Saturday, August 30, 2008

Are We There Yet?: World Adventure

Another Blogcritics article based on the TV, eh? Blogtalkradio interview with producer J.J. Johnson:

  • Unexpected Moments Bring Joy To Treehouse TV’s Are We There Yet?: World Adventure
    “For the new season, the cameras were rolling when TJ and Tristan took their first ever plane trip, and one brother said, ‘I can see heaven. I can see God dancing.’ ‘Of course I’m punching the cameraman, did you get it, did you get it?” Johnson laughed. ‘You can’t write that, or the look in his eyes. I don’t think there’s better programming out there when you get those moments.’” Read more.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Roll Play - the show and the music

From last week's TV, eh? podcast interview with producer J.J. Johnson, here's my Blogcritics article on Roll Play:
  • Preschoolers Rock Out to Treehouse TV's Roll Play
    "I confessed to him that I may have listened to the preview CD a few more times than was strictly necessary to prepare for our interview, but it's hardly like confessing to a secret fondness for the sound stylings of Barney the Dinosaur. The goal of Roll Play is to get children exercising in fun and imaginative ways, but the music makes it easy enough for adults like me to shrug off the fact that the lyrics are about centipede sisters or Tasmanian devils having temper tantrums." Read more.
(By the way, there won't be a Blogtalkradio show for the long weekend. There will be another article soon on the other show Johnson and I talked about last Sunday.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Aaron Sorkin's Online Adventures

Aaron Sorkin is one of my favourite writers in any medium. I'd put some of his TV episodes up against some of my favourite books. I was ultimately disappointed in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but I'm sipping on tea from a travel mug emblazoned with the logo as I write this. The first four seasons of The West Wing stand as my favourite TV series ever. (Think of my House ramblings now, and imagine if I'd been blogging then. The Internet just isn't big enough to hold all that verbosity.) I still mourn Sports Night and keep an eye on the cast wherever else they pop up. I both own the DVD of and watch every time I notice it's on TV – which is a lot – The American President. His dialogue, his themes, his passion, it adds up to brilliance.

So I say this with love: what the hell is he thinking? The news has escaped the confines of Facebook – Aaron Sorkin is apparently writing a movie about that social networking site's origins.

I can't wrap my head around the idea of the man whose work frequently takes simplistic sideswipes at web-based communities, and who claims his dead grandmother is more savvy about the Internet than he is, making a movie about Facebook in the first place. Why on earth is he interested?

I kinda hope it's not to promulgate the same views from The West Wing/Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip. In real life, Sorkin has had tangles with online communities, both in trying to defend his work to fans and in trying to diminish the role of his staff writers. He seems to let his venom leak into his work occasionally, where his characters' frustrations with online communities has been entertaining but also a little naïve.

I found Studio 60's earnestness over the world of television easier to take than some people, because I find a person's passion for a subject is often interesting in itself, even if the passions or opinions don't jibe with my own. I'm not an American politics junkie, or a sports junkie, but I couldn't have been more interested in his previous works if they were medical dramas or whimsical parables. I guess the problem is I'm suspicious of Sorkin's passion for the Facebook topic.

Even more odd -- if it's actually him, which it seems to be -- is Sorkin's attempt to research Facebook by announcing that he's researching Facebook. It's quantum physics waiting to happen; the act of observing changes the results. (Yes, I abuse this metaphor frequently, but it explains so much about life itself. And I'm a geek.) Aaron Sorkin joining Facebook as Aaron Sorkin and soliciting feedback on the Facebook experience will give him about as genuine a Facebook experience as Will Smith walking into Denny's and evaluating the service.

However, besides the Facebook group where he has interacted with fans (and of course a few detractors), he has a Facebook profile, too, which he's wisely made almost as private as possible. If he's actually using it like a regular user, interacting with people he knows, that should provide the more authentic experience. Except that now all his Friends, if he decides to accumulate any, will know it's an experiment, that they're being monitored, and he will be evaluating his actions and interactions through a lens that no other Facebook user will experience. It's quantum physics, I tell you.

But I have to go back to that first paragraph. I'm not innately interested in a movie about Facebook, nor am I confident in his innate passions for the subject. And yet he's a brilliant writer. Something appeals to him about the topic, and he's trying to absorb the experience of the topic, and a little faith is in order. If there's anything the Internet fan community has taught me, it's that pre-judging based on Internet rumour is unwise.

