Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Facebook killed my Friends

I interviewed Jill Golick about her Story2Oh! project a while ago for a Blogcritics article called Story2Oh! Spreads Its Narrative Across the Internet. (Jill, House fans will remember, is the Canadian TV writer who had House writer Pamela Davis in to speak to a class and shared some tasty tidbits with me that didn't fit into her own blog.)

Well, the novel storytelling approach involving blogs, videos, Flickr, and other web 2.0 sites doesn't include Facebook anymore now that some-- or at least one -- outraged citizens realized they'd been Friended by fictional characters and complained. Fictional profiles are technically against Facebook policy, but they are everywhere, and in this case, they were not only harmless, they were a lot of fun for many people who have critical thinking skills, a sense of personal responsibility, and a sense of humour.

Jill tells the story of her characters' tragic Facebook demise here, though I'm with those who wish she didn't feel apologetic. As I recounted in that Blogcritics article, I chose not to Friend the character who first contacted me because I didn't know who he was. I dug deeper after the second character's request and a simple check of her profile told me she was fictional. A quick Google search would have done the same. Who blindly Friends a completely unvetted stranger and then gets outraged when it turns out they didn't know the first thing about them?

Story2Oh! will live on, and storytelling on the Internet will continue to mature. I just hope the audience will mature along with it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rent-a-Goalie interview

Oops, forgot to post this here - it's on Blogcritics and linked to from TV, eh though. I wrote up the Christopher Bolton interview from the last TV, eh? podcast into an article about the show. I'm both embarrassed and amused by the title:
  • Rent-a-Goalie Is As Heart-Filled As It Is Fart-Filled
    "Lucky for me, you can't see a blush over the radio. When I mentioned that Christopher Bolton, creator, writer, executive producer, and star of Showcase's Rent-a-Goalie would be a guest on the TV, eh? Blogtalkradio show, the reaction from women familiar with the series was hilariously universal. So when guest interviewer Denis McGrath and Bolton started discussing how the fart-joke-filled, testosterone-laden show resonated with females, I felt the need to add my voice on behalf of the double X chromosomes. Turns out, though, it's surprisingly awkward to tell someone 'they think you're hot.'" Read more.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

TV, eh? on Blogtalkradio

The latest TV, eh? podcast is now available.
  • At the top of the show: X-Weighted contestant Gaia joined us to talk about her experience on the Slice network’s weight-loss reality show.
  • 15 minutes past the hour: Christopher Bolton, creator and star of Showcase’s Rent-a-Goalie, talked about the show and the season one DVD release in conversation with Denis McGrath.
  • 50 minutes past the hour: Accessibility advocate Joe Clark chatted about his recently launched website, CaptioningSUCKS.com, which takes aim at crappy closed captioning.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sophie's Choice in House's World

Maureen Ryan has a great interview with House creator David Shore, including a feature article and transcript. I love her House coverage. She geeks out over the same things I do (e.g., the philosophical underpinnings of the show, the character of House, and the House/Wilson dynamic) and is less interested in the elements I don't expend must energy on either (e.g., the ducklings). And she's clearly a fan of Hugh Laurie, but not in that borderline creepy way that would cause her to be included in the class action restraining order the man seems to need.

Her blog package of House goodness includes a sidebar on who should stay and who should go, which brought to mind a recent blog post by Jaime Weinman of Macleans about TV characters who get left in the dust. My first thought ended up being the example he brings up first (Moira Kelly on The West Wing), but my second thought was Chase and Cameron. Don't get me wrong: their irrelevance to season four doesn't bother me like it does some fans. Nearing the end of the season, I still feel the same way about the cast shakeup as I did near the beginning: I think it was a brilliant way to stave off staleness in a series often accused of being formulaic.

What I appreciate most about the story arc that began with House's old team quitting and hasn't yet ended is ... it hasn't yet ended. The show is notorious (at least in my mind, where notoriety is perhaps not that hard to come by) for story arcs that leave the world of the show in exactly the same place as it was before. You could lift the Vogler, Tritter, and Stacy storylines out of your DVD sets, watch only the episodes that surrounded them, and feel no gap in character development or plot.

This is one shakeup that doesn't feel like a reset button has been set, yet one that was skillfully done so as not to alter the DNA of the show. Truthfully, I think the show could swap House's team every season without damaging the fundamental DNA of the show. The series is built around House, and every other character exists to illuminate his character. I can't remember who said this -- David Shore? Katie Jacobs? -- but House is the hub and the other characters are spokes. In creating this brilliant lead character, the show has sacrificed something of its secondary character development. That doesn't bother me in the slightest: for me, as for the show, it's all about House.

So Maureen Ryan's "should they stay or should they go list" has only two must-stays for me (assuming House is a given, unlike what Hugh Laurie apparently thinks): Wilson and Cuddy. Wilson is irreplaceable, period. They can't credibly go the "new best friend" route and losing that relationship would be a huge loss to the series. Lisa Edelstein turns an often-thankless role (voice of reason and authority and source of much eye-rolling) into a crackling battle of wits with her employee least likely to make employee of the year, making her my other indispensable character.

Chase and Cameron: Go. I think Jesse Spencer and Jennifer Morrison have always been the weakest acting links on the show, their characters have been reduced to irrelevancy now, and any screen time for them means less screen time for the remaining characters who have a reason to be onscreen. The only hope for them is to be re-integrated into House's team, which would mean hitting the reset button on this story arc too, which for me would be a sad cop-out.

Foreman: Like Ryan, I could go either way on him. He's been given a role on House's team, which means he's not being shoehorned into scenes like the other two. But so far he's not adding much either. I'm big on reducing clutter so I'll say go, and hope I regret that if he starts to shine later.

Taub: I'm equally on the fence about him. He was the one candidate who never stood out for me -- I kept forgetting his existence -- until we got the episode featuring the explanation for why he left his plastic surgery practice. Since getting one of the three duckling slots, I've been equally lukewarm on him again, though ... until the last pre-strike episode, "Don't Ever Change," when his attitude adjustment about the Hasidic couple was a highlight of a fine episode. He's got an understated strength I like that's a nice counterpoint to House, but so far it's too understated, and I still forget his existence sometimes. Still, I'll say stay, since I'm intrigued enough to see what they'll do with him.

Amber: I was probably in the minority in that I wanted Amber to stick around from the beginning. But I get what Shore says in Ryan's interview, too: "I think largely that came down to, we’ve got one House. We could have fun with that parallel, but it’s also in some ways limiting." Keeping her around as Wilson's girlfriend is fine by me though.

Thirteen: You know what, I'm not inclined this way, but Olivia Wilde is a gorgeous woman and I don't mind a little female eye candy around for House to snack on. I don't see the flirtation between them that other fans seem to. I like that he appreciates her visually, is intrigued by her personally, but their relationship isn't plagued by the "do you like me" cringe-worthiness that tainted the House/Cameron one. Her enigma came unwrapped fairly quickly, but I'll trust for now that there's more to explore. So she can stay.

Kutner: Stay. Yes, I'm swayed a little by the desire for some more male eye candy, and Kal Penn is adorable and likeable. His inept success was the character's initial goofy charm for me -- setting a patient on fire while saving her life, for example -- though he's mellowed into simply goofy lately, but I have high hopes for more comic relief to come, as well as Penn's moment to show his dramatic acting chops.

So I end up wanting to get rid of House's entire old team and keeping the entire new one, plus Amber. It's not that I hated the old team, or love the new one so much more, so much as seeing House pick apart his new science projects is more entertaining than the same old, same old with the old ones. Plus the changeover makes more sense than having supposedly smart doctors stuck in a never-ending fellowship, or keeping characters who have nothing meaningful to do and who spread too thin the already-thin secondary character screentime. It's easy to forget that we haven't seen the new team coalesce much in the strike-shortened season, but I'm still intrigued enough by the newbies and bored enough by the oldies to think the swap is a good one.

Monday is the first new House after the writers strike, and the clip below makes me think I have to retract Dr. House's honorary Canadian designation, since he's again hilariously denigrating our nationality:


video

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This Sunday on TV, eh? Blogtalkradio

Some day I'll post about something other than Canadian TV. I hear there's a show I might like returning on Monday. No, I'm not planning a "real" post on that either, but I bet I can't completely contain my thoughts either.

But for now, a reminder that the new version of the TV, eh? podcast - the live Internet radio version - airs Sunday at 11 am Pacific/2 pm Eastern. If you can't listen live, tune in later for the archive. (Note: The player embedded in the right sidebar on this blog will still play last week's show on Robson Arms/TV on the web/Bill C-10 until this week's show is complete and archived.)

This Sunday, April 27, the guest lineup will be:
  1. At the top of the show: X-Weighted contestant Gaia joins us to talk about her experience on the Slice network's weight-loss reality show.
  2. Around 15 minutes past the hour: Christopher Bolton, creator and star of Showcase's Rent-a-Goalie, will talk about the upcoming season and the season one DVD release in conversation with Denis McGrath.
  3. Around 45 minutes past the hour: Accessibility advocate Joe Clark joins us to chat about his recently launched website, CaptioningSUCKS.com, which takes aim at crappy closed captioning.
Notice I scheduled it so I shouldn't have to talk on my own? Ensure that's really the case by calling in at 646-200-4063. Or leave a question for our guests in the comments and if I'm in a good mood, I'll ask it.

Listen to TV, eh? on internet talk radio

Monday, April 21, 2008

Robson Arms returns

I wrote something for Blogcritics based on the interview from the TV, eh? podcast. I'll probably try to do that for most show-based interviews to get the most mileage out of them.
  • Robson Arms Returns To CTV With Its Stealthy Charms
    "While my television loves are usually instant, Robson Arms slowly became one of my favourite shows without me ever being completely aware of it happening. My only explanation is that the Canadian series has something of a cumulative effect. Each episode is a complete and enjoyable story in itself, yet by the end of a season a larger and even more satisfying tale of common bonds and common frailties emerges" Read more.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blogtalkradio thoughts

So the first live version of the TV, eh? podcast is available now - see the player on the sidebar, subscribe via the iTunes store, or subscribe with any other program via the TV, Eh? feed. I won't dissect the show itself, assuming if you're interested you'll listen, but here's some initial thoughts on the Blogtalkradio system.
  1. Live. Eek. Scary. Need cohost so I'm never talking by myself. Still in shock. Writing like Hulk now.
  2. Did I mention I need a cohost? Or at least technical manager. There's a lot going on behind the scenes. I wanted to keep an eye on the chatroom because people were addressing me and/or the guests in there and that should be as valid a form of participation as calling in. Plus you have to be paying attention to one corner of one screen to see if a caller is on the line, which is really easy to overlook if you're monitoring the chatroom or, you know, listening or talking to your guest. Maybe I just have a puny brain, but it was too distracting to be listening/talking/reading/monitoring all at the same time. If someone else were leading the conversation, or taking care of the behind the scenes stuff, it would free up some room in my brain's harddrive.
  3. Given a cohost or behind the scenes person, it would be great if Blogtalkradio would introduce a call screening function. You can see the phone numbers of who's calling in, (foiled with Skype, call display blocking, or calling cards, however), but it was painfully obvious I didn't know if it was a guest calling in or a random listener. And if it ever is a random listener, it would be nice if you could pre-screen without cutting into a guest conversation to know they've got something relevant to say.
  4. I'm sure I'll have more to say on the Blogtalkradio system when I'm more familiar with it, but so far it's really easy to use and makes this podcasting thing so much easier than the "old-fashioned" way I was doing before.
Cohost positions are vacant, if you haven't picked up on the hint. Doesn't have to be every week, but it would mean sticking around for a whole show and helping out with the conversation or helping out with the techie stuff (and that role would mean you don't even have to care about Canadian TV). It might also mean I wouldn't have to cancel a week if I weren't available.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reminder: TV, eh? radio on Sunday

Don't forget: this Sunday (April 20) at 11 am Pacific/2 pm Eastern is the first live version of the TV, eh? Internet radio show. Listen live or call in at 646-200-4063 to discuss what you're watching, or join the conversation with our guests:
  • Robson Arms co-creators Susin Neilsen and Gary Harvey [about 10 minutes in]
  • Technogeek (and my big brother) Steve Wild, on tv on the web [about 35 minutes in]
  • Screenwriter/journalist Mark Leiren-Young will report on Bill C-10 (see his The Tyee article on appearing before the Senate about the controversial legislation) [about 50 minutes in]
If you can't be there Sunday, you can still listen to the show later. [Post-show update: Listen in the player below - there's a few seconds of dead air at the beginning, but what would a first show be without technical difficulties?]



