthrallment at watching things explode in the sky. And why shouldn’t they? America is a pretty fantastic concept, and despite some sloppy execution it remains a veritable symbol for liberty and opportunity in the world. I’m proud to have cholesterol-rich American blood in my veins, descended as I am from a hearty New York Jew who settled in Canada not because he wanted to leave his homeland, but for the love of a woman.

But to love America – or specifically the freedom which America provides in writing to all her citizens – is to love the wastewater that flows along with it. While the Constitution allows citizens to speak up with dissent (all of which will be written down in the NSA’s little notebook, but hey – you can still do it!), it also lends a free voice to the irredeemable nutjobs who speak up for the most hate-filled and rotten human beings in the land.

Which brings me to Ann Coulter.

Surprise! Not a natural blonde.

Surprise! Not a natural blonde.

I don’t write about politics very often, and when I do I make every effort to be respectful of both sides, except when one side is so deeply steeped in crap I fear they might drown. In Ann’s case, there is no need for such a fear – she has shown an almost amphibious ability to remain submerged beneath her fecal rhetoric for most of her career. I’m sure she’ll be fine. Read more…