By Jaime Weinman - Monday, May 6, 2013 - 0 Comments
After 200 episodes, The Office is done, but its influence is all over comedy—and even reality TV
Greg Daniels, developer and executive producer of the U.S. version of The Office, speaks to Maclean’s from the show’s own offices, where he’s one of the few people left. “They’re tearing them down,” he says. “We’re down to four rooms of edit bays. They’re painting, or they did something where it’s filled with burnt-smelling dust in the office right now.” Filming has wrapped on the series finale, which airs on Global on May 16, and Daniels, who also co-created King of the Hill and Parks and Recreation, is working on post-production for the end of a show about the silly and sad life in a white-collar ofﬁce. Fans and critics have big expectations for the finale, written by Daniels and directed by Ken Kwapis: not just that it will be good, but that it will cement the show’s reputation after a rough few years and the departure of its star, Steve Carell. “It leaves the air with a whimper,” says TV critic Myles McNutt, who reviewed recent seasons of the show for The AV Club. The finale could be a shot at turning that assessment around.
Though it has been NBC’s most popular comedy since Will & Grace, The Office has always been a bit in the shadow of other shows, and not just the hit British show starring Ricky Gervais it was based on. It won the Emmy for best comedy in its second season but lost subsequent awards to newer shows such as 30 Rock. Modern Family, a comedy that copied elements of The Office, including the mock-documentary format, became a bigger hit than The Office. But Ben Silverman, The Office’s executive producer who bought the U.S. rights to Gervais’s series, thinks none of those shows would have been possible without this one. “It had a seminal influence on contemporary comedy,” he says, in its mix of awkward humour and sentimentality, but also the people it delivered to other projects: “We found a new generation of comedians—Rainn Wilson, Ed Helms, Carell, Rashida Jones—who started populating other shows and movies.”
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 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 6:47 PM - 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 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 5:33 PM - 0 Comments
There are a couple of bits of big news that have come out of the TV ratings this fall; one of them is kind of silly and fun, and the other is kind of significant.
The silly and fun one first: NBC now finds itself in the position of being the #1 network in the Coveted Demographic. This may not last all year, but only because CBS has the Super Bowl; if NBC had that, they’d be quite well positioned to be first for the whole year. This “turnaround” just shows how flimsy the race for the ratings crown can be, since the network hasn’t turned itself around in any overall, systematic way, and it’s doing no business on Wednesdays or Thursdays. All it really took to turn things around was poor performance by the other networks (basically, bringing them down to NBC’s level), one big hit, The Voice, and one successful drama, Revolution. (Go On also looks like it might have legs – the best sign for that show was that its pilot episode did well in reruns, proving that people want to see the show even when it’s not a new episode – but it’s too early to tell how it would do without a Voice lead-in.) That, plus football, more than makes up for all the other weaknesses, and Bob Greenblatt’s position as head of NBC may be secured simply by one good decision, the decision to bring The Voice back early. It just goes to show the fine line between failure and success in network TV. If Ben Silverman had come up with just one big hit, just one good decision, he’d be a genius.
That leads us into the kind of significant news, which you’ve probably also heard (including on this podcast with Jessica Allen and myself): nobody is watching broadcast network TV this season; there are no new hits other than Revolution, and the cable dramas The Walking Dead and to a lesser Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 11:49 AM - 0 Comments
Hint: Nobody is actually watching it
Our entertainment writer sheds light on why the ratings of the four big U.S. networks are collapsing. Can the networks fix this? Or do they just need to adjust their business model for the inevitable declines? Have a listen to find out more. (Bonus: Jamie explains why I shouldn’t feel so bad for watching Honey Boo Boo.)
By Blog of Lists - Monday, July 30, 2012 at 5:36 PM - 0 Comments
NBC stands by its decision to use tape-delay to present the Games to its domestic audience, though the move is out of synch with online media’s speedy delivery of results. NBC’s prime-time-over-real-time policy has been among the most-discussed topics so far at what have often (wrongly) been called “the first social media Olympics,” with the hashtag #NBCfail trending on Twitter through much of the weekend.
2. Athletes expelled for racist tweets
So far two athletes have lost the privilege of competing at the XXX Olympiad for racially charged comments made on Twitter. Greek triple-jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was forced to withdraw before the games for a joke she made at the expense of African immigrants in Greece. And Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella was expelled for violent, demeaning comments about South Koreans after South Korea defeated Switzerland in a match.
3. Bike race results glitches
Officials blamed mobile users updating social media for choking up bandwidth during the men’s road race. The Olympic Broadcasting Services depends for its race updates on GPS data that was apparently affected by the audience’s participatory approach to watching the event.
4. Aidan Burley smackdown
UK Conservative MP Aidan Burley thought the opening ceremonies were “leftie multicultural crap” and said so on Twitter. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron strongly disagreed with his MP, calling Burley’s comments “idiotic.”
5. Rule 40 rebellion
A number of athletes, including Dawn Harper, who won gold in the women’s 100 metre-hurdles in Beijing, have taken to Twitter to object to the IOC’s strict sponsorship rules. These rules prevent athletes endorsing sponsors, other than the eleven officially approved mega-sponsors of the Games themselves.
6. Diver Tom Daley’s troll
Vying for the bronze for least classy tweet of the Games is the one that scolded Great Britain diving hopeful Tom Daley for finishing out of the medals. “You let your dad down i hope you know that” read one tweet, referring to Daley’s father, who died last year of brain cancer. A seventeen year old man has since been arrested on suspicion of ‘malicious communications.’
7. Journalist Guy Adams’ Twitter suspension
While #NBCfail was wildly popular over the weekend, and enjoyed by many, British correspondent Guy Adams of The Independent got in trouble after piling on. Twitter apparently suspended his account after he posted the email address of NBC executive Gary Zenkel. Twitter has a partnership with NBC Sports.
8. Swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s undeserved abuse
Beloved homespun British swimmer Becky Adlington saw her star rise rapidly after winning double gold in Beijing. But she wasn’t prepared for celebrity, and has admitted to being dismayed by negativity directed her way. Comedian Frankie Boyle has been her most public detractor, recently tweeting that she had an advantage in the pool because she looked like dolphin. Adlington may have missed that, after quitting Twitter during the Olympics to avoid abuse.
9. Conan O’Brien taking a shot at shot-putter Holley Mangold
On this side of the pond, another top female competitor, American shot-putter Holley Mangold, was the target of a Tweet in poor taste from another comedian, Conan O’Brien: “I predict 350 lb. weight lifter Holley Mangold will bring home the gold and 4 guys against their will.”