Well, maybe the lesson hasn't quite sunk in, but I'm trying. Faith. I have faith.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The two sides of the Geminis

The Gemini award nominations were announced today, so it seems wrong not to mark the occasion. I guess my Emmy prediction post can wait a little longer.

What are the Geminis, you ask? They're Canada's version of the Emmys (only really not, as a writer who was nominated today has been known to say). I'm no awards basher – I think everyone who's nominated should be proud, and I'm proud of the ones I know personally or even know of through my Canadian TV activities. The whole list of nominees is here (I think it's longer than the Emmys, believe it or not) and the leading contenders were Murdoch Mysteries with 14 and Durham County with 13.

Not many people would claim that any awards signify the absolute best of anything, partly because there is no measure of absolute best, partly because there's always politics and hype and success and a million other things that go into naming winners. But awards are an imperfect system to reward quality rather than ratings or commerce, and there's a virtue in that alone. I'm a recovering awards junkie, as a matter of fact. The Geminis have never been my drug of choice, however, though I'm hoping that will change this year now that I'm familiar with most of the nominated shows because of the TV, eh? site.

The Geminis have a major PR problem, like the Canadian TV industry as a whole. Emmy nomination morning, I logged onto the computer immediately after waking, eager to see if I needed to get my rage on. I had no idea the Gemini nominations were coming today, and I run a website on Canadian TV.

I mentioned them to some people today and had to explain each time that they're Canada's version of the Emmys (only really not). Part of the problem is our cutesy proclivity for using alliteration for our entertainment awards, which makes the award names blur together. I have to mentally calculate whether it's the Geminis or Genies or Junos that apply in each situation.

When Global finally broadcasts the Gemini ceremony on November 28 (after three earlier days of awards on October 20-22), expect to hear in the acceptance speeches more of the patented Canadian TV industry strategy of attempting to get publicity for shows that people don't care about by whining that people don't care about the shows. Not to mention the awards themselves: the media and fans don't know or care enough about the Geminis, so let's stretch them out over four news cycles over the space of a month? That can't be in Getting Media Coverage for Dummies, can it?

Some people have heard of some of the shows, but very few outside the industry have a pony in the race. Snub Hugh Laurie and us House fans will come after you; snub Yannick Bisson and you'll hear "who?" Though I say that both as someone who's liked him since Hockey Night and who doesn't necessarily think his lack of a nomination this year is worthy of the snub label. It's hard to come up with a list of snubs when you haven't given a moment's thought to the nominations before seeing them.

For the average TV watcher in Canada, it's also hard to get invested or make predictions when you haven't seen most nominees. That doesn't stop me with the Emmys, partly because my predictions are deliberately lame, but mostly because even if I haven't seen Lost or Heroes, I have sampled them and can tell you most of the plot points just from reading TV news and hearing my friends talk. Besides making it more fun to write, people will read a post predicting the Emmys. Because of my Canadian TV activities I've sampled more Canadian shows than most people I know, but if I haven't seen it on TV, you can bet I won't have heard about it from the watercooler, virtual or otherwise.

All that makes it hard to care about the Geminis on anything other than a "yay for people I know or sort of know" level. But I can cheer over one huge achievement at the Geminis that wasn't true in years past, when some categories looked desperate for any warm body: there's more than one or two shows that more than one or two people have seen that are worthy of being celebrated. Congratulations and good luck to everyone. I might even write a Gemini prediction post (that no one will read) if I can figure out when exactly the damn things are being announced amid those four days of celebrations.

Blogcritics news

Got the news this morning that Technorati bought Blogcritics. The part of me that’s worked in internal communications thinks it’s not cool that us Blogcritics found out after it was announced publicly, but the part of me that’s a blogger doesn’t care. What does it mean? Who knows. For the owners of the site, a lot more than for the readers and writers.

And I’m happy for them. They launched in 2002 and publisher Eric Olsen and the gang have worked damn hard to grow and improve the site at least in the time I’ve been with them (3 years already?!). The acquisition, whatever it ends up meaning, can only be a testament to their efforts and achievements.

