Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

My new workplace is in a dog-friendly location:

But in our parking lot, speed and go to hell:

Speaking of going to hell, Stewie was spotted in San Francisco:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wherein I'm as cranky as honorary Canadian Dr. House about mediocre TV reporting in Canada, using an example involving House

It's been a crazy week thanks to the new job - I haven't even had time to think about my whirlwind trip to San Francisco this weekend, when planning is usually part of the fun of travelling for me - so last night I was grateful to Playback Magazine for giving me easy fodder for a quick rant. Can't let those rant muscles atrophy or you'll never get them back. But damn it all if this morning, before I had time to write it up, they didn't correct their original laughably wrong article and, in so doing, took the wind out of my sails. My ranting muscle sails. How mixed can I make this metaphor?

Anyway, last night, as I was doing the Google rounds for the TV, Eh? site, I came across an article that briefly mentioned Corner Gas's ratings. I decided not to post it because that information was already on the site, and the article in question was so egregiously ignorant otherwise that I would have had to go off on a non-Canadian TV tangent to mock it.

The headline was "Grey's conquers House." You can read it here, thanks to Google's cache. Yes, you can correct your mistakes, but Google always remembers. It starts:
The surgeons and interns from Seattle Grace Hospital have turned the tables on Dr. Gregory House, as CTV's drama Grey's Anatomy became the most-watched show in primetime last week, hitting nearly 2.8 million (2+) viewers compared to 1.6 million for House on Global.

It marks a sharp contrast to premiere week last month, when House grabbed a series high 3.3 million viewers in its Tuesday 9 p.m. timeslot versus 2.5 million for Grey's, which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m.

For a brief moment, it made me question the Honorary Canadian designation for my favourite fictional doctor. Were Canadians getting tired of the uncanny similarities between House and themselves? Would I have to write something about Dr. McDreamy being secretly Canadian?

It also made me question why CTV and Global hadn't sent out their usual duelling media releases declaring that each had really won in the ratings, na na na na boo boo. Had CTV stopped the ratings pissing match? What would I read for entertainment now?

Turns out, Playback was doing CTV's pissing for them (eww, I already regret that inelegant metaphor). I quickly remembered what you'd think a reporter and editor with a magazine devoted only to the Canadian TV and film industry would know: House didn't air on FOX that week because of the baseball playoffs, so Global aired a rerun. A rerun of House got 1.6 million viewers, which should place it in or just barely out of the top 10 shows in Canada for that week.

I have to give them credit for correcting it, I guess, though that seems like a pretty low standard to hold them to. It's as if a sports reporter wrote an article trumpeting the win of the wrong team.

The corrected version, "Grey's number one," is saddled with a lead that isn't really news, now, given that Grey's is often number two in Canada, so if the number one is a rerun, well, duh:
The surgeons and interns from Seattle Grace Hospital were a popular choice on the dial last week, as CTV's drama Grey's Anatomy was the most-watched show in primetime, hitting nearly 2.8 million (2+) viewers. Grey's has the baseball playoffs to thank, since House, number one the previous week, was preempted by U.S. broadcaster Fox due to baseball pennant games, forcing Global to air a repeat episode. It nabbed 1.6 million viewers.

It marks a sharp contrast to premiere week last month, when House grabbed a series high 3.3 million viewers in its Tuesday 9 p.m. timeslot versus 2.5 million for Grey's, which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m.

They've saddled this blog post with a point that isn't really news by correcting their article, except, for one thing, this blog isn't a news source, and for another, it's not the first time Playback has run an article where they clearly didn't realize they were comparing reruns to first-run shows. To be even pickier than I'm already being by posting this at all, they didn't quite correct it enough to give it a point. It's more newsworthy that Grey's beat the other frequent number two show, CSI. And it's hardly a "sharp contrast" to a week when both Grey's Anatomy and House aired new episodes.

Just like Whistler is Canada's version of The OC, only really, really not, and the Geminis are Canada's version of the Emmys, only really, really not, Playback is Canada's version of Variety, only really, really not.

"Settling for mediocrity" could sadly be a slogan for Canadian TV and film. I guess that's one way Canadians are very different from Dr. House.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Vancouver Fall

Pretty leaves.

Stolen kisses under umbrellas.

Some people hate the rain. Some revel in it. It's been five years, countless rainy days, and I'm still in love with this city.

Did I mention the bad hair days?

When you're not strong

I'm feeling nostalgic after saying my goodbyes at my previous job on Friday. Never mind that I'm incredibly excited about the new opportunity, working on, well, let's just say a large sporting event to be held in Vancouver and Whistler in 2 1/2 years. I've made some great friends and had some great experiences in the last three years, and though what I do doesn't exactly save lives, working in health care put many other things in perspective.

So forgive the sentimentality, but I dare you to watch this PSA from Sick Kids in Toronto (not where I worked, but I saw it on TV this week in the throes of my goodbyes) without getting a lump in your throat and a sense of pride in our health care workers who do save lives under less than ideal circumstances:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How cute were we? What the hell happened?

That's me looking adoringly up at my big brother. I got a packet of old photos in the mail from my mom just days before he arrived in town for a visit. While I don't really look at him like that anymore, he's still pretty cool.*

* He's installing Linux on my computer at this very moment, so by "cool" I mean "ubergeek."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

JibJab's invasion of the head snatchers

The cool people at JibJab have launched yet another phase of their plan for world domination -- mini-movies starring you -- so I've posted a brief news item on Blogcritics:
This is a really bad example of what you can do, because I just used my head for all 7 roles. Hey, it was late and I already had that one cut out from last time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

House season four so far

As promised, here's some of my thoughts on the new season of House, as posted at Blogcritics:

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A nation of repressed Dr. Houses

A few days ago I was going to dash off a quick and silly Blogcritics post about House and its Canadian ratings. Then it became this complicated thing incorporating my thoughts on the season so far. Then I realized that the ratings stuff wasn't fitting with the review-like stuff, so while I'm working on that longer post, I dashed off a quick and silly post about House and its Canadian ratings. Here it is:

Viva Laughlin review

I've got a Blogcritics review up now that's basically me shaking my head over CBS's Viva Laughlin:

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Tale of Two Strikes

After moving to a suburb I never warmed to in order to be closer to my job, I joyously returned to Vancouver proper in the middle of the 12-week civic strike. Good timing.

I was particularly happy that my new place is in a lovely area two blocks from a library and a community centre that offers drop-in volleyball. Except community centres and libraries are run by the city.

But while the strike halted garbage and recycling pickup, stalled permits, and much more, I barely noticed it was on.

Something I didn't realize prior to the strike is that most apartment and condo buildings have private garbage pickup. I heard the figure that 60 percent of Vancouverites are covered by private pickup. The city -- managers and citizens -- did a great job of keeping up with street and park garbage, too, despite the lack of unionized workers. This summer, I'd visited Toronto for the first time apart from quick business trips, and was amazed and appalled at the garbage piled on the downtown streets at night. It was business as usual, restaurants and stores leaving it for overnight pickup in a city with, apparently, an aversion to both alleys and dumpsters. All I could think was "now, which city has the garbage strike again?"

Vancouver's inside workers just accepted a deal, so community centres and permits should be up and running this weekend, and the outside workers and library workers are close to signing if they haven't by now. I'm glad it's almost over, but it's hard to say life will now get back to normal, because I barely noticed things weren't normal.

A strike that might affect my daily life more? The possible Writers Guild strike in the United States. That one could shut down television and movie production as early as November 1, though the audience wouldn't notice for a while, until studios and networks started running out of produced material. And the House writers wouldn't go on strike, would they? Oh. Damn.

The good news is that networks are less likely to mercy kill some of their struggling new series before they run out of produced episodes, giving shows that chance to find an audience we're always asking for. As Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post wryly points out, some networks have already ordered new scripts of struggling new series like Bionic Woman, Journeyman, Life, Cane, Aliens in America, and Chuck:

A script order does not guarantee a show an order for more episodes, the media reported. But an order for an additional script is often the first step to ordering an additional episode, the news stories noted, because a script most often is written before an episode is shot -- except, of course, in the case of Fox's 24 and ABC's Lost.

When scripted shows do run short, it'll be all reality TV, all the time, because reality (and animation) aren't covered by the WGA. There's rumblings up here in Canada that maybe the US would fill its airwaves with our programming. I'm both skeptical the networks would do it and skeptical an American audience would choose to watch ReGenesis or Whistler over an evening of Dancing With the Stars and Deal or No Deal, when even Canadians wouldn't. I'd bet NBC starts airing sister station Bravo's Project Runway reruns before they go for CBC's Little Mosque on the Prairie. I guess it'll be a question of how long the strike lasts, and how desperate the networks get.

So if there's a WGA strike, I and many other non-reality-show-loving viewers will find something else to do. That's not the end of the world for us, but not a good thing for the industry. Hockey and baseball learned what a long strike can do to a fanbase. Maclean's Jaime Weinman linked to a chilling article from 2001 about how the last writers strike in 1988 affected the television industry, asserting it's never completely recovered. In his post, Weinman says:

That 5-month strike helped to create the TV world we live with today, where the TV audience is smaller and more fragmented. With many shows forced into perpetual reruns and ending their seasons early, a chunk of the audience either tuned out or switched over to non-union shows, and never really came back.

The Media Life article he links to – from the 2001 negotiations, remember – ends this way:

But in spite of reigning pessimism, the WGA’s Kirgo believes that the industry learned a lesson from 1988, namely that a prolonged strike could do irreparable damage to both sides. "I think everybody is going to come to their senses. I honestly believe that they will not let another strike happen."

In 2007, my pessimism reigns. I have absolutely no opinion on whether there should be a strike or not in terms of the writers' and studios' livelihoods. I don't understand the issues enough, and don't think the angels are ever with one side. But I think there will be a strike. And that's OK. Like we learned from the civic strike, life goes on. The audience may suffer a little in the short term -- from House withdrawal, for example -- but the industry will suffer in the long term if they give the already distracted audience yet another reason to fragment and slip away.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Things my PVR taught me

Just in time for the new fall season, my computer-based PVR went kaput. In its defense, it was probably broken in my move a month or so before that, but since I don't get any of those fancy channels with the supposedly great summer series, I wouldn't know. I only realized it wasn't working when I came home from work to discover it didn't record the season premiere of House on the fancy Eastern feed channel I do get, and I had to wait until the regular old time zone came through for me. It was tragic.

While I think the IR channel-changer thingamabob probably got smushed in the move (excuse the technical jargon) and it would have been a simple matter of replacing that, I figured it was an opportune time to buy a real PVR. As much as I loved my inexpensive computer-based device and got some satisfaction in figuring out how to make it work (until it didn't), I love the real PVR even more.

The ability to pause and rewind live TV, to record two shows at once without buying another thingamajig, and, of course, to watch TV on my TV easily: it's an exciting new toy. But it's also made me make think more consciously about some of my viewing habits.

I'd heard that a surprising number of people with TiVo and TiVo-like devices watch commercials, and scoffed. But it turns out I often find myself watching the commercials while watching recorded shows. Why? Because I forget I'm watching a recording. Plus, with very few must-see-every-minute exceptions, I'm always doing something else while watching TV: posting, browsing, reading, writing, cooking, cleaning, chatting, whatever. Sometimes I forget I'm watching TV, never mind that I'm watching recorded TV.

Another thing I've learned -- a lesson I need to learn every September -- is that my eyes are bigger than my ... eyes. My PVR started the season promising to record House, The Office, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Intelligence, Life, Dirty Sexy Money, Pushing Daisies, Bionic Woman, Blood Ties, K-Ville, Back to You, Gossip Girl, Journeyman, Reaper, Chuck, Moonlight, and Aliens in America.

It was so easy to tell my PVR to record them all. It wasn't so easy to watch them all.

Technology is making it easier and easier to bring more and more television into my living room. It's also giving me more and more things to do other than watch television. In my couch-based downtime, posting, podcasting, iPodding, Photoshopping are some of the many p's competing with the PVR.

So I had to do another "p": pare down. Maybe some of those pilots I reviewed got better with time. Maybe some of those shows I'd heard were good would have captured my attention. But in a cluttered world, a cluttered PVR is one inconsequential stress I don't need. It's ruthless, but if a show didn't stand out before it even aired, or if the pilot didn't grab me and shake me and never let me go, there's no room in my life or on my PVR.

So I've settled on recording House, Pushing Daisies, Intelligence, The Office, and 30 Rock, and everything else I'll catch if I'm home in a TV kind of mood. And I hate to say it, but The Office is teetering on the precipice after tonight.

Thankfully, as easy as it is to record with my new PVR, it's just as easy to delete.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I'll be seeing Once again

Every once in a while, I see a lovely little movie that makes me happy every time I think of it. Nothing mind blowing, just a perfectly charming film that captivates me. Once is one of those movies.

I knew next to nothing about it before watching it, other than it was a Sundance success and told a love story through music (though it's a musical in The Commitments sense, not in the Chicago sense where people burst into song for no apparent reason). The plot unfolds in unsurprising but also unconventional ways, so I won't ruin it for anyone else by saying much more than that.

Written and directed by John Carney, Once pairs Glen Hansard -- one of The Commitments and part of the real-life band The Frames -- with Czech singer-songwriter Mark√©ta Irglov√° in her first acting role. He's character-actor attractive, but if I’d only seen a picture of her, I would have thought she was plain but pleasant looking. In motion, full of personality, she’s gorgeous. Her voice is hauntingly beautiful, as is the music she and Hansard co-wrote for the film, complementing his rougher tone. Entertainment Weekly says they are/were a real-life item, and as you can tell, I might be a little in love with both of them, too.

I had to go to iTunes to get the soundtrack after seeing Once, though the music is not the only thing to recommend it. These are characters you know, you care about, in a tale that feels fresh and true. Still, for a taste of what I'm talking about, here's some live performances of music from the film:

Falling Slowly, performed on Letterman:

If You Want Me (my favourite track, but this has terrible video - good audio, though)

Monday, October 08, 2007

The lessons of The TV Set

For a behind-the-scenes geek like me, The TV Set is a fun movie about the process of making television ... and sucking the creative spirit out of a show before it gets to air.

As the opening credits state, networks commission hundreds of scripts each year, only a small fraction of which are produced as pilots. Of that small fraction, only a quarter are picked up for the fall season. The TV Set is the story of one such pilot.

Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (Orange County), it's executive produced by his dad Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) as well as Judd Apatow (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Knocked Up), a man who knows something about the struggle to make quality television.

David Duchovny plays Mike Klein, the writer of what I presume is supposed to be a drama with comedic overtones. In his original script, a young man and woman reconnect when he returns home for the funeral of his brother, who committed suicide. The network head, a deliciously horrible Sigourney Weaver, whose favoured child is the reality show Slut Wars, pushes for a broadly comedic lead actor, fears the audience will think suicide is depressing, and complains the character's mother comes across as too sad. About her dead son.

Klein finds his soul and his show chipped away at bit by bit, as he moans "I'm making the world more mediocre" to his very pregnant wife (Justine Bateman), who is supportive with limits. Her bulging belly makes him acutely aware that taking a bold creative stand won't support his family. Judy Greer, Ioan Gruffudd, and Lucy Davis are among the other familiar faces in the cast.

The TV Set is the fictional story of one script's journey through the pilot process, and I happened to see it just as we're seeing the successes and failures -- mostly failures, it looks like -- of the current crop of pilots-become-series, and just as I've become aware of the first news about pilots for the next television season.

One such announcement shocks me as much as it thrills me. John Doyle of the Globe and Mail breaks the news that Intelligence is being remade as a pilot for FOX, co-produced by Canada's own Haddock Entertainment and John Wells Productions (yes, the John Wells who broke my beloved West Wing, but even I can't deny his track record).

Since Intelligence was a surprise second-season renewal after suffering from low ratings even for a CBC series, and is more akin to The Wire, a critically acclaimed show that hasn't been a ratings blockbuster for Showtime, than to 24, I would never have guessed Kevin Reilly would see it the potential for success on his network. But since it will have to be retooled drastically for an American viewpoint anyway, I'm sure it will end up bearing little resemblance to The Wire and more to, say, a John Wells production. And all 17 Canadians who watched Intelligence here can feel superior that we embraced the original, more intelligent version.

However, bearing in mind the lesson of The TV Set, the fact that a pilot has been ordered is a far different thing from a guarantee that the show will wind up on the FOX schedule.

The second announcement should probably make me happier than it does. It seems the USA network is turning Thank You For Smoking into a series. According to the annoyingly written Variety:

TV take -- which will likely go by a different title -- will pick up where the 2006 feature left off. Nick Naylor, having kicked some of his more evil lobbyist habits, will use his rhetorical skills to help people more deserving of aid. ... "He'll live somewhere between the morally ambiguous character of the movie and Robin Hood," said USA programming chief Jeff Wachtel.
I loved Thank You For Smoking, but it was a brilliantly complete film, I thought. A lesson I learned from my childhood obsession with Anne of Green Gables is that a great work is not improved on by going back to the well over and over again, and by the time you get to Rilla of Ingleside, the magic has been sucked out.

More importantly, I don't want to see Nick Naylor as Robin Hood. And after watching The TV Set, it's hard to have faith that the show will end up being faithful to the vision of the original creator. That is, if the idea makes it to script, and then to pilot, and then to series, so it's a little early to be worrying about it now.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians

I'll be back after the long weekend.

In the meantime, can you believe it's 15 years since REM released Automatic for the People? Via Pop Candy, again, Stereogum has released a tribute album, Drive XV. Download the free MP3s or listen online to tracks like the Meat Puppets doing Everybody Hurts (hi Lizzim!). There's also commentary by each artist as well as REM's own Mike Mills. Listen and learn.