By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
In anticipation of the finalé of the U.S. version of The Office, here’s a transcript of my interview with Greg Daniels, the developer and producer of the show; some of it already made it into my article on the end of the show and its influence. Daniels is good at talking about his shows, particularly their theoretical underpinnings.
Q: Obviously the original show started with the influence of reality TV, as a parody of docu-soaps, but was there any influence of U.S. reality shows on the style of your show?
Greg Daniels: There definitely was, in a number of different ways.
In between the pilot and the first season, I had to hire a writing staff. When you hire a writing staff, it’s a little bit of a dance: you’re reading their scripts and meeting with them, and you’re trying to interest them in your show also.
So when I met with writers, I had kind of a song and dance prepared about why The Office was such an important show, and how it was the first show to incorporate reality-show techniques, and how multi-camera shows were based on a theatre experience that people had shared more in the past, and this show was based more on the experience of using your own camcorder and taping yourself and your friends, and being aware that the camera was in the room with you.
There was an element of BS in that, but the more I pitched it to different writers, the more I worked it out as sort of a philosophy.
Also, between the pilot and the first season, I hired a new director of photography, Randall Einhorn. Randall and the other camera operator, Matt Sohn, who became our DP in the last five years of the show, the two of them had had all this reality-show experience on Survivor and The Apprentice and stuff like that.
So a lot of times we’d have these debates about “what would a reality show do?” about what’s documentary and what isn’t. A lot of times I would say “you can’t show that angle because the cameraman would have just been standing there, and that wouldn’t be very docu.” And Randall would
By Jaime Weinman - Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 10:51 PM - 0 Comments
The U.S. networks have announced most of their cancellations and pickups for the coming season, kicking off the annual round of frantic, high-pressure sales to advertisers and (of course) Canadian networks looking for stuff to simulcast.
This is a more sensible pickup season than the last couple, which is not to say that everything (or anything) is going to work, just that there aren’t a lot of renewals or new shows that seem like obviously bad ideas. This is actually less fun for the outside observer than a season that has stuff Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 10:45 AM - 0 Comments
Any time I’m in the process of writing an article about animation, I feel an urge to haul out this clip. The technology may change; the mantra never does.
Ironically, the episode was done by a studio in New Zealand, the aptly named “Freelance” studios, whose work was not up to the show’s usual standards. Therefore the very quality of the animation proves the point that the script is making.
The other animation clip that might sum up the life of an animator, or maybe just life in general, is this one:
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 5:06 PM - 0 Comments
Well, the TV networks will soon be announcing their new series pickups, and there’ll be a lot to say then – like, how many of the new shows are about serial killers? (The ideal pilot, from a broadcast network point of view, would be a single-camera family comedy about a serial killer who only kills zombies – Dexter meets Modern Family meets The Walking Dead meets some other show that every network executive watches.) In the meantime, I wanted to do a little television-theory post, based on an article I read last week.
Salon’s Willa Paskin looked at a lot of episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and concluded that the show was more historically important than funny. While I don’t agree with the conclusion (or, for that matter, with the idea that Mary Richards is a lovable, perfect character; rather a lot of the best episodes, including the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” portray her as a tightly-wound killjoy, and kind of a cold person), I think it’s great to see older TV shows treated as worthy of serious, in-depth analysis, rather than nostalgia, and since no show is sacred, there’s nothing wrong with concluding that a famous or important show is wanting in some respect.
What reading the article brought home for me, though, is that it’s very difficult for a famous television episode to live up to its reputation: if you go into a famous TV episode expecting it to be incredible – and especially, expecting it to be incredibly funny – it will usually disappoint. When you’ve heard a lot about a television episode, it can’t live up to the hype once you watch it, because its reputation is partly based on the element of surprise. TV moments, particularly in non-serialized TV, become famous because we don’t expect them to be as striking and memorable as they are, and they become legendary among viewers who remember the delight of discovering them by accident. When you discover them on purpose, expecting them to be great, the impact is lost.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 4:46 PM - 0 Comments
I still watch How I Met Your Mother, though like many people who discovered the show in its early years, I’m watching more out of inertia and a desire to find out who the mother is (though I suppose I could just wait for next year’s series finale). This season has not been very good, and I don’t think there’s much of a mystery as to why: it’s a sitcom that has run many years with the exact same regular cast. After 180+ episodes, anything a sitcom can say about the characters is either a repeat of what they’ve said before, or an exaggeration of previously established character traits – which is why sitcom characters tend to become more and more unlikable as the show goes on.
In addition to that problem, How I Met Your Mother has an additional issue that has made it very susceptible to weak episodes: more than any other sitcom I’ve ever seen, even more than Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 3:08 PM - 0 Comments
One thing that’s become even clearer than usual about Mad Men this season is how much of a soundstage-based show it is. Its claustrophobic, indoor nature is built into the material, of course; it’s about people in isolation from everyone around them, and offices where the outside world exists only in a tangential way (as a source of trends, or a place full of sales targets). Its emphasis on indoor filming is Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 11:48 AM - 0 Comments
In some ways, Creator Mike Kelley’s removal as the showrunner of Revenge (it’s a “difficult mutual decision,” which usually means it wasn’t all that difficult for the network or the studio) is bigger news than the firing of Dan Harmon or any of the ten zillion showrunner firings at NBC. The closest comparison is the revolving-door producers at The Walking Dead, but at least there the reasons seem mostly budgetary. Revenge and Kelley, have had bigger problems this year. The show was not only a hit in its first season, it was a critical success and a zeitgeist success. No prime-time soap since the first season of The O.C. had had such an impact. But now it’s looking even weaker than The O.C. did in its middle years. It’s not impossible for a show to start big, burn out in its second year, and then stabilize enough to keep running: Glee will make it to season 6. But the bad publicity around Kelley’s departure, and the perception that the show has run out of ideas, could make it even harder for it to get back on track.
Kelley has seemingly chosen the right spin to put on this situation: reports suggest that he blamed the show’s problems on the need to do 22 episodes a season, and asked ABC to give him 13-episode orders instead. This is an argument that works, whether or not it’s true, because it’s an argument that a lot of people are making. Hannibal and The Following are two recent shows that only do Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 11:22 PM - 0 Comments
So you saw Ted McGinley on Mad Men, right? Fun. I don’t know if it was the way he was made up, or simply because I’m slow on the uptake, but I didn’t quite recognize him at first, and then I slowly started to realize that I’d seen this guy somewhere, and then I finally realized he was McGinley. I think that’s one possible advantage of Mad Men‘s anti-spoiler fetish: because they don’t release any Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 4:35 PM - 0 Comments
One of the least important things that happens after a terrible tragedy is that some TV episodes get pre-empted because of their content. Castle delayed an episode about a bombing, and Hannibal has pulled an episode that the creator decided would not be appropriate to air at this time.
But what’s surprising is not that some episodes get pulled, but that there isn’t that much controversy or scapegoating over the episodes that do air. Public officials often look for someone or something in Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 12:42 PM - 0 Comments
This elaborate and expensive car commercial (via Mark Evanier) is based on the assumption that a lot of people grew up watching Wacky Races. That may well be true. You never know which country a Hanna-Barbera cartoon will be big in – the most famous example being Top Cat, an also-ran cartoon in the U.S. and Canada but one of the biggest hits ever in Mexico.
(For my part, I never saw Wacky Races as a kid but did see Laff-a-Lympics constantly, so I guess it’s more proof that TV cultural knowledge is based mostly on when and where you happened to watch TV. That’s kind of sad, I know.)
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 4:52 PM - 0 Comments
The great thing about the modern world of quasi-legal online video is that when a 24-hour news network screws up, it’s instantly available even to the people who (strange as it may seem) aren’t watching the network all day. Today CNN announced that a suspect had been arrested in the Boston bombing, and had to walk this back within an hour and a half. And an hour later, someone had already put together a video timeline of CNN’s debacle, from “an arrest has been made” at 1:45 to “no arrest has been made” at 2:42.
CNN wasn’t the only organization to make this mistake of confusing “significant progress” in the case with the actual existence of an arrest, though it appeared to be the first. Michael Calderone, in his piece on how the mistake came to be made, lists some other organizations. So this may be picking on CNN, as opposed to the Associated Press or Fox News or other teams. But CNN will become today’s star mistake-maker, both for scooping other teams on the mistake, and for the controversy over John King’s description of the suspect-who-wasn’t-a-suspect. Also, as Alex Berenson notes, some blame probably attaches to the people who are doing the leaking.
Still, these mistakes are harder on 24-hour news channels like CNN and Fox than they are on newspapers or even wire services. With a newspaper, a mistake still isn’t quite “official” until it appears in the print edition, even as the differences between online and print continue to erode. Similarly, networks have their evening news reports as the official spots where they absolutely are expected to get something right (not that they always do). On a 24-hour news channel, every moment is part of the “official” news programming. They used to be protected a bit by the fact that once they said something, it would disappear and be forgotten unless it was particularly egregious, but today, more people have access to the video of the mistakes, and they won’t be superseded by the evening report the way the print edition still – but maybe not for long – supersedes the online version.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 5:48 PM - 0 Comments
Last week the news broke that USA is considering picking up Happy Endings if it gets dropped by ABC. The news was leaked to Nellie Andreeva at Deadline.com, who seems to have a lot of sources at Sony TV, one of the producers of the show (you will recall that when Sony’s Breaking In was on, she had an item about that show’s future seemingly every other week). But if USA does pick up the show, it will make a lot of sense. USA paid out a lot of money a couple of years ago for the off-network rights to Modern Family, hoping to use it to branch out from hour-long drama and get into half-hour comedy. But it hasn’t had much luck in finding original comedies to go with Modern Family: it ordered a lot of pitches and a few pilots, but only one of two of them seem like they could amount to anything. So why not dip into the pool of well-liked comedies that are not quite popular enough to survive on broadcast networks? TBS already did this with Cougar Town, and is doing quite well with it.
I’ve said before that the single-camera, young-skewing half-hour comedy is probably the thing broadcast networks do better than anything else at this point. It plays to all their strengths. The larger budgets and large writing staffs allow the shows to be packed with jokes, as well as minimizing the number of weak characters (with a big enough writing staff and lots of rewrites, eventually most of the characters Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 11:23 PM - 0 Comments
Although Mad Men creator Matt Weiner always makes a big deal about the year a new season is set in – it’s the first of the many things he asks critics not to reveal, or (presumably) face the wrath of AMC publicity people – the fact that Mad Men season 6 takes place near the end of the LBJ presidency is in some ways incidental to Don Draper’s life, maybe all the characters’ lives. One of the oddities of the show is that as it moves into one of the most familiar and visually distinctive eras of Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 4:15 PM - 0 Comments
Terrible news for anyone who loves movies, or reading about movies, or hearing about movies: Roger Ebert has died.
He was only 70, and it was an inspiration to all of us that he had overcome so much bad luck – the cancer that finally killed him, the loss of his speaking voice – and continued to use the power left to him, the power of words and the ability to communicate with an audience through his writing. Two days ago, he announced that he would have to curtail his writing due to his health. So this wasn’t unexpected, but it was still a shock that it happened so soon. We’re all going to have to get used to being without his prolific writing and formidable knowledge of film. And how many film critics were so famous and respected that their deaths rated a statement from the President of the United States?
For Ebert at his best, I would recommend getting a DVD or blu-ray of Citizen Kane and listening to his audio commentary on the film. This is a picture whose importance everyone acknowledges, but before Ebert, it was sometimes hard to explain why it was such a staggering technical achievement, or how Orson Welles did what he did. Ebert spends 120 minutes explaining, in clear but uncondescending terms that laymen can understand, all the special effects that went into the film (“It has as many special effects as Star Wars,” he famously says), the deep-focus shots, the way the characters are placed within the frame and why. It’s partly a master-class in film technique, but more importantly it’s a lesson in how technique informs storytelling; the why of the technique, as well as the how.
There are so many aspects to his career that you could write pages on each one: the young film reviewer, able to relate instinctively to the new American cinema of the late ‘60s and ‘70s in a way that older Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 1:20 PM - 0 Comments
Today NBC officially announced what an endless succession of leaks had already announced for them in advance: Jimmy Fallon will take over The Tonight Show in 2014, and the franchise will move from Los Angeles to New York. Lorne Michaels, Fallon’s mentor, will continue to produce his version of The Tonight Show, giving Michaels almost complete power over NBC’s late night operations, considering he also produces Late Night (which is expected to install another smirking Michaels favourite, Seth Myers) and Saturday Night Live.
Think of it as a form of consolidation. If you’ve ever been in a workplace where a bunch of different departments were shuffled together under the same management, you have an idea of what NBC and Comcast are doing here. They’ll wind up with very little variety in late night, since every show will have the Michaels brand of humour and – if Myers does take over – both the big late night hosts will be smirking youngish white guys who used to sit at the Weekend Update desk. But media companies are more interested in “branding” than variety these days, and having Michaels in charge of everything will give them a “brand” across the whole late-night spectrum.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, March 22, 2013 at 5:07 PM - 0 Comments
In some ways, Matt Seitz’s review of David Mamet’s Phil Spector (premiering Sunday on HBO) says a lot of what I was going to say. And this article from the L.A. Times has given us a look at Mamet’s distortions of fact, not to mention his reduction of Lana Clarkson to nearly a non-person, in his attempt to argue that Spector was railroaded. I’m still going to try and find some words for it. Lurking somewhere in this basically unsatisfying movie, there’s a potentially interesting two-character play; nearly all the best scenes are set in Phil Spector’s house, and feature Al Pacino ranting and raving while Helen Mirren, as Linda Kenney Baden, tries to bring him down to earth. It’s not the freshest Mamet dialogue, and the tension that should develop between the actors isn’t really there. But it works all right as a series of sketches with Pacino as the comic and Mirren as the straight woman, though even in these scenes you feel like the deck is being stacked in favour of Spector: he may be crazy, but he’s the only person in the movie who’s having any fun, so how can we not root for him?
But this is not a play, it’s a 90-minute TV movie, and so we get a law procedural on top of the two-character play. Lots of discussion about guns and bullets and plastic dummies and putting people on the Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:38 AM - 0 Comments
You don’t know how much fun it is to see the Tonight Show wars starting up again. I know that it’s a legacy franchise that is more talked about than watched – remember back in 2010, when so many Conan supporters never watched him until they knew he was leaving – but the position of Tonight host still carries a certain prestige and recognition, and nothing gets people more interested in TV inside-baseball stuff. The best part is, once people start leaking Tonight rumours to the press, more and more rumours are sure to follow; it’s a snowball effect. So the earlier leaks about a plan to replace Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon in 2014 were followed by yesterday’s Bill Carter article, where his sources tell him that Fallon is going to move The Tonight Show back to New York for the first time since the early years of Johnny Carson.
The leak is, in part, meant to demonstrate the depth of commitment NBC has to the move: if they’re working on a new studio in New York, as Carter is informed, then they must really mean business – though on the other hand, they built a big new studio for Conan O’Brien, and look how that turned out. Still, the one thing about moving the show to New York is that it would permanently divorce it from the Leno years, in a way that didn’t happen when O’Brien moved from New York to Los Angeles. Leno is famous for disliking New York (Carter’s sources have claimed that he thinks of New York as Letterman’s town, and hasn’t been able to perform at his best there since the days when he was on the Letterman show). You could cynically say that Fallon has to stay in New York to prevent Leno from following him there. Also, staying in New York might enable Lorne Michaels, Fallon’s patron, mentor and producer, to have more of an active role in the new show; Michaels was not allowed to produce O’Brien’s Tonight Show.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 1:44 PM - 0 Comments
I haven’t had much to say about Girls lately, though I liked the early episodes very much. The show still has many impressive and beautiful moments, but in some ways it’s more of a dark relationship drama than a social comedy, and when it went that way it didn’t hold my interest the way Enlightened did. (Maybe liking Enlightened became my hipster alternative to watching Girls. Though I should say I know a guy who loves Girls but can’t watch Enlightened because he finds Laura Dern’s character too annoying. I guess it’s a matter of what kind of annoyingness you identify with more.) There is no such thing as a show you have to have a strong opinion about, and while Girls is often held up as a love-it-or-hate it kind of show, I’m think the wishy-washy alternative of not loving or hating it is still available to many.
There is a lot of loving or hating of Girls going on out there, though, and I wanted to say a little something about the backlash against the show. After the initial backlash for being too white and insular started to fade a bit, the second season backlash has been very vocal and even personal – there are few shows that have inspired as many angry comments sections on as many publications as this one. There have been many explanations for this, and I’m sure each one can apply to some haters of the show: dislike of the people the show deals with; resentment that it’s being held up by the media as a portrait of a particular generation; greater tolerance for self-indulgent male filmmakers like Louis C.K. than self-indulgent female filmmakers; resentment that Dunham hasn’t “paid her dues.” And yes, there are sexist commenters, though I do think they seem to be outweighed by the people who just hate all the characters. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 12:49 PM - 0 Comments
A friend pointed me to the (long, long) opening credits of this unsold pilot from 1984. Even as a veteran sniffer-outer of TV cheese, I had not known about this one: Aaron Spelling came up with a two-hour pilot for ABC about beautiful women who work by day as aerobics instructors, but work by night as secret agents, riding motorcycles and helicopters and blowing things up with booby-trapped lipsticks. All under the supervision of their tough-but-fair house mother Polly Bergen, and set to a New Wave-ish theme song. Yet ABC turned it down and burned it off as a TV movie. You never know what foolproof ideas those networks will reject.
Believe it or not, there is a little bit of actual serious TV history that goes with this jaw-droppingly ridiculous clip. 1984 was a period of transition for all three of the old networks, as they were in the process of clearing out the shows and programming strategies that had worked for them in the late ’70s, and transitioning into new strategies to deal with increased competition (from cable and home video). ABC Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter has been offering suggestions to the broadcast networks of what they can do to stave off their impending doom. First he suggested that NBC turn itself into a cable network, simply accepting the fact that low ratings are the new normal and operating the way a cable network does. Then he argued that the network model needs a Steve Jobs type of visionary to change it from the ground up. Now he’s suggesting that networks should pledge, in advance, that they will let certain shows they believe in run for a full season, so that we can get into these shows without fear that they’ll disappear too early.
Now, I’m all for giving advice to the broadcast networks – I do it myself, constantly and smugly – but I don’t think these ideas would probably work. When it comes to adopting the cable model, what basic cable networks have going for them above all is not their willingness to take risks, nor their ability to greenlight personal shows, nor even their greater freedom on language (broadcast networks pretty much pulled even with cable long ago when it comes to bloodshed). Their biggest advantages are, one, they have a revenue stream based on people who buy their service as part of a package, whether they want to watch the channel or not; and two, they don’t have to program a full week of original material to make money. The biggest adjustment cable people make when they move to broadcast, and the thing that trips them up the most, is that they have to put on so much original programming. Some of it is good, some of it is terrible, some of it is in-between, but it all has to go on the air.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 11:13 AM - 0 Comments
Everyone’s always talking about movie continuations of cancelled TV series. Mostly Arrested Development, where the team recently revealed that they don’t have a script or a studio, but they continue to tell us that the Netflix episodes are leading into this unmade movie. But the creator and star of Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell, are taking a more sensible tack: they’re telling fans that they can have a movie if they help finance it.
In one of the most ambitious Kickstarter projects to date, Thomas and Bell are trying to raise $2 million to help defray the cost of making the film. Warner Brothers, which owns the show but expressed doubts about whether there’s a market for such a movie (the disappointing box-office of Serenity was probably a big blow to other cult TV shows trying to get movies made), has agreed to make the film if they can reach their fundraising goal. I suppose even a low-budget film would wind up costing the studio more than what they raise on Kickstarter, if you include all the costs that go into production, marketing and distribution – but meeting the Kickstarter goal would help reduce the studio’s risk; it would also prove, maybe even more importantly, that there are people out there who like Veronica Mars so much that they’re willing to pay money for it, a much better sign for a movie than people who are willing to watch it for free.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, March 11, 2013 at 11:37 AM - 0 Comments
This is the sort of thing that warms the heart of sitcom buffs and probably drives everyone else crazy: someone gathered all the Petticoat Junction introductions together in one video, to show how a sitcom intro developed through multiple cast changes, the switch from black-and-white to colour, and the final collapse into a show where hardly any of the original cast is left. I wish someone would do this for One Day at a Time (all the intros are online, but not grouped together in one video like this). As someone has noted, this is one of the reasons why many shows today avoid elaborate intros with the characters in them: when actors leave, or new characters are added, you don’t have to go out and reshoot everything.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, March 11, 2013 at 10:55 AM - 0 Comments
Because there are certain things you can’t get away with saying or doing in ad-supported TV, the medium has often used genre stories, like fantasy and science fiction, to say those things covertly. And another fertile ground for hidden meanings is the period piece, where M*A*S*H could tell Vietnam stories at a time when Vietnam was still off-limits outside the news. One thing about The Americans, a period piece and a sort of genre piece (the espionage thriller form that shows like 24 and Homeland have helped to codify for modern TV), is how it uses its genre trappings and ’80s setting to deal with things that another drama – a modern-dress show, a realistic show – probably couldn’t.
On the level of genre entertainment, The Americans is a suspense piece about Russian spies with perfect American accents, and since people like Matthew Rhys are taking American actors’ jobs with their perfect American accents, it’s not such a fantasy – it can happen here. On the emotional level, it’s a show about marriage, where the missions teach the characters something about the secrets, lies and differences of opinion inherent in making a marriage work. The mission in episode # 5, for example, is explicitly set up to be about the issue of how much married people should tell each other and how much they should trust each other, and episode # 6 is all about the dangers of trusting anyone – your spouse, strangers in cars, lovers, governments. (If there’s one thing TV has taught us, is that you can’t handle a case effectively if you cannot somehow connect it to your personal life.) But like many good period pieces, it has a resonance beyond its own time and place. For one thing, it works surprisingly well as a War on Terror story. Or if you don’t want to get that specific, as a story that deals with some of the security issues that are on our minds today, but that would be impossible in a modern setting, or without the slightly campy trappings of the period thriller form.
When I say you couldn’t do The Americans in a modern setting, I mean you probably couldn’t get away with it. The basic idea of the show is to tell a national-security story from the point of view of the enemy, and not just the enemy, but the enemy within: people whose mission is to fulfil our worst paranoid fears by infiltrating our society and working to take it down. (In TV’s best bipartisan tradition, Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:23 AM - 0 Comments
Yes, I know, it’s early to speculate about the future of Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon on the basis of some unsourced rumours. And I also know that the story of a network trying to replace Jay Leno with a younger man has already played out, and remakes are never as much fun. But while I have no idea if the linked story is real or just a rumour somebody put out to see how the public would react, it’s a given that the network will try to replace Leno with Fallon at some point, and now is as good a time as any to discuss how the situation differs from the situation in that long-ago, far-away time when Heroes was still on television.
