Tag Archives: Voting

Starz’s The Chair: A Compelling Documentary, A Broken Competition

The Chair Key ArtWhen Starz made two episodes of documentary series The Chair (debuts September 6 at 10/9c) available to critics, I was unaware the series existed. After watching the two episodes, I was aware the show existed, but I still didn’t necessarily understand how it worked.

The Chair, as a television series on Starz, is a documentary about two filmmakers—YouTube personality Shane Dawson and independent filmmaker Anna Martemucci—who are each making a movie in Pittsburgh based on the same initial script. It’s an experiment both in terms of understanding the way a script changes depending on the creative forces bringing it to life on screen, as well as considering the specific contrasts in filmmakers who emerge in wildly different creative environments.

However, in addition to being a documentary, The Chair is also a competition, which is the element that was dramatically unclear in watching the series. Although a $250,000 prize is on the line, there were no specific details on how this prize would be awarded. There was the insinuation it would involve some form of audience voting, but the lack of clear details meant I had a wide range of questions about the series’ structure for Starz’s Summer Press Tour session about the project.

I’ll likely talk more about the series itself as we get closer to its September premiere, but the answers to some of those questions are more pertinent in the leadup to the premiere and the promotional campaign around The Chair. At the core of my question, in truth, is not only how this is going to function as a competition series, but also why it is going to function as a competition series. The answers to both questions were vague, but they speak to a project that shares a rather strange relationship to its stars, its network, and to the communities it seeks to draw interest from.

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SYTYCD Season 7’s Top 4: With Great Power Comes Blatant Posturing

Season 7’s Top 4: With Great Power Comes Blatant Posturing

August 4th, 2010

Well, America, the power is finally in your hands.

I’ve written briefly in the past about how So You Think You Can Dance represents a strange sort of mediated democracy, in that the judges maintain control over who goes home (albeit out of a Bottom Three selected by America) for a large portion of the competition – while it purports to awarding the title of “America’s Favourite Dancer,” America isn’t involved in the process until the finals begin, and even then their influence is limited up until a certain point.

While Season Seven has seen a lot of changes for the series, the one I find most interesting is that Nigel Lythgoe and his producers chose to wait until the final week before the finals to turn things over to America – instead of taking control halfway through the competition, as we’ve seen in previous years, America gets to make one single un-aided decision regarding an elimination.

I’m intensely curious to know whether this was something they had planned in advance, or whether it was – like most of the season – an on-the-fly decision which resulted from the producers’ access to each week’s voting results. I raise this point not to suggest that there was some kind of conspiracy, but rather to emphasize how there was something about tonight’s show which felt decidedly manufactured, as if America was being expressly sold these contestants as a result of their newfound power. This usually happens at this late stage in the competition, but part of what has made the last few weeks so engaging was the sense of looseness about it – without the injuries, I think this could have been a really exciting season, and I felt like I was being sold the idea of that excitement tonight rather than actually allowing it to come through in the performances.

Instead, it seems like the show was more focused than ever on selling us this particular set of contestants, which made for a less enjoyable show than in previous weeks.

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The Irony of Monotony: Why SYTYCD’s Season of Reinvention Still Feels Stale

The Irony of Monotony: Why SYTYCD’s Season of Reinvention Still Feels Stale

July 22nd, 2010

Earlier in the seventh season of So You Think You Can Dance, I commented at length on how the All-Star structure seemed to take away some of my favourite parts of the series, including seeing the contestants develop chemistry as a team and working together to overcome challenging choreography. However, as the season has gone on, the show was willing to break up the All-Star format to allow the dancers to pair up with each other, which helped bring some of that chemistry back to the table even if we didn’t get to see it develop over the weeks.

And yet, I think that the structure of the season has run into another roadblock tonight: when I heard word that they had chosen to send no one home, sparing an injured Billy Bell and a struggling Jose from their potential exits, I realized that the show’s biggest problem this season is how monotonous it has become. Sure, I’m not the kind of fan who has that moment of relief when my favourite is saved and gets to dance another day, but the biggest problem with So You Think You Can Dance this season is that even with all of the various reinventions I’m getting really tired of seeing these people dance.

Which I think is more of a reflection of the way the season has been structured than a reflection of the dancers themselves.

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So You Think You Can Dance Season 6 – “Top 20”

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“Season Six – Top 20”

October 27th, 2009

The season started out with such promise: the Top 20 was touted as one of their best ever, and the network even gave them an hour of primetime to prove it last night when the dancers got to showcase their own personal styles in a series of group numbers. It made for a really engaging bit of television, a celebration of the individual dancers that Americans would be voting on.

However, as tonight’s performance show demonstrated, this season has very much been taken out of America’s hands, not in any substantial way but through a series of unfortunate circumstances. Just as viewers may have started falling in love with Billy Bell illness pulled him from the competition, and Noelle suffered a knee injury that seems likely to pull her from the competition considering the huge honkin’ brace she was sporting during tonight’s performance show. And to top it all off, with the World Series dominating Fox’s airwaves, America didn’t even get to vote for their favourites, meaning that two dancers were sent home without ever using their fingers to make numbers in front of millions of Americans.

It was an unfortunate turn of events because it takes a show that more than any other democratizes reality competition programming, emphasizing the America and Favourite in “America’s Favourite Dancer” with gusto, and turns it into a charade that this talented group of contestants doesn’t particularly deserve.

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False Pluralism: Emmys go from 5 to 6, but not from Wrong to Right

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False Pluralism:

From 5 to 6, but not from Wrong to Right

If you’re the kind of person who is reading this article, there are certain hopes you have in life.

They were once personified by Lauren Graham, critics’ darling and star of Gilmore Girls, who went seven seasons without an Emmy nomination. Then, you had The Wire, a low-rated but critically acclaimed HBO series that despite being hailed as the greatest series of all time failed to garner any non-writing nominations. And then there’s Lost, which after winning an Emmy in its first year out faltered due to its genre elements getting in the way of its taut and well-constructed drama, only returning in 2008.

The last decade or so of the Emmys have been defined less by who was winning (dominated as it was by The Sopranos and The West Wing), and more by who wasn’t even getting invited to the dance. In the internet age, this is to be expected: internet chatter is always more focused on the negative than the positive, and when the Emmy system is a complex unknown to most people assumptions are made and grievances are aired. The three above examples, and countless more, will go down in the annals of message boards or blogs as those shows which represented a black spot on the Emmy Awards – and, unfortunately for the Academy, their record is getting spottier every year.

But hope is not gone for a show like Lost, or shows like Battlestar Galactica and Friday Night Lights, for the Academy is making another change to its nomination structure:  they’re taking all Drama and Comedy series and acting categories into six horse races. Once reserved for a tie, the six-way battle is now the standard, and to quote Academy president John Shaffner this move “exemplifies the academy’s awareness of the amount of great television and fine individual work that is seen across the enormous spectrum of the television universe.”

Of course, what Shaffner is really saying is much simpler: “Dear Internet fans, *Insert Favourite Show* now has a better shot at being nominated, aren’t the Emmys relevant again?”

And sorry, Mr. Shaffner, but this wasn’t the only change, and your statement is an inherent contradiction of the OTHER methods taken by the Academy today. While the Emmy system was before extremely complex, (which I try to explain here), they’re going back to the drawing board: gone are the Panels that made up 50% of the final standings, replaced by, in the case of series, nothing but the popular vote of the entire membership and, in the case of acting races, by small, selective sections of the membership.

Which is officially the most egregious example of “one step forward, two steps back” that I’ve ever seen.

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