The 7 Deadly Sins of Summer

Take a bite?

Take a bite?

Summer is over and it’s time to look at where we are and where we’re headed.

Actually, the summer doesn’t officially end until the start of fall, which is technically the last week of September. But in the US, it always seems to end right after the Labor Day weekend.  And why not?  What better way to signal the end of fun than a holiday that salutes the worker (who presumably have at least been given some kind of summer vacation) and falls on the last long 3-day weekend of the most carefree of our seasons?

Of course, when I was younger and a student, summer’s end coincided with the start of the school term or fall semester.  Which now happens mid-August if you attend or teach college or, even if you’re still in elementary school in some places.  That also used to coincide with the beginning of the fall television season.  But don’t get me started on when that begins because there aren’t really small screen seasons anymore.  Just nights and weekends where you can fit in TV binge viewing.  My personal theory is that binge viewing might be linked to global warming since it seems to be particularly inspired by unseasonably hot or cold weather – an everyday occurrence these days.  Which begs the question of there even being any sort of seasons at all (certainly not in L.A.).

Still, we soldier on.  Because more than anything else Americans cling to some traditions that, by any rational standards, have long and forever outlived their usefulness.

That being the case, this seems like a good moment to take stock of what sins have been committed, and where we are and how we move forward into Fall – as opposed to free-fall – since certainly we here at notes don’t want to outlive whatever usefulness we currently retain in the world.

LUST: SEX AND THE SINGLE MILEY

sigh.

sigh.

Never has so much been made of so little.  That’s actually a quote famously appropriated by the late actor David Niven when a naked guy streaked across the stage at the 1974 Oscar ceremonies.   But it applies here.

Like any parent, we don’t like to see our kids grow up and become sexual.  But when exactly is grown up enough for sexuality to be employed when it’s your own kid?  16, 18, 20, 25…50…or never?   I’m not a parent but if I were I’d have to vote for never.

If you don’t know about (or have never seen) the MTV VMAs, here’s the problem – former tween star and now 20-year-old recording artist Miley Cyrus did a song and dance number of her hit tune “We Can’t Stop” at the Video Music Awards last week where she rolled her tongue around like a snake charmer, bumping, grinding and (get your urban dictionary out) twerking across the stage against or dangerously close to the crotch area of tall, hunky and rappy 36-year-old male singer Robin Thicke, who has cultivated the oily persona of a studly, very well-endowed lothario in his hit song “Blurred Lines.” The latter may or may not be true in life, but who am I to say? Entertainment Weekly this week famously called it all a “teddy bear orgy” but, then again, who am I to say or even re-appropriate that phrase?

The bigger issue is this: we Americans are pretty hung up about sex, aren’t we?  Yes, I’m purposely including myself in that because while I was watching the Miley/Thicke spectacle (which I then re-watched several times) I groaned, called it gross, and was generally turned off – wondering why Hannah Montana felt compelled to become a fifth rate version of a Sunset Blvd. stripper on national television and why a guy who is height-advantaged, considered hot and, okay, some sort of talented (and is married to the very talented and very hot actress Paula Patton) felt the need to carouse onstage in front of an international audience with a girl young enough to be his…stepdaughter?

As if that wasn’t threatening enough to me and Middle America, he was wearing dark shades and dressed like a high class (if there is such a thing) pimp in a tighter version of the black and white vertical striped pants I wore to one of my own high school dances in the seventies in order to make me look taller.

Just don't say his name 3 times!

Just don’t say his name 3 times!

Certainly that has nothing to do with his involvement with Miley, as a very successful female writer friend of mine argued.  She’s (Miley) of age, she was (or still is?) engaged to be married and isn’t a Disney star any longer.  Why the international headlines?  Why can’t women own who they are?  Why are sexy girls given the scarlet letter when sexy guys are given the term of…well….stud, or even young buck?  In other words, what’s Miley to do?

She has a point, I suppose.  But had the dance moves been a little better, the routine a little more clever, or the 36 year-old guy a little bit more of…well, something…it all might have been sort of funny.  It wasn’t.  Nor was it the end of the world.  At the very least it’s the beginning of a new one for Ms. Cyrus.  Stay tuned to wherever it’s headed.  Which, odds are, has to be up.

GREED: MIDDLE EAST WARS, SYRIA – NOT Syriana

syria-political-map

Unfortunately, we have a tendency in the summer to see events through the lens of a popcorn movie, preferably a sequel.  In our minds, this reduces even political atrocities like the current mass nerve-gassing of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Syria by a power-hungry dictator to the Oscar-winning George Clooney movie Syriana, which didn’t even take place in Syria and, in fact, wasn’t even released in the summer.

Sadly, the realities revealed in the real Syria these past few weeks seem to be signaling the involvement of the United States in yet another awful geo-political struggle in the Middle East.  This is seen as unavoidable in some form by both sides of the political spectrum and surely signals the end of a carefree summer.

It is doubtful, however, whether even the best civics teacher could explain the pros and cons of this extremely complicated situation in ways in which those of us just emerging from the summer of ’13 (that’s 2013) could reliably understand.  Try as they might on network news, or on CNN, MSNBC and FOX (let’s list them all together and be fair and balanced here), it’s still not happening for those of us not in the know of these things.  Which really means – all of us.

The best I’ve come across is an article in this weekend’s Washington Post.  It breaks down the pros and cons of US involvement in Syria and gives a basic understanding of the political situation there in general.  Think of it as – Syria For Dummies.

(Note:  This title in no way meant to diminish the tragic circumstances.  It’s simply the strategy of good teaching: to make something digestible, first reduce to its simplest form and then begin to add layers).

