Monday, October 27, 2008

Zenyatta Mondatta

Beware. Horse racing below. Run for your lives.

Once I've watched all the shit on my TiVo, I'll do a TeeVee post. This season has some issues, for sure. The way viewership is measured stays the same. The way shows are sold stays the same. The way shows are picked up and pilots produced, stays the same. But what an audience wants from TeeVee has changed. It's not being reflected in viewership yet, but I think the tide is going to turn. If the industry isn't prepared for it, everyone's going to be in for a shock. The industry's going to break apart and those in charge will suddenly be the old guard.

Sort of like the election, too.

What's happening in TeeVee is that there seem to be two separate industries -- cable and network. Cable does the good shows, and network does the "popular" ones. Although given ratings, that gap's going to continue to close and then network shows won't be financially viable anymore. But this is happening all over the place. More and more, Americans (especially) gather together in their own little subcultures. When I started watching horse racing, I was a subculture of one. I watched it alone, scrounged up information on it by myself, learned about its history and about pedigrees all by my lonesome. With the introduction of the internet, I was able to find others who love the sport. And it's those people I got to hang out with for Breeders Cup. They speak my language, and I'm grateful to have found them. Because decades of following this sport have made it a part of my life. My friends and family couldn't care less, frankly, and treat it like this annoyance, this passing thing that they just don't get. It's a shame that people can't see how fabulous the sport is. Witness this asshole at a site called Deadspin, where a buncha guys talk like they're more clever and amusing than they actually are.

There are stories in other sports, but the stories in horse racing are, to me, much more because it's always about the horse.

The two-year-old filly Maram, the only horse her owners have. Her trainer just went out on his own after being an assistant. His grandfather died on Tuesday, and the funeral was the day of the race. Or how about the Casners, gracious owners of Colonel John, who's named after a family friend who went with the Casners to Indonesia to find and bring their daughter home after the car bombing that killed her. The horses help keep these people going. And it's too bad that so many people just dismiss the sport and don't get what's so wonderful about it.

Racing, like every sport that isn't purely American, is more of a global subculture. But nobody goes into racing to make money. There's an old adage that goes, "If you want to make a million dollars in racing, invest two million." Owning a racehorse, really being in the game, isn't for the regular guy. It's for princes and sheikhs and that sort of thing. It's for unbelievably wealthy businessmen. Every once in awhile the little guy triumphs, but it's mostly a rich person's game.

However, I spent Saturday with over 50,000 little guys. That attendance is an excellent one for a World Series game. And sure, the allure is about the pick six and the superfectas and the one-dollar trifectas and exactas. But even the most hardened gambler, the guy who refers only to the horse's number and knows nothing about pedigree beyond what it means to the percentages, can appreciate a day like the Breeder's Cup. For me, the moment of the day on Saturday was when Curlin, who had had over a million dollars bet on him, finished fourth in the Classic. Pretty much every hardened bettor had taken Curlin in some form, although very few of them took him as the fourth horse in their superfecta. So these people lost assloads of money. But as the horse was being led down the track back to the barn area, the crowd of little guys gave him a standing ovation. They recognize what a remarkable horse he is, they were delighted that the owner and trainer had kept him in training as a four-year-old and had taken the shot to be in the Breeder's Cup. He didn't have to come. He could have pulled a Mineshaft and still been named Horse of the Year. Curlin likely lost that title by coming to the race, but racing's gain can never be measured.

Incidentally, the Breeders Cup is racing's version of the Oscars, so going to the Breeders Cup is equivalent to a moviegoer going to the Oscars.

But just like in TeeVee, some things in racing are changing. The introduction of synthetic surfaces (Pro-Ride at Santa Anita, Cushion Track at Del Mar and Hollywood Park, Polytrack at Keeneland and Turfway) has upended handicapping and is probably going to change breeding. The horses that came to the Breeder's Cup from the East Coast had a miserable weekend, while the Europeans, who came from a much cooler climate, traveled all that distance and had done all of their racing on the turf, cleaned up. And everyone freaked out. Because what it means is, the East Coast horses will stay over there, and the West Coast horses will stay here, and there will most likely never be another Derby winner coming out of California, unless it's an exceptional horse that can handle the dirt and the synthetic.

