Tag Archives: Television

ESPN Layoffs and the Future of Sports Television 

It’s usually not big news when a cable network lays people off, but when a channel with the talent base and history of ESPN initiates triple digit job cuts after a couple years of other large layoffs, people notice. Here are my thoughts:

1) Live sports are not immune to trends affecting the television industry.  The idea of “appointment viewing” really only applies to a handful of events and to the viewing habits of hardcore fans. This means that decreased access to live sports isn’t usually a deterrent to cord cutting (people dropping expensive cable packages in favor of streaming services).

2) With the exception of NFL games, fans of other sports can largely access season-long packages through streaming services already. 

3) Fox Sports looks really dumb right now for consolidating some of their niche sports channels into FS1 and FS2.  This goes against industry trends of specialized local sports channels and league/sport specific channels.

4) Remember Sportcenter ten, twenty years ago, when they covered sports pretty evenly? Yeah, me too. Now a third tier NFL free agent signing leads Sportcenter during NBA and NHL playoffs.

5) Maybe we just don’t need Sportcenter as much anymore. I can watch highlights and read analysis on my phone. 

6) ESPN doesn’t even have that much live sports programming anymore. With the exception of 30 for 30, the rest of their lineup is doing nothing except filling dead air, usually with redundant NFL coverage.

7) A TV Industry insider once predicted to me that all sports will someday adopt a direct internet and/or pay per view model. Once leagues can make more money selling content directly to the consumer rather than relying on the networks, this will be the end of general sports channels as we know them. 

8) The last saving grace of the generalized sports channel may be convenience. A large part of why I personally still have a cable package is because it’s more reliable and convenient than cobbling together streaming services of varying technical quality. The day that changes, and that day is coming, I’ll probably drop the cable package.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe 

Big Little Lies (Review)

With certain exceptions involving dragons and killer robots, HBO has had a lot better luck with miniseries lately that full drama series.  Big Little Lies demonstrates why.  Sure, the limited run allows busy, A-List Hollywood talent to fit it into their schedules, but more importantly, it allows for story that tells what it needs to tell, no more, no less.

I have to admit, around the third episode I was almost ready to give up on Big Little Lies.  The first couple of episodes moved at a glacial pace.  For a show that promised murder and mayhem, the travails of the rich and richer were getting on my nerves.

Fortunately, the series rewarded patience.  Understanding the details of the relationship dynamics between the central characters was crucial to enjoying the last three, phenomenal episodes.  The series had already laid its groundwork in building up its characters in the first half, so it could focus on the plot/endgame during the second.

I, for one, am hoping that HBO does more series like this.  Not everything needs to be a multi-season epic like The Sopranos after all.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

Fox “Animation Domination” Cartoons and Adult Swim – A Discussion

I’ve recently reconnected with Adult Swim on Cartoon Network.  The nightly block of programming has become dominated by cartoons that used to air or still air as part of Fox’s Sunday night, formerly “Animation Domination” block.

There are still plenty of avant garde offerings from the folks at Williams Street, probably no more or less than any other time in Adult Swim’s history.  After all, Adult Swim runs a full three hours longer than it used to run in the early days.  Further, Anime used to be a daily staple on Adult Swim, but it has now been relegated to the rebranded “Adult Swim/Toonami” block on Saturday nights.

There are three categories of animated show that runs on Fox.  The Simpsons deserves its own category, article, and blog.  It is my favorite television show of all time and I’m not going to do it the disservice of writing about it in a generalized discussion such as this one.

Second are the Fuzzy Door shows (Seth MacFarlane’s production company) – Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show.  Third are the others, both hits (King of the Hill, Bob’s Burgers) and misses (Allen Gregory, Napoleon Dynamite).  Let’s focus on the ones that have found a home on Adult Swim, in order of airing.

