Wednesday, February 27, 2008

NBC’s Today Show: My Love Hate Relationship

I admit that at 7:00 in the morning, I turn on The Today Show. It is partly out of habit, partly out of boredom, and partly for an update on the national news. For the most part, I like the show and the hosts. They seem to have great chemistry and appear to enjoy working with each other.

But, there are a lot of things that annoy me about The Today Show. Maybe it’s because I do watch it so often that it seems that they’ve gotten complacent and seem to be going through the motions. It’s almost as if they could have robotic hosts doing the job just as well.

Here are a few examples of what’s wrong with The Today Show:

1. The constant “good mornings.” I’ve never counted how many times they say good morning to each other but it seems like it never stops. For example, Matt Lauer says “good morning” to Meredith, Meredith says “good morning” to Matt, they move to the news desk and say “good morning” to Ann Curry, she says “good morning to you,” then move to Al Roker where the "good mornings" abound. This continues with every guest or reporter that they introduce. By the time the first 20 minutes is over, it seems like one can hear “good morning” a hundred times.

2. While I generally like Meredith Vieira, she doesn’t seem to be a skilled interviewer nor does she have a good sense of her cues as to how much time she has remaining. There have been times she has to cut a person being interviewed very short, because she apparently lost track of time and spent too much time just asking the question that no time was left for an answer. She also sometimes talks right over the person’s answer.

3. Does the show really need a laugh track? I’m talking about The Today Show laugher, the guy who is behind the camera and is compelled to interject his loud “heh-heh-heh” anytime someone on the show does something funny. Newsflash to this guy: the show does not exist to entertain YOU. We know what is funny and when to laugh. Please be quiet!

4. Some of the people they bring on to interview are bad choices. There is nothing worse than bringing on some person who has just faced some horrible tragedy, and then ask a loaded question like “How did that make you feel when your house and all your belongings were completely obliterated by the tornado, in addition to you losing your spouse and your dog?” Or worse yet, they ask a question of someone who can only give a yes or no answer, or the flip side, someone who gives an overly lengthy answer. While that may be the downside of live TV, it may indicate that it’s time to pre-record some of these interviews to either filter out the junk or at least help the possibly inexperienced person not come off like an idiot.

5. Can anyone think of another word for “yes” that isn’t “absolutely?” It’s the same problem as the repetitive good mornings – using the word “absolutely” instead of just saying “yes.” Sadly, this happens the most with their repeat guests like the every annoying and ubiquitous Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

6. As the show goes on, they must think that the IQ level of the viewer drops, because the show digresses further and further into more shallow topics. By the fourth hour – which by the way I’ve only watched a few times for short periods, they get into things like makeovers and fashion. It’s boring.

7. The show sometimes is just a showcase for their own network – or their “sister” networks’ – shows. It is like I am watching an endless NBC infomercial, with them pushing their "stars" from other shows and networks. Example: how many times must we have CNBC’s Erin Burnett shoved down our throats?

8. Let’s not forget the repeated “This is Today on NBC” tag line, which alerts the affiliates a break is coming. Now really, in this technological day and age, do they really need a verbal cue?

I could probably continue to rant on what I don’t like about the Today Show, but since I’m listening to them now as I write this, I find it’s only making me doubly annoyed.

By the way, one may wonder why I still watch it if it annoys me so much. Truth is, I find myself watching it less and less. For days where there is big news brewing, I may leave it on until 8:15-8:30 before I just turn off the television. After all, I think NBC does have some of the best news coverage in the business and the Today Show can pull from that pool. But, if there isn’t much going on and their guest line up looks bleak I will probably turn it off much sooner.

Still, the Today Show is better than the other networks morning shows. I’m just not sure if that’s still a compliment.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

The Oscars – Snore

Hear that loud snoring sound? It’s coming from everybody that isn’t interested in the Academy Awards, being put to sleep at the mere thought of watching the show. I know that Hollywood breathed a collective sigh of relief when the writer’s strike was over because it meant that the Oscars could go on. Me? I could care less.

There hasn’t been a decent Oscar telecast in years. In fact, there haven’t been many – if any – decent MOVIES in years. It seems that weekly we are inundated with superficial horror films, corny animated movies, shallow romantic comedies, and comedies written for the teenage mentality. Even the period pieces like “Elizabeth, the Golden Age” were long on costumes and short on interest.

But, I could put all that behind me and watch the Oscar telecast if I knew that they would deliver a show that is witty, fast paced, interesting, and finishes on time. I suspect, based on past history, that none of that would happen.

So for me, I will pass on another bloated, boring awards show. I’m confident that I will find something on television that will be a better investment of my time. You know, something like an informercial?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Amsterdam: Worth a Look

There is a new series premiering on Fox on March 4 called “New Amsterdam, “ and it sounds intriguing.

The show is about a New York homicide detective who is immortal. At least, he can’t die until he meets his one true love. OK, maybe it sounds a little corny, but bear with me.

The story really begins in 1642, when John Amsterdam (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who was a Dutch soldier in the colony of New Amsterdam, stepped in front of a sword to save the life of a Native American girl during a massacre of her tribe. The girl rescues John Amsterdam, and in return casts an ancient spell on him that made him immortal. She tells Amsterdam that he will not age until he finds his one true love, at which time he will become mortal.

Of course, the big problem with immortality is that time passes but you don’t, so to speak. So, over three centuries, he’s lived quite a life and polished his skills. Yes, it does sound a little like the movie “Groundhog Day” except it’s stretched over hundreds of years, and without Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You Babe” every time he wakes up.

But while Amsterdam lives, anyone that he loves, or his family, dies, leaving him to go on as a young man, and over time, he becomes isolated and lonely.

In the current time, his confidant and current “lifelong” friend (lifelong being an bit of an oxymoron for someone who is immortal) is a jazz club owner Omar (Stephen McKinley-Henderson), who knows Amsterdam’s secret, as well as having some of his own.

But, he puts his life experiences to good use by working on Manhattan for the NYPD as a homicide detective, along with his partner Eve Marquez (Zuleikha Robinson). Problems surface when Amsterdam seems to have a massive heart attack while chasing a suspect, and Dr. Sara Dillane (Alexie Gilmore) pronounces him dead in the ER. (Oops.) Of course, he’s not. He then realizes that the Indian girl’s prophesy may be coming true and that his soul mate must have been nearby. So the story continues to unfold as Amsterdam works to find killers – and maybe this one true love.

It sounds like the show has it all – mystery, suspense, drama, romance. OK, maybe it will run the risk of being a little corny, but since the writer’s strike has left us with virtually nothing new, I think this show is worth a serious look.

So if you’re interested too, stay tuned for the show, which will be airing on Fox on March 4, at 9:00 PM ET, 8:00 PM Central.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prison Break: A Colossal Disappointment

I really liked Prison Break in the first few seasons. But this last season has been a monumental snooze-fest. Back on January 15, I wrote in this blog (here) how disappointed I was in the show, liking it to being trapped in one of Dante’s Circles of Hell.

The subsequent episodes since my last blog on the show, and especially the finale that aired yesterday (“Art of the Deal”) left me confused and confounded. They seemed to be trying to build some mystery with the “Whistler” character (Chris Vance) but it just drummed up no interest, no suspense. In fact, the whole hype with them breaking out of Sona was not only anti-climactic, but it was sloppy and unbelievable.

Also count me as confused as to why Mahone (William Fichtner) now seemed to be sleeping with the enemy. Instead on sparking some interest in me, I had the opposite reaction that I just didn’t seem to care. It seems that this season they took what was an excellent character for the show and just destroyed whatever value he had. A shame, since William Fichtner did a fantastic job when Mahone was at the top of his game.

I said it before and I’ll say it again- can they get rid of Bellick (Wade Williams) once and for all? And he can take T-Bag (Robert Knepper) with him. It seems that both characters don’t add much to the story any more, except maybe to show how sick T-Bag is supposed to be. Yeah, we get it already.

