Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Does a Showrunner Do? (I)

From an Onion AV Club interview with Mad Men's Matt Weiner:

AVC: As a show-runner, what level of oversight do you have? You say you not micro-managing as much...
MW: Well, the people who work for me may laugh at that. [Laughs.]
AVC: How much of a hand do you have in, say, the episodes where you're not a credited writer?
MW: Every single word that's on the screen, I oversee. There's nothing that's shot, I'm not involved in. The scripts go through multiple drafts, and I work with the writers on all these things. And I'm extremely involved in the writing process. As far as casting, I'm there for every single person that's cast. Even if it's one word, I'm there for their auditions. I'm involved in the props, a lot of which are written into the scripts. I'm involved in the costumes, which are all shown to me before they go on. I write some things in, but it's another one of these things where it's like, at this point, [costume designer] Janie Bryant comes and tells me "I'm doing this," and unless I hate it, we do it. But I'm involved in it. A lot of it, these details are written into the scripts. The scripts are very specific. What kind of drinks people have, where they're sitting, those kinds of things. I'm involved with the directors. We have tone meetings where I explain to them the script, page by page and word by word, and often perform it, which is embarrassing but true. I do a great Joan. Then on the set, I visit the set for a lot of the rehearsals, and there's always a writer on set. And then I'm involved in post-production, very intensely involved in editing, and the sound mix and color timing. Really, I have about nine jobs.

Television and Contemporary Culture

Not surprisingly, both of these takes on television's role in American culture come from essays about Mad Men.

[Television's] great accomplishment over the past decade has been to give us the best of all movie worlds, to meld personal filmmaking, or series-making, with something like the craft and discipline, the crank-’em-out urgency, of the old studio system.
--Bruce Handy, "Don and Betty's Paradise Lost (Vanity Fair)

For more than 10 years, the intricate, multiseason narrative TV drama has exercised a dominant cultural sway over well-educated, well-off adults. Just as urbanish professionals in the 1950s could be counted on to collectively coo and argue over the latest Salinger short story, so that set in the 2000s has been most intellectually,
emotionally, and aesthetically engaged not by fiction, the theater, or the cinema but by The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Big Love.
Benjam Schwarz, "Mad About Mad Men" (Atlantic Monthly)

Quote of the Day (10/31/09) (Television Week 2)

There’s a good deal in common between the mind’s eye and the TV screen, and though the TV set has all too often been the boobtube, it could be, it can be, the box of dreams.
--Ursula K. Le Guin

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Cheney Picassos

Huffington Post summarizes and quotes from Craig Ferguson's American By Choice:

On meeting the Cheneys, Ferguson recounts that his wife discussed art with Mrs. Cheney, who proudly described the Picasso sketches she owned. When Megan [Ferguson's wife] asked Cheney where she hung the artwork, Cheney's response stunned them:

"Oh we don't," replied Mrs. C. They're nudes, and we have grandchildren. We don't want them to see them when they come over."

"But they're Picassos," protested Megan.

"But they're nudes," smiled Mrs. Cheney dangerously.

I put a hand on Megan's elbow. I didn't want trouble. You don't want to be on the Cheney shit list... Once they were gone, I told Megan that Dick Cheney had been ogling her breasts.

Lynne Cheney, please recall, was the ED of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

On a Winning Streak

In my e-mail over the last few days I have received word of winning over £500,000,000.

Am I lucky or what? My time in the UK is really paying off!

Garrison Keillor: The Man On the Radio in the Red Tennis Shoes

I loved this film. I have long admired Keillor, who emerged as a nationally known figure during my time in Minnesota in the early 1970s and whose one-time partner, Margaret Moos, was in the first class I ever taught in the fall of 1971.

Keillor is our Mark Twain. Red Shoes is an often deeply moving portrait. Here's a clip:

Schrödinger's Cat (ctd.)

I have written about Schrödinger's cat's numerous television cameos before.

Add one more: in last night's otherwise boring FlashForward, Simon (Dominic Monaghan), world renown physicist and prime-mover in the series' world-wide catastrophe, explains the thought experiment in an attempt to seduce a woman on the train.

Quote of the Day (10/30/09) (Television Week 2)

Anyone afraid of what he thinks television does to the world is probably just afraid of the world.
--Clive James, Glued To The Box

Thursday, October 29, 2009

OMG: Chad Everett?

Playing the reverse-Benjamin-Buttonized Dean Winchester on tonight's Supernatural is . . . Chad Everett??

Blue Hand-Me-Downs

Tonight's FlashForward featured a bit more about the "blue hands" Agent Benford saw in his flashforward.

It's becoming more and more clear: Firefly's Alliance is somehow involved in the ongoing mystery.

More "Chuck"

This is good news. More Chuck--and probably sooner.

Sabotaged from the Future?

Stephen considers the possibility that the Hadron Super Collider is being sabotaged by/from the future.

At the end of this episode of the CR present-day Colbert was replaced by Colbert from the future. I suspect that this was a first for a talk/pundit show. Will this plot development continue in future episodes?