Oh, wait. Colonel John, who came up short in the Classic (he needed a prep, methinks, because he made a nice little move before flattening out) did all of his running on California synthetics, had trouble in the Derby, but won the Travers on dirt at Saratoga.

But nonetheless, there will be freaking out. I doubt we'll see too many East Coast horses at Santa Anita next year for the Breeders Cup, but we will undoubtedly be overrun with Euros. Darley won three races, all with quality horses. And I think that when the dust settles, that's what people will realize. The Euros who came to the Breeders Cup were quality. Some of them didn't fire, but the ones who did ran big. The winner of the Classic, Raven's Pass, is the leading miler in Europe and the horse who was second, Henrythenavigator, is a classic winner in Europe. These aren't longshots. They're very good horses who were able to transfer their turf form to the synthetic. If, as many said, synthetic races are run like turf races, then we'd better breed the horses for it as well. What's interesting about Raven's Pass, though, is that he's a Kentucky bred. He's by Elusive Quality, who is also the sire of Smarty Jones, and he's out of a very nice mare by Lord At War, who won the Santa Anita Handicap. So you're not looking at a purely turf pedigree.

While Raven's Pass was impressive winning the Classic, the most impressive winners to me were all fillies. Watching Goldikova burst away in the Mile was a once in a lifetime event. Her trainer, Freddie Head, was the regular rider of the filly Miesque, who won two Breeders Cup Miles. I'd love to see Goldikova back here next year. And amusingly, she beat last year's winner, Kip Deville, who's trained by the odious sexist Rick Dutrow. Something pretty cool about that asshat being beaten by a GIRL.

The other most impressive winners were both ridden by Mike Smith, the nicest guy, well, ever. The two-year-old Stardom Bound made a mammoth wide move to win the Juvenile Fillies. And in the Distaff, the world was treated to Zenyatta, unbeaten in eight races going in, and unbeaten in nine races coming out. Even the most hardened race hater would be impressed with her. When she won the Lady's Secret, her prep for the Breeders Cup, she ran each quarter successively faster than the one before. Another horse did that once. Secretariat. Zenyatta is a huge filly with a big personality. Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, truly love the sport and their filly. And her trainer, John Shirreffs, has done a magnificent job with her. Zenyatta is a once in a lifetime horse, and it's a treat to see her run. This is the horse of the year, people. She earned it. She deserves it.

If you skipped the racing part, you can come back now.

You here? Okay.

I know there are a few comments to get to, and I want to talk about "My Own Worst Enemy," which may take an entire blog post on its own. So I'll do that soonish. Probably after the election, which will either end in an armageddon-ish loading all my belongings into a car and driving into the sea moment, or unicorns and rainbows.

I know which one I'm voting for.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Nature of Reality

Thanks for the great feedback on the last post. Like I said, this isn't a political blog, but I'm struck by how similar this election is to television. It continued with the last debate. Because if I were casting for President, I wouldn't even bring McCain to network. It's a bit funny, because the republicans always felt that they had figured out the likability factor with Reagan and Bush. That's the whole Palin appeal, too. You want to hang out with her. She's congenial. Fun. Warm. A regular gal. So why the fuck isn't it working? Republicans are howling about this. It's Reagan and Bush in a skirt. WHY AREN'T YOU FUCKING PEOPLE BUYING OUR CYNICISM ANYMORE?

Obviously, because the republican rule has made Americans cynical. Obama doesn't offer cynicism, and he's a breath of fresh air. He's also the complete package. You want to invite him into your home, and he has a functioning brain. The republicans forgot about that whole brain thing, because they haven't needed it. They've only needed style. No substance required. But now things are Bad, and substance is important again. The republicans wound up with a weak field of contenders. And then, after McCain emerged from the rubble and began decimating his own substance, he allowed his VP pick to be decided by committee.