It seems like when – or if – the show returns, that Linc (Dominic Purcell) and Michael (Wentworth Miller) may be going their separate ways. That could be the best thing, seeing that Linc really has nothing to run from anymore and he has his son back. There’s really no purpose for him any more.

This show used to be very intense and dark, with a lot of creative storytelling and suspenseful characters. Now, it’s just dark. Seeing Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) beaten to a pulp and then nearly buried alive served no purpose. T-Bag's murderous ways served no purpose. In fact, the whole storyline with the escape and Whistler didn’t seem to have much of a purpose either. There just didn't seem to be much of a story with Whistler, except for his mysterious bird book with code written inside. But the suspense with the supposed value of the book itself just fell flat.

Personally, I think this show was ruined the minute they killed Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies), eliminated Kellerman (Paul Adelstein), and walked into Sona. In a way, when the show walked into that prison, they trapped themselves, and the viewers, in a lackluster story line.

Now that they are out, I may be out too. This is one show that if it returns, I’m not sure if I will return with it.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fox’s 24 Shelved Until 2009

On February 3, I wrote here that Fox’s 24 was on life support. It looks like it will be that way for a lot longer.

The writer’s strike is being blamed for the long delay in starting the new season. According to CNN, “A January 2009 start seemed the best way to comply with viewers' wishes that a season's episodes run without interruption to conclusion, Fox said on Thursday.” OK, so now they are partly blaming it on the fans.

It’s not this viewer’s wishes to have the episodes run without interruption. Right now, I think to get something new, the fans would be happy to have an interruption in the series here and there if it’s really needed.

CNN also reported that eight episodes had already been filmed. I say release the 8 episodes while they work on the rest. The viewers would be happy to see Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) back in action again, even if it were just for a short while.

Is the real problem that they’re still stuck on the direction of the show? I would hope that with the time taken with the writer's strike, they’ve had a lot of time to think about it and they should be all that much closer to finalizing things. But for them, it’s probably easier to blame the viewers and their need to see all the episodes one after the other.

This may be curtains for 24, or it’s going to negatively affect viewership once it does come back, almost a year from now. And maybe by then something more interesting will be the new hot show.

I hope that Fox rethinks their position on this one, because I’m already rethinking if I want to bother with 24 next year.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

HGTV: Superficial Tips to Sell Your Home

HGTV runs a lot of shows that show their “experts” – real estate, home staging, etc.- helping people sell their homes. Two shows immediately come to mind: “Secrets that Sell” and “Get It Sold”. For the last several Sunday mornings – out of sheer boredom – I’ve watched these two shows.

I continue to be shocked at the asking prices for some of these homes. During one show, they showed a house that was going for over $700,000 and it was half the size of my house, and it had a postage stamp-sized yard. (No wonder the real estate market is in a state of collapse.) The premise of the show seems to be that the owners of the house paid an already inflated price for the house, now they want to move, and they’re shocked that the house isn’t selling. Of course, they’re asking even MORE for the house than what they bought it for, because they need to cover the price of the new home they want to buy.

The real estate people, or the staging person, come in and make obvious suggestions in order to improve the look of the house or to highlight what may be a sticking point in selling the house. Usually, it’s filled with suggestions to de-clutter or move furniture, maybe new drapes, etc. Rarely – and I mean rarely – do they ever suggest dropping the sale price.

What I find amusing about these shows is that they virtually never say if the person evenutally got the house sold, and/or if they got their asking price. I suspect they don’t cover this because they probably don’t want us to know that maybe their efforts didn’t make a difference?

Shows like this only contribute to the current problem in the housing market. People are deluded if they think that making a few superficial changes will help them get an ever increasing amount for the sale of their homes. Granted, simple cleaning up an de-cluttering will do wonders for a house that is going on the market. But I’ll be honest, if I were looking for a house right now, the last thing I would worry about is if the homeowner left pictures of their family out for me to see, or if they left a toaster AND a coffeemaker on their counter, or if the paint color in a room was wrong. The thing most important to me would be the sale price of the home relative to its size and condition, and usually the owner of the home has to make some concessions in that regard, especially in this market.

