Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Interview: Situation: Comedy Star and The Sperm Donor Co-Creator Mark Treitel

For much of the spring, I heralded Bravo's Project Greenlight as the best show on television. Situation: Comedy, its successor of sorts, comes very close to that lofty apogee. Created by Sean Hayes of Will & Grace fame and Todd Milliner, Situation: Comedy goes behind the scenes to examine the fun and terror of creating a sitcom pilot.

Mark Treitel and his longtime writing partner Shoe Schuster, co-creators of The Sperm Donor, were selected from over 10,000 applicants to be filmed during the process of writing, re-writing, getting castigated during States of the Union, and occasionally helping to help out with casting, set design, and post-production. To up the ante even further, Treitel and Schuster face off against another team of aspiring sitcom writers (David Lampson and Andrew Leeds, co-creators of Stephen's Life). The winning team will receive a cash prize, talent agents, and a theoretical shot at sitcom immortality.

I spoke with Mark about the pressures of going through the reality show wringer while trying to pound out a top-notch sitcom pilot under a tight deadline. We also found time to get into such topics as the makings of a great sitcom, the real reality of reality shows, and a hypothetical Happy Days of the future.

Note: Through September 2nd, click here to watch video clips of the shows and to vote for The Sperm Donor or Stephen's Life. The team that receives the most audience votes will win the competition. You can vote once a day.


Eric Berlin: What was being on a reality show like, and how did you feel about the editing process later on while watching yourself on television?

Mark Treitel: [Laughs] For everyone watching reality shows, I would point to the fact that the WGA [Writers Guild of America] this week is basically suing reality show producers, saying there are "reality writers."

You have to know what you're in for going in. My writing partner Shoe Schuster and I are actually avid reality fans, so we were ready to expect anything. When we came in to pitch to Stan and Max [Executive Producers Stan Zimmerman and Maxine Lapiduss] that first day, which you see on Episode One, Shoe and I were expecting anything, like there might be little kids sitting there and we would have to pitch to them like they were the NBC network executives.

You just don't know. And you sign away everything, like this giant ironclad contract that basically signs away all of your rights.

So you're saying things may not be quite what they seem.

Well, the editing can be very frustrating. When they edit it all together, it's very easy to make it look like someone's not working! I mean, we worked 8-10 hours a day, and the one minute where you're not working, they shoot it, and they do five of those in a row, and it looks like you're not working.

Do they film you from the minute you walk in up until you go home?

We got there at 8:00 every morning and left between 11 and midnight and they would put a microphone on you when you first got there and then start filming you. The first day Shoe got there, they actually followed him into the bathroom and he was like, "What are you guys doing?" They stopped after that.

Having a video camera on you is like being in the movie Goodfellas, where the characters develop this language where they're kind of talking in code. Shoe and I wound up talking in code and would talk about "the thing about the other thing" with gesturing!

So imagine what you're really good at, and having a camera put on you. It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you. Our only goal was to make the best sitcom. And obviously the camera makes that a little bit harder, but you kind of get used to it.

Were there ever moments where you would say something and a producer would step in and say, "Hey, can you do that again"?

Not really. The thing about reality shows is that there is a lot of "real" stuff, like reactions to things. But I think you can tell when something doesn't sound real.

There was a scene where they said, "There's a deadline – you have to get it done by 9 PM." And it was just kind of weird. So toward the camera I said [very obvious and over-the-top], "Look Shoe, it's 9:00." It was a fake moment.

With reality shows, the POVs [point of views], the interviews, this happens a lot. Knowing what's going on, you can watch a lot of other shows a lot differently. You have to kind of know when the interview is being done. Is it being done during the taping of the show or after the fact?

The Real World seems to do a lot of this. I'm a reality…

A junkie?

Yeah. They'll speak in the present tense even though it's another time and another place.

It is weird. I mean, you're working with people and you want to give them what they want.

I think the only real reality show is The Amazing Race because you have to do something like climb the Great Wall of China. You can't duplicate that! But anything else, it's…

I would counter with The Contender, but I definitely get your point.

I didn't see The Contender… Oh, you mean because the guy gets punched in the face?

Exactly. Someone gets their ass kicked at the end of the show.

I think we had an episode, maybe it was the sixth or seventh, where we beat each other up!

It's just weird, because we've always wanted to do sitcom writing and this is who we are, and Shoe and I interact very well together. But the camera's on you the whole time, you know? And there's no one who's natural. When you watch other shows, like The Apprentice, you start thinking about, "If this happened to me…"

I've never been on a reality show, and I think about it, so I definitely get you there.

Eventually, everyone will get their own reality show. I think that's being written into the Constitution right now.

You're paving the way for that right now.

Well, we said we were going to kill off the sitcom or we're going to kill off reality shows!

At the end of the day, we were happy to be on the show, but it was never about that. Our "show" was always about making the best sitcom and proving to the world that we've got the chops. Making a good show and getting it out there.

So what's the status of the show right now? You have the 15 minute pilot in the can and you're waiting for the voting process to take place?

The voting process is happening right now. It started on Friday night and it ends on Friday, September 2nd at midnight. Everyone is invited to vote for our show, The Sperm Donor, or the other show, and you can also watch the pilot. You can vote once a day.

What do you think of the other guys, your competition, the writing team behind Stephen's Life?

I like Stephen's Life, and I like Andrew and David.

Everyone got along?

Yeah, we got along, and I like their show, but I think our show holds up. I feel very strongly that when you compare the two that ours sets out to do what we want it to do. I think, objectively, you can see our show on NBC. Right up there with King of Queens or one of those types of shows.

It's funny, going back to the reality show thing, we were supposed to be living with them originally. But they cut that cut that aspect out of the show.

I'm sure you're really good at this by now, so give me your 30-second pitch for The Sperm Donor.

[Laughs] The Sperm Donor is about an uptight psychiatrist who has a thirteen-year old daughter who she has problems with, so she tries to bring in the father. She thinks the father is going to be an uptight snooty-snoot, but he turns out to be a Jack Black uncontrollable roadie.

And what our show is really about is a male-female Odd Couple. It's kind of harkening back to the sitcoms of the 70s and the 80s: two people who can't get along but you can feel the attraction.

We have such great chemistry between these wonderful actors. Maggie Wheeler and David Deluise. And I've had people tell me, this is a Sam and Diane [from sitcom classic Cheers] kind of thing. We felt it when we watched it. And you have Richie Keen , who plays the brother, and you have Lauren Schaffel (check spell), who is a teenage actor. She's on Still Standing, and she really carried the show.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in writing for television?

Make sure you have money coming in some other way! It's really difficult, but at the same time I would say that there are opportunities, particularly because of the fact that there are so many cable channels.

How many scripts did you write with Shoe before The Sperm Donor?

We've written about four to five features, and about ten pilots. We've been writing together for so long, and you come up with so many different ideas. We have about thirty or forty different treatments.

There are some fun things that we've written. We wrote a Happy Days, where it takes place during the present time as though it's gone through to present day, so you have Chachi Jr. Jr., which is Chachi's grandchild! [Laughs] And then Ron Howard, Richie Cunningham, comes back and he's like the Senator of Wisconsin. And he comes back and has an election against The Fonz. You know, like the old Happy Days, where they have the high school elections? So it's Fonzie versus Richie for State Senator.

Did you write that to get yourselves out there, or was this a serious idea to bring Happy Days back to the air?

It was just a way to do something different to get yourself noticed. And that's why we called this show The Sperm Donor. We had no idea we would actually get a show produced called that!

They were actually talking about changing the name the whole time, and we were cool with that, but because of the reality show and the fact that we called it The Sperm Donor about a billion times, it was impossible not to call it that.

But the fact is that we're so blasé in our society now about language that we can call it The Sperm Donor. It's like, "Yeah, Sperm Donor, whatever!"

What's your take on single-camera versus multi-camera television sitcoms?

Some people say the sitcom is dead. The sitcom isn't dead – you can always reinvent it. Look at Everybody Loves Raymond. It actually started out on a Friday night on CBS. And it goes down to: do you want to see these people every week? Are they funny? Are the characters good?

Does a successful sitcom come down to the comedy, the characters, the story, the writing, or is it a combination of all of them?

Bad actors will kill the best joke and great actors will make the simplest joke work.

On The Sperm Donor, we were writing up until the last minute. On the most recent episode, you see the producer's run through, and it went okay, but I knew deep down there were moments. There was a moment where David is talking to Lauren and she says, "You're my dad!" And it was really kind of a sweet moment. And you think, "There's chemistry here." There's something there, and you just have to go in and mine it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Enter The Duke's 72 Hours Raw In Dublin

The continuing adventures of the man known as Duke de Mondo have become something of a Blogcritics legend. While long known for his wildly exuberant yet frantically soothing forays into music, film, and politics in his native Northern Ireland, The Duke has of late turned his distinctive voice toward journeys more personal.

The Tragic Saga of Harry Potter Woman is a classic and masterful capturing of that girl on the train who might have been. Reflections On Spring 2005 is an emotional and hilarious reckoning with the past while reaching out towards the future's promise. Cult followers of The Duke's Mondo Radio podcasts are already familiar with the hilarity, anguish, and pop culture maelstrom under which Our Humble Narrator resides.

Now we are graced with a new Duke, a new cohort (the illustrious Sir Fleming), and new journeys across battered and mad cityscapes. 72 Hours Raw in Dublin is a searing vision into the fiendish Irish night, a kaleidoscope of manic laughter, frantic imagery, and haunted dreams.

Take the first step with The Duke and you're sure to be transformed and twisted and liberated come the other side.

72 Hours Raw In Dublin - Part Three
"Bad Hunger, Heavy Lust, Awful Music"
Posted to Culture by Duke De Mondo on August 24, 2005 11:53 PM

72 Hours Raw In Dublin - Part Two
"In Search Of A Filth"
Posted to Culture by Duke De Mondo on August 23, 2005 07:31 PM

72 Hours Raw In Dublin - Part One
"An Ending Fitting For The Start..."
Posted to Culture by Duke De Mondo on August 22, 2005 08:50 PM

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Real World Beckons the Cathode Ray Fray, but Rescue Me Triumphs Over All

The Ray flickered in and out this week, its pulse struggling to reach me through the maelstrom of real world (as opposed to The Real World) offerings. I was engaged in such odd environments that at one point I found myself flailing my arms through a large container filled with water. There was splashing, there was physical exertion, there were… diving boards.

Luckily, the Ray, the sweet soothing soft seduction song of my Cathode Ray Fray came a-calling, and I was able to shut away from fresh air and summer climes to report that which it has become fundamentally vital and absolutely imperative to do so.

Danny’s back on The Real World, but are things back on with Mel?
The Ray demands weekly homage at the alter of The Real World, the place where real life concerns (like remembering to purchase bread and box wine and Cheetos) are replaced with Real World questions such as:

A) How many more times will we be subjected to watching the tape of Danny shrugging off his soon-to-be-deceased mother on the phone, followed by Danny crying his eyes out about how he should have been there for her?
B) Will Wes successfully execute his long-term, exquisitely planned operation to hook up with the mercurial Johanna?
C) When will the first drunken and racially-charged fight occur?
D) Will Mel ever wear anything except skimpy panties around the house?
E) Does anyone really care about the documentary they’re supposed to be working on?

Answer Key:

A) All signs point to three
B) Yes, but pre-hook up drunken fighting and tense, sexually-charged but irrational thrashing about will be replaced by post-hook up drunken fighting and just plain irrational thrashing about
C) Soon
D) Let’s just hope that MTV’s censor dude stays vigilant
E) No, audience included, with the exception of Lacey

But that’s all small stuff. The big question is whither Mel and Danny, the star-crossed lovers who would have easily caught the eye of a certain Globe Theater scribe had the nearly perfect looking duo been kicking it Elizabethan-style circa 1600 or so (the Ray is well versed in history, so don’t ask me, ‘kay?).

Danny’s back at the house, but he’s clearly a changed man. Indeed, he’s grown up before our very weary eyes, having endured a brutal and blind-sided attack to the side of his face, surgery, and the death of his mother all before the mid-point of this Real World cycle. The lad, who appears to have as much integrity as a young Abercrombie-looking model can have in these troubled and wasteful times, is clearly reeling and knows not who to turn to in his distress. It’s the sweet and beautiful, slightly insecure and immature Mel that all signs would clearly point to, but Fate has a funny and cruel way of knocking down paper sailboats on the grand wade pool under the stars.

Rescue Me: Realer (and vastly more entertaining) than the really real world?
Bang the drum from the rooftops. Ram your snout against the tree. Pulse the blinding Ray of the Ray's pulse against the sky like an emblem for our times and all the people look up flabbergasted and aghast and awed and joyed and rebirthed and exhumed from blind apoplexy and say together in Kerouac-ian ecstacy, "Awwwwwwwwwwww...."

Watch Rescue Me.

The Ray demands it of you.

And so do I, truth be told.

It's a story about a group of firefighters struggling to get by in a post-9/11 world that has mostly forgotten its everyday heroes. But at the same time it operates masterfully on two (main) intertwining levels. One level is a gut-punching drama about life and loss amongst blue collar, hard knock guys (and one woman, a firefighter) and the poor bastards they drag out of crushed and burning buildings. There's drug and alcohol abuse, there's deepest and darkest bigotry and hate -- straight out of our own hearts and splattered across the small screen the Ray provides for us all. There's families ripped apart and old unions and relationships torn asunder by the harsh truths and facts and lies and assumptions that stalk us to a one every single second of the ticking clock.