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Quote of the Day (10/29/09) (Television Week 1)

Television, the culture's great instrument, speaks to eighty-year-olds and eighteen-year-olds with the same voice. I think of grandmother, spending her last years remote control in hand. She could watch what she felt like, of course, but almost all the choices had been created for those with desirable demographics. Television never grows old, never ceases that small talk that may be innocuous when you're thirty but should be monstrous by the end of your life. Right to the last day of my grandmother's life it continued to offer her the sight of Donahue discussing sex changes and Cosby making faces and Vanna spinning letters.
--Bill McKibben, The Age of Missing Information

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"I have . . . older than you!"

In my modern American poetry class yesterday I was sharing what I had written about Hart Crane in "The Eye as Inspiration in Modern Poetry" (New Orleans Review, 1980) when the fact that I had written it 29 years ago suddenly hit me as I stood before these kids, most of them born in the late 1980s.

"I have articles older than you," I quipped. Nary a chuckle.

I thought it was funny.

"Willow, Tara, and Doors"

A wonderful blog post.

Victor Turner would be pleased. Liminality at its best.

"South Park" Explains Scientology

Watching this I am reminded of the late Thomas Disch's plaintive question (in The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the Universe): why, if a science fiction writer created a religion did it have to be the worst SF writer in history, L. Ron Hubbard, and not, say, Philip K. Dick?

"On the Verge of Tears"

Good news. Cambridge Scholars Publishing has offered Michele Byers and I a contract for On the Verge of Tears: Reflections on Crying.

Here's my Flow piece that was the seed crystal for the collection.

Castle Mal

Tip of the hat to Cynthia O'Malley.

Whale Penis Interiors

I first heard about this on Colbert last night (video below--at the 3:05 mark). (Colbert notes that a vehicle with WPI seats five, but seven when aroused.)

You can read about it here.

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But use of whale penis skin was not new to me, for I had read about it in Moby-Dick--in a blasphemous, hilarious chapter called "The Cassock," which culminates in one of the great, most obscene puns of all time.

Chapter xcv - THE CASSOCK

Had you stepped on board the Pequod at a certain juncture of this post-mortemizing of the whale; and had you strolled forward nigh the windlass, pretty sure am I that you would have scanned with no small curiosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would have seen there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers. Not the wondrous cistern in the whale's huge head; not the prodigy of his unhinged lower jaw; not the miracle of his symmetrical tail; none of these would so surprise you, as half a glimpse of that unaccountable cone, - longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at the base, and jet-black as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg. And an idol, indeed, it is; or, rather, in old times, its likeness was. Such an idol as that found in the secret groves of Queen Maachah in Judea; and for worshipping which, king Asa, her son, did depose her, and destroyed the idol, and burnt it for an abomination at the brook Kedron, as darkly set forth in the 15th chapter of the first book of Kings.

Look at the sailor, called the mincer, who now comes along, and assisted by two allies, heavily backs the grandissimus, as the mariners call it, and with bowed shoulders, staggers off with it as if he were a grenadier carrying a dead comrade from the field. extending it upon the forecastle deck, he now proceeds cylindrically to remove its dark pelt, as an African hunter the pelt of a boa. This done he turns the pelt inside out, like a pantaloon leg; gives it a good stretching, so as almost to double its diameter; and at last hangs it, well spread, in the rigging, to dry. Ere long, it is taken down; when removing some three feet of it, towards the pointed extremity, and then cutting two slits for arm-holes at the other end, he lengthwise slips himself bodily into it. The mincer now stands before you invested in the full canonicals of his calling. Immemorial to all his order, this investiture alone will adequately protect him, while employed in the peculiar functions of his office.

That office consists in mincing the horse-pieces of blubber for the pots; an operation which is conducted at a curious wooden horse, planted endwise against the bulwarks, and with a capacious tub beneath it, into which the minced pieces drop, fast as the sheets from a rapt orator's desk. Arrayed in decent black; occupying a conspicuous pulpit; intent on bible leaves; what a candidate for an archbishoprick, what a lad for a Pope were this mincer! Bible leaves! Bible leaves! This is the invariable cry from the mates to the mincer. It enjoins him to be careful, and cut his work into as thin slices as possible, inasmuch as by so doing the business of boiling out the oil is much accelerated, and its quantity considerably increased, besides perhaps improving it in quality.

Quote of the Day (10/28/09) (Television Week 1)

Television is structured by a dialectic of elision and rift among the various windows (commercial scheduling, programming, "news") through which images enter the broadcast and are combined as television. "Flow" is more of a circumstance than a product. The real output is the quantum, the smallest maneuverable broadcast bit. And, with the spread of cable, VCRs, computer zames, and the power to zap, "broadcasters" are accelerating toward the relinquishment—or rather the transcendence—of interest and investment in sequence. Any arrangement of bits will ultimately produce the same effects.
--Michael Sorkin

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Television Bloopers

Benjamin Schwarz' piece on Mad Men in The Atlantic is well worth reading.

But I was suprised to find this completely erroneous statement:

Such claims were a tad much—as are, in a similar vein, The New York Times Virginia Heffernan’s avowals that The Sopranos premiere was “like the publication of Ulysses” and that the series “may have required more patience and effort from the lead characters than drama ever had, from Euripides to Artaud to Stoppard.” Still, the megamovies have warranted, and received, careful analysis—at least 20 books have taken on The Sopranos. . . .

