Tag Archives: Controversy

Re-Serializing Sports Entertainment: Jeff Katz’s Wrestling Revolution

Professional wrestling is a storyteller’s medium.

Case in point: I spent my middle school years running a fictional wrestling federation on the internet, writing out extensive recaps of fictionalized wrestling events complete with matches, promos, and everything else in between. Using a combination of real WWE wrestlers and characters of my own making, I saw the world of professional wrestling as a place to explore my creativity (and, given the length of many of these pieces, teach myself how to type). None of these documents have survived, at least as far as I am aware, but I remember one particular pay-per-view I wrote was something like 70 pages long, an early sign of my long-winded nature.

This notion of fantasy storytelling remains quite common within the space of professional wrestling, enabled by programs such as Extreme Warfare and often influenced by frustration with the WWE and other available products. Extreme Warfare has no actual wrestling, instead putting the user in control of who wins, who fights whom, and how much time is given over to promos, etc. The user becomes the “booker,” the person responsible for deciding which stories to tell, which wrestlers to push or bury, and what kind of product they will sell to their virtual audiences. For any wrestling fan who has been frustrated with a booking decision (which is likely every wrestling fan in existence), fictional federations and simulators were a way to take over the role of storyteller and imagine a more satisfying narrative experience.

Earlier this week, one particular booking decision (which is airing tonight on WWE Smackdown) set off a firestorm of controversy within a subsection of professional wrestling viewers, and one of those viewers has taken an honestly fascinating step. Jeff Katz, a Hollywood producer, has started a Kickstarter campaign to create a tightly-serialized wrestling program that eschews the 52-week model of the WWE entirely. Specifically comparing it to shows like Dexter and The Wire, Katz is arguing that what wrestling needs isn’t just better decision-making, but an entirely different storytelling model which offers a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Katz has given the project 90 days to raise $100,000, and I find this whole idea to be incredibly fascinating. However, I’m not sure that Katz has provided any clear image of just what this “Wrestling Revolution” might look like. While he throws around a lot of comparisons that would excite fans of serious drama, and suggests that is what the WWE would be if it were written by Shawn Ryan, I have my doubts about whether professional wrestling is conducive to the kinds of stories he is imagining (and which I imagined back when I was a teenager).

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Once More Unto the Breach: Kurt Sutter vs. Journalistic Ethics

Kurt Sutter vs. Journalistic Ethics

February 11th, 2011

In choosing to occasionally cover emerging stories within the television industry, responding immediately rather than waiting a few months for the dust to settle, it’s never clear where that story will go. When I sat down to discuss the controversy swirling around Chloe Sevigny’s critical comments about Big Love’s fourth season in an interview with The A.V. Club, and the degree to which the journalist’s integrity was unfairly dragged through the mud by those involved, I had no idea that the story would still be making news ten months later. My piece about that issue is very much an artifact of the initial event, but the continued misrepresentation of the interview has given it continued relevance, which surprises (and saddens) me.

By comparison, I sort of knew that my multiple pieces on Kurt Sutter’s engagement with online communities would continue to be relevant. For better or for worse, Sutter enjoys the outlet afforded by his blog and his Twitter account, and will continue to use them in the years ahead. The facts are simple: Sutter admits to having a fairly quick temper, people on the internet will continue to criticize his show, and he’ll continue to become emotionally affected by it.

What I couldn’t have (but perhaps should have) imagined, though, was that these two particular lines would converge. Yes, through the powers of fate, another film festival interview shifted gears towards an actor’s television program, and another actor made some off-the-cuff remarks about the show which have been twisted into some sort of controversy in the news media. And because that actor happens to be Charlie Hunnam, and the show in question happens to be Sons of Anarchy, Sutter’s personality has taken center stage in yet another largely unprovoked attack on journalistic ethics.

Unless a slightly botched interview has become a more vicious threat to journalism than I previously realized.

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Offseason Shenanigans: The Return of Glee

Offseason Shenanigans: The Return of Glee

February 6th, 2011

For a show which has yet to air an episode in 2011, Glee has been awfully ubiquitous.

No, this isn’t surprising: people can’t get enough of Glee, so it is inevitable that a brief hiatus with a much-hyped post-Super Bowl episode on the other end would result in an infinite number of stories relating to the series. However, what struck me as particularly interesting is the degree to which the series’ absence created a vacuum for something approaching controversy. Ryan Murphy announced that he was breaking up one of the show’s couples because he was bored. Ryan Murphy started a flame war with Kings of Leon. Ryan Murphy claimed that Glee is at least partially aimed at seven-year-olds (in the same sentence, no less).