When you decide something by committee, nobody gets what they want. They wind up with the person who's the least offensive to all, not the person who's the best choice. It's a negative choice instead of a positive one. This is exactly what's wrong with TeeVee as well. Like TeeVee, the VP pick was focus-grouped. And America, the country that's drifting away from focus-grouped TeeVee shows, saw right through it. Obama represents the New Way, and the republicans just don't see that. They're still trying to do everything the way they've always done it, and it's not working for them.

We need an Obama of TeeVee to take control of the narrative and move the business in a new direction. Unfortunately for us, that's only happening on networks like AMC and with other shows like Battlestar Galactica. Not quite popular enough to make an impact on the business yet.

Onto some comments!

Regarding Fringe, AJ sez,
I was encouraged by the first episode, but was already seeing cracks in the facade by epp #2. I too have not watched beyond that point, although I do have them all TiVO'd. Is it too much to ask to just take a smidge of the X-Files mojo and apply it to characters that aren't so plastic and predictable?

I've now seen all five episodes and the show continues to be something of a mystery. Fringe science is a tough thing to quantify, to use as an engine for a TeeVee show. But the credit sequence always excites me -- paranormal, teleportation, etc. I think by expanding the definition of fringe science, you can do a science fiction show, you can do the show that, in an early episode of X-Files, Scully would define as "the paranormal is science that we just can't understand yet." They went off the rails on X-Files with this but Fringe appears to live there. Or it should; it doesn't quite yet. The procedural aspects of the show, unfortunately, are awful. Unlike X-Files, Fringe hasn't quite figured out how to tell a story that actually includes twists and surprises and isn't just straightforward. I'm looking at you, Episode Five! When they've tried to do cool stuff, they've ignored logic to such a degree that the show has suffered (Hello, Episode Three, and every friggin person in the world blathering on about The Pattern).

I will say, though, that after the horrifically awful Episode Two, the show's been better. Sure, they set the bar impossibly low, but still. I thought they took some chances with Arrival, the episode with the weirdo cylinders, and what helped the episode enormously was the personal interaction between Peter and Walter. I do like the characters, even if they're not quite fleshed out. I mean, what kind of scientist is Walter? How does he know everything? What is Peter's role here? How does Olivia really feel about this work? What's driving her? It's disturbing that they're sort of skipping over these questions in order to get to the cool stuff. But when it's cool, it's pretty cool. Take the reappearance of John Scott, for example. Pretty cool. And hey, it actually makes sense!!

What I like about JJ Abrams is his uncanny ability to cast, and his wandering mind. The show has moments of intrigue, fun and passion. At times, I can see what excites him and the writing staff. But for whatever reason, this kinetic energy can't quite poke through the gauzy blanket of torpor that every single TeeVee show apparently has to have now.

I realize the trap here. I watched Alias, and I watch Lost. And at the end of the day, the cool stuff doesn't add up to anything. I'm sure that's the way it will be with Fringe, too. But just the fact that JJ Abrams is out there, that he's been anointed as a Giant Ape, well... I guess I'll keep watching and try to ignore the cynicism and the sheen. Because yeah, I am that desperate for inspiration on TeeVee, especially with only two more episodes of Mad Men left.

Oh yeah, and if that wasn't bad enough, I wasted another hour of my life last night watching CBS' version of Fringe, another over-the-top female FBI agent/eccentric scientist waste of video tape called The Eleventh Hour.

Ugh. Okay, so look. The pilot was the same story as the pilot for the British series. And when Hood says that he's a science advisor, blah blah blah, and he investigates misuses of science and, essentially, fringe science, I can look at the pilot and think, Okay. I get what you're saying. The whole cloning thing is pretty advanced and would require someone who could make the leaps that would solve the case. But episode two... man. Really? Are you serious? A few kids die of heart attacks. For whatever reason, you call in the FBI. There's been no investigation. There's no indication that anything weird is going on. The special science dude is the one who leaps to the digitalis. Which is fine, but... wouldn't the health department or even the CDC have gone there? If you think something environmental is happening (and you would, given the circumstances), wouldn't you have already found the toads, talked to the weird homeopathic woman and found the damned digitalis, which grows everywhere? Given that, you wouldn't have called in the special science dude until AFTER you had already dismissed the environmental causes. Then, you would have something strange on your hands. But it's not a misfits of science episode until the very end, when Hood figures out the weird little Einstein (which, BTW, the audience figured out when he was introduced).

Clearly, they decided to do a two-handed version of Medical Investigation and they threw the original premise out the window. Not that I'm surprised. Bruckheimer has a model, and all of their shows must fit into that. I'm sure that they're having a tough time breaking stories on that show because they've written themselves into a box. It's unfortunate, because they didn't have to do that. They could have been less conservative. But Bruckheimer doesn't do less conservative.

So instead, you waste Rufus Sewell, who is seemingly trying to rein himself in and fit himself into that box. He deserves better. And America? Stop watching this drivel. Demand better.

And on the baseball front, I'm happy for your Dodgers, and for you in particular to be able to witness a playoff game at the Ravine, probably for the first time since you were wearing leg-warmers.

Heh. I had never been to a playoff game, and I got to go to the game they won. Now, I'm not stupid. I know the Phillies are a better team than the Dodgers. I didn't think the Dodgers would manage to beat any pitcher other than the NL's answer to John McCain. But to see the Dodgers win a division playoff game? AWESOME. I think they had a great season, and I think they have a real opportunity to move forward next year if they don't do stupid shit. As for the World Series, I obviously have to go with the Phillies for two reasons. One, they'll make the Dodgers look even better. And two, there's no way in hell that I'd root for an expansion team. I hate the whole idea of expansion teams, and they will always be expansion teams to me. So suck it, Rays.

Michael goes,
I agree on "Sarah Conner" -- much to my surprise. I worked a very long day shooting promos for that show before it hit the air, and after watching all three leads go through their paces on set, I was sure this show would be a dog.

But I tuned in anyway -- if for no other reason, just to see how bad it turned out to be -- and was amazed to find an entertaining show. Why it works, I don't know -- with a Sarah who really isn't old enough to be the mother of John, nothing really makes sense here -- but as you point out, it's a fun show. "Thou Shalt Entertain" remains the first rule of television, and against all odds, "Sarah Conner" does the job.

And amazingly, the show's just gotten a full season order. Yes, TeeVee has actually made the right decision. Congrats to everyone involved in the show, and to the audience, who gets a whole friggin year of great drama.

This show, BTW, is a great example of a creator-driven show, and that's why it works.

Hey Kay, have you heard from Robert Meyer Burnett lately? I haven't talked to him since the middle of August, and I called him recently and his number was disconnected.

I've talked to him a bit, but I don't have his number. He's on Facebook, though!

Anonymous wants to know what POD stands for. It's producers on development deals, which means that the studios make overall deals with producers or production companies, expecting that these folks will deliver product to the studios. It's a huge bone of contention in the business, and nobody I talk to thinks it's helping.

James Ford: I'd love to check out your blog. Post the link!!

So this weekend is the Breeder's Cup. That's a warning to any of the gentle readers who don't care about the Breeder's Cup, because I'm going, and I'm going to talk about it. But just to keep you coming back, there will be another TeeVee rant coming soon. Because I've seen The Mentalist, The Ex-List, Life On Mars, and My Own Worst Enemy. So you can just imagine.

Lastly, my nemesis Stephen King took a shot at Mad Men in a recent column. He praised Breaking Bad the way he always praises something -- "Because I am, well, awesome, I've discovered something that you drooling noobs should really check out." And then he says that Mad Men is just a soap. So... does Stephen King just not get subtlety and drama and character, or is he being a disingenuous ass who's trying too hard to look like he's on the cutting edge? I guess I should look on the bright side and be thankful that he didn't mention the Drive-By Truckers.

np -- anything but the Drive-By Truckers.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Idiot Wind

There's comments and TeeVee and GO DODGERS! and Big Brown to get to, and I'm gonna try and get another post going shortly but I couldn't contain myself anymore. So here goes, and apologies for what's about to happen, gentle readers.

