Charlie Jade - an Intriguing SF Show
Occasionally, when I have down time (waiting as I am now for comments back on outlines and articles), I'll see what oddness is on the Sci-Fi channel. And today it's a show called Charlie Jade
, a series about a detective trapped in a parallel universe. The concept is interesting enough, but the execution is marvelous and quite unlike what you will see in American television -- perhaps because it is a coproduction of Canadian and South African media companies. Largely filmed in South Africa, it has an unselfconscious multiracial casting that is unlike most of what I see in the U.S. There are no "quirky" or specifically "ethnic" characters that become a calculated faux representationalism. On one hand, society collectively pretends that filling the quotas is the same as being unbiased.
At the same time, there is a sense of the other meaning of representationalism, a philosophical approach in which the mind is said to actually perceive representations of objects and not the objects themselves. (In contrast to the Socratic concept of the ideal and human perception of shadows of representations of reality.) I find it interesting that South Africa can appear to have, at least in terms of entertainment, a far more relaxed attitude.
But forget the social musings for a moment. This is also a gorgeously and intelligently filmed series. The angles and approaches to lighting are far different than you find here. For example, in many dramatic series, harshly blown out highlights from powerful overhead lighting, ala The West Wing
or the newest Battlestar Galactica
, has become de rigeur.
In Charlie Jade
, there is an impressive use of color and filming technique. Using two different palettes, one of muted cools and the other of muted warms (not quite as harsh as, but similar to the color cast you get when using tungsten-balanced film outside and daylight-balanced inside), they set up contrasting worlds. The lighting doesn't call as much attention to itself but still underscores the tone of the story telling.
Apparently there was only one season filmed, though a second is written and ready for production. Hopefully someone will fund it -- and maybe some U.S. production companies will pay attention and start thinking differently about how they approach the medium. It's time to shake up the predictable.
Labels: color, lighting, science fiction, SF, television
Doing Time in the Big Dollhouse
I can't help but think that Joss Whedon
was intentionally invoking a connection to Ibsen with the name of his new series - Dollhouse
rather than A Doll's House
. Both look at cultural attitudes toward women. In both, women are supposed to play roles to please men. And each of the central characters faces coercion. From what I've heard of the television series, the main character will also start to question the circumstances surrounding her and, presumably, ultimately find a way out.
Past that, I find that Whedon's
new work compares both positively and negatively with that classic of theatrical realism. In favor of Dollhouse, although most commentaries and interviews I've heard stress the potential for misogyny and the "fantasy" treatment of women, I think there is far more going on. The technician is a young callow man, but the ultimate power behind the theme of people being repeatedly brainwashed and turned into fantasy characters for a rich person's amusement is a woman. And although the series, at least from what appears in this first episode, focuses on women, there are also men involved, both as the subjects who are leased out and also as "handlers," who are responsible for the safety of their charges. As becomes quickly clear, all of the people involved are bound up in this web of activity. There are men who are also subjects, and all the men and women who profit from the Dollhouse are locked into their roles, in some ways becoming subservient even while exploiting. To me, that makes the point that one part of society cannot be enslaved without all of society being so. The relative freedom that some face is only imaginary; they must live their lives to maintain their position, which is hardly freedom.
So, conceptually, I like the show. But the writing and execution of this first episode left me disappointed. Much of the screen time was spent on exposition - dialog in place only to explain what the circumstances. Not only is that poor dramatic practice, but it also creates an ongoing difficulty. Will people need to see each and every episode to understand what is going on? If so, Whedon
is writing off allowing anyone who did not immediately become a viewer. If not, then the exposition will have to continue, making the show potentially dull.
The flow of the first episode was also fractured and bordering on the incoherent, which is quite a feet given the number of expository scenes. I think it would be better if he could forget trying to lead everyone through and let the clues arise naturally. The next few episodes will give a better sense of whether this could be a daring approach to an intriguing concept or a case of old habits killing new practice. I did think that Eliza Dushku
was not the best choice for the part - it requires an actress who is capable of actually becoming other people, not just acting like other people. To be fair, that is a tall order, because it essentially requires a genius at the craft.
I also found the attempts at literal seductive marketing by the network both before and after the episode to be in poor taste and even repulsive. Yes, the two women are attractive, but the "come hither" approach to getting people to return the next week didn't seem ironic or even self-aware. Instead, it was vulgar and just another example of the entire attitude that Whedon
is trying to examine.
Labels: reviews, television, Whedon
Television News Product Placement
It's the end of the journalistic world as we've known it: a Las
Vegas television station, owned by Meredith, is taking money from McDonalds to display two cups of iced coffee
, logos squarely facing the camera.
The arrangement does raise questions about potential conflicts between the intended message and news content. The ad agency that arranged the promotion said the coffee cups would most likely be whisked away if KVVU chooses to report a negative story about McDonald’s.
