Archive for bill o reilly

TV Titles: The Long and the Short of It

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reviews, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2013 by Tom Steward

Recently I’ve been very much enjoying Homeland. Don’t worry; you haven’t defaulted to the 2011 archive. There simply aren’t enough hours in the year to watch all the US TV I’d like to at the time of transmission. For some shows, then, I’m forced to take the quasi-paedophilic Sound of Music route of waiting a couple years for them to mature (by which time I’ll be a Nazi!). Anyway, back to Homeland. What struck me about the series, apart from the regularity with which characters say ‘Abu fucken’ Nazir’, was chiefly the title sequence. Thankfully, this isn’t a news blog!

http://videos.nymag.com/video/Opening-Credits-Homeland#c=GPW04R137JDPW6CY&t=Opening%20Credits:%20’Homeland’

Homeland takes on the conventions of the title sequence, offering viewers a succession of images, sounds, clips and quotations instead of the usual illustrated theme tune. It’s partly there to provide a synopsis of the Pilot episode, presumably so the early-adopter viewer you’re watching it with doesn’t have to, and partly to tell the biographical backstory of  main character Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes), which the rest of the programme-to its credit-doesn’t want to waste its time with. The imagery is a cocktail of jazz and anti-terrorism, which are Carrie’s favourite hobbies, and extracts from America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Bloopers showreel.

Jazzing up Terrorism.

In the past decade, US TV title sequences have been pushed to extremes of utter gratuity and blink-length banality. Cable networks like HBO and AMC made title sequences seem like an art form on the back of triumphs like the tripodless New Jersey tourist board film that opens The Sopranos or the credits to Mad Men which features an advertising executive falling through Roy Lichtenstein’s mind. But the fashion for elaborate, extended titles was a curse too, compelling producers to artificially inflate sequences without enough content to back it up. Hence Boardwalk Empires beachcombing set to fret-wanking session musician travesty.

The flipside of that coin was network shows which opted out of doing title sequences altogether. Perhaps intimidated by the 3-minute masterpieces coming out of cable TV, or maybe just testing how low they could set the bar on introducing the programme, there were a spate of series in which the title sequence was the title. Better examples of this included the pushed-down-too-hard-on-the-screen digital watch effect in 24 which drew suspense and chaos out of a minimalist graphic. But then there was Lost which merely moved the title around like a mid-90s PC screensaver or Acorn Antiques without the irony.

Image grab longer than actual title sequence.

Amazingly, Homeland’s title sequence manages to be both. Like other cable greats, it stands as a piece in its own right while introducing and summarising the programme effectively. It’s terribly self-indulgent (especially as there’s another couple of minutes re-cap directly afterwards introduced by what sounds like the ghost of Bill O’Reilly) but it complements the jazz motif and prevailing sense that the war on terror is endless. However, each season premiere and finale eschews the sequence for a lone title screen. Fortunately, it’s one of the good ones, with the words of the title scrambled and redacted like military intelligence.

Not only is the title sequence of Homeland reaching into parts of the show’s fictional world untouched by the episodes themselves, it is rich with a history and a life before and beyond the show. Footage of national TV addresses about terrorism made by US Presidents from Reagan onwards-excluding, critically, George W. Bush-drifts in and out of view and sight. Boldly, moving images of the Twin Towers attacks are interwoven into the fictional fabric of the sequence, a seed of truth from which a ludicrous plant will grow. The American legacy of big band jazz offsets the background of fear.

Jazz in a 9/11 beat, daddy-o!

Homeland wasn’t the first US TV title sequence that asked us to think about images and sounds outside the musical diegesis of the theme tune. The opening credits of Elizabethan theatre-meets-Dragnet police procedural NYPD Blue features an ongoing percussive sound that drives the sequence along like the speeding L-train which visually bookends the titles. The penultimate image is of a traditional Chinese drummer in the middle of a New-Year ceremony pounding on his instrument with rolling-pin sized sticks. It takes us out of the world created by the score and into the reality of New York life; kinetic, diverse and relentless.

I always think of verbal exposition in US TV title sequences as something found more in comedy than drama. There is, of course, the A-Team but that might be a case of the exception being the rule in disguise. This could be because comedies don’t mind being seen as on-the-nose as much as dramas or simply because having that burden of exposition in the episodes might be detrimental to the comedy. In fairness, Homeland doesn’t have a contextualising song or voiceover but instead plucks lines of dialogue from the Pilot episode and these are more character tensions than Facebook profiles.

Do not adjust your set!