Have you ever wondered which cities have the most bars, smokers, absentee workers and people searching for love? What about how Canada compares to the world in terms of the size of its military, the size of our houses and the number of cars we own? The nswers to all those questions, and many more, can be found in the first ever Maclean’s Book of Lists.
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By Jaime Weinman - Monday, July 30, 2012 at 12:57 PM - 0 Comments
There are some stories that aren’t quite as big as they sound from the amount of attention we give them online. And one of those is the story of social media outrage at NBC’s decision to tape-delay the Olympic opening ceremonies and other events. Equipped on Twitter with the hashtag #nbcfail, the social media blitz has produced a lot of entertaining tweets on the theme that NBC had, well, failed. They ranged from serious statements that the network had squandered the promise of modern media, like “In a wired world, tape delay ruins the possibility of global solidarity at one of the few moments that promise it” (Hugo Schwyzer), to snarky pronouncements like “NBC: Will Pearl Harbor be attacked? Find out in primetime!” (Will Bunch). There are even accusations that Twitter is trying to shut down some of the negative comments: the service suspended the account of journalist Guy Adams after he posted the (corporate, not private) email of the NBC executive in charge of Olympics coverage and advised his readers to complain about the network “pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet.”
Complaining is fun; I love it. (I also love being in a country where the opening ceremonies were carried live on TV, so I didn’t have to wait for Bob Costas to tell me what was going on.) But when we move from complaining to trying to make a serious point about the future of media, we’re on shakier ground. A number of people have argued that this was a bad business strategy on NBC’s part; new-media evangelists have argued, as BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis told the Associated Press, that NBC wants to “hold on to old media strategies in a new media world, and that’s a mistake.” Well, for it to be a mistake, NBC would probably have to get less than great ratings. Instead, the network has gotten record-breaking TV ratings for its coverage, including the infamous tape-delayed opening.
Correlation doesn’t prove causation; you can’t prove that the ratings would not have been equally good or better with a more social-media-friendly plan. But at the very least, there’s no proof that ignoring or downplaying social media has been a problem for ratings. And the network’s stated strategy–that it needs to save some of the big events for prime time, because that’s when most people are watching–seems to have paid off. It pays off, in part, because major sporting events are the most valuable pieces of real estate in TV today; the Olympics and the Super Bowl are among the only things for which ratings go up, not down. Networks do need to wring as much advertising money out of these events as they can.
You could actually turn the new-media evangelists’ argument around and say that in a world of many media choices, networks need to do more–not less–to maximize the number of people watching TV in prime time. In the old media world of three channels, all they had to worry about was whether we might watch one of the other channels or, heaven forbid, read a book. Now, with so many options available to us, networks may need–from a business standpoint, I mean, not a moral one–to make it worth our while to forego those other options when they have something we really want. Most of the time, of course, TV networks don’t have something we must have; there’s almost no scripted program so important that we need to watch it as soon as possible, and sometimes we enjoy them more if we wait a while to watch them. But a big sports event? Those things are still incredibly valuable, and whatever gets the largest number of people watching them after 7 (when advertising rates are higher) might be worthwhile.
That’s debatable, of course, and as other forms of TV viewing become more common and more sophisticated, networks may have no choice but to give us everything we want at the moment it happens. (Either that, or do what they’ve done with baseball: pressure everyone into scheduling their events around whatever time is best for U.S. networks.) NBC and other networks are already operating on the assumption that streaming is going to become a much bigger part of viewership and revenue. But by the time that is fully in place, Twitter and Facebook may have gone the way of MySpace. Social media changes so much and so quickly, and represents such a limited slice of the audience, that it seems unlikely that NBC paid any price for the #nbcfail incident, any more than the #romneyshambles hashtag is going to make a huge dent in Romney’s poll numbers. (It’s possible that social media helps NBC more than it hurts, by increasing awareness of these major events – even the #nbcfail tweets increase awareness.) When choosing between a few people on Twitter and the 40 million U.S. viewers who tuned in for the tape-delayed opening, networks will always choose the latter. Well, most networks. Maybe not the CW.
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, July 27, 2012 at 8:44 AM - 0 Comments
So, finally, it’s the opening morning of the XXX Summer Games. (Warning: don’t type that into your search engine)
It’s the morning of the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Summer Games and, ho-boy, I’ve seen this movie before. There’s a national biorhythm—an emotional arc de triomphe, if you will—that plays out during the span of every Olympics I’ve attended. I saw it in Calgary in 1988 and in Vancouver in 2010 and in a bunch of other Olympics in between.
It begins on the high of winning the Olympic bid, then it peaks and troughs many times over the long years of preparation. The successes, as the winning city basks in international limelight, are soon worn down by doubts, fears, cost concerns, internal bickering and impatience with a process that takes so bloody long that it seems the whole country is in the back seat of the family Buick screaming “Are we there yet?”
And then we are.
So, finally, it’s the opening morning of the XXX Summer Games. (A word of warning: don’t type that into your search engine because we’re talking Roman Numerals here and not the sort of, um, unsanctioned activities that a Google search will turn up.) But I digress.
What the Brits have been experiencing is an amped-up version of the anxiety that any good host feels in the moments before a pile of guests arrive at your home for an elaborate dinner party. You cast your eyes about the house and realize that, whoa! you really should have shampooed the rug, and the canapés got a bit singed, you neglected to ask if anyone has food allergies and, oh, my, whatever are we going to talk about with all these strange people?
Today, a read of the morning papers reveals the inevitable next phase. The door has been thrown open, you’ve shoved drinks at the guests and, by God, we just might pull this off! As the Guardian said in its lead editorial today: “London has a smile on its face and the country seems to have a sense that the next 17 days may actually be pretty wonderful.”
Or as The Times opined: “As the Games begin, we must remember that it is not only the athletes who have the attention of the world. All of Britain does. With the perfect combination of humility and pride, we should bask in it.” And, finally, the Daily Telegraph: “The Games of the XXX Olympiad, to give them their official title, promise to be one of the greatest spectacles this country has seen, to be remembered, we hope, for all the right sporting reasons.”
If anyone should know how this arc of angst goes, it’s Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency and the savior of the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. And yet he put his foot in it while visiting London, expressing to NBC anchor Brian Williams that he found the security cock-ups and the threats of labour unrest “disconcerting.” He wondered if the country will come together and celebrate. “That’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.”