This isn't a political blog and although I've mentioned politics here and there, I don't want to jabber on about it, unless it has to do with TeeVee. And it kinda does, especially given what's happening in the McCain campaign.

One thing you hear a lot when you're on shows like ours is that we have to protect the hero. This means making sure your hero doesn't look like a fucking idiot, that his morality stays intact, that he does the things your particular hero would do. Your hero has to be smart and strong. Your hero also has to be consistent, and behave in a consistent manner. This is something shows struggle with, especially when your hero's destiny is to murder another dude. And when your hero is handed a Big Fucking Awesome Sword, he winds up cutting quite a swathe through the nondenominational bad guys on his way to the promised land. So the justification for that gets kinda tough.

It's way easier to protect the hero on a procedural, where the win is an obvious one -- catch the bad guy, solve the murder. Sometimes, of course, you wind up with a procedural hero who will cross that line and become the evil, blah blah blah. The general TeeVee viewing audience gets a little confused when it can't tell the heroes apart from the villains, but TeeVee writers would much rather write THAT character than another charmless White Hat. It's our go-to position, really. We like complicated heroes who reside in a gray area. Look at Mad Men -- they aren't all that excited about protecting their heroes. They're much more interested in dirtying them up and seeing how far they can be taken down that awful road. And it makes for juicy drama. Conflict and complexity and darkness make drama interesting. A hero who will just always do the right thing can get a little boring.

But America likes its heroes uncomplicated and straightforward, and that's why the McCain campaign has lost its way. John McCain has never seemed like a particularly complicated, complex guy. I don't say that as a slam, because it's not. He was a war hero and a self-proclaimed maverick (this may be news to you, if you've just come out of a decades-long coma). A side note -- if he looked at the definition of "maverick," he may not be so excited about being one. Anyway, McCain's strengths have always been that he's a war hero, and that he stands up to his party. That's his platform, right? That's a pretty clear, simple message to deliver to the American people.

If I were trying to reach the largest audience and wrote the character of John McCain, War Hero and Maverick, everything McCain said and did would be reflective of that. If the show was on AMC, however, my McCain wouldn't believe a word of what he said, and he'd hate himself. My McCain would care more about winning than anything else, at the expense of his soul and his reputation. My McCain would pander shamelessly to a base he's never courted and doesn't believe in, by choosing a Lifetime movie of a running mate. My McCain would allow the machine that destroyed him in the past, to plan and manage his campaign. My McCain would be forced, not by decency but by the desire to beat his opponent, into defending that opponent against the bigotry and hatred that his campaign stoked. My McCain would be conflicted, and sick, and would watch his soul die a little every day.

He would be a version of Lonesome Rhodes, but there would be a soul in there somewhere.

My McCain would be fascinating and complicated, but my McCain would not be accepted by mainstream America because they just wouldn't get him. They would think he's confused, that he's lost it, that he doesn't have a message he actually believes in. Story-wise, the throughline just isn't there for the McCain campaign and in this era when even reality TeeVee has a narrative, he comes off as disingenuous and, well, nasty. Nastiness doesn't win elections. I mean, Al Gore SIGHED, for fuck's sake, and that was all she wrote. John Kerry allowed these same republicans to turn his own heroism into a liability. And BTW, even McCain called bullshit on that one.

But McCain is so not in control of his own campaign that he allowed his little attack dogs, including his feckless running mate, to incite crowds and ignore the hatred they spewed. Hell, his campaign even BLAMED Obama for it! This is a new level of sickness and depravity, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's shocked that it's coming from John McCain. Bush, sure. But McCain? Really?

So I guess the question would be, Who is this guy really? IS he the maverick, the hero? Or is it all a big fat lie? Americans need to believe in their heroes' sincerity, and McCain has lost that. He had a pretty good narrative going for awhile, but he took too many network notes and let the suits steer him from that path. Worse than that, he let them hook him up with an evil POD -- the Rovian cretins who attacked McCain's child when he ran against Bush -- and now he's paying the price. The POD went, "We know how to get this show on the air. We've gotten two shows on already. You may not like our methods, you may not like where the show has to go, but trust us." And so he did, and now he's losing to an upstart guy who's never gotten a show on the air but has taken utter and complete command of his own narrative.

