The rear-view mirror of a Mazda 626. It shows ...
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I was really enjoying this show’s pilot episode until the very last scene, more about that later.  The premise:  one weekday afternoon all people in the world lose consciousness for a little over 2 minutes.  Initially called blackouts, people quickly realize that they all moved forward in time almost 6 months.  These dreams were shared so they were not actually dreams but instead flash forwards in time.  The main characters are a husband/wife.  He is an FBI agent, of course, and she is an ER doctor.

Before turning to some theorizing about the show, a few notes about production.  The show seems to have cut some corners, there is a bit of sloppiness throughout.  It strikes me as unlikely that the carnage would be as complete as the show depicts.  Not to doubt some catastrophes after a 2 minute blackout, but the destruction to downtown LA seems nearly total.  And yet there are signs everywhere of poorly placed props as completely demolished cars and corpses are laid next to cars that show no damage, not even a minor collision.  When looking through the windshield at the main characters the rear view mirror has been removed yet the mounting bracket remains in place.  I cannot help but wish that this was intentional, a statement about the obvious lack of a mirror to track our lives through.  As the world is immediately coming to grips with the event, a manager at the FBI asks, “has the Pope chimed in yet?”  As though that would be entirely preposterous.

I could not help but groan as we learned the professions of the main characters.  The initial premise of the show will eventually be subsumed by the professions and the traditional genres of prime time drama.  Given the global nature of the event it would seem the show would not track such well-hewn lines.  But, alas, that is the state of TV these days.  Of course, there is another reason the show’s producers did choose these occupations: the last scene reveals that instead of an act of divine intervention there is surveillance coverage of some people not losing consciousness like everyone else.  An FBI agent will then be able to uncover the mystery.  I wish this attack of the airwaves had not occurred.  The show, however, helps identify why these genres are so successful: they uncover and also conceal a fundamental anxiety of Americans.  These professions all happen while at work because the work never ends.  These shows are, fundamentally, about labor and how we do not like to labor.  Instead we watch shows about people who have little leisure and yet they love their jobs because it gives them a sense of purpose.

A little bit about the event.  It is global.  It is a flash forward.  It is therefore not technological, it is not the result of a human manipulation.  It would instead be the one true miracle.  All other supposed miracles are events of interpretation and hence disputable.  This event, however, has shared affects.  But not only does it represent a true transcendent intervention but it also is an event of representation.  During the event people are forward in time looking back upon the event.  The remembrance of the backward looking flash forward is then used to propel some people forward into that very leap.  The intervention acts back upon itself as not only a signified but also as a signifier.  What then do we call a transcendent signifier and signified?  I would contend that is the very definition of God.

The main question I am vexed with is about the direction of the show.  Will the show remain one of sci-fi/fantasy or will it turn instead into a tale of government conspiracies and become a mystery?  I am hoping for a fantasy setting.  I want to see people not obsessively grapple with “what happened?” but instead “how do I deal with knowing my future?”.  I will give it at least two more episodes.

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Disclosure:  I am not a fan of Jay Leno.  I once stopped dating a woman because she preferred Leno over Conan.  I guess this belief is acceptable in someone younger than 83, but until that age there is no excuse.  In absolute terms I guess Leno is not so bad.  But not compared to Conan.  And not in Prime Time.  NBC has now committed both crimes.

The interwebs are abuzz with talk of Leno in Prime Time and I, too, have a couple of thoughts.  No, one thought: it sucks.  For a couple of reasons.

First, it means people out of work.  Producing a normal show requires many more people than producing a variety show requires.  NBC, in its attempt to spin this move positively, makes precisely this argument.  A variety show is much less costly and so even if it drops viewership in that time slot, it can afford to do so and still turn more of a profit than anything else would have earned.  Here ‘profit’ means less labor costs to make up in revenue.  That sucks.  The very cