One fond memory I have of growing up was the fanfare with which the new fall TV season arrived. Of course, I was most interested in the Saturday morning line-up, which was introduced with a prime time special the Friday night before the new season. For some reason, that Friday night special marked the beginning of Fall more than anything -- maybe because I grew up in a region where Fall is a function of the calendar, not the weather. As an adult, though, I'm usually ignorant of the Fall TV changes. We don't watch a lot of television, and what we do watch is generally not on the networks and not subject to the network seasons. However, this Fall we are watching more prime time TV than usual as a byproduct of looking for hands-free entertainment compatible with holding the best baby in the world. Therefore, we've actually seen quite a few of the new shows and season premieres.
So, what are we watching? Two new shows seem to have great potential for us -- Journeyman and Pushing Daisies. We were prompted to watch Journeyman out of our love for Kevin McKidd, who we have missed since Rome fell off the HBO schedule. The plot conceit is interesting, but so is the backstory, which is only being told in bits and pieces. Because the story centers around time travel, though, we keep waiting to see if and when the show will fall apart logically.
Our fourth-grade daughter wanted to see Pushing Daisies because she thought the romantic setup in the previews was cute -- man can bring dead people back to life by touching them once, then send them back by touching them again, which is handy except when he brings his childhood sweetheart back to life and now can have a life with her as long as he doesn't touch her. So far, the show is very charming and not too adult for her to watch. (Paul thinks it is very Moonlighting-like.) However, we will probably start taping it to watch with her later so we can fast forward through the many commercials for Dirty Sexy Money, which are too adult for her to watch!
What are you watching?
For various reasons, I wind up with about one hour a night to watch non-Nickelodeon television, if I'm lucky. So on Sunday night, I had to choose between the season finale of The Tudors and the series finale of The Sopranos. (Yes, I stopped watching Sopranos regularly a season or so ago, but I had to know how it ended!) I chose to watch The Tudors, saving The Sopranos until last night. Of course, that meant that I had to defer watching the season premiere of Big Love until tonight. I feel out of sync with the rest of the world. Yesterday, I could barely read blogs because I wanted to avoid any Sopranos spoilers.
So, what's my take so far, with 2 out of 3 shows watched? Interestingly, the finales of both Tudors and Sopranos were similarly frustrating. The Tudors seems to be showing the Reformation in real time. Every episode could be blurbed the same: "Henry tries a new tactic to obtain a divorce from the Pope, but his efforts fall short, leaving him increasingly frustrated." I thought for sure that the finale would at least end with his annulment from Katherine, but it did not. The final episode didn't seem to move the plot along any more than the other episodes, except that Thomas More seemed to go from humanist with integrity to barbecuer of would-be reformers in about thirty seconds. (Best line of show came when Henry asked angrily how many reformers Thomas had burned, and Thomas assured Henry that all six were legal and "well-done.") The final irony of the finale came when it literally ended in (children avert your eyes) coitus interruptus. As Anne Boleyn wants to keep Henry's attention until the annulment comes and wants to avoid having any offspring declared illegitimate, you can guess at the last scene of the season. There are a lot of puns I'm avoiding here, but let's just say the season ended abruptly without any real resolution. But 2008 is just around the corner!
And of course The Sopranos, as everyone but me knew yesterday, also had something of an abrupt ending, leaving viewers everywhere feeling very frustrated, especially after the thick tension of the last scene in the diner. I would bet that the guy in the Members Only jacket comes back from the restroom and gets down to the whacking business. But we'll never know!
Did you notice the new offering from CBS? According to the W$J, Kid Nation "will take 40 children and set them up in an abandoned New Mexico town. Cameras will follow them as they try to set up their own society without adult supervision."
I assume everyone has the same initial reaction to this concept description: Lord of the Flies! But TV Week reassures us:
"Kid Nation," from Emmy-winning "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" producer Tom Forman, placed 40 "over-achieving" kids ages 8 to 15 in the abandoned town of Bonanza City, New Mexico. For 40 days, the group elected leaders, passed laws, established a local economy and performed chores to build a functioning society.
Sources close to the deal emphasized the show is not "Lord of the Flies" or "'Survivor' with kids." There are no eliminations, but participants can go home if they choose. The kids do not have to find food and shelter, but did live in "primitive conditions," without modern comforts, and are responsible for cooking their own meals.
Each episode will conclude with a warm, "Extreme Makeover"-style moment, where a member of the group is rewarded for his or her work by the show's host -- the only on-camera adult in the series.
I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around this show. Associating the show with "Extreme Makeover" banishes images of "Piggy" but makes the show sound like a mixed-gender scout camp. How many episodes before the first panty raid?
Okay I will admit that I am a huge American Idol fan. Of course, I do appreciate its flaws, including the fact that it does not necessarily result in America choosing the "best" singer, and that it is often a vehicle for shameless self-promotions. This latter is evidenced not only by the "videos" in which contestants promote products, but also by the various celebrities who just happen to be in the audience on a date close to their upcoming movie/TV show/latest CD release. Nevertheless, I enjoy the singing and I do think the show gives some people with real talent a potentially life-altering opportunity to showcase their talent. And of course whatever I may think of the show, it is a huge hit, which means big money. And last night the show made an effort to "give back" some of its success, and I am among those who think that the show's efforts were commendable.
American Idol got several corporate sponsors to agree to donate money to charities that fight hunger in the US and Africa. On American Idol, the voting for contestants occurs through telephone calls or text messaging. Usually the audience has two hours to vote via a toll free number, and callers can vote as many times as they like for their favorite contestant. Last night, voting was open for four hours and American Idol sponsors agreed to make donations in connection with the calls the show received. Idol often gets more than 30 million calls--so that agreement could potentially translate into a lot of money. The show has been vague on how much sponsors would donate. However, last night, I believe the host of American Idol indicated that sponsors would donate ten cents for every call received up to a maximum of 50 million calls.
To be sure, the "gives back" campaign could just be a plug for good will, and the donations being made may just be a "drop in the bucket" in the context of the amount of profit the show ultimately generates, but it is nevertheless a good deed that is worthy of recognition. American Idol has become a phenomenon that translates into big business and millions of dollars in profits. I appreciate the Idol using the show as a platform to raise awareness about, and money for, hunger. Moreover, I appreciate the fact that the show got the audience to participate. In fact, fans of the show could make individual donations to charities. Given the many young people who watch American Idol, last night's show sent a positive message that giving back is an important part of being a success in business or otherwise. Hence, regardless of what one may think of the motives, I applaud the show's efforts to use even a portion of its success to try and impact issues of social and economic significance.
Rupert Murdoch has announced the creation of the Fox Business Channel, which will be "more business friendly than CNBC." Roger Ailes, the chairman and chief executive of Fox News, has been charged with developing the channel. Ailes said, "We don't get up every morning thinking business is bad." And this: "Many times I've seen things on CNBC where they are not as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be."
I am trying to imagine this new, business-friendly channel. Will the stories be like the feel-good segments shown on overseas flights? Or perhaps like Wallstrip? Apparently not. Neil Cavuto will be the public face of the channel, and he described it this way: "We're going to be a channel for America -- not for old white men with money. We want to reach women, minorities, young people."
"Old white men with money"? You mean, like Rupert Murdoch?
Miranda and I are fans of the CBS show Numb3rs -- I mean, how can we not watch a show about math professors? "We All Use Math Every Day," as the show says. There's even a Numb3rs Math Blog from the math department at Northeastern University, in case you want more in-depth analysis of the math.
As if that wasn't enough to keep a couple of taxprofs addicted to the show, last week's episode introduced a new character, Dr. Mildred French, as the new chair of the math department. Chaos ensues: Charlie gets chewed out for spending too much time on his consulting and not enough time on his teaching and serious research; he groans about his assignment to the admissions committee; his girlfriend Amita gets rewarded (?) with an assignment to the curriculum committee, but she's also called out for hogging the campus supercomputer, wearing inappropriate attire, and for canoodling with Charlie (her former mentor) and not establishing her identity as a professor rather than the grad student she used to be.
The campus novel is well established genre, but I believe this is the first time a prime time television show has featured an overbearing chair, crappy committee assignments, and taking on too much consulting work as key plot elements. Keep it up, CBS.
In my hometown (Lubbock, TX) recently, reality TV producers did casting calls for bachelor farmers or ranchers (between the ages of 25 and 35) who would like to take part in a "Green Acres" type show that will introduce them to single city women who would like to marry them. The show will be called "The Farmer Wants a Wife." The show also plans casting calls in Lincoln, Nebraska; Des Moines, Iowa; and Springfield, Missouri.
The producers are looking for someone who has "crops and animals." Because crops aren't particularly funny, but animals present funny opportunities for people to embarrass themselves.
Kudos to James A. Baker III, known to readers as former Chief of Staff for Reagan and Bush 41, Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury, but known to Baker & Bottsians as "the big guy on 38." Baker went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart a few weeks ago to plug his new book, Work Hard, Study and . . . Stay Out of Politics. (The book's title came from advice that his grandfather, Captain James Baker, gave to associates at Baker Botts.)
In the last minute or so of his appearance, Stewart put him in "The Seat of Heat" and asked him the following question: The boat goes down. Choppy seas. One life vest. You're on the boat with 41 and 43 -- who do you give the life vest to? Almost as soon as he says the question, Stewart realizes his big mistake! You can watch for yourself.
We are late to this story, but I was sad to hear of Steve Irwin's death. His enthusiasm was infectious, and he made me laugh out loud. Ann noted yesterday the speed with which Wikipedia was updated with details about his death. This morning, I notice the entry for "Crikey" also refers to "the late Steve Irwin."
As many have observed, the string ray is not supposed to be an agent of death. Indeed, a Google search of "Australia's most dangerous animals" led me to australianfauna.com, which lists the following as "Australia's Top Ten Dangerous Animals":
2. Irukandji (A Jellyfish)
5. Stone Fish
7. Brown Snake
8. Tiger Snake
Take a look at this graphic from the NYT:
Another "Big Three," each of which has roughly halved its market share over the past 20 years. Of course, that graph tells a story about advances in telecommunications: we don't need the evening news programs for information and pictures like we did in 1980. Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I watched one of these programs, but I would be surprised if it were within the past year. Which is why Katie Couric's move from Today to the CBS Evening News is a non-event in my household.
Larry Ribstein weighs in on how Big Love is really about gay marriage and how he's waiting for Bill to decide not to go public because of the costs of SOX.
Last night I took a break from grading to watch Sunday night's episode of Big Love. Ann Althouse is losing interest because the show focuses on financial problems. Exactly! You could teach a whole semester on the financial transactions on the show. For example:
1. What kind of interest does Roman have in the HomePlus stores? Last episode, we got the impression that Roman had made a loan to Bill, but in return he gets "15 percent of the (revenues? profits?) store." So, is he a creditor? Is he a partner? We don't get to see the documents, but how is it worded? Does the 15 percent cover new stores? Bill sort of admitted last week that it probably did. The have now settled, but we know that Bill will never be "free" as long as Roman can expose his illegal marriages.
2. Should Bill engage in his sale-leaseback plan? This week, Bill made plans to sell the two stores to "the bank" for $5 million and lease them. This gives Bill instant cash to sink into the third store, but he loses his equity and will have a drain on revenues. Good idea? Bad idea? How does it affect the balance sheet?
3. How much does reputational capital and branding matter? The success of HomePlus seems to hinge on Bill's reputational capital. If he is exposed, his stores will suffer. His marketing expert wants him to play up reputational capital and brand HomeStore as the LDS family values store, with commercials that have subtle and not-so subtle visual clues as to the (presumed) religion of the owners, employees and customers of HomePlus. This branding will give HomePlus the edge in Salt Lake City over Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe's.