Shouldn't there be an apostrophe after New York Times? But more importantly: 20 books? 20? Here's the list:

Barreca, Regina, ed. A Sitdown with The Sopranos: Watching Italian American Culture on T.V.’s Most Talked-About Series. New York: Palgrave-McMillan, 2002.

Gabbard, Glen O. The Psychology of The Sopranos. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Greene, Richard and Peter Vernezze, eds. The Sopranos and Philosophy: I Kill, Therefore I Am. Chicago: Open Court, 2004.

Lavery, David, ed. Reading The Sopranos: Hit TV from HBO. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.
___, ed. This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos. New York: Columbia UP, 2002.

Martin, Brett. The Sopranos: The Complete Book. New York: Melcher Media, 2007.

The New York Times on The Sopranos. New York: Ibooks, 2000.

Polan, Dana. The Sopranos. Durham: Duke U P, 2009.

The Sopranos Family Cookbook, as Compiled by Artie Bucco. New York: Warner, 2002.
___. The Sopranos: A Family History. New York: New American Library, 2000.

The Sopranos: Selected Scripts from Three Seasons. New York: Warner Books, 2002.

Weber, John and Chuck Kim, eds. The Tao of Bada Bing: Words of Wisdom from The Sopranos. New York: HBO, 2003.

Yacowar, Maurice. The Sopranos on the Couch: Analyzing Television’s Greatest Series. Third Edition. New York: Continuum, 2007.

That's 13, not "at least 20." And only my two collections and the books by Barreca, Gabbard, Greene and Vernezze, the NY Times, Polan, and Yacowar "take on" The Sopranos. The others are official/companion books. So Schwarz was close: 8. That's almost 20!

Not the only error I have detected in my television reading lately. In Mark Taylor's piece on Mad Men in Jump Cut the author speaks of "Joe" Hamm's performance as Don Draper.

And as I note in a forthcoming (in Critical Studies in Television) review of the BFI TV Classics book on Seinfeld, author Nicholas Mirzoeff commits numerous blunders:

Seinfeld is, regrettably, more than a little careless, littered as it is by minor, annoying, and easily correctable errors. The actor who played NBC chief Russell Dalrymple in Seinfeld was Bob Balaban, not ‘Bob Babanal’. Jerry’s father’s Boca Vista Retirement Village nemesis, the man who disastrously gave our eponymous hero an astronaut pen, was Jack Klompus, not ‘Kloppus’. Christopher Reeve’s Superman hit the big screen in 1978, not 1987 (64). ‘The Parking Space’ was not the 22nd episode of the show but the 38th (even Mirzoeff’s own ‘Broadcast History’ shows his numbering to be incorrect). It was Carson Daly of Last Call with Carson Daly and not Carson Kressley of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy who inspired My Name is Earl’s karmic quest (p. 125). In the sentence beginning ‘As the three main actors, other than Seinfeld, had extensive acting experience . . . ‘ (pp. 27-28), of course no italics are needed for the actor’s name.

Other misidentifications are difficult to explain: It was the character Sidra’s, not the actress Terry Hatcher’s, ‘real and . . . spectacular’ breasts that were in question in ‘The Implant’ (4.18). Woody Allen is not a ‘cinematographer’ (p. 58). Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco are not philosophers (p. 46) in any strict sense of the term. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is not a short story (p. 26) but a novel of over 80,000 words. Bungling such as this subverts the book’s credibility in no small way. (Has BFI Publishing’s financial troubles resulted in the elimination of copy-editors?)

Quote of the Day (10/27/09) (Television Week 1)

Television is the most relentless purveyor of the messages that constitute and perpetuate our severely fragmented public consciousness. It slices our attention span into increments too infinitesimal to get up and measure.
--Barbara Kruger

Monday, October 26, 2009

Heard in "Primer"

I haven't eaten since later this afternoon.
--One of the time-traveling inventors in Primer

It seems unlikely that anyone has ever uttered these simple, quite prosaic words in the entire history of the English language.

Best of Coen Brothers

Salon asks James Toback, Mary Harron, Mark Cuban, Molly Haskell (and others) to name their favorite Coen Brothers film.

JFK and Don

Last night's episode of Mad Men, "The Gypsy and the Hobo," ended on Halloween.

So Season Three has taken us to October 31st. JFK will be assassinated on November 22nd.

1963 Calendar:

Two more episodes to go.

Quote of the Day (10/26/09) (Television Week 1)

Overt sadomasochism is only one component of TV's assault, for TV is violent not only in its literal images of carnage and collision, but in its automatic overuse of every possible method of astonishment. Here we might mention the extreme close-ups, high contrasts, flaring colors, rapid cutting, the stark New Wave vistas, simulations of inhuman speed, sudden riots of break dancing. Yet such a catalog of tricks alone would miss the point, because TV's true violence consists not so much in the spectacle's techniques of content, but rather in the very density and speed of TV overall, the very multiplicity and pace of stimuli; for it is by overloading, overdriving both itself and us that TV disables us, making it hard to think about or even feel what TV shows usmaking it hard, perhaps, to think or feel at all.
--Mark Crispin Miller, "Deride and Conquer"

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The Onion issues a warning.