GLUTTONY: DOWNTON ABBEY & YOU

Someone close to me likened the hit PBS series Downton Abbey to crack in its purest form.   As a faithful follower, I know this is so.  However, as a life long culture vulture, I’m not quite sure why the lives of the aristocrats living in a countryside British castle at the turn of the 20th century along with the servants who love and, well, serve them has such a hold on its worldwide audience.  Perhaps because it’s so different than the world in which we live in today.  Though the writing, acting, directing and castle itself could have something to do with it.

In any event, the fourth season starts being broadcast in England sometime this month and is set in the roaring twenties.  It will also introduce race into the equation with its first Black cast member, a singer in the traditional of jazz great Cab Calloway played by acclaimed British actor Gary Carr.  I suspect this is not just novelty casting but will be used as a way to continue to tell the story of the vast cultural shifts of the times as the upstairs-downstairs way of living slowly begins to unravel.

Hellllloooo Gary!

Hellllloooo Gary!

It should be noted that my students have a particularly hard time with the social mores shown in period pieces even though they are historically accurate.  For instance, I’ve given up even mentioning either the book or movie version of Gone With The Wind in class since the Mammy character and the sashaying young black maid seems to take them out of a story quicker than the foot and a half sized cell phone you see in early 1980s American films.   Yes, I know – those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.  You try telling them that.

Finally, DA does not officially premiere in the US until January 2014.  That’s a shame.  Given how connected the world is via social media and the rest of the web, it’s very difficult to wait four months without spoilers to begin a series that is, admittedly, a street drug.  Of course, you can get someone you know in London to send you DVDs that come out midway to late in the fall season.  Or you can do it another….no, I am NOT advocating that!  Am I?  Well, as Will Ferrell once joked on SNL, ‘Maybe I am and…maybe I am…”  (Note to law enforcement:  That’s a joke).

SLOTH: LAZINESS AND THE MOVIES

Do you smell that?

Do you smell that?

Someone has to say it – 2013 has generally been a crap year for movies.  Sorry, it has.  There were a few of good films.  But nothing great or particularly unusual.  I’m leaving out Fruitvale Station because people I trust really like it and I haven’t seen it yet.  Though I very much enjoyed The Spectacular Now and Cate Blachett was wonderful in Blue Jasmine even if the film as a whole somehow disappoints (uh yes, that’s just my opinion).

Still, there’s hope.  What I’m hearing through sources is that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are great being weightless in GravityInside Llewyn Davis is a very cool movie from the very cool Coen Brothers and two actors who were different kinds of movie stars in the seventies will be up for Oscars in two other films.  They are Robert Redford in a practically one-man tour de force in JC Chandor’s All Is Lost and Bruce Dern (yes, he’s Laura’s Dad) as the difficult father in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. 

I want to see all of these and many others I haven’t heard anything about.  But just as much I want to see Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks, which tells the story of what happened when the writer of the Mary Poppins books, PL Travers, came to Hollywood and is finally convinced by Walt Disney to allow him to film her story.  Emma Thompson plays the writer and Tom Hanks plays Walt.  But that’s not why I care.  See, Mary Poppins was my favorite film as a child and I played the record endlessly on my little “victrola” (that’s what they called record players, sonny), at the turn of the century.

Do not write in and tell me you’re disappointed in me for wanting this film.  Or  — that I will be disappointed.  I know both already.

PRIDE: STRANGEST NEW FALL TV SEASON ENTRY

OK that's it.. I'm done.

OK that’s it.. I’m done.

I’m not going to belabor this.  Something called the DIY Network (it stands for Do It Yourself) is doing a reality show called Vanilla Ice Goes Amish.  In it, the king of nineties White Rap immerses himself in the Amish community to learn how they do construction work.  This will be an offshoot of the network’s current home renovation series, The Vanilla Ice Project.  And why not?  When I want to hear about how I break into the 2013 rap scene I’m going to call The Property Brothers.

ENVY: ME AND QUEEN JANE

Anyone who thinks 75 year-old actors have lost their looks, timing, talent and general star appeal need only watch Jane Fonda in the final scene of last week’s episode 7 of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.  In just under four minutes, Ms. Fonda gives a master class in creativity and craft.  Alternately dramatic, funny, coquettish and powerful, she plays each moment to the hilt without ever going over the top or calling attention to herself beyond the requirements of the scene.  That’s rare in television acting and even more rare in the movies these days.  Newsroom star Jeff Daniels put it best in a recent interview:  She comes in prepared and you just watch 2,000 Oscars and 1,000 nominations work.

PS – Ms. Fonda has given immense credit to Aaron Sorkin’s writing for her bravura appearances. But as any writer knows, tour de force scenes such as these can go horribly wrong, especially when you don’t have exactly the right person acting them.  See, cause it’s all made up.  Stay tuned.

WRATH:  IT’S HOT!!!

This summer, which has not yet ended, is best summed up by Krissy Chula’s YouTube video rant of several days ago.  Yes, it’s a little raw.  But so was Richard Pryor.  I’m not saying she’s a star.  Yet.  But the video has gone viral and will soon be nearing 1,000,000 views.

The humor, the rage, the weather – it all speaks to where we are now – maybe at this very moment.

Or maybe… we’re here:

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Binge is the new Black 2.0

Brilliant illustration  by Kiersten Essenpreis (youfail.com)

Brilliant illustration by Kiersten Essenpreis (youfail.com)

What’s the last TV show you binged on?

I had 30 responses to this Facebook post within an hour or so.  Which, if nothing else, tells me that gluttony in America is by no means limited to food.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Most of us seem to know exactly what binge TV is, though it’s a relatively new phenomenon.  Nevertheless, definition please:

Binge Viewing

n.  A period of excessive indulgence spent watching previously broadcast episodes of a TV show.  (binge viewer n.)