We've got great guests lined up in the next few weeks, too - keep checking out the upcoming show schedule for all the details.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hear me roar

Several weeks ago, The Englishman's Boy aired on CBC to glowing reviews. I'd read the book, slowly, reluctantly, wanting to like it more than I did but just not able to get into it. I've never met a western I liked. No, not even Unforgiven or Legends of the Fall. And yet the critics raved, so I tried to watch, tried to be the good TV, eh? person, and got about 10 minutes in before giving up.

And then I thought: I wish there were a female critic writing regularly about Canadian television.

I'm not going to pretend that no woman on earth likes westerns, or that a female critic would share my taste more than a male one, or that I don't enjoy and admire John Doyle and Vinay Menon and Jaime Weinman and Bill Brioux and Alex Strachan and others.

So it was a silly thought. But then again ... not really. There is a decided lack of estrogen in the critical community here.

Dana Gee of the Vancouver Province has been bumped from the TV beat, continuing the trend of newspapers abdicating TV criticism to the wire services and the web. Lee-Anne Goodman of the Canadian Press and Gayle MacDonald of the Globe and Mail report more than critique. Kate Taylor of the Globe and Mail fills in for Doyle infrequently and isn't watching the same shows I am, even when she is.

Today I was reminded of that by a post from Jaime Weinman of Macleans. I'm happy he weighed in on a recent Gayle MacDonald article about female screenwriters with a less vested view than others I'd seen disparaging her thesis: that women have made huge gains in the last decade in TV writing rooms. I was also happy to see that one commenter later semi-retracted the disparagement.

It wasn't particularly surprising that the contrary opinions I'd seen – the "it's not even an issue" comments – were from white male writers. It's great if the Canadian tv industry doesn't have the gender imbalance the American one does, though credits watching makes me think otherwise. However the issue's certainly not dead in the US, and most Canadians get their entertainment from that pool.

The WGA has a Diversity Committee to assist female and minority writers and issues an annual report called Whose Stories Are We Telling about the makeup of the Hollywood writing workforce:

"This year’s [2007] report has a familiar ring to it: while there have been some advances made by women and minorities in some sectors, white male writers continue to be a disproportionately dominant portion of the writing workforce. .... One of the few bright spots is for women writers in TV where median income rose significantly (though employment percentage numbers rose very slightly [to 27%]). ... For minority writers, past trends showing gains have either slowed or stopped altogether."


But, you know, as long as white male writers don't think there's an issue.

Even in the Canadian TV blogosphere diversity is not obvious, as was hit home to me when begging for help with the upcoming TV, eh? live Internet radio show. Apart from my non-Canadian TV-associated friends, my entire mailing list is white and I'm not sure there's even 27% women on there.

The last thing we need is to lose any of the voices currently out there, behind the screens or in front of them, but it would be nice to have more voices from more places. Two women can differ just as much in opinion than a man and a woman, but it seems obvious that if we had more diverse voices writing for and about television – men and women, white and black and brown and purple, straight and gay, urban and rural – we'd all be richer for it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunday's TV, eh? live Internet show: Robson Arms, Bill C-10, TV websites and downloads

The first TV, eh? live Internet radio show will air Sunday, April 20 at 11 am Pacific/2 pm Eastern and weekly thereafter. Listen live at Blogtalkradio or call in at 646-200-4063 to join the fun. That's a New York area code, but you could try Skype for cheap long distance - 2.4 cents/minute to the US.

For the first show we've got some great guests lined up. Robson Arms returns to CTV's regular schedule, and co-creators Susin Nielsen and Gary Harvey are first up to talk about the show's third season. Have a question for them? Call in live, or leave it in the comments and I might ask it for you.

My brother the technogeek, Steve Wild, will talk about what wacky television shows he watches and how he watches them: he'll discuss TV on the web, how networks are missing the boat and how they're not. CBC has experimented with bittorrent, for example. Next, maybe they'll experiment with using bittorrent for a show people want to watch.

And screenwriter/journalist Mark Leiren-Young was at the Senate committee hearings on Bill C-10 so he'll be on the line to report on that controversy. Call in with your opinion: censorship or prudent oversight of taxpayer money?

Yes, the "weekly" thing is a change. Gulp. Don't make me do this alone – call in on any given Sunday at 646-200-4063 or offer to be a guest. It will be focused on but not limited to Canadian shows and issues, so the possibilities are wide open. Listen live Sundays at 11 am Pacific/2 pm Eastern or listen to the archived podcast afterwards.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

T-shirts, eh?