I’ve enjoyed writing for Blogcritics because of the near-complete freedom to write what I want when I want how I want, coupled with greater exposure than I could get on my own blog. TV writers would never have agreed to my interview requests, and the Banff television festival would never have accredited me, without that platform. It might not be The New York Times, but The New York Times would never let me ramble on about House the way I'm prone to, either.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Modern Jackass: Subscribe Today

One of the few podcasts I subscribe to (other than TV, eh? of course) is This American Life. Hosted by Ira Glass, the show features a variety of stories on a single theme. A few weeks ago the theme was A Little Bit of Knowledge and the prelude introduced a brilliant two-word description for the phenomenon we all demonstrate on occasion, of spouting off on something we barely grasp but read something about some time ago that we half-remember. The concept comes from the friends of a TAL producer, who came up with an imaginary magazine dedicated to such blathering: Modern Jackass.

That edition of This American Life included a strangely poignant segment about an electrician who thought he'd stumbled onto a theory that disproved Einstein and Newton. He took a year's sabbatical to write his paper on the topic. An actual physicist took a few minutes to realize that he was reading an excerpt from Modern Jackass, but the electrician remains unconvinced.

I ran into an example of someone ripped from the pages of Modern Jackass the other day at lunch, at a Subway. A group of men were eating while one went on and on – not in his inside voice, of course – about how humans are only meant to live to be 60. Anything past that is a bonus, so we should all just shut up and thank our lucky stars if we make it past that ripe old age. After a few feeble attempts to figure out what the hell the man was on about, his three coworkers just listened to him as he talked and talked and talked about ancient people's lifespans, with vague references to bones and biblical age fudging.

He seemed completely oblivious to any counterargument of better hygiene, nutrition, and medical care, not to mention the conundrum of how to define what it means to say we're "meant to" live to be a certain age, especially given the average life expectancy is almost 20 years above his demarcation, and at least some ancient people's lifespans were considerably shorter than 60. But then again, that's me joining the pages of Modern Jackass, because I've done absolutely no research for this post and am relying on vague memories of anthropology classes and whatever random articles I've read over the years.

Were his coworkers buying his argument? Hard to say, since they were pounded into silence by the man's incessantly booming voice, but I'm betting no. I'm betting they were in the "maybe if we say nothing he'll run out of steam sooner" phase of dealing with the obnoxious arguer.

Don't those two words elegantly describe a phenomenon that's so pervasive in real-life and Internet discussions (including, if we're brutally honest, our own side of those discussions)? Modern Jackass: Subscribe today.

Listen now: Roll Play and Are We There Yet? on the TV, eh? podcast

Producer J.J. Johnson of Sinking Ship Entertainment talks about Roll Play, an innovative exercise series for preschoolers including fabulous new music, and Are We There Yet?: World Adventure, the first live-action pre-school travel adventure series for kids, hosted by kids.

Roll Play premieres Monday, September 1 at 8:25 am Eastern on Treehouse, while Are We There Yet?: World Adventure premieres Sept. 1 at 12:10 pm Eastern.

I play a snippet of the Dolores O'Riordan (of The Cranberries) song Centipede Sisters at the beginning, and a bit of Lucy the Woodpecker by Kulcha Connection at the end - you have to hear the album when it comes out on iTunes in October. Very cool.

Listen in the player below, visit the show site, or subscribe via iTunes or with any other program via the TV, Eh? feed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Everest interview

I've now published to Blogcritics an article based on last week's TV, eh? Blogtalkradio interview on CBC's upcoming miniseries, Everest:
  • Everest Challenges Actor Eric Johnson and Director Graeme Campbell
    "In preparation to do the movie, I thought you've got to be a little bit nuts to do this. You've got to be a little bit crazy. And then you get into it and you get the gear on and you start climbing, and you're climbing with a group of guys and it really becomes intoxicating and you just want to keep going up." Read more.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

This Sunday on TV, eh? Blogtalkradio: Roll Play and Are We There Yet?: World Adventure

This Sunday on TV, eh? Blogtalkradio, producer J.J. Johnson talks with me about two Treehouse shows for preschoolers, Roll Play and Are We There Yet?: World Adventure. See more details at TV, eh?

You gotta hear the new Roll Play songs - they fit right in to my iTunes collection until you notice the lyrics are about centipede sisters and the like. I'll be playing one during the podcast, and am having trouble picking my favourite.

Listen to TV, eh? on internet talk radio

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Summer television

Several weeks ago I started to write a post about what TV I’m watching this summer, and I suddenly realized that if I don’t finish and post it soon, it will have to morph it into a “what I’m watching this fall” post. For quite a while I wasn’t watching anything at all – yay summer! – but I’ve got a few regulars now as I start to pine for my favourites to return.

