Tag Archives: Mass Media

Pilot ‘Previews’ and Pilot ‘Reviews’: Television Media and the 2007 Fall Shows

Recently, major entertainment websites and print media have begun to receive their DVD Screeners for the fall’s new shows. With only a glimpse of the shows being revealed at the Upfronts nearly four weeks ago, journalists are now getting a chance to see the entire episode that convinced a major network to give that show a spot on it schedule. However, they can’t tell you what they really think about them: based on Screener regulations, they are only able to offer a “preview” of the pilots. There will be no reviewing of this fall’s new shows as long as the Screener people get their way.

Now, while I haven’t quite been able to find any documented reason for why this is, allow me to speculate. I believe that the studios are afraid of the power that journalists wield when deciding whether a show is good or not. They fear that critics might be, well, critical of the work that they’ve done, and that said criticism will reduce the potential of that show in the fall. It’s a win-win for the studios, they believe, if all people can offer is vague commentary on the episode. Take for example TheTVAddict’s “preview” of Sarah Connor Chronicles (Pictured), FOX’s midseason entry:

THE GOOD: The action packed pilot had this TV Addict on the edge of his seat for the entire hour.

THE BAD: How exactly are they going to keep the action quotient up each and every week? If the season finale of HEROES taught us anything, it’s that with great power comes great respon… err, I mean – it’s that television budgets aren’t very conducive to an action packed weekly series.

For studios, they see this as fantastic: the good comment does little but help the show, and the writer isn’t able to offer enough substantiation for their complaint for it to feel definitive in the eyes of viewers (And let’s face it, that’s not even really a bad thing. Just a cautionary warning). These studios believe that they’ve found a way to protect their pilots from the savagery of the internet.

But what differentiates a preview from a review? Does it mean that you can’t be negative, or that negative comments are frowned upon? Or can you not discuss any details of the pilot? Or are you unable to offer examples of anything? And are people even paying attention to these guidelines? Well, let’s find take a look and find out just what that difference is.

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Filed under 2007 Fall Preview, ABC, FOX, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Television

‘Save Jericho’: The Cowardice of Traditional Media

So, I’ve written extensively about the ‘Save Jericho’ Campaign, as have a large number of internet sites and blogs. This thing is only a week old, and already it has escalated into an internet phenomenon on the levels that were unfathomable when the show was canceled last week. And, it’s had an impact: CBS executives are apparently meeting this week, although the chances of a season two still seem fairly remote. However, there’s something that needs to be made note of: there has been little to no coverage of the ‘Save Jericho’ campaign in the “traditional” media.

This would be your newspapers. Your television stations. Your major media outlets for entertainment news. These sites? Aren’t quite as willing to jump on the bandwagon. Now, there have been some stories about it in more major news outlets, but there is a distinction that needs to be made.

Those outlets (New York Times, USA Today, Chicago Tribune) are not reporting on the actual content of the Save Jericho campaign, but rather on its status as an internet phenomenon from a group of crazed fans [The New York Times walks a fine line]. They are not covering the ‘Save Jericho’ campaign as something real, something genuine, but rather as some sort of novelty. Now, for the sake of the campaign, this coverage is good. Major papers covering the story is getting press out there, and that’s a great start.

But these major papers are refusing to really pick up this story and run with it: they were unwilling to send media to cover the delivery of peanuts to CBS headquarters, they are tentative to actually talk to the people involved, and on the whole they’re reporting about the story instead of actually reporting the story itself. And when they do it’s brief mentions in their pop culture blogs, not actual articles. And I think there’s a reason for this:

Cowardice. I believe that they are unwilling to engage this campaign as an actual entity because it will be legitimizing the internet as a source of power in media. It will be legitimizing blogs, message boards, and everything else. To cover this campaign in the same way blogs have, these major papers would have to admit that they were scooped, that the same stories bloggers are writing about are worthy of their pages.

And that would change the mass media forever.

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Filed under Jericho, Television

Cultural Feedback: The Politics of Sympathy on American Idol

In the wake of Monday’s shootings at Virginia Tech (Which I’m not trying to exploit here, in talking about them twice, but I really want to focus on this conundrum), American Idol felt that there should be an address of sympathy to the victims and their families. At the opening of the show, Ryan Seacrest forewent the usual bombast and drama for a subtle, well-stated message of sympathy in the wake of yesterday’s events.

However, after his performance, Idol contender Chris Richardson made special mention of the tragedy, and provided his own personal condolences. Judge Simon Cowell was very clearly upset at this, turning his head away from Richardson and seeming genuinely angry. In fact, as this picture shows, Simon was most certainly rolling his eyes.

