Saturday, April 15, 2006

And the Survivor Parasite Award Goes To...

Every season of Survivor seems to have one person who is completely worthless, never contributes or wins anything, and expects the others to carry them along merely on the strength of their vote. Last season it was mildly retarded Lydia, but this season it's Cirie, who is the perfect combination of weak, lazy and cocky. Shane may be crazier than a craphouse rat, but at least he's proactive.

My Three Respiratory Easter Wishes

1. That Mary Louise Parker will finally blow her nose and be able to speak normally.

2. That Ann Coulter will finally hock up that lump of mucus in her throat.

3. That poor Rita Cosby will stop choking on whatever the hell it is she's choking on.

A Question You Should Ask

On Wednesday, the Washington Post ran a front page story exposing a long-buried, secret U.S. government field report from those who inspected the "biolab" trailers in Iraq. You know, the ones where the biological weapons were supposedly being made? The ones we seized, and Bush and Cheney and Powell, for almost a year, went around saying this was the smoking gun?

Turns out, not so smoky. The trailers had nothing whatsoever to so with weapons.

And these documents prove the administration knew it beforehand.

Knowing full well the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons, the President and Vice President went on television and said they were weapons labs. Just as they had proof about the aluminum tubes and the uranium, but chose to lie about that, too.

If you are someone who gets his or her news from television, did you know about this story in the Post until just now?

If not, here's the question you should ask: Why are the media telling you more about the Duke lacrosse team than about these trailers in Iraq?

The New Old Navy Commercial

The only thing more irritating than the "Summertime Girlfriend" song itself, which sounds like it's being sung by someone learning to be a ventriloquist, is the apparent Bell's Palsy facial tic of the girl in the commercial.

I am so fascinated by her bizarre expressions that I honestly cannot tell you what anyone in the commercial is wearing.

Friday, April 14, 2006

TV Myths: First in an Occasional Series

I never meant for this blog to be about TV or film writing -- frankly, I find most of those boring -- but occasionally I'll dip my toe in those waters.

I've been on the Internets for a very long time. My first computer was a 386... That's how long. So I've seen a lot of people with a lot of misconceptions online about TV. From time to time I'd like to explode one.

Here's the first:

When you see a TV sitcom was "written by Joe Smith" it may not necessarily be so.

There have been scripts "written by Michael Markowitz" that I've written 100% of, and there have been some that I've written 30% of, and every percentage in between.

There have been scripts with other people's names on them that I've written 100% of, all by myself. And, most commonly, scripts that say "Written by Joe Blow" that were written by three people and then rewritten by ten people, and
not one of those people were Joe Blow.

So when I go to a Usenet group or TV blog and I see, "Oh, this episode is SO Joe Blow" I have to laugh. Trust me, in sitcoms -- with some exceptions -- the credits are guidelines at best.

When sitcom writers win Emmys and thank their fellow staff writers, they really mean it. Because on some shows, chances are those other writers wrote a lot of that script... or at least those one or two moments that you quote all the time.

Gang-writing, or room writing, is, as a manufacturing process, horribly inefficient. And you can see the result when you watch a formula-driven, mirthless show like Teachers. You would not eat a slice of cheese fashioned by as many hands as shape a Teachers script... but you would drive a car fashioned by as many artisans as skilled as those who crafted Arrested Development or The Simpsons.

It has been said of the Dirty Harry movies that they succeeded because they are a liberal fantasy: Harry Callahan is one of the few people we trust to surrender our civil rights to. Gang-writing sitcoms is a horrible thing or a great thing... depends on the gang.

John F. Kennedy welcomed dozens of Nobel Prize winners to dinner and called them "the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

I wish more networks would realize that Carl Reiner was Thomas Jefferson, too. That it would be nice to hear a singular voice on television again.

Finally, 21st Century Fox

According to Eonline and other sources, Fox is nearing a deal to make its shows, including American Idol, 24, and The Simpsons, available online and on pay-per-view immediately after they air. Eliminating the need for upstanding citizens to turn to nefarious means when we miss them.

Next Time You Want to Make Fun of Ryan Seacrest...

...just watch an episode of American Inventor. I've always liked Matt Gallant on Animal Planet, but his "I'm talking to a six-year-old" delivery, which seems so "right" there, is so irritating on AI that I want to throw something at the screen. The more you watch the guys who host The Bachelor and Temptation Island and Beauty and the Geek and so forth, the more you appreciate just how good guys like Ryan and Jeff Probst and Phil Keoghan are.

The Slate "Debate" Irritates Russ's Vowel

My good friend and master blogger Russell Arch alerted us all that a creepy Century 21 commercial had hit the airwaves showing a wife and her realtor browbeating a poor sap into buying a house.

A few weeks later, Slate did a column on the ad, linking to a video ... but the link led to Russ's blog, and without even a little "hey, thanks for the bandwidth" action. And in the Slate column they actually "borrowed" phrases from Russ's post. Pretty lame.

Go to Russ's blog -- Irritable Vowel Syndrome -- to read more. (But hurry back here.)

American Inventor: Jury Nullification Night


So in the first hour of American Inventor, the finalists were told to put aside their inventions and talk about their passion. In the second hour, they were told to put aside their inventions and tearfully talk about their passion.

Apparently, there is a direct tears-to-ingenuity ratio. I guess Thomas Edison was one big crybaby.

So the woman with the potentially million-dollar idea for baking kits was sent home, becase she talked business instead of shedding crocodile tears. Yeah, that makes sense.

No one is denying that the bald woman has suffered. But her peeling off her wig every time she pitches is cheesy, cheap and exploitative. Plus, no offense, but what exactly did Lex Canther invent? She put a panty liner in a wig. That's not "inventing." What is she going to do with $50,000? Put a maxi-pad in the Grand Canyon?

And what about that doll that speaks Swahili? Gimme a break. It's the first doll, we're told, that speaks Swahili, Spanish, and English. It took her 22 years to come up with it. Okay, I just came up with a doll that is the first doll that speaks Swahili, English, Spanish, Pig Latin, Yiddish, Esperanto, Japanese, and Snoop Dogg. It took me twenty seconds. May I have my million dollars, please?

And I can't even remember if the guy who came up with the alarm clock that bounces off the table across the floor made it to the final 12 or not. I can't remember because I'm busy remembering the dozens of identical products I've seen online over the years.

At least they finally cut loose that old cobweb with the paper bedsheets. I can't imagine how she had the nerve to bring in a piece of paper and call it an invention. And to say it's good for the environment? While wearing a fur coat, no less. But how could they have put her through in the first place? No matter what you thought of Bullet-Ball, that Nok-Hockey game, it was better than sleeping on a big diaper!

With the exception of Peter Jones, the judging has been extravagantly inconsistent. And the producers of the program, which I ordinarily enjoy, should be ashamed of last night's shows. What good does it do to show the deliberations without showing who they're talking about? That has no entertainment value whatsoever.

America's Next Top Model manages every week to show deliberations while still concealing the result enough to build suspense. It's not hard to do. As I say, even ANTM does it, and that's not exactly the best-produced show on the air.

For example: When they had that passionate argument at the end, and whats-his-name, the bald know-it-all, staked his reputation on one invention and the others all disagreed. They argued and argued and finally he convinced them. And we had no idea what they were talking about, and it had no entertainment value at all.

Now imagine instead we knew it was, say, the toilet seat. And we watched them argue, we watched him try to make his case, we watched them resist, but we never saw the outcome. That way we would still have the suspense... and when we see the toilet seat make it through, we can enjoy not just the triumph for the inventors, but the satisfaction and triumph of the judge who we know put it all on the line for them.

That's what good television producers do. Last night was a bummer.

Look, IMHO, if it can be proven real-world-safe, you can end the contest right now and give it to the guy with the child safety seat. As far as the other inventions, the bathroom door clip, the sandbag filler, the un-brella, and the toilet seat filter are ingenious, and are the very embodiment of brilliant solutions to everyday problems. They're what I thought the show would be about.

But the car seat is in a whole other league.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I've written about the Slingbox. But now I have one. And it's awesome.

I only mention this because, as with the early days of TiVo, I'm surprised by how many people have never heard of Slingbox.