"Why in nightmare's fuck would I watch such a dribbly dark piece of melodramatic ass trash?" you ask while munching distractedly on a pop tart.

Because of that other level, friends of the Ray, the level that soothes and taunts and teases. It's a humanizing level that sucks you into a fictional vortex where belief is suspended across time and space and mind.

And also, because it's gut-bustingly and heavingly and outrageously imbued with hilarity. It's funny. It will knock you down with laughter.

"How can one show possibly manage to embody both of those descriptions at once, you hyperbolic romantic gnome-fool?" you ask while cleaning your teeth with the edge of a paper crown obtained at a local Burger King restaurant.

Trust and Obey the Ray, I'll say first. And then I can only counter with, "It just does."

It does by cleverly intersplicing the two levels while never letting the story fall out of balance. Many of the best series and films of all time manage to accomplish this. Dramas such as Goodfellas and The Sopranos combine brutal violence with some of the rawest and funniest moments ever to hit the screen. Likewise, ostensible comedies such as Swingers and Sideways pack a masterful spoonful of drama, causing the story and moments and ideas displayed in those films to stay with you long after the final credits roll.

Rescue Me balances out into the dramatic category, but it always tempers the harshest moments with relieving and cathartic bouts of madcap comedy. Whereas early in this second season things seemed bleak as Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary, in the role of a lifetime) devolved bleakly into alcoholism, his family snuck off to Ohio, the last strands of his support network fraying and sparking out, things have turned around remarkably as the last several weeks have revved up the comic firepower.

And so it’s shows like Rescue Me that allow a fellow to let a strand of hope shine in, as the Ray smiles its just out of focus smile upon us all.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Contender Strikes Back: Boxers to Duke It Out Once Again on ESPN

Just yesterday I was driving through Los Angeles, lulled into a half-stupor by the pulsating brake lights of afternoon traffic. As I passed the STAPLES Center, I saw something that shook me awake and made me question whether I might have just entered a time warp right there on the 110:

The Contender: Sergio Mora vs. Peter Manfredo Jr, the Jumbotron display read.

The Contender’s back?” I thought.

“The Latin Snake’s defending his Contender title against The Pride of Providence? This is something I must not miss.”

And I was understandably stoked and awake straight through LA to Pasadena, my home and home to the Contender Gym.

It turns out that Mark Burnett has teamed up with ESPN to bring three boxing specials to the fight-thirsty masses. The first will be telecast live from STAPLES Center on Saturday, October 15th, 2005.

The fight card promises more East vs. West action from The Contender gang. Alfonzo “Superman” Gomez, as dogged and tenacious a fighter as there is, will take on Jeff Fraza; Jonathan Reid goes up against Miguel Espino; and in what should be a fascinating rematch, Anthony “#1 Daddy Hat” Bonsante will fight Jesse Brinkley.

One of the best reasons to watch these fights is that all of the fighters will have had time to recuperate and get into proper physical and mental shape for a professional bout. There were periods during the debut season of The Contender — particularly during the later rounds — where boxers were competing on three to six days of rest.

In the Season One live finale of The Contender, the charismatic Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora used his lanky body and graceful quickness to soundly defeat the more traditional punching power of Peter Manfredo, Jr. Manfredo, who has already proven that he has the heart to march back from defeat (he was voted back onto The Contender after an early defeat, after which he stampeded into the final match), will be looking for payback and redemption come October 15th.

Jesse Brinkley knocked out Anthony Bonsante (his nickname is actually The Bullet, but he’s best known by his incessant and tearful tirades about how much he loves his kids) in what was the most exciting and surprising fight of the entire season. Bonsante had Brinkley running and battered through most of the fight via his maniacal yet effective monsoon of aggressive strikes. Brinkley, always the crafty veteran, found his opening at perhaps the last possible moment with a wonderfully vicious uppercut that laid out the larger Bonsante, effectively ending the bout.

I’m also happy to see Jonathan Reid get another shot in primetime. While he was knocked out of the competition early, he has a congenial and optimistic spirit that most people will enthusiastically get behind. While he didn’t get a lot of airtime, he proved to be an entertaining and effective self-promoter as a guest on radio’s Love Line.

Fans of the first season of The Contender got to know and care about this group of boxers, which added tremendously to the emotional weight of the elimination bouts that ended each episode. For newcomers and fans of the fight game who have not yet caught on, this event has every chance of providing exciting, competitive, and entertaining boxing action.

This is real. This is reality TV.

Fire up those DVRs. Let’s get it on.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Minding the Store With Pauly Shore: Kick Start My Ennui

At last report, I described an uncomfortable yet all encompassing sense of ennui from watching Minding the Store, Pauly Shore's reality series on TBS. Wondering why I felt the need to keep watching week after week made me really dig down within myself, to find out what would make me take precious seconds out of my leisure to watch a show about a fading comic and his travails at the "world famous" (this bit is rammed down our throats) Comedy Store on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip.

It’s kind of light and off-beat, which makes for easy viewing after a real day spent in real life land and its traffic and meetings and convenience store clerks who may or may not spill over into the Red Zone when you politely ask for change of a five. Shore, with his oddly deteriorating features and new whoa-is-me shtick is mostly likeable and watchable in his quest to lay off the easy pleasures of Hollywood (read = starlet wannabes fresh-off-the-bus) and rebuild what he freely admits is a career that went from boomingest boom to, well, busty.

But to paraphrase Bill Murray in Stripes:

There's something very very wrong with this!

Every reality show has some level of scripting, some level of unreality, if you will, built in: The Real World ain't all that real, the Survivor folk likely ain't going to die, and so on.

But Minding the Store pushes the line, at times until it’s an unfunny blur. Take, for example, the numerous storylines involving Pauly Shore and his zany crew of "whack pack" underlings and associates from the Comedy Store. One episode found Pauly ordering the minions to spruce up the (world famous) Comedy Store limousine. The upshot was a staged adventure to Mexico where, lo and behold, the limo was Mexican-ized, Tijuana-style: bright red paint from bumper to bumper, mariachi-ized horn, and interior replete with Mexican cucarachas, blankets, and hats. Pauly was appalled! What's an aging comic to do!

Indeed, one of the through lines of Minding the Store was how New & Improved the (world famous) Comedy Store really, really, really is! So on top of the canned element, we were treated to a marketing pitch for our troubles.

The other main storyline dealt with Pauly's increasingly desperate (and staged) attempts to become a dramatic actor and reenter the ranks of Hollywood's A List.

It was the episode in which Pauly put together an audition tape of sorts to, in theory, show off his dramatic acting chops that really began to kick start my sense of ennui ("Kick Start My Ennui" - take that, Motley Crue!). Up until then, I was easing into my role as viewer of rooting for Pauly and the revival of his career. He's got an oddball charm that remains from his MTV-styled Weasel days (How's it going, bud-dee?) and it was fun watching him attempt to rebuild his life and career in the town where self-invention and reinvention and self-promotion meld into one gloriously gaudy conglomeration.