After Chris’ comment, Seacrest noted that “All of us feel for everybody affected by that,” seemingly trying to depersonalize the statement. Later in the broadcast, after Blake Lewis had performed his song, Simon tagged on a message of sympathy from the judges specifically which had no relation to Blake’s comments.

This raises a lot of questions. While I think everyone would believe that a response from a show like American Idol is a classy move, was Richardson stepping out of his bounds in an attempt to rise above the competition? Was he just trying to gain attention, and did that attempt make the other contenders seem less sympathetic? Was Simon’s response petty, feeling that he was not personally connected to one of the apologies, or rather out of concern for the other competitors?

On a personal level, I think that the one show-wide message of sympathy is the better tactic, and that intended or not Richardson should have left it at that. I admire Simon’s effort, but he came across as really angry, which was also inappropriate considering the situation. And yet, I think that this raises a really interesting issue (Especially considering my previous post on the relationship between the recent tragedy and television), and I was wondering if anyone else had an opinion on the subject. Did Chris or Simon go too far, or is too much sympathy never a problem?

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Changing Perspectives: Television and the Virginia Tech Tragedy

It happens with any tragedy. As the news media begins to cover the story 24/7, as its true ramifications and impact begin to take hold on our minds, it fundamentally changes our perspective. Things which were once innocuous, things which were once seemingly harmless, take on new meanings. And really, I think it’s only human nature; as human beings, we are affected by tragedies which are so relatable, which could happen to anyone. What happened at Virginia Tech is something relatable for me: as an RA who sees people in residence who have issue with anger, issues with violence, I can’t help but become hypothetical. I can’t help but think about these realities in my own life, and thus it’s also impossible to ignore connections between the tragedy at Virginia Tech and the television we watch. As a reflection of our lives, and in many ways an extension of our societal values, television is going to provide unintended context to a tragic event.

The shootings have already resulted in a network reaction from FOX in regards to this week’s episode of ‘Bones,’ which had been about a college student who had been murdered and buried a set of bleachers. And, although I do not believe anything has been made official, there has been some reaction to this weekend’s Saturday Night Live Digital Short, “The Shooting.” I think that the short certainly takes a somewhat different turn when you consider it in the light of the shootings, and NBC agrees. Although they weren’t too quick to take down the short when it aired (NBC was apparently unable to legally clear the song for use on YouTube, but didn’t want to kill the hype), NBC is now making legal claims about anyone posting the video on YouTube themselves.

My opinion on these two reactions is that I think they are both for the best, and both justified, and yet I think it’s important to avoid the types of reactions seen on the Saturday Night Live message boards. This one, an example of the sentiment, in particular is a problem [Highlights are mine]:

“I created an account and I am commenting here on this site for one reason only — to STRONGLY agree [the first poster]. I’m a longterm SNL fan, and I can certainly take a joke, but SNL needs to realize that they are absolutely no different than the Quinten Tarrintino’s of the world, violent video game producers, and all the media outlets that indirectly promote this behavior by showing people shooting other people on TV or on computers. SNL — you all have a responsibility to society as well. Some jokes don’t need to be said, and skits don’t need to be shown. You didn’t cause this event, but it’s shows like yours that slowly make these “nut cases” lose their sensitivity and become enamored with this kind of behavior — and ultimately do it. SNL and NBC — you are partly responsible.

I think we need to draw a major line in the sand in regards to responsibility for the event and responsibility to the public. What SNL did was create a comedy sketch that made light of violence…in order to satirize the dramatization of violence on other television shows. In the end, the sketch was written and presented as comedy. It cannot, in any way, be retroactively declared as a glorification of violence simply because of this terrible event. SNL and NBC are not responsible for anything other than poor timing, and that was out of their control.

Look at Bones, which is dealing with a problem of an episode that has been filmed and completed and yet can’t possibly air considering its subject matter. They are not at fault for producing an episode which featured a college student being killed considering that we’re talking about a forensics procedural drama. We live in a television environment where every CSI, every Law and Order, every Criminal Minds or NCIS, are all dealing with death on a regular basis. I would hate to have the job that those writers have, planning out how they’re going to create a murder for these people to solve every week. And yet, can we hold them responsible for doing their jobs? Can we hold the shows responsible when they have some of the highest ratings on TV? Can we hold us responsible, then, for consuming and demanding this type of programming?

This is the problem with attempting to find blame within the mass media, specifically within television or video games. Consumption of television, of video games, is far too subjective to even consider its effects without opening up a Pandora’s box that is simply impossible to close cleanly. It’s an easy out, a nice story for the media, and yet I don’t think it actually has enough true relevance to consider as an issue of responsibility. What SNL presented, what Bones was planning to present, was a reality of what we as viewers consume, wish to consume, and find funny or dramatic on a regular basis.