“If there were a story going up, let’s say, God forbid, about a McDonald’s food illness outbreak or something negative about McDonald’s, I would expect that the station would absolutely give us the opportunity to pull our product off set,” said Brent Williams, account supervisor at Karsh/Hagan, the advertising agency that arranged the deal between McDonald’s and KVVU.
The station claims that it will continue to report about McDonald's, removing the cups if there is a negative story, just as it would remove a commercial spot. But the problem here is that the advertising is no longer contained to identifiable segments. Product placement works on the theory of an implied endorsement by the people who are in the program in question. This is the line between sponsorship
. I wonder if the contract with the station called for a payment of 30 pieces of silver. Probably not - the going rate for integrity is somewhat higher these days.
Labels: advertising, broadcasting, ethics, news, television
Romania has passed legislation mandating that half of all newscasts must be upbeat news
The measure is the idea of two senators -- one from the governing National Liberal Party, the other from the far-right Great Romania party -- who bemoan the "irreversible effect" of negative news "on the health and life of people".
Its aim, they said, is to "improve the general climate and to offer to the public the chance to have balanced perceptions on daily life, mentally and emotionally".
Clearly the change should be easy - move all actions of the legislature for the sadly real to the patently and laughably ridiculous column.
Labels: broadcasting, government, law, radio, television
Journalist Crowd Ambushes Bill O'Reilly Employee Trying to Ambush Bill Moyers
Oh, this was really amusing - a video clip of a producer for Bill O'Reilly trying to ambush and browbeat Bill Moyers
for not going on O'Reilly's show on O'Reilly's terms. The producer kept using loaded questions to color the conversation and attack Moyers while claiming to be asking something straightforward. Moyers, being no fool, didn't back down and nicely said that he'd go on O'Reilly's show if O'Reilly would first go on his - for an hour, completely unedited. That's a tough format if you like to browbeat and make yourself look right. And then the journalists who were attending the conference where this happened started following the producer and used the same techniques on him. The guy kept walking - no wonder. Whethr you agree with Moyers's politics or not, I think it's clear that you don't play word games with someone who has been using them for as long as he has.
Labels: Politics, television, video
Gamers to Decide SciFi Show Directions
The SciFi Channel is combining a new television series with a massively multiplayer online game
(MMOG) to create a hybrid entertainment that hasn't worked before, but might this time, according to an LA Times report. Instead of having people watch once a week, the channel hopes to get them involved all week long, with the way fans play the game shaping what happens on the show:
"This is the Holy Grail for us, without a doubt," said Dave Howe, president of the Sci Fi Channel, which has teamed with Trion World Network, an on-the-rise gaming company based in Redwood City, Calif. "This is groundbreaking, and I don't say that lightly."
Sci Fi Channel executives are mum about the title of the show and game and their premise, but they do hint that it will be set 80 to 100 years in the future on an Earth that looks very different from today. The team has summer 2010 as the targeted launch; more details are expected to be announced in July at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
It's an interesting concept, and one treading on ground that has and hasn't worked out in the past. The American Idol and Survivor type shows have been wildly successful, letting audience members vote on the results. But television and online gaming are quite different. One way the studios get people to come back every week is to leave the results in doubt. But in an online game, can you keep participants in the dark, the way you would with a vote, or will some of the suspense dissipate, as people must know what is going on to a significant degree to actually play?
Labels: games, online, television
Nine Signs That A Science Fiction TV Series Has Been On Too Long
Here are some of the signs I've noticed that a science fiction or fantasy series has been on television too long:
- The characters have a "been there, done that" attitude, where little to nothing surprises them.
- Inside jokes become regular fare.
- You keep wondering what they're going to do to top the last set of calamities and special effects - and so do the writers.
- They recycle the old aliens that went out of fashion three seasons back.
- They have a flashback episode, where it's one scene from an older episode after another.
- You can hear the straining sounds when it comes to deciding whether to run another year or not.
- An actor previously phased out of the program shows up again under some convoluted explanation.
- The action figures came, and went, two years ago.
- Actors appear on the convention circuit.
Labels: fantasy, science fiction, television
Pentagon Manipulates Press
Although this seems to be the PR equivalent of a dog bites man story, the Pentagon, and Bush administration, managed to efficiently lead broadcasters around by the nose
, and possibly print as well, by subverting third party sources: retired military personnel who act as military analysts:
Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.
Viewers and readers (because I refuse to believe that a lot of print journalists haven't also been taken in) don't get to hear about the business relationships that help drive the need to please the brass:
But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.
In addition, the analysts would act as spies for the military, reporting back on planned stories as well as forwarding copies of their correspondence with the networks. A number of the analysts came out and admitted to the reporters of this story that they were duped. Nothing like keeping the lines of communication open, even if twisted, turned, and knotted.