I'm not trying to make a profit from the TV, eh? site, and I do a really, really good job of not making a profit. But mostly for fun, and also to potentially help fund the expenses of the site, I've set up a Spreadshirt shop to sell tees and baseball caps.





One weird glitch I've found is that you can't easily tell that the two t-shirts that have sayings on the back also have the TV, eh? emblem on the right sleeve. You can see it if you click on the item and select that view, but you have to know you're looking for it. The sayings are also customizable. If you don't like the quotes I've selected, pick your own (or delete altogether).

The quotes I've got are:
Television: teacher, mother, secret lover.
- Homer Simpson
and
Television is more interesting than people. If it weren't, we would have people standing in the corner of our living rooms.
Items ship from the US so duty may apply (I can't find a comparable Canadian site). Check it out here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Quotable Ben Silverman

By semi-popular demand - as a follow up to my Ben Silverman post, here's some of the quotes I had transcribed before abandoning that article. There's nothing earth-shattering about them since they're from an event about a year ago and the man is not exactly press-shy so he's said similar things elsewhere.

On the new job as NBC's head: "It's harder than I thought it would be. It's a big, big ship. I'm in the oil tanker. And to move the oil tanker sometimes takes a mile. And I'm used to driving a fastboat. I definitely want to do a lot. I want to do it fast. But it's hard. It's harder than I thought. ... I've got to stay the course and make sure this tanker turns.

"Everybody gets home after a busy day and the cacophony of their cell phone and their workplace and the amount of messages flooded at them and the despair of what's going on in the geopolitical environment, and then they got one kid on a Sidekick and one kid around a video game and they can barely wrangle everyone around a dinner table to order pizza let alone cook, and I think television is still the escape. I still think you need to look at how you as a consumer watch television. I like to sit down and watch television. I want to come home and turn on my TV and play with my remote and I will discover something that will arrest me when I'm changing those channels. So I'm going to look to find those kinds of programs. But also that watercooler. Despite the fact that The Office goes onto iTunes the next day ... that watercooler conversation is still part of our culture."

"We believe in comedy in a big way. We have a huge Thursday night comedy lineup. I believe in multi-camera comedy. ... Comedy is a great escape but it's also a great forum to deal with issues that have been swept under the carpet: racism, class, terrorism, great tradition of breaking down walls, new families based around friends and brothers and sisters and single moms and dads."

"I'm in a rare situation where I didn't need this job, I wanted this job."

"I want to create an environment that says this is a place that supports creative people."

"I'm very conscious of making sure we have multiple genres on air, and great shows. It is easier to jump start with reality and the fact is, getting idea to market is quicker with a reality show than it is with a scripted show. We'll be looking to get some great reality shows on air."

"What's changing is the distribution method. What's not changing is the desire of the audience to consume high quality programming. And television is still by far the most powerful medium for creating brands, launching brands and influencing consumers, whether it's to buy soap, watch another television show, or to build a business off your own television show, to extend your show into the online community."

"The shows where audiences watched commercials the most were the high end upscale shows. The Office in fact was the number one show in which the audience watched the commercials, which I thought was kind of fascinating because I don't think you would have expected that. ... You'd think they'd be the ones most driven to DVRs ... I think that has to do with engagement, and the fact that they are more engaged with shows that they think are more challenging."

On finding out NBC had two executives dedicated to Second Life – they'd recently had a Christmas tree lighting in the virtual world: "After I discovered we had two execs I asked how many pepole did the tree lighting and it was something like 4,000 whereas 10 million watched the TV show. The reality is the numbers are not quite there yet. We're looking at creating audience and building community in a more profound way and hopefully those numbers will continue to increase. "

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Stalking David Duchovny

No, not really, but I think the caller would rather I did. The TV Talk episode featuring me talking Canadian TV (sort of) and plugging the upcoming TV, eh? Internet radio show is now available here. It's pretty ... random. But it was fun. I come in an hour into it (look for the player on the right side).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

TV, eh? on TV Talk radio

Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 9) at 4 pm Pacific time I'll be on TV Talk, an internet radio show hosted by Shaun "OMac" Daily (the guy credited with putting the nuts in Jericho's fan campaign). I'll be on after the TV Squad people, talking about Canadian TV. It's a live call-in show so feel free to call in at 1-646-915-9925, or check to see if there's a Click to Talk button when the show's live.

