Archive for conan

The Last Post of 2020

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Behind-The-Scenes, BiogTV, British Shows on American TV, Internet TV, Local TV, Reality TV, Reviews, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Criticism, TV Culture, TV History, TV News, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2021 by Tom Steward

New Blog 14.1

Am I just too goddamn old to appreciate The Walking Dead: World Beyond?

America was rescued from the brink of fascism by a hair’s breadth but, you’re right, Chris Harrison, all anyone was talking about in the first week of November was The Bachelorette.

The end credits of The Mandalorian are back!

Covid-19 has turned every reality show in 2020 into the first hour of The Birds.

Star Trek: Discovery boldly goes where Star Trek has gone before.

I sincerely hope production designers on The Walking Dead series are paid handsomely and writers the bare minimum.

How long have the opening titles of reality television been like novelty backwards chronology episodes of 90s shows?

I predict Timothy Olyphant will become the Bart Maverick of The Mandalorian.

My AT & T U-Verse lies to me like Trump to his base.

I see your Werner Herzog and I raise you David Cronenberg.

I previously predicted that Conan would be a Vine by the time my son was at college. He’s only three and Conan is already on a streaming platform.

The Bachelorette accidentally revived Bachelor Pad for a season.

Not content with being Space Have Gun, Will Travel, The Mandalorian wants to be Space CHIPS.

I’m surprised there was public outcry when The Charlie Brown Holiday Specials left broadcast television but not when the Peanuts gang were used as shills for an insurance company.

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

Pictured (l-r): Anthony Rapp as Stamets; Michelle Yeoh as Georgiou; Mary Wiseman as Tilly; Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham; of the the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2019 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Discovery reminds me of an awards show skit riffing on Star Trek.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special could be subtitled The Roast of George Lucas.

The biggest revelation of Showtime’s The Reagans is that previous documentaries on the family have all been under the spell of their mythmaking.

Geico sells insurance and condones fraud.

The dialogue in the edited-for-TV version of Scream about The Exorcist being edited-for-TV should have been edited-for-TV.

B is only 3 and can already identify characters on TV shows by their story functions. For example, Fred from Scooby-Doo is “We’ll go this way, you go that way.”

The Thanksgiving episode of The Mandalorian is brought to you by parents of children who skipped nap and fell asleep at the dinner table the day before.

I’d Ask The Storybots if there is a better example of their kind of show in the whole of television. It’d be a short episode.

I replied “Yes” to Netflix’s question about whether I was enjoying Star Trek: Enterprise because there was no option listed for “Not really but I need to watch this for completism’s sake.”

The Crown faithfully recreates the weekend in the Summer of 1981 when The British Royal Family stalked a CGI Stag.

Mario Lopez stars as Colonel Sanders in a Lifetime Original mini-movie called A Recipe for Seduction … is a honey-mustard trap for TV reporters!

I’ve spent decades wishing that the actors in Star Trek would loosen up. Discovery reminds me to be careful what I wish for.

Fun game. Watch The Mandalorian on a Holiday Weekend and complete the dialogue every time it buffers.

New Blog 14.3

Having PBS on in the morning and hearing the incidental music from Curious George makes me feel like even my kid is a sophisticate.

The best thing about the home release of The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is that Francis Coppola does an introduction in front of a bookshelf in the kind of segments typically reserved for movies that American culture is now ashamed of.

If we stop making television about Reagan and Thatcher, do you think they’ll relinquish their hold on the future?

Ask The Storybots scratches my itch for exposition dump theme tunes.

When it comes to Star Trek canon, you have to take Enterprise with The Original Series.

Sorry, Mandalorian, but Droid Tales is the only Star Wars canon revision I’m interested in.

I always said that a young Margaret Thatcher was the role Gillian Anderson was born to play but until The Crown I thought I was talking figuratively.

12/10 was a good day to bury backdoor pilots.

I’m a little perturbed that the HBO Max algorithm can’t see the difference between Scooby-Doo and The Dead Don’t Die.

