Monday, May 31, 2010

Banff World Television Festival 2010

Barring circumstances beyond my control (i.e., death, dismemberment, or a job interview), I’m headed to the Banff World Television Festival from June 13-16. The TV festival is now combined with the NextMedia new media festival, since the distinction between the two has become so blurred.

It’ll be my fourth time there, which doesn’t mean I’m blasé about it. It’s still the one event that really gets my geek juices flowing. Unlike fan-based events such as PaleyFest - which I also enjoy - Banff is a conference for the makers of television, who pay a lot of money to attend, meaning it’s not tilted towards public relations fluff so much as the nuts and bolts of making and promoting shows. That said, there’s a lot of star power arriving at Banff this year.

At a festival where writers are rock stars, it’s hard to say whether William Shatner and Ricky Gervais will eclipse or be eclipsed by the creators of shows such as Breaking Bad (Vincent Gilligan), Dexter (James Manos), Glee (Ian Brennan), or The Big Bang Theory (Bill Prady, who hates me). They’re all speaking at Master Class or Feature Interview sessions.

Producers for The Good Wife (David Zucker) and So You Think You Can Dance (Nigel Lythgoe) will speak, and attendees will be able to catch a screening for Running Wilde (starring Will Arnett and Keri Russell), a panel on Call Me Fitz (starring Jason Priestley), and previews for Rookie Blue, Shattered, and Haven.

There’s a coterie of Canadian actors appearing to discuss the star system (and, presumably, the relative lack thereof in Canada) and how it can help or hinder a show. Eric McCormack – who I’ll also be seeing at Vancouver’s Stanley Theatre this summer, where he’s performing in Glengarry Glen Ross – is the one who’s made his name in the US, while Peter Keleghan, Kenny Hotz, and Zaib Shaikh are more recognizable as stay-at-home actors.

I’ve always loved Illeana Douglas, who went from quirky actress to quirky web series pioneer. Her latest is Easy to Assemble and she’s part of a panel on Webisodes vs. Episodes.

I’m especially interested in what Matt Mason has to say (not THAT Matt Mason, those who know me from OBS). He’s the author of The Pirate’s Dilemma– How Youth Culture Invented Capitalism, and he’ll talk about how “illegal forces within the entertainment industry have always contributed to its development and that the best way to deal with these forces is to compete with them head on.” Unfortunately he’s speaking at the same time as James Manos of Dexter, so if my cloning project doesn’t pay off soon I’ll have to make a choice.

I'll be writing about topics that come up at the festival and interviewing some of the participants for TV, eh? and Blogcritics so stay tuned for more rambling.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My lilypad for a ladder

From Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island:

When you get a frog to paint your house, you gotta give him a ladder.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thou Art Just Plain Wrong

I’d been thinking my next post would be a lighthearted rant against grammar snobs who try to train the universe in the lessons they remember from grammar school. I have many dear friends who I love very much who take pride in looking down on people who violate the rules as they see them, and I’d posit they’re not only misguided but often they're just plain wrong. That rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition? That’s the most nonsensical grammar “rule” that even most modern-day grammarians don’t accept as a rule.

Maybe that’s why I picked a fight with The Big Bang Theory creator Bill Prady on Twitter. That and I love a good debate on nerdy subjects. That and apparently I didn’t really want that interview with him during the Banff World Television Festival after all.

Today, he seemingly randomly started a string of tweets instructing his followers on word usage and pronunciation, one of which was dictating against the use of alright.

Coincidentally, I’d just linked to an article from TV, eh? to the Toronto Star headlined “Murdoch star alright being wrong.” The usage surprised me because most publications avoid it - I avoid it - exactly because of grammar snobs like Prady who see it as a less educated form of all right, despite accepting that altogether and already are already in standard usage.

The man created The Big Bang Theory, not the big bang. If there were a grammar deity, I’d like to think s/he would preach evolution and tolerance of regional differences and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Language evolves. If it didn’t, Prady’s Sheldon and Leonard would be spouting Old English. If Prady wrote all his characters’ dialogue in grammar sanctioned by a style guide, he’d never have made it as a professional TV writer; people don’t talk that way. For the most part, they don’t write that way, either. I’m guessing Sheldon does, but like Data in Star Trek, that in itself is a character tic.