I paid for my Slingbox myself, and I get no compensation for saying this: it took just a few effortless minutes to set up, and it does exactly what it's supposed to.

Earlier I had a little time to kill between appointments, so I relaxed outside Starbucks, watching my TiVo at home. How cool is that?

Of course for now it only works with my Windows laptop, but Mac support is coming later this year, and Windows Mobile software is already here.

If you're thinking about getting this thing, get this thing.

Reality Bites


I thought last night was going to be like the day of Michael Corleone's son's baptism, the day when all debts were settled. First I saw Bucky and his authentic frontier gibberish finally sent home on Idol. Then I saw psycho dentist Lake sent packing on The Amazing Race.

I thought for sure I'd get the hat trick and Jade would be sent on her oily way on ANTM. But no such luck. Oh, well... at least my favorite, Joanie, got first picture. And Brooke finally grew some balls.

If You've Never Seen the DEA Agent Shoot Himself in the Leg...

... The Smoking Gun has you covered.

Random TV Thoughts


I've seen a couple of articles lately wondering why the
Lost audience doesn't stick around for Invasion. Perhaps because Lost is one of the best shows in TV history, and Invasion was a great pilot that has become a ludicrous, boring slog that changes its own rules week after week.

It started out as Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the Everglades. That was fun. But soon it became apparent that some of the snatched knew they were snatched, others didn't, some were evil, some were good, but they all went to the same meetings. What was discussed if they weren't on the same page? Meanwhile, the aliens are invading the Earth, they're doing military training on an island, but our military is helping them. Oy. I've given up on it.

Meanwhile, Lost proved last night that it still has the capacity to astonish. The secret Rose and Locke shared dropped my jaw.

On to
Prison Break. If they ever actually break out of that prison -- which is starting to look it's going to happen without me watching -- could I ask a favor? Could their first stop be to slit the throat of whoever's responsible for the show Teachers?

Also, did you notice that the lady prison doctor was model gorgeous all season? But now that we found out last week she's a recovering addict, this week she had droopy heroin hair?

And why does no one on Numb3rs ever turn to David Krumholz and say, "What the fuck are you babbling about now?" Not one thing he says ever makes any scientific sense or has any relation to what they're investigating. Criminal Minds is a much better show, and involves actual investigative work.

And one more thing: How glad am I that the hottest lawyer on TV, the brunette on Conviction, also has the most borderline-inappropriate wardrobe on TV?

Why I Think Comic Books Get No Love

Norm, a good friend of this blog, posted in comments that "Millions of people will watch Spiderman do his spider thing on the big screen, but a comic book with the exact same subject matter is so far beneath contempt that it's not even worth a second thought."

He was talking about snobbery of one form of media over another, and he's right. It isn't fair, and even though they're not my thing, I don't like it when people make fun of people who like comic books. I don't think it's weird to like comic books. I, frankly, think it's weirder to like ballet. Who the fuck likes ballet in 2006? Gimme a break. But still, to each his own.

Anyway, I may be able to provide comic book/graphic novel aficionados with a glimpse of why their world seems so closed off, and why the movies attract bigger audiences.

I know nothing about comics. I read Batman and Archie comics when I was a kid, and then I switched over to National Lampoon and never looked back.

When I saw the X-Men movie -- which was the first I'd heard of X-Men -- I thought, wow, I'm really missing something. I'll go get the comic books and read the saga.

So when I went to find the comic books or a collection thereof I found out there was Original X-Men and Genuine X-Men and X-Men: Beginnings and X-Men Beginnings Collection and X-Men Official Beginnings Collection and X-Men Authorized Official Beginnings Collection and all of them had fans arguing about whether or not you would be an asshole for reading that version.

So I gave up on the whole thing and just waited for the next movie.

Then I got in on a graphic novel series about a plague that wipes out almost all the men on Earth. It was great. I read the first two or three... and then while waiting for the next one to come out I got busy and kinda forgot what had happened, and it had been so long I forgot I was even waiting for it, and now I think there might have been a lot more of them, and I've fallen out of it.

So I'll wait for the movie.

See what I'm saying?

