Tag Archives: Outland Institute

Ep 244: US Fall Season 2010, Pre-production

Brett has some Crap TVs that he needs to offload on us all. The fact that one of them may have been a misnamed Raywatch will go without saying because it doesn’t change the episode really. And who actually understands the definitions of these segment titles anyway? We may as well call the whole show Bucket of TV and be done with it.

Also, reaching into the bucket, I pull out some very brief descriptions of new shows with bad titles from the US Fall Season including Blue Bloods, Raising Hope and The Whole Truth.

John Richards arrives right near the end of the show (retrospective spoiler alert) and tells us what it means to have a show in “pre-production”.

Then Brett spends some time trying to cut 10 minutes out of the show because we can see no reason for anyone to listen to us reach into the Bucket of TV for almost an hour and a half. You won’t hear that bit in the show because we cut it out.  One thing Brett can tell you is that no one is going to hear about Grand Final after parties nor the suggestion that the L in AFL stands for Libel.

Enjoy the fruits of our waffle.:

And then, please, let us know what you think and should we change the title?

Does Variety Television Actually Exist?

There’s been a lot of talk about Variety coming back in the last couple of weeks. Everything to do with the Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion (other than the obvious criticisms) shows has been about variety coming back. “Isn’t it great to have variety back?” people will say.

Of course, people said the same thing when Dancing with the Stars started. Also, when I was growing up, one of the long running variety shows was the Black and White Minstrel Show, as was the Muppet Show. Take from that what you will.

The truth is, Variety never really left us because it doesn’t really exist as a genre. Is Hey Hey variety? Then what is similar between that show and Dancing with the Stars? How do they compare to the Brady Bunch Hour or The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour or Donny & Marie?

There’s almost no difference to what Hey Hey became late in its existence and a tonight show. Dancing with the Stars is closer linked to Celebrity Masterchef than it is to Hey Hey or the Osmonds.

So we take the term Variety out of the equation and what do we have? People feel like they’re missing something from their television experience and it somehow involves singing and dancing and family entertainment with a bit of light comedy thrown in.

What people are saying when they talk about wanting variety to come back to television is that they want is some sort of stagnation. They don’t want to think, they don’t want to learn, they don’t want to go on a journey. It’s mindless television and it must be stopped. Its nothing but a distraction and that’s not the way any entertainment should be. If, when watching television, you come away from it with nothing, was that time well spent?

I was outraged after the second reunion show when reading the Facebook messages on the Hey Hey page about the Black Faces debacle. People were offended that Harry Connick Jr was offended. How does that even make sense? This so called family entertainment is pitting us against each other.

Television is like one of those comic book devices that could save the world but in the wrong hands would mean disaster. Variety is just another word for television being in the wrong hands. It must be stopped.

:30 Seconds — A Rule of One review

The following took place as part of the Outland Institute radio show and our controversial “Rule of One” review process. Since this aired, last Friday, there has been another episode of :30 Seconds but the Rule of One prevails.

Last Monday, the first episode of the new sitcom from Andrew Denton’s Zapruder’s Other Films aired on the Comedy Channel.

Called :30 Seconds (complete with the colon), it’s about an advertising agency.

Yes, at the moment it seems like Zapruder’s is only coming out with shows about advertising. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Denton.

Comedy, as you well know, is a very sensitive lover. It requires caring, attention and tenderness.

To continue that already tortured analogy, the flowers and chocolate, the romance, if you will, are the acting and directing of a sitcom.

They make us feel like there might be something this relationship for us. We’re prepared to give it a chance and maybe allow a couple of dates.

The sex in the analogy that not even I can believe I’m taking this far, is the writing. It’s the writing that, BAM!, really drives home the idea that this comedy deserves a part of our lives.

As far as acting goes, :30 Seconds has the chops. Gyton Grantley, Kat Stewart, Peter O’Brien and Stephen Curry all bring their exquisite thespian skills to the set.

The glaring deficiency in the show is in the bedroom. The writing just isn’t there. So often we see a sitcom where the jokes come forced, like the writers are squeezing in the jokes regardless of context.

The secret is to let the jokes come from the characters. Especially when an accomplished cast is at the writers’ disposal, it the characters are good, the actors will find the comedy and the director will help bring it out.

The actors in :30 Seconds just don’t have enough to deal with. The characters are one dimensional at best.

The potential is there for a great comedy but the writing needs to improve.

Also, the lighting is some of the worst I’ve seen outside YouTube.