Quote of the Day (10/25/09) (Television Week 1)

I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television—of that I am quite sure.
--E.B. White (1938)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ray Browne Dies

From the AP Wire:

Professor who pioneered study of pop culture dies--JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press Writer

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ray Browne, an Ohio university professor who was credited with coining the phrase "popular culture" and pioneering the study of things such as bumper stickers and cartoons, has died. He was 87. Browne died at his home Thursday, according to his family and officials at Bowling Green State university. He developed the first academic department devoted to studying what he called the "people's culture" at Bowling Green in 1973.

Browne wrote and edited more than 70 books on popular culture — including "The Guide to United States Popular Culture," published in 2001. "Culture is everything from the food we've always eaten to the clothes we've always worn," he said in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. While many in the field credit Browne with coming up the name "popular culture," no one could say for sure whether he originated it. He said he made a mistake in 1967 when he first used the phrase. "If I had called it everyday culture or Democratic culture, it would not have been so sharply criticized," he said. Browne worked for decades to convince academics that much could be learned from studying seemingly insignificant elements of our lives.

"He was really going against the grain," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "He seemed to be interested in anything. You could drop a gum wrapper in front of him and he would see a text to be studied." Professors at universities nationwide thought Browne, an English professor, was trying to demean or trivialize what they were teaching when he founded the popular culture department. That wasn't the case, he said. His interest was rooted in finding out how society affects culture and how culture affects society. Dozens of schools now offer classes rooted in popular culture. His interests ranged from Western cowboy movies to wallpaper. "The covering of walls has been one of the most important items in housing since the beginning," he said. "But nobody ever wrote a book on it." Browne taught at the University of Maryland and Purdue University before moving to Bowling Green with the idea of starting a popular culture department.

He often was quoted in the media and always had a ready thought on virtually any subject. He stopped teaching in 1990 but continued to research and write — often working on several books at once.

Browne is survived by his wife, Pat, two sons and a daughter.

"Time Crimes"

Watched this surprisingly good low budget Spanish science fiction film today.

A brain teaser. Solid "B."

Sales Account

Ken Tucker remembers Soupy.

What I will remember best: the occasion when he did not know he was still on air and announced (with his audience of children in mind) "That should keep the little fuckers happy."

American Belief

According to a Pew Research Poll, approximately 75% of my fellow citizens believe in angels and only 39% "believe" in evolution.

"Superfluous" Q Marks

As a major fan of the public grammatical error, I loved this Huffington Post slide show on hilariously unnecessary quotation marks.

And a whole blog devoted to the subject.

Quote of the Day (10/23/09) (Television Week 1)

I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.
--Groucho Marx

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alan Grayson

I am liking Alan Grayson (D-FL) more and more. Here's a great example of his tough-mindedness and courage against the Republicans.

Quote of the Day (10/22/09) (Autobiography Week)

The creative and illuminating nature . . . discerned in autobiography suggests a new and more profound sense of truth as an expression of innermost being, a likeness no longer of things but of the person. Now this truth, which is too often neglected, nevertheless constitutes one of the necessary references for understanding the human realm. We understand everything outside of us as well as ourselves with reference to what we are and according to our spiritual capacities. This is what Dilthey, one of the founders of modern historiography, meant when he said that universal history is an extrapolation from autobiography.
--Georges Gusdorf, "Conditions and Limits of Autobiography"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is America Ready for the Doctor?

Wired considers whether the TARDIS can cross the ocean as well as the space-time continuum.

Quote of the Day (10/21/09) (Autobiography Week)

"To create and in creating to be created," the fine formula of Lequier, ought to be the motto of autobiography.
--Georges Gusdorf, "Conditions and Limits of Autobiography"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Superheroes in History

Superman, Batman, Spider-man Gumpified. (Zelig-ized?)

Tip of the hat to Andrew Sullivan.

Heard on "How I Met Your Mother"

You just gotta make [grading papers] fun. For example, every time I spot a grammatical error, I do a shot. I'm trashed right now, and I blame our public school system.
--Ted, now teaching architecture at the college level, on his new drinking game

A "Glee"-ful Whedon

Whedon will direct an upcoming episode of Glee. Two episodes of The Office and now Glee. Non-Whedonverse televsion directing items in his already rich resume.

Saving Tuesday Night

Ken Tucker unveils his mad plan to save Tuesday night (and move Dollhouse and Fringe there).

"You're Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!"

Everybody is talking about this hilarious flub from a "Celebrity Jeopardy," but in Airplane, Kareem, playing co-pilot Roger Murdock, denies he is KA-J when confronted by little Joey (the "Have you ever seen a grown man naked" scene that inspired the Jeopardy question). So even in the film KA-J has trouble remembering who he is.

Seth McFarland, Nailed

Andrew and a reader nail why, despite the insistence of several people whose opinion I respect, I have never cared a fig for Family Guy.

[T]he problem with McFarland is not that he's a bigot, for goodness' sake. It's that he's a hack.--Andrew Sullivan

"Burn Notice," Seasons 1 and 2

Done getting caught up with Burn. What a terrific series. Funny, exciting, beautiful--it's a perfect integration of a multi-season story arc and stand-alone episodes.

And its action sequences and explosions, done on a tiny budget, put Michael Bay to shame.

When I gave my talk at PCAS earlier in the month I had not seen a minute of it.