Well, the newspapers here are aflame. Never mind that their scribes shouted the same doubts from their bully pulpits only yesterday. That a foreigner said more or less the same things, expressed in the mildest possible terms, is interpreted here as a major diplomatic blunder. “’Nowhere man’ Romney loses his way with gaffe about the Games,” quoth the Times.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, quick to read the welcome switch in national mood, fired back at Romney. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
Ouch, take that, Utah!
Oh yes, the Games have begun.
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 - Friday, March 23, 2012 at 3:54 PM - 0 Comments
I see that Salon’s Willa Paskin has written an article about how Whitney has improved, thereby saving me from fearing I was going crazy. I had been telling people that it was one of the better new comedies of the season – a very backhanded compliment, admittedly, given what this season has been like – and getting genuinely horrified reactions.
Not that Whitney is a first-rate show; it is not. Paskin’s problem with it is that it’s not funny enough; my problem is a combination of that, its still-weak supporting characters, and its slow pacing. (The fact that NBC/Universal has not done this type of show in some years seems very evident. The same network’s Are You There, Chelsea?, produced by Warner Brothers, is a much worse show, but it has a surface slickness and speed. Whitney actually gets a certain odd charm from the fact that it doesn’t have that kind of slickness, but it also has a lot of oddly paced scenes.) But what it’s always had going for it is Chris D’Elia, who has turned in the best performance on a new comedy show. His delivery is refreshingly un-hammy; he gets the most out of everything he’s given and still resembles an actual person. (I also have to give some credit to the writers for that; actors can’t create a convincing character alone. Beth Behrs was very good casting on 2 Broke Girls, but the writing after the pilot has been so bad that whenever I see it, she’s hamming it up, unable to put together a convincing character out of the lines she’s been given.) Cummings is not the natural actor D’Elia is, and from what I’ve seen the show has had problems figuring her out: it seemed to start with the assumption that we would all love her because she was a tell-it-like-it-is person, and has had to adjust to the fact that neither she nor the character are terribly likable.
But it did adjust, and the relationship between Cummings and D’Elia’s characters feels, there’s that word again, real. They’re a convincing couple, two people who get on each other’s (and sometimes our) nerves but really do seem to be together because they enjoy each other’s company. In a season where most new comedies have been unable to create characters and relationships that seem remotely real – instead giving us Zooey Deschanel or the ham-it-up brigade on 2 Broke Girls – I have to consider it one of the more enjoyable shows, even though I cringe at some moments. (There were two new comedies this season that seem to me like they really know what they’re doing: Suburgatory, and Last Man Standing. Everything else seemed to range from strange combinations of good and bad, to outright amateurish shows.) I feel like it’s the sort of show that would benefit from a great big re-tool, since the premise they have set up is simply not strong enough to spin off a lot of stories. (Cummings’ character would work better if she were taken down a peg more often, but because the premise has her as the Alpha Dog among a group of pathetic friends, this can’t happen that often. It needs what one writer has called a “contrary character,” someone who we can root against instead of rooting against the lead.) It won’t happen, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it get a chance to try.
I don’t quite get why this show became the most-hated in a comedy season that wasn’t much good all the way around. It inspired quite passionate hatred in some circles; on the iMDB message board for it, there’s at least two people who seem to spend all their time writing post after post rooting for its cancellation and hating anyone who likes it. My theory about why this is (apart from the obvious answer – “because it really is terrible”) would be that it was a combination of the obnoxious over-saturated marketing campaign and its presence on the Thursday night lineup, where it was considered an evil interloper. Once it was moved to Wednesdays, it was no longer hated as much, and its ratings were only a little bit lower (because the post-Office slot, though still theoretically the best comedy slot NBC has, isn’t really that good a slot any more; it’s not helping Up All Night much either). Not that I think it’s wrong to dislike it; you have to be in an indulgent mood to forgive its weaknesses. But I do think it got more intense hate than it deserved, and that might be a sign that NBC’s marketing campaign backfired. If it’s renewed for a second season, a 50/50 shot at this point, the network had better promote it as a comedy about a couple rather than the one-woman show it seemed to be in the original marketing.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 13, 2012 at 10:21 AM - 0 Comments
I mentioned this on a message board the other day, but I thought it was worth a quick post as well, if only because it’s the latest chapter in the strange history of the NBC network. to understand what’s going on with NBC trying to reunite Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, we may have to look back to an era when Roseanne was still on the air, and another network was trying to pick its ratings up out of the basement. In the mid-’90s, Leslie Moonves took over CBS, which had been floundering pretty much since M*A*S*H went off the air; it had a few hits in the ’80s, but few huge ones, and by the ’90s most of its mid-level hits were gone. Just before Moonves came in, the network management attempted to revamp the network’s whole image by adding a lot of young, sexy shows in the mold of the hits on NBC and Fox (most notoriously, a soap created by Melrose Place and 90210 mastermind Darren Star), but they all failed.
Moonves’s strategy for turning CBS around was built around doing what other networks had done, but in a different way: he signed up NBC’s former superstar, Bill Cosby, to do a CBS sitcom. And after some cast replacements, Phylicia Rashad wound up playing his wife again. According to Bill Carter’s Desperate Networks, this was part of a Moonves plan of “signing up stars who had had hits on NBC and ABC when they were younger. As they hit their forties or fifties, Moonves would bring them into CBS.” Some of Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 11:16 AM - 0 Comments
The thing about Smash that was most striking to me, almost from the first non-musical scene, is that it is one of the best-directed shows I’ve seen in a long time. Michael Mayer, who has done mostly Broadway shows like Spring Awakening, was chosen to direct the pilot and the first two episodes, and he was an exceptional choice (NBC must be pleased, as they’ve just signed him to do another drama pilot for them). The musical scenes are not cut to pieces and usually give you a clear idea of where everyone is – essential for a show where most of the numbers take place in a real space. The dialogue scenes avoid hamminess and aren’t artificially pumped up: Mayer isn’t afraid to keep the camera steady or hold a shot for a few extra seconds, and the whole thing feels almost like a classical movie in its un-fussy style. That style goes a long way toward making this show work. A more obviously interventionist director would just wind up making the thing look glitzier or grittier than the subject can bear. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, January 30, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
NBC is betting that audiences are still fascinated by the backstage antics of theatre people
Don’t call Smash a backstage musical. Please. The new hour-long drama is NBC’s last hope for a big scripted hit in a season where most of its shows have bombed. But the one thing the network feels a need to downplay is the fact that it’s about the world of Broadway theatre, where the characters are trying to put on a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. “In a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter that this is the theatre world,” creator Theresa Rebeck told the Los Angeles Times. “The way I think of the show is as The West Wing—an adult workplace drama, only they’re not in the White House.” Musicals about the world of show business used to be incredibly popular in the 1930s and beyond; Jane Feuer, author of the book The Hollywood Musical, says the majority of film musicals have been backstage musicals. But now Smash is trying to revive a whole genre and a way of thinking: it wants to make us care about theatre people for the first time in decades.
Back when musicals ﬁrst started being filmed, nobody had this problem; audiences loved to see theatre or film actors as the lead characters, and Feuer says musicals were usually about “a Broadway show or some other form of live entertainment like vaudeville.” On TV, shows like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show took us backstage at the making of nightclub performances and variety shows, while on the stage, one of the longest-running musicals was the backstager A Chorus Line. The pilot of Smash, which has its premiere Feb. 6 on NBC and CTV, follows so much in this tradition that it can seem almost indistinguishable from a backstage musical made in the ’30s; there’s the songwriting team that writes a show and gets it produced with unrealistic ease, the innocent would-be actress (American Idol’s Katharine McPhee) propositioned by a director, and all the other elements that have less to do with real theatre and more to do with theatre as Hollywood imagines it.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 2:00 AM - 0 Comments
There’s a movement—it’s a clever piece of magazine marketing, actually, but we’ll call it a movement—to build some sort of local monument in Edmonton to the SCTV television series, which was produced here from 1980 to early 1982. Why would Edmonton build a monument to SCTV? Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, November 15, 2010 at 3:40 PM - 14 Comments
This idea has been talked about for a while — NBC was rumoured to be thinking about it even before this season — but with the collapse of their new dramas and the atrocious ratings for The Apprentice, the network has decided to open up a three-hour comedy block on Thursdays, scheduling two half-hour comedies at 10 pm.
Now, let’s step back and remember the last time this same network came up with the innovative, brilliant idea of scheduling comedy at 10 o’clock. And then let’s remember that whatever happens, the network will follow these steps: a) Claim that this an idea whose time has come, that the broadcast model has changing, and that comedy could provide a great alternative to whatever else is on the other networks. b) Admit a year later that this was an idea they’d been kicking around for a while and pulled the trigger on because they didn’t have anything else.
Can half-hour comedy work at 10 o’clock? It’s difficult to know. In this era, the 10 o’clock slot is increasingly unwatched on broadcast TV; it’s the hour when viewers either watch what they’ve DVR’d or watch cable, which is why the networks have had serious trouble coming up with a genuine new hit in that hour. With fewer people watching, and audiences that tend to go older, a half-hour comedy (which usually appeals to younger audiences than the usual 10 o’clock show) could be decent counter-programming but it’s more likely just to get disappointing numbers.
NBC seems to know and even expect this: that’s why the show they’ve chosen for 10 o’clock is 30 Rock, whose time slot change coincides with a guaranteed pickup for more seasons. In other words, 30 Rock is low-rated but it’s cancellation-proof, and if it does something like what it does at 8:30 — or somewhere near it — NBC will be satisfied, and the show won’t be in any trouble if it goes below that number. If NBC put a drama at that hour it would just get beaten (even in the Coveted Demographic) by The Mentalist and Private Practice Putting 30 Rock there may make the beating less troublesome at worst, and might unexpectedly pay off if the show finds some new viewers. For Tina Fey, the news is all good. She gets to keep her show on the air forever, she has the chance of anchoring an hour, and she no longer has to suffer the humiliation of losing in the ratings to a show as bad as Shat My Dad Says. Now she’ll be losing to a Very Special Episode of Private Practice, but that will be far less hard to take.
This new schedule is also great news for Parks & Recreation, which finally gets back on the air and gets the 9:30 slot after The Office that it’s always wanted. This is the last season when the post-Office slot is guaranteed to mean anything in the ratings so the network had better get as much use out of it as it can. This is the best news for me, too, since Parks & Recreation is my favourite part of their lineup — I find it more satisfying than Community (which has great moments but a lot of times that I find not-so-great, and a central character I just don’t seem to enjoy watching) and more character-based than 30 Rock.
It’s terrible news for the two freshman comedies, Perfect Couples and Outsourced. The latter, which was doing well after The Office — it’s actually NBC’s highest-rated new show, mostly by default — is being moved from the best slot to probably the worst, asked to perform with a less compatible and less popular lead-in, while airing at a time when most people are starting to drift away. I don’t know if NBC has too little confidence in the show or too much (or, knowing how executives can never agree, maybe both). Meanwhile the new midseason show, Perfect Couples, will be airing after the low-rated Community; launching a new comedy is tough enough as it is, but it’s incredibly difficult with no lead-in support. I could easily see a scenario where the 8 o’clock hour winds up doing worse for NBC than the 10.
All of this is sort of a band-aid, of course: a way of patching some of their holes while getting some press attention while doing so. Next season, with Carell gone from The Office and both CBS and ABC surpassing them in the live-action comedy department, NBC is going to have to make some serious decisions about how to restructure their lineup. In a way, this new decision might at least be a hopeful sign in one way: it shows a flicker of understanding that the magic of “NBC on Thursday” is gone and that they need to try something different.
Also, I have a feeling that three hours of single-camera comedy is too unvaried — if they hadn’t been too snobbish to pick up some live-audience shows, they’d have some chance to create variety on their new block. But I suppose if they had any traditional shows, they would get all the blame if the new block didn’t work out. In any case, some would argue that there’s enough differences in approaches and the way these shows have been paired (one hour of mock documentaries; one hour of movie-style “insane workplace” comedies) that there will be variety.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, November 5, 2010 at 1:09 PM - 0 Comments
NBC finally gave up and canceled Undercovers. This is not a surprise. (When an NBC show is so low-rated that it makes Chuck seem secure by comparison, you know it’s got problems.) It’s a little morbid to analyze the season in terms of which shows have bombed the worst, but I think that although Lone Star and My Generation flamed out more spectacularly, Undercovers may be the biggest failure. Lone Star was considered something of a risk by its network, because of its anti-hero lead and the bigamy angle. It was the kind of show that could, if things break right, become popular — meaning that it was a risk worth taking as the network saw it — but it was also the kind of show whose subject matter could just turn people off. The network didn’t expect it to fail; otherwise it wouldn’t have been on. But they felt they were taking at least a bit of a chance. Same with the slightly unconventional approach of My Generation; it wasn’t a big risk, but it was a small risk.