Mad Men
I had also started another post about Mad Men, The Dark Knight, and Dr. Horrible that I may never finish, so: basically I like them all, but don’t love them nearly as much as I’m apparently supposed to, and there's a commonality to why, believe it or not. Anyway, it took me a few tries to get into Mad Men, and no show could live up to its $25 million marketing hype and critical drooling, but I finally appreciate the series even if I don’t wholeheartedly embrace it.

Normally I wouldn’t give a show more than a couple of chances, and usually just one (what's the point? I could forever miss out on the best TV series ever made and it wouldn’t even slightly change my life for the worse). But it’s summer, and it’s got such a slavish following, and will almost certainly win the Emmy, so I wanted to make the effort. It didn’t work until I recorded the late July marathon on AMC and finally pushed through my distaste for some elements of the show by watching a few in a row.

Even now I think it’s wonderfully well crafted, with a bit too much Craft on ostentatious display on occasion. For example, some of the acting and dialogue I find stilted, and the period detail sometimes feels like it’s come out of a magazine rather than a life. Matthew Weiner has wonderfully recreated an era that often makes me wonder why I want to spend an hour of my week immersed in a society I mercifully missed the first time around. However, it does the slow burn story incredibly well – nothing ever seems to happen until you realize the characters' positions have shifted in incredibly interesting ways – and while I can’t warm to any of these chilly characters, there are very few, if any, I don’t find fascinating.

I’m not a fan of cop dramas – I was into St. Elsewhere over Hill Street Blues, Chicago Hope/ER over NYPD Blue, House over CSI – but Flashpoint was on my radar because of the Canadian television thing, and it’s a decent hour of entertainment that plays with my emotions in effective ways. I rarely cry over TV shows unless they’re killing Wilson’s girlfriend, but this one seems to hit my buttons and I’ve had something in my eye at the end of almost every episode so far. It feels good to root for it to succeed.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl
Billie Piper’s turn as the happy hooker is fluffy fun that I would call a guilty pleasure, but I can’t manage to feel any guilt. I couldn’t tell you when it airs, but some evenings I’ll notice there are a couple of episodes on my DVR and turn them on while doing whatever I have to do around the house. I haven’t seen a new-to-me episode for a while, though, and I’ll delete the series recording when fall TV kicks in.

The Middleman
This ABC Family series is not available in Canada so I won’t say that I watch it and enjoy the relentless silliness coupled with unexpected moments of cleverness, not to mention the crazily likeable cast.

Burn Notice
I watched the first couple of episodes and it was fine, but I wasn’t drawn into it and I don’t have the same motivation as with Mad Men to try harder. Delete.

Coming up
I’m not actually excited about any of the new shows for fall, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by at least one new series, and I can’t wait for House and Pushing Daisies to return, plus 30 Rock and The Office make me smile in anticipation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

And now, the rest of the story ...

During the Banff World Television Festival, I wrote a silly post about the string of coincidences that led to a running joke with some friends about being able to summon people with the power of my thoughts. I now have permission to share the even stranger sequel to that post.

After taking in one session on the final day of the festival, I was off to see friends and family in my home province, so I wrote a very brief description knowing it would be several days before I'd start writing my "official" article. Here's what I wrote then:
The final day of Banff was a short one for me -- slipped into the session with Jeff Greenstein of Desperate Housewives/Will and Grace/Friends, who had recruited BBC producer Jon Plowman (The Office, Fawlty Towers, Absolutely Fabulous, every other British production ever) to join him for his session on The Craft. That man can talk. (Greenstein, that is. I'm sure Plowman can, too, but he didn't get a chance to prove it much this time.) Luckily, he was funny and biting and full of advice for the roomful of writers and producers.
A week and a half later, I was home finishing up an article about that session, combined with that of House's David Hoselton's, when my email notifier popped up. I had a new message from a "Jeff" with the subject line "I sure can talk ...". I knew there was something familiar about that phrasing but couldn't quite place it (it had been about 10 days since I'd written that post, after all, and in the meantime I'd written a lot of other posts). So when I opened it to see the full name of the sender, a name I'd just finished typing a few dozen times, my poor little brain had a few moments of confusion trying to process the fact that the person I was writing about -- someone I'd never met, never talked to, who had no reason to know of my existence – had just written to me at the exact same time.