These shows need a dose of reality, and fast. Even though they seem to bill themselves as real situations with real people, they don’t give the owners the one single dose of reality that they need – that their price is too high. Of course, if they did that, they wouldn’t have a show.

So if your going to sell your home, don’t bother watching these shows. Save yourself the time. All you need to do is: de-clutter, de-personalize, paint neutral, make sure your bedrooms look like bedrooms, and make sure your kids are invisible. Now that was easy!

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Writers Strike Nearing the End: My Expectations

As reported by several news sources, the Writers Guild of America is close to a resolution of its three-month-old strike. Guild leaders are recommending the new contract to members, and requesting they approve it to the end the walkout.

OK, now that’s out of the way, here’s some of what I expect, and I think other viewers should expect, from the writers:

1. Start writing something better for LOST. Even though the writers weren’t on strike when they wrote the current episodes, it sure seems like they are making it up as they go along. Viewers deserve better.

2. Bring back the “old” feel to Law & Order SVU. I am not sure who put together this latest season – the decline may have actually started last season – but the characters don’t even seem like themselves anymore. And please give us scenarios that are believable and dialog that seems better than what a high school student could write.

3.Unless you want the whole genre of the soap opera to die, the soap writers need to pick up the pace and get creative. No, that doesn’t mean more mob-related stories on General Hospital or another personality disorder on One Life to Live, or another murder and trial on (fill in the blank for your soap of choice here). The soap writers have gotten lazy over the years, all the while the viewers’ expectations have raised. Know your audience and respond to them.

4. Get moving on 24. You've had plenty of time to be thinking about it. I’m getting concerned that it seems that with the latest reports, there doesn’t seem to be a good idea of where this season is headed and what kind of Jack Bauer we’re going to see. There will be no excuse for a lackluster story here.

5. I am not a big fan of awards shows, but the upcoming Oscars better be excellent, otherwise viewers won’t understand the value of the writers and why it was so important that the strike be resolved so the Oscars could go on.

6. Come up with shows that offer something different. We don't need cheesy rip-offs of other shows, like Lipstick Jungle or Cashmere Mafia is to Sex and the City.

In other words, earn your keep. There are tons of fan fiction and amateur writers out there could do a better job, and they are right behind you, on your heels.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Law & Order: The Drama Is Back!

On January 3, I wrote in this blog that I was on the fence about Law & Order, after the show’s lackluster season premier.

This week, I’ve jumped off that fence and onto the side that is very happy with the last few episodes (Bottomless, Driven, Political Animal, Quit Claim).

Why the change of heart? The show finally got away from the personal baggage of Detective Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto), and also seemed to get back on formula. There’s nothing wrong with shaking things up a bit, but the first few episodes of the new series seemed to be too much of an earthquake.

In the last few episodes, we’ve seen Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) become very comfortable in his job. In fact, I think that they’ve set up the situations and dialog for McCoy so that it seems like he’s an improved version of his old self. EADA Cutter (Linus Roache) seems to have found his balance, and ADA Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) seems to have softened her look but at the same time gotten more confidence and resolve. In fact, her character is probably the one where I am most happy with her transformation.

Lupo and Green (Jesse Martin) now seem like very comfortable partners, and Green seems much more “in charge” and in control, which is what I expect him to be as the more senior partner. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) has been given a little more screen time and involvement, and it has real purpose, it’s not just gratuitous appearances.

But even better are the story lines. Yes, we did have the huge red herring with “Political Animal” with the pseudo-Larry Craig scenario that we could have done without. But the subsequent story was compelling enough to make up for it. For the most part, the stories in the last few episodes have actually been interesting and felt new and different.