King of the Hill

King of the Hill is in some ways the forgotten show of network television animation.  It was on forever (259 episodes over 13 seasons), always got solid ratings, but never really attracted the type of following that the Simpsons or Family Guy enjoy. It still holds up, however, and it is at its best when it portrays the mundane, often frustrating aspects of American life.

Family Guy

While Family Guy is the most popular and successful of the Fuzzy Door shows.  At it’s best, it’s hilarious, but it remains extremely flawed.  Its reliance on “cut-away” gags has been criticized for years, most notably in an episode of South Park.   Even after all of these years, only Stewie and Brian have been really been developed as characters. Peter and Lois remain knockoffs of Homer and Marge Simpson.  The rest of the characters are essentially one joke told over and over again.  That’s not to say it isn’t funny – it is – it just doesn’t have much depth.

American Dad

In contrast, American Dad is by far the best of the three Fuzzy Door shows (it’s also the one that MacFarlane himself has given the least creative direction on – take that for what it’s worth).  When it first premiered it seemed like nothing more than “conservative Family Guy,” but the longer it aired, the more it became surrealist, unpredictable, and fun.  The key is that, unlike Family Guy, all of the main characters in the Smith household are capable of carrying their own storyline.  That and Roger, Roger is hilarious.

The Cleveland Show

The Cleveland Show was the least successful of the three Fuzzy Door shows.  I’m not a fan.  First, I find it incomprehensible that a good number of its African American characters are not voiced by African American voice actors, including the title character.  Beyond that (and really, isn’t that reason enough to dislike the show?), it lives in an awkward space that’s “not quite as warm as a classic network sitcom” and “not quite as outrageous as Family Guy.”

Bob’s Burgers

Bob’s Burgers is a bit of lightning in a bottle.  After almost a dozen failed attempts to introduce a show that 1) wasn’t the Simpsons and 2) wasn’t produced by Fuzzy Door, Fox was ready to pull the plug on Animation Domination (which they actually did in 2014 by re-introducing live shows into the block).  One wouldn’t think a low key, King of the Hill type show about a family run burger joint on the Jersey or Delaware shore would sell.  It did though, and it might be the second best animated show to air on Fox, owing to its strong characters and fun storylines.

So there you have it – my thoughts on the Fox/Adult Swim shows.  One of these days I’ll get around to writing a Simpsons retrospective, but that’s for another day.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

2016 Year in Review

“When she [Philosophy] saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my lamenting, she was stirred a while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, “Who has suffered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? Never do they support those in sorrow by any healing remedies, but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds of men from disease, but accustom them thereto.””

– Boethius

What of 2016?  As the Roman philosopher Boethius wrote of his consolation by Lady Philosophy, we have a choice.  We can indulge in our lamentations, or we can, through our reason, find a way forward.  Perhaps we can let Lady Philosophy take it from here to guide us in this way.

I thought of many muses to guide me through this past year, when a woman came to me in classical robes.  She was at once as tall as a giant, yet comforting and approachable.  Then she began to speak.

“I see you, reading the various years in review of 2016 to draw inspiration for this annual post,” she began, “I see nothing but hot takes and articles dripping with lament or sarcasm.   Let me assure you, this 2016 had its positive aspects.”

2016 Was a Good Year to Be…

1) Animators

Lady Philosophy continued, “Behold my friend, for the medium of animation, that artform long taken for granted, had a very strong 2016.  Six of the twenty top grossing movies of the year were animated.  With each passing decade, animation continues to bring inspiration and joy without the limitations of live action film. 2016 was in many ways a landmark year in this regard.”

2) HBO

“I should also point out to you that a great year need not mean a consistently great one wire to wire.  If something is felled low by the failure of an ill-conceived vanity project about classic rock in the spring, it can rise again through the premiere for two excellent shows in the fall.  Westworld has broken HBO’s losing streak when it comes to new dramas, and Insecure has continued its success in popular comedies”

3) Broadway

“If it is further inspiration you seek, behold the resurgence of the Great White Way as a force in American popular culture.  Hamilton was the most popular musical in decades, and live broadcasts of musicals on network television are exceptionally popular.  Indeed, one of this year’s top Oscar contenders, “La-La Land,” is a Hollywood musical of the old style.”