Undercovers, on the other hand, was not considered a risky show by anyone who made it or commissioned it. That’s not to say anyone thought it was guaranteed to succeed; guaranteed success doesn’t exist any more than guaranteed failure. But it was supposed to be a relatively low-risk project that would provide comfortable entertainment and solid ratings for a network that really needed a hit. Instead it was almost as unpopular as Lone Star, despite doing almost nothing ambitious. When an ambitious show bombs, at least the network and the producers can reassure themselves that they tried something different and the audience didn’t want it. An unambitious bomb has no such excuse. It’s just a show that existed to entertain and didn’t entertain enough.
The reason why Undercovers was so dull may be glimpsed in Nikki Finke’s talk with an anonymous staffer on the show. He or she says this:
Mostly, what was meant to be a throwback lark of a show felt trivial to people. It felt flimsy and not compelling, partially because it was designed as a stand alone, non serialized show. Perhaps the stories lacked deeper interest and urgency. We tried to embrace a familiarity of form, but the public obviously didn’t want something so familiar.
Coming from a team that mostly does complicated serial adventures, Undercovers seems to have been an attempt to do something easy and fun and “familiar.” But, as I’ve said many times in one form or another, a non-serialized show isn’t easier than a serialized one; it is, if anything, harder. As a commenter on that article points out, the show didn’t need a mythology, it needed high stakes for the weekly adventures, but instead everything just seemed pointless. This is something that plagues a number of light dramas, where the writers often don’t have the patience — or the skill — to construct stories that make you care how the characters are going to get out of the trap, and override our knowledge that they’re going to survive.
Chuck has this problem too, often coming up with uncompelling or perfunctory escapes and action beats. But that show gets by on charm, and the writers are clearly having fun. The sense that the writers on Undercovers weren’t really having fun, and condescended to the format, was hard to escape. It’s a bit like the obvious condescention the team displayed before Fringe began, talking as though the standalone mystery format was just a way to get the show on the air and that they clearly considered the ongoing myth stuff to be higher art. Sure enough, Fringe got better as it got more mythology-heavy, because that’s where the writers’ interests really lay. But the lack of love for the standalone format seems to have caught up with Abrams and company in Undercovers; if the writers of this kind of show aren’t good at standalones, it’s never going to work.
It may also have been mistaken to think that a light action show was the kind of thing needed to deliver a hit. Maybe it’s just because the form hasn’t been done particularly well in recent years, but it certainly does seem to have become a niche cable format, owned by USA and TNT. On the big networks, light action is probably less “mainstream” than mystery shows with relatively little action (Castle, Bones, almost everything on CBS). Chuck, Undercovers and The Good Guys and Human Target are a small sample size, and an A-Team type of action show could come along and revive the genre, but at the moment it’s not really a mainstream genre; it’s a niche genre that sounds like it should be mainstream because it’s light and fun. Dour and dark may actually have a better chance of mass popularity, at least in drama, than light and fun.
The one sad thing about Undercovers‘ failure is that it leaves U.S. TV once again with a really depressing lack of African-American leads. I’m afraid that networks may take this as a sign that audiences won’t watch a drama with black stars. I think this would be a pretty silly thing to believe, given that there are other, more compelling explanations: no one had heard of these two stars, the network expected J.J. Abrams’ star power to make up for that, and his name doesn’t actually carry that much weight with viewers. But just because something is probably wrong, that won’t stop network executives from believing it.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
What Kevin Smith, Helena Guergis, Star Wars fans and Conan O’Brien all have in common
Kevin Smith vs. Southwest
The U.S. airline booted the cult filmmaker off a flight because he was too fat to fit into only one seat. The plane’s employees told the Cop Out director his girth might ruin the experience for his seatmate and prevent “a timely exit from the aircraft.” Smith, a self-proclaimed “fatty,” used his Twitter feed to stir up fan outrage, saying Southwest messed with “the wrong sedentary processed-foods eater!” After hearing from angry Smith fans, airline representatives apologized to him. But they’d never have treated Alfred Hitchcock this way.
White Stripes vs. u.s. Air Force
Rock stars are always protesting when politicians use their songs, but only the White Stripes have the guts to take on the U.S. military. Band members Meg and Jack White decried the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s Super Bowl commercial, which used music eerily similar to their song Fell in Love With a Girl “to encourage recruitment during a war that we do not support.” The air force pulled the ad from its website. Who knew such a powerful fighting force could be defeated by two musicians from Detroit?
Marcia vs. Jan
A planned reunion of the kids from The Brady Bunch was canceled due to sibling rivalry: Maureen McCormick (Marcia) and Eve Plumb (Jan) “did not want to be on the same show.” Plumb is still apparently angry that McCormick’s memoir, Here’s the Story, boosted its sales by implying the two actresses had a brief lesbian relationship. She should bear in mind that the last time she refused to do a Brady Bunch reunion, she was replaced by another actor: Geri Reischl, now known as the “fake Jan.”
Conan vs. NBC
Conan O’Brien’s brief stint as host of The Tonight Show ended with NBC giving him a big cash payment to end his contract, and several episodes featuring expensive props charged to NBC. The catch was, O’Brien could not make disparaging remarks about the people who fired him. But NBC neglected to make such a deal with his sidekick, Andy Richter, who went on Live! With Regis and Kelly to blast NBC’s “short-sighted” planning. Maybe on Conan’s upcoming comedy tour, he’ll be contractually obligated to let Richter do all the talking.
Eric Massa vs. Rahm Emanuel
U.S. Democratic congressman Eric Massa, who resigned his seat for “health reasons” before it came to light he had groped male staffers, claimed he was “set up” by Obama’s ruthless chief of staff. Massa, who voted against Obama’s health care plan, said a naked Emanuel threatened him in the showers at the congressional gym. But when he was invited on Glenn Beck’s show, Massa changed his story, saying he was not forced out. Which can only mean that the Emanuel conspiracy, which has produced so many obsessive articles about Emanuel, has gotten to Massa.
SRC vs. Italians
Radio-Canada aired a comedy sketch in which a stereotypical Italian family, the Jambonis, appears on a game show. The Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association complained to the CRTC and demanded an apology for the “racist” sketch, where the family threatens to put a hit on the host and talk about how influential they are in the Quebec construction industry. CIBPA’s vice-president, Giuliano D’Andrea, argued there must be “limits to freedom of expression.” But don’t take that as a threat.
Helena Guergis vs. Charlottetown
After the federal Tory cabinet minister swore at Charlottetown airport security personnel and said they’d cause her to be “stuck in this s–thole,” an anonymous resident got revenge for the city by publicizing her outburst in a letter, forcing her to apologize. Guergis had been in the P.E.I. capital announcing a federal initiative she claimed would help more women and girls in P.E.I. “reach their full potential.” Which apparently means getting out of there as quickly as possible.