Quote of the Day (10/20/09) (Autobiography Week)

I view the rhythms of the autobiographical act as recapitulating the fundamental rhythms of identity formation: in this sense the writing of autobiography emerges as a second acquisition of language, a second coming into being of self, a self-conscious self-consciousness.
--Paul John Eakin

Monday, October 19, 2009

R.I.P., "Dexter's" Lundy

Just saw this week's Dexter DVR, and OMG: Trinity assassinated Lundy (Keith Carradine) and seriously wounded Dex's sister Deb.

Carradine continues to get murdered only a few episodes into a season. His Wild Bill was gunned down in Deadwood's third episode.

Dexter has some revenge to do. A serial killer showdown is coming. Should be a good season.

Heard on "Burn Notice"

She has a helluva breast stroke. She's like a machine.
--Sam Axe, reporting on his surveillance of Carla, played by Tricia Helfer, Battlestar Galactica's Number 6, a humanoid "machine" Cylon

Quote of the Day (10/19/09) (Autobiography Week)

Memoirs must be written because each of us must have a created version of the past. Created, that is, real, tangible, made of the stuff of a life lived in place and in history. . . . We must acquiesce to our experience and our gift to transform experience into meaning and value. . . . If we refuse to do the work of creating this personal vision of the past, someone else will do it for us. . . . What is remembered is what becomes reality.
--Patricia Hampl

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Enter Kramer

In order, all of Kramer's Seinfeld entrances.

Annoying TV Characters

Huffington Post has a mostly enjoyable slide/video show.

One very, very loud protest: Xander on Buffy?

Quote of the Day (10/18/09) (Autobiography Week

Because the human memory, unlike a computer's circuits, is not a written text, it operates in a manner remarkably similar to those primitive cultures without reading and writing, cultures that must learn their collective stories by heart and constantly maintain their stock of stories through repetition. What constitutes a self or an identity is a set of memories-turned-into-stories, memories shared by the successive series of personae occupying an individual mind. And like the most ancient mythologist, we tend to remember according to the needs of memory.
--Timothy Adams, Telling Lies

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Quote of the Day (10/17/09) (Autobiography Week)

Little by little it has become clear to me that every great philosophy has been the confession of its maker, as it were his involuntary and unconscious autobiography.
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Friday, October 16, 2009

Heard on "Real Time"

People hit the streets to celebrate the Dow hitting 10,000, which was easy since so many of them were living there already.--Bill Maher

Dog Heroism Proven

This is one of the most astonishing pieces of film I have ever witnessed. A dog dashes into traffic to try to save another dog. Captured on a Chilean highway surveillance camera.

Market Erotics

The Colbert Report takes note of the sexual language emerging in discussion of Wall Street's "MILFS" (Markets I'd Like to Fluctuate).

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Quote of the Day (10/16/09) (Autobiography Week)

In a day of pseudo-science when sociologists and psychologist are forever measuring the behavior of their neighbors, there is a justification for the autobiography that reminds us how lacking in objectivity human beings who set themselves up as observing instruments really are.
--Stephen Spender

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"EW" reviews "Where the Wild Things Are"

Lisa S loves it.

I love her term for this type of adaptation: "transubstantiation."

Heard on "The Colbert Report"

Our bodies are the only growth industry America has left. China may have 1.4 billion people, but I doubt they'd outweigh the combine weight of the residents of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Being overweight is as American as eating a whole apple pie.

TV I am Following, Fall 2009

If anyone is interested:

Big Bang Theory
How I Met Your Mother
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Daily Show
The Colbert Report
Project Runway
Top Chef

"Burn Notice"

After having it recommended to me at PCAS, I am now watching Season One of Burn Notice and enjoying it very much. Witty, exciting, colorful, with just the right dosage of gone-to-seed Bruce Campbell and Cagney (Sharon Gless), it is yet another example of Basic Cable's ascendancy in the quality television competition.

Quote of the Day (10/15/09) (Autobiography Week)

"Pictures from the past"—memories—usually occur in one's thoughts unbidden. I am going about my business when something happens and I 'get' a memory. Whenever a certain tune plays on the radio, it triggers a memory of the high-school prom. Or I may not notice that I am noticing a button on someone's coat because what I do notice I am noticing is that I am remembering my grandmother's pressing me, as a child, to her bosom, pinching my skin with her button. This always happens when I didn't notice that I am noticing that kind of button. . . . Something happens now and a memory is triggered. What happens now is unpredictable, while the memory is hinged to the mysterious, fleeting present more than to the past. The picture does not develop to a new stage, it does not elaborate itself, does not clarify through successive reappearances, ends abruptly as time goes on, leads nowhere. The truth is not in these pictures, but behind them. The picture—part of a survival mechanism—are there to prevent self-discovery.
--Barrett John Mandel, "Full of Life Now"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Fellow Volunteers

Marc Ambinder has a report on a recent survey of Tennesseans conducted by my own university.

When we came to Tennessee (1988), our senators were Jim Sasser (D) and Al Gore! How things have changed--for the worse.

Ralphie Shoots His (Director's) Eye Out

I doubt I will see it before it's released on DVD, but I do find it intriguing that Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) has grown up from the beloved A Christmas Story (1983) to become a director in his own right, having helmed the now-in-theatres Couples Retreat. I doubt Scut Farcus can claim such an achievement!