This may be Obama's first show, but he won't let anyone else tell him how to run it. What we see from the Obama campaign is OBAMA. We don't see some nefarious Bruckheimer-esque POD putting blue filters on the lenses and going, "That'll get a fifteen share." Obama is showing people he cares by, y'know, CARING. His message is clear and consistent. He doesn't rattle. Nobody in his campaign does. They stay on message, and they're fighting one hell of a ground game.

If I'm a network exec, I don't have any notes for the Obama campaign. But I have a lot of notes for the McCain campaign. Because even this version of my McCain, that complex fucker, is going beyond the pale. Even if I'm not concerned with traditional hero protection (and I should be, since this is directed at the mainstream American voting public), my McCain has a lot of problems.

He changes his mind every day, sometimes even during a sentence. He says he's doing one thing, then he abandons it and does nothing. He refuses to take a strong stand on anything. He won't give straight answers. Personally, he comes off as a mean, vindictive, spiteful bully. He claims to be an elder statesman, but his opponent is kicking his ASS there. There's such a thing as a complicated, dark character, but when he's also a duplicitous coward, it's hard to get interested in that guy. At some point, you have to get to know the complexity. You don't have to like it, but you have to understand it. My McCain would have his Rosebud moment. This McCain just doesn't.

He scares the blessed shit out of me, to be honest. Because what the fuck does this guy stand for? All he wants is the One Ring, and the country be damned. Does he really want to stay in Iraq forever and bomb Iran? Does he really want to tax my health benefits? Because fuck the fuck out of THAT. Does he know ANYTHING about the economy? Does he really want to distance himself from the man he voted with over 90% of the time? If so, why did he pack his campaign full of Bush's assholes? Every decision he makes is monumentally stupid and desperate. As far as hero protection goes, McCain fails on every level.

At this point, I don't care who the real John McCain is anymore. I've switched the channel to the Obama show. Give me eloquent, intelligent, compassionate, funny and warm over whatever the fuck McCain's offering. Cancel that fucking show and let's move on.

np -- Glasvegas, "Glasvegas"

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Sun Always Shines on TV

Every Sunday night, I pour a glass of Scotch and settle in for the latest episode of "Mad Men."I realized that I didn't have fabulous crystal glasses, though, and it seriously took me days to find them. But now, I can drink my Scotch out of the appropriate glass. This seemed important, because "Mad Men" is all about authenticity, whether it's about the period or about the characters. Although monstrously serialized, each episode is like one of my individual crystal Scotch glasses -- perfectly formed, containing sheer fucking gold that goes down in a smooth, interesting, and surprising manner. Episodes of "Mad Men" are subtly thematic. It's not obvious, and it's not formula. I don't see these writers taking anything for granted. I love that they can make these characters likeable and sympathetic on the one hand, and heinous on the other. The jump-forward in time works, too. Take the episode with the Rothko, for example. Nobody knew what the fuck to make of the painting. Are we supposed to have an opinion? Do we wait to see what Cooper thinks? How do we respond? What are we supposed to think? Why won't somebody tell us? As advertising men, that quandary was fantastic because they Just Didn't Get It.

But then that subtle, fun scene permeated the rest of the episode until you had poor Sal at the end, with his wife, turned away from her as they watched "The Donna Reed Show." Sal, who fell for Ken because he had a sudden perception of Ken as a thoughtful, worldly guy. Simply because of how Ken saw the Rothko. The whole episode is like that, and it's marvelous because this show uses theme to explore the characters. It's grown-up, sophisticated storytelling and there isn't much of that out there.

"Mad Men" is able to take real-life archetypes and subvert expectation. Speaking of which...