FOX and NBC made the right call removing these from air/YouTube, as it is a sign of their own remorse and sensitivity towards these events. However, I want to make it very clear that no one should be blaming any of the parties involved for anything. So, I can only hope that I don’t see a nationwide boycott of SNL, or Shia LaBeouf, or Andy Samberg, or David Boreanaz. This tragedy is not an issue of blame, no matter how much the media wants to find a catchy byline to scroll on the bottom of the screen to sum everything up. The actions of that student were actions that were personal, emotional, contextual, and can never be boiled down to any show, any societal construct. The micro, in this case, is where you begin, not with the macro mass media element of things.

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Filed under Bones, FOX, NBC, Saturday Night Live

Deconstructing American Idol: Manipulation at its Finest

Last week, I wrote about the new season of American Idol, and its penchant towards displaying the lowest of the low, and even dedicating a fair amount of time to their portrayal. While I talked about the whole question of these bad singers and the like last week, this week I want to look at each episode as the manipulation of our senses, a pattern developing to best serve a particular audience. The directors, producers and editors on American Idol, in a way, are like journalists crafting a story. So, let’s analyze last night’s episode to test out this theory.

Act One: Bringing the Funny

Let’s face it, these early episodes of American Idol are designed to make people laugh and make fun of people who can’t sing in the least, or are entirely oddball in their ways. It’s important for them to do so because they want to hook people in their story. People with short attention spans are immediately drawn into the humour of it all, and you can’t really blame them. The segments are lasting a bit long this season, but let’s face it: it’s still funny to watch people get horribly rejected.

But, in terms of power, the judges are in control, and this first person always shows this. The judges are immediately able to say a resounding no to a contestant, which immediately establishes them as the quality control of the operation.

Act Two: The Montage of Mediocrity

Not looking to lose those viewers who entered for the funny, they parade some of the worst singers doing one of a multitude of things. They could all be butchering the same song, all pleading for an opportunity to do better, or all having major problems with their pitch.

 

This places the audience in a position to just sit back and enjoy themselves, and it’s non-stop entertainment. Not only will this keep them from changing the channel, but it also continues to condition them into thinking that these singers aren’t good in the least. It most definitely manipulates us, as it often shows us only the negative parts of their audition, and you wonder if perhaps the rest of the song was better.

Act Three: Hope for Humanity (But not too much hope)

Here, the show provides two things: singers who have potential to be good but fail to live up to it, and individuals who can actually, you know, sing. These include people from previous seasons who are back to audition, people who have training but just try too hard, or people who can belt out a good tune.

 

This helps to keep people around, and shows a vulnerability in the power of the judges. If we had a show of all failures, they would appear too difficult, too rigid. Similarly, an episode of all people like this would remove their power entirely. This section is also there to keep people tiring of the bad singers (Read: Me) watching. Continue reading

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Filed under American Idol, Television

A Night at the Cinema: ‘Brick’

Four hours. From the time I left my residence to the time I returned, four hours passed by. In that four hours, a rainy spring day turned into an icy winter wonderland. We survived two projector unspoolings, resulting in a good hour and a half of no film. A refund was offered, but myself and a fair few others didn’t mind waiting and stuck it out. This wonderful experience was the conditions in which I saw ‘Brick’ at the Al Whittle Theatre on Friday evening.

I was asked to attend as part of my Politics of Mass Media class, but I had been intrigued by the film before that point. I knew that it was an attempt at recapturing the film noir stylings of the mid-20th century, and I knew from my brother’s experience with the film that it was a lesson in style over substance. And in the end, both of these things are what make Brick a film to watch and experience, and also ones that make it very interesting to engage at a level of mass media analysis.

Because really, as much as there exists power relationships and human nature, this is purely visual filmmaking. The plot is straight-forward and blunt: characters enter and exit without anything even close to a story, and even when the plot is summed up in about a minute at the end of the film it contains no deep answers, only surface ones. We get a sense of a narrative loosely running through the film, but this is not a film about its substance. Where we might in a mob film get an indepth view of The Pin’s thugs we get to see only one in any great detail. We hear about drug deals, about gangs, about family trees of hatred, and yet we see almost none of it. No one ever seems to be entirely in control, and no one is without their vulnerabilities.

There are a few things I want to focus on in terms of the film’s style that make it resonate with the viewer in a way that is quite profound and interesting. I want to look at the film’s depiction of violence, its use of lighting, as well as its reliance on its film noir construct. It is through these means that it manipulates the viewer, and eventually gets its message (whatever it is) across. And, they are what make the film compelling. Continue reading

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