Of course, one person’s excessive indulgence is another person’s appetizer course, especially given our country’s lack of portion control (Don’t believe me – try ordering a plate of pasta in Italy).  Yet the inverse of this is also true, especially if you’ve ever ordered a spaghetti main course at the Olive Garden (yes, I was once dragged there and actually had a ton of leftover penne on my plate).

All of this makes me think of another great American phenomenon – the TV dinner.  Originally invented as the perfect size plate (tin?) of food a person could graze on through their favorite series, it would certainly need reinvention nowadays in light of binge viewing.  Maybe a — TV trough?  Or at least, well let’s say, a Banquet.

Or just add a pound of butter..

Or just add a pound of butter..

This already leads to an amendment of our brand new definition in light of the recent premiere of Netflix on-demand series like Orange Is The New Black, which by far was the #l binge choice to my informal binge survey. The women’s prison drama, adapted to your screen of choice by Jenji Kohan, creator of Weeds, has ALWAYS been completely available – each one hour episode of thirteen – since its debut.  Which means goodbye to excessive indulgence of a previously broadcast series and hello to gluttonous viewing of ANY TV series since shows financed by relatively new content providers like Netflix give us the CHOICE of ordering up and devouring ALL THIRTEEN HOURS of a season at one sitting if that’s what it takes to satisfy our ever-growing cravings.

Programs like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Game of Thrones all drew multiple votes  – though OITNB outweighed them all at least four times over.  This could in part be due to the fact that the New Big O has only been on the market for a month and is the current IT show.  After all, we are all human and live in the USA which means we exist in a place where the most current, talked about material will always be the thing that is considered the most popular binge of the moment.  This is as sure as the fact that somewhere among us there will always be prom queens and prom kings.  (Note:  It is also reassuring to know that, much like prom royalty, the #1 popular cultural choice will also quickly be replaced by something else more to one’s liking since beauty, like popularity and ratings, never last forever).

2010.10.14.burnett-watercooler

What is far more interesting and encouraging is that aside from those top contenders, 30 television series running the gamut of every genre one could possibly imagine ODing on each got at least one binge recommendation from those who responded to this very unscientific survey of what do you binge on, TV-wise?  They include:

  • Existing cable series: Bates Motel, Breaking Bad, Switched at Birth
  • Existing pay cable:  Nurse Jackie, The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire
  • Defunct series: The Wire, Golden Girls, Friday Night Lights, Studio 60, Greek
  • Euro imports: Sherlock, Dr. Who, The Lake, Braquo, The Fall, A Touch of Frost
  • New Media First Runs: Attack on Titan, Arrested Development
  • Network Series: Scandal, Under the Dome, New Girl, Parks & Recreation
  • Reality Series: Kitchen Nightmares, The Biggest Loser

At the very least this tells me that audience taste in the new media age of binge is not as monolithic as market researchers (they usually work for networks and studios) want us to believe nor can it necessarily be categorized by age, ethnic origin or region (Note: I have an eclectic group of both Facebook and IRL friends who, as they used to say in the days prior to market research binging, cover the waterfront).

But what do these ever-growing gluttons really think about all of this stuff, beyond just their choice?  I wanted to know more without the help of a paid market researcher and so should you, especially since my opinion markers are probably a lot closer to your taste than theirs.  So take a look at a handful of five more in-depth and uncensored responses to questions posed by your Chair about the four very different TV shows these individuals recently binged on and why. (Note:  Okay, full disclosure – The Chair is the fourth respondent because, well…there IS always a method to my madness – in this case diversity of choice).   And further note that these respondents range in age from their late 20s to late 60s, live on various ends of the country, and include two males and two females of various sexual proclivities who, needless to say, all have very, very different tastes.

The Questions:

1. What show and why binge on this particular show?

2. How did you watch it? Did you speed through it, or take a little at a time?

3, What is your reaction to this show? Are you hooked? Would you recommend?

4. Did you know spoilers previously? If not, how did you avoid them?

5. Do you prefer binge to regular watching and why?

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ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, Netflix

Respondent #1- Female, 20s, NYorker

1) After all the buzz, I waited about 2 weeks and finally had to get “in the know.”

2) I watched it via Netflix streaming, probably at about 2 episodes a night (sometimes 3!). It took about a week to get through.

3) The great thing about it being available on Netflix is that it lends itself to voracious viewing – meaning, it needs to be seen in a short period of time. The pacing of the show doesn’t lend to a week-to-week viewing, and I’m not sure I would have stayed as invested in the characters if I’d done it that way. I almost imagined that I was in “viewing prison” with Piper (the lead character) – it was time to hunker down and be trapped with the show for a short period of time and then be released.   I would recommend this to someone who is looking for a show to fill the void until the fall season – and who has 13 hours to kill.

4) I had steered clear of all spoilers, despite working in front of a computer all day, and having a lengthy commute which allows me to read every entertainment article imaginable. It’s fascinating to me that bloggers and recappers are incredibly careful and considerate when it comes to respecting the binge-watching viewer. Headlines are kept clean of any spoilers, first paragraphs are even non-specific and filled with warnings regarding content below. Vulture (one of my go-to recap haunts) decided to space out its reviews of Orange to suit a three-episode a week average. Considering the trolls out there, and the loose lips (fingers?) of my Facebook friends, it is a miracle that I was still able to be unsullied by spoilers.