The Mandalorian is the best version of what you used to do with your Star Wars toys. Although for extra authenticity, Favreau should start throwing disabled He-Man and Ghostbusters characters into the mix.

Star Trek series must be fringe-watched. This is my new term for watching one episode of every series in a franchise at a time.

Ducktales went the way of Glow.

Info a Treat

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV channels, TV Criticism, Watching TV with tags , , , , on June 17, 2015 by Tom Steward

TBS’ late-night talk show Conan features a segment called ‘What am I Watching?’ in which titular host O’Brien flips through the cable channels with the aid of the info button on his remote. Pressing the button reveals skewed descriptions of each show encountered, such as ‘Entertainment Tonight: Two lifelike cyborgs are programmed to think everything Hollywood does is fantastic’ and ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: Guy Fieri plays an out-of-work party clown who is addicted to lard’. There are two diametrically opposed laughs here. One is the absurd – yet entirely truthful – inversions of the straight-faced synopses that info buttons on cable remotes give us about TV shows. The other (which sadly nowadays may be as socio-economically discriminatory as those jokes in The Sopranos about Kierkegaard) is about people who have cable recognizing how close these summaries come to the real thing.

All you need to know...

All you need to know…

The descriptions contained on info buttons are not as openly critical as the fake ones on Conan but they do often make you wonder who the authors are and what their criteria is. Whatever possessed the person that wrote the digital synopsis for Jaws: The Revenge to question the scientific plausibility of the storyline when they wrote ‘Disregarding the behaviour typically exhibited by the rest of its species, a revenge-minded shark follows a woman from New England to the Bahamas’? What is to be gained from listing the events that take place in the 1920s surrealist avant-garde short Un Chien Andalou – including a woman’s eye being cut and ants spilling from a wound in someone’s hand – as if it were an episode of Columbo? And these are the ones that actually get the descriptions right.

The buttons struggle noticeably with anything resembling emotional complexity. They can’t seem to get around the fact that Jackie Peyton from Nurse Jackie isn’t a good person and doesn’t find redemption each week. TCM’s button writer needs an education in film noir – one incidentally that the network will provide in association with Ball University – if it thinks that anyone in The Glass Key is in any way moral or decent. As misleading as they can be, info buttons are impossible to do without. With shows on cable now mired in the mud of endless re-runs and encores (which are re-runs that run on from the first run, like a bad sequel), it’s essential to have something to distinguish individual episodes, and sometimes the description on the info button is the only way to be sure.

This new technology has created a completely different experience of watching television, one that we’re perhaps less willing to recognize because it doesn’t involve a computer screen. It’s just on our TV rather than our phones and devices but that in itself is significant. We have much less need for TV listings or paper guides, which means that journalistic commentaries on TV shows has been supplanted by anonymous synopses. While before, viewers would read a critics’ review to get a sense of whether they wanted to watch a programme or not, now they have to go off the plot, and be less informed about the success of the project than its aims. Maybe it’s clearer now why the description of Jaws: The Revenge was so unfavourable. Button writers don’t rate TV, but nor should they have blood on their hands.

Info buttons only skim the surface of how cable remotes alter our perception of television. Every time I try to erase an episode of Conan, the remote asks me ‘Are you sure you want to erase Conan?’ as if the host himself will be vanquished from history once I press ‘Ok’. Whenever I do, I genuinely believe that Conan O’Brien has disappeared into the ether. All right, that’s not true. But making me think twice about whether I want to keep a show or not has made me re-evaluate what in TV is worthy of a second or third viewing.

I’ve made lots of assumptions here about the people who write the descriptions on info buttons – as well as assuming that this is a dedicated profession and not an intern’s copy-and-paste job – so anyone who knows anything about how these show summaries get written, please get in touch with me and I’ll write another post about it, with whatever level of anonymity you wish. Poverty and convenience may one day render cable obsolete, so I want to learn what I can about this phase of TV history while I can. I also want to know who wrote that Jaws blurb!

