Sunday, January 31, 2010

Quote of the Day (1/31/10) (Animal Week)

In me is every animal, though I'm not conscious of it. The animal a person loves most is the part that is most awake in him.
--Karlheinz Stockhausen

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More of Adelyn

"Sam Interrupted"

Getting caught up with the last two Supernaturals. Both solid B episodes, though nothing spectacular.

In "Sam Interrupted" I loved the scene in which Sammy gets himself committed to a mental hospital by telling the actual story of his life--the one we watch every week.

Reminded me of Buffy's infamous "Normal Again" episode.

"Epitaph II: The Return"

No more Dollhouse. The world has been restored. (Thanks Topher.) If all's well that ends well, then Dollhouse was an artistic success.

Still, in the end, my least favorite Joss Whedon show, but then again he's never been more behind-the-scenes than he was on this series. He neither wrote nor directed the finale, and his credited involvement in two seasons (directed two, wrote three) was minimal.

The Big Snow

Several people in Germany were shocked to hear that Tennessee gets snow.

Yesterday and today we were hit with a major snow/ice storm. It's a winter wonderland (or is it hellscape?) out there today.

Quote of the Day (1/30/10) (Biography Week)

To write the lives of the great in separating them from their works necessarily ends by above all stressing their pettiness, because it is in their work that they have put the best of themselves.
--Simone Weil

Friday, January 29, 2010

Quote of the Day (1/29/10) (Biography Week)

There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.
--Mark Twain

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Early Coen Brothers Interview

Joel and Ethan look very young in this interview done after the release of Blood Simple.

Quote of the Day (1/27/10) (Biography Week)

Nobody can write the life of a man but those who have eat and drunk and lived in social intercourse with him.
--Samuel Johnson

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"The Cult TV Book"

Stacey Abbott's rival cult TV Book is out. May it do very well.

I am a Grandfather

Adelyn was born just after I got back to Nashville from Stuttgart (didn't get to the hospital on time). 7 pounds 5 ounces. Sarah and daughter are doing fine.

Quote of the Day (1/26/10) (Biography Week)

There is properly no history, only biography.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, January 25, 2010

Quote of the Day (1/25/10) (Biography Week)

The secret of biography resides in finding the link between talent and achievement. A biography seems irrelevant if it doesn’t discover the overlap between what the individual did and the life that made this possible. Without discovering that, you have shapeless happenings and gossip.
--Leon Edel

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I am posting this from Stuttgart, where I gave a talk at a symposium on American television.

One of the delights of this trip was meeting and talking with Tom Fontana (pictured), the writer/producer/showrunner who gave us St. Elsewhere, Homicide,, and Oz. Ted Mann, a David Milch collaborator, and Karen Overton, a producer of The Wire, were also there, as well as my dear British friends Janet McCabe and Kim Akass.

Quote of the Day (1/24/10) (Biography Week)

A well-written life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.
--Thomas Carlyle

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quote of the Day (1/23/10) (Wonder Week)

Man is not adapted to live in a mirror-lined box generating his own electric light and sending for selected images from outside when he happens to need them. Darkness and a bad smell are all that can come of that. We need the vast world, and it must be a world that does not need us; a world constantly capable of surprising us, a world we did not program, since only such a world is the proper object of wonder. Any kind of humanism which deprives us of this, which insists on treating the universe as a mere projection screen for showing off human capacities, cripples and curtails humanity. "Humanists" often do this, because where there is wonder they think they smell religion, and they move hastily in to crush that unclean thing.
Mary Midgley, Beast and Man

Friday, January 22, 2010

Quote of the Day (1/22/10) (Wonder Week)

Oftentimes without intention I see the wonder of Tao.
Oftentimes with intention I see its manifestations.
Both of these are the same in origin;
They are distinguished by names after their emergence.
Their identification is called mystery.
From mystery to further mystery there is an entrance to all wonders.
--Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quote of the Day (1/21/10) (Wonder Week)

He watched the stars and imitated their courses and positions in the sand. Into the ocean of the air he gazed incessantly, its clouds, its illumination. He collected stones, flowers, beetles of every kind and arranged them in various patterns in front of him. To men and animals he gave attention, on the shores of the sea he sat and looked for shells. To his own heart and thoughts he listened intently. He did not know where his longing would lead him. When he had grown up he wandered about, viewed other countries, other seas, other atmospheres, stones that were strange to him, unknown plants, animals, men; descended to caves, saw how the earth was built up in shelves and many colored layers, and pressed clay into curious rock formations. Now he discovered familiar patterns everywhere, only weirdly mingled and combined, and in this way often the strangest objects fell into order in his mind. Soon he looked for analogies in all things, conjunctures, connections, till he could see no longer anything in isolation. All the perceptions of his senses crowded into great variegated images he heard, saw, touched, and thought at the same time. . . . Now stars were men to him, now men were stars, stones were animals, clouds were plants, he played with the powers and the phenomena, he knew just where and how to find this shape and the other, to make them appear; and thus he himself drew tones and passages from the strings.
--Novalis, The Disciples of Sais

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What Happened in Massachusetts . . .