Another person interjected with a link to Stephen Fry – a master of the language himself – who said it better than I ever could:
There are all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynne Truss and John Humphrys than to write poems, love-letters, novels and stories it seems. They whip out their Sharpies and take away and add apostrophes from public signs, shake their heads at prepositions which end sentences and mutter at split infinitives and misspellings, but do they bubble and froth and slobber and cream with joy at language? Do they ever let the tripping of the tips of their tongues against the tops of their teeth transport them to giddy euphoric bliss? Do they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it? Do they use language to seduce, charm, excite, please, affirm and tickle those they talk to? Do they? I doubt it. They’re too farting busy sneering at a greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe. Well sod them to Hades. They think they’re guardians of language. They’re no more guardians of language than the Kennel Club is the guardian of dogkind.
Language can be beautiful. It can be messy. Sometimes the beauty is in the mess, and the ugliness is people trying to tame it.

Prady took our disagreement well, though, ending by telling me: "You can have an interview -- it will be limited to the correct spelling of 'all right,' though."

CBC May End Up Shooting Never Shoot a Stampede Queen

I heard a rumour that was true - CBC is developing the Leacock medal-winning book Never Shoot a Stampede Queen for television. Writer Mark Leiren-Young gave me the scoop for TV, eh?:
  • TV, eh? Interview: CBC May End Up Shooting Never Shoot a Stampede Queen
    "I think the Cariboo Chilcotin is totally ready for another close-up. When I was in Williams Lake to do a reading of the book last year there was a crime wave where teenaged girls were holding up convenience store clerks with machetes. Just last week Williams Lake came second on the list of the 'worst places to live in Canada.' This is a place with enough wild stories to run as long as The Beachcombers. It’s also insanely photogenic — a fantastic mix of wild west frontier and industrial wasteland." Read more.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Not the timeliest of posts: In defence of Friends

So, that Lost finale. Didn’t it make you think about Friends and how it was cleverer than it’s generally given credit for?

Just me then? Let me explain before you call me crazy.

I gave up on Lost sometime while watching the season one DVDs. Nothing against the show, just not my thing, and I was far too spoiled from casting news by the time I could catch up with it. But I know enough to know that it inspired some spectacularly clever thinking in fans who analyzed and followed its twists to an end that, by some accounts, paid off emotionally if not intellectually. I can’t and wouldn’t argue that Lost wasn’t clever, but some argue that the complex mythology equals an intelligent show. I could and would argue that Byzantine does not equal intelligent. The show’s themes were as big as you can get, though: the meaning of life and death and smoke monsters.

So that’s what got me thinking about how we evaluate whether a show is “smart” or not. That label is usually, unfortunately applied to failing shows as a way to justify why the masses aren’t watching: Arrested Development, The Wire. Because calling people stupid is a great way to get them to look favourably on your pet show. Both shows were great – The Wire arguably the greatest of them all. But saying a television show is too smart for the masses is like a guy saying he can’t get a date because he’s too nice. There’s always so much more to the explanation, and the excuse just reeks of the pathetic.

No one watches it though critics love it? Smart show. Big themes? Smart show. Educated protagonists? Smart show. Those indicators are actually pretty decent. But they’re not exclusive. And they lead to the fallacy that if a show is popular, focuses on the minutia of life, and has working-class protagonists, it's not smart.

I was never a big fan of Frasier, though given the endless reruns and my fondness for Niles’ should-have-been-futile pining for Daphne, I’ve probably seen nearly every episode. I thought Frasier was an arrogant, annoying gasbag. Some people thought that was his charm; I didn’t. A coworker once gave me permission not to like it by saying it was highbrow and so not to everyone’s taste. Sorry, but a joke about Freud where you don’t actually have to know anything about Freud other than what Niles thinks of him doesn’t make that joke too intelligent for popular consumption. Frasier was well-written, but there was nothing intellectually inaccessible about it. But it was about a highly educated, pretentious character with highbrow interests, so it’s safe to consider it intelligent.