Hidden Jenner

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV channels, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2015 by Tom Steward

There was an unexpected role reversal in the world of TV news this past week. News satire – an institution that regularly attacks the bigotry and ignorance of network and cable news coverage – was itself accused of bigotry and ignorance in regards to transphobia, while a primetime network news special about transgender issues (albeit in the form of an interview with Bruce Jenner, hence why TV is interested in the first place) was widely praised for its sensitive handling of the topic. On Monday, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore – Comedy Central’s bland replacement for The Colbert Report – aired a segment ridiculing Jenner’s identification as a woman and chosen sexual orientation as abnormal, which were made to seem even more grotesque by comparing her to Pinnochio. This was responding to Friday evening’s 20/20 special on ABC, in which the former Olympian and Kardashian was interviewed by Diane Sawyer about being a man trapped in a woman’s body her entire life and her decision to transition to a woman, which she has been doing piecemeal for years.

Methinks Larry doth protest too much!

Methinks Larry doth protest too much!

At the heart of the controversy surrounding The Nightly Show was Wilmore’s apparent confusion about Jenner’s desire to become a woman yet having male genitalia and preferring women sexually. Now, if this seems to be representative of the billions of people around the globe who have spent their lives knowing they are a different gender than the one assigned to them and have, for reasons too numerous to mention, yet to make their (complete) transition, it’s because that’s exactly what it is. It’s hard to see where the confusion, or indeed the comedy, lies in pointing out these tragedies. If anything, this information helps us make sense of Jenner’s personal (mostly surgical) life choices in recent years, and there is, of course, the little known fact that what Bruce Jenner wants to be or do in her life is none of anyone’s fucking business. Even more appalling was Wilmore’s hetero-bullying tone, which seemed to suggest that this particular combination of gender and sexuality was above and beyond an average straight guy’s understanding of the world.

But 20/20 didn’t miss the opportunity to turn the tables on news satire either. Clips from Saturday Night Live and Conan making jokes at the expense of Jenner’s gender instability were featured in the programme. She was fair game when she was altering her appearance for reasons of vanity, but the punchlines were directed at gender. Conan O’Brien’s monologue jibe seemed to be urging Jenner to hurry up and pick a gender, as if that were somehow easy or necessary for us to recognise her as human. In defence of news satire – which I believe to be essential not only as a critical commentary on the news but also a superior alternative to it – these are atypical moments that in no way represent the genre’s treatment of such issues. It’s hard to imagine The Nightly Show’s tone of reporting on its forerunner The Daily Show which draws Arsenio-style primal screams at the mere mention of Elizabeth Warren. The Conan monologue gag seems unusually cruel, especially for a late-night talk show with a notably liberal following.

Hindsight is 20/20!

Hindsight is 20/20!

It is, however, possible to imagine Wilmore’s segment on The Colbert Report, with the thinly veiled prejudice cloaked in the self-negating irony of Colbert’s fake conservative newsman persona. But there’s no evidence here that we’re supposed to think of what Wilmore is saying as anything other than genuine (and if you ever suspected that Wilmore is capable of comedy that is less than obvious, remind yourself he is the creator of Black-ish!). If the problematic representation of transgender issues in news satire has been reported correctly, we should also note that the success of TV news coverage in dealing with the same issues has been greatly exaggerated. Perhaps the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the Bruce Jenner 20/20 special was motivated by relief that it wasn’t the most hideously offensive piece of journalism ever aired. But interviewer Diane Sawyer adopted the persona of a sceptical and disgusted parent, asking questions only the most hateful (and thus least important) person would. It’s insulting enough, even without the patronising implication that this is what the public would ask. We also have to take into account TV news’ much worse track record when it comes to reporting on the transgender community: Piers Morgan’s media war with Janet Mock, Katie Couric’s inappropriate intimacy interviewing Laverne Cox. Nobody’s getting it right but news satire is wrong less often than the news.