Thank god the man is a comedy writer and took my comments in the lighthearted way I'd intended (Plowman in fact contributed greatly to the session, but, well, Greenstein sure can talk, and he was the advertised speaker so Plowman often acted as interviewer). The entire text of his email was: "But I also appreciate a kind word when I read it. Thanks for that." So while he was clearly totally cool about it, I tried to remove my foot from my mouth and also explained the coincidence of timing. Naturally that fun-if-freaky exchange led to me eventually asking him for an interview, which he graciously granted last week.

I thought I might incorporate this story into the article, but as you see, I couldn't figure out how to make it concise, so consider this the deleted scene.

Interview: Jeff Greenstein of Desperate Housewives

Last week I interviewed Jeff Greenstein, writer/producer with Desperate Housewives, so that article is now posted to Blogcritics (I heard him talk at Banff so I've written about him before in my Craft post - I'll have a little story about how this interview came to happen tomorrow). It covers some of my usual suspects: non-spoilery info on the upcoming season, his reflections on the show, the writing process, how the Internet is changing the fandom, and even a little science geekery (the title of this blog is a wink to my interest in physics, after all):
  • Housewives in Hovercrafts: An Interview With Desperate Housewives Writer/Producer Jeff Greenstein
    "Desperate Housewives writer, consulting producer, and resident science geek Jeff Greenstein is reading about string theory for fun, but that doesn't meant the women of Wisteria Lane will explore new dimensions of space and time this season. Still, 'the running joke in the writers room this year is that the five-year jump allows us to have everybody going to work in hovercrafts,' the witty Greenstein revealed in a recent interview. 'Yesterday there was a reference to Tom having been injured in the Robot Wars.'" Read more.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Listen now: Everest on TV, eh? Blogtalkradio

Actor Eric Johnson (Flash Gordon, Smallville, Legends of the Fall) and director Graeme Campbell (Instant Star, Degrassi: The Next Generation, The Eleventh Hour) talk about the arduous and exhilarating shoot for CBC’s upcoming Everest, about the arduous and exhilarating climb to the top of the world’s tallest mountain by the first successful Canadian expedition.

The miniseries airs Sunday, August 31 and Monday, Sept. 1 at 8 pm, and the DVD will be available Sept. 16.

Listen in the player below, visit the show site, or subscribe via iTunes or with any other program via the TV, Eh? feed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Upcoming podcast: Everest miniseries

This Sunday, Aug. 17, at 11 am Pacific/2 pm Eastern, the TV, eh? Internet radio show on Blogtalkradio is back. Guests are actor Eric Johnson (Smallville) and director Graeme Campbell (Instant Star) from CBC's upcoming miniseries Everest, airing Aug. 31 and Sept 1 and also starring Jason Priestley, William Shatner, and Leslie Hope. See all the details here.

Listen to TV, eh? on internet talk radio

Things I learned on my summer vacation

  • I'm not designed for heat. I'm not designed for cold either. I'm pretty much designed for room temperature.
  • La Roche-Posay Anthelios sunscreen rocks.
  • Hiking for hours in new sandals, even comfy Clarks, is not wise.
  • Having all your comfy walking sandals synchronize their disintegration immediately prior to a holiday is bad.
  • Most people don't ask if they can post photos of others online; people really appreciate it when you do.
  • Whining about publicists publicly leads to the good kind of publicist spontaneously offering interviews and kind people like Jim Henshaw offering practical and morale-boosting advice, for which I am very grateful.
  • It's still summer. My brain may not know it's back.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bags for Zaza

Oh, did I mention I’d be away? I was away. I’m back. I have nothing to say though, since my brain is still on holidays, so I’ll link to the blog of a former coworker who quietly amazes me. She’s started a project of auctioning off homemade bags to raise funds for a family member’s adoption (a subject close to her heart), and has had tremendous success:
Bags for Zaza is a fundraiser I'm conducting on behalf of my brother-in-law and his family. They are in the process of adopting a little girl from Colombia; we don't know her name yet, so we call her Zaza. My family and I are using the fabric and scraps we already have, as well as donated fabrics and thrift-store finds, to create unique and original messenger bags, totes, and purses. 100% of your purchase price will be donated towards Zaza's adoption.
Bidding starts on Mondays and closes Saturdays - check out the latest crop of bags.