2016 Was a Bad Year to Be

1) A Franchise from the 1980’s or 1990’s

Lady Philosophy continued.  “While there were failures in 2016, I would counsel to learn from them rather than merely list them in a vain and sarcastic manner.  Box Office disappointments from the Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Independence Day, and Zoolander sequels should not be seen as affecting those fine memories of past success, but rather stand as stark reminders that not everything deserves a reboot or a sequel.”

2) “A List” Hollywood Marriages

“I also prescribe an end to your consideration of the troubled Depp/Heard and Pitt/Jolie marriages.  As troubling as the allegations associated with these divorces are, it is important to remember that you don’t know these people.  You will never meet them.  Their relationships have no impact on your life whatsoever.”

3) Internet and Social Media

“At last, I see that you are troubled by what you read on the internet and on social media platforms.  It might feel as though you cannot escape the constant stream of opinion and information.  You might feel that this has damaged your interactions with your fellows beyond repair, or trapped you in a vicious cycle of anger and mistrust.  Let me assure you that the old ways are still alive.  You can read a book and discuss it with a friend.  You can watch a movie with your significant other and discuss it over snacks afterwards.  You might feel the need to broadcast your feelings to the masses, but I would counsel you to remember that your friends and family are much more receptive to your ideas than the faceless void of the internet will ever be.”

Best Movies

Lady Philosophy cautioned me against creating a list of best movies this year.  She said to me, “Indeed you have not seen enough movies to truly make an honest “best of” list.  But keep in mind that such lists are flawed.  They lack the distance truly needed to examine and appreciate film as an artform.  As much as you enjoyed “Captain America: Civil War,” can you say it is the best blockbuster of the year when you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet?  As for artistic films, look at past years.  Does anyone really believe, with the proper distance, that “Crash,” “The English Patient,” or “The Greatest Show on Earth”  were worthy of Best Picture Oscars?  I would advise against indulging in such listicles.”

Dispatches from the Great Ale House in the Sky

This year, Lady Philosophy especially wanted to talk about the Great Ale House in the Sky.  She said, “I will prescribe the strongest medicine of all to help you acknowledge the many fine artists that left you this past year.  It is medicine that you, yourself, have often shared.

“Remember, it is the story that matters, not how long it lasts or how it ends.  Artists and inventors have the greatest stories of all, for their influence stays with us the longest and carries us all forward.  If it is useful for you to imagine these great artists together, I will partially indulge in this fantasy, but I will do so in a way that will help you, rather than a way that extends your sorrow.

“Perhaps this Ale House is in the form of a great music festival, where Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and others come together.  You could find great joy in that fantasy.  But you need not – for the music is still there.

“Or maybe, you imagine that Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Florence Henderson, Abe Vigoda, Gene Wilder, Kenny Baker and others are still in talks for various roles.  These people may have never met in life, but it is fun to think about them doing so in your Great Ale House in the Sky.  I would advise an alternative – put on their films and television shows.  You can even do so with the fights of Muhammad Ali – which are readily available on the internet.”

And with that, Lady Philosophy left me in a better place.  The place that honors rather than mourns.  The place that learns from the mistakes of others.  The place that sees and emphasizes the positive.  There is great strength and great joy here.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Westworld – Season One in Review

Let’s get one thing out of the way – Westworld is a difficult show to write-up.  It doesn’t lend itself well to “power rankings” or “most bizarre moment” lists like other shows.  I’ll admit I gave up on the robot apocalypse concept for a bit but it turns out that, holy shit, I was right all along.