The Fans VS. George Lucas
At last, a movie about how much Star Wars fans hate the Star Wars creator for Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks and more. Alexandre Philippe’s The People vs. George Lucas interviews many disappointed fans, including a band that sings George Lucas Raped Our Childhood. But Philippe, himself a big fan of the original movies, says he still loves Lucas and wants him to “return to his early experimental roots.” You know, like movies about space princesses and robots.
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Lineups? Public transit? VIPs had a very different experience of the Games, from ‘swag suites’ to ﬁve-star dining.
One of the wonders of the Olympics is its ability to bring people from all over the world together to celebrate in convivial competition. Actually being part of that seething throng of humanity is another matter: crowds at Vancouver’s fenced-in Olympic venues move with the velocity of mud, lineups are plentiful and tickets to events not priced out of reach by scalpers are scarce. The Canada Line built for the Games has proven brilliantly efficient, if you can squeeze on it. And thanks to the security fences that circle Olympic venues, early attempts to have your picture taken in front of the Olympic cauldron will contain at least 40 per cent chain link.
That’s unless you happen to be part of that set of people one was constantly seeing around the Games—stepping off tour buses clad in matching jackets, being ushered to boxes at hockey games. While hundreds of people queued up patiently at the Hudson’s Bay Company Superstore to stock up on red mittens, people with more famous faces were picking through the racks of freebies in the company’s airy “gift” room at the swank Loden hotel. John Hamm, Sandra Oh, Rachel Bilson and the Gretzky family all dropped by the penthouse and left wearing the gear (a swag suite rule), juggling as many bulging yellow Bay bags as they can carry. The giveaways were good for business: the Bay blanket coat by Smythe that Bilson was seen wearing during the Games sold out in the stores.
Special treatment wasn’t limited to movie stars. Corporate clients of Jet Set Sports, the American company with the lock on providing high-end Olympic hospitality, could likewise avoid the hour-long lineups outside the Russian pavilion in Science World, and sail into a private VIP room where talk was focused on Sochi 2014. (The only thing more prestigious than being on the ground floor of the 2010 Winter Games is being inside the next one.) Or they could travel to speed-skating events on a chartered Olympic bus, with retired American speed-skating champion Bonnie Blair providing the inside dish.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 9:00 PM - 13 Comments
Rod Black, Melissa Hollingsworth and plenty of figure skaters make the list
The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili is notably absent from this list. We at Maclean’s felt that such a tragic event had no place in such a lighthearted recap. Please see our magazine article, Who’s to blame, for our report on Kumaritashvili.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 2 Comments
The hit show ‘Modern Family’ never bothers to explain who’s interviewing the characters
In the original pilot script for Modern Family, the creators included a subplot explaining why the show’s three wacky families were being filmed documentary-style. The idea was that the interconnected families were the subject of a movie being made by a Dutch exchange student; he was going to have a backstory and fall in love with one of the regulars. But by the time the show made it to air, the documentary filmmaker was nowhere to be seen, and as Modern Family has grown into the biggest hit comedy of the season, the characters have never shown any awareness that they’re being filmed. Co-creator Steven Levitan (Just Shoot Me!) made it official in an interview with the Television Critics Association, saying that the presence of the documentarian “felt like an appendage, like we didn’t need it.” Modern Family is now a show that uses documentary film techniques but never bothers to explain why; that’s why Levitan calls it “a family show done documentary-style.”
The mock-documentary is a staple of modern U.S. and British comedy, whether it’s the early movies of Albert Brooks, films like This Is Spinal Tap, or both versions of The Office. But in most of those projects, there’s been some attempt to justify the style of shooting and to follow some of the rules of a real documentary. The documentarian was an onscreen character in Spinal Tap, and on the original version of The Office, the show did an episode in which the documentary actually was released (providing new problems for the characters). On the U.S. Office, people mention the presence of the camera, look in its direction, and even try to avoid being filmed at tense moments. There’s none of that on Modern Family, where the characters never seem to know they’re being filmed, and where Levitan has said he doesn’t want to imitate “families who let cameras in their houses in real life. I just can’t stand those shows.”
Even the “talking head” segments, where characters are interviewed about what’s going on in their lives, are done without any indication of who they’re talking to. On The Office, characters answer questions and even say things like “shut up” to the off-screen interviewer, but on Modern Family, the same scenes are almost like dream sequences where the stars express their feelings to no one in particular. Some people have complained about the refusal to justify the format; New Jersey Star-Ledger critic Alan Sepinwall wrote that the show needs to make up its mind whether the talking heads are real or fantasy, because “the current approach is just distracting.” But Levitan has said the documentary is “just our style of storytelling,” a device to reveal characters’ feelings.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
A week in the life of Yulia Tymoshenko
A week in the life of Yulia Tymoshenko
The prime minister of Ukraine, Tymoshenko is set to face Viktor Yanukovych in second-round
voting for the country’s presidency, expected to be held next month. Tymoshenko was a leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the popular uprising against Yanukovych in the aftermath of the country’s 2004 presidential election. While Tymoshenko blamed Russian interference back then, she is now seen as being in favour of closer ties with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
A Canadian man who conspired to commit mass murder in the name of Islam has been handed the harshest punishment possible: life behind bars. The judge who delivered the sentence said it best: “It is difficult to put into words Zakaria Amara’s degree of responsibility. He was the leader and directing mind of a plot that would have resulted in the most horrific crime Canada has ever seen.” The confessed ringleader of the “Toronto 18”—a man obsessed with detonating truck bombs—was hoping for a 20-year term, which, with credit for time served, may have put him back on the streets by the end of the decade. But the life sentence ensures Amara will remain in prison until the day he dies, or the day the National Parole Board decides he is no longer a threat to fellow Canadians. We hope that’s a very, very long way off.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, January 22, 2010 at 7:03 AM - 9 Comments
Louis C.K., who may be the dean of American standup comedy (or perhaps a regent serving during the Madness of King Chappelle), offers a sage commentary on the Late Night Wars. His insight is unique and valuable because 1) it’s Louis C.K., for God’s sake; 2) it’s saturated with sincere respect for everybody involved; 3) he’s written for and with pretty much everybody, including Conan O’Brien and David Letterman; 4) it’s easy to forget because he’s bald and pudgy, but he’s got a generational perspective quite distinct, in important ways, from that of the principals. LCK is four years younger than the boyish Conan, and easily young enough to be Jay Leno’s kid. In some respects he is obviously speaking for all the major comic talents out there who haven’t yet had their own successful series.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 12:40 PM - 36 Comments
As Conan O’Brien signs his severance pact with NBC and prepares to leave — see Maureen Ryan for the latest good LenCon analysis — the Hollywood Reporter points us to this 2008 article where an “inside source” sort of predicted the whole thing (I’ve added line breaks for greater ease of reading):
NBC has committed to Conan for ‘The Tonight Show’ and will go through with it. It’s less of a financial decision, because the $40-45 million penalty payment is not super relevant. If they went to Jay and said, ‘we need you to split the payment,’ he’d do it. They’ve made a public commitment to Conan and don’t want to get beaten up over it.