Pauly, bless his heart, acted out a scene from what must undoubtedly be a blacksploitation masterpiece called The Black Godfather. He played the role of Badass Pimp, looking to get what was coming to him or some such. Now, if Pauly delivered a straight or nearly straight performance, we would watch Shore prepare for the role and root hit along as he strived with a madness in his soul to resurrect a once high-flying career.

Instead, it ended up being played for laughs: emphasis on played, and with not very many laughs as a result. Marlon, Pauly's Latino gopher, was dispatched to be the "propmaster" for the shoot. Requisite “mix-up” antics ensued, leaving Pauly with a pimp costume more befitting a vaudeville-era huckster than, well, a Black Godfather. Pauly's subsequent performance was bad, but not in that so-bad-it’s-funny kind of way. It was just excruciatingly and painfully awful.

The supposed payoff comes during a sequence in which Pauly proudly shows this schlocky tape about town in a bid to accelerate his new ascendancy to fame and fortune. As Pauly shows the tape to his shocked and awed looking management team, it appears that the climactically hilarious Subtitles of Comedy should read, "Isn't it hilarious how awful the audition tape is, and doubly hilarious that Pauly just doesn't get it, poor soul?"

But it doesn't work. At this point, I began to feel manipulated, used. Perhaps a little bit like how those fresh-off-the-bus starlet wannabes feel after a few dates with (legendary Playboy Mansion regular) Pauly Shore.

Speaking of the ladies, a subplot involved Pauly spending time with his sex therapist. He’s looking to settle down, it seems, but he just can’t lay off the one night stands. The only thing I found interesting about this aspect of the show is the continuation of a recent spate of reality programs that show therapists working with clients in session (see also: the excellent, unscripted Blow Out on Bravo). Didn’t The Sopranos teach us about therapist-client privilege?

In the end, though, I kept on watching. Pauly exudes a rumpled playfulness that managed to hack into my brain, power down its Thinking Center (which is just down the hall from the Pinball Arcade/Study), and keep me watching as each new pre-planned and canned non-adventure unfolded.

I'm not sure what I learned from Minding the Store. It was at times mildly amusing, mildly manipulative, and mildly inane.

The only way to describe how I feel is that it kick started within me a frantic sense of ennui.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sitcom Death and TV Comedy Rebirth: Single-Camera, Multi-Camera, and a Breathtakingly Brief History of Comedy

"The sitcom is dead."

I hear a good deal of this nowadays. Indeed, I must admit that when I flip through the sitcom-laden channels of an evening, hoping against hope for a laugh, I’m tempted to say, in the same blasé slacker cool that the fedora-wielding dude in Swingers dropped on his friends amidst a crowded hipster bar:

"This place is deaaaad anyway."

Which is an easy thing to say. Drop in on shows like Hope & Faith and My Wife and Kids and According to Jim (and we’re just talking ABC here), and you know exactly what you’re in for: there’s a family living room, a Dad, wacky kids with problems-of-the-week, or single women trying to Figure It Out, commiserating over lost loves, and learning the True Meaning of Friendship, all wrapped up in a tidy 23-minute package.

It’s safe, it's comfortable, it's easy. You can "zone out" to it. You’ll almost never laugh (except if you’re loopy from lack of sleep or have just come back from the pub). You may smile that tight smile of tired recognition every now and again, not because you really find anything funny, but because you’re so used to the rhythms and training of the sitcom that your brain is almost preprogrammed to catch the beats and synapses and syncopations of television comedy.

It’s dead anyway.

But if you look closer, there's a new breed of comedies out there making their mark. It’s difficult to think of them as “sitcoms” because they don’t have that safe (and dead) feel. They actually don’t even really look like traditional sitcoms, as many of this new breed eschews the old fashioned multi-camera show for the edgier, more cinematic flavor of the single-camera comedy.

Situation: Comedy
I became attuned to the single- versus multi-camera aspect of television production while watching Situation: Comedy (Bravo), a reality show competition in the spirit of Project Greenlight that pits aspiring sitcom writers against one another in a bid to push a primetime show past the desks of NBC executives.

Two teams – two men on each as it turns out – are currently in the midst of developing a 15-minute showcase (basically half of a pilot episode) that will air during a live finale. The audience will then get to vote for the one they like best, with the winners sharing a cash prize and a theoretical "shot" at getting their sitcom onto NBC's primetime schedule (fans of Dat Phan, winner of NBC's Last Comic Standing, need not hold their collective breaths).

David Lampson and Andrew Leeds, the aspiring duo behind a sitcom-in-development called Stephen's Life, are obstinate and opinionated, and thus comprise the more interesting storyline (and ain't that what it's all about in reality TV land?). They’re a tenacious lot, however, and never more so than in their insistence that Stephen’s Life, a potentially quirky and funny concept about a Junior High kid who runs his life like a Fortune 500 company, be shot single-camera.

Traditional sitcoms, traditional yawns
This led me to think about comedy on television and the convention of the sitcom. I grew up in an 80s-verse of classic (or "classic," if you prefer) sitcom fare: Family Ties and The Cosby Show and Growing Pains and on and on (Silver Spoons, anyone? If you’re humming the theme song right now, we’re on the same page). In most cases, joining a family or metaphorical family (Facts of Life, etc.) in the living room or kitchen for mildly serious dilemmas solved by broad punch lines, catch phrases, and an occasional visit from the Wacky Neighbor was as ubiquitous and American as Ronald Reagan, apple pie, and eating a TV dinner nuked out of time and mind next to Mom.

By the 90s, this format was beginning to groan. Urkel and Screech and minority-heavy and relationship-centric shows began to blot out the hope of ever finding an original storyline, let alone a laugh, emanating from the tired living room couch. Seinfeld, perhaps the funniest sitcom of all time, broke the mold and bucked the trend by famously focusing on “nothing.” The end of Friends may have signaled the end of a sitcom era: its attractive cast and consistently strong writing often gave it more of a romantic comedy flavor than that of a sitcom.

Out of the ashes… HBO
For a time, perhaps for several years in the early '00s, it was safe to say that comedy on television was pretty much dead anyway.

Then, for not the first time, cable television came along to whoop the networks a good one. Curb Your Enthusiasm, from the misanthropic and darkly brilliant mind of Larry David, may just be the show that reinvented the comedy wheel. Largely improvised, loose, and shot almost documentary-style with a single camera, the microscopic yet hilarious adventures of Larry David (playing himself) in shallow, self-absorbed Hollywood rewrote the rules of what a half-hour of comedy on television can do.

The trailblazing has continued, to more or less positive effect. Da Ali G Show, with its real life subjects being conned and put on by the multiple and wacky personas of star Sacha Brown Cohen, often feels more like a tensely played out art experiment than a “traditional” comedy. For that fact alone, perhaps, it should be given credit for pushing the bounds of television comedy.

