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Oscar The Couch

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Internet TV, TV Acting, TV Criticism, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2014 by Tom Steward

Last Sunday was the first time I’ve watched the Academy Awards ceremony on TV live and continuously from start to finish. In Britain, the time difference means that if you want to watch the Oscars you have to stay up all night, which sounds fun but in reality resembles an inventive form of torture designed to give the re-opening of Gitmo some Hollywood pizzazz. In recent years, the ceremony hasn’t even been broadcast live on any of the UK’s free-to-air channels but rather on subscription-only cable movie channels as if it were an experimental art film where people open envelopes for five hours.

This year’s Oscars were so chocked full of embarrassing gaffes and faux pas that I was able to see the value of watching the ceremony as it went out. Not that the cringing diminishes upon repeat viewing after the fact, far from it in the case of John Travolta, whose creation of an entirely new name for singer Idina Menzel was prefixed with ‘one and only…’. But there’s something uniquely thrilling about seeing these disasters as they unfold in front of the world in the knowledge that they cannot be taken back or censored (even though anything truly provocative would be edited out with delayed transmission).

But this year TV wasn’t just the relay of the Oscars, it was part of it. Host Ellen DeGeneres is a creature born of television, with her celebrity coming entirely from talk shows and sitcoms, and Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey (not a typo, time travellers from the 1990s!) was awarded as much for his part in the celebrated HBO cop series True Detective than his underwhelming (in every sense of the word) performance in The Dallas Buyer’s Club. TV’s assured standing in America both culturally and artistically seems to be getting harder and harder for the Academy of Motion Pictures to ignore each year.

‘I’d like to thank television’

2014 also marked the year that the Oscars took note of the long-standing links between TV and the internet. Of course the web has been reporting news from the Oscars as it happens for decades now, but the Academy’s publicists are finally coming to realise that this is happening in tandem with the live TV coverage and not necessarily in a vacuum from it. This was the first year that Oscars’ coverage was offered as a live internet stream on the ABC website, a long overdue acknowledgement of how TV can be watched without a TV. DeGeneres’ Twitter-breaking celebrity selfie perfectly complimented the live-tweeting of the TV broadcast.

Even with the slightly more sociable option of live-pausing – for those that have a cable service – the five to six hours of television that the Oscars eats into can still be a slog if you’re going all the way to the Governor’s Ball. Television is medium of repetition to be sure, but even it cannot contain the mechanical monotony of the ceremony and the grinding formula of its acceptance speeches. The land of series marathons and genre channels is still not able to cope with the conformity that the Oscars produce. TV’s unending transmission is about the only way a bloated ceremony like the Oscars could be brought to the world but they’re still pushing at the limits of what even the most entrenched TV viewer can handle.

Oscars Admits Internet Exists!

TV gets its money’s worth either side of the ceremony as well. Hours of broadcast prior to the official start time of the Oscars are taken up with reporters transmitting live from the red carpet-lined entrance as stars rotate their bodies more slowly than a Virgin Trains toilet door and answer existential questions like ‘who are you wearing?’. Following the ceremony, various incarnations of Ryan Seacrest try to get the clearly traumatised Oscar guests to talk about what they witnessed before they repress it forever. Then there are the Oscar-themed talk shows and post-show analysis programmes. It’s past midnight before anyone in TV admits there is a world outside the Dolby Theatre. It’s surprising that politicians aren’t block-booking venues for press conferences on embarrassing indiscretions all day on Oscar Sunday.

Despite these torments, I’d watch the whole thing through again next year. It certainly beats trying to piece together fragments of information about what happened from rolling news stations the next day, which tends to take the same amount of time as the live coverage anyway. And now that TV is playing a far bigger role in the Oscars than ever before, it’s the obvious place to start.