The Village Voice's headline:
Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate

Quote of the Day (1/20/10) (Wonder Week)

As G.K. Chesterton wrote, very young children do not need fairy tales because "mere life is interesting enough. A child of 7 is excited by being told that Tommy opened the door and saw a dragon. But a child of 3 is excited by being told that Tommy opened the door." The 3-year old is the realist. No one really knows how Tommy does it.
--Huston Smith, "Excluded Knowledge"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Stuttgart Effect

Not a Big Bang Theory title, but an alert that I will be in Stuttgart until next Monday and posting here infrequently.

Harris, Whedon, "Glee"

So Neil Patrick Harris is slated to appear on the May Sweeps episode of Glee Joss Whedon is set to direct. Ausiello has the news.

Quote of the Day (1/19/10) (Wonder Week)

We are always refusing to listen to the simple soul within us. We ignore the inner child who always wants to see things for the first time. If he questions, we discourage his curiosity, calling it childish because it is boundless, on the pretext that we have been to school and learned that there is a science of all things, which we might consult if we wished, and that it would be a waste of time to think in our own way and no other about an object that suddenly arrests us and calls for an answer. Perhaps we are too well aware that an enormous stock of facts and theories have been amassed, and that in thinking through the encyclopedias we may find hundreds of names and words that represent this potential wealth; and we are too sure that we can always find someone somewhere who, if only to impress us, will be glad to enlighten us on any subject whatsoever. And we promptly withdraw our attention from most of the things that begin to arouse it, thinking of the learned men who have explored or disposed of the event that has just stirred our intelligence. But such caution is sometimes laziness; and moreover, there is no proof that everything has really been examined, and in all its aspects.
--Paul Valery, "Medusa and the Sea Shell"

Monday, January 18, 2010

[Constantine] Costa Gavras on "Chuck"

LOL. I liked the movie-inspired name of the Cuba-ish Latin American country, Costa Gavras, on Chuck last week. Somebody on the Chuck team has been watching Z.

Seth Meyers and Peter Sagal Explain Conan v. Leno

A brilliant explanation of a preposterous "marriage" from the "Weekend Update" host on SNL.

And on Wait, Wait on NPR, Peter Sagal offers an insightful take on Jay Leno's unpopularity at 10. All those years on The Tonight Show, people were watching Leno half-asleep, but in Prime-Time, the audience endured him for the first time while still fully awake, and the experience was like seeing sober the guy you thought was attractive while drunk in the bar last night!

Quote of the Day (1/18/10) (Wonder Week)

Any genuine philosophy leads to action and from action back again to wonder, to the enduring fact of mystery.
--Henry Miller

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Creativity and Age

From Jonah Lehrer (Wired):

While physics, math and poetry are dominated by brash youth, many other fields are more amenable to middle age. (Simonton's list includes domains such as "novel writing, history, philosophy, medicine".) He argues that these fields show a very different creative curve, with a "a leisurely rise giving way to a comparatively late peak, in the late 40s or even 50s chronologically, with a minimal if not largely absent drop-off afterward."

(These differences are also cross-cultural: for instance, the age gap between the creative peaks for poets and novelists has been found in every major literary tradition across the world, with novelists getting wise and poets getting stale.) This suggests that the most efficient allocation of grants in these fields - at least if we want to fund innovation - is to fund medical researchers, philosophers and novelists in middle age, when they're tenured and deeply "encultured". Sometimes, innovation requires decades of education. That might not be romantic - it's amazing how many cliches of creativity come from 19th century British poets - but it's the demographic reality.

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

"Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics"

This is a forthcoming book by Dean Keith Simonton, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Below is its table of contents from Simonton's UC-Davis website.

Must reading for my work on television creativity.
Chapter 1: Prologue: Scientist as Cinema Connoisseur?

The chapter begins by narrating the emergence of cinema as both an art and as a business. This narration leads to the fundamental question that drives this book: What makes a film great? How do we even judge the greatness of any film? Discussion then turns to the book’s approach to answering this question. The answer will rely on scientific rather than humanistic studies. After briefly delineating how the former differs from the latter, the chapter closes by presenting the major issues that will be treated in subsequent chapters.

Chapter 2: Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Critics: Consensus or Dissension?

Often movies awards are used as indicators of cinematic greatness, both overall and with respect to such achievements as writing, directing, acting, cinematography, and music. Of all such honors, the Oscars bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are often deemed the most indicative of artistic merit. Even so, other organizations present alternative awards, including awards given out by film critics. Do these various awards agree or disagree? This question was addressed in a series of empirical studies that examined the honors given out by seven major organizations in 17 categories of cinematic achievement. Not only was there substantial agreement between the Oscars and alternative honors, but the Oscars most often provided the best index of the overall consensus on cinematic merit. Surprisingly, the Oscars corresponded more closely to critical acclaim than did the awards bestowed by film critic organizations, such as the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Despite this broad validation of movie awards in general and Oscars in specific, research requires that we impose some qualifications. Besides random errors of judgment committed by all organizations, there also intrude systematic judgmental errors, as evidenced by vote clustering and past history effects. An instance of the latter would be “sympathy votes” received by a repeated nominee who has not yet received the award. These errors notwithstanding, movie honors still provide sound measures of cinematic greatness, especially when the awards and nominations are aggregated from multiple organizations rather than confined to just one.

Chapter 3: Story, Sights, Tricks, and Song: What Really Counts?