Memory Box

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reality TV, TV Criticism, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2014 by Tom Steward

It occurred to me recently that TV talks to us as if we’re all amnesiacs. Shows are incessantly reminding us of what happened minutes before, when we’re not being previewed we’re being recapped, and flashback has become the bane of television storytelling. Reality shows are the worst culprits, since their heavy-handed narration and editing permits them to insert extraneous references to past events at will. But dramas and comedies can be just as bad. Think about how many devices there are built into the fabric of fictional TV series to remind us about what just happened; ‘Previously On’ segments, duplicated action, flashbacks. Such repetition is almost certain to annoy viewers and make them feel patronised, so why does TV always think it’s addressing Guy Pearce?

Torture and racism, probably.

Torture and racism, probably.

When it comes to reality shows, it’s safe to speculate that there’s an element of killing time here. Visual call-backs are a good way of conserving footage through re-use and along with voiceover re-caps they can easily pad out a show to its allotted time. I often wonder how long reality shows would last if there were no repetitions or duplications. Chopped would probably end before it began! But there are also less cynical motives at play. It’s long been assumed by producers that people watch TV in fits and bursts and they don’t necessarily watch a programme from start to finish. It’s something we critics with our programme-based reviews still don’t really get. But it’s the impulse behind filling viewers in every few minutes.

Much as we would like to think for the sake of art that TV has fulfilled its potential as a serial medium, it’s still pretty much a halfway house between closed and ongoing storytelling. There must still be part-time and sporadic viewers out there or we’d have switched over to continuous storytelling a long time ago, given that it’s a feature common to all the great TV out there. We wouldn’t need to have these concessions to people who’ve missed a few episodes or were out of the room if we were all faithful and attentive viewers. As far as flashback is concerned, somewhere along the line it got mistaken for complex storytelling – even though the truth is the opposite – and the rest is history.

TV memory aids are where good television and quality television clash. It’s good practice to make TV that responds to the fragmented way a lot of us watch it. But all the shows we associate with quality television are about breaking away from that kind of audience spoon-feeding for something that challenges viewers, even their memories. And it goes to show that the type of television we’re always wanting more of and more like in television (The Wire, The Sopranos) is difficult to produce in most contexts. People are paying specifically for HBO so they’re going to watch everything and stick with a series for value alone. You couldn’t do a HBO show in a place with audiences that are constantly drifting in and out.

Of course, there are limits. It often feels like we’re being cheated of new content. Last week The Bachelorette ran a highlights package of its first three weeks in place of a new episode. It will do this again in a special prior to the finale, and then during the Judd Apatow-comedy length finale itself. Most reality show finales are season re-caps. There is a point beyond which you’re pandering to people who have missed some crucial moments and simply taking the piss out of the remaining audience. In this way, such shows are their own worst enemies, offering no reward to long-term viewing except seeing it all over again multiple times. You can’t count on TV viewers wanting nostalgia like an instant coffee powder.

Late-night talk show Conan has a regular bit called ‘Memba This?’ in which sidekick Andy Richter repeatedly asks the question in front of a slideshow of recent viral news images. As with many Conan skits, they’ve distilled how TV works in a matter of minutes. What TV pretends is a ‘trip down memory lane’ is actually a re-cap of things they haven’t had time to forget. Set up as a ‘new comedy bit’, regurgitation is posing as creativity. And when Conan keeps getting heinous news images, it reminds us that these memory aids are actually TV’s way of manipulating the past, not just repeating it. Damn, I’m twenty words short. It occurred to me recently that TV talks to us as if we’re all amnesiacs.