I actually had an entire draft post about how the robot apocalypse angle wasn’t going to work.  I thought that, seven or eight episodes in, that the show was mostly about power and consciousness rather than the foretelling of a massive robot rebellion.

To a large extent, that’s still accurate.  The “loops” that the robots find themselves in can stand in for the feedback loop that one finds online.  Repeating similar patterns over and over eliminates meaning from those patterns.  A meme shows up, we share it and talk about it, then it fades away.  A controversy arises, we talk about it, it fades away.  A tragedy happens, we talk about it, it fades away.  With every successive repetition of the pattern, the impact and meaning deteriorates until memes last a day, controversies an hour, and tragedies are ignored altogether.

This is why present William is so cynical about Westworld.  He experiences the loops so frequently that, of all the humans on the show, he has become most like more the sentient robots.  He’s desperate to find any meaning in his life because the patterns have repeated so frequently that he’s lost any type of grounding in reality.  When the loop finally ends, and the robots finally shoot back, William is ecstatic.

Anyway, now that we have the robot rebellion underway, what happens next?  I mean, the robots can’t just murder the entire board of directors of a massive corporation and go back to business as usual, right?  I suppose that Delos could just sweep the thing under the rug but that’s a ton of sweeping – they’d have to fake a plane crash or something.  Even with that solution, what value does the “Westworld” part of the park have when you have angry, sentient robots ready to murder whomever gets in their way?  After all, by giving her part of the “Wyatt” code, Arnold essentially gave Dolores the capacity to go full-terminator.

Anyway, promising first season – let’s see where this thing goes.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (With Spoilers)

Netflix has spawned a cottage industry of reunion and revival events.  The latest is the return of Gilmore Girls, probably the best received of the late 90’s/early 2000’s WB/CW lineup (although Dawson’s Creek got much more high school water-cooler buzz at the time).

A Year in the Life contains its share of reunion show gimmicks (celebrity cameos, one-off character returns, re-hashing old plotlines), but succeeds as a satisfying continuation of the story of Emily, Lorelei, and Rory Gilmore.  By combining strong characters with lovable quirks, the revival successfully…blah blah blah.

It’s good.  There.  Now let’s talk about a far more interesting topic.  Rory Gilmore is a train wreck.  I’ve noticed that pointing this out on the internet has become a cliché, up there with “Kirk vs. Picard” debates.  But man, is she interesting.

I mean, A Year in the Life has satisfying conclusions and arcs for Lorelei, Emily, Luke, and even Michel.  Satisfaction though, is well tread and boring territory. What separates A Year in the Life from the dull, box checking reunion events of yesteryear is that all of this satisfaction is overshadowed by the atmospheric event known as Hurricane Rory.

Let’s take a look at her career.  She thinks she can make it as a professional writer but has no patience for the grind of that profession.  Everyone warns her that the British woman she’s working with is high maintenance, yet she ignores her and treats her with contempt.  Sure that crazy website lady has been bugging her for months, but Rory comes into that meeting with no ideas.  She won’t write the “lines” story because she thinks it’s beneath her.  Her best idea is a personal memoir, because the market isn’t already bursting at the seams with those.

She’s also surrounded by enablers.  The townspeople have always been in awe of her, and her modest success has given them continued justifications for it.  Getting published in Slate is not very impressive, they ran a story by a crackhead once, but the New Yorker and Atlantic have a lot of cache, so maybe that’s understandable.  She has Lorelei and Emily wrapped around her little finger, providing her a safety net of unearned emotional support and money.  Paris sticks by her because no one else can stand her. Lane sticks by her because Rory is the one person that won’t call her out on living like a teenager well into her thirties.

The unearned adoration combined with the veil of bookishness gives Rory the ability to treat people like crap without consequences.  Praise is such a default reaction to her that she doesn’t seem to understand that compassion is a two-way street.  As a result, she’s cold and dismissive towards Jesse, Logan, the 30-something gang, and pretty much anyone who’s not Lane, Paris, or her family (although she’s plenty dismissive to them too).

