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Crimewatch

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, Reality TV, TV channels, TV History, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2014 by Tom Steward

2014 will be remembered as the year American TV went on trial. I mean that quite literally. Three of the stars of Bravo reality franchise The Real Housewives have been given prison sentences for fraud in recent months, and earlier in the year another was arrested for an altercation on the show. In the last few weeks, American TV icon Bill Cosby has been accused of multiple historic instances of sexual assault by women, and his past and future TV shows have been pulled by Netflix, NBC and TV Land. TLC also made the decision to cancel their reality series Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo after star ‘Mama’ June Shannon reportedly started dating a registered sex offender. The reactions from the networks concerned have been variable.

Sopranos Remake Goes Ahead with Cast of Unknowns!

Sopranos Remake Goes Ahead with Cast of Unknowns!

Bravo appointed themselves unofficial court stenographers for the trials of Teresa and Joe Giudice on multiple bank, mortgage and bankruptcy fraud charges and Apollo Nida for bank, mail and wire fraud, following their court appearances on The Real Housewives of New Jersey and The Real Housewives of Atlanta and putting them on every conceivable sister show on the network before and after sentencing. It’s not exaggerating to say that the court cases have been the key interest for each of the series this year, or that Bravo has been unapologetically wallowing in their losses of freedom. The network has skirted around the issue of their guilt and culpability, wasting no opportunity to portray Nida and the Giudices as victims of circumstances, rather than knowing criminals

This is hardly surprising given how Bravo behaved when a criminal act took place on one of their shows. Porscha Williams was charged with assault after attacking Kenya Moore (or rather a tenuously linked appendage of hers) on the ‘Reunion’ episode of this season’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The end-of-season special brings the invariably estranged co-stars on to a studio stage and uses footage from the series (and typically social media baiting) to provoke conflict between the guests. The formula is such that violence of one kind or another is inevitable, and that the assault was less of a by-product of the show than a slightly cruder version of its desired effect. Bravo didn’t express the contrition appropriate to goading a person into criminality.

The different between the responses of Bravo and Cosby’s networks may be attributed to the gulf in the seriousness of the alleged crimes, but there could be more at stake. In 2012, it emerged that deceased TV personality Jimmy Savile, an entertainer equivalent in status to Cosby in British popular culture, had been one of the country’s worst ever paedophiles, a fact widely known during his lifetime but downplayed through his connections to the UK establishment. The revelations about Savile laid bare a culture of sexual abuse and assault in British showbusiness in the past few decades. Of course, I’m not suggesting that what Cosby is accused of doing is on the same scale as Savile’s serial child abuse, although both have a moral point-of-no-return.

I make the comparison because in their knee-jerk reaction to media-led allegations, Netflix’s decision to postpone Cosby’s special, NBC’s termination of a new Bill Cosby sitcom, and TV Land removing reruns of The Cosby Show from their schedules might be a tactic to draw a line under the controversy before it takes out any more of the entertainment legends their business depends on. There’s no reason to disbelieve the women who are coming forward to accuse Cosby, since they have all to lose and nothing to gain by smearing the comedian’s good name, but the networks have based their verdicts calls on unsubstantiated claims in lieu of a police investigation. If CNN’s reproach of Joan Tarshis is representative, it’s not about solidarity with Cosby’s alleged victims.

There Goes Honey Boo-Boo!

There Goes Honey Boo-Boo!

TLC cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo as June Shannon apparently resumed her relationship with Mark McDaniel, who was convicted of molesting June’s daughter Anna Cardwell. The network should be commended for sacrificing one of their most valuable properties in making a moral stance, but TLC’s rhetoric about their duty of care towards the Shannon children is disingenuous. A network statement said TLC was committed to ‘health and welfare of these remarkable children’ but they’ve never been conflicted about exploiting their socio-economic disadvantages for entertainment and, as E!’s TV review The Soup illustrated, the network haven’t made any interventions to prevent the children’s health problems. While Bravo is clearly the most exploitative network here, at least it doesn’t pretend to have anything but self-interest at heart.

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The Place to TV

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reviews, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2013 by Tom Steward

In an interview with the BBC some years ago, Sopranos creator David Chase, speaking of his first writing gig on The Rockford Files, remarked that what set the private eye series apart from most TV at the time was that it was recognisably set in Southern California and not some ersatz non-place. This innate sense of place trickled down into Chase’s later TV work. One look at Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey and it’s obvious that the landscapes and body shapes that feature in The Sopranos could only be from the Garden State. It’s also something that distinguished Rockford creator Roy Huggins’ TV shows. His previous creation The Fugitive (one of the other only TV programmes Chase admits to enjoying) was always specific in its geography, be it small town or vast metropolis, no mean feat for a series which had to change location every week.

Jim Rockford, a resident of Malibu

Place is increasingly becoming the backbone of American TV. The unique appeal of shows like AMC’s Breaking Bad is inseparable from their choice of setting. The meth-drenched desert hazes and border town hinterlands of Albuquerque provide not just a backdrop to the action but the pathetic fallacy of the characters’ moral decay and corruption. Other programmes like Portlandia build their very concepts around a place rather than a set of characters or situations. It may be that the IFC sketch show starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein relates to something bigger than just the Oregon city-like the hipsterfication of everyday life-but such observations are always squarely aimed at Portland’s grunge-throwback ways. The Wire (and the lesser known but not lesser in any other way Homicide: Life on the Streets) may speak to people as a microcosm of American social problems but in the end it’s a programme about a place, Baltimore, Maryland, and impossible to truly appreciate without a working knowledge of that city’s local political scene. So is this a new development in American TV and, if so, what changed?

The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland!

It’s tempting to put the recent emphasis on place in American TV down to historical shifts in the way that programmes are produced. For much of its existence, TV was filmed predominantly in studios making it difficult to manufacture an authentic impression of place. When location shooting was added into the mix, the ability to suggest events were taking place in a distinct locale improved drastically, even when programmes were still studio-bound. Cop drama NYPD Blue seemed firmly planted in the many and varied neighbourhoods of the Big Apple despite being the majority of it being filmed on the Fox backlot in L.A. simply because of the documentary-styled location footage of the ongoing life on New York streets that pre-empted each scene. Now that the technology of production has advanced sufficiently to shed the studio, putting place at the centre of a TV show should be everywhere by now, right?

NYPD Blue or LAPD Blue?

Possibly not. Location shooting is used more readily to invite a sense of reality without necessarily specifying the geography. It was used in Hill Street Blues to project a (radical) urban grittiness but stopped short of saying what city events took place in (we can assume Chicago but are never told for sure), even going as far to create a fake district of this unknown metropolis. The ability to film on location doesn’t always mean you can film anywhere you like. Think about how many American TV shows are needlessly set in the vicinity of L.A. Often this isn’t an artistic choice but a local one. It’s plainly easier and more economical to find somewhere to shoot near the production base, in this case Hollywood, and use that to justify the setting. It’s the only way to understand why a show like 24 about federal counter-terrorism agents is set in the City of Angels and not Washington or some more suitable hub of government activity.

24 in L.A…for some reason

It’s clearly still a choice at the discretion of programme makers whether or not to push place and yet it’s happening more and more. I’m not sure what the explanation is. Perhaps it’s a product of multichannel television narrowcasting to niche audiences, allowing programmes about specific parts of the US to become popular regardless of broad national appeal. Maybe basing a show around a place is another way to create a programme’s distinctive brand in an ever-more competitive market. Most commentators agree with Chase that a sense of place is a sign of television quality. It’s certainly more important than it used to be.

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