Live of O’Brien

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, TV channels, TV Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2013 by Tom Steward

Yesterday afternoon G and I went to Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank to be in the audience for the recording of Conan, the eponymous late night TBS talk show of Conan O’Brien. It’s an experience that goes far beyond the reaches of the hour that the recording takes place. Show time is 4.30pm yet the audience have to check in at the studio parking lot by 2.30pm at the latest and as early in the day as possible to get the best seats. Once checked in, you’re free to leave the parking lot as long as you return by 3.00pm. Not knowing this, and having checked in at the recommended time of 1.30-2pm, G and I had no time to do anything but aimlessly wander the vicinity of Warner Boulevard where the nearest attraction is Forest Lawn Cemetery, an area that is quite literally dead. Lest this start to sound like a yelp reviewer with a severe case of white people problems, I want to stress I completely understand keeping audience members half in the dark about check-in arrangements to ensure they arrive early and G found it entirely preferable to the Star Wars-premiere conditions of Conan’s New York show.

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When we returned from the land of the dead (actually we found a café with big salads so it was more Seinfeld than Six Feet Under), we were taken through a metal detector into a waiting area lined with black metal benches which had the atmosphere of a prison mixer. Actually the prison analogy remained apt as we were branded with a ‘WB’, which I believe stands for ‘Warner Bitches’, and processed through a street crossing deep with standing sewage water in a tribute to the epilogue of The Shawshank Redemption. The show even had a narc in the waiting area. One of the writers was strolling up and down the benches in search of people to turn the camera on in the ‘Craigslist Ads’ segment of the programme in which fake ads are juxtaposed with shots of the audience members who would likely post them. Lifers like me can tell the difference between a TV writer and TV viewer, although in layman’s terms this is also known as cleanliness. And he had a cup.

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At 3 the audience were lined up in groups and taken slowly in multiple stages through the Warner Brothers lots in scenes reminiscent of Day of The Triffids. While it was undoubtedly exciting to be where many of Hollywood’s finest movies (Angels with Dirty Faces, The Big Sleep) had been filmed, I have to say that all the Looney Tunes cartoons I’ve seen have been terribly misleading about what goes on here. Not once did I see Daffy Duck’s head being erased by an irate Chuck Jones! We arrived at a heavily air conditioned studio set, which TV expert G told me was for the lights and not as I suspected to prevent Conan’s skin from setting alight, and were seated with my urine-inflated bladder acting as an internal cushion. G and I were amazed at how small the set seemed and kept expecting a puppet version of the show to follow. The cameras magnify the set out of all proportion and it has an utterly different geography from the one we create in our heads when watching. G was especially thrown by how the guests’ walk from the stage curtain to the couch was literally a couple of steps.

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There followed multiple warm-up acts, starting with a fireman who demonstrated that the post-911 hero status of firefighters has significantly outlived that of cops (probably the lack of racial murders in the fire service). An MC discovered an audience full of drunks, meth manufacturers and slutty teens before Jimmy Vivino and The Basic Cable Band-who unlike most late-night house bands seldom feature in the programme-entertained with a lively, dad-at-wedding dancing funk and rock n roll double bill. There is an ‘Applause’ sign but it’s not the exploitative imposition that it is stereotyped as, its presence moving the show along and not forcing any reaction that isn’t already there. Not being a fan of bad sitcoms, teenage skaters and post-punk poachers the line-up didn’t do much for me. But the original segments were a TV bloggers’ dream. An irreverent ‘info’ button for programmes on a cable remote (Seinfeld: ‘You’ve seen this one’) and a clip from a new TV pilot starring alleged trumpet pumper La Bamba as a CIA assassin with limited knowledge of assembling weaponry.

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I realised that my knowledge of late-night talk shows tapings comes entirely from The Larry Sanders Show though having been there for real I can see why the prospect of a sitcom set there was so attractive. The musically-accompanied interludes between segments which are synced with ad breaks feature curious-looking interactions between guests, crew and talent not to mention the near-farcical stage invasions, all of which possesses intrinsic comic appeal. During the last of these interludes, G turns to me and asks ‘Is it nearly over?’ and I realise that as she’s always asleep by this point of the show and had never watched this far. After a bonus feature, a self-reflexive ‘end of the show song’ from the musically-gifted Conan, we were soon shuffled out into the lot, as I resisted the urge to crash through the parking barriers in homage to the final few minutes of Blazing Saddles.

 

 

 

 

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