Television Week has the good news.

Done with "Heroes"

I sat down last night to try to catch up on my DVR'd Heroes and quit after five minutes. That's it. After having done a book on the series (after its excellent first season), I'm through.

A reader of Entertainment Weekly took the words right out of my mouth in a breakup letter.

Dear HEROES, I'm sorry, I really am, but we're breaking up. It's not's you. I was willing to give you another chance even after those two horrendous seasons, but after what you did to me on Monday night, we can no longer even be friends. Don't call me, don't write me, even in the unlikely case of you getting interesting again. We're through. You can keep the kids; I'm taking my dignity. I'm sorry you're so poorly written, I really am, but this is goodbye. —eliott256

Quote of the Day (10/14/09) (Self/Self-Consciousness Week)

Where is your Self to be found? Always in the deepest enchantment you have experienced.
--Hugo von Hoftmanstahl

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"FlashForward"--to May 2010

FlashForward has been given a full pick-up.

Jon Stewart Pwns CNN

An hilarious expose of CNN's shoddy journalism.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN Leaves It There
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Political HumorRon Paul Interview

"Cabin in the Woods" Release Delayed

Onion AV Club has the story. MGM, hoping for a big hit, wants to convert it to 3D.

Carrie-ing America

One of the things I love most about both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is the way in which they meld popular culture and politics/world affairs.

Perfect example, last night Colbert was discussing America's return to number one among admired countries. Stephen speculated that it may not be that we are now loved. Perhaps, he suggests, the world is merely preparing to pour pig's blood on our head.

Nights of the Living Dead

With the zombiefied final episode of Season Four of Alias perhaps in mind, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have repeatedly joked in their podcasts about Lost's "zombie season"--as what comes after a full and complete shark jump. (With one season left of their masterpiece, they will, alas, never get the chance.)

Smallville, on the other hand, went full-zombie last week with "Rabid." TWoP's snarky gloss:

Mild-mannered cityfolk start turning into snarling, spitting zombies. Is it because of an alien virus or have eight years of this show finally taken their toll?

Quote of the Day (10/13/09) (Self/Self-Consciousness Week)

When I consider my self being, my consciousness and feeling of myself, that taste of myself, of I and me above and in all things, which is more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, more distinctive than the smell of walnut leaf or camphor, and is incommunicable by any means to another man (as when I was a child I use to ask myself: What must it be to be someone else?). Nothing else in nature comes near the unspeakable stress of pitch, distinctiveness, and selving, this self-being of my own. Nothing explains it or resembles it. . . . searching nature I taste self but at one tankard, that of my own being. The development, refinement, condensation of nothing, shews any sign of being able to match this to me or give me another taste of it, a taste even resembling it.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Leno Experiment

Bill Carter (who better than the author of The Late Shift and Desperate Networks?) ponders the Jay-in-prime-time-experiment.

Stuttgart, January

I will be keynoting a symposium on television at Stuttgart, Germany's Merz Academy in January: REMEDIATE! Neue Langform-Narrative und Autorschaft, veränderte Rezeptionsformen und Distributionsmedien bei TV-Serienformaten. Other speakers include Elizabeth Sarnoff (Deadwoood, Lost) and Tom Fontana (Oz).

My talk will be called:

The Imagination will be Televised: Showrunning and the Re-animation of Authorship in 21st Century American Television

Here's the abstract:

David Chase, Vince Gilligan, Eric Kripke, David Milch, Ronald D. Moore, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Matthew Weiner, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, Joss Whedon . . . not exactly household names—except perhaps for those glued to the set when The Sopranos or Breaking Bad or Supernatural or Deadwood or Battlestar Galactica or Big Love or Gilmore Girls or Mad Men or Lost or Buffy the Vampire Slayer are on the air. Until recently even devoted fans of such American television series seldom talked of them in terms of their makers, and even those few intellectuals who took the supposedly low-brow medium seriously were unlikely to waste their time contemplating questions of authorship. So why, in the wake of Barthes’ and Foucault’s “death of the author,” has American television become an advantageous playing field for a certain kind of imagination?

After considering the historical and theoretical factors that made TV authorship for a long time suspect, I will examine the unique contributions of each of the above-named “showrunners” in order to put scrutiny of the role of creative individuals in a mass medium on the map for future scholars and critics.

"The Revolution will be Televised"

This Michael Hirschorn essay from The Atlantic Monthly offers a very smart take on the future of television.

Taking the Eagle for a Walk

Salvador Dali once walked his lobster on the streets of Paris ("It doesn't bark, and it knows the secrets of the deep," he would explain).

Stephen Colbert, of course, takes his eagle for a stroll--and cleans up after it. (From Rolling Stone.)

"Happy Fun Ball"

This famous SNL ad parody came up recently in conversation, and I wanted to post it here but couldn't find an embeddable version. You can watch it here.

And here's the script:

Happy Fun Ball

Kid 1.....Jan Hooks
Kid 2.....Dana Carvey
Kid 3.....Mike Myers

[ open on three kids playing with their Happy Fun Ball ]

Kid 1: It's happy!
Kid 2: It's fun!
All Three Kids: It's Happy Fun Ball!
Announcer: Yes, it's Happy Fun Ball! The toy sensation that's sweeping the nation! Only $14.95 at participating stores! Get one today!

Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly, and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to Happy Fun Ball.

Caution: Happy Fun Ball may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds.

Happy Fun Ball contains a liquid core, which, if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at.

Do not use Happy Fun Ball on concrete.

Discontinue use of Happy Fun Ball if any of the following occurs:

* itching
* vertigo
* dizziness
* tingling in extremities
* loss of balance or coordination
* slurred speech
* temporary blindness
* profuse sweating
* or heart palpitations.

If Happy Fun Ball begins to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head.

Happy Fun Ball may stick to certain types of skin.

When not in use, Happy Fun Ball should be returned to its special container and kept under refrigeration. Failure to do so relieves the makers of Happy Fun Ball, Wacky Products Incorporated, and its parent company, Global Chemical Unlimited, of any and all liability.

Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball include an unknown glowing green substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.

Happy Fun Ball has been shipped to our troops in Saudi Arabia and is being dropped by our warplanes on Iraq.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

Happy Fun Ball comes with a lifetime warranty.

Announcer: Happy Fun Ball! Accept no substitutes!

Quote of the Day (10/12/09) (Self/Self-Consciousness Week)

For as a drop of water, when it comes in contact with red-hot iron, wraps itself in a cloud of vapor and is saved from destruction, so the little mind of man, lest it should touch the burning truth of Nature and God and be consumed, evolves at each point of contact a veil of insubstantial thought which allows it for a time to exist apart, and becomes the nurse of its self-consciousness.
--Edward Carpenter, Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gandhi in Popular Culture

Mohandas Gandhi got feature-length, Oscar-winning treatment in Richard Attenborough's 1982 film, but since then he keeps showing up in popular culture with some regularity.

Remember when the Great Soul did battle with Ghengis Khan on Celebrity Death Match? After slaughtering his claymation opponent, it was revealed that Gandhi and the Mongol conqueror had switched identities in the time machine that had brought them to the present to do battle.

And on Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, Gandhi provided the perfect escape clause when Billy accidently discloses his true intentions to his laundry-mate Penny:

Dr. Horrible: I just, you know, REALLY think I’m qualified for this, this job and I just can’t get my foot in the door.
Penny: I’m sure you will.
Dr. Horrible: I wanna do great things, you know? I wanna be an achiever. Like Bad Horse…
Penny: The thouroghbred of sin?
Dr. Horrible: I meant Gandhi.

Then, this week on Supernatural, in "Fallen Idols," Sam Winchester has to do battle with an animated wax Gandhi, brought to life by a Leshi demon. (He is defeated when Sam burns the spectacles on the wax Gandhi.) Later, they cut the head off of the Leshi, who has taken on the appearance of Paris Hilton.

Two more: Thanks to Alyson Buckman and Jennifer Stuller:

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 3.1 ("Anne"):

Buffy: Hey, Ken, wanna see my impression of Gandhi?

She wields back the club and brings it down hard onto his head,
crushing his skull. Lily comes up behind her and looks at him squeamishly.

Lily: Gandhi?
Buffy: Well, you know, if he was really pissed off.

And then there is "The Old Man" episode of Seinfeld, where Elaine discovers the interesting past of the elderly woman with a huge goiter she is "helping."

So, we cut to Mrs. Oliver's place where Elaine is sitting, bored out of her skull through a very pedestrian conversation. She keeps mumbling to herself throughout Mrs. Oliver's story:

Mrs. O: And we would take long automobile trips--
Elaine: Oh, well, that sounds like a lot of fun...
Mrs. O: Staring out the window--
Elaine: Uh huh...
Mrs. O: You'd see a long view of rolling pastures and--
Elaine: Well, that'll get you goin' right there...
Mrs. O: Big, roaming cows--
Elaine: Cows, well that's fascinating...
Mrs. O: That's when I began my affair with Mohandas.
Elaine: What?
Mrs. O: Mohandas.
Elaine: Gandhi?
Mrs. O: Oh, the passion. The forbidden pleasure--
Elaine: You had an affair with Gandhi?
Mrs. O: He used to dip his bald head in oil and rub it all over my body.
Here, look... [shows Elaine a picture of the two together]
Elaine: Oh, my God... The Mahatma?

Quote of the Day (10/11/09) (Self/Self-Consciousness Week)

A man . . . died and went into the next world where he met numbers of people, some of whom he knew and liked and some he knew and disliked. But there was one person there whom he did not know and he could not bear him. Everything he said infuriated and disgusted him—his insincere way of speaking, his facial expressions—and it seemed to him also that he could see into this man's thoughts and his feelings and all his secrets and, in fact, into all his life. He asked the others who this impossible man was. They answered: "Up here we have very special mirrors which are quite different from those in your world. This man is yourself."
--Maurice Nicoll

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sarah Palin's Other Possible Ghost Writers

Bill Maher reviews the other options for Going Rogue's collaborator, from Mitch Albom to Charles Dickens.

Quote of the Day (10/10/09) (Self/Self-Consciousness Week)

The centipede was happy quite,
Until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg goes after which?"
This worked his mind to such a pitch,
He lay distracted in a ditch,
Considering how to run.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Oceanic on "FlashForward"

For those who missed it (I did) the first time around [FlashForward. "No More Good Days" (1.1)].

