Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Fallen Aristocracy

Like a small, devoted portion of America, I watched the Emmys on Sunday, and I think we learned a few things about our industry. Namely, one important thing -- nostalgia isn't just a feeling. It's tangible, and it's a reminder of how things have changed. And more often than not, these things have not changed for the better.

I won't lie to you. I watch some reality: Project Runway, Top Chef, America's Next Top Model. I know it's not good for me, in the way that eating an entire package of Flicks isn't good for me. But I do both anyway. Even though these shows are on the TeeVee, hobnobbing with scripted shows both highbrow and lowbrow, they aren't really television. Entertainment, yes... but what struck me while watching the Emmys is how different reality TeeVee truly is from scripted fare. It's not just stylistic. It's not just about the fact that casting and editing are the only thing that matters in reality TeeVee. There's a fundamental difference that goes far beyond the surface noise.

Handing the Emmy telecast over to five reality show hosts must, in hindsight, have been a set-up. Based on the Academy's (excellent) decision to hand out awards to shows most people don't even know are on, that's the only explanation. They wanted to show America how far in the gutter reality is. How different it is from actual television. And the hosts lamely trying to be funny, engaging and fill time proved it. When Don Rickles, who's like a THOUSAND, can come out and be self-deprecating and funny without seemingly any effort, you see the disparity.

When Steve Martin comes out to give that lovely tribute to Tommy Smothers, you see the disparity. But Smothers and Rickles are comedy legends, right? So it's expected that they would outshine five people whose only talent is reading off cue cards.

Okay, but Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell KILLED, and they aren't (yet, anyway) the legends Smothers and Rickles are.

There's something about the comedy lineage that was presented that is sad, really. Sure, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Steve Martin and Steve Carell and Ricky Gervais have the utmost respect for these guys. Yeah, Tina Fey justifiably bowed before Mary Tyler Moore and Betty White. But the majority of TeeVee viewers don't have that sense of history. It's not important. And an awful lot of producers and executives don't have it either. So eventually, it's going to die off. That lineage won't exist anymore. So what exists after that? Reality? Will an eight-billion-year-old Jeff Probst be hailed as a hosting legend at the hundredth annual Primetime Reality Emmy Awards? Is that how far we've fallen?

People like Don Rickles and Tommy Smothers, Mary Tyler Moore and Betty White, even the mention of someone like Jack Webb, are our connection to the earliest days of television, and radio before that. Back before we had effects and cinematography and Avids. Back when story was the most important element of entertainment. The Emmys should celebrate story. They tried, but the juxtaposition of the Dragnet set with William Petersen only served to show how much CSI pales in comparison to what came before. More egregious, however, is the juxtaposition of the history of television to the hosts of reality. Which is why I think the whole thing was a total set-up.

But some good did come out of the Emmy telecast. Like the Oscars, the Emmys went all indie, too, awarding shows most Americans have never seen. Matthew Weiner won an Emmy for a pilot script he wrote eight years ago, a script nobody would make until AMC decided to get into the series game. And although it was a bummer to see Jon Hamm lose, if he had to lose to anyone, I would have picked Bryan Cranston. The Academy seems to be telling the industry something, and it ain't subtle -- WE LIKE GOOD THINGS, NO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE. "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" work because they are driven by creative visionaries, people who not only know what story they want to tell, but are allowed to follow their instincts, thoughts, hopes and desires. There's nothing cynical about AMC's shows. The AMC executives and the studio executives (Lion's Gate and Sony, respectively) TRUST these showrunners. And they all got rewarded for it. The networks, however, have willfully ignored this. There's too much money on the line for them to trust in some writer's vision. Really, that's what it comes down to.

So nothing will change. Hopefully, AMC will continue to lead the way in excellence but as we've seen happen before, AMC will probably get too big for its britches and turn into a Network. But by then, there will probably be another small network with nothing to lose, and we can do this all over again.

In other news, Sarah Palin is going to have a meeting with Bono. Totally not fair.

np -- Oasis, "Dig Out Your Soul." Yes, I got it early. Har.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Doll Parts

Geez, working really sucks up your time. That's not a complaint. Just an excuse for my almost complete lack of blogging. So I thought I'd try to write something quickly, just to see what happens.