NBC will do everything to try to keep Jay. Morning shows, afternoon shows, daytime shows – he won’t take any of those. They will try to keep Jay in the fold so if Conan fails on ‘The Tonight Show’ they will put Jay right back in there. Jeff Zucker will call Jay into his office with big wink and say, ‘if you say it publicly I’ll deny it, but if Conan fails, I want you back.’ That’s just the way NBC works. Back when Dave and Jay were fighting over ‘The Tonight Show,’ they tried to see if they could do the same thing. That’s what they’re going to try and do here with Jay and Conan, only they are more likely to pull it off this time.
So much for the “not getting beaten up” part, of course.
In my opinion, David Letterman has been the most entertaining person in this whole thing. His response to Leno’s “don’t blame Conan” comments, two nights ago, was particularly good. Letterman is bitter and cranky and his affable manner (intentionally) does not conceal his seething rage. All this can be a handicap when he’s trying to be lighthearted and funny, but it is perfectly suited for the current situation, in addition to the fact that he isn’t directly involved in this and can therefore say whatever he wants (unlike Conan). Letterman was the guy who really perfected the idea that a talk-show host could be a character on his own show, someone whose reactions, feelings and petty jealousies could be a part of each night’s storyline. Other people had done it, of course, but his shows are really not so much talk shows as the story of a guy hosting a talk show. And the reactions of the Letterman character, with his anger, his personal baggage, his passive-aggressive loathing of Leno, and his taunting response to Leno’s cheap shots (Leno can’t really think of anything to say about Letterman except to refer to the blackmail scandal over and over) has created some of his best character-comedy moments.
I think my favourite part of this speech is “Lonnie Donegan.”
And just for the hell of it, and to explain the obscure reference, here’s the actual Lonnie Donegan with one of his biggest hit recordings:
Comedy fans may remember Stan Freberg’s hilarious parody of Donegan’s endless pre-song narration.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Newsmakers of the week
Just prorogue his subscription
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called The Economist one of his favourite magazines. The feeling isn’t mutual. The British journal has laid an editorial beating on the PM under the headline “Harper goes prorogue.” It condemns the “naked self-interest” it sees behind suspending Parliament until March 3, after the Olympics. It called his cabinet “a bunch of Gerald Fords,” who apparently can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, or run the country and host the Olympics. The more likely reason for proroguing, the editors say, was to avoid scrutiny on issues including Canada’s policy on handing over Afghan detainees to local authorities when they risked torture. Canadians are complacent, but only if the “government is in good hands,” the editorial ends. “They may soon conclude that it isn’t.”
Expos 1, Blue Jays 0
Andre Dawson, a fan favourite of the late Montreal Expos, was finally voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in his ninth year on the ballot. Not so lucky was former Toronto Blue Jay Roberto Alomar, who didn’t make the cut in his first year of eligibility, though few doubt that one of the best second baseman to ever play will make it to the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine. As for Mark McGwire’s chances, fuggedaboutit. He finally admitted the obvious Monday, telling the Associated Press he was on steroids before, during and after breaking the home run record in 1998.
Going down to Luisana
Her name, Luisana Loreley Lopilato de la Torre, is almost as long as the Vancouver to Buenos Aires commute singer Michael Bublé, 34, has been making these past two years to see his lady love. This week he confirmed that he trekked down to Argentina with an engagement ring in November and proposed to the 22-year-old star of a popular South American soap opera. The two met at a record company party in Buenos Aires in late 2008. No date has been set for the wedding. Bublé’s fiancée played his imaginary love interest in his recent video for Haven’t Met You Yet, filmed in a Vancouver grocery store.
How about when hell freezes over?
Relations are frosty between Iceland’s president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, and Britain and the Netherlands after the head of the tiny, bankrupt nation vetoed a bill to repay the countries for bailing out creditors of the failed Icesave online bank. Icesave, which lacked adequate deposit insurance, failed in 2008. Britain and the Netherlands compensated depositors in their countries for $6 billion in losses and pressured Iceland for repayment. Compensation legislation was passed in Iceland’s parliament, but Grimsson refused to sign it, and instead called a referendum, which ends March 6. The vote will determine how—or if—Iceland will reimburse the bailout. So far public opinion is behind the president; the debt amounts to 40 per cent of Iceland’s GDP, about $18,000 a person.
Keanu’s not very excellent adventure
In the imagination of Karen Sala of Barrie, Ont., Toronto-born actor Keanu Reeves hangs out at the local No Frills grocery store, disguises himself as her ex-husband, and is the father of her four adult children. Last week, Judge Fred Graham dismissed her claim for $3 million a month in spousal support. He called the case “patently unbelievable,” and assessed her $15,000 in costs. Reeves, who says he never met Sala, submitted to a DNA test to prove he wasn’t the father. His lawyer said Reeves may not enforce the cost order against the cash-strapped Sala, though he spent some $85,000 in legal fees.
Two degrees, no separation
For most university students, life in a cramped residence room is a one-year transition from leaving home to a first apartment. Not so for Alkis Gerd’son, who has lived almost continuously in a University of Victoria residence since 1991. Gerd’son graduated more than 12 years ago with his second undergraduate degree and has since dabbled in a few non-credit courses. B.C.’s Supreme Court ruled the university can evict him. Gerd’son, who says he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, has taken his case to the provincial human rights tribunal, claiming the university is unfair to the disabled.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Peter Robinson was Northern Ireland’s first minister and his wife, Iris, also an MP, was a religious and moral crusader who caused outrage in 2008 for saying homosexuality was as vile as child abuse. At the same time, it turns out, the first lady, now 60, was having an affair with 19-year-old Kirk McCambley, apparently after previously bedding his father, now dead. She also solicited money from property developers to help McCambley start a café. Iris has resigned her seat. Her husband, who temporarily stepped down from his post, is fighting to salvage his career. He has vowed to stay in the marriage.