Rory, however, isn’t a bad person.  She’s been playing a certain game successfully, after all.  School came relatively easy to her, it appeared she was working hard but when you’re a natural at something you have less incentive to really challenge yourself.  She majors in journalism and tries her hand a professional writing because she’s always been good at research and writing essays. She gets some articles published in well-regarded magazines.  The next step is getting a regular gig or a book deal, so she writes a book.  At no point has she had to re-evaluate what she’s doing or how she treats people.

She’s pregnant now, which is one of the few things that could happen to her that could make her re-evaluate her life.  It represents a new beginning and the failure of her master life plan.  If we get another season, it’ll be interesting to see if she changes or continues on the same path of destruction she’s been on all of these years.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

Music Television: Why “Atlanta” Succeeds and “Vinyl” Failed

FX’s “Atlanta” is one of the best new shows of the year.  It’s received critical acclaim, solid ratings, and that all-important social media buzz that separates the wheat from the chaff.  After watching the first couple of episodes (I’m not caught up, so no recaps I’m afraid), I can see why it has become so popular, so fast.  It’s a funny, thoughtful, and well written show about starting from the bottom in today’s music industry (among other things).  It also happens to be the brainchild of one of the most talented people in entertainment – Grammy nominated musician and acclaimed actor Donald Glover.

Meanwhile, last spring, HBO introduced us to a show called Vinyl.  Like Atlanta, it is also about the music industry.  Like Atlanta, it had some heavyweight creative power behind it (Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Terrance Winter).  That’s where the similarities end.  Unfortunately for HBO and the two hours of my life I wasted on the pilot, Vinyl went straight to the discount rack.  And not the nice, record store discount rack – I mean the one at the gas station off highway 95 in the middle of Jersey.

For two shows that have nothing in common other than the music industry and creative talent, it’s useful to compare them.  Doing so sheds a light on why some TV shows succeed and others fail.

1. Focus, People!

Maybe Vinyl was trying to be chaotic, but it came across and an unfocused mess.  It was trying to tell a story about too much at once, without stopping for a moment to think about why a story about 1970’s rock and roll could be relevant.  It just assumed that the time period and industry were inherently interesting without bother to focus in on any particular characters or storylines long enough to, you know, actually be interesting.

Atlanta is quite the opposite – it’s focused like a laser beam on Earn (Donald Glover), his family, and his attempts to help his cousin, Alfred aka Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) make it in the music industry.  The clear writing, real life situations, and humor allow the audience to connect to this story without trying too hard.

2. Show in the Show/Music in the Show

Comparing these shows in some ways is like comparing “30 Rock” to “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”  Both shows premiered in the same year, on the same network, and they were about the exact same thing, a late night, SNL-style variety show.  The comedy succeeded.  The drama failed.

Fast forward ten years.  No, Vinyl and Atlanta aren’t about the exact same thing, but the comedy works and the drama did not for similar reasons.  Like “Studio 60,” Vinyl tried so hard to convince us that the bands/music were good without, you know, actually being good.  30 Rock and Atlanta succeed because they make the show and music take a backseat to the interactions between the characters.

3. Gimmicks

Finally, I want to take some time to talk about TV show gimmicks.  The first two episodes of Atlanta are refreshingly free from gimmicks.  The writing is strong enough that gimmicks are unnecessary.

What do I mean by gimmicks?  How about pointless musical cut-scenes?  How about bad impressions of historical figures like John Lennon, Robert Plant, and Andy Warhol?  How about sex and drugs for the sake of there being sex and drugs? How about every single moment of Vinyl?

Conclusion

Come to think of it, the only funny thing about Vinyl was how much of a ridiculous caricature it was.  Anyway, Atlanta and Vinyl are both about people trying to make it in the music industry.  Atlanta is a good show.  Vinyl was a bad show.  Above are some of the reasons way.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe