By Emma Teitel - Saturday, March 30, 2013 - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel on TV’s modern censorship crusaders
Historically, the aim of television censorship has been pretty straightforward, if ultimately doomed: sex, or anything that made you think of having it, was supposed to be as unsexy as humanly possible when it was on TV. “Indecency regulations”—the kind that kept married characters sleeping in separate beds—arrived in the 1930s. In the 1950s, CBS famously cropped out Elvis Presley’s gyrating pelvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, and in 2004, the world saw Janet Jackson’s nipple for a fraction of a second, which, for the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, was one fraction too many (the FCC tried to fine CBS $550,000 for the infamous “nip slip,” but the United States Supreme Court threw out the charge last year). Sex persevered. A study by a U.S. non-profit in 2005 found that sexual content on TV had almost doubled since 1998. I wouldn’t be surprised if that number has quadrupled since. What’s more, censorship initiatives by socially conservative groups that would have certainly succeeded in the nipple-wary past are seldom successful today. Groups like the Parents Television Council, for example, and One Million Moms, consistently try—and fail—to get supposedly inappropriate content off the air: from gay romance on Fox’s Glee, to sacrilege on ABC’s GCB (Good Christian Bitches), some things just don’t shock like they used to. This is certainly one of the reasons networks have stopped trying to appease the traditionally squeamish—but it’s not the only one. They’ve also stopped because there’s a new squeamishness on the rise, one that’s concerned not with what TV portrays too much of, but rather, with what it doesn’t portray enough.
Take CBS: the network is no longer under fire for depicting too much sexuality, but for failing to depict the right kind. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gave CBS a failing grade on its “network responsibility index” this year, for its apparent lack of sexual diversity; that is, not enough gay and transgendered characters. GLAAD puts out two reports annually, one rating the American networks on overall “LGBT impressions” and another that looks at LGBT characters in the TV season to come. Apparently, the reports work. Matt Kane, GLAAD’s associate director of entertainment media, says, “CBS responded, saying they would do better. We have worked with their diversity department in recent years and they seem to have been making a concerted effort to improve diversity on their network.” Kane says his group’s earlier efforts may have actually led to the production of the gay-themed TV show, Partners, although the comedy was cancelled almost immediately after it aired.
In a similar fashion, HBO’s Girls, arguably the most sexually explicit show on television right now, has also succumbed to public pressure over its lack of diversity. When the show first premiered, social media was rife with complaints that creator Lena Dunham’s omission of non-white characters was “unrealistic” and, some critics suggested, downright racist. Dunham told NPR that she took the criticism very seriously, which is why, presumably, she wrote a black character into the second season of Girls—an African-American Republican named Sandy, who lasted about as long as CBS’s Partners did. It turns out affirmative action and fiction don’t really mix. But the criticism didn’t stop at racial representation. Dunham’s current critics argue that there’s lack of “verbal consent” between sexual partners on Girls, as though the TV show were a public service announcement you’d watch in health class.
Paul Levinson, a media professor at Fordham University in New York and author of the book New New Media, doesn’t find any of this depressing. He’d prefer that audiences—not regulators—pester networks and TV writers. “It’s not as though the gatekeepers who decided what got on television in the past did a very good job, so I think it’s a very healthy thing that viewers have much more power over what gets into television than they ever had before,” he says.
It would be easy to agree with Levinson if we were just discussing the merits of something like Kickstarter—the website that allows users to fund artistic projects (the Veronica Mars movie, for example)—or any other medium that gives an audience freedom of choice. But we’re talking about the merits of an audience manipulating a piece of art so that it meets a certain ethical standard. And that doesn’t sound like power to me. It sounds like censorship.
The people at GLAAD and those who criticize Dunham do not likely see themselves as prudish or censorious. And they certainly don’t see themselves in league with the Parents Television Council or One Million Moms. But their crusade for inclusion is fundamentally no different than their opponents’ crusade for exclusion. Both groups believe that art, ﬁne or popular, must fulfill a moral obligation—that its purpose is not to portray the world as it is, but as it should be. Carried to the extreme, “moral” art like this is just another version of state-sponsored art, the kind you could have found in the Soviet Union yesterday, and Saudi Arabia today. Ironically, it violates the fundamental moral raison d’être behind art since the beginning of campfires: to hold up a mirror to nature. Worse, it violates the fundamental amoral one, which any TV watcher knows is even more important. It’s boring.
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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 Colin Horgan - Monday, February 25, 2013 at 1:55 PM - 0 Comments
TV Questions: Colin Horgan on Girls, life, and what it all means
Colin Horgan is watching Season 2 of Girls and asking questions about it here each Monday.
Elsewhere on the site, Jessica Allen is writing about it, too. Click here for her take.
Here’s Horgan with three questions about the seventh episode of the second season:
When are you no longer a kid?
It took about 24 hours for Jessa to confront her dad, or at least tell him why she really insisted on coming to see him and his new wife at their upstate home, with Hannah in tow. She told Hannah earlier she’d received a text from him that was just a bunch of letters and read it as a sign to come visit – something Hannah posits might have simply been a “butt text.” Whatever it was, there she is, sitting on a swing set in Manitou, talking to her dad, an unsurprisingly aloof and strange fellow, who’s taken to storing his old computers in the back of his car for fear the information on them might be taken otherwise, and who – with his new girlfriend – raises rabbits in the yard only to eat them on a regular basis.
Ever since Jessa turned up on the scene, inserting herself into the Girls world, she’s carried with her an air of mystery, what with all her past international travel and hints of bohemian lifestyle. Of the four, she was the free spirit, the one most likely to go with the flow and not bogged down by the tiresome drudgery of introspection and existentialism. Not like the other three. This was no more apparent than when she simply refused to have any apparent sense of evaluation of her situation with Thomas-John (“This is what it’s like when the hunt is over,” she told Hannah not so long ago) until it got so bad that she literally couldn’t do anything else but leave it.
By Colin Horgan - Monday, February 11, 2013 at 10:01 AM - 0 Comments
TV Questions: Colin Horgan on the HBO hit with bonus Storify on naked ping pong
Colin Horgan is watching Season 2 of Girls and asking questions about it here each Monday. Here he is now with three questions on episode five:
Is there a mystery sugar daddy in your neighbourhood?
For anyone wondering to this point how Hannah was surviving in New York City on what little money she’s been making at her job at the coffee shop, you can start speculating on how she’ll get by now that she’s quit her gig at (the aptly named) Café Grumpy. She tells Ray she’s leaving because it’s a toxic work environment, but it really seems to stem from an argument he has with a local resident about where everyone puts their garbage.
That local resident, who alleged that someone from the coffee shop was putting grounds and other crap in his garbage cans, turns out to be Joshua, who lives in a gorgeous Brownstone nearby. After Hannah quits, she goes to Joshua’s place and admits it’s been her leaving all the extra trash in his garbage cans. “I do it – put trash places it shouldn’t legally go,” she admits while gripping a glass of lemonade two-handed, like a small child, while standing in Joshua’s immaculate kitchen. “It’s kind of like my vice.” Right. Well, her other vice is making out with people she just met. Hannah does it again a moment later with Joshua, and, for whatever reason – maybe because he’s recently separated – he has no qualms with it. And thus begins a weird episode where Hannah languishes in Joshua’s grown up (he’s 42) world – one where he physically looks down on a neighbouring house of guys Hannah’s age dismissively while cooking steaks on his patio.
By Colin Horgan - Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 10:51 PM - 0 Comments
Colin Horgan on Girls and existential breakdown
How do you somehow realize what you’ve got to do?
There’s probably a lot to be said for the things that almost were. Marnie knows this better than anyone, probably, but after this week’s episode, the others are quickly catching up. But after a mostly disastrous and somewhat revealing dinner party at Hannah’s now-solo apartment (still fully furnished, thanks to George hating Elijah just as much as Hannah does now, and allowing her to keep all the stuff he bought, leaving Elijah with nothing except a hairbrush and a bottle of lube), Marnie ends up on the roof thinking about her life. Moments earlier, she finally had it out with Charlie’s new girlfriend, Audrey, who had confronted Marnie about her midnight visit to Charlie’s apartment. That the argument between the two of them emerged out of a conversation about butt plugs is neither here nor there – just mostly just a very amusing, er, entry point into an inevitable butting of heads. Sorry.
By macleans.ca - Monday, January 28, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Who’s watching? Who cares?
Netflix wants House of Cards, its new direct-to-streaming television drama, to get a lot of buzz and positive attention—and that may be more important than how many people actually watch it. The Americanized remake of the classic British miniseries, transplanting the Shakespearian story of a scheming politician to modern-day Washington, is the streaming service’s attempt to compete directly with cable TV services like HBO and Showtime. But unlike those networks, which release ratings information to the public, Netflix plans to keep the viewership numbers for House of Cards to itself after the show premieres on Feb. 1. “Our intention is not to release ratings, and that’s for a very good reason: we don’t have to,” says Kelly Bennett, chief marketing officer of Netflix. “We’ll define the success of these original shows in our own way.”
It could be the culmination of a trend that’s been building in TV for a long time: the shows that survive aren’t necessarily the ones that get the most viewers. They’re the ones that get people talking—even if, in this case, it’s only talking about the network’s refusal to release ratings.–
Not that networks have given up on ratings, especially the ones that still depend on ratings to sell advertising time. John Landgraf, head of the FX Network, told the Television Association that ratings “keep you honest.” Without them, he asked, “how will you determine whether something is a hit?” Dervla Kelly, senior director of corporate communications and network publicity for Shaw Media, adds, “You can have a lot of buzz about a show because it’s controversial or whatever, but there’s got to be some correlation with viewers.” But the strategy some networks already follow isn’t that different from Netﬂix’s: though they release ratings, that’s not the decisive factor in whether a show gets picked up. HBO’s Girls, which won the Golden Globe awards for best comedy and best actress, is in no danger of cancellation even though only 866,000 people watched the season premiere—a number that wouldn’t even be high for a Canadian show. Continue…
By Colin Horgan - Monday, January 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM - 0 Comments
Colin Horgan has three questions about Episode 2 of the second season of Girls
Colin Horgan will be watching Season 2 of Girls and asking questions about it here each Monday. Elsewhere on the site, Jessica Allen will be writing about it, too. Click here for her take.
Here’s Horgan with three questions about the second episode of the second season:
What does it feel like for a girl?
Given the deliberate overlap between the real world of (Golden Globe-winning) Lena Dunham and the fake world of Hannah Horvath, the latter was liable to address the failings of the former at some point. Is it surprising it only took until the second episode of the second season for Hannah to start standing up for the criticism Lena took for the better part of last year about the world Hannah inhabits? Well, here we are. Girls wasn’t full of enough minorities, they said. Solved. Here’s Sandy, a hip black dude. Girls reflected too narrow a worldview. Solved. Sandy’s a Republican. Girls is about nothing at all, they said. Uh …
“I just don’t think anything happened in it, nothing was happening,” Sandy tells Hannah after finally revealing he did read the essay she penned on – apparently – a girl’s perspective on her sexuality and its changes (i.e. Girls). “Ultimately,” Sandy goes on, “it felt like just waiting in line and all the nonsense that goes through your brain when you’re trying to kill time … there wasn’t really anything going on. But it was really well-written.” One imagines this is the kind of thing Dunham heard for a while when trying to show people her work – but, like, look at her now, haters. See what she did there? Still, it’s not that we’re any clearer on why Hannah (or maybe even Dunham) thinks the essay is worthy in its own right. She offers that if a girl finding her way through her sexuality feels like nothing to Sandy, then … Here, she trails off. The explanation is left unsaid, and inherently assumed. We’re watching the show, aren’t we?
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Why Girls, Bates Motel and New Girl are going with minimal title sequences
The A&E drama Bates Motel, a TV prequel to Psycho, is giving fans a chance to create the opening title sequence—but with a catch: it has to be really short. “We’re looking for an awesome 15-second title sequence that captures the feel of Bates Motel,” series creator Carlton Cuse (Lost) said when announcing the contest, whose winner will be announced before the series premiere in March. Fifteen seconds is actually a pretty generous amount of time for a title sequence today. Many shows don’t have them at all: HBO’s most hyped recent show, Lena Dunham’s Girls, has nothing but a simple title card, like a low-budget movie. “In my view, short sequences are a missed opportunity,” says Danny Yount, who created the nearly two-minute opening for HBO’s Six Feet Under. But if Bates Motel is any indication, a title sequence may not be important enough to take a lot of time for, or even to hire professional designers for.
A full-length title sequence is certainly expensive to do, especially for shows that don’t take the easy route and string together a bunch of old clips. Yount says his sequence for Six Feet Under, a mini-movie that summed up the themes of the show, required “a full crew, three locations and two days of shooting,” but adds that “the producers wanted something unique to television, so I think it was a worthwhile investment for them.” Continue…
By Colin Horgan - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 10:49 AM - 0 Comments
Colin Horgan has three questions about the first episode of the second season
Colin Horgan will be watching Season 2 of Girls and asking questions about it here each Monday.
Elsewhere on the site, Jessica Allen will be writing about it, too. Click here for her take.
Here’s Horgan with three questions about the first episode of the second season:
Question 1: Is anyone having any real fun?
Halfway through the party at Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Elijah’s (Andrew Rannells), an adult barges into Girls and re-asserts some context. George, Elijah’s sugar daddy, begs him drunkenly from across the room with a pair of karaoke microphones like a tired Pauly Shore imitator. After being rebuffed, he gives the hipsters a stern talking-to and history lesson. “You guys are all so f—king boring,” George tells the room before reminiscing about his own youth—one apparently full of nights doing cocaine off young, ectomorphic, gay men. “You guys are all too f—king cool to do one song? F–k you,” he sneers at a “fake lumberjack,” before summing it up: “This is a first-rate party full of losers!”
By Colin Horgan - Friday, January 11, 2013 at 5:00 PM - 0 Comments
Colin Horgan on a new season of a show about the nothingness of 20-something existence
There is a problem with marriages on television, and as I finally, belatedly, sat down to watch the Season 1 finale of Girls, Elaine Blair’s words on that matter were ringing in my ears. The thing about sitcoms, as opposed to cinematic love stories, she wrote earlier this month, is that romantic films “traditionally end at the moment the obstacles are overcome and love is declared.” Sitcoms, on the other hand are tougher territory for relationships, and “script writers, used to working in a mode of farce, struggle to find the right tone for domestic satisfaction.” Perhaps because of that and, as Blair notes, the fact writers and the cast are usually unsure of how long the series will go on and are under pressure to keep things fresh, sitcoms might actually share more with real life. You’re forced to get into things without really knowing where they’re going to end up.
We last left the Girls foursome and their various hangers-on at the bottom of the impact crater of an unexpected summer wedding. After spending much of the previous nine episodes announcing both her bohemian lifestyle in various physical and verbal ways, and–on a specific and particularly expensive (and not at all wine-proof) rug–her derision for anything that seemed too of-the-system, Jessa got married. To that rug-owning, of-the-system guy, no less. The move seemed a weird one, not so much for Jessa, but for the show. The wedding seemed like an abrupt shift in tone. It suddenly felt like a season finale, rather than continuing the strong sense of authenticity or verisimilitude that carried Season 1 to that point. Before the wedding that feeling of the aimlessness of real life Blair hinted at was explored, more or less, honestly. Continue…
By Rosemary Counter - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
The star and creator of the hit HBO show on set in New York
It’s after midnight in New York, in an alley in Chelsea, where homeless men sleep on window ledges and garbage trucks collect trash by moonlight. In a brick office building, up a rickety elevator to the eighth floor, a hundred hipsters, every one styled with ironic hats and oversized scarves and stilettos, laugh and mingle in low lighting. Beer bottles and half-eaten pizzas are strewn on every table, though no one eats or drinks the props.
“Rolling, rolling!” calls a cameraman, and in struts Marnie, played by the impossibly beautiful Allison Williams, in a peacock-blue dress. Hunched behind the camera, in sensible heels and a too-short lace dress that reveals the Spanx beneath it, is 26-year-old Lena Dunham, creator, writer, producer and sometimes-director of the HBO comedy, Girls. Once she’s happy with the party scene, Dunham calls “cut,” and releases the extras for lunch—at 1 a.m. Then she comes over to apologize.
“We’re shooting a boring establishment shot, but we’ll try to keep it spicy for you,” she jokes, bursting with friendly energy even though she doesn’t drink coffee. “I love nights, I thrive on them. My natural rhythm would be sleeping from 4 a.m. to noon.” Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 7:36 AM - 0 Comments
If I made a list of the best TV shows of 2012 it probably wouldn’t be too different from most. A TV world where the best of the best are Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Parenthood, Louie, Girls and Parks & Recreation isn’t always my ideal television world (good as all those shows are), but they represent what current television does best. When it comes to “termite art” – shows that don’t have to be good, but are – television is not in a great place at the moment, but that may change. But this piece isn’t about the best of 2012, it’s about what to expect as we move into 2013.
Television is at a strange transitional stage in its history, the best of times and the worst of times: its business model is becoming obsolete, but its product – the shows themselves – is more prestigious than it’s ever been. What’s going to happen this year, as the shows continue be good and it gets harder to sell them? And which will give out first: will the business pressures on the industry make it harder for these prestigious shows to get made, or is the business on the verge of finding new ways to monetize its quality shows?
So here are some general predictions about what to look for in the television world of 2013. If any of them are right, I win. If any or all of them are wrong, hey, these predictions were free of charge and as with free broadcast TV, you get what you pay for.
1. More high-concept shows. There may not be any definite evidence that TV audiences gravitate to high concepts. But network executives have been stung by the failure of most of their recent shows and stunned by the success of The Walking Dead, by some metrics the most popular drama on TV. So they’re going to be under pressure to come up with show concepts that at least sound like the big, spectacular, boundary-pushing shows that everyone’s talking about on cable. That means not only more shows about monsters, which was starting even before Walking Dead; it means more shows about serial killers (at least a couple are in development, including a TV version of Hannibal Lecter) and more shows with epic historical hooks, like a planned TV series about Cleopatra. There are so many scripted shows on so many channels that it will be difficult for any show to stand out unless it has a really eye-catching premise.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 12:42 PM - 0 Comments
The other day a friend and I were talking about what a great self-promoter Mindy Kaling is. We weren’t talking about her negatively, understand, we just were bringing it up as a fact of her career. The friend, who doesn’t follow TV business reporting (and a good thing too) was still aware that Kaling and her show, The Mindy Project, have been promoted like mad literally since before it was even picked up. She’s in the news, she’s in the columns, she’s the subject of articles and profiles and think pieces about what she means for women, for rom-coms, for leads of colour and leads who aren’t conventionally telegenic.
There’s an obvious comparison here to Lena Dunham and Girls, but the hype for Girls was rather slow-building and, in my experience, followed the extremely positive advance buzz for the show itself. Kaling’s show got respectful but not ecstatic reviews (good reviews for a pilot; most pilots don’t make anyone ecstatic) and she built it into a media event almost on her own before Fox’s publicity machine got rolling.
I was in with the conventional wisdom in thinking the pilot had promise as a a rom-com for TV (or a fantasy Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, April 16, 2012 at 10:19 AM - 0 Comments
Despite the Star Trek quote in the subject heading, this post is really one more thing about Girls (which, to repeat, I enjoyed a lot). This show sparked a surprising number of arguments about whether it accurately portrays modern women, and whether its very narrow focus (on rich white girls, who are played by rich white girls) is a mark against it. See this article, “Girls in White,” for a representative example of the articles that argue that Girls is not representative of today’s young people and today’s New York – and of course it isn’t representative, not by a long shot. If there does turn out to be a backlash against the show, HBO probably sort of brought it on itself with the promotion; they’ve been promoting the show as if it spoke for a whole generation, as if it would reveal the Way We Live Now in a post Sex and the City era. This would be like promoting a Woody Allen movie as a way of finding out exactly what New York City was like in the ’70s and ’80s.
You can argue, as some have, that the narrowness of Woody Allen’s world is an artistic limitation. (Though this was an easier argument to make when he had been making movies for a long time. If Lena Dunham is still revisiting this territory twenty years from now, that will be more problematic than her decision to use it for her first film and first TV show.) But we all do accept that Allen is not trying to give us New York life as it is experienced by the majority of people who live in it; he’s portraying the New York experience through his own eyes and his own social circle. A small, personal film can deal in broad and universal themes, and if we like it, we’re probably seeing things in it that we have felt or experiences. But as to what modern life is like, in an anthropological sense, we’re not going to find out from that particular work. The creator is showing us his or her world, not the world.
I think we all accept that from a film or a book. (Again, we can be annoyed by it, or get bored with an author for writing about the same small world over and over again. But we all accept that writing who they know is a big part of what artists do.) With TV, I sense that there’s a greater urge to see shows as broad statements about modern society as a whole. In some ways I think it’s a holdover from the era when TV was a true mass medium. When a show reached 30 million people in a U.S. whose Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 3:33 PM - 0 Comments
Girls, premiering on HBO on April 15, is going to be part of a lot of conversations about women in TV and women in modern society. (Frank Bruni’s column on what it has to say about sex is a foretaste of what we’re going to be seeing.) Written, created and mostly directed by Lena Dunham, it fits into the “comedies created by women” theme that everyone has been talking about lately – a theme that gained more relevance when Lee Aronsohn made his infamous “labia saturation” joke. And it touches on a bunch of themes that are ripe for analysis: young people in the modern unfriendly economy; the problems of making a real emotional connection in a digital world; body images.
It’s also very funny, which is the surprising and refreshing thing about it. The first three episodes, all directed by Dunham, have all the trademarks of the indie-film Continue…