5) It fulfills the need for instant gratification – there is no need to wait to find out what happens next – which I simultaneously love and hate. I love it because I’m impatient and love being able to see full character arcs unfold in a short time. I hate it because I lose the excitement of the week leading up to the episode… the wondering, the guessing, the appointment viewing… the last vestiges of a pre-DVR world. But who am I kidding? DVRs are the greatest invention since the remote control, or Google Maps. I just prefer regular, weekly viewing because then I don’t end up a mole-person, permanently in my PJs, un-showered, unaware of the time of day.  (Chair Note: Is the latter really such a bad thing?)

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BREAKING BAD, AMC, Basic Cable on DVD

Respondent #2 – Female, 40s, Los Angelino

1) My friend kept telling me to watch it, and I had read about how good it was.  I wanted to see for myself — and to see if I liked it as much as Mad Men They’re both great in their own ways.  Impossible to compare.

2) I watched it on Netflix – 54 episodes in just under 2 weeks.  One Saturday I think I watched 6 in one day. Most days I watched between 2-4.  I wanted to make sure I finished before the season premiere aired because I knew that if I didn’t I would have found out what happened.  Social media and the Internet would have spilled the beans.

3)  I love the show.  I am completely hooked and would definitely recommend.  I was reluctant at first because I wasn’t interested in the world where it was set.  But once I started watching I was captivated by the storytelling choices, and the acting, and the visual style choices.  I had recently heard that they were supposed to shoot the show in Riverside County, California but Albuquerque was offering a huge production discount so that’s why it was shot there.  The location really suited the show and I’ve heard numerous people say that Albuquerque became a character also.  It really did, I couldn’t picture it being shot anywhere else.  It’s wide open and claustrophobic at the same time.  Also, the editing is stellar.  Two of the episodes are nominated for Emmys this year.  I’m probably voting for the season finale.  (Chair Note:  The latter fact makes this person that very desired elite binger).

4) I knew the basic premise of the show but did not know any spoilers.  I could tell from the image of Bryan Cranston on the poster that the character undergoes some type of transformation.  He starts out with hair in season one and he ends up with a shaved head and a goatee, kind of the badass look.  I also made sure I didn’t read any of the articles on the Internet.  When I started watching people were already talking about it in anticipation of the season premiere because it was off for a year and everyone was really excited for its return. I really made an effort to stay away.

5)   I love binge watching – it makes me the boss of the TV I like being able to decide when and how many I want to watch.  It’s feels similar to reading a great book, wondering what’s going to happen next.  I just turn on the TV and find out. The disappointing thing is when you’re done you have to wait and watch the rest with everyone else.  After this season’s premiere, for a moment I felt like I could just go to Netflix and watch the next episode, but sadly NO 😦  Also, I’ve heard that some creatives don’t like people binge-watching.  They feel that people are not allowing enough time to reflect on the stories being told.  I disagree. (Chair Note: This person IS a creative so that’s at least one industry vote for the binge).

mast-da3-icon

DOWNTON ABBEY, PBS by way of ITV, DVD

Respondent #3 – Male, 60s, Floridian

1) My friends kept at me about it but I am resistant to the period because to me it’s feels very much like “teacup movie time.”  But when my brother, who is a really straight guy who lives in Idaho and builds kitchens, started talking about it to me, and told me I’d love it, I finally said, Okay, I gotta watch it.

2) My neighbor gave me the first two seasons on DVD and I watched it in a week and a half.  Then a month later someone loaned me season three and I watched it in less than a week.

3)  I’m totally hooked.  It’s great storytelling and great characters.  You get emotionally caught up in all their stories and want to know what’ll happen next.  It’s so well written, sympathetic and well developed.  Plus, Dan Stevens is dreamy. (Chair Note: Uh-oh)

4)  Somebody slipped and mentioned a spoiler to me when I was in the middle of season two.  Then I read something about a contract with one of the actors in season three so that sadly made me aware of the possibility of losing another character. I was late to the game so the article made me aware.   But it didn’t hurt the show.  I suppose it might have been more of a shocker if I didn’t know but that didn’t matter.

5)  I do like binge viewing.  Watching Downton Abbey week to week – I would’ve been really frustrated.  That’s particularly the case with Breaking Bad, which I also binge viewed a few months ago.  I’m used to watching these shows sometimes till 3 in the morning, sometimes 3 or 4 episodes a night.  You’re consumed with it and it becomes much more impactful. It’s not so much the show even but the process of watching it and being engulfed in that world.  Now you have to wait a week and you lose momentum, the all-consuming effect.  You can enjoy it for that hour but then you go on with your life.

cold-case

COLD CASE, CBS via Syndication

Respondent #4 – Male, 50s, Los Angeleno

1) I accidentally stumbled on it one night when I couldn’t sleep and immediately got hooked.  I don’t generally like one-hour network drama these days and refused to sample this show when it aired.  Wrong!  More than half of every show flashes back in time to another decade where an unsolved crime was committed and is then played out in key bits and pieces dramatically.  It also uses the real songs of the period, making it one of the most expensive network shows on television because of the music rights to famous songs from artists as varied as Bruce Springsteen, Nirvana, Donna Summer, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones.  Those songs alone takes you right back into the period.  Plus, the way they match the period character with another actor who plays the same person 20 or 30 years later is impeccable.  Some of the best casting I’ve ever seen on television.

2) I watched almost three of eight seasons of 22 episodes each in about three weeks.  The issue is due to the music rights of such famous songs, the show is not available on DVD.  The only way to get it is on reruns on the CBS cable channel ION-TV.  Though I suppose there are other ways one could get fined for.  Still, it’s sort of an adventure this way – you never know what you’re going to get.  And there’s something about watching all these shows that are not readily available that, well, I kind of like.

3) I love it.  Sometimes it’s so disturbing, depending on the crime, yet it’s also sort of soothing because most of the shows enable people to resolve a terrible issue that happened in their past and get closure.  That resolution is almost always emotionally resonant and doesn’t always happen in real life – which is part of why we watch dramas anyway.  After watching so many of the shows, you can see the structure.  And yet, it also surprises me.  I’d particularly recommend it to friends who are stubborn like me about network procedural series and who love music.  There are almost no television dramas, or even films, where famous music plays such an integral part of the storytelling.  It puts you in the space and informs the action in a way no amount of great dialogue ever could.

4) I knew NOTHING about this show.  Absolutely nothing.  Except that it didn’t interest me.  Which proves that sometimes I literally do know nothing.

5) I like both but do love binge watching when I get to discover something I didn’t know about or resisted.  That is not to say that I want to binge watch everything.  I couldn’t imagine binge watching Mad Men because I got hooked immediately.  The same with The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Dexter.  That said, there is plenty to binge on.  Oh – and added bonus.  Cold Case was created and written by Meredith Stiehm, one of the principal writers on the brilliant Homeland in its first two seasons. Another of its writers and eventual show runners was Veena Sud, who has gone on to create AMC’s The Killing.  This allows you to understand how creative people grow into their careers and to experience the great works of their pasts.

So what have we learned here?  That there is a huge gamut of public taste buds waiting to be tapped into if done in the right way.   It just can’t all be done in the same way and, given our changing patterns of consumption, it won’t be anymore.  Certainly producers understand this.  You might think it’s cheapie programming on Netflix but you’re wrong – the low end cost estimates of shows like House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black is  $3.8 – $4 million per episode.  And there’s a reason why so much money is being spent.  With so many options of ways to view and so many platforms to do it on, content providers see avenues opening up to make substantial overall gains on their investments.

Keep the drip flowing

Keep the drip flowing

Here’s the deal.  They need lots and lots of content – both new and old.  Not only what is the next new thing but what will be the next new “old thing.”  What will last /endure beyond first run – which is more and more not much of a run – certainly not even a sprint and, in fact, something even longer than a marathon.

For a large and growing segment of today’s audience it’s not AS important to watch one episode (or even season) of a show when it debuts than it is to discover something that’s already been checked out by your friends and loved ones and given the seal of approval so you don’t have to waste time deciding.  That’s the new model being established by binge viewing.  This greatly differs from the network model, which wants to sell overpriced ads for first run appointment television, charging companies and audiences as much as they can for goods delivered with as little creative challenges or off-centeredness as possible to the widest possible audience. (Note:  This model also causes them to complain endlessly at Emmy awards time when they’re often shut out in favor of more inventive cable programming).

What both cable and on-demand providers and have now discovered, thanks in part to technology, is that you can forever make money on superior (or even just plain quirky) creative choices that don’t necessarily take the easy way out and tell great and far more sophisticated stories.  How much money?  Well, this remains to be seen.  But judging from Netflix’s investments coupled with initial and growing audience response – quite a lot.   In particular, this change should cause creative unions to take note and readjust their financial demands because certainly none of these newer companies will fully share their true profits from these alternative revenue steams unless their hands are absolutely forced.  The creative guilds, especially the writers, lost a fortune by not pushing back harder on the studios for a share of DVD revenue when it was the hottest thing going and the studios cleaned up.  That is until there were newer and quicker ways to watch older or just seen shows.  The same thing will undoubtedly happen with the burgeoning on demand /web based viewing – binge or not –  if  there is soon not some strong re-accounting adhered to.

A glimpse into our future

A glimpse into our future?

Meanwhile, we mere viewers can bask in the many great choices now available on a growing home, tablet, or computer-screened menu.  For decades television was seen as the poor stepchild of movies but these days it seems like the roles have been reversed.  Respondent #3 notes that if he were an Emmy voter he’d find it impossible to choose the winner of best drama series between such nominees as Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey.  Almost as difficult as he found it to choose the winner of the best picture Oscar in 1976, the first time he was a voting member of the Motion Picture Academy.   Among the nominees that year were Network, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver and Rocky.  Nowadays, he struggles to even have that many films worthy of nomination.  But has no trouble finding many more choices than that to binge on from the small screen.

Addendum:  This blog inspired me to binge view all six episodes of a new half-hour Australian show called Please Like Me.  It’s sort of a gay version of Girls and it is faaaabulous.  And — it can now be seen here

Addendum 2: 2.0? A previous version of this blog ended up in many spam folders… I blame network television execs!

The Star Treatment

roll out the ole’ carpet

Here’s what Girls creator-star Lena Dunham said when asked if she worried that the lead character she plays on her semi-autobiographical HBO series would be sympathetic enough to grab an audience.

“I don’t always like myself, or all the people on TV,” admitted Dunham. “Also, why can’t 25-year-old women make miserable mistakes like Larry David?”

What was most memorable about Ms. Dunham’s response was not only that it was unrehearsed and honest (you spend enough years in show business and you can tell when celebs are blowing smoke up your keester) but the reaction she got from the her fellow Sublime Primetime panelists of 2012 Emmy nominated writers (almost all male) on stage at the WGA Theatre with her. They LOVED her for it.  So much so that they broke out into spontaneous applause, along with the rest of the audience, in one of the few exchanges of the entire evening of speakers that anyone will probably ever remember.

One of these is not like the others…

That was a far cry from the previous awkwardness of these middle-aged guys when the nervous moderator among them finally had to ask her a question. At almost half their ages and, well, a lot more stylish, it felt like they didn’t know…uh… what the heck to make of her (personally I loved the black and white polka dot dress, pixie haircut and arm tattoo that read “STAUNCH” in honor of Little Edie from “Grey Gardens” fame but hey, I am a gay man).  Plus, they looked afraid, very afraid – as if she were the future and, clearly, they would have no part in it, at least not in a starring role.

Perhaps this is nonsense and I’m reading into it.  But…I don’t think so.    Yet Ms. Dunham was not the only one in the group that made everybody a little uneasy that night.  There was also Matthew Weiner, creator-writer of Mad Men, the series that put AMC on the map and won him six of his nine Emmy Awards, including the Television Academy’s statuettes for best drama series four years running, that is until this past week.

Okay, maybe nervous is not quite the word for what they felt towards Mr. Weiner.  It could have been equal amounts of respect, awe, fear and, well, maybe even a little jealousy.  Yet whatever it was quickly began to dissipate when he made some of his own confessions about the cultural phenomenon he created.  When pressed to analyze the success ofashow that doesn’t seem to have a particular genre and, therefore, no strong marketing demographic, Mr. Weiner didn’t appear to have an answer until the panel and audience’s uncomfortable silences gave him a long moment to think of one.

“I think its commercial uniqueness,” he said of Mad Men,  “is that it doesn’t have a formula.  More than any other show I’ve ever worked on, people’s (the writer’s) life experiences wind up on the show unaltered.”

Shameless excuse for another picture of Jon Hamm

And that proved to be another seemingly unrehearsed answer that actually felt real, especially if one considers Mad Men was indeed turned down by every commercial and cable network several times for just that kind of uncategorical reason before it finally found a home at the then fledgling AMC network five years after Mr. Weiner had written it as a spec pilot (and admittedly right before he was convinced it would forever wind up in his drawer as the lovely writing sample it had functioned as up until then).  Also, like Ms Dunham’s response, Mr. Weiner’s answer was particularly memorable for that evening because the idea of writing a successful TV series NOT in a specific genre or WITHOUT a certain demographic seemed almost counterintuitive to what everyone on the panel and in that room of would-be writers had been hearing about TV for years from studio executives, market research studies and more than a few professors (though, hopefully, not this one).

Still, rather than the spontaneous applause given Ms. Dunham, Mr. Weiner’s answer was met with a long, immeasurable dose of awkward silence where, much like an episode of Mad Men, everyone had to stop and think.  This was probably the second most memorable response of the evening and might have even given Mr. Weiner a bit more of the already ample cultural gravitas he enjoyed prior to the time the evening began.

So — Why spend this long on Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner?

Well–

Simply as an illustration of how easy it is for two clear WINNERS of one evening to become two clear LOSERS of another (And in the same week!).  Yes, I’m talking about the Emmy Awards.  Because when both Mad Men and Girls failed to win a single trophy on 2012 Emmy that night, and that’s exactly how both Lena Dunham and Matt Weiner were categorized by the media and, perhaps, by more than one or two of us. THE big losers of the night.  The people who went home empty-handed.  The race-horses who were bested.  Who were no longer thoroughbreds.  At least by the latest (American?) standards.  Yes, that’s how quickly the tide, or perhaps in this case, worm, or perhaps even more apt – stomach – can turn these days.

Do these look like losers to you?

I had the great mis fortune…uh…honor (?) of being in the audience at this year’s Emmy Awards and witnessing the Dunham-Weiner downfall.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s certainly fun if you’ve never been or if, like me, you spent your entire childhood preparing for the next award show and reserved the prime spot in front of your family’s television months in advance.  Plus, who doesn’t like something nice and shiny (assume you too are winning or will win one, because this is part of the fantasy, let’s face it) that you can use to prove to yourself and anyone else who asks in perpetuity that you’re truly wonderful?

Except after the time I spent with both Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner several evenings before I couldn’t help but feel, well, — sort of sick to my stomach through parts of the Emmy evening and for days after.  This feeling began to painfully increase when I went to the Governor’s Ball and found myself seated beside not one but two tables of the cast and creators of the BBC’s much-lauded Downton Abbey.  Both of those tables also had zero.zero Emmys between them – though the show did chalk up one supporting actress win for the unstoppable Maggie Smith  (who was not in attendance and whose award was, somehow, nowhere to be seen). Still, because it’s DAME Maggie Smith, THE Maggie Smith, a venerable acting institution, that didn’t seem to really count as a true Abbey win.   And it certainly didn’t stop a group of many of us naysayers from saying and even believing that technically, on Emmy night, those stuffy period Brits, for all intents and purposes, really had been shut out (that’s double goose egg again if you were keeping count) and that we Americans had emerged as victorious over the dominant British crown as we had almost two and a half centuries before.

We’ll let Shirley speak for us in Season 3. USA! USA!

But back to Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner.  As if the lack of awards for them weren’t already enough to make them the cultural losers of the night, there was even more indignation yet to endure.  Spotted in a Prada dress on the red carpet, Ms. Dunham was lauded in many tabloids in the next day days for also being the fashion LOSER of the evening (they didn’t see the cute black and white polka dot dress on the panel I saw!) while Mr. Weiner was reported on as being THE morose and drinking loser of the fall 2012 awards season, along with the rest of the cast and crew of Mad Men.  This happened when more than one media outlet reported Weiner and company were spotted licking their woundsat an undisclosed restaurant or hotel location far away from the confines of the festive (AND VERY RED!) Governor’s Ball.

Red with envy?

Note:  Truth to be told, I actually saw Mr. Weiner and his wife hurrying out and walking against the crowd from the Governor’s Ball just as the rest of us poor schnook audience members were being ushered in.  He didn’t look happy but neither did he look suicidal.  He simply seemed like a guy who had enough and wanted to leave before he got trapped among another crowd full of people who would demand a suitable reaction, or perhaps even a pithy response, to one of their inane questions when clearly there was none.