I hadn't meant to announce this so soon, but the reason for that appearance is that I'll be relaunching the sporadic TV, eh? podcast as a monthly radio show on Blogtalkradio.

It'll be under the Blogcritics (aka "BC Magazine") channel, and produced with the participation of a great group of people from Canadian TV circles: fans, critics, industry folks. (Want to participate? Let me know.).

Stay tuned for more information on the first show, but it'll air live on Sunday, April 20 at 2 pm EDT then be available as a podcast afterwards. It looks like it will be monthly for now, on the third Sunday of each month at 2 pm EDT. Terrible time to ensure guests and live callers, I know, but the best time to ensure a host (aka me). Can't win 'em all.

Partly because of the Blogcritics connection, partly because of the live call-in element, partly because of how much like pulling teeth it was to arrange the previous podcasts, it won't focus exclusively on Canadian shows. It will be Canucks talking television in all its forms, and of course all Internet citizens are welcome to join in as guests and call-in visitors. No, this isn't an excuse to let me talk a bit about House and Pushing Daisies under the TV, eh? banner. That's just a bonus.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Truth and Consequences

I can't help myself. I got another one of those glurgy chain emails today, intended to be heartwarming but really just a steaming pile that came from another part of the body. And because I'm me, I sent my friend the Snopes page debunking the story behind it even though I know, I know, I know, no one wants to know the truth when the fiction is more interesting.

You know the one about Mariah Carey saying she'd like to be as skinny as starving kids, just not with the flies and death and stuff? Never happened. Except in a satirical article that got picked up by legitimate newspapers who didn't recognize the satire. Bill Gates won't give you money depending on how many emails you forward, either.

But it's more interesting to believe Mariah Carey is just that stupid and insensitive, or that we can get a slice of the Microsoft pie. And interesting too often trumps truth, even when we're framing it as reality.

After the exposed fraud of Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years, the latest to be revealed as pure fiction was Love and Consequences by Margaret B. Jones, purportedly “a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.” In reality, Jones is the pseudonym of Margaret Seltzer, “who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family.”

In university, my favourite set of courses were in creative non-fiction writing. In one, my friend Bonnie made a terrible confession to our professor, a stern Icelandic-Canadian author whose measured praise was prized and off-hand dismissals feared.

Before I’d ever heard of the Internet, these classes were terrific practice for blogging. We read aloud our stories and awaited the comments from classmates, some thoughtful, some adding their own interesting though perhaps tangential perspective, some so completely out to lunch you wondered if they’d been listening to the voices in their head instead of the words being read to them. Too polite was dismissive. Too cutting was easy to dismiss. We treasured those comments that really got what we were trying to say but offered insight into how we could come closer to an emotional truth.

Bonnie’s confession came after a round of particularly effusive and uncommonly unanimous praise for her story of attending a recently unsegregated school as a child in the US. She told our professor that sometimes, well, quite often, she – not lied, but embellished the truth in order to make a better story. Not to make it more dramatic, exactly, but to give it more shape, to bring out the meaning more clearly. Now she was feeling guilty for the undeserved praise.

The professor laughed and told her – later told the class – that was where the creative part of creative non-fiction comes in. Today, we’d be having the conversation about the difference between William S. Burroughs and James Frey, and ponder the question: why didn’t Margaret Seltzer write a novel? Instead, we discussed where the line is between non-fiction and fiction, and opinions were varied, but all fit loosely within the standard non-fiction disclaimer of altered details.

I was less inclined than Bonnie to purposely embellish, though memory is a tricky guide. But the beauty of creative non-fiction is in shaping the story. We can choose the details to include and to exclude. There’s the trivial: we can choose to change names, like “Bonnie,” or withhold them, like the name of a certain Icelandic-Canadian author. There’s the more profound: we can choose where to end. We can stop at the bike ride to school with a new black friend or continue to the nasty names in the cafeteria that make it a story less about hope. We can stop at the marriage rather than the divorce, the baby’s birth rather than the terrible twos, the death rather than the grief.

And we can choose our own personal meaning for the events we’re writing about, which might seem contrary to telling the truth but is really the essence of it. Much as I love fiction, there is a beauty in truth.