"Dexter": Investigating Cutting Edge Television

The cover of Doug Howard's forthcoming I. B. Tauris collection.

Bloody-cool cover, if you ask me.

My contribution: “'Serial' Killer: Dexter’s Narrative Strategies."

Finally, the (Satiric) Truth About Death Panels (from "The Onion")

Obama: Health Care Plan Would Give Seniors Right To Choose How They Are Killed.

Quote of the Day (10/8/09) (Self/Self-Consciousness Week)

Think of a vast ocean filled with water on all sides. A jar is immersed in it. There is water both inside and outside the jar; but the water does not become one unless the jar is broken. . . . What is the jar? It is I-consciousness (ego). When the I disappears, what is remains.
--Sri Ramakrishna

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Another 60 Year Old

The PRC and I are both 60 this year.

China's 60th Anniversary national day - timelapse and slow motion - 7D and 5DmkII from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

SomeEcards, the Book

Now available in book form.

New "Doctor Who" Logo

"Dollhouse": Where Did It Go Wrong?

Marc Bernardin considers the question.

Quote of the Day (10/7/09) (Authors/Authorship Week)

As a child I paid very little attention to authors' names; they were irrelevant; I did not believe in authors. To be perfectly candid, this is still true. I do not believe in authors. A book exists, it's there. The author isn't xxx grown-up you never xxx even be dead. The book is what is real. You read it, you and it form a relationship, perhaps a trivial one, perhaps a deep and lasting one. As you read it word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul. Where, in all this, does the author come in? Like the God of the eighteenth-century Deists, only at the beginning. Long ago, before you and the book met each other. The author's work is done, complete; the ongoing work, the present act of creation is a collaboration by the words that stand on the page and the eyes that read them.
--Ursula K. LeGuin, The Language of the Night

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Cuddly Cthuhu

Sci-Fi Wire has the story.

Quote of the Day (10/6/09) (Authors/Authorship Week)

I am more famed in Heaven for my works than I could well conceive. In my Brain are studies & chambers filled with books & pictures of old, which I wrote and painted in ages of Eternity before my mortal life; and whose works are the delight & Study of Archangels. Why, then, should I be anxious about the riches or fame of mortality?
--William Blake

Monday, October 05, 2009

Quote of the Day (10/5/09) (Authors/Authorship Week)

Around 1930 Paul Valery wrote that the history of literature should not be the history of the authors and the accidents of the careers of their works, but rather the history of the Spirit as the producer or consumer of literature. He added that such a history could be written without the mention of a single writer.
--Jorge Luis Borges, "The Flower of Coleridge"

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bad News for "Dollhouse"

From The Hollywood Reporter's "Live Feed":

CBS sinks; 'Dollhouse' punches through bottom

"Dollhouse" (2.1 million viewers, 0.8 preliminary adults 18-49 rating) punched through it's previous rock bottom Friday night to discover a Fox ratings netherworld. The show dropped 20% from last week's premiere, which was already an all-time-low for the show. I'm betting the debut of Syfy's "Stargate: Universe" zapped some viewers (cable ratings aren't available yet), but even so -- this is too low for a Fox show.

Later we learned that Stargate: Universe did indeed beat out Dollhouse.

Quote of the Day (10/4/09) (Authors/Authorship Week)

All excellent books are foundlings, without father or mother. . . . I know not what would be the right name to put on the title page of an excellent book; but this I feel, that the names of all fine authors are fictitious ones . . . simply standing as they do for the mystical, ever eluding Spirit of all Beauty, which ubiquitously possesses men of genius. Purely imaginative as this fancy may appear, it nevertheless seems to receive some warranty from the fact that on a personal interview no great author ever comes up to the idea of the reader.
--Herman Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses"

Saturday, October 03, 2009

President Palin

From Thursday's five years in the future episode of Supernatural, Ben Edlund's "The End." Going rogue indeed!

Quote of the Day (10/3/09) (Authors/Authorship Week)

I am very much struck in literature by the appearance that one person wrote all the books; . . . there is such equality and identity both of judgment and point of view in the narrative that it is plainly the work of one all-seeing, all-hearing gentleman.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nominalist and Realist"

Friday, October 02, 2009

Quote of the Day (10/2/09) (Authors/Authorship Week)

In primitive societies, narrative is never undertaken by a person, but by a mediator, shaman, or speaker, whose "performance" may be admired (that is, his mastery of the narrative code), but not his "genius."
Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author"

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Quote of the Day (10/1/09) (Authors/Authorship Week)

The New Testament Bible still gives the Gospels "according to" its various writers. We have lost this humble attitude toward language. Whatever we say seems to us to be our own; we do not feel like speaking "according to" thought processes conveyed to us through our verbal heritage. We do not believe anymore that sometimes not we are speaking our language, but our language is speaking through us as if it were a post-hypnotic suggestion implanted into us.
--Theodore Thass-Theinemann, The Subconscious Language

Foreign Titles of American Films

On our honeymoon (1979), we saw Animal House playing on the Champs-Élysées as "American College," so I found this article on Huffington Post a fun read.