Considering all of the above, I offer this observation both for you and for myself.  It is very worth noting, especially if you’re any kind of creative person – whether active, aspiring, studying or retired – that today’s designer outfit IS tomorrow’s thrift store reject –which will inevitably come back into style the day after that as retro chic — until it’s worn out its welcome and lands in the trash bin once more, only to be recycled again if yet someone else decides its hip and cool and groovy.

On the other hand, there ARE classics that never go out of style.  Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner are two of those.  And there are a lot more if you go looking for them (look in the mirror and you might even find one).  They’re not always the latest thing, but that doesn’t take away from their style, workmanship or lasting appeal to the right audience.  Nothing and no one tempts anyone on every day of the week.  Except sex , pizza, a nice glass of wine and maybe Angelina Jolie. Though I’ll bet at least two, or perhaps even three of those, have their naysayers.

Place your Bets (and lose): The Chair’s Guide to the Emmys

I knew awards shows were getting out of hand when several decades ago my Dad started asking me for inside information. This was because Las Vegas bookrooms were posting odds and taking bets on the Oscars.  We had a few good runs over several years  (a mint was made on Sofia Coppola winning best original screenplay for “Lost in Translation”), but recently Vegas wised up.  Their odds now give bettors such a low chance of return on their money (you have to put up something like $500 to win a mere $50 on an even a vaguely probable winner) that it’s barely worth it. The exception, of course, is hitting a year when someone like Marisa Tomei scores the upset of the century and gets gold for “My Cousin Vinny,” but we all know what the chances are of winning anything significant for acting in a broad comedy, right?  I mean, this isn’t politics.

There is even less chance and reward for figuring out who will win television’s annual Emmy Awards but that doesn’t stop all of us from jabbering on every year (or at least the weekend before the broadcast) about who will take home the sharp-winged lady. Seriously, have you ever held one?   it sort of feels like a murder weapon from an old Agatha Christie novel.  For those under 30 unfamiliar with Ms. Christie, think…oh, never mind…

That bitch will cut you.

Anyway, in the spirit of competition – and because the Chair will be attending and live blogging Sunday night’s Emmy Awards from the Nokia Theatre (hint hint, visit the blog)– but mostly because The Chair LOVES being embarrassed by making wrong predictions. The following is a guide to the winners AND losers of the evening.  But not all of them because there are approximately 963 categories.

Disclaimer:  There are also now approximately 963 TV channels so there is NO ONE in the world who can possibly judge who will win television’s highest honor (isn’t the latter syndication money?) both intelligently and accurately. Luckily, intelligence and accuracy are not particularly valued at this time in our history.  So – here goes.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama

Something about a man in uniform

The Nominees: Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Jon Hamm (Mad Men).

Winner: Damian Lewis

Loser: Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm’s Don Draper has never won an Emmy?  No.  He should win this year, especially since MM’s creator Matt Weiner specifically wrote one of his Emmy-nominated scripts this season specifically to give the star a chance to show off by playing everything from seductive abuser to vomiting sick husband over the space of 60 minutes.  Still, fan favorite Steve Carrell was never shown Emmy love for The Office and it seems to get tougher to get the crowd’s attention as time goes on.  Enter Damian Lewis, a British actor playing an American POW turned potential terrorist in the first season of the much-heralded Homeland.  Enuf said.  Except that all of the actors in the category are as deserving.  But especially Jon Hamm (did I mention Jon Hamm??)

Heyyyy Jon…

Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama 

The Nominees: Glenn Close(Damages), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Kathy Bates (Harry’s Law), Claire Danes (Homeland), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)

Winner: Claire Danes

Loser: Claire Danes

Claire Danes portrayal of a brilliant and bipolar CIA agent is astounding.  She will win.  If she doesn’t win, she deserves equal attention as loser du jour because, in case I didn’t mention it, she’s brilliant in the part.  Really enuf said.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama

The Nominees: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Jared Harris (Mad Men).

Winner: Giancarlo Esposito

Loser: Jared Harris

I’m taking the word of too many of my friends who say I’m an idiot for not regularly watching Breaking Bad.  So at the very least I have to acknowledge their insistence that Esposito will win.  Though I am a Downton Abbey fan (you can’t be surprised by that), no one role on the series is showy enough to take Emmy home.  Dinaklage and Paul are quite good but don’t have the heat behind them this year.  Jared Harris does, especially since it’s not easy to be convincing for more than a few moments as a hanging corpse, much less through a whole series of scenes.  Still, I’m predicting a Mad Men backlash in as many categories as a television awards show can muster because the broadcast networks are fed up and jealous.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama 

Still cringing…

The Nominees: Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey), Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Christine Hendricks (Mad Men)

Winner:  Christina Hendricks

Loser:  Maggie Smith

Any TV watcher knows these are all terrific actresses.  However, sometimes an episode comes along during a season where a character and an actress are asked to make a turn so shocking that, if it works and works well, you need at least a new VW bug (I have an old one) to cart all the accolades away.  Such is the case for Christina Hendricks and what she had to endure playing poor Joan this year.  If you haven’t seen The Other Woman episode I’m not going to spoil it other than to say – I’m still upset!  But I mean, then there’s the Dowager Countess, who is of course brilliant. Snide, funny and wicked… I kind of want to see her reaction when she’s snubbed.

Speaking of cutting a bitch…

 

Outstanding Leading Actor in a Comedy

The Nominees: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Don Cheadle (House of Lies), Louis C.K. (Louie), Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men). 