But that’s also the mundane reason why Seltzer didn’t simply write a novel: incredible but true stories sell better. It’s silly to personalize it, but to a lover of literary non-fiction writing -- Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking is a personal favourite -- the actions of these fraudulent memoir writers seem like a betrayal. Because our professor was right, there’s a creative part to creative non-fiction. But there’s also a non-fiction part to it.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I understand, I just don't care

Artist Todd Goldman is, um, a tad controversial, but before I knew that I got a huge laugh from an exhibit of his works in an LA gallery. And I'm sure I still would have laughed if I'd known:



He founded David and Goliath, which sells funny t-shirts and other merchandise, or his artwork is available here. I'll leave the plagiarism issue to you and your conscience.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Zen and the Art of Praying the Car Doesn’t Need Maintenance

I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was way too young to fully grasp it, but the title at least has always stuck with me. It’s the philosophical story of a father and son hitting the open road, and though motorcycles haven’t been kind to my family, and I wouldn’t know how to maintain one to save my life, it’s the zen of the long distance drive that resonates with me, despite my love/hate/mostly-hate relationship with driving.

I recently drove by myself from Vancouver to Los Angeles -- 25 hours each way -- and that was part of the thrill of a pretty thrilling vacation. There's no better way to clear the mind as I focus on the road, the music, and my thoughts. I'm not big on audiobooks because my mind drifts, and that's the point: I like the drift. I like the random connections my mind creates when it has no other expectations placed on it.

It starts with the music I’m listening to. Like that it’s not quite tragic, and definitely not hip, but it saddens me that The Tragically Hip’s "New Orleans is Sinking" rocks, yet no one can ever listen to it again without thinking of Hurricane Katrina. The song’s not about that kind of literal devastation – you’d be hard pressed to say what most of singer and lyricist Gord Downie’s songs are "about" – but that line means something else now: “New Orleans is sinking and I don’t want to swim.”



I notice thematic similarities in songs like "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" by Deep Blue Something and "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service – a pathetic reaching for connections most of us have been guilty of. In the former there's the mutual kinda liking of a movie being the one thing a couple has in common, and in the latter there's matching eye freckles.





When the Indigo Girls start to blast and make my foot start tapping – the left foot, don't worry -- I remember once picking "Closer to Fine" as my theme song and ponder on the still-valid reasons for that: "There's more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine."



But then the connection to what’s in the car or around the car is lost, and the mind starts making other random connections. And random connections are the genesis of creativity. How else to explain the brilliance of the peanut butter/chocolate cup? Mr. or Ms. Reese must have been on a long distance drive. It's well-documented that in business and in life, so often it's when we’re not thinking of the problem at hand that a solution pops up.

My creative solution to all the world's woes, from how to make our health care system sustainable to how to get Hollywood to stop recycling ideas? Stick all the decision-makers in a car and set them loose on the I-5.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

JibJab interview

I finally wrote up my fairly glowing report of JibJab after getting a tour of their place in California. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I'm a big fan of what these guys do. Founder/CEO Gregg Spiridellis is a gregarious, eloquent guy prone to throwing out the kind of terminology you might expect from a former investment banker with an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. So maybe that explains why this is my favourite soundbite from our hour-long talk: "Puppets are awesome." I thought it was big of me to clarify that he was making a business point instead of expressing child-like enthusiasm for his job. Though who could blame him for that, either.
There was more to the interview so depending on inspiration, I'll either do another Blogcritics post with a different focus, or I'll throw up some more deleted blog scenes here of more quotes.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Time machine: Retro Ben Silverman post

Consider this like the blog version of scenes from an episode that was never finished. With NBC unveiling their next season's plans in a scaled-back presentation to advertisers today, I was reminded by a post on Time's Tuned In blog about my impressions of NBC head Ben Silverman. He was supposed to attend the Banff World Television Festival last year as the successful producer behind Ugly Betty and The Office, among others. Two weeks before the festival, he was given the top job at NBC, but he wanted to honour his commitment so he appeared via satellite instead.

I always regretted not finishing this post for Blogcritics. Even though he didn't appear in person, the session moderated by the New York Times' Bill Carter was one of my favourites that year, plus Silverman was big news at the time. But I didn't have time to write it up while I was in Banff, I was burned out and then busy with the day job when I got home, and the moment passed me by.

