Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bill Maher, Barack Obama, and the 60's

Tom Brokaw was a guest on Bill Maher Friday evening. Brokaw, because of his book Boom!: Voices of the Sixties has become an "expert" on the subject of the 60's. I haven't read the book, but was a bit disappointed with his discussion with Maher about the idealism of the '60's and its ultimate failure to materialize as social change in the ensuing decades.

I was one of those political idealists who knows what happened. "They" killed Jack Kennedy in 1963. "They" killed Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968, then beat the crap out of those of us who turned out at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Then "they" finished off any idealistic illusions remaining on Monday, May 4, 1970, by putting armed troops on a college campus - Kent State - and shooting "us."

Yes, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was approved and the Viet Nam War ended in 1975. But neither process included much idealism. Hilary Clinton is correct - without Lyndon Johnson's congressional leadership experience and willingness to roll over the Southern Democrats by getting the support of Republicans, there would have been no Civil Rights Act of 1964. And without Walter Kronkite editorializing about the Vietnam War in 1968, "they" likely would never have pulled out of Vietnam seven years later, because the doubt the Kronkite sowed in the minds of "their" middle American political base would never have existed.

"They" easily recruited the South and the Middle American "America - Love It or Leave It" working class into "their" camp and regained "their" equilibrium by 1980 and elected Ronald Reagan.

By 2000, "they" could have the Supreme Court appoint a President and create a war designed to make "them" rich.

It may seem simplistic to some because the terms "they" and "us" are vague. But it is the gist of what happened to the 1960's idealism.

I certainly hope that none of the things that happened to the 1960's idealists happen to the Obama idealists.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cult Following TV cable net for Friday Night Lights, Moonlight, and Jericho?

Various news sources indicate that some NBCU folks are trying to save the award winning show Friday Night Lights (FNL) by finding another network to share the cost. The reason someone is trying to save the show is that it is good, very good. Also it has a cult following.

The reason they have to save it is that it hasn't attracted an audience. The average rating is 6.1 million viewers. For comparison, the CBS show Numb3ers which also runs on Friday evenings typically pulls over 10 million viewers. Its struggling and yet to be renewed new series on Friday, Moonlight, and also has a "cult following", gets about 7.5 million viewers. (Fox's award winning House typically has 13 million viewers and it's episode shown after Super Bowl XLII had 29 million viewers. It is also, good, very good.) The strangest fact about FNL is that it also has done poorly in the 18-49 demographic.

While viewers frequently get upset with a network for not standing behind a show, NBC is trying to find a way to afford this show. It typically costs $3 million an episode to get a show like this ready to hand to NBC. Then NBC and its affiliates not only have to figure out how to pay that bill, but recover all their operating costs and make a profit.

So some NBC folks are trying to persuade The CW or TNT to help with the show to recover the $60+ million a normal season would cost (before network and affiliate costs).

One could ask: Why does it cost so much to produce a TV series? But assuming there is no way to save significant sums, maybe the networks ought to jointly create a subscription cable channel called Cult Following TV. People are willing to pay $10 per month for HBO or Showtime. Then NBC could dump off FNL and CBS could dump off Moonlight and Jericho.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Beaten Like a Yellow Dog

Apparently the science fiction writer Harlan Ellison wrote a "blunt" response to the proposed WGA contract. In his response, he begins: "THEY BEAT US LIKE A YELLOW DOG."

"My Guild did what it did in 1988," he continued. "It trembled and sold us out. It gave away the EXACT co-terminus expiration date with SAG for some bullshit short-line substitute; it got us no more control of our words; it sneak-abandoned the animator and reality beanfield hands before anyone even forced it on them; it made nice so no one would think we were meanies; it let the Alliance play us like the village idiot. The WGA folded like a Texaco Road Map from back in the day."

His colorful words, of course, have received mixed reviews. Sadly, though, his words reflect the truth. All the guilds appear to have been beaten by a simple tactic employers traditionally used in a labor dispute - the lockout.

As I warned in December, the AMPTP never had any intention of settling early with the WGA and did not bargain in good faith. They slowly "locked out" SAG and DGA members before their contract was up, in an effort to weaken their resolve before talks start. In the process, they also locked out everyone associated with production.

Lockouts frequently failed in the history of labor disputes. But industrial corporations hadn't yet talked the entire working class into mortgaging their souls for trinkets.

It would be interesting to know how much money workers in the industry, in whatever capacity, knowingly or unknowingly, owe to a subsidiary of GE, which owns NBCU. And even more interesting, how many felt the pressure of their debt owed to arms of the conglomerates?

Union members used to tithe to strike funds in order to help cover what people needed - food, clothing and shelter. It would be impossible to create a fund to cover the debt payments of most workers.

The "need" to own a $4,000 1080p 52" high definition Sony Bravia LCD TV would outweigh the wisdom to strike until one makes enough money to pay for it (because one can get up to 12 months of no interest or payment sthrough a Sony Financial Services credit card). Once one has it and a new BluRay player, DVD's direct from the Sony online store can be enjoyed such as the "Bourne Ultimatum" or the "Exclusive Seinfeld Series DVD Gift Box", a Sony Style exclusive. And tomorrow they can go to work for a Sony Pictures production. Does anyone remember the concept of a "company town." This is the new "company town", except Sony Pictures has no need to own the land under your house.

So the workers now quarrel openly among themselves, in the process making the employer's only real weapon - the lockout - an extremely effective tool in the ongoing process of accumulating riches.

Ellison is right, but is talking to people on their way to work whose new iPhones are blasting conglomerate-owned music too loudly to hear him. The old song hasn't been revised to say "16-frames and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt." But it should be.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Will Mad Cow Get Denny Crane?

It appears Boston Legal is in limbo, at best, for being picked up for a new season.

The thing about Boston Legal is you have to love the Denny Crane and Alan Shore (William Shatner and James Spader) characters' relationship (strong male bonding or right-wing gay? tension) and enjoy the weirdness of other regular characters, plus not be offended by the strongly liberal political views expressed by the show's storylines. It is really a comedy with each story having a moral (as in the moral of the story), and in that genre very much a successor to M*A*S*H.

You also have to not be undone by all the old people. I mean the regulars William Shatner, Candice Bergen, Rene Auberjonois, and John Larroquette are all over 60 (my age group). And then there are regular disturbing but amusing judges (disturbing because our judiciary is aging and these characters represents the downside) Clark Brown (the 72 year old Henry Gibson) and Robert Sanders (the 82 year old Shelley Berman). Not to mention the storylines around Betty White.

It's not for everyone. Being an old hippie, I truly enjoy the show. But one of my best friends has been in law enforcement for 40 years, has never voted for a Democrat, and would truly despise the show.

It was #2 in total viewers in its timeslot behind a rerun of Law & Order: SVU. It is not surprising that its total viewers number was barely higher than the #3 Jericho season premier, a show with a limited but dedicated following that CBS cancelled last year but brought back because of the rather tenacious campaign by those viewers. The economic problem is that Boston Legal was #3 in that all important "adults 18-49" and likely would have been #4 if Fox and the CW didn't stop their prime times at 10 pm.

And so, Denny Crane may succumb to economics mad cow. Alot of us will mourn.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Canadian Shows Picked Up by US Networks

If you go to the websites of the CBC, CTV, and Global TV, you see that Canadians are watching some Canadian-made programming as well as Prison Break, the CSI's, the Law & Orders, Jericho, Greys Anatomy, etc.

It appears now we Americans may to get to see some of that Canadian creativity. NBC has reportedly picked up The Listener, CBS Flashpoint, and ABCFamily Sophie. Supposedly CBS and ABC are considering taking a run at The Border.

For those of us who occasionally fall for BBCA shows, this might be a breath of new perspective. And while it could perhaps be "blamed" on the writers strike, NBC programming chief Ben Silverman has said previously he was going to look to foreign sources as part of the overhead cost reduction.

In any event, you can take a look at these shows on the web.