Fortunately, it's a rant, and those doggies don't take long.

Stephen King, in this week's Entertainment Weakly, wrote an article mysteriously titled, "What A Guy Wants." The theory he's trying to blow out of the water is that men don't read. I didn't know this. Is it true? Do men not read? Do they also leave the toilet seat up, snore loudly, and enjoy sporting events? This wouldn't happen to be an attempt to generalize, would it, Steve?

Let's see. He claims that agents and editors are always on the lookout for the next hot female writer. Which is awesome, because I've got two books in various states of disrepair. Do I sent the ovary in the envelope with the manuscript, or separately? What's the conventional wisdom on that? But hey, maybe it's true. Maybe wimmin's fiction sells that much better than men's fiction. Hell, I dunno. I just read whatever looks good. I don't care who fucking wrote it.

Although seriously dull, overlong suspense novels? No thanks.

So that's how he starts. Then he says that while women have chick lit, men have "manfiction." Which sounds strong. And manly. And must contain guns and violence and hookers. Steve elaborates, and this MUST be quoted directly for it to have its full impact:

What men want from an Elmore Leonard novel is exactly what women want from a Nora Roberts novel - escape and entertainment.

Outstanding. I'm sure some of you know how I feel about Ms. Roberts, in that I think she is a seriously lousy, shallow writer. But apparently, because I have (to quote) an lady brain, I am supposed to go to Ms. Roberts' novels for my escape and entertainment. As someone who has escaped to and been entertained by Elmore Leonard's writing, I'm a touch confused. But again, that could just be my lady brain. Ohhh... but wait. HE GOES ON.

Women like stories in which a gal meets a handsome (and possibly dangerous) hunk on a tropic isle; men like to imagine going to war against an army of bad guys with a Beretta, a blowtorch, and a submachine gun (grenades hung on the belt optional.)

I'm sorry. Gal? Did you just call me a GAL? I realize he's trying to be light and funny, but this man doesn't have a light or funny instinct in him and the awkward clunkiness of this paragraph just proves it. You would think that someone who's managed to complete as many books as Mr. King knows that he's generalizing here, and intends to because later on in the article, he will deftly pull the rug out from under us and make us realize that we, too, generalize, which is why Things Are The Way They Are. And then we the readers will realize that he is not only Funny, but also Brilliant for his nimble usage of the language.

Except for the next random grouping of words:

And current manfiction certainly gives women better deal than they got in the pulps of yesteryear, when most were presented as barracuda debs in frilly negligees.

Ugh. It's like listening to your grandpa trying to be current. But then, my grandfather doesn't mention the frikkin Drive-By Truckers every damn chance he gets, so at least there's that. He talks about Robert B. Parker's female character, claiming that she's exasperating (must be all that estrogen getting in the way of the bullets), but is relieved when Spenser and his dude partner Hawk (not Hawk from Buck Rogers, sadly) get to shoot some stuff up. Fuck the wimmin, let's do some shooting!! At this point in the article, I'm just mildly irritated. Well. QUITE irritated, but I'm only a third of the way through, and this man DOES tend to ramble on.

He claims that the fathers of manfiction are Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and John D. MacDonald, which is a little like the romance folk claiming Jane Austen and the Brontes, right? Then he goes on with this:

The best current manfiction writers? I'd say Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Richard Stark and Lee Child. Connelly's Harry Bosch is a dogged cop who takes on the LAPD power structure as often as the bad guys.

And why would a mere girl be interested in crap like that?

His [Bosch's] current girlfriend, a very liberated woman, is an FBI agent.

Ugh. A "very liberated woman." Is she into the women's lib, then? Does she do the suffrage? Women working outside the home! CALL THE COUNCIL OF MORAL WHATNOT!!

Crais' creations - Elvis Cole and Joe Pike - are as tough as the combat boots they used to wear.

Which means, of course, that girls won't be interested. They just want to get to the Good Stuff, which is the romance Cole has with Lucy, only Lucy is really kinda boring, and got more shrill as the series wore on and clearly didn't have any place in Crais's universe. And even though Starkey would be a step up, Starkey's her own woman, and Cole fucking KNOWS it, so he doesn't go there. Even though he thinks about it. Often. And then he moves on. But see, I DON'T CARE. Because I LOVE those books, and I love them because they aren't about sex and romance and longing and tropic isles and hunks. They're about PEOPLE, you ASSHOLE. Not stereotypes. I have been reading Crais since Day fucking ONE. The notion that Crais is the gender-opposite of Nora Roberts sends me into paroxysms, into (I suppose girlish) gales of laughter. REALLY? Crais's subtle, breezy, tightly but effortlessly plotted character-driven stories are the equivalent of the find-and-replace queen, a woman who sets a series of books in the future just so she won't have to do the RESEARCH? You REALLY want to stick with that, Steve?

You think he knows he's just insulted these writers he claims to love by calling them the male Nora Robertses?

What's most bothersome here isn't that Stephen King doesn't get it. Based on his previous EW articles, that's been made painfully obvious. The simple generalizations are the problem, especially coming from someone who is so loved across the spectrum. It is mind-boggling that Stephen King, who is read by people who don't read any genre fiction AT ALL (and probably, dare I say it, by people with lady brains), is so quick to pee on the reading public. Is this REALLY what he thinks of women, and of men, for that matter? He thinks men don't read and if they do, they read, what, Mack Bolan? Alistair MacLean? Shit, hang on... I love "Fear is the Key."

And who does he think he is, graciously presenting writers like Crais and Connelly and Child to the American public, as if the drooling masses couldn't pick them out of a lineup? Don't we have enough generalization going on this in this country? Aren't we subdivided ENOUGH? If Stephen King REALLY thinks men don't read and wants to tell men about some books they might enjoy, then he should have done that. But what he's really done is insult readers and non-readers of BOTH sexes with his dim understanding of what's happening in society.

Out of touch much, Steve?

And just to confound your ass some more, the Dodgers' magic number is nine. Want me to tell you how I calculated that?

This was shorter in my head. More later!

np -- some barefoot, Takamine-wielding waily girl bullshit, if you believe the conventional wisdom. Otherwise, a mish-mash of Oasis. Which I'm not supposed to like either.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Political Wings

A little on experience, which seems to be on everyone's teleprompter these days and which was mentioned many, many times at the big VFW rally I saw on CNN the other night.

I've talked about experience in TeeVee before, but it seems even more relevant now and I wanted to do just a short little post about it.

Let's say I have two job opportunities. The first is with a TeeVee veteran, someone who hasn't created a show before but who has been in TeeVee his or her whole career. This person has come up through the ranks. They've worked for a variety of showrunners, so they've been exposed to many different ways of working and has synthesized their own way of working from those experiences. This TeeVee veteran also knows the politics of how to get what you want and still please the people with the purse strings. They know the editors, the directors, the DPs, the line producers, and the casting directors.

The second job is with a showrunner who's created a show, but who either came from features or hasn't worked on staff or in TeeVee before. What people love about this person is that they created a high-profile, high-concept show. And they clearly have the experience, right? Because they've created a show. They have a vision that far exceeds the inside, corporate vision of the TeeVee veteran, a person who's been indoctrinated into the Machine. So naturally, the push is to take the glitzier show, which has been created by someone who has already proven they can create a show. Because this person, gentle readers, has EXPERIENCE.

The experience of the TeeVee veteran is negated because that insider is an unknown quantity when it comes to creating television. Because that's not the kind of experience you need when you're talking about TeeVee, right? You need the experience of the person who's already been there.

But let's say that the person who has Already Been There created a show that went over budget, was out of control and didn't complete its order. And let's say that the TeeVee veteran has purposefully learned in the trenches so that when he or she created their first show, they were really ready for the situation.

So which type of experience is more valuable? Do you want someone who's done the job but doesn't really understand it, is overwhelmed, and has essentially failed at it? Or do you want the person who hasn't created a show before but who understands how the business works?

You tell me.

np -- The copy machine directly overhead, and some idiot walking around whistling.