There were lots of articles in the Canadian media coming out of it anyway, which also led to my hesitation. They tended to make the most of his comments that he liked Little Mosque on the Prairie and was coming to Canada with his shopping cart - none of those articles quite connected the dots that Silverman is known for remaking foreign shows, not importing them wholesale. NBC did pick up the Canadian series The Listener during the mini fire sale that happened during the strike -- before it started production, so there's still time for NBC to put their stamp on it -- but Little Mosque remains on the shelf.

Anyway, here's the rough draft beginnings of my Silverman post from June 2007, for what it's worth. Don't expect a lot of flow from one idea to the next - it's a very incomplete draft.

New NBC Co-Chair Ben Silverman Inspires ... and Frightens a Little

Ben Silverman makes me feel like a slacker. I'm sure he accomplishes more before breakfast than I possibly could in an entire year. It would probably be more accurate to say "lifetime," but that's just too depressing to admit. At the age of 35, he's now one of the most powerful men in television thanks to his new title as co-chair of NBC, in charge of both the network and the studio.

If I worked for NBC, I'd be quaking after hearing him say, "I'm definitely the last person to leave the building, which is a culture I want to change." I don't think he meant he's going to start going home earlier. "I place the highest expectation on my self, and then in turn I hope that rubs off on people around me," he added.

Yet after listening to him for an hour via satellite at the Banff World Television Festival, I have a feeling that if he asked me to drink the Kool-Aid, I'd have a hard time resisting. He came across as a charismatic, inspirational leader, the kind of person who can say things like "I believe in karma and goodness" without sounding the slightest bit corny. His appearance at the festival – albeit not in person, as originally intended when he was "just" the CEO of Reveille Productions a mere two weeks before he was to come to Banff – is a testament to that philosophy, since it would have been difficult to blame the man for cancelling after his work day suddenly got a whole lot busier.

Reveille is the production company behind Ugly Betty, The Office, Known for reality but also successful in scripted, reputation for finding the best international and remaking them for an American audience.

So as head of all that, why accept a job taking over a struggling, fourth-place network? "Even a Golden Globe award-winning producer is still Willy Loman," Silverman said. And even the head of a fourth-place network – who also has control over the studio – is more than Loman. "There's a saying that it's the seat, not the person, meaning as long as you're in this chair they love you," he explained. "It's transparent and obvious – in a town that stabs you in the front while massaging your back, it's clear this holds a lot of power in this community."

That wasn't the only appeal. Silverman's father was a musical director at the Stratford Festival, while his mother was an opera singer and theatre producer before becoming a television executive who subscribed her eager 12-year-old son to Variety. After interning with Warner Brothers, Silverman worked for Brandon Tartikoff. He thinks his background as head of a successful production company, knowing all aspects of the business, rather than the usual ladder up the network is a huge advantage in an industry that's facing upheaval.

"I grew up watching NBC. My mentors were from NBC," said Silverman. "I feel like I am the perfect storm to do the job."

His vision might be to challenge top-rated CBS, but it's definitely not to become the next CBS. "I'm not into violence, I'm not into pedophilia, I'm not into serial killers." Fortunately for Chris Hansen, among others, he's not in charge of Dateline NBC, which falls under the news division.

Before he signed off, he thanked the crowd in Canada and added: "I have to give a shout out to Little Mosque on the Prairie. I think you guys are creating awesome television there as well. No stone unturned: I'll be coming up with my shopping bag soon."

[At the end, as usual when I'm drafting something, I stuffed all the raw quotes I was thinking of using in the article. It's too much to summarize here, as I didn't have much focus, just wanted to dump a lot of what he'd said out there. I was going to come back to the drinking the Kool-Aid thing -- about his untested, sometimes wonky ideas for turning the network around contrasting somewhat with how inspiring he is in talking about them.]

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ask and ye shall receive

Hee, Jaime Weinman of Maclean's felt the not-so-subtle nudge from my last post and presents us with a great Better Know a Writing Staff: HOUSE.

I bet he knew I couldn't resist doing this: the only season four writer I think he's missing is Thomas L. Moran, who has been with the show since the beginning and previously worked on Family Law and Hack (both with David Shore -- in fact, look at the credits of Hack and you'll see a lot of familiar names if you're a House credits watcher. I believe Shore was the initial showrunner until ... complications ensued). Moran also wrote for JAG and NCIS.

Hmm, I'd like world peace and a pony for my birthday if someone can manage that, too.