Do not adjust your set!

Title sequences are promises that whether fulfilled or neglected by the rest of the programme remain pleasurable on their own terms. Homeland may well already be a shadow of its former self at close of Season 2 play but somehow it’s impossible to entirely dismiss a programme which begins so beautifully. There’s enough to dig around in during those first few minutes to keep worries about underdeveloped sub-plots and writers’ knowledge of their dramatic endgame at bay. The producers might want you to wonder what Carrie and Brody will do next. I’m still questioning why Obama is upside down.

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Good (Late) Morning America!

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2011 by Tom Steward

Waking up is hard to do. I always thought this was because of my sedentary lifestyle but apparently it’s because the TV in my country was never worth getting up for. Whereas in the UK, I’d be swilling cereal with bothered-looking hospital patients and those in the auction trade, here in the USA I’m champagne breakfasting with living legends and soap stars with heads so big they eclipse the painted moon backdrops they are so frequently mounted against. TV crumbles into the ashes of interest about 9am in the UK once the breakfast magazine and sitcom cycles are over but in the US (California time) this is when it starts to come alive. The stalwart of late morning TV is ABC’s Live! With Regis and Kelly, a talk and magazine show hosted by Bob Hope impersonator and male version of Blanche from The Golden Girls Regis Filbin and his co-presenter cum carer Kelly Ripa. A fairly mundane roll call of deathly dull competitions and perfunctory celebrity interviews are made immensely likeable by Regis’ endearing ineptitude and Kelly’s brusque-but-funny ushering that makes you want to purr ‘oh, she’s so good with him’. The top and tail of the show where the banter between the two hosts is allowed to flow freely is genuinely hilarious and frequently smart and witty, especially when Regis is irked by Kelly’s sarcasm and his latent insult comic lets rip. What’s more the show does skits and spoofs incredibly well, much more so that the cringingly appalling attempts at tomfoolery by other breakfast programmes like the Today show. This is mostly thanks to the arresting comic talents of the pair. Regis has that air of a hobbyist about him that distinguishes so many of the great TV presenters (Richard Whiteley and Terry Wogan would be the British TV equivalents) and is a walking argument against slickness and competence in TV hosting.

I have to admit I’m rather fond of The View, a flagship all-female fronted talk and magazine show that comes on after Regis and Kelly, which sports some pretty big cheeses in the world of news and entertainment like veteran comedienne Whoopi Goldberg and heavily medicated queen interviewess Barbara Walters. The format was plagiarized by ITV’s Loose Women and occasionally it’s just as banal and clichéd in its attitudes towards gender and reductive, applause-driven mwah-mwahs about politics. But The View is tons classier than its British mutant and sometimes it’s pretty challenging. In October of last year, Whoopi and co-host Joy Behar walked off in protest to Fox News’ Bill O’ Reilly’s badger-baiting bollock-mongering claim that ‘the Muslims got us on 9/11’ and the show is consistent in offering viewers a balance of liberal and conservative opinion, from the punchably swan-necked WASP Republican Elizabeth Hasselbeck to Behar’s fart-smell-faced social liberal skepticism. The interviews often take the form of grueling interrogations to the point that guests often bring gifts with them to try and pacify their inquisitors. Ricky Gervais had a remarkably tough time the other day with the interviewers scrutinizing every word of his Golden Globe jokes, a much rougher ride than he could ever expect from chortle-faced Graham Norton or celebrity chum Jonathan Ross.

The next couple of hours are dominated by soaps. Whereas British soaps tend to attempt social realism and end up peddling melodrama, American soaps seem much more in control of their ludicrous and overblown plots and characters, almost to the point of complete self-awareness. Nothing is too much, be it ghost, alien, dream or coincidencis-in-extremis. And they seem happy, nay even proud, to recycle the same old stories. In the episode of The Bold and the Beautiful I saw, a man was heard to say ‘You’re not the first women to come in here in a trench coat trying to steal me away’. I, for one, believe him. Thought of as drearily sentimental, what struck me was how completely nasty and Machievellian these soaps are; an impure celebration of conniving and conspiracy. What really stands out is how the soaps are (all identically) shot. Extreme close-ups on faces are the base line which, depending on your level of cynicism, could either signify budget-cutting in background set design or an almost schizophrenic immersion in the emotions of the characters being watched. It’s probably a combination of both and like all good TV is equal parts thrift and intimacy. The morning to lunchtime schedule on US TV is almost pathologically entertaining, and doesn’t make me feel bad for not appraising my attic space.

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