Entourage, Executive Produced by Mark Wahlberg and starring a stunningly perfect cast including Jeremy Piven and Adrian Grenier, may well be pointing the way forward for the next generation of television comedy. Both Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm do an excellent job of blending comedy with a realistic and improvisational feel. Whereas Larry David and Curb lean on Seinfeld-brand nothingness for inspiration, Entourage gives us a brilliant and original glimpse into what it might be like if an old pal from the neighborhood (in this case, Queens, New York) made it really, really big in Hollywood.

Showtime is now trying to capitalize on the trend by way of two promising shows: Weeds, starring the great Mary Louise Parker, which is a dramedy about a mom who sells marijuana to make ends meet, and Barbershop, based on the film franchise, which utilizes single-camera but feels very much like a well produced sitcom.

Reality check
Before I dive completely off the deep end and insist that every comedy should be shot single-camera, I should add that there are two very large and daunting reasons that most of the comedies on the television dial remain standardly and boringly multi-camera: time and money. These were the reasons, in fact, why the fledgling network sitcom juggernaut Stephen’s Life was forcibly switched from single- to multi-camera production. If single-camera looks and feels more like a film, it’s because the process and the expense are closer in line with feature-length productions.

From that standpoint, multi-camera makes sense and it stands to reason that the old standby ain’t heading completely off into the sunset anytime soon. Four cameras, a living room, a wacky kid brother who has a penchant for barging in when the older sister’s making out: go!

The networks strike back
Just when you thought it was safe to never watch a sitcom on the networks again, along came a show that completely reinvented and happily imploded all the rules. Arrested Development combines oddball characters, expert single-camera production work, and inventive use of flashbacks and cut-aways. It helps that the writing is daring, smart, and off-the-charts funny, of course. But it’s important to remember that we’re basically dealing with the story of a family here, if an award-winning dysfunctional one. If Arrested Development had been handcuffed by multi-camera from the outset, it’s likely that it would have been a mildly pleasant but largely neutered affair.

Scrubs is another example of how single-camera adds a level of freedom and a spirit of invention that elevates a show from yawnable to consistently good.

Bucking the trend?
The one multi-camera sitcom currently on the air that consistently bucks this trend is That 70s Show. It certainly helps that the writing and acting on the show is top notch. But one of the reasons that That has had the run its had is because it layers elements of non-traditional camera work into its production. Anyone who’s seen one of the trademarked sit-around-the-table-and-get-stoned sequences knows what I mean. Flashbacks and occasional musical montages (the latter of which I can sometimes live without, quite frankly) give the show a level of sophistication and playfulness that a Hope & Faith could only, well, hope for.

Basic cable trends single-camera
FX, which is rapidly becoming the best place on television to watch drama (Rescue Me: the best show on television at the moment, The Shield, Nip/Tuck, Over There) is now branching headlong into the single-camera comedy game.

Starved and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia both aim their twisted tentacles at a generation of TV weaned hipsters who have lost interest in traditional sitcom inanities. While at first appearance the shows are rather different – Starved is about yuppies with eating and relationship-disorders, It’s Always Sunny centers on four slackers who run a bar and get into hijinks in Philly – it becomes clear what’s going on under the prism of single- versus multi-camera.

Single-camera: more expensive, more time, but edgier, more cinematic, more inventive.

Single-camera dreams: better comedy, better television, better (or at least more) viewers, more ad and subscription revenue.

See the trend, be the trend.

Maybe this place ain’t so dead anyway.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Rescue Me Rocks, The Inside Chopped (Maybe): Cathode Ray Fray, the Week in TV, Returns

It may well be that events have conspired to bring me out of the television wilderness and back into oh glory be the TV Light. Whether or not it was a week in which both Al Gore and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue fame angled to get inside the confines of that screen that shows us pictures and colors and lights, it’s only important to report that The Ray has been awakened and is once again bright and strong and pure after a summer spent recuperating (with the Rayettes, allegedly) on a beach most tropical under French Riviera climes.

That is to say, it’s once again time to Obey the Ray.

And I have, or at least I’ve tried. There’s been a goodly amount of retooling going on to keep the C Ray Fray going strong well into the autumn’s spicy new season offerings. Instead of breaking down every show I watch each week, I (with the helpful guidance of the Ray, all hail thee and so forth) will cruise through television’s bountiful and poisonous offerings in my eclectic yet ultimately compelling and propulsive manner, with ample linkage to all the fine TV related work going on at the Blogcritics.org.

As I look back at the summer, I realize – for better or illest ill – that my television viewing has hardly slackened from the Himalayan peaks of the May Sweeps period.

Cruelly chopped at the knees
If the likely cancellation of the atmospheric procedural, The Inside, hurts me, what must it be doing to Executive Producer Tim Minear? Minear was an essential part of (Grand Maestro of Television, Oh Please Come Back to Us, the Ray Beseeches Thee) Joss Whedon’s Angel (unfairly cancelled after a brilliant fifth season) and Firefly, perhaps the worst cancellation of a great show of all time.

What’s cruelest and choppiest (chopped and screwed, as the hippest of the hip hop cats like to say) is that it was pre-empted during its summer run for some reality show about people dancing, the latest and certainly not greatest Reality Insani-Craze.

The best hour on television this summer, and perhaps more
Rescue Me on FX, Tuesday nights at 10:00. The Ray commands: watch this show. Watch it and laugh, watch it and weep. It’s as dark and hilarious and realistic and interesting a show as you're ever likely to see. It’s got a New York heart through and through and all the sadness and humor and strangeness of living on this planet will ever reveal to you.

Just watch it.

Whither reality?
Speaking of reality, no surprise that reality television fare glutted the small screen like a man of oversized carriage on a Southwest flight.

While many were unthinkably awful (Hell’s Kitchen, anyone? I’d rather go to hell and starve, thanks) there were several that caught my attention and, under the Ray’s patient tutelage, keep a vigilant eye upon still. Blow Out is a frilly yet somehow rewarding trip into the American Dream, if by way of a Beverly Hills hair empire wannabe. Situation: Comedy offers up a sitcom writer’s version of the brilliant Project Greenlight, to overall good and engaging effect. The Real World, now in its 800th season, just keeps on trucking with an Austin cast that seems to be a lightning rod for lots of lovin’ and, most recently, tragedy.

Meanwhile, I’m watching Pauley Shore’s Minding the Store over on TBS, and feel an enormous amount of nothing about the experience. I’ll have to check in with the Ray and get back to you on that one, but the ennui at the moment is crushing me to my very soul.

Movin’ on, movin’ out
The week ended on a flash of brilliance, as it was announced that eight new glorious episodes of The Sopranos will be tacked onto the sixth and (maybe not?) final season.