Although movie awards provide solid indicators of cinematic achievement, such honors tend to be given in a very large number of categories. The 17 most common categories are picture, directing, screenplay, male lead, female lead, male supporting, female supporting, film editing, cinematography, art direction, costume design, makeup, visual effects, sound effects editing, sound mixing, score, and song. Given that the best picture awards may encompass several of the other honors, it is best to exclude that category from the list, leaving 16 major types of recognition. Using awards and nominations from seven major organizations, including Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs, an analysis revealed that these awards form four creative clusters: (a) the dramatic, consisting of directing, screenplay, acting (male and female leads and supporting), and film editing; (b) the visual, defined by cinematography, art direction (and set decoration), costume design, and makeup; (c) the technical, which encompasses visual effects, sound effects editing, and sound mixing; and (d) the musical, namely score and song. Of these four clusters, the dramatic proves far more crucial in predicting a film’s greatness, whether measured by best-picture honors or critical acclaim. The other clusters have more modest and largely inconsistent value as predictors. The chapter closes with a discussion of collaborative creativity, with special focus on the core crew, that is, the producer, director, scriptwriter, film editor, cinematographer, production designer, and composer. Certain characteristics of these collaborative relationships have significant repercussions for the quality of the final cinematic product.

Chapter 4: Rave Reviews, Movie Awards, and Box Office Bucks: Which Doesn’t Belong?

What is the relation between film as art and film as business? This question is first addressed by reporting the results of a preliminary inquiry. These findings are then extended by reviewing other relevant investigations. These investigations examine the relations among production budget, box office performance, critical acclaim, and movie awards. This review includes a treatment of movie stars, especially whether they reduce the financial risk. Collectively, these various empirical studies show how blockbuster movies can be readily distinguished from films that receive critical acclaim and movie awards. This separation leads to a discussion of why box office success has such a minimal correspondence with artistic merit. In particular, box office earnings largely involve non-artistic factors that come into play during distribution, promotion, and exhibition. Examples include the impact of major distributors, seasonal markets, wide release, current competition, and word of mouth (or click of mouse). Like fun-house mirrors, these extraneous factors distort earnings so that they do not closely reflect actual cinematic achievements. Film as business is thus far more capricious than film as art.

Chapter 5: The Script: Does the Narrative’s Nature Matter?

Although screenwriters are much less conspicuous than movie stars or even film directors, the script plays a crucial role in the making of a powerful cinematic experience. Consumers concur that great movies tell treat stories. But what characteristics of the screenplay provide the best predictors of greatness? The answer to this question is sought in the following script attributes: the genre, the runtime, MPAA ratings, sex and violence, sequels and remakes, true stories and biopics, and various kinds of adaptations. Because we learned in the previous chapter that film as art must be separated from film as business, these script characteristics were examined with respect to financial performance, movie awards, and critical evaluations. Not surprisingly, the attributes that predict awards and acclaim are not the same as those that predict box office success, and sometimes the predictors point to the opposite directions. One of the interesting exceptions is graphic sexual content, which neither sells tickets nor impresses critics. In any case, because all of the script characteristics represent obvious features, discussion turns to the possibility of using content analysis to tease out the more subtle attributes of great screenplays. These content analyses may be applied either to the original scripts or, in the case of adaptations, to the novels, plays, and stories on which the script is based. Although the results reported so far are very promising, the findings are also very preliminary. The chapter then switches gears by looking at the creators who actually write the film scripts.

Chapter 6: The Auteur: Are Directors Experts or Artists?

According to “auteur theory,” certain filmmakers – most often directors – can be viewed as artistic creators in the same vein as notable creators in literature, music, and the visual arts. This viewpoint is juxtaposed to the contrary notion that directors are technicians who apply their accumulated expertise to each successive film. These rival points of view have contrary predictions regarding expected career trajectories. On the one hand, directors as artists should work up to a peak when they produce their greatest masterpieces and then show a gradual decline. On the other hand, directors as experts should just get better and better – albeit with some leveling off – so that their best work emerges toward the end of their careers. These contrasting expectations are examined using data from film polls, movie awards, and critical evaluations. The data clearly display a mid-career peak. However, because directors do not all peak at identical ages, we have to consider the possibility that there are systematic differences between those who peak early and those who peak late. The former may represent what has been called conceptual directors, the latter experimental directors. Using a theoretical model of creative productivity, I suggest that conceptual directors may be more like poets, the experimental directors more like novelists.

Chapter 7: The Stars: Sexism in Cinema?

Actors represent the most conspicuous contributors to cinematic impact. After all, their contributions are right in front of the camera, and most often in the foreground. Yet in studying their relation to a film’s success, it is essential to distinguish gender. Female actors have a very different status in film art and business than do male actors. This distinction is demonstrated by looking at differences in income, careers, characters, and kudos. Not only do female stars earn much less than their male counterparts, but they have much shorter careers in the limelight. Although part of this gender contrast might be attributed to differences in background and training, other factors are probably operating as well, including strong sexist biases. This inference is reinforced by the stark differences in the characters portrayed, especially as the performers advance in age. The conclusion is also endorsed by gender contrasts in both critical acclaim and movie awards. Particularly striking is the “Meryl Streep Effect” in which outstanding acting performances by women are far more likely to be ghettoized in less than top-notch films. In contrast, men are more prone to have their exceptional performances showcased in films that are considered serious contenders for best-picture awards. The chapter closes by asking whether these diverse biases are really on the decline.

Chapter 8: Music: Is Silence Golden?

Films often contain some truly memorable music, whether a wonderful score or a phenomenal song. But is great music most likely to be heard in great films? The chapter begins by reviewing the arguments both positive and negative, based on past research. Although laboratory experiments imply that great music might be positively associated with great films, empirical studies that scrutinize the relation more directly find quite the contrary. To settle this matter, two follow-up investigations were conducted. The first study focused on films, assessing how awards for best score and song are associated with other criteria of cinematic greatness. For the most part, awards in either music category appear irrelevant. The only important exception is that best score honors bear some connection with other movie awards. The second study turned to film composers. Here the goal was to see how the composers’ career trajectory corresponds with the quality of the films in which their music appears. When the composer is at his or her peak, will the score or song be found in a great film? The answer is negative: The music’s quality again fluctuates independently of the film’s quality. In fact, when the career trajectories are carefully analyzed, they seem strikingly similar to those of classical composers. The creativity of a film composer is not congruent with the creativity of the others involved in making the film. In a nutshell, film composers do not appear to be “hired guns.”

Chapter 9: Razzies: So Bad It’s Good?

Some films have become well known precisely because they are so bad. As a result, these terrible turkeys are still watched even though many better but mediocre movies have passed into oblivion. To “dishonor” these bombs, the Golden Raspberries or “Razzies” have emerged as counterparts to the Oscars or Golden Globes. Instead of awards for the “best,” the Razzies are awards for the “worst.” This phenomenon then raises four big questions. First, are bad films the inverse of good films? Second, are bad films as bad as good films are good? Third, are bad films as cohesively bad as good films are cohesively good? Fourth, are bad films’ pluses/minuses good films’ minuses/pluses? These questions are addressed by comparing films that have received either Oscars or Razzies in the categories of picture, directing, acting (lead/supporting and male/female), screenplay, and song. The analyses show that bombs are pretty much an inverse image of masterpieces. Whatever quality predicts a great cinematic experience when present (or absent) predicts a miserable cinematic experience when absent (or present). For instance, good and bad films differ in budget (small versus big), genre (drama versus comedy), screenplay (adaptation versus original), connection with prior films (none versus sequel or remake), runtime (long versus short), release season (winter versus summer), distribution (art-house versus wide release), first-weekend earnings (low versus high), and final box office (high versus low). What remains to be determined is why some films are so bad that they become good – a pure “camp.”

Chapter 10: Epilogue: The Science of Cinema

The book’s final chapter begins with a recap of what we have learned about what makes a great flick, whether judged in terms of critical acclaim, movie awards, or box office success. Discussion then shifts to what we still have to learn. Our ignorance is certainly as great as our knowledge. Therefore, the book closes with a wish list of what needs to be carried out in future scientific studies. In time, we will know more about cinematic creativity and aesthetics.

Quote of the Day (1/17/10) (Wonder Week)

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
--Albert Einstein

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Dollhouse" in Retrospect

At some point in the years to come, I plan to re-watch both seasons of Dollhouse and see if those early episodes work better now that all’s revealed. I still don’t know if Whedon and company knew where they were headed all along, or if they’re just very clever at locating the most useful pieces of what they’ve previously put into the show. Either way, it’s been quite a progression from where Dollhouse started and where it is now. It’s as though MacGyver gradually morphed into Battlestar Galactica.
--Noel Murray in Onion TV Club

Tucker on Conan

Ken Tucker has a revealing piece on the Conan/Leno feud in EW.

LOST Clout

About to begin its final season, LOST now has its last supper.

And could there be greater proof of its cultural significance than the news that Obama has rescheduled his State of the Union Address in order to avoid conflicting with the premiere of LOST's final season on February 2nd?

Quote of the Day (1/16/10) (Quotation Week)

Though collecting quotations could be considered as merely an ironic mimetism—victimless collecting, as it were . . . in a world that is well on its way to becoming one vast quarry, the collector becomes someone engaged in a pious work of salvage. The course of modern history having already sapped the traditions and shattered the living wholes in which precious objects once found their place, the collector may now in good conscience go about excavating the choicer, more emblematic fragments.
--Susan Sontag

Friday, January 15, 2010

Clarice Starling/Hannibal Lecter, Sarah Palin/Glen Beck

This is best watched with a nice Chianti.

Quote of the Day (1/15/10) (Quotation Week)

We rarely quote nowadays to appeal to authority . . . though we quote sometimes to display our sapience and erudition. Some authors we quote against. Some we quote not at all, offering them our scrupulous avoidance, and so make them part of our “white mythology.” Other authors we constantly invoke, chanting their names in cerebral rituals of propitiation or ancestor worship.
--Ihab Hassan

Thursday, January 14, 2010

From My Page-a-Day LOST Calendar

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Seen on Colbert

Mark McGwire's 1998 action figure.

Quote of the Day (1/14/10) (Quotation Week)

Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. Many will read the book before one thinks of quoting a passage. As soon as he has done this, that line will be quoted east and west.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Kiss-Off

Conan's press release today--basically saying fuck you to NBC--should have surprised no one after last night's final "other option" (there were 10 in all):

Leave television altogether, and work in a classier business with better people, like hard core porn.

Heard on "The Daily Show"

Jon Stewart: You are saying that if you want to save the Earth but die by the hand of terrorists, vote the Democratic ticket.
John Oliver: And always know deep down that it's the Republicans who will keep you and your family safe to enjoy the hellscape that the world will become.

"The Daily Show" Maps Rudy G's Brain


In the Tauris Spring catalog.

"Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit"

For those who are longing to see and hear Dr. Horrible sing again, I Tunes is giving away a music video of Neil Patrick Harris (aka Dr. Horrible, aka Barney Stinson) doing his best Gene Kelly (crooning into a lint roller!) in last night's How I Met Your Mother.

Heard on Conan

Contemplating his fate in the wake of NBC's cancellation of Leno:

I plan to be putting on the best show every night . . . and stealing as many office supplies as I can.
--Conan O'Brien

From Mr. Potter to Harry Potter

Colbert offers a new version of It's a Wonderful Life.

RIP Eric Rohmer

Read and listen to Bob Mondello's lovely remembrance of the French filmmaker.

Quote of the Day (1/12/10) (Quotation Week)

Life itself is a quotation.
--Jorge Luis Borges

Monday, January 11, 2010

No More Spidey from Raimi

Surprising news.

We also learn that Michael Bay wants to take over the Spidey franchise. Hard to believe after what he did with ThunderCats.

Here's hoping Whedon is being considered.

Advice for Conan

Mary Ann Williams has some--on Salon.

Hint: moving to accommodate "NBC's Camilla Parker-Bowles," Jay Leno, is not an option.

Sullivan on Palin and God, Opposition

In light of the revelation that Palin thought McCain's selection of her was "God's plan," Andrew Sullivan reflects (with dazzling brilliance) on what that means:

Palin isn't a minister or priest. She isn't a bishop. She is a celebrity, who spent ten minutes trying to run a state much bigger than Texas with the population of the District of Columbia. When she says "it's God's will", she is saying, it seems to me, either that her destiny is foretold as a modern day Esther (which is a strong theme among her Christianist supporters); or that it doesn't matter what decisions she makes in office because God is in charge. So she is either filled with delusions of grandeur and prone to say things that believing Christians keep private out of humility; or she thinks she's some kind of Messiah figure.

And with similar authoritativeness, he pinpoints the nature of current Republican "opposition":

Look. There is a real and vital role for political opposition, and a robust, healthy, even vicious critique of Obama’s policies and a clear alternative to them is not just legitimate but essential for a democracy to work. But these statements from key players at the very top of the Republican party do not reflect this. They reflect a partisanship that seeks to impugn the core motives of the president, implying that he is, in fact, something alien and destructive to America, and must be opposed in everything he does, whatever it is, because his success would mean the end of America itself. It is not a declaration of opposition; it’s a declaration of war.

Quote of the Day (1/11/10) (Quotation Week)

Quotations in my work are like wayside robbers who leap out armed and relieve the stroller of his conviction.
--Walter Benjamin

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Gilmore Girls" Folk Find Work

Over the weekend it has been good to see that Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Kirk (Sean Gunn), late of GG, have found work, Graham, of course, in Parenthood (ads now airing for the long-delayed remake of a series Joss Whedon once wrote for, and Gunn doing ads for the new information service KGB.

Lynnette Porter from Hawaii on "Lost"

My Lost co-conspirator Lynnette Porter reports from Hawaii:

After a hellish travel day all day Thursday, I finally made it to the North Shore. So what did I do first thing yesterday? Headed to Papa'iloa Beach. The camp has really changed, and I spent a lot of time talking with the guards there. They said--and they could've been having me on--that they've just been hired for two more months, through May, so that the LOST movie could be filmed. According to them, the series will end in a cliffhanger in May, and a film will come out next year to end the story. If that's true, that's going to piss off so many people and go against what Darlton had originally said. The bad news for me is that filming isn't going to start again until after the premiere party--that huge fan gathering at the end of the month--when the cast all comes back for that. I wish I could stay another couple of weeks.

In any case, the camp has been "reset," like the series, I suspect. The huts are all in a line and use much more of the fuselage in their design. The recognizable old huts, like Jack's and the "kitchen," are gone, the parachute is gone, and so on. Instead, lots of luggage, as well as airliner seats, are set up around campfires and within huts. It looks like an immediately post-crash camp. Mr. Eko's church is still there, but there's a new (well, it's not now fresh, but new since fall obviously) empty grave and a new mound in the cemetery.

Quote of the Day (1/10/10) (Quotation Week)

One must be a wise reader to quote wisely and well.
--A. Bronson Alcott

Saturday, January 09, 2010

"The End is Where We Start From": "Supernatural," "Lost," "Dollhouse"

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
--T. S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

On January 21st, Supernatural returns for its final episodes--of the season and of the series.

And February 2, the final 17 episodes--the end of Lost begins.

It's hard to imagine a world where I don't have these wonderful series to look forward to.

And yes, Dollhouse ends 1/22/10. It has not been with us as long as the other two, but anytime a Whedonverse comes to an end, the gods weep.

Ready for "Chuck," Monday

Looking forward to the return of Chuck on Sunday (???). By season's end last spring, it had became one of my favorite shows, and now Chuck "knows Kung Fu!" Am currently watching the exceptionally handsome Season Two DVD set. Love that color episode guide brochure. Looking forward to watching that "Jayne [I mean John] Casey Presents: So You Want to be a Deady Spy?"

Also returning on Monday: How I Met Your Mother (100th--"Wait for it?--episode), Big Bang Theory, Heroes ("Bored now"), and . . . Fringe. Must have not gotten the memo. Sure it was in a traffic jam on Thursday, but how exactly is Monday any better for this increasingly fascinating series?

Quote of the Day (1/9/10) (Herman Melville Week)

It seems an inconsistency to assert unconditional democracy in all things, and yet confess a dislike to all mankind -- in the mass. But not so. -- But it's an endless sermon, -- no more of it. I began by saying that the reason I have not been to Lenox is this, -- in the evening I feel completely done up, as the phrase is, and incapable of the long jolting to get to your house and back. In a week or so, I go to New York, to bury myself in a third-story room, and work and slave on my "Whale" while it is driving through the press. That is the only way I can finish it now, -- I am so pulled hither and thither by circumstances. The calm, the coolness, the silent grass-growing mood in which a man ought always to compose, -- that, I fear, can seldom be mine. Dollars damn me; and the malicious Devil is forever grinning in upon me, holding the door ajar. My dear Sir, a presentiment is on me, -- I shall at last be worn out and perish, like an old nutmeg-grater, grated to pieces by the constant attrition of the wood, that is, the nutmeg. What I feel most moved to write, that is banned, -- it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches. I'm rather sore, perhaps, in this letter, but see my hand! -- four blisters on this palm, made by hoes and hammers within the last few days. It is a rainy morning; so I am indoors, and all work suspended. I feel cheerfully disposed, and therefore I write a little bluely. Would the Gin were here! If ever, my dear Hawthorne, in the eternal times that are to come, you and I shall sit down in Paradise, in some little shady corner by ourselves; and if we shall by any means be able to smuggle a basket of champagne there (I won't believe in a Temperance Heaven), and if we shall then cross our celestial legs in the celestial grass that is forever tropical, and strike our glasses and our heads together, till both musically ring in concert, -- then, O my dear fellow-mortal, how shall we pleasantly discourse of all the things manifold which now so distress us, -- when all the earth shall be but a reminiscence, yea, its final dissolution an antiquity. Then shall songs be composed as when wars are over; humorous, comic songs, -- "Oh, when I lived in that queer little hole called the world," or, "Oh, when I toiled and sweated below," or, "Oh, when I knocked and was knocked in the fight" -- yes, let us look forward to such things. Let us swear that, though now we sweat, yet it is because of the dry heat which is indispensable to the nourishment of the vine which is to bear the grapes that are to give us the champagne hereafter.
--Herman Melville, Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, June 1851

Friday, January 08, 2010

Heard in "No Country for Old Men"

Llewelyn: If I don't come back, tell my mother that I love her.
Carla Jean: Your mother's dead Llewelyn!
Llewelyn: Then I'll tell her myself.

Man Who Hires Wells: I don't recall asking you to sit down.
Wells: You struck me as someone who wouldn't want to waste a chair.

Quote of the Day (1/8/10) (Herman Melville Week)

The "Whale" is only half through the press; for, wearied with the long delay of the printers, and disgusted with the heat and dust of the babylonish brick-kiln of New York, I came back to the country to feel the grass -- and end the book reclining on it, if I may. -- I am sure you will pardon this speaking all about myself, for if I say so much on that head, be sure all the rest of the world are thinking about themselves ten times as much. Let us speak, although we show all our faults and weaknesses, -- for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it, -- not in [a] set way and ostentatiously, though, but incidentally and without premeditation. -- But I am falling into my old foible -- preaching. I am busy, but shall not be very long. Come and spend a day here, if you can and want to; if not, stay in Lenox, and God give you long life. When I am quite free of my present engagements, I am going to treat myself to a ride and a visit to you. Have ready a bottle of brandy, because I always feel like drinking that heroic drink when we talk ontological heroics together. This is rather a crazy letter in some respects, I apprehend. If so, ascribe it to the intoxicating effects of the latter end of June operating upon a very susceptible and peradventure feeble temperament.

Shall I send you a fin of the Whale by way of a specimen mouthful? The tail is not yet cooked -- though the hell-fire in which the whole book is broiled might not unreasonably have cooked it all ere this. This is the book's motto (the secret one), -- Ego non baptiso te in nomine -- but make out the rest yourself.
--Herman Melville, Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, June 29, 1851.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Heard on "The Colbert Report"

God never closes a door without opening a window. His heating bills must be outrageous.

Quote of the Day (1/7/10) (Herman Melville Week)

It is a frightful poetical creed that the cultivation of the brain eats out the heart. But it's my prose opinion that in most cases, in those men who have fine brains and work them well, the heart extends down to hams. And though you smoke them with the fire of tribulation, yet, like veritable hams, the head only gives the richer and the better flavor. I stand for the heart. To the dogs with the head! I had rather be a fool with a heart, than Jupiter Olympus with his head. The reason the mass of men fear God, and at bottom dislike Him, is because they rather distrust His heart, and fancy Him all brain like a watch. (You perceive I employ a capital initial in the pronoun referring to the Deity; don't you think there is a slight dash of flunkeyism in that usage?)
--Herman Melville, Letter to Nathaniel Hswthorne, June 1851

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My Collaborators

I've collated, for the first time, all my many collaborators: contributors to my books, editors of books I contributed to, fellow editors (and founding editors).

I am obviously greatly indebted to them all. The most prolific collaborators? Janet McCabe (10); Kim Akass (9); Rhonda Wilcox (8); and Jimmie Reeves and Doug Howard (6).

Christophe Beck

I loved Christophe Beck's scoring for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I had lost track of him since.

Then I noticed that he had scored The Hangover, which led me to check the IMDB where I learned that he has been very, very busy:

Date Night (2010)
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
Waiting for Superman (2010)
All About Steve (2009)
Post Grad (2009)
The Marc Pease Experience (2009)
I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)
The Hangover (2009)
The Pink Panther 2 (2009)
The Greatest (2009)
What Happens in Vegas (2008)
Drillbit Taylor (2008)
Phoebe in Wonderland (2008)
Fred Claus (2007)
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007)
License to Wed (2007)
Charlie Bartlett (2007)
Year of the Dog (2007)
We Are Marshall (2006)
Day Break (1 episode, 2006)
School for Scoundrels (2006)
Zoom (2006)
Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (2006)
The Sentinel (2006)
The Pink Panther (2006)
Yours, Mine and Ours (2005)
Two for the Money (2005)
3 Needles (2005)
The Perfect Man (2005)
Ice Princess (2005)
Elektra (2005)
Taxi (2004)
Without a Paddle (2004)
Little Black Book (2004)
A Cinderella Story (2004)
Garfield (2004)
Saved! (2004)
Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003)
American Wedding (2003)
Confidence (2003)
The Event (2003)
Just Married (2003)
The Tuxedo (2002)
Stealing Harvard (2002)

Not exactly masterpieces, granted, but at least he's employed.

Review of Nicholas Mirazoeff's "Seinfeld"

My review in Critical Studies in Television (4.2, Autumn 2009) is now out:

Nicholas Mirzoeff, Seinfeld. British Film Institute, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84457-200-7.

Given the relative paucity of critical attention paid to the sitcom - the lack, if you will, of seriousness the genre is given in television studies - an insightful monograph such as Nicholas Mirzoeff’s BFI TV Classics book on the American show Seinfeld (1989-1998) should be warmly welcomed, and indeed the volume is worthy of some praise, although the author is more interested in Seinfeld as a cultural document than as a television programme.

More personal essay than scholarly investigation, Mirzoeff’s book turns out to be in reality an Americanised British cultural studies professor’s commandeering of US television’s greatest show (according to a TV Guide poll) as the basis for an admittedly Barthesian ‘mythological’ take on race, gender, politics, and American humour - especially the latter: ‘you could learn about how to be funny from Seinfeld’, Mirzoeff explains, ‘and how Americans in general had tried to be funny, no small thing for an immigrant, especially a person like myself who relies on humour to negotiate social situations’ (p.5).

While considering a variety of topics and subtopics, many pertinent, some tangential (‘like Seinfeld, this book takes pleasure in being digressive and discursive’ the author warns us [p.4]), Mirzoeff shows himself to be adept at placing the show in its historical, social and political context (much is made, for example, of its pre-9/11ness); explaining the show’s surprising lack of offensiveness: ‘Seinfeld was not offensive as comedy, perhaps because it made its intent to offend so obvious’ (p.65); revealing (with a witty nod to Laura Mulvey) how a show once deemed ‘too Jewish’ came instead to be a manifestation of ‘Oslo-era Jewishness’ (p.73). He argues, controversially but persuasively, that the real reason Seinfeld never caught on in the UK was anti-Semitism (p.83) and pinpoints, brilliantly, the Brechtian origins of the show’s audience-alienating characters (p.86).

Not all of Mirzoeff’s forays are successful: his attempt to unpack its supposed misogyny (p.117), for examples, dies the kind of death a stand-up comic dreads. The book is also, 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; ‘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.

Mirzoeff’s method brings into play a number of interesting sources - sociologists Frantz Fanon and Norbert Elias, for example - but like an earlier BFI TV Classics volume, Anne Billson’s book on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seinfeld likewise commits the inexcusable scholarly/critical sin of refusing to consult, let alone acknowledge, the existence of other work already done on its subject. Early on Mirzoeff admits to not being a ‘media studies specialist’ (p.3). Does he think this absolves him of the responsibility to inquire fully into what others have already said about Seinfeld and to undertake a basic literature search? Billson managed to ignore over a score of books and over two hundred published articles. (For a full-fledged review of the voluminous literature inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, see Rhonda V. Wilcox’s ‘In the Demon Section of the Card Catalogue’ in this journal’s debut issue.) Mirzoeff’s has less to be oblivious of: a handful of significant serious articles, only a couple of which draw mention, and three books, one a sociological study (Tim Delaney’s Seinology) and two edited collections (one of which is, in the spirit of full disclosure, my own), none of which are even acknowledged to exist, even though they cover much of the same territory he stakes out. ‘If you make a Google search for Seinfeld’, we are told, ‘most of the results that come up are very dry articles referring to the success of the show as a vehicle for advertising’ (p.7). This is, of course, untrue and smacks of bad faith in a book written by the Director of New York University’s Visual Culture Program.

David Lavery
Middle Tennessee State University

Quote of the Day (1/6/10) (Herman Melville Week)

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, far more so than that of Junius,--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 has ever come up to the idea of his reader.
--Herman Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses"

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The End of Tennant

Have just bid goodbye to the great David Tennanted-Doctor Who. He will be missed.

Dr. 10 (for me, he was the first when I started watching Doctor Who while I was in London) has reincarnated. Long live the 11th.

This also means the end of Davies (left) as Whomaster. Welcome Stephen Moffatt (right).

Top 25 "Lost" Characters

According to "Zap2It."

Heard on "The Daily Show"

Our first show in 2010. By the way, the Mayan calendar predicted the show would be disappointing.

The Right Wing and "Avatar"

Andrew Leonard has the story in Salon.


Those Family Circus kids are profoundly disconcerting thinkers.

Return of "The Daily"

After going without The Daily Show's perspective on the events of the holidays--the Undie Bomber, for example--it was as always refreshing to have it back for the first time in 2010. ADS (After The Daily Show), we don't have the last word on current events until Jon Stewart & company's (and Stephen Colbert's) take on things. Here are two segments (1) on the new terror threat; (2) on other possible religions for Tiger Woods to convert to (in the wake of Britt Hume's idiocy).

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Terror 2.0 by Yemen
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Best F**king News Team Ever - Tiger Woods' Faith
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Quote of the Day (1/5/10) (Herman Melville Week)

Hark ye yet again, - the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event - in the living act, the undoubted deed - there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines.
--Ahab in Moby-Dick

Monday, January 04, 2010

TWoP's Top 20 Scripted Shows from the '00s

A good list. I would agree with about 90%.

Heard on "Raising Arizona"

Did you hear that a prison van collided with a cement mixer? Twelve hardened criminals escaped.

Quote of the Day (1/4/10) (Herman Melville Week)

What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who's to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?
--Ahab in Moby-Dick

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Health Care Reform Explained (with the help of a Cute Scottie)

Quote of the Day (1/3/10) (Herman Melville Week)

Say, you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent- minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries - stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Quote of the Day (1/2/10) (Benjamin Lee Whorf Week)

As the objective realm displaying its characteristic attribute of extension stretches away from the observer toward that unfathomable remoteness which is both far away in space and long past in time, there comes a point where extension in detail ceases to be knowable and is lost in the vast distance, and where the subjective, creeping behind the scenes as it were, merges into the objective, so that at this inconceivable distance from the observer—from all observers—there is an all-encircling end and beginning of things where it might be said that existence, itself, swallows up the objective and the subjective.
--Benjamin Lee Whorf, Language, Thought, and Reality

Friday, January 01, 2010

Year in Review

The last year of the new century’s first decade was an eventful one for the Laverys.

It was the year that a Tornado destroyed a couple of adjoining neighborhoods but missed us. It was the year Barack Obama became POTUS.

Joyce became (in June) the new Executive Director of Nashville’s Safe Haven Family Shelter, where she is now doing a wonderful job and feeling good about the work she does. She also got a nice write-up in the U Memphis Anthropology Department newsletter.

Rachel survived the meltdown at Clifford Chance in New York and moved to Gibson Dunn. On October 17th Neel Dhingra asked for her hand in marriage at the top of a lighthouse in Mystic, Connecticut. (He had earlier asked Rachel’s father for permission.) No date set yet. 2009 also saw the publication of her first law article.

Sarah earned her B.A. in journalism (and just about every journalism award) at MTSU in May. She started working soon after, writing the local news for WSMV, Nashville’s NBC affiliate. Her biggest news, however, is that she and Jason Porterfield are expecting a baby, Adelyn, due in February. (Read her wonderful blog about her pregnancy, “Nine Months to Life.”) In May, she and Jason will be married in a ceremony in Franklin, Tennessee. Sarah contributed to Lost’s Buried Treasures and Screwball Television (see below). (Her Louie can be seen below--our favorite granddog!)

I have a lot of stuff in the works as well. The Essential Cut TV Reader just appeared, the third edition of Lost’s Buried Treasures is imminent. and next year will see the publication of several books—Joss Whedon: Conversations; Joss: A Creative Portrait of the Maker of the Whedonverses, The Essential Sopranos Reader; On the Verge of Tears; Screwball Television: Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls, and essays in books on Mad Men, Veronica Mars, Dexter, Life on Mars. In January I will be delivering a keynote, “The Imagination will be Televised: Showrunning and the Re-animation of Authorship in 21st Century American Television,” at REMEDIATE! Neue Langform-Narrative und Autorschaft, veränderte Rezeptionsformen und Distributionsmedien bei TV-Serienformaten, Merz Academy, Stuttgart. And just this week two major multi-year projects were approved: Television Auteurs, a book and web resource (University Press of Mississippi), and Television Art, a textbook (Blackwell Publishing). Also, the 4th Slayage Conference will be held in June, and I am one of the co-conveners of a Lost Conference in Hawaii, January 1977 (I mean 2011). Next semester at MTSU, I will be teaching a course on the Coen Brothers. I continued to blog at

So we are all doing well, and we hope you are too. Write and tell us what you are up to.

Happy holidays from the Lavery’s.