Friends, on the other hand, was about six people who hung out in a coffee shop. Other than Ross and possibly Chandler – who the hell knew what he did anyway - none of them had jobs requiring higher education. Joey was really, really dumb (except sometimes when the joke depended on him being not quite so dumb). The plots often revolved around sitcomized familiar situations, like splitting the cheque in a group with disparate incomes, or what happens when a friend dates someone you don’t like, or revealing that your father is a drag queen. During its long, too long run, it was incredible the number of times I’d be talking to my actual friends and someone would say “remember that Friends episode where…” to explain something that happened in their real life.

It’s not cool to love Friends. It’s not smart to extol its intelligence. Yet its ability to craft a 22-minute character study that spoke to everyday life is an under-appreciated art. Jane Austen and Anne Tyler are often dismissed by those who can’t see depth in the quotidian. I say the same’s true of Friends, on a popular sitcom scale. It managed to be frequently laugh out loud funny – the real life kind, not the LOL internet kind – with cleverly constructed jokes on which Jane Espenson could base a joke-writing textbook.

I’m not at all saying Friends is more intelligent than Lost or Frasier. I am saying that our own intelligence is often blinded by the trappings of cleverness – complication, or highbrow name dropping, for example – and we often can’t see brilliance in simplicity. Friends was deceptively simple, deceptively clever. As sitcom after sitcom has proven since, that's not at all easy to duplicate.

Now you can call me crazy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Star John Ralston Sells Living In Your Car With Optimism

I'm not sold on the series, but John Ralston actually made me appreciate it more.

The Trotsky: Just another feel-good comedy about a kid who thinks he’s the reincarnation of an assassinated Marxist

Before it even premiered in Canada, The Trotsky had earned its writer/director a Writers Guild of Canada award along with accolades from various film festivals. Jacob Tierney, whose previous film Twist was a gay update on Oliver Twist, this time focuses on a Montreal high school student (played by Jay Baruchel) who thinks he’s a reincarnation of Leon Trotsky.

The First Weekend Club had a screening of the film in Vancouver on Tuesday, with a funny and charming Tierney introducing the film via Skype video chat to an audience who chose one of Canadian film’s best efforts over the Vancouver Canucks’ last gasp. Before some good-natured rivalry (“I understand you have a professional sports team out there”), the Habs fan compared his two features.

“I think they’re not that different, which I know on the surface is ridiculous,” he said. “I think they both come from adolescent impulses. Twist is a film in which everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The Trotsky is a movie in which everything that can go right does go right. Not to ruin the ending. I consider those both to be adolescent ideas, that the world is either black or white, one or the other.”

Now 30, Tierney wrote The Trotsky years before it was filmed. “I really struggled to stay true to the impulse when I wrote it, when I was young, that I really wanted this kid to win. I wanted to give him absolutely everything he wanted. I felt the movie owed it to him.”

His unconventional upbringing factored into the subject matter, which is both a comedic and poignant take on class struggles and youth disaffection. “My parents were Maoist travelling hippies and I grew up in China and India and all over the place,” he explained, looking to his Vancouver-based sister Brigid for confirmation … and expressing amused shock that she wasn’t in the audience as expected (a hockey fan, perhaps?)

“We came back to Canada and now my father’s this big capitalist producer. So I think I was acutely aware of class because I watched my own family march from the working class into the upper middle class – which is generous – let’s say above that now – my whole life. So I’ve always been aware of that. I don’t think you make a movie about a guy who thinks he’s Trotsky unless you think of things like that.”

The Trotsky opens Friday across Canada.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Comedy Legend David Steinberg On Living In Your Car

I was intimidated and excited at the chance to interview this guy briefly. He couldn't have been more gracious, and what a career.
  • TV, eh? interview: Comedian/Director/Producer David Steinberg on Living In Your Car
    "The man has appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show more often than anyone but Bob Hope. His David Steinberg Show first assembled the talent who would become SCTV. He’s worked with Groucho Marx and directed Newhart and Seinfeld. His irreverent sermons won over audiences at Second City and got the Smothers Brothers thrown off the air. I made him talk about his cameos as the rabbi on Mad About You." Read more.