Tag Archives: Barack Obama

The Dichotomy of Spontaneous Familiarity: Reviewing The Jay Leno Show


The Dichotomy of Spontaneous Familiarity

Reviewing The Jay Leno Show

Spontaneity is not Jay Leno’s forte.

That’s really the whole point of Leno’s appeal, at the end of the day – people tuned in at 11:30 at alarming rates because of what they deemed his charming nature, making him like just another part of your nightly tradition. But in relaunching himself as part of the Jay Leno Show, which started tonight on NBC and which will air five nights a week until…well, we don’t quite know.

See, what’s strange about The Jay Leno Show is that they want it to seem spontaneous. They want it to seem like an old variety show, with special guests and different bits and no stuffy desk. So when Leno walks out to his new set, a group of people “spontaneously” rush the stage and crowd around to high five their favourite talk show host for a set period of time. It is true that the crowd seems to enjoy having Jay back, but he’s stuck in a really weird place: he has to appeal to those same viewers while enticing entirely new demographics (who weren’t watching his show before) to tune in. As such, he needs to be appear spontaneous in order to broaden his appeal, and yet at the same time not actually be spontaneous at all so as to appease the crowd who watched him so religiously and who will soon have other options (like CBS’ crime shows, which tend to appeal to the same crowd).

In the end, as a hardened critic who’s on the lower end of the key demographic and who has never particularly enjoyed Leno’s brand of comedy, I wasn’t a fan. However, the problem with the show is that it seemed desperate to try to make me into a fan, a position which was neither spontaneous nor charming, and as such my verdict is clear: on every measurable scale of subjective observation, the Jay Leno Show is an egotistical failure.

But if it turns into an economic success, trust that we’ll be dealing with it for a while.

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A True Test of Summer Nostalgia: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (2009)

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

A True Test of Summer Nostalgia

August 9th, 2009

The face of the primetime game show in North America was changed forever in the wake of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’s premiere in 1999, when Regis Philbin came into people’s homes to give away millions of dollars and celebrate the simplicity of trivia challenges. The show became the very definition of appointment television, as it thrives on the sense that at any moment a contestant could break through that threshold and challenge for the million dollar grand prize. It’s a game of knowledge and strategy, and the sheer tension that it could bring forward is an example of television as its finest…in small doses.

When ABC decided they wanted more of a good thing, the show died: I don’t think that it was an issue of the show become stale so much as it was the overwhelming number of contestants and experiences that couldn’t help but feel repetitive. It was no longer an event, and therefore it was no longer an appointment, and the show’s move into syndication was admitting defeat, acknowledging that the show’s transferrence of traditional daytime game show (Jeopardy, for example) into the primetime sphere had come to an end. And since that point, further efforts to this effect have proven unsuccessful: Deal or No Deal stumbled its way into syndication after the once wildly successful primetime version tumbled aggressively, and FOX’s Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and Don’t Forget the Lyrics have become Friday night fodder rather than Thursday night counterprogramming.

So it is in the midst of a tough time for Primetime game shows that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire makes its return, triumphant or not, to ABC as part of a 10th Anniversary celebration. I went into tonight’s premiere actually kind of intrigued about how I’d respond to this bit of nostalgia from my own childhood (I was, after all, only 13 when the show first premiered stateside). While I haven’t really given the show much thought since it disappeared only a few years after its arrival, I’ve never thought the format was really at fault: if there’s anything Slumdog Millionaire taught me, it’s that the simple human quality that drives the series is compatible with highly dramatic and therefore highly engaging scenarios. So, as someone who appreciates the formula, I was curious to see how changes to the structure of the game and some added celebrity enhancement would combine with a sense of nostalgia and perhaps capture me in its spell yet again.

The verdict? The magic’s gone, but the quickened pace is a step in the right direction.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The 2008 Presidential Election


The 2008 Presidential Election

Airdate: Every. Single. Day.

It’s a staple of almost all end of year television pieces attempting to recap 2008, but in many ways I resisted placing the 2008 presidential election that (spoiler alert) saw Barack Obama ascend to the Presidency. It isn’t that I don’t think the event was historical or monumental, but rather that part of my believes that television reaches its greatest potential as an episodic medium and that the election’s impact on that has been tangential at best.

But over time, and after reading the various lists which place the election prominently, I started to realize that television is about the medium as much as it is the message. It was the media through which the world of American politics entered into public consciousness that made it so meaningful to the past year. Yes, some of these were pure novelty, like the awful and pointless attempt to channel Star Wars and introduce holograms to the CNN newsroom, but others resonated at something that fundamentally changed the way we looked at politics through television.

One of them is technological but in a more meaningful fashion: once quite rightly eclipsed by the internet as the best way to track election results, John King’s magic map revolutionized the way we monetize broadcast television (or, for those who don’t get the 30 Rock joke, made it far easier to see what data actually meant). His ability to zoom in and out seemed like a novelty, but he was able to compare stats at the click of a button, and move county to county in races that (while they were not eventually as close as they could have been) were changing with each minute.

The year also saw, though, the return of Saturday Night Live to the world of political satire and the realm of public consciousness. After Jon Stewart took over as the voice of a nation of discontented youth over the Bush administration, the rise of Sarah Palin and the talent of Tina Fey coincided in a perfect comic storm: Fey’s impression took the nation by storm, and a creatively uneven show was suddenly a household name again.

The result was that this election felt like an event that reading about wasn’t enough: perhaps it was Obama’s presence, or Palin’s incompetence becoming even more apparent when filmed (the camera adds pounds, not brain cells), but there was something about this election that demanded the medium of television to tell its story. While I was content to read about the recent Parliamentary crisis which gripped Canada, I felt like I needed to watch Barack Obama take to that Chicago stage and address the nation.

And while I may not share my brother’s enthusiasm for politics, I have to admit that in this instance their intersection with my favourite cultural medium was certainly something to marvel at, and ultimately memorialize in the 2008 Television Time Capsule.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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SNL: Weekend Update Special Edition – “Episode One”

An NBC Special

Well, you can’t say that Saturday Night Live doesn’t have guts. Perhaps, though, they could use a lesson or two in comedy.

In a season where Saturday Night Live is emerging as a cultural powerhouse in an election year, tonight’s special was a chance to further the show’s cause with some politically topical humour that captures the things that have made SNL work this season.

That thing, though, is Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin. And the one thing absent from tonight’s episode of SNL Weekend Update: Special Edition?

Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin.

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Season Premiere: Saturday Night Live – “Michael Phelps and Li’l Wayne”

“Michael Phelps and Li’l Wayne”

September 13th, 2008

A week from today (Since it’s now Sunday as I write this), Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are each nominated for Emmy Awards for their individual comic performances (I’ll have Emmy coverage all week! Exciting!). So it seems like a sound strategy to take the two individuals and place them in front of a camera to open this the umpteenth season of Saturday Night Live.

And the result was great comedy from two great comics. Fey’s Palin impression is almost scary, and the resemblance created some sort of twilight zone scenario wherein the two people melded together. And Poehler, as usual, nails Hilary Clinton’s desperation and, now, resignation. The skit was consistently funny, ended right when it should, and even broke the Fourth Wall.

YouTube: Palin and Hilary on Sexism (SNL)

But Saturday Night Live has a problem: Fey isn’t a castmembers, or a producer, and is literally only doing the role because she can and because she’s willing to. Poehler, meanwhile, is pregnant and will be gone from the show in a few months. And while Kristen Wiig continues to steal almost every sketch she’s in, the show is still uneven to the point of concern: if you stopped watching after the opening you might have renewed faith in SNL, but as the episode wears on there’s not much else to get excited about.

Especially not lifeless Michael Phelps.

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