Archive for whoopi goldberg

Dreaming of View

Posted in American TV Shows, BiogTV, TV Dreams with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by Tom Steward

What follows is a deposition of last’s night dream. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is entirely mental.

The ladies from The View

My employers

Hosts of The View Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Barbara Walters and Elizabeth Hasselbeck want to leave the live broadcast of their morning talk show ten minutes early and ask me, who evidently works at the show and is somehow familiar to viewers, to fill in for the last segment. I have decided for some reason to go on air with a blue Ikea holdall full of broken, antiquated agricultural work tools taken from underneath my grandparents’ front garden and then lecture millions of American viewers on their archaeological significances. The audience and hosts abandon the studio leaving only myself and a floor manager. The manager signals that we have gone to commercial and to set up my bag of tools. At this point, the bag goes missing and I scramble to find it before we come out of the break. The tools have somehow re-submerged themselves into the soil in my grandparents’ garden, which is now adjacent to the studio, and I enlist their help to retrieve them as we dig into the earth with our hands and pull out hoes, rakes and steel-wood gardening appliances. I re-fill the bag and heave it over to the set, hoping to catch my cue. I miss it by mere seconds by which time an emergency broadcast of a late 1990s version of the show has automatically clicked in and is now playing on all the monitors. I feel dejected, especially because I am unable to show my girlfriend G that I have been on television in her country. The following day, The View resumes with its normal hosts and Whoopi and Barbara spend the opening ‘Hot Topics’ section of the programme castigating me for blowing this opportunity in front of a national TV audience and cursing themselves for giving me such a break.

Tony and Dr. Melfi

Paging Dr. Melfis...

Anyone who thinks they may be able to shed some light on what this dream may mean or reveal about my psychological or emotional condition, please leave a comment.

A Word from our Sponsors

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2011 by Tom Steward

‘Why are we sitting here watching commercials?’ asks C, G housemate, and it’s a fair old point. In the UK it’s pretty obvious when adverts are about to come up, and programmers gently ease viewers in to the transition. On UStelevision, commercials abruptly cut into programmes, taking out lines and ends of scenes like a poltergeist script editor. Commercials even interrupt themselves, making it impossible to concentrate on the most fleeting of promotional programming, and the commercials don’t stop when the programme proper begins either. Fictions feature promotional considerations where brand products are used somewhere in the narrative, often very wittily, as in 30 Rock which continually satirizes NBC’s prostitution by consumer goods conglomerates.

Non-fiction does a lot of straight-to-camera advertising, as shows suddenly stop mid-item and become an infomercial for weight-loss pills, again making it impossible to separate programme and commercial. US TV commercials are more like web pop-ups or computer viruses, something that intrudes on and pervades your media experience when you least want it to. Consequently, whole media industries and online communities have emerged to allow viewers to speed through commercials (video on demand, cheat sites for skipping commercials on TiVos).

TiVo Ad Skips

Websites teach you how to skip ads on TiVo

Though eminently frustrating, commercials have historically been a huge part of the development of American television and shouldn’t be lambasted outright. In the 1950s US TV producers and writers had to fit content around roughly three interludes per hour for sponsor messages and it was this that helped TV develop as a unique art form different from theatre or cinema. For instance, the dramatic arc of TV anthology plays had to accommodate breaks in the flow and therefore TV drama became characterized by sharp cliffhanger rises in suspense or action every 10 or so minutes. They are also an unignorable part of the ritual of watching TV. I remember an episode of teen girl comedy Blossom where  father Ted goes to pee saying ‘and now a word from our sponsors’. This excerpt shows us in the pithiest (or pissiest) way possible that commercials are ways of TV serving people’s biological needs for food, drink and bodily functions. And we love them as much as we do our own gluttonies, addictions and excretions. I have a couple of favourites at the moment. The first is a cycle of commercials for Chantix, a give-up smoking pharmaceutical.

It used to be the case that US drug commercials would deliver the small-print about side-effects and defects in an indecipherably fast voiceover in the last second or so of the commercial, which has been brilliantly parodied (like virtually all TV absurdities) by The Simpsons’ distressingly accurate mock-ups of network advertising. It felt like a corporate conspiracy to cover-up the serious health risks associated with particular products and this is probably why such information is now given in a more leisurely manner, taking up the majority of the commercial and repeated almost verbatim at the end. Unfortunately, this only makes the drugs sound more life-threatening as an exhaustive list of possible ailments like kidney failure, heart attacks, respiratory problems, skin blemishes (and my personal favourite ‘unusual dreams’) is rolled out over soft piano on-hold music, a sickeningly inappropriate and seemingly endless concoction of words and sounds which suggests the pain will never end after taking Chantix. Plus the commercials are usually predicated on an irresolvable tautology that sounds like a Zen saying designed to separate mind from body such as: ‘Do you want to give up smoking without giving up smoking?’. Yes, Chantix is apparently not just a wonder-drug but a porthole into an alternative universe of Marxist dialectic or, if that’s too posh a reference for you, the Bizarro World. The second is a set of commercials for Poise, a pad designed to counter bladder control problems in women featuring Whoopi Goldberg.

Commercials are so often about hiding embarrassing problems or anxieties with advertisers and companies preying on insecurities to sell products vaunted as paper-over-the-crack solutions (no pun intended). But this commercial tries to comfort people who suffer from these ailments, reassuring them that it’s completely normal (1 in 3 women have had it at some time) and, importantly, that it can be funny, with Whoopi’s pleasingly infantile ‘spritzer’ noises. There’s something cathartic about the ‘fart is funny’ silliness of this commercial that I imagine would be a tremendous release for those suffering from this ailment. Its bluntness also says something about the aggressive cajoling of US TV commercials and how it can be used in a more positive way.

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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