Conspiracy theories in television

Last week Oliver Stone announced his latest project. It’s a ten-part documentary series called the Secret History of America.

Stone is the king of creative conspiracy theorists. This series is apparently going to include newly discovered facts from the Kennedy administration and the Vietnam War amongst other things.

So I think it’s important to note how television has shaped the landscape of conspiracy theories.

Of course we can spend hours talking about the X-Files and its Lone Gunmen characters who subsequently had their own spin-off series that didn’t last very long. We could subsequently disappear up our own arses trying to work out why it didn’t last very long and who gave the order to pull it from air.

We can talk about the first moon landing being the first televised event to be derided as a hoax by conspiracy theorists who believe that the whole thing was shot on a soundstage in Burbank.

We can talk about programmes like 24, Prison Break, Heroes and even my beloved Lost, that base their entire story-lines around international conspiracy theories.

But we won’t, and I think you know why.

Conspiracy theories are a simple way to create intrigue in a series. They give the audience a chance to be part of the story-telling. Every reveal escalates the conspiracy up some chain of command that feeds on our fears of lack of freedom. They raise a question of the control we have over our own lives but, more importantly, how much trust do we put in the medium that is giving us information.

While these shows impel us to question everything that we see on television, they also serve as a warning. When we see the protagonist who has been following a conspiracy-chain for several episodes or several seasons, they always end up as loners, obsessed with finding the truth, often wearing the same clothes day after day.

So do these shows want us to actually know the truth or are they trying to stop us from finding the truth? And who’s in charge of trying to keep us confused like this?

Would you believe me if I told you it was an international federation of school teachers? I’m not crazy. This is the truth, people. They control the information. We are all their puppets.

Or maybe not.

This first appeared as an audible segment on John Richards’s excellent Outland Institute radio programme.

Go! It’s an instruction for tedium

I really love what the free to air networks have done with digital television. The offering from Channel 9, Go!, is a remarkable piece of television development.

Remember when networks didn’t know how to fill their entire schedule so they’d put old, cheap or seemingly random programmes on at dead times? My Two Dads at 4pm, Newhart whenever it rained at the cricket, and Thrillseekers at midday on Saturday were all old Channel 9 staples.

I don’t think they ever thought people were watching their station at these times. Either that or Kerry Packer really loved an afternoon of stuntmen jumping cars over canyons.

One of the ingenious things about Go! is that you can watch their entire programming for a day depending on whether you wake up in the morning or the afternoon. They’ve really catered this one to the lazy. Despite the exclamation mark in the title, Go! does not seem to be an imperative. In fact, it’s the name I’d give to a new designer drug that made you feel like you were having a good time while really the whole world was passing you by.

Here’s a taste of what they’ve launched with: The Nanny, Just Shoot Me, Entertainment Tonight, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and Australia’s Funniest Home Videos. All of those shows are available TWICE A DAY. In case you miss an episode of the Nanny you can catch it again eight and a half hours later!

I think what happened is they couldn’t fit the entire title, “Go Into A Vegetative State!”, on the screen.

Really, this was the laziest thing I’ve seen come out of the Free To Air networks for some time. Somebody got paid for coming up with that programming schedule, that title, that media release that came to my inbox. Everybody involved should be ashamed.

Dock You Meant Aries

So there’s this thing that’s been on the television for a while, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it, but the kids are calling it “Reality Television“.

Anyway it’s this thing where you get real people in real life situations and follow them around or see them in fish-out-of-water scenarios like the mother from one family going to live with a different family for a couple of weeks.

It reminds me a lot of this thing they used to have on television called “documentaries“. Do you remember those? They were fantastic. We’d learn all about the world as people showed us the lives of ants or, if they were on SBS, the lives of Hitler’s ants.

Well, hold on to your seat because documentaries are back, baby, they just look a little different.

Because people have such low attention spans and trust issues, these programmes need to have famous British people:

And of course, they can pretty much only be on the ABC for them to have any credibility whatsoever.

This week we’ve got the premier of two of these documentary things*.

The first is on Sunday night on ABC1. Stephen Fry, who you might remember from Blackadder, driving through the US and telling us about local customs in a way that is different to Louis Theroux or Ruby Wax.

Then on Tuesday there’s Tony Robinson, who you might remember from Blackadder, presenting the history of Crime and Punishment.

Apparently, this is not as you would expect – a 5 minute piece saying:

Dostoyevsky had an idea for a book, sat down with pen and paper for a few months and then got a publishing deal.