So I’m glad that the show is back, and I hope the trend continues, because sitting on the fence is not something that I like to do. Especially for my favorite show.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

House and Wilson: TV’s Latest Power Couple

There have been lots of “power couples” on TV over the years. Think of Superman and Lois Lane, Mickey and Minnie, Sonny and Cher, Mulder and Skully. Or, taking a different approach, look at Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, Batman and Robin, Gumby and Pokey, Lenny and Squiggy, Oscar and Felix, Rocky and Bullwinkle.

But now, a new power couple has emerged: Greg House (Hugh Laurie) and James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) from Fox’s show, House. These are two people made for each other. Both are doctors; House being a crackerjack diagnostician, and Wilson an Oncologist. Both work at the same facility, Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Both seem to have personal issues; House - the drug addicted misanthrope, and Wilson - the relationship-addicted divorced man. They feed on each other’s misery. Well, maybe it’s more like House force-feeding his misery to Wilson with Wilson regurgitating it back at him. Both are prone to an acerbic wit.

The relationship between these two people is probably the best quality and the most entertaining part of the show. Wilson frequently gets the best lines out of it, too, even if those lines are sometimes unspoken. For example, in the episode that aired February 3, “Frozen,” when House seems determined to follow Wilson out to lunch to see who Wilson is joining, Wilson stops walking, turns to House and, to answer House, says, “Ok, the reason I didn't tell you was...” and the proceeds to run as fast as he can away from House and out the door, knowing House could never keep up. House gives Wilson’s back that knowing look that only best buddies can give each other. Earlier in the show, there was this gem:

House: You're wearing a lavender shirt, so you're dressing for somebody.
Wilson: The Medical Board. They frown on shirtless Oncology.

One classic encounter with House and Wilson seems to sum up the relationship perfectly in this classic encounter from the episode “Daddy’s Boy”:

House: You bastard. You invited my parents to dinner.
Wilson: Geez, Cameron's got a big mouth.
House: Ha! Not as big as yours.
Wilson: Hey, you used me to avoid seeing your parents.
House: Well, what do you care?
Wilson: I don't. I just thought it might be interesting to find out why.
House: You could have just asked.
Wilson: You would have lied.
House: And you would have believed me. Which would have kept us both happy. Do you want your money back, is that what this is about?
Wilson: No! Wait, what? Have you got the money? [House starts to write check] If you have the money, then why did you need the loan?
House: I didn't. I just wanted to see if you'd give it to me. I've been borrowing increasing amounts ever since you lent me forty dollars a year ago. A little experiment to see where you'd draw the line.
Wilson: You're - you're trying to objectively measure how much I value our friendship?
House: That's five grand, you've got nothing to be ashamed of. So what do you say, one little phone call, one big check?
Wilson: Fine. [takes check] Thanks. [gets in car] Now, be a grownup and either tell mommy and daddy you don't want to see them or I'm picking you up at 7:00 for dinner.
House: What do you mean? You just said...
Wilson: I lied. I've been lying to you in increasing amounts ever since I told you you look good unshaved a year ago. It's a little experiment, you know, to see where you'd draw the line.

The relationship between these two didn’t start out as being a trade off of witty one-liners. Early on, their relationship seemed much more angst-filled, especially when House was deep into his drug addiction. Thankfully they have downplayed the addiction a bit, which allowed the relationship between House and Wilson to be less strained, even allowing their inner pranksters to come out.

The relationship between these two brings more realism to the show than the main story line, which is frequently filled with bizarre cases with equally bizarre treatments. Its as if the show needs the friendship between these two to keep the show grounded. What is interesting is sometimes the writers seem to copy the traits of previous TV power couples while creating the House/Wilson relationship. I think I’ve seen clear traits of Oscar and Felix plus Rocky and Bullwinkle, with a little Mulder and Skully thrown in there.

So I think it’s fitting to add House and Wilson to the long list of famous television power couples. I found a quote from House from an unnamed episode that I think sums up their relationship best, “So between us we can do anything. We can rule the world!”

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

24 – On Life Support?