There were a few moments when people wondered why I, as someone who “deigns” to cover this series from a more critical perspective, wasn’t commenting on these numerous stories. In truth, I just didn’t have time to respond to every piece of new surrounding the show, but I also never felt any sort of impulse to do so. Yes, I could comment on what it means for a showrunner to admit to a show’s fans that he makes decisions based on things which bore him, and there’s certainly analysis to be done of the impact of public flame wars; there is also most certainly a lot to be said about Murphy’s perception of the demographic makeup of his audience, an audience which I would presume is more for the show’s music (a sort of pop culturally-driven Kidz Bop) than for the show itself.

However, maybe because of my scholarly approach, I didn’t feel particularly moved by any of these stories. I wasn’t angry that Murphy was bored because I’d rather showrunners be honest than not. I wasn’t aghast at Murphy’s battle with Kings of Leon because I don’t have the time to care about celebrities sniping at one another over a misunderstanding. And while I raised an eyebrow at Murphy’s comments regarding demographics, that seems like a more detailed, long-term study than it does an instant reaction.

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Skins – “Tea”

“Tea”

January 24th, 2011

In the midst of the growing controversy surrounding Skins’ sexual content and allegations of child pornography, which Matt Zoller Seitz does a tremendous job of breaking down over at Salon, the show itself is being lost. Or, rather, the show itself is becoming irrelevant. It’s not just the controversy that’s obfuscating the text itself, though, as the series’ almost shot-for-shot adherence to the UK original means that those of us who’ve seen that series are being given very little reason to engage with the show. Just as it is easy for the PTC and advertisers to generalize the series’ content based solely on overblown claims, it’s easy for critics with knowledge of the original series to just sort of step back and let the show happen.

And yet it seems prudent to consider “Tea” more carefully – considering the switch from Maxxie to Tea, this is almost entirely new material, although it technically intersects with some of the developments which developed between Maxxie and Tony in the UK series. On that level, “Tea” comfortably fits into concerns over the series having been made less transgressive in its trip across the pond, but I’m not sure that I’m so concerned after seeing the episode. While I lament the loss of the scenes in question, I thought the replacement scenes were more different than they were worse, and the episode as a whole built strongly on the pilot (and in ways which won’t be undone when the show goes back to a note-for-note adaptation next week).

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Tactless Logic: The Emmy Awards Time-Shifting Fiasco

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Tactless Logic:

The Emmy Awards Time-Shifting Fiasco

The Academy was so close to getting away with it.

Every year, the Emmys are faced with a mountain of criticism that no other award show really deals with, as the show in and of itself is part of the medium that it judges. While the Oscars or the Grammys are television presentations, the critics who analyze them as award shows are not likely film critics, and lack that personal connection with the material being dealt with. With the Emmys, however, the same television critics who (rightfully) criticize the Emmys for failing to recognize certain performers or certain shows for various reasons are the same ones who watch and criticize the show itself, making it a darn tough job to be in charge of the awards show.

This year, they are in the unenviable decision of having to make dramatic changes after two disastrous experiments: first, FOX confused just about everyone with their “Theater in the Round” setup, and last year ABC allowed the Reality Competition Program hosts to host the event and nearly caused a riot amongst angry critics questioning the lack of humour, chemistry, and just about anything worthwhile. They’re in the position where they needed to make changes, but when critics are always on the lookout for potential concerns they needed to step very carefully.

The changes they came up with, and revealed this week, were changes designed in order to streamline the show, allowing more time to let critic-approved Neil Patrick Harris do his thing, and to clear the way for the show to be more engaging for the audience at home. Their purpose alone, is quite logical: everyone wants a better show, and people acknowledge that there need to be changes for that to happen.

Where the Academy (particularly producer Don Mischer) went wrong, however, is in how they sold these changes, changes that demonstrate a logical understanding of some of the award show’s struggles and yet also a tactless understanding of how critics, the industry and other observers would react to their reasoning. If sold differently, these changes would have remained a sticking point but one that would have been over time forgiven: as it stands, it’s a scandal that isn’t going away anytime soon, and a scandal that’s standing in the way of the Emmys making a much-needed comeback.

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