No, instead it’s about laws and criminals and punitive measures.

I don’t know who else from Blackadder is making documentaries but they seem to be the most trusted people in the world.

* Be aware that this was written to go to air on 7 August so time references might have no bearing to the actual time you’re reading this, if you are reading this, and if you’re not, I’m not talking to you so turn around and face the wall.

Helicopter Ear-Piece Dramas

Channel 9 premiered their new Australian series a couple of weeks ago. It prompted me to create this piece for The Outland Institute radio show. It went to air on 31 July, 2009 but you can still listen to it thanks to modern technophilia.

Channel 9’s new weekly drama is called Rescue Special Ops (with cops). It’s what I like to think of as a helicopter ear-piece (HEP) action series.

I haven’t seen it yet because*, ever since Underbelly, Channel 9’s publicity seems to be more about secrecy than anything else.

But I thought we’d look at other HEP series from other networks.

Of course, there’s the one that started it all. Police Rescue. This ABC drama featured a lot of falling off cliffs with rescuers shouting “Hang on. Mate, just hang on.” Also combined with this was some shouting of instructions: “attach the rope to the belt” etc. Police Rescue also pioneered the use of the winch in weekly television.

More recently, All Saints, already on the do not resuscitate list, tried to reimagine itself as an HEP, renaming itself to All Saint Medical Response Unit. The introduction of helicopters into a hospital drama was novel if not sustainable.

It’s important to note here that helicopters are the most expensive thing in the filmed entertainment world. It is cheaper to burn giant containers full of truffles laced with cocaine than to hire a helicopter for a film or tv shoot.

So that brings us to Rush on Channel 10. Not happy to spend the national debt on two helicopters, one to film and the other to be filmed, the Rush crew decided to use computer generated images for their action sequences. To compensate for that, though, they have more earpieces and made-up technology than any other HEP series before or after.

How will Rescue Special Ops add to this genre? I’m guessing it won’t. Really. It’s more action for action’s sake until they realise that action’s too expensive and they just fall back into boring intra-department romance and politics like everything else does.

* Remember that this review went to air before Rescue Special Ops aired.

The following appeared as a segment on The Outland Institute on 24 July, 2009. If you’d like to hear this sort of thing live then tune in to Joy 94.9 every Friday at midday AEST.

One of the things I love about doing television reviews on the Outland Institute is what I like to call the rule of one. One episode is enough to judge an entire series.

This week I’ve seen the first episode of two new shows from the US. Drop Dead Diva and Ruby and the Rockits.

I can easily and quickly cover off on Drop Dead Diva. If David E. Kelly known for Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal and marrying Michelle Pfeiffer, took an overdose of oestrogen, the product pumped from his stomach would be Drop Dead Diva.

An aspiring Price is Right model (and no, I’m not making this up) dies in a car crash at the same time that a fat and clumsy but talented lawyer spills hot coffee on her blouse and subsequently gets shot (and I’m still not making this up). The model manipulates her way out of limbo but ends up in the lawyer’s body. Everybody learns a lesson and fried food tastes good.

Margaret Cho co-stars in this one but its almost like they cast her because Sandra Oh is too famous now. She is in no way used to her comic potential. The role just seems so generic. She plays the best-friend/assistant of the fat lawyer.

Then there’s Ruby and the Rockits, a traditional 3 camera sitcom or laffer. David Cassidy stars, as does Patrick Cassidy. It’s produced by Shaun Cassidy. If that’s not enough “where are they now” for you, then it’s also directed by Ted Wass, aka the Dad from Blossom.

David Cassidy plays David Gallagher, a has-been rocker doing a residency at an Indian casino. A girl comes into the venue and introduces herself as his daughter from his time on the road. He takes this at face value and takes the girl, whose mother has recently died, to his brother Patrick’s house. Yes, they are using their real first names. How original.

Patrick’s family also accepts this story of a long-lost orphaned daughter and agrees to let her live in their house. That’s the premise and no, I’m not making any of this up. No paternity test, no questioning; Ruby’s story is entirely accepted at face value.

Ruby and the Rockits dispenses with any of that unnecessary and tiresome suspension-of-disbelief rubbish that other TV shows require for plausibility. In fact, it throws any sense of plausibility out the window. It’s not important. Neither, apparently, is writing jokes.

RatR slso stars Alexa Vega, who was the sister in the Spy Kids series. I mean, really, what did I do in a past life that all of these people would return to haunt me in such a terrifying manner?