The Wall Street Journal has a front page article on this weekend’s paper which seems to spell gloom and doom for the show “24”. A big part of the problem was the show's liberal use of terrorism and torture in previous episodes of 24, specifically at the hands of Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland), and the public's distaste for torture being used in real life situations.

The Wall Street Journal said:

“But those who ride the tide of the times can also get upended by them. As public opinion about the Iraq War turned south, the show's depiction of torture came to be seen as glorifying the practice in the wake of real-world reports of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques used on detainees.

Ratings dropped by a third over the course of last year's sixth season. Producers would later experience trouble casting roles, once some of the most desirable in television, because the actors disapproved of the show's depiction of torture. "The fear and wish-fulfillment the show represented after 9/11 ended up boomeranging against us," says the show's head writer, Howard Gordon. "We were suddenly facing a blowback from current events."

Last spring, Fox executives asked producers to come up with a plan for what to do with their onetime crown jewel. The producers decided to take the radical -- and rarely attempted -- step of reinventing the show. While some fans complained "24" had grown too formulaic, the producers also grudgingly saw the importance of wrestling the show from its ties to an unpopular conflict.

The result: "24" is nowhere to be found on the TV schedule. For weeks the show's producers tried to reconcile the show's premise with the new public mood. Should Jack atone for his sins? Is Jack bad? The script rewrites and philosophical crises left the show so far behind schedule that when the Hollywood writers went on strike in November, Fox had no choice but to delay its premiere date. The show could premiere this summer, next fall or as late as January 2009.”

The Journal also reports various problems the writers experienced as they tried to deal with disassociating Jack from the heavy handed torture persona. At one point, they had Jack in Africa doing what amounts to penance work. About this, the Journal says,

“The writers decided to scrap the Counter Terrorist Unit, the government agency for which Jack worked for the first six seasons of the show. Instead Jack would go to Washington to address head-on the accusations that his tactics were out of line. He will make his case. He has nothing to apologize for.

"For five years, this was a wish fulfillment show," Mr. Gordon said. "At the beginning, when everybody's fear was more acute, people's tolerance for violence, their own rage, seemed to make Jack's tactics more acceptable. But in the wake of our own abuses in prosecuting this so-called War on Terror, we feel Jack is getting a bum rap. So instead of selling out the entire show and its history and its legacy and apologizing for it and ultimately invalidating it, we decided to defend it." ‘

The bottom line is that the show’s season premier date is questionable, with the Journal indicating it could me this summer, next fall, or January 2009. (Translation: No one has a clue.) In my opinion, this does not bode well for the show.

I have been a 24 watcher since day 1. I like the show, but I too have had issues with the overuse of torture and violence. Sometimes it seemed over the top, and done just for the shock value. I am hoping that Jack comes back in some sort of re-invented way, but I hope that they don’t make the show so tame that the excitement is gone. I am sure this is the issue with which the writers struggle. They are lucky they’ve had more than 24 hours to think about it. So have the fans.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Best Superbowl Commercial Ever

Count me as one person who really enjoys the Superbowl commercials more than I enjoy the Superbowl itself.

I don’t bother watching the pre-game show. The commercials just aren’t worth it. But 15 minutes before the start of the game, I won’t leave that television set during ANY commercial.

The football Superbowl has become the advertising Superbowl. Over the years, some of the most creative, imaginative, funny, and thought provoking commercials have appeared during this game. The best of the bunch was the commercial from Apple, for the Macintosh computer, that aired during the 1984 game. In fact, I’d go so far to say this was probably the best commercial ever made. When I first saw the commercial during that Superbowl, I was stunned after watching it, and it has remained very clear in my memory all these years. You also know a commercial is great when it is parodied in various ways for many years afterwards.

The last few years, the commercials haven’t been as great. Maybe it’s all the competition from all the creative videos coming from the Internet. Still, I have hope that there will be a few gems that will make sitting through the game worthwhile!

Anyway – enjoy what I think is the best commercial ever:

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