By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 0 Comments
Well, it took a while, but Chevy Chase finally “parted ways” with Community. We’ll have to wait until the inevitable Community oral history (which should be fantastic) to find out whether he jumped out or was pushed. But he’s gone, and he’ll be written out of the last couple of episodes of the season – the last couple of episodes of the series, if it doesn’t get renewed.
It’s the way Chevy Chase’s professional relationships usually seem to end, from Saturday Night Live onward. Being cast in Community , at the suggestion of NBC then-chairman Ben Silverman, was his opportunity to re-invent himself as a character actor and open himself up to a new audience. (The network, in turn, expected him to attract more viewers in their ’40s who remembered him from the days when he was a movie star.) Instead he’s probably wound up destroying what was left of his career. When Community ends, several of the actors will be in huge demand – Donald Glover arguably tops the list of potential stars, but they’re all going to have offers. Chase will not. It just seems unlikely that anyone will give him a major part in a TV series again, given the way he behaved.
The thing that comes across in Chase’s behaviour, or reports of his behaviour, is something that Zack Handlen pointed out on Twitter: Chase seems to act like someone who has no idea that he’s no longer a star. Not that disruptiveness is acceptable for a star in theory, but in practice, stars can get away with that sort of thing – they’re not expendable. As we’ve seen with Charlie Sheen and others, if the star of the show makes a nuisance of himself, it takes a whole lot to get him fired. But supporting players are expendable, which is why they tend to have to learn to be diplomatic and not cause trouble. Chase acted like Chevy Chase, star, when to save his career he needed to adjust to being Chevy Chase, character actor. It’ll be interesting to read more about this – as more details eventually come out – and get a sense of whether he couldn’t adjust to not being the centre of attention, or whether he just had no idea that the whole show wasn’t about him.
Also, as to whether this could bring Dan Harmon back to the show if it gets renewed for another season: that seems unlikely. While Harmon’s feud with Chase was widely publicized, it probably wasn’t the main reason for his dismissal – because nobody can get along with Chevy Chase. When the current producers clashed with Chase, it was Chase who went, so it’s doubtful that that particular conflict was what drove the first high-profile Community departure (if you don’t count that love-interest who disappeared between the first and second seasons).
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:49 AM - 0 Comments
A show can be a hit, but if its viewers are over 49, chances are it’ll get the axe
A television show can get ratings and still be a failure. That’s what viewers of Harry’s Law discovered, to their chagrin, when the series was cancelled by NBC even though it was the network’s most popular scripted show. The drama, which earned an Emmy nomination for star Kathy Bates, had an average of eight million viewers per episode, compared to four million for the network’s flagship show The Ofﬁce, and fewer than that for renewed shows like 30 Rock and Parenthood. But most of Harry’s Law’s viewers were over the age of 50, and in modern TV, advertisers only pay high prices for viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. “It’s just harder to monetize that older audience,” NBC president Robert Greenblatt bluntly explained after cancelling the show. “Any rational person would argue a hit show with an older audience is better than no hits at all,” says Rick Ellis, founder of the news site All Your TV. “But broadcast television executives are not always known for their rational behaviour.”
Young adult viewers have been TV’s target demographic for decades, because they’re thought to have less brand loyalty and more disposable income. That didn’t make as much difference back when television shows reached a broader audience: if a show was a hit with old people, like The Golden Girls, it usually “brought in enough younger viewers to be viable,” explains Brian Lowry, chief TV critic for Variety. But today, Ellis says, the young audience is “fragmenting and moving to cable,” so different generations are often watching completely different shows. “The problem with the broadcast networks chasing the younger demo is that most of the time they aren’t reaching them,” Ellis adds.
That means there are an increased number of shows only older people watch, and advertisers don’t consider those shows to be hits. Jesse Stone, Tom Selleck’s series of TV detective movies, brought in a large audience of almost 13 million people—but only 10 per cent of those people were under 50, and the series was cancelled. So was CSI: Miami, which remained very popular with total viewers but looked mediocre in the 18-to-49 age group, or the “key demo” as show business trades call it. The need to attract young people also affects the casting of shows that stay on the air: shows like NCIS surround older stars with mostly young casts, and the recent revival of Dallas gives most of the screen time to a new cast of young, pretty people.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, April 2, 2012 at 10:35 AM - 0 Comments
The feud between Chevy Chase and Community creator Dan Harmon has been publicized rather suddenly. It’s only coming into the public (or at least Deadline.com) eye now even though the feud erupted a month ago while the show was finishing up its final episodes of the season. When something gets into the news at a certain time, you have to wonder why it’s only coming up now, and I wonder if this is somehow related to the changing circumstances of that show. When Harmon gave his angry party speech and Chase left his angry phone message, a lot of people on the show thought it was likely to be canceled. Now it’s back, and doing not great, but well enough that a fourth season is almost guaranteed. (Not only are its ratings OK by NBC standards, its audience is very young and it attracts more male viewers than most comedies. A show that can attract young male viewers is always going to find advertisers. Combine that with the Hulu deal and the Comedy Central syndication deal, and a five-year run – or six-year run, to use one of their running gags – seems likely.) So that’s when stories from both camps start leaking to Reddit and the press, with everyone positioning themselves for the awkwardness of the season to come.
I find it funny to learn, from that Deadline.com article, that casting Chevy Chase on the show was Ben Silverman’s idea. Silverman was known for making decisions that sounded good in theory (let’s remake The Bionic Woman!) and didn’t work out so well in practice (Bionic Woman). Casting Chase, who was always notoriously tough to work with, may be just another Silverman decision that sounded better than it worked. The idea was probably that since the show was expected to have a more mainstream, broad-based appeal, putting Chase on the show would give it some appeal to baby boomers. In practice, baby boomers don’t watch the show, and the people who do watch the show are more interested in all the other cast members. So Silverman’s decision, if it was his, gave the writers extra headaches for no conceivable ratings reward.
The one thing I wonder after hearing these stories is whether the writing for Chase’s character would be better if the role were played by someone the writers liked. The writing for the Pierce character has never been strong, and except for a brief period when they seemed to be making him the token evil troublemaker of the group (which I thought was actually working) they didn’t have a clear idea of what to do with him. I usually chalk this up to the fact that it’s really hard to write an old person in a TV comedy: TV comedy is a young writer’s medium, so they’re best at writing people their own age or a little bit older or younger. But the writers have come up with some good old-man jokes for the Richard Erdman character. No writer ever sets out to write poorly for a character, even if it’s played by an actor they don’t like. But some communication between actor and writers – not friendliness, just communication – probably does make for a better or more consistent character.
Two tangentially related notes: One other reason why the old person is usually the Acceptable Target of modern comedy is that there’s been a shift in stereotypes, and particularly stereotypes about who is out of touch with technology. Once upon a time, old people were portrayed much more positively in popular culture – look at an old movie and the old person is likely to be a font of wisdom, or at least no crazier than the young people. But back then, many of the jokes about being out of touch, technologically illiterate, and so on were divided along regional lines. In pop culture, people who couldn’t figure out how to work new technology or were stuck in the past were rural people, of whatever age. As the city mouse/country mouse split became less relevant, the technological divide became more clearly an age divide. So elderly people took over as the acceptable targets for those jokes.
Second, the greatest crazy out-of-touch old man character on modern TV probably has to be this guy:
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 1:56 PM - 1 Comment
Last night Community ended its second and not final season, where it became a breakout show in terms of fandom: the ratings weren’t there, but it became probably the most passionately-loved series on regular broadcast TV, as well as gaining more fans within the industry.
I have had my problems with the show this season, but before I say anything about that I want to talk a little bit about what the show has done right – because I think when a show touches this much of a nerve, it must be doing something very right. (This applies to seemingly lowbrow shows as well as cult favourites, of course.) I think Community, a famously post-modern show, is to TV what post-modern art has been in a lot of areas: a chance to reconcile the pleasures of the old with those of the new.
Much of today’s audience, and certainly the people who both write and watch Community, were raised in a TV-saturated environment; they know all its traditional tricks, and can go on the internet and learn even more about them through TVTropes.org and other resources. Television has been de-mystified, because thanks to interviews with producers and Twitter accounts and DVD commentaries and all the rest, we on the outside know more than we ever did about how these things are put together. That made us cynical, and a lot of televised entertainment for the last 10 years has been sort of in revolt against the old clichés. The most popular shows still tend to be the ones that use these clichés straightforwardly (American Idol) or tweak them just a little bit before using them more or less straight after all (NCIS). But the writers and viewers who want something more, or something different, are often looking to subvert them. In TV comedy, the gold standard for that approach is Arrested Development, a show that was the anti-sitcom for 19 minutes followed by 30 seconds of obligatory heartfelt emotion.
But, like modern music or modern art, modern – maybe even modernist – TV can be wearying; viewers raised on TV sitcoms long for their simple pleasures just as concert-goers long for a good tune. A lot of post-modern music is about bringing back the stuff that modernism rejected (tunes, tonal harmony) but doing so in a way that adds a layer of ironic commentary, so we know we’re not just listening to a pastiche, that it’s not kitsch.
Community is doing sort of the same thing. As everyone agrees, it’s a deconstruction of sitcom tropes. Most ensemble Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 1:09 PM - 1 Comment
I was rightly dinged in comments to a previous post for putting in snarky asides about Community and its fandom into other posts. (Criticizing a show is fine. Randomly snarking on people who like and analyze it is just a cheap shot, on the same low level as hacky jokes about people who watch reality shows.) I’ll stop that.
You can see why that kind of snark is wrong when you read reports of the Community PaleyFest panel, and the genuine pleasure the show brings to its fans as well as its great relationship with the people who love it. Some shows either ignore their fans or openly bait them, like Joss Whedon does. The producers of Community don’t give the fans everything they want, but they do signal, not only through online media but more importantly on the show itself, that they’re aware of concerns the fans have. Essentially, anything that fans worry about — is there too much relationship stuff, is Pierce becoming too much of a creep — will soon be addressed on the show; it might not be resolved in the way that each individual fan wants, but each individual fan will get the impression that the writers are not ignoring these issues:
“We talk about it a lot… we get some feedback from the fans, and a theme out there after some of the recent episodes is that Pierce is getting too mean”, he [writer Garrett Donovan] admitted. “But we definitely, down the road this season, we address that.”
That, I think, helps explain why Community connects with fans in a way that few shows do. Most television shows are insular. The episodes have to be made so fast that there was rarely time to address fan concerns even if they wanted to. Producers would read letters from fans, maybe get a sense of what people were saying on the internet, Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 3:59 PM - 7 Comments
This was not unexpected given that Parks & Recreation does okay after The Office and Community has become The Show in its second season (not the most popular show, not even the one that will win Emmys, but the one that has the most buzz around it), but NBC has taken both of those comedies off the bubble and renewed them for 2011-12.
Bob Greenblatt’s statement that Community is “a solid foundation for Thursday night” sounds ominously like he’s planning to keep it at 8 on Thursdays, which I think would be a bad sign, not for the show (which has proven it can do just enough to survive anywhere, at least while NBC has worse problems) but for the network’s willingness to be aggressive and not settle for low ratings in important time slots. Though you could argue that, especially if Idol remains on Thursday next season, NBC’s chances of regaining any kind of leadership on Thursdays are pretty much gone and they should concentrate on trying to find hit shows on other nights. Whatever; the network will have plenty of holes to fill and a show like Community, with a small but indestructably loyal (and demographically-desirable) audience, is perfectly capable of filling them.
The reputation of Community, as I said, has developed very quickly from a sort of charming cult show into the most worshipped comedy since, probably, Arrested Development. (And it looks like it will end up making more episodes than Arrested Development ever did.) Modern Family creator Steven Levitan said a while back that he “like[d] some aspects of Community,” causing Dan Harmon to get really angry at what he saw as a damning-with-faint-praise insult. This season Levitan has been effusive about how great Community is, and it’s gone from a show that was neglected by the Emmys to one that many showrunners worship — it’s the show they wish they were making.
I preferred the first season, or rather the second half of the first season. I theoretically love it when shows do different types of episodes every week, and one thing I’m grateful to Community for is that it’s showing the importance of the individual episode as a unit, at a time when many shows have given up on it and go into full-fledged soap opera (or in the case of sitcoms, two or three little stories woven together with no real unity of approach). But I just found it funnier last year. My reaction to a lot of the “big” episodes sometimes winds up being silent admiration (except for the Christmas episode, which I didn’t like); the “little” episodes are usually the ones that make me laugh, even when (like “Mixology Certification”) they’re not particularly jokey.
Obviously the show deserved to be renewed and I’m glad it was. I wonder if the show’s new status in the industry will be reflected in the Emmy nominations — or if it’s still not popular enough with some voters (older voters, perhaps? voters who find it too gimmicky?) to get over the hump. We’ll see; I’d expect Modern Family to dominate again, since like Community (and 30 Rock) it represents much of what insiders think a sitcom can be at its best, and it has the advantage (from an Emmy-winning point of view) of being a hit.
As to Parks & Recreation‘s Emmy chances, I have even less of a clue; it’s my favourite current sitcom but while it did get a nomination for Amy Poehler, it’s not clear just how far its reputation has spread, and its late start this season might not help. Rob Lowe probably raised its profile a bit, but I would still expect some Showtime thing to get the nomination instead.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 3:11 PM - 0 Comments
And now comes one of the bigger nights of this wild premiere season — though another night that probably won’t produce a breakout hit. Except for Lone Star (where the network had to make a special announcement that they’d be showing a second episode) and last night’s The Whole Truth, there have been no out-and-out flops among the new shows. But there haven’t been any out-and-out smash hits either: NBC’s The Event was probably the best performer relative to its time slot, while Hawaii 5-0 and Mike and Molly both did well but not terrific considering their plum time slots. Most of the new shows are like that, doing OK but not great but not terrible either. Which ones stay on and which ones get canceled will depend on how they do in future weeks and what the network has waiting in the wings, plus the network executives’ opinions. (Cougar Town, for example, continues to do very poorly given its time slot, losing a huge chunk of Modern Family‘s audience. But ABC seems to like it, so they might cut loose some other show to keep it on.)
Instead, the big numbers have been posted by returning hits, particularly light n’ fun shows: Two and a Half Men, Modern Family and Glee were all up from last year.
In other ratings tidbits, the season premiere of Being Erica didn’t provide much good news: it was down to only 400,000 on an otherwise good night for the CBC. Since the network didn’t promote its return very much, I’ve heard speculation that this is seen as a possible last hurrah for the show: a chance to wrap things up without much hope of renewal. I guess we’ll see. I personally enjoy the show but have to admit that, because we’d seen her learn her lesson so often, I started to drift away a bit. There’s only so many times a character can learn the same lessons about personal growth.
Now here are tonight’s U.S. “big four” premieres, starting with the much-hyped competitive 8:00 slot:
CBS: The Big Bang Theory
ABC: My Generation
I said just now that the hour is competitive, but in a sense it isn’t: The Big Bang Theory is likely to win the hour in total viewers and the Coveted Demographic. What makes it interesting is the question of how well it will do — will it get somewhere near what it got after Two and a Half Men, establishing it as a genuine smash hit? Or will some of its viewers prove unwilling to follow it to Thursday, establishing it as a bad night for CBS to try comedy? If the show can do in its new time slot what Glee did its new slot, then it will be a game-changer for its network, which would then move the aging CSI and start a two-hour Thursday comedy block to replace NBC’s. But that’s a huge “if,” which is why everyone’s going to be looking very closely at the numbers.
Then there’s Community. This show is not going to win the night; the question is whether it will hold up enough to get a third season. The quality should be as good Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Wyatt Cenac of ‘The Daily Show’ is helping to kill off pigeonholing
It’s been a tough time for black comedians on TV: Saturday Night Live is only now in talks to add a second regular black cast member, and at the Emmys last week, there were no African-Americans nominated for comic acting. But the winner of the best variety series award, The Daily Show, isn’t going with the trend: writer-performer Wyatt Cenac has become one of the show’s new stars. Cenac, a stand-up comedian and former writer for King of the Hill, joined Jon Stewart’s show in 2008 after an impersonation of Barack Obama got him noticed by the producers. He’s been more fully involved than the “senior black correspondent” Larry Wilmore, who occasionally appears to parody news shows’ obsession with race. As Cenac told Giant magazine, “A lot of shows would say, ‘Let’s just keep you on black issues.’ But here I deal with everything and anything. I think that’s what diversity is about or something.”
As Cenac himself has joked, his hiring had a hint of tokenism: he joined after Wilmore (creator of The Bernie Mac Show) started appearing less often. But though Cenac was brought on to talk about things like Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s n-word rant, he also does bits where he parodies the general stupidity of journalists of any colour. He recently teamed up with token British guy John Oliver to do an instantly famous routine about a Saudi prince who is a shareholder in Fox News. Cenac argued that Fox was “evil” for insinuating that its part-owner has terror ties; Oliver argued for “stupid.” He’s also done weird, dry humour, including an attempt to mediate a debate between people in a Florida senior citizens’ home, and a trip to Sweden to try to prove it was a socialist hellhole.
By macleans.ca - Monday, June 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 3 Comments
Our second annual survey of companies in Canada that prove it pays to have a conscience
For many successful companies, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer just a boardroom buzzword, but a key to business. So, for the second year in a row, Maclean’s has partnered with Jantzi-Sustainalytics, a global leader in sustainability analysis, to present the country’s Top 50 Socially Responsible Corporations.
While the reasons each company was selected vary—from Gildan Activewear donating more than half a million dollars to Haitian relief efforts, to Loblaw’s commitment to acquiring all of its seafood from sustainable sources by 2013, to Nike making World Cup jerseys for nine national teams out of bottles found in landfills—the underlying goal is the same: make the world a better place. As well as the Top 50 list, which begins on page 42, we look into how CSR might help with major PR problems, like BP’s oil spill, and whether the recession made the business world any less socially responsible.
By macleans.ca - Monday, June 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 28 Comments
These companies have made doing good a big part of their business
Click on a company name for more details:
Ballard Power Systems Inc.
BMO Bank of Montreal
Brookfield Properties Corp.
General Mills Inc.
Gildan Activewear Inc.
H.J. Heinz Company
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Kinross Gold Corp.
Loblaw Companies Ltd.
Nexen Inc. .
State Street Corp.
Sun Life Financial
Suncor Energy Inc.
Talisman Energy Inc.
TD Bank Financial Group
Westport Innovations Inc.
For the related article and methodology, The Jantzi-Maclean’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2010 click here.
By Philippe Gohier - Monday, June 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 5 Comments
Why companies didn’t scale back on social responsibility efforts during the downturn. PLUS: the 50 most responsible corporations
With the recession battering the pocketbooks of Canadians across the country, charitable donations took a nosedive. In fact, many charities are running out of cash just when they need it most. According to a survey by Imagine Canada, an umbrella organization representing charities and non-profit groups, 45 per cent of the 1,500 charity leaders polled between November 2009 and January 2010 said the economic downturn had led to an increase in demand for their services, but 48 per cent say they’re having difficulty fulfilling their mission and 22 per cent claim they could have to shut down operations altogether if their financial situation doesn’t improve. And the future doesn’t look any brighter: 51 per cent expect to have a hard time covering their expenses between now and next year.
When the going got tough, Canadians looked out for No. 1. But what of their employers—many of which spent the better part of the past decade touting their new economy bona fides and aligning themselves with causes like climate change and AIDS awareness? While some suspected corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives would be the first items to disappear from corporate budgets amid all the slashing, for the most part, companies stuck to their principles. “We didn’t see any let-up in sustainability programs at companies that already had them,” says Heather Lang, director of research products for Jantzi-Sustainalytics, which compiles the list of Canada’s Top 50 Socially Responsible Corporations. “If anything, there was likely an increase in programs.”
By Jason Kirby - Monday, June 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Can corporate social responsibility help clean up a PR disaster like the one caused by BP’s oil spill?
Judging from events of the past year or so, it may seem like the best response to a corporate crisis these days is to retreat to the boardroom and pray like hell that someone else gets walloped worse.
Back in the spring, the story of Toyota’s runaway cars looked like it would drag on for months. Then Goldman Sachs conveniently landed in the crosshairs of legislators and securities regulators, taking the heat off the automaker. In turn, the bankers on Wall Street got a reprieve at the expense of the pelicans, fish and residents of the Gulf of Mexico, courtesy of BP.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, December 14, 2009 at 2:20 PM - 3 Comments
Partly because my own viewing habits are oriented toward comedy, and partly because good comedies tend to get better as they go along (some dramas are at their best in the first season; half-hour comedies almost never are unless they’re badly re-tooled), I’m always conscious of the way some comedies get better or worse than they appear to be in the pilot.
The big news this season is the massive improvement in Parks and Recreation over its six-episode first season, which was kind of an extended pilot. However, while the improvement has been wonderful to see, I can’t say it surprised me much; I went into the season basically expecting it to get good, because it’s Greg Daniels and his shows always improve exponentially in the first full season. (King of the Hill, The Office and now Parks are all shows that seemed like tough propositions, and they all got good. It’s just inadvisable to bet against a Daniels show.) So the improvement that took me by surprise was that of Community, a show I was lukewarm about based on the pilot and the first few episodes. That lukewarmness — lukewarmitude? — still stands, but the show has gotten good, to the point that I consider it the best new comedy of the season.
My problem with the show at the beginning was that, like many single-camera comedies, the characters were collections of over-the-top eccentricities posing as people. But the show has successfully worked to humanize the crazy characters, and, maybe even more importantly, to get comedy value out of the characters who aren’t over-the-top wacky, like Annie and Troy. This has allowed them to actually create scenes where characters interact and play off each other, and the show is getting closer to becoming a true ensemble comedy, where putting any two characters together produces a different kind of humour. This is the essential thing for any sitcom; they’re built on relationships, and if you have a good set of relationships and character combinations to build on, you’ve got something. They’re still working stuff out, but I’d expect an even bigger improvement if the show gets picked up for a second season. It just seems to have clicked at some point, and that’s always a good thing to see.
(My favourite part of any season is — when it happens, I mean — watching a comedy start slow and then find a way to make its characters into people with funny relationships. We saw it happen a couple of years ago with Big Bang Theory, when we realized that Sheldon was funny and that he and Penny were funny together, and suddenly a show with a weakish, much-revised pilot became a durable hit.)
On the other end, I don’t think Modern Family has ever completely lived up to its pilot. And even that pilot was maybe a little over-praised as being the Greatest Pilot Ever. It’s a good show with good actors, yes. There’s no element of the show that I could point to as being particularly weak. But there’s nothing about it that makes me anxious to come back, either. Part of my problem may be that the multi-house, multi-family format is limiting the number of effective character combinations they can do. (Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara spend most of their time interacting with each other or with the kid, and none of them are very interesting together. Same with Cameron and Mitchell; their interactions at this point are getting a little old because they’re always the same.) But ultimately it comes down to two almost intangible factors. One is that the characters still haven’t really emerged as people for me, rather than types, and at this point I don’t think they’re going to. They are all recognizable as well-drawn, well-defined types whose traits can all be summed up in a single logline. They don’t surprise me much.
The other, related factor is something that plagues a lot of the shows created — jointly or apart — by Chris Lloyd and Steve Levitan. That’s what strikes me as somewhat over-polished joke writing that calls attention to its own craftsmanship. I feel like, whether the show is theatre-style or documentary-style, the jokes are the kind that always leave me conscious that they are jokes, combinations of words assembled and massaged by pro writers. The lesser episodes of Frasier or M*A*S*H have that problem for me too, but those shows have quirky characters who can surprise you even with a joke that’s a little bit too pat. So it all comes back to that ill-conceived, ill-defined question of whether the characters have something more to offer than their basic, stereotypical definition would suggest. Personally, I don’t find that with Modern Family. I don’t argue with those who feel differently, but for me, everyone is still in their neat little sitcom character boxes.
By Stephanie Findlay - Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 8:50 AM - 7 Comments
In hard times, some towns are turning to homemade currency
For the past few months, businesses in the tiny port town of Comox, on Vancouver Island, have been trying something a little different when it comes to the currency that ends up in their tills. Along with loonies, toonies and colourful Canadian bills, many have been accepting something called Community Way Dollars, which instead of the usual miscellany of faces on the back feature a photo of snowy mountaintops.
This new, alternative currency is the brainchild of Michael Linton, who’s been busily trying to encourage businesses and shoppers to use the money to buy and sell local goods and services. After working out printing hiccups, Linton says that there are now approximately $80,000 Comox Community Way Dollars circulating the valley, creating something akin to a big collective credit system that people can use to supplement regular dollars in these tight economic times. Local businesses donate the dollars to community organizations and charities, which in turn put them into the hands of individuals and into circulation. It cost $4,000 (in real money) to get up and running, and is solely managed using Google spreadsheets. “I’m fed up with people saying there isn’t money,” says Linton, “There is money, you just have to create it.”
The project might sound a little pie-in-the-sky, but many communities have turned to these made-up currencies in times of recession as a way of minimizing the impact of tightening credit standards and lost income. In operation since 1991, Ithaca HOURs, the oldest and largest local currency in the United States, is accepted by over 400 businesses and is used to pay for rent, groceries, car repairs and legal services. In Canada, there is also the Salt Spring Dollar, in Salt Spring Island, B.C. Britain has the Brixton Pound, among other local currencies that have popped up recently. Maybe the best known in the world, the Swiss Wir, was founded in 1934 in response to the 1929 stock market crash. It has grown to include over 62,000 people and turns over approximately $2 billion annually.
These currencies are not illegal. There are no laws in Canada governing the production or use of these payment instruments by individual organizations, says Julie Girard, a spokesperson with the Bank of Canada. They’re just not currency “in the legal sense of the word,” she adds, though companies do collect and pay taxes on the alternative currencies. So just as Canadian Tire money can be used to complement the loonie for purchases in Canadian Tire stores, alternative currencies aim to do the same in a town or region.
There are some big macroeconomic benefits to these made-up currencies. James Stodder, an economist at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Connecticut, says they can be a stabilizing force in times of crisis, acting as a buffer to volatile national currencies. For example, the volume of the Wir network expanded when bank credits were limited, and diminished when the “official” economy recovered, providing greater price flexibility. “Almost everyone would agree that doing business in one of these community currencies is less desirable,” says Stodder. “But when you can’t get any or enough of the primary currency, this can be a lot better than nothing. It can keep the business going, and the family fed.”
Mary Jeys, the founder of the Brooklyn Torch, an alternative currency launched in Brooklyn, N.Y., argues there are healthy social benefits too. To her, the Torch has put some much-needed emphasis on fostering connections within the community, especially among artists and immigrant groups. She says she was surprised at how responsive business owners were to her idea.
One major difficulty in any alternative currency scheme, however, is to get citizens to trust the system. Nevertheless, even some governments are slowly warming to the idea. Stodder says the central bank of Brazil has invited him to look into developing local currencies to address the country’s huge regional inequalities. “The bank “thinks it’s worth studying,” says Stodder. “And although they may not necessarily back [local currencies] explicitly with their own national currency, they are considering ways of supporting them.”
Part of the attraction is that because the alternative currencies don’t leave the local area, and are traded in small circles, the incentive to spend is increased and so is the flow of capital. “We’ve heard that these local currencies can circulate faster than national currencies,” says Ted Mallett, the vice-president of research at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
The alternative currency has been paying off so far for Tomiko Collins, co-owner of the Broken Spoke Coffee House and Bicycle Centre in Comox. Collins, who opened the shop four months ago, says that using the Community Way Dollar is part of a larger business strategy to connect with the community. But it also provides an added incentive for consumers to choose her store over others. “We want to be competitive with other bike shops and attract consumers to buy things from us as opposed to Wal-Mart,” says Collins. “We’ve met some amazing business contacts that we probably wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for the project.”
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 11:37 PM - 3 Comments
I didn’t like the pilot of Community as much as most people did (though it is, after all, only a pilot). I found something a little hacky about a lot of the joke writing, with lots of rhythms, joke constructions and characters that have become clichés of the “edgy” comedy: the guy who compares everything to popular movies, the politically-incorrect old guy, the laundry lists of dysfunctions and bad behaviour. (I was really hoping they would not have that character make the obvious reply after someone mentioned “Aspergers,” but yes: “Heh-heh-heh… assburgers.” Seriously, it’s not clever or edgy if we see it coming.) The last scene, where the characters show at least some potential to function as an ensemble, was promising, though, but I feel like the weakest things about it are the cynical/dysfunctional bits, and it works best when it’s closer to a regular ensemble comedy about more or less normal people trying to make it. But with the Joel McHale character at the centre, it’s going to have trouble playing to that strength.
One of the things that makes The Office unusually successful and durable for an edgy-comedy franchise is, I think, that Ricky Gervais and Ian Stephen Merchant deliberately didn’t play up the dysfunctions of the characters. Even David Brent is dysfunctional in a realistic way, the guy who thinks he’s funny and beloved but isn’t. Most of the other characters on that show were as mundane as the lives they led. The American version has become broader and turned at least one character, Dwight, into a full-blown cartoon character — but it still has its roots in the idea that most of these people are not unrecognizably weird or dysfunctional. Which seems to be the right mix for comedy: characters who range from fully sane, to people who are crazy but in a realistic way, to one or two out-and-out cartoons (your Kramers, Barneys, Sheldons, Jim Ignatowski-ses). This probably is too generalized a pronouncement, but I think one reason single-camera shows have trouble catching on is their tendency to define almost every character by their dysfunctionality. The paradoxical thing is that characters sometimes have more potential to become funny if they start with relatively common, everyday characteristics, as long as those characteristics are well-defined. (“The hard-drinking, crusty boss” or “the know-it-all barfly” are decent ways to start with a character. “The fast-talking guy who compares everything to The Breakfast Club or Meatballs,” I don’t know about.)
I enjoyed The Office premiere a lot (I missed the Parks and Recreation premiere, but will try and catch up with it and see if that show is making the expected second-season improvement). Paul Lieberstein, who wrote and directed the premiere and is in charge of the show while Greg Daniels and Michael Schur are busy with Parks, has always been good at light comedy based on dark subjects, which can then take an unexpected dip into genuine darkness (but one that, because the episode deals with adultery, we’ve been properly set up for). It’s surprising, though, how much the show has abandoned the idea of David/Michael unwittingly abusing his power. The original idea was that the boss is terrorizing, manipulating and pulling incredibly cruel jokes on his employees, and they have to sit there and take it because he’s the boss. But this episode, with the story about the intern program, had all kinds of opportunities for that type of joke, and the script did not take them. Instead the episode wound up with Michael being scared of his employees, rather than the other way around. The inherent cruelty of the premise occasionally comes out on the show, but it’s become a much gentler show as Michael has become more of a sympathetic (if exasperating) character.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 25 Comments
Exclusive report: These top companies are making Canada a better place
Click on a company name for more details:
5N Plus Inc.
ARISE Technologies Corp.
Bank of Montreal
Bank of Nova Scotia
BioteQ Environmental Technologies Inc.
Brookfield Properties Corporation
Canadian Hydro Developers
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.
General Mills Inc.
Great-West Lifeco Inc.
H.J. Heinz Company
Hennes & Mauritz (H&M)
Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.
Johnson Controls Inc.
Kinross Gold Corp.
Loblaw Companies Ltd.
Plutonic Power Corp.
Rio Tinto Alcan
Royal Bank of Canada
Sun Life Financial
Sun Microsystems Inc.
Suncor Energy Inc.
Talisman Energy Inc.
Westport Innovations Inc.
Zenn Motor Co.
For the related article and methodology, click here.