I have now watched the first two episodes of "Fringe," and I gotta say, I'm a little disappointed. I feel like the show is stuck in the 90s, with its shady conspiracies, its freaky freaks and its FBI agents. We've seen so much FBI/cop genre paranoia shit that it's taken for granted now as a viable way to create an engine for a show. But what is it really doing for us anymore? Nothing, I say. This show is, theoretically, the forward-thinking cousin of the "X-Files" but in reality, it feels like a wan copy. The second episode had a pregnant chick in it, for God's sake (perhaps because there's only one woman on staff to write for the lead female character). Episode TWO, and this is where you go? More egregious, however, was how the episode came off as Tooms-lite. There were no surprises, no shocks, no reversals. It all happened the way it was supposed to. The reason those surprises don't exist is because it's all been done before. When you have a spooky show with an FBI agent and a doctor (of sorts), there are only so many paths you can tread.

I think part of the problem -- and this is going to permeate through the new TeeVee season -- is that any form of policeman is now an archetype. We've now seen every permutation of a cop, and we keep getting more. There's nothing fresh about it. At least in "Sarah Connor," they're regular folks and not cops so you don't get those typical stale cop beats. But while I understand that the show needs the evil corporation, even THAT is feeling stale. They use it on "Fringe," too... I thought it would be cool and fun, but it feels removed to me.

I have the last two episodes on TiVo but I haven't watched them yet, and I kinda know why. The show's well made, the cast is terrific, but beyond the issue of archetypes, it's just no fun. I've been thinking about fun a lot lately. Fun on TeeVee isn't about being funny. A super-dark show can be fun. "Sarah Connor," for example, is fun. Why I'm the only one watching it I do not know, but I really like it. This week's episode couldn't have been much darker but MAN, was it fun. The fun comes out of inspiration, of a desire to reveal things about the characters. Although I knew where they were going with Cameron, the journey to get there was FUN. And the actors are inspired, too. The parallels in that episode... totally fun. And really, the episode featured, for the most part, people talking to each other. Not a lot of action there. But people sitting there TALKING. It was terrific. I really see the inspiration with the show, and feel the enthusiasm and the passion of the staff and crew. It's a criminally underrated show.

And I think that's why I can't get into "Fringe." It feels... cynical, in a way, like a job that has to be done. Let's just get through the day, man, and get this show on the air. I'm just not getting the sense of fun, of inspiration, that a show like "Fringe" should have. Everything's in the right place, I suppose... but I demand more from my TeeVee watching. I'm looking for inspiration, for the signs that Somebody Is Making Decisions. It's not an obvious thing, but you can tell when there's a voice.

I thought I would try and watch the first two episodes of every new drama, but I'm reneging on that. I did TiVo the first episode of "Knight Rider" but I haven't had a chance to watch it yet. I watched the pilot for "Privileged," which seemed like about three shows stuck together and didn't coalesce for me. The cast is wonderful, although the snotty rich girls seem just as old as their tutor, which feels weird. It's wonderful seeing Anne Archer, and she's absolutely terrific. But the show veers from one tone to another and by the end of the pilot, I wasn't really sure what the show was going to be.

I think TeeVee's at a real crossroads here. People watch procedurals because that's what's on, but I am not getting the sense that anyone's all that thrilled with the medium. When you look at the Emmys rewarding AMC, a network virtually nobody watches, you can see that things are changing. I really hate the cynicism in TeeVee. I think it's worse than ever. And that certainly has a lot to do with the economy, with the country's uncertainty. But the entertainment industry is supposed to step forward at times like these. We're supposed to entertain and enlighten, and I don't think we're doing that. That is, aside from Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I don't think we know where we are, which position to take, what we want to say. And it's weird, because during the strike, we did know. But things have just gone back to the way they were, and that's kind of depressing.

But there's always tomorrow, and hopefully the people who can develop for next season are getting inspired, and they are trying to do things that matter to them. Those are always the hits. They're the shows people really love, even if they don't get the biggest audiences. TeeVee's worth saving, dammit!*

I'm going to do a sports post at some point -- YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED -- and just today, I will say GO DODGERS!!!!! Win one of these first three so I can go to a playoff game for the first time ever!!

*I will not be available to save TeeVee until hiatus.

np -- Travis, "Ode to J. Smith"