Lean on us
The Chicopee ski hill in Kitchener, Ont., is short on elevation, but its skiers are big in heart. Last Thursday night the ski club paid a surprise visit to the family home of injured national team skier Kelly VanderBeek. She is there recovering from surgery for a knee injury that ended her hopes of competing in Whistler at the Olympics. A stunned VanderBeek hobbled to the door on crutches to be greeted by a crowd of 60, waving flags and singing O Canada, the song she’d hoped to hear from the podium. VanderBeek, who learned to ski at Chicopee, was moved to tears.
Life with Dad was a real blast
When your name is bin Laden, and your dad is Osama, it’s a safe bet your family life was complicated. Still, the clan has seen more than its share of drama lately. It emerged Osama’s daughter Imam had fled the family compound near Tehran where one bin Laden wife and several children have lived under house arrest since 9/11. She sought refuge in the Saudi Embassy, and the Saudis are in talks to repatriate her. Brother Omar has since revealed another sibling, Bakr, who’s 16, has left Iran. Omar, of course, wrote the recent Growing Up Bin Laden, a portrait of a man who is a better terrorist than a father. Osama beat his children, sacriﬁced their pets to poison-gas experiments, and asked his sons to volunteer for suicide missions. Omar wrote, “My father hated his enemies more than he loved his sons.”
Stimulus begins at home
Balancing a trillion-dollar deficit may be less challenging for Peter Orszag, director of the White House Ofﬁce of Management and Budget (OMB), than flow-charting his relationships. Orszag, 41, is such a man about the Beltway he inspired a fan site, Orszgasm.com (“putting the OMG back in the OMB”). As a divorced father of two, he’s squired such dates as Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth, and venture capitalist Claire Milonas. Milonas was pregnant with their daughter when he took up with ABC reporter Bianna Golodryga. Weeks after Milonas gave birth, he and Golodryga announced their engagement. As an MSNBC headline put it, it’s a “Budget baby mama drama.”
The price was right
Affable former TV game show host Bob Barker seems an unlikely foil for the uncompromising Canadian environmentalist Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, but the two vegetarians are bitter foes of the Japanese whaling industry. Last week a Sea Shepherd speedboat and a Japanese whaler collided during a confrontation off Antarctica. Steaming to the rescue of the sinking speedboat and its crew was the 1,200-ton Bob Barker, financed by its namesake. Watson had told Barker he could put the whalers out of business for $5 million. “I have the $5 million,” Barker replied, “so let’s get it on.”
Another Reagan hits the panic button
Los Angeles police wasted no time responding to a silent alarm at 1 a.m. at the home of Michael Reagan, a conservative commentator and the adopted son of the late president Ronald Reagan. They quickly surrounded the home and arrested Michael’s 31-year-old son Cameron, who berated the officers and attempted to leave. Police say Ronnie’s grandson had been drinking. He was later released on a $10,000 bond. Michael said the “misunderstanding” resulted when his son, unaware he had tripped the alarm, panicked at the presence of police. He has had previous run-ins with police.
A shot of Tequila
Reality TV star Tila Tequila has turned to Twitter in her grief over the death of her fiancée, hard-partying Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson. Tequila’s tweets soon degenerated into a slanging match with heiress Courtenay Semel, of the Yahoo! Semels. Semel has been romantically linked with both women and claimed the impending marriage was a fraud: “We’re talking about the biggest fame whore in L.A.,” a reference to Tequila. Meantime, yet another heiress, Nicky Hilton, and her socialite friend Bijou Phillips, seized two of Johnson’s dogs from a weeping Tequila. Zoey, an elderly, ill poodle, was to be put to sleep, and buried with his owner.
Careful what you wish for, Conan
In case you’re losing sleep over the state of NBC late night TV (and isn’t that the point of it?), here’s an update. Jay Leno’s prime-time show dies when NBC broadcasts the Vancouver Olympic Games next month. Leno moves to 11:35 p.m., bumping Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m. On Monday, O’Brien ripped NBC in his monologue and joked he’ll star in a TV movie “about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her network.” Then, on Tuesday, he announced he wouldn’t host the show in its new “next day” time slot. Meantime, he has an exit strategy of sorts, revealed in pre-taped comments aired for the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons, a show he once wrote for. If somebody (Fox, say?) would put him to pasture in Spain, and pay him $1 a year to write dialogue for the evil Mr. Burns, he said, “I would take that job.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, January 18, 2010 at 11:58 AM - 21 Comments
This is a live-to-tape blog. Written in real time offline while watching the Golden Globe Awards and cleaned up (and tarted up) the morning-after so it’s less boring and at least semi-coherent. Gotta love the Globes. Acceptance speeches keep getting undercut by dark hints that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is one of the more corrupt awards outfits on the planet, a cabal of obscure junketeers who are (ahem) prone to influence, even if it’s just face time with a superstar. But Hollywood has appropriated the HFPA’s event as a party and a publicity orgy. And for the stars, this dress rehearsal for the Academy Awards is way more fun and less formal than Oscar night. They can get loaded on champagne then let the emotions fly on the podium. Plus it brings together film and TV, even though the TV folk get treated like minor league players.
Our host, a TV genius who has made the jump to the big screen with a movie unrecognized by the Globes (The Invention of Lying), is Ricky Gervais. He comes out swinging. Takes repeated shots at Steve Carell, then plugs a boxed DVD set of The Office, his breakout BBC series, which he says is better than Carell’s U.S. spin-off. Carrel mouths “I’m going to kill you,” making a joke of it, but frankly, he looks unamused.
“I will be making the most of this opportunity,” says Gervais. “I’m not used to these viewing figures. Another is NBC.” [This will be the first of many swipes at the train-wreck network. The other constant reference to NBC is in the frequent pleas to donate to the Haiti relief effort. Presenters ritually ask viewers to go to NBC.com. So this morning I did go to NBC.com, expecting some serious hype for charity. What do you know, amid all the glitz ads promoting Jay Leno and various NBC programming triumphs, I found a tiny, unadorned "Donate to Haiti Relief" box , which takes up maybe two percent of the NBC home page.]
Gervais’s nothing-to-lose monologue veers into blue territory as he praises the great work done this year . . . by cosmetic surgeons, then talks about his penis reduction surgery. “Just got the one now. And it is very tiny. But so are my hands. So when I’m holding it, it looks pretty big. And let’s face it I usually am holding it. I wish I was doing that now, instead of this, to be honest.” Continue…