Winner:  Jim Parsons

Loser: Louis C.K.

Jim Parsons is hilarious in a very broad, traditional three-camera sitcom fashion.  The problem is he’s doing the same performance year after year and has lately won year and after year.  Since in some circles television is all about entertaining repetition (and it feels like Alec Baldwin has been coasting a little bit as of late), expect JP to take the stage.  Like the even more wicked offspring of Larry David, expect Louis C.K. to be similarly ignored.  He’s so good he makes it look soooo easy.  And that rarely gets you an Emmy.

Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy 

The Nominees: Lena Dunham (Girls), Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly), Zooey Deschanel (New Girl), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep).

Winner:  Amy Poehler

Loser: Zooey Deschanel

It’s Amy Poehler’s time and she’s never won.  And she deserves it for not only a great season but for helping steer a show that had a less than auspicious creative debut into one of the best half hour comedies now running.  As my friend says about Zooey Deschanel – she’s adorkable and that’s hard to do every week on television.  Plus, she’s has also taken a show with another less than auspicious pilot and made it much better than anyone could have ever expected.  But – it’s not her time.  Yet.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy

Club promoter: Baloney Danza

The Nominees: Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family),Max Greenfield (New Girl), Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live).

Winner:  Bill Hader

Loser:  Bill Hader if he doesn’t win.

One word – Stefon.  The Modern Family guys are good but still doing the same shtick.  Max Greenfield is good but it’s not his…well, you know.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

The Nominees: Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Kathryn Joosten (Desperate Housewives), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie), Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live).

Winner: Kristen Wiig

Loser:  Everyone else

Seriously, this IS Kristin Wiig’s year.  I mean, even The Chair was touched when Mick Jagger sang her sendoff on her last episode of SNL this season.  Plus, there was the Liza Minnelli Turns off A Lamp sketch.

Click for the hilarious video

KW also co-wrote and starred in “Bridesmaids,” the biggest grossing (and grossest) comedy of last year.  You can’t stop a tidal wave.

Outstanding Writing, Drama

The Nominees: Julian Fellows (“Episode 7,” Downton Abbey); Semi Chellas, Matthew Weiner (“The Other Woman,” Mad Men), Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton (“Commissions and Fees,” Mad Men); Semi Chellas, Matthew Weiner (“Far Away Places,” Mad Men); Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff (“Pilot,” Homeland.)

Winner: Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff (Homeland)

Loser:  Any episode of Mad Men

There is nothing on television as consistently original, thought provoking and chance taking as Mad Men (have I said that?) – especially when one considers its fifth season was probably its most risky.  Yet Homeland managed to take the suspense/political conspiracy genre to an entirely new level with an equal marriage of plot and character.  Any writer knows this is nearly impossible to do yet what most every dramatic writer strives for.  Kudos.

Outstanding Writing, Comedy 

Hipster paradise.

The Nominees: Chris McKenna (“Remedial Chaos Theory,” Community), Lena Dunham (“Pilot,” Girls), Louis C.K. (“Pregnant,” Louie), Amy Poehler (“The Debate,” Parks and Recreation), Michael Schur (“Win, Lose or Draw,” Parks and Recreation)

Winner:  Lena Dunham (Girls)

Loser: All of the other writers

Originality tends to be most rewarded in the writing categories, particularly in comedy.  Lena Dunham is a triple threat Emmy nominee (writer; director; actress) this year but it’s her unique worldview in Girls that makes the show so special. Some see it as comedy.  Others see it as tragedy.  We see it as winning.  An Emmy – not the Charlie Sheen kind.

Outstanding Miniseries or Made for TV Movie

The Nominees: American Horror Story, Game Change, Hatfields & McCoys, Hemingway & Gellhorn, Luther, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia.

Winner: Game Change

Loser: American Horror Story

It’s too hard for television to resist Julianne Moore’s Sarah Palin or a chance to twist the dagger a little deeper into everyone’s favorite political mean girl  gal. (Ugh, please don’t write and say I’m sexist – she is mean!  And I crossed out girl, didn’t I?!)  Is Game Change the BEST in this category?  Well, no.  That’d be American Horror Story.  Because it’s the sickest, most wickedly funny and oddly twisted dramatic thing to come along in quite a while.  True – it’s not perfect by a long shot but isn’t that what makes it so great? (that’s rhetorical).

Outstanding Comedy

The Nominees: The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Veep.

Winner: Modern Family

Loser: Girls

Girls is disturbing, uncomfortable, funny, sad and even slightly full of itself.  Just like life.  It is also new and different and even a little creepy so it won’t win even though it should.  Look for the entire cast and creators of Modern Family to go traipsing across the stage.  It’s a well-done show, but more importantly, makes people in network television feel hip and contemporary (which very few of them or even us are, especially those of us making snide remarks about other people’s work).  However, Veep?  Really?

Outstanding Drama

Don’t turn… away that is.

The Nominees: Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Mad Men

Winner:  Homeland

Loser:  Mad Men

Mad Men is THE best written, acted and everything else shows on television.  There is NO debate about this.  Sorry.  And one could argue that this past season was its strongest.  However, if Matt Weiner & Co. walk away with best drama series this time it will be five years in a row and those who work in the TV industry aren’t ready to make AMC a record holder of anything.  Homeland is a more traditional show but brilliant in a different way.  The other nominees are also all excellent series.  This is the rarest of rare “embarrassment of riches” category.

OK, now it’s time for you to share your predictions in the comments, and join The Chair on Sunday, starting at 8pm EST/5pm PST for a hashtag filled moment-by-moment biting Emmy commentary. #JimmyKimmelwantstoknow