Remote Possibilities

Posted in American TV (General), Internet TV, Reality TV, Reviews, TV advertising, TV channels, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2014 by Tom Steward

After months of watching TV on instant video applications like Netflix and HuluPlus, G and I have subscribed to cable. This meant shouldering an extra financial burden to meet the inflated monthly service costs but in both our eyes it was worth it. When we watch television, we want to watch television not find a programme to watch. We’re far more interested in watching television just because we can than seeing something specific. Internet TV was supposed to free viewers from the unwanted content of on-air broadcast (advertising, interstitials, filler programming) but to G and I TV only makes sense when they put the crap back in. I, for one, had no idea that the fake commercials in Portlandia appear in the middle of ad breaks where they serve a greater satirical purpose than popping up mid-episode. Also, the choice afforded to viewers by instant video had become a burden on us. So much so that we’d rather leave it to the bigoted, money-grubbing idiots who programme the TV schedules to decide what we watch.

Local advertising during IFC’s Portlandia.

The change isn’t as drastic as you might imagine. The notion of bingeing and marathons has now become so ingrained in the way TV schedules are created that you often find networks showing the same programme back-to-back throughout the day. As such, cable TV sometimes resembles a protracted version of what you might do on Netflix if given the chance. Perhaps the biggest difference is the licence cable TV gives you to stumble upon some of the strangest programmes you’ll encounter outside of a parallel reality. These are not programmes you would ever seek out or patiently endure buffering for, but when they are handed to you as samples that come free just for touching a button repeatedly you don’t feel you’re losing anything to give them a try. But don’t think these programmes are abnormal. They are indicative of precisely what television does when it’s not a one-in-a-million show like True Detective or Justified. It’s the act of filling time with a formula that works entirely on its own terms. That’s why we have…

Rev Run’s Renovation (DIY Network, Saturdays)

Rev Run’s Renovation: Not exactly Cribs!

A programme seemingly pitched on the basis of alliteration and anagram possibilities, Rev Run’s Renovation follows Run DMC rapper Rev Run as he renovates his New Jersey home. I know what you’re thinking. It’s a stylised reality show about the ridiculous and extravagant re-modelling that rappers do on their property a la MTV’s Cribs. Think again. It’s a completely matter-of-fact home improvement programme where the ins and outs of house renovation are laid out for viewers with an eye to budget and practicality. What does Rev Run have to do with renovation? Beats me.

Vanilla Ice Goes Amish (DIY Network, Saturdays)

Spot the Amish guy in this photograph.

Aside from being the perfect audience since it’s guaranteed they haven’t heard his music, Vanilla Ice Goes Amish is the feeblest juxtaposition of topics since Ted Nugent tried to fight Obamacare with Dr. Seuss. It’s not even that much of a mismatch. Vanilla Ice doesn’t programme code for Apple, he’s a rapper from the last century. He’s anachronistic enough now to have more in common with the Amish than differences from them. And it seems the Amish people aren’t as dated as we think. It should be called Vanilla Ice Does Nothing Different.

Wahlburgers (A & E, Wednesdays)

A 12-inch Wahlburger!

You know those businesses founded on a pun (‘Hair We Are Barbers’, ‘The Codfather Fish & Chips’ etc.) that won’t be there the next time you pass by? Well, this is a reality show about one of those businesses and the television equivalent of it. Wahlburgers is a chain of burger restaurants run by Chef Paul Wahlberg and his celebrity brothers Mark and Donnie. Wahlburgers is a show about Wahlburgers. The show and the restaurant are called Wahlburgers because they are Wahlbergs who make burgers. Expect nothing more complicated than this and you’ll be fine.

Unknown (Can’t Remember, Saturdays I think)

It’s not often I make an appeal to readers but as with many shows you encounter while channel hopping I only have a very sketchy memory of its name and where and when it aired and I’ve not been able to find it again nor any mention of it in the public domain. So please send me a comment or tweet (@wtvamericans) if you know what show I mean. It’s a tone-perfect, late-night digital cartoon parody of a morning news show which featured a location report from Legoland depicting it as an independent nation.

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