Leno remains, to the consternation of many (including me, I’m afraid), the #1 late-night host: #1 in viewers, #1 in 18-49. Jimmy Kimmel hasn’t changed that, not yet anyway. He just seems to be the default choice for many people – particularly, I suspect, people who like topical humour but aren’t liberals. Leno carries on that old tradition of delivering the day’s news in humorous form and with no partisan edge (or any edge) to it. That gave him an advantage over Conan O’Brien, who’s never been very interested in political humour; one reason affiliate stations preferred Leno was that his show was a better fit with the 11 o’clock news, because viewers would watch the news and then wait around to hear Leno’s jokes about the news they had just heard. He’s the late-night comic for the old media viewers, and there are still enough of those viewers to keep him in business.
On the other hand, Leno’s position now is probably less secure than it was back when O’Brien was taking over. Back then, the network promised O’Brien the job five years in advance, probably hoping or expecting that Leno’s ratings would decline by the time he left. Instead, he remained popular enough that there were competing offers for him, particularly at ABC, which was considering bringing Leno in at 11:30 and bumping Kimmel to 12:30. Jeff Zucker panicked and did whatever it could to keep Leno from defecting, and the solution he came up with was the crazy 10:00 experiment. (Which, by the way, looks a lot Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:18 AM - 0 Comments
This piece, “If people talked about Seinfeld like they talk about Girls“, has gotten a lot of positive attention, but I think there’s a flaw in the point it’s making. It’s trying to apply these criticisms to Seinfeld to show how ridiculous they are, and how the people who make them about Girls are applying a double standard. But most of these criticisms are perfectly legitimate criticisms to make about either show. And in fact, people did make most of these criticisms about Seinfeld at the time. Jerry is too much of an annoying, ordinary-looking twerp to get so many beautiful women; the characters are selfish jerks; nothing happens – these sound like my father’s reasons for not liking Seinfeld. They don’t apply if you find the show funny, as many millions of people did, but they’re not self-evidently silly.
So I think the author is almost proving the opposite of the point he’s trying to make. Because most of these anti-Girls arguments are ones that people would naturally make about a comedy they don’t like, and because they make just as much sense from the point of view of someone who doesn’t like Seinfeld, the piece suggests that there isn’t as much of a double standard as the writer thinks.
I’m not denying that there are people who would be less rough on Girls if it were Boys. But unlikable characters, lack of plot, and self-indulgence are open to criticism in any comedy with selfish characters, small-scale stories, and a creator/star. It’s just a question of whether we thought it worked or not, and then the question is why we thought that way. Maybe we thought the characters were selfish without being funny, or they crossed certain boundaries that separate selfish from hateful (as the Seinfeld characters arguably did in the finale). But this is where the disagreements take place, not on whether the objection itself is illegitimate. If the show is not amusing to you, then, yes, the characters will come off as “selfish, petty narcissists.”
There is one argument that I think the article scores a direct and solid hit against, and that is the argument about nepotism. That argument has always been absurd, since it has nothing to do with the quality of the work we see, and so it is exposed as absurd when he notes that Julia Louis-Dreyfus also has a rich relative most of us have never heard of. That’s a good comeback. But for the rest, I think it rests on the fallacy that a) People didn’t make these criticisms about Seinfeld (when they did) and b) There is never a good reason to make these criticisms (when there is).
Update: Kelli Marshall has gathered some examples of actual ’90s Seinfeld-bashing. Quotes like “Seinfeld is the worst, last gasp of Reaganite, grasping, materialistic, narcissistic, banal self-absorption” and “Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine never spoke for my New York.”