The TV Hate Continues

I was listening to NPR's technology podcast, to a segment about video downloading or somesuch. And at the end, the fossilized, snooty NPR woman just had to throw in something like, "Or everyone could just read a book." [chuckle, chuckle]

Hey, you know what, lady? Fuck you, too.

Shouldn't the NPR technology podcast be free from that kind of bullshit? It is, after all, the technology podcast. It's geared to people interested in technology. So her remark was guaranteed to offend 100% of the audience.

There was another segment recently on that podcast, one of those loathsome, self-indulgent audio essays by some author or poet you've never ever heard of. In this case, this guy's 1980's-era TV finally broke down. So he went to an electronics superstore, apparently for the first time ever, and someone mentioned red, yellow and white plugs and his pointy little head exploded.

It was all too much for what George Costanza would have called "the delicate genius."

At the end, what do you think happened? If you ever listen to NPR, you know: he went home with no TV, and settled back -- you guessed it -- with a good book. Oh, the smug sound of his voice. Because he's better than we are. Hey, pal, fuck you, too!

If NPR is going to keep giving me books-are-better-than-TV messages, I'm liable to start giving them my-middle-finger-is-better-than-pledges messages.

Besides, have you been to a bookstore lately? About 70% of the shit in there is stuff I'd rather die than read or be seen reading. Why is, say, "chick lit" automatically better than TV? Because it's in book form?

There's a legendary Chicago broadcaster named Steve Dahl. I remember he was once denied entry to a restaurant because he was wearing sneakers. On the air the next day, he wondered -- quite reasonably, to my mind -- why he couldn't go in wearing hundred-dollar sneakers, but someone could go in wearing eight-dollar shoes.

Similarly, why is Chicken Soup for Cheese Movers or The O'Reilly Factor for Kids or Love's Fury Torn Asunder automatically "better" than Lost or The Simpsons?

Isn't there room in a healthy intellectual diet for someone to enjoy good books and good television, and not have to be ashamed of the latter? Someone on NPR's The Business actually referred to TV as "the idiot box." In 2006. I swear to God.

How many Americans watch TV? Why do some think we still have to be ashamed of it?

My God, That's 27 Top Chefs!

"Nine celebrities, each with the help of three top chefs..."

-- Promo for NBC's Celebrity Cooking Showdown

I'll Just Sit Motionless Until Then

"A major product recall, we'll tell you how to save your eyesight, tonight at 11."

-- KNBC-TV promo

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Gamut From B to C

"The women on this list ["Top Ten Hollywood Bodies"] really prove that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. From Eva Longoria, who's very petite -- she says that she works out to keep from getting too skinny -- and then we've got someone like Beyonce Knowles who's got a very womanly figure and says she loves every single one of her curves."

-- Galina Espinoza, Senior Editor, People, who apparently has never seen an actual woman, appearing on The Today Show, 4/12/06

The Difference Between a Funny Person, an Unfunny Person, and an Asshole

I was listening to a radio show the other day and the host was talking about Adam Sandler's upcoming movie, in which he plays one of two firemen who pretend to be a gay couple in order to qualify for health insurance. A funny idea, right? That's because Adam Sandler and the people at Happy Madison are funny people.

This radio host then said, "I refuse to make a joke about 'firemen' and 'flaming'... I refuse!"

That's an example of an unfunny person at work.

See, he recognizes that there is a chance for a joke there -- not a very good one, of course.

A joke is like a structure. You build it from pieces, and make a construction.

That radio host recognized the location for a structure, and what some of the elements might be that would go into the joke's construction. But he doesn't know how to build it. So instead he sort of leans the pieces against each other into something that looks like a joke, but isn't structurally sound.

That's hacky. Comedy writers and other funny people hate that. Because what he is doing is getting a laugh without doing much of the work.

Then there's the asshole. We all know someone like this. This person hears the opportunity for a joke, but is too lazy to even lift the pieces to try to make a joke. He merely wants everyone to know he is aware this is a joke place, and get a laugh with no effort.

He makes jokes like, "I could say something, but I won't." Or, "I'm biting my tongue." Or, "It would be soooo easy to say something mean right now." People like this get a laugh by filling a hole where a joke could go with the comedic equivalent of styrofoam packing peanuts.

These people are assholes. They say things like that because they're not funny.

The Killer Queen

When I heard that Americal Idol was doing the songs of Queen, I had three reactions:

1. I was psyched, because there are a lot of great songs.

2. I knew Bucky and Taylor would have to leg-wrestle over who sang "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and who sang "Fat Bottomed Girls."

3. I knew Chris would sing "Somebody to Love."

Obviously, I was wrong on #3, and I still don't understand why. Chris, what were you thinking?! This is, IMHO, the best song in the Queen canon, and certainly one of the most difficult songs of the rock era. (Too big for Elliott, who tried but just missed.)

Had Chris done it, it would have been just the kind of magic Simon was talking about. Instead he sang that forgettable, obscure song. He sang the hell out of it, but it was just another great Chris performance instead of being a great Idol moment.

Anyway, back to what did happen:

The show begins with a shot of Fantasia in the audience. I thought I left strict instructions after last season that I never wanted to see her again. Heads will roll if it happens again.

Then we get a tape package of the contestants going to meet Queen. Ryan informs us that "the Idol finalists were pumped on the way to meet this legendary band." If anyone has any videotape of Katharine or Kellie being pumped, I'm willing to pay cash.

Bucky was the sucky. If this guy isn't back in cowpie country by tomorrow there is no God.

Ace somehow managed to turn "We Will Rock You" into a feminine hygiene ad. I swear, he is like the kind of singer you'd see when Nash Bridges used to do a show set in a "rock club."

As for Paris, I am with Simon, I'm sorry. It was weird. There was an episode of Huff last season where Oliver Platt had two "little people" hookers come to the door, and if I remember correctly, their hair and outfits were identical to what Paris wore last night. She scares me.

Like the judges, I was terrified for poor Kellie when she said she was going to do "Bohemian Rhapsody"... but she was great (after a shaky beginnning.) And Katharine was also fantastic, also after a shaky beginning. Although given Katharine's natural dewiness, lip gloss and face glitter seem like overkill.

I'd pick Katharine, Kelly, and Elliott as the standouts. Chris would have been the best, but he loses points for degree of difficulty. Simon's right, it's becoming self-indulgent.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Dirtiest Joke in Prime Time Last Night

from Prison Break

When Will This "TV" Thing Finally Catch On?

In a recent TV Week column, Tom Shales writes sneeringly (of course) of downloading TV shows to portable players like iPods. He says of content providers that they're marketing to "people who'll pay $1.99 or $2.99 or just $.99 a pop for it, lest they find themselves with 30 seconds of boredom on their hands."

I thought about this yesterday as I sat in a doctor's waiting room. I was a little early, plus there was a wait, so I had about a half hour to kill. I was sitting there, watching The Daily Show and Law & Order on my iPod while I waited.

Next to me was a woman reading a romance novel. Next to her was a man flipping idly through a Golf Digest he had found on the table; he wasn't reading it, he was just flipping through it. Next to him was a woman who had brought an Us Weekly with her. Next to her was a woman who was reading a two-day-old L.A. Times that she found on the chair next to her.

When the nurse said it was my turn to go in, I was a little disappointed. I was having a good time. And I realized I was the only person in the waiting room who was actually enjoying himself.

And I thought, "Gee, Tom, why am I automatically the asshole in this group?"

Seriously. Why is watching TV on a portable device somehow a pathetic attempt to fill every second of my sad life, but reading a book or newspaper or whatever magazine happens to be lying in front of me is a zesty, lusty, go-for-the-gusto cabaret of an existence?

Presumably, if we were all on a train, Tom would have no complaint if we were all reading the news. But if we were all watching the news, Tom would cluck and think, "What a bunch of losers."

Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?

And let's not forget: Tom Shales is a television critic!! Why the TV hate?

Why is television the only medium that some people think shouldn't be portable?

When the President Says, "I Have the Right to Declassify Documents"

Remember three things that the media is doing a horrible job of clarifying. Not one word of the three items below is in dispute, not even from Republicans:

1. Libby's leaking was before the President declassified the document. There is a procedure involved in declassifying a document, and it involves notifying the CIA. The President did this in late July. Libby leaked to Judith Miller in early July. Even if you believe that by virtue of saying something, the President declassifies it, this is not a case of the President saying it. This is a case of Bush telling Cheney to tell Libby to tell Miller secretly to write it.

2. The material he declassified in July was material he had known since January was untrue.

3. MOST IMPORTANT: The material Bush declassified in late July -- and leaked in early July -- was in two parts: the uranium part and the aluminum tubes part. The President instructed Cheney/Libby to hold back the aluminum tubes part, because it would reveal he knew he was lying in the State of the Union address.

Remember: We now know he was lying -- not mistaken -- in the State of the Union address about the aluminum tubes. It was at Karl Rove's insistence that he lie, in order to win the election, according to documents uncovered last week. He had the proof the story was untrue, and chose to suppress it. One of his many chances to come clean about it was in that moment, when he leaked that document.

He chose to hold that part of the document back to cover his ass. That is very serious, IMHO. People died over that lie.

Just remember those three things the next time the President talks about himself as a giver of truth.

Monday, April 10, 2006


With the move of executive producer Alex Duda from Elimidate to The Tyra Banks Show, the future of Elimidate is in question. This can't be permitted. Elimidate is a national treasure.

I guess Alex Duda just preferred a skanky-ass wannabe show to a real show... oh well, her loss. She don't even know what she's missin'. And after Elimidate made out with her in the hot tub and everything? That's cold.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Second Generation Duckman

When we were doing Duckman, the actress who played Fluffy & Uranus was the wonderful and talented Pat Musick.

Sometimes, if we were lucky, she would bring her beautiful little daughter, Mae Whitman, to the recording sessions. Mae was such a cute and charming girl, and was a talented actress in her own right.

Well, I've watched with awe as Mae has grown into a remarkable adult, and one of the most gifted actresses on television. On Arrested Development, and especially on the extraordinary new FX series Thief, she has shown amazing range and power. I hope audiences will remember her name, and that Emmy voters will as well.

I Believe the Technical Term For This is "The Shit"

The Suera Television Mirror. A television which disappears into a mirror.

To see it is to want it. And to want to move those flowers out of the way.

New Rule: Celebrity Must Be Occasionally Refreshed or Taken Away

Amid all the hoopla about Supermodel Naomi Campbell throwing a cell phone at her assistant, one thing jumps out at me:

"Supermodel" Naomi Campbell???

When's the last time she supermodeled something?

Isn't there a statute of limitations on celebrity? Shouldn't you have to do something famous-making every now and then to stay famous?

Saying "Supermodel Naomi Campbell" or "Singer Boy George" or "Actress Elizabeth Taylor" is like saying "College Student Larry King" or "Coke-Sniffing Drunk George W. Bush." At some point, you have to update the resume, don't you?

Rocky Anthology for Nine Bucks??!

Mistake? Discount? Who cares, get it while it's good: points out that Amazon has the Rocky Anthology DVD collection of Rocky's I through V marked down from $62.96 to $8.97!

United 93

So once again, I feel like I'm on a different planet than everyone else. I saw the trailer for United 93, and I thought, "Wow, that looks very compelling, I can't wait to see it."

And then all hell broke loose, and all I read and see since is controversy and a couple of theatres pulling the trailers and pundits debating whether it's "too soon" to tell this story... even though it's apparently tastefully told and authorized by the families.

And all I could think of was, "Where was all this outrage when A&E ran Flight 93, a film of the same story, a couple of months ago?" It was an excellent and heartbreaking and inspiring movie, it got great reviews and huge ratings, and this past week everyone seems to have forgotten it ever existed.

The Reason There is So Much in the Newspapers About Katie Couric Taking Over the CBS Evening News... because people who write for newspapers are the only ones left who actually still care about the network evening news.

These are shows no one watches.
They're a relic from another era. I have never heard the words "CBS Evening News" come out of a non-electronic mouth ever in my lifetime.

I greet word that Katie Couric is going to host the CBS Evening News the same way I would if I heard she was going to host Nashville Star or Al Jazeera... Good luck, I'll never see you again.