Dial up another Lost Weekend in front of the television in 2007, DVDs via Netflix at my side, with the Ray as my guide.

Until next time…

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Sopranos Adds Eight Bonus Episodes to Season Six Production Schedule

For fans of The Sopranos, a show that may well be the best American drama to ever grace the small screen, this is truly a day celebrate.

Eight new “bonus episodes” will follow the twelve that were thought to comprise the end of The Soprano’s six season run. So in case anyone’s confused, there will be twelve new episodes beginning in March 2006 followed by eight more in January 2007.

According to the press release:

Saying he was "obviously delighted," HBO chairman Chris Albrecht announced on Thursday that the network will produce eight bonus episodes for The Sopranos' upcoming sixth season. The new episodes, which are slated to debut in January 2007, will follow the previously announced 12 episodes, which begin in March 2006.

"When something is as remarkable as The Sopranos, our audience would like to see it continue as long as possible," Albrecht said. "So we're thrilled that David Chase felt that there are more stories to be told."

Brad Grey, executive producer of the series added that the show had "continued to grow and evolve" with every season. "We're all looking forward to spending more time with The Sopranos," he said.

How will Christopher react to the recent offing of his long-time fiancé, Adrianna? Will Tony and Carmella’s recent reconciliation hold? Will Meadow and AJ get out before they “get pulled back in”?

My predictions: Another heroin binge followed by unwavering desire to become the Don-on-deck, yes (but with Tony finding yet another crazy girl “on the side,”) Meadow’s out, and AJ may end up looking to join Tony’s other family.

And who will be next from the crew to enter the witness protection program, or the quote-unquote witness protection program, the one in which you “go away” and never come back?

My predictions: Who knows? Likely many, and in the unexpected ways in which we’ve come to expect of David Chase and The Sopranos.

And finally:

Will the New Jersey and New York crews have a final and cataclysmic clash?

This is the one everyone is really looking forward to. I think the Johnny Sack v. Tony Soprano showdown will truly be one for the ages.

And what about Dr. Melfi? What will be her fate after years of trying to help ease the mental troubles of a (mostly) unrepentant criminal?

We now have eight more episodes to let it all play out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tommy Lee Goes to College: A Celebrity-based Reality TV Perfect Storm

The celebrity-based reality show hybrid vehicle just keeps on purring.

You can see the pitch meetings over there at NBC.

“How about Ed McMahon playing practical jokes on people, fool 'em into thinking they won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes thing?”

“Nah, old hat…”

“Liability alone…”

“Wait, I got it.”

“Oh, now he’s got it. Go ahead.”

“Tommy Lee goes to college in Nebraska.”

“Yes. You’ve got it. Make it happen.”

On August 18th, the world will get an inside (intimate?) look at Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee attending undergraduate classes at The University of Nebraska, going to parties (we assume), getting assistance (all professional, we assume) from “hot” tutor Natalie, and chilling out with roommate Matt.

Apparently, the university isn't concerned about any potential reality-based blowback caused by the program:

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman has already seen a couple episodes featuring the Motley Crue drummer in a variety of fish-out-of-water situations, and they made him laugh.

"I thought the university came through very well," Perlman said. "I think the comedy is a joke on Tommy and not a joke on the university."

If promotional clips are any indication, the university will be in the middle of the action.

They include shots of Lee playing drums with the Huskers marching band during halftime of last year's Baylor game at Memorial Stadium. There are also scenes of him struggling in class and being assisted by tutor Natalie Riedmann, who's beginning medical school at the University of Nebraska come fall. (Lee, however, was not enrolled and did not receive actual credit for any classes.)

Will this be the true and pure train wreck that we can only hope for in our wildest and most vile dreams, or will it be a poignant portrayal of second chances, renewal, and profound personal growth?

I’m betting the former.

Let’s make it happen, people.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #10

Where have you gone, oh DB Radio? Fear not, we’re back to the front-like, right here – just click and enjoy:

Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #10

It’s a little bit of a best of this go round, with songs blasting out by the likes of Stucky, Pacemaker Jane, and Blogcritics.org’s own Aaron McMullan. DB Radio #10 seemed like a good time to step back and smell the digital roses. It also may (sadly) be the last show for a while, which lends a maddening poignancy to the proceedings, I’m sure you’ll find.

Or not. But hopefully you’ll enjoy as there’s an entire hour of Blogcritics.org founder and general guru Eric Olsen talking about media, blogging, podcasting, and even Michael Jackson. It’s the second part of the interview: raw and uncut for your listening pleasure.

As I point out on the show, huge and grand thanks to everyone who has listened to the show, given feedback and encouragement (much more than I ever expected!), or who has taken a moment to pop off a comment of an e-mail. Delving headlong into podcasting – my first experience in broadcasting – has been a wonderful experience. I’m hopeful that DB Radio will be back in some form at some point, but right now I’m trying to hone in on my various and sundry writing and editing duties.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Interview: Eric Olsen of Blogcritics.org – Part II

Eric Olsen is the founder and publisher of BlogCritics.org, the website where a “sinister cabal of bloggers” roam and analyze and review and pontificate. In this second part of a long and expansive interview, Eric talks about his unique background and how it led him to create Blogcritics.org, the emerging forces of blogging and podcasting, and, last but not least, the future of former pop star and current oddity Michael Jackson.

You’ll find excerpts from the second half of the interview below. To listen to the full second hour, make your way to Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #10 (which will be available very soon!).

Check out Part I of the interview in print here, and the full audio version, available via podcast, here: Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #9.


Eric Berlin: Do you have any advice for people thinking of starting a Web- or blog-based media company? I know that’s a bit of a tough question.

Eric Olsen: It’s really hard, because I freely admit that I just kind of stumbled onto this. And I had all kinds of advantages coming in. In other words, when I got into blogging in February 2002 [Blogcritics.org was founded in August 2002], I was older. I had been around, I had a lot of experience behind me. I had been a professional writer for 25 years. I had three books, and I had something of a “name” within the music criticism field. I have a background in radio and television.

So I had huge advantages. If you could design someone to get into blogging – at least from a broad-based perspective – you would find someone who is a really hardcore political operative who has a readable writing style and a nose for news. If you’re that, you can still pretty much jump into it and get real big, real fast.

Only a handful of people who have been at it for a shorter period of time who are further along than Blogcritics are either exactly the people I’ve described – people with stronger media or political connections than I have – or people who have money behind them.

Gawker didn’t just happen. Gawker has marketing money behind it. The same marketing money that’s behind Wonkette. And Gizmodo. Those three sites didn’t just happen, they’re not organic. And of course there’s resentment about that. And I’m semi-resentful, I suppose! Well, I don’t really care – I don’t see any of those sites as real competition.

The other thing that’s nice about the blogosphere as compared to other industries is that it’s not zero sum. It’s not like if you read me, you can’t read so-and-so. There’s only x number of sites that people can read, but if you’re in the Top 100, people will make time for you. I’ve always figured that the bigger the total pie, the better for me.

But back to your question, one of my advantages was that I had run a business before, one of the biggest DJing companies in Southern California all through the ‘80s. I had experience running a small business, a personality-driven business, which this is too.

One thing I write a lot about is the evolution of the Internet and blogging being a part of that. And then you add the element of podcasting as audio content on top of that. What are your thoughts on podcasting and the kinds of audio content that are now available – for free, on demand – from the Internet?

I think it’s really terrific. The only reason why I haven’t personally gotten into it is that I’m very frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t use whatever music I wanted to use. I’m really used to my radio background, where as long as I’m programming that show, I can play anything I want. As I understand it, they’re making licensing easier for podcasting than it is now.

I think there’s a real guerilla element to podcasting in broadcasting emerging artists and unsigned bands who are more than happy to have you take their stuff for free and broadcast it to 10 people or 100 people, whoever happens to tune into your particular show. And I see that as a way to, in a sense, go behind the backs of mainstream and corporate radio, who in many ways are dying or are already dead in terms of their flexibility in what they can play.

Absolutely! I one thousand percent agree with you. There is a major chain, in San Francisco, I believe…

KYOU, it’s called.

That’s right. It’s all podcasting, and that’s terrific! How much more do you need to say an idea has arrived? As far as breaking new talent, there’s always an enormous amount of it out there. But on a personal level, on a purely selfish level, due to my time constraints, there’s too much involved for me to cull through all of that unsigned or available material to find the stuff that I would want to play.

But podcasting has unlimited potential. It’s everything that radio could ever want to be. You can tell stories, you can be creative, you can do to talk, interactive talk, monologues – anything and everything you could want.

I collected a few questions from some of the Blogcritics regulars. Most of them have been addressed, but a Mr. Lono asks when Blogcritics writers can expect to be compensated for their contributions to the site.

[Laughs] That’s funny! I really feel that it’s a really good deal for people who are already doing something. That’s the key. It’s key for the people who already have their own blogs, the ones who care enough about their blogs where they want to reach a broader audience. Some high percentage of course, 90-95%, don’t really care who reads them. But for the people who do care – and that’s still an awfully high number if there are something like five million blogs out there — having ready access to a site that has vastly wider reach than their own site, that’s a good deal. That’s value. That’s compensation. We’re also providing increased search rank.

For Blogcritics, add in the fact that you have access to literally thousands of dollars worth of review material each year.

So we can tell Lono that he’s already being compensated.
Exactly. However, I will say that if and when we reach a level where the business model can support it, I would like to attach a monetary value for participation.

Let’s wrap up on a fun note and on something you’ve been writing a lot about. Where do you see things heading for Michael Jackson now that the trial is over?

I am a fan of his music. I don’t think he’s done anything particularly interesting, at least for the last ten-plus years. I like the single, “Black and White.” That was his last really big hit.

Wasn’t that Macaulay Culkin in that video? That was quite a while ago.

Oh yeah, that was in the early 90s, I think. We’re exactly the same age, by the way, to the month.

The talent is there. I could see him coming back, if he were able to reapply himself, to strip away all of the nonsense that has accumulated over the years. The strangeness of his personality and his lifestyle. If he can refocus on what he’s best at – being an artist, being a singer, being an entertainer. If he can mentally do that, then I certainly think it’s possible for him to make an artistic comeback.

Now would he be allowed to do that by the public? Certainly he would be outside the U.S. He still has strong support in parts of Europe – the UK, Germany, and Japan for sure feel very strongly about him. He’s kind of bigger everywhere aside from the U.S. Americans tend to be forgiving, but they have to be asked. And I don’t know if he’s willing to do that, and I don’t know if he’s capable of doing that. He hasn’t admitted to doing anything. Nothing.

Blogcritics Editors' Picks - July 30 to Aug. 5

Check the best of the best writing right about here.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Ten Million and Counting: Blogcritics.org Just Keeps on Coming

I’m not even sure how I stumbled across Blogcritics.org, but the occurrence changed my life in some small but real and meaningful way.

I’d feel a little silly writing that if I was the only one, but I know the same is true for many others and the occasion of the ten millionth visit to that little corner of the web and blog universe is as fine a time as any to take a step back and go Big Picture for a moment.

If I may be so bold, Blogcritics.org is the perfect nexus of communication and technology and, well, stuff.

What kind of stuff? Any kind of stuff. You name it, you can find it here: from Michael Jackson gossip to the meaning of the universe, from the top ska-fusion jazz bands of all time to up-to-the-second news and analysis from hotspots across the globe. News and reviews and thoughts and ideas that you won't find anywhere else every single hour, every single day.

And if you can’t find it here, all the better: write a post, publish it (as easy and free and gratifying a thing that one can do with a keyboard and a thought) and sure enough, others will be undoubtedly check in with their thoughts and comments and complaints and hearty and uproarious approval as well.

It’s a place for conversations, many of which take place in nearly real time.

It’s a community outpost on the technological frontier.

Go to Blogcritics. Stake your claim. Find a corner and set up shop.

There're more and more folks all the time that are doing just the same.

Ten million and counting.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Dream

I don’t recall very many of my dreams. Maybe that’s because the waking variety kind are near enough to explode my head! Anyway, I did have two dreams a number of years ago that were, in an odd kind of way, influential upon my life.

This is a recollection of one of them.

This was around 1997 or so, and I had just recently moved to California. I'm hanging out with my favorite grandfather in that dreamy world (in actuality he had died five or so years before) – a great and charismatic guy who owned a bar in New York in the 50s that people like Joe DiMaggio used to hang out at. Anyway, we're hanging in some kind of Euro style pub, having a good time, drinking ale and enjoying ourselves immensely (which was weird in that he died before my Of Age days).

Then it's night and we're on this path leading up to a large house that's in the middle of nowhere -- it's like completely blank around it. Creepy, right? There's a park bench in front of the gate to the house and my grandfather sits down. He indicates for me to head into the house. I ask him to come with me. "No, you must go alone," he says.

I walk through the gate and up the front porch steps. I look back, and he waves, a knowing look in his eye. It's fucking super vivid and super real -- I still fucking remember all of this, and as I mentioned, I rarely remember dreams anymore.

I'm scared, nervous, anxious, but determined, I open the front door. It's one of those houses where there's a staircase as soon as you open the front door. Except THIS staircase is carpeted red and seems to go up and up into Eternity. A dim light appears somewhere up there. I take a few tentative steps up the stairs.

But it's too much, I can't take it. I turn around and start to go back. But something in me knows that I must turn around. Finally, I do...

And there's a scalding flash of light that kind of sears me to my very soul. Floating before me is an enormous newborn infant floating before me, an insanely bright and ethereal glow emanating from every pore of this brilliant child. Its eyes are a shocking blue and I know they see me to my very depths. They're all knowing, all seeing, omniscient...