4. Is Bill obligated to repay Nicki's debt? Nicki has $58,000 in credit card debt. The cards are in her name only and Bill did not know about them. Nicki and Bill are not legally married. Does she have any claim against him for contribution to her debts? Would a creditor? I would say no to creditors, but I don't know if she has any rights against him for support. Why doesn't Bill just let Nicki declare bankruptcy? She owns nothing -- not her house or her car. Bill says he will repay her credit cards because "it's the honorable thing to do." Nicki is like an off-balance sheet, non-recourse special purpose vehicle -- I say let her declare bankruptcy.
My biggest question has nothing to do with corporate or commercial law, though. How do these people have health insurance? The two non-legal wives have had four babies. Do they just pay cash? Do the babies have social security cards? Who is the father on their birth certificates? In some ways, the show is like Third Rock from the Son or My Favorite Martian -- put someone who doesn't fit into our social norms and legal system into day-to-day life and see how long you can hide them in the attic.
I've had this HBO sitting around on my TV since Rome ended, so last night I thought I'd be daring and watch the "Sopranos/Big Love Premiere Night." Watching them back-to-back was interesting in itself -- they are same show. You have normal people, living lives that most of us can never conceive of living. So, we are fascinated by how normal, everyday events unfold in these inconceivable, under-the-radar, outside-the-law lives.
Characters even said the same dialogue. Tony tells A.J. that the only people that will ever be there for you are your family. Bill's mom tells that the only people that will ever be there for you are your family. Tony has a meeting with another mob guy in a parking lot about percentages and whether this deal is the same as a previous deal. Bill has a meeting with the "prophet" in a parking lot about the same exact thing. Tony is pulled into caring for his uncle, who he should probably stay as far away from as possible. Ditto for Bill and his father.
What I thought was interesting about Big Love was the breakdown of the incentive structure. My husband and I fight all the time about whether socialism can ever work. I also point out that families are socialist, and they work. Ah, but in the Big Love extended family, socialism seems to break down. Why should Barb work so hard to become a teacher if her paycheck gets signed over to pay for Nicki's credit card habit?
One night a year I get to pick the prime-time television show in this household, a household that continues to bring down the "number of televisions per household" statistics. Tonight is that night, and I pick the Academy Awards. I love the Oscars. I understand that in the past week or so the question kept popping up as to why middle America should watch an award ceremony so out-of-touch with most Americans. Here is my answer.
Most Americans did not see the movies nominated. So? I did. Zillions of Americans read books by Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham. This does not mean that they should get the Booker Prize or be read in English literatures classes fifty years from now. I am glad that not all movies have as central goals to merely entertain. Some movies I could watch over and over, like Grease 2. Some movies, like Schindler's List, I saw once, but that was all I needed to see it.
The movies nominated have political agendas. Every creation meant for an audience has an agenda. The agenda may be personal or not easily categorized, but many works build on universal themes from a perspective not universally held. That is what makes these works memorable. Thinking of other Academy Awards shows, many "best pictures" had liberal political agendas. Perhaps this continuing occurrence seems notable now because of its dissonance with the political leanings of other parts of the country.
The movies nominated are manipulative. Every creation meant for an audience is meant to persuade or change someone's mind. To do this, whether in comedy or in advertising or in a blockbuster movie, the creator uses the assumptions of the audience and takes the audience somehwere unexpected.
All this aside, I do think it's odd that this awards ceremony has its own "agenda." What is with this "some movies are meant only for the big screen, not for DVD players" theme? And did Jake Gyllenhaal not seem to ask the audience to realize that he was just reading his lines off the teleprompter and that he was uncomfortable being the messenger of this theme? I thought that to prove this point, the "epic" montage probably should have stuck with Gone With the Wind and Ten Commandments. But Grease? I did see Grease on the big screen five times, but then I've seen it on the small screen probably 50 times since, and it's pretty much the same.