Labels: manipulation, Politics, PR, television, war
Fake News on Local Television
Farhad Manjoo is promoting a new book: "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society."
Aside from being a witty and intriguing title, the topic of how companies and special interests feed stories that news outlets use verbatim is an important tone.
It's not that being a channel for commercial interests is usual. Many people who have written press releases have the experience of seeing them turned directly into stories without a single change in wording. But corporations are becoming ever more clever in this undertaking:
Pornography was popping up on the iPod. Raskin, a pert middle-aged woman with short brown hair and a deep, authoritative voice, considered herself an expert on how kids use technology (she'd once written a magazine column called "Internet Mom"). She approached local TV news broadcasts across the country with her iPod worries. They bit.
Nine stations aired Raskin's warnings. Her segments had the look and feel of ordinary local news: Super-coifed anchors offer alarmist assessments of everyday objects, story at 11.
But Raskin went on further, suggesting "safe" products as gifts - from companies that hired her as a shill. This is also done on a national level. When you see someone touting round-ups of products, often - although not always - that person is paid by the manufacturers to include their products.
But the use of spoon-fed news feeds, whether print, audio, or video, has become a real problem. News outlets use them because it's "free" content, and the audience never knows that it's just been sold down the river.
Labels: news, PR, television
Late Night TV Needs Talkers
The late night talk shows have a problem. They are largely returning to the air - Letterman at least having worked out a deal with the writers on strike - but Hollywood stars are reluctant to cross picket lines. As the New York Times notes
Uncertainty over whether many of Hollywood’s biggest stars will be willing to cross picket lines and appear on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” both on NBC; CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman”; or “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC has the programs’ producers in a frenzy as they try to book guests for the shows, which are scheduled to return with fresh episodes Jan. 2.
My sympathy for the plight of producers is well-known, and so I make an offer to be of help. Ladies and gentlemen, I am available if you need a guess. I obviously won't be crossing a picket line, but perhaps we could do a phone interview. Unfortunately, I don't have a recent movie or well-known novel out, but the flip side is that I'm easy to find and have time on my hands - at least since we got a plumber in to deal with the leak in the heating system. But I'm willing to be as amusing as I'm capable of and am happy to talk about my blogs, magazine articles for business managers and lawyers, and my search for regional dessert recipes. Why don't you have your machine call my machine? Love ya - don't change.
Labels: Hollywood, strike, talk shows, television, WGA
Reality of Reality TV
To get a sense of what the business of reality television is like, check this link to a MediaChannel.org post
by media prankster and "socio-political satarist." (I was about to use the same phrase, and realized that it was on his web site
- certainly one of the more interesting approaches to web site navigation I've seen.) Apparently, at least for this reality show about being a prankster, the producers want to own outright anything you send them as an example of your work, and they don't want to pay you a penny. That seems like the biggest hoax there could be.
Labels: hoax, media, television
Writer Reality TV
Clearly someone in the entertainment industry has finally cracked. A new show called The Ultimate Author
is looking for contestants - who will compete for a book deal and the chance to spend a year learning how to promote the final tome. Yes, folks, you too can jet down to Ft. Lauderdale in June and wilt while you wait to see if you have what it takes to be freakishly bookish. And compelling television this will be, as the show's site explains:
Contestants in this competition must be smart enough to spell well, creative enough to coordinate a themed book club gathering, savvy enough to handle an ambush interview, wise enough to develop an effective marketing plan, and talented enough to help design an eye-catching book cover.
Every week there's a new genre and contestants have two hours to write a chapter. Two hours
? Anyone on this show actually ever write a chapter of anything? Let's see - 3,000 to 5,000 words in two hours means typing anywhere from 25 to 42 words a minute on the average without a break and no thought and planning. Oh, yes, this will
be interesting reading. I can hardly wait to see the footage of people. Sitting. And. Typing.
Labels: authors, books, reality, television
Ophrah's Father to Write Memoir
Oprah Winfrey was apparently "stunned" to learn that her father was writing a memoir
, but hadn't told her:
"I said, `That's impossible. I can assure them it's not true,'" she said. "... I called him and it turned out he is writing a book. The worst part of it was him saying, `I meant to tell you I've been working on it.'"
I can see how it could be a surprise to learn second hand that your own father was writing about his live - and yours, as an extension. But let's consider for a moment that few people have helped promote the surprise tell-all to the degree that Ms. Winfrey has. Much of her career, and that of her talk-show colleagues, is built on the heart-rending personal reminiscences of those who give up their privacy for notoriety, or at least 15 minutes worth.
Life is often unfair, but it makes up for that with irony, so that the eventual payment is in the same currency. My question is whether her father will be promoting his book on her show. After all, if everyone else can undergo embarrassment for the sake of ratings, it only seems right that she can as well.
Labels: book, memoir, Oprah, television