It's all too much for me. I close my eyes and scream and scream.

And then I woke up, panting for breath.


I spent a lot of time thinking about that dream. What I took from it -- and maybe this sounds crazy, but it's what worked and was worthwhile and meaningful to me -- was that the brilliant infant was me. Its blue eyes are my blue eyes. It meant that I had just begun on the path, and that I had a long way to go.

But that you have to take the first step to get anywhere.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Changes: Some Little, Some Bigger Than Little

Change is in the air, even under the summer heat, my friends.

I've been doing a great deal of thinking about what I'm doing, what I'm trying to accomplish, and so on over the past few months. Anyone who has stopped by recently has likely been witness to some whining, some ruminating, some pontificating, and probably a few other -atings for good measure.

First, the small. I've updated the blogroll -- I'm really trying to keep a good mix of sites that I actually visit often over there. Then, if for nothing else, it serves as an easy list of favorite links that I can utilize at my leisure. And I'm all about the leisure. In any event, some of the writers are friends of mine, some are big time top of the charts Blog Lords, while finally some talk about areas (writing, television, media) that I'm trying to get involved in right now.

Which leads nicely to the big changes. Since the online bloggy version of Dumpster Bust kicked off in November of '04 (partly as a reaction to the Blind Rage I felt after the election, but that's a tale for another time, ye kiddies) I've delved into a number of different roles: editorialiast, reviewer, analyst, podcaster, interviewer, critic, ruminator... and other stuff I can't think of at the moment.

All of it has been great and tremendous experience, and usually a hell of a lot of fun to boot. I've improved greatly as a writer; at least I like to think so! And for that I have you to think as well as my peeps at Blogcritics.org, who are unwaveringly supportive and critical both.

But the time has come to hone in on what I like, what I'm good at, and what I can paid for (the ruthless, unbridled, yet heart-warmingly conscientious capitalist that I am).

So, for the time being at least, and if I don't change my mind tomorrow (which, sadly... happens) expect to see less of the interviewing and the podcasting and some of the editorializing and more of a focus on feature-length pieces that focus on... you guessed it: the old Idiot Box.

Suggestions, thoughts, rebukes, thin lipped missives appreciated as always.

It's a new age to D Bust.

And what's wrong with that?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Fox Busts Out With the Podcasting

In further evidence that podcasting – largely free audio content stored on the Internet that can be downloaded, saved, and played on computers and handheld digital music players – is hitting the mainstream, Fox Broadcasting Co. is making an aggressive move in an effort to support its television programming.

From Reuters:

On Thursday, the network began offering audio episode recaps for all of its series in what Chris Carlisle, Fox Broadcasting executive vp marketing and promotion, said was just the first step.

"Podcasting is a phenomenal concept, and it's going to explode," Carlisle said. "We're approaching it from a very, very aggressive point of view. You already have an audience plugged in to these devices and this delivery system. We want to reach them where they are and give them what they want."

While very few people knew what the term podcasting meant a year ago, it is now both challenging and supplementing more traditional forms of broadcasting. The power of podcasting lies in its ease of use and on demand accessibility. Some commercial radio programs -- such as Harry Shearer’s Le Show and Al Franken’s The Al Franken Show -- are also produced as podcasts so that listeners can download or subscribe to shows and then listen at their own leisure.

The new “Foxcasts” are an inventive way of providing special features for current television programming in the same way that most DVDs showcase interviews, director’s commentaries, and other featurettes.

For the third phase, which begins Sept. 19, Fox will offer recaps of entire seasons for such selected shows as "24" and "Arrested Development" for listening before the new season's launch. Carlisle said these podcast packages also will help promote the relevant DVD boxed-set releases.

Fans can subscribe to these Foxcasts, in the network's parlance, at Fox.com and then play them back on their computer or portable digital music device. Free podcasting software automatically downloads and organizes each episode when it becomes available.

"It's important to take advantage of every avenue available and talk directly to our audience," Gray said. "Podcasts are an emerging and important platform, and we want to be at the forefront of their application to our young and first adopter viewers."

With the specter of video podcasting as the next wave of on demand content, it stands to reason that the latest revolution of technology and media is only just beginning.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Blogcritics Editors' Picks 7-16-05 to 7-29-05

As some of y'all might know by now, I'm a writer and editor over at Blogcritics.org, as brilliant and cool a place to hang your virtual hat as any. It must not only be me, by the way, as traffic over there has been insane of late.

In any event, I'm actually the Video Editor for Blogcritics, which covers television and film. Each week, the editors pick out the stories that we think are particularly noteworthy. And I'll try and cross-link the thang here for all of y'all viewing pleasure.

Ready? Here it is.

Al Gore's Current TV Launches

Current TV, a new television network that seeks to bridge the gap between the Internet and television news, launches Monday under the backing of former Vice President Al Gore.

Mixing short, quick-hit segments called “pods” with up-to-the-minute news popping off the Internet, Current TV seeks to become the Google News of the cable television universe.

AP Television Writer David Bauder writes:

Most of its programming will be in "pods," roughly two to seven minutes long, covering topics like jobs, technology, spirituality and current events. An Internet-like on-screen progress bar will show the pod's length.

Its short films include a profile of a hang glider and a piece on working in a fish market. One contributor talked about what it was like to have his phone number on a hacked Internet list of Paris Hilton's cell phone contacts, saying that dealing with curiosity seekers was like "hosting your own radio call-in show."

Every half-hour, Current promises a news update using data from Google on news stories most frequently searched for on the Web.

The phenomena of having an on-screen countdown, showing the audience what they are watching and what is coming up, was pioneered by such shows as ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and, more recently, by The Situation, MSNBC’s new “cutting edge” news program hosted by bow-tie wearing conservative pundit Tucker Carlson.

Al Gore’s involvement and purchase of what was Newsworld International channel is sure to get the fledgling network at least some initial interest and attention, but the real trick will be the consistent production of high-quality and interesting content.

Making a play for young people, by way of a high-tech format and the solicitation for user-generated video pieces, is a risky one. But there is certainly a market niche out there for a network that can bypass the traditional notion of what television news is, as can be evidenced by the wild popularity of “fake news” source The Daily Show, on Comedy Central, which is often cited by young people as keeping it more real, as it is said, than the “real” news.

While many had hoped that Al Gore’s involvement in a television news network would herald the creation of a counter-balance to conservative-leaning Fox News Channel, Gore is quick to point out that Current TV is intended to be non-partisan.

"I think the reality of the network will speak for itself," he told reporters in Los Angeles two weeks ago. "It's not intended to be partisan in any way and not intended to be ideological.”

Hopefully, Current TV will emerge into a vibrant, fresh-faced, and – most desperately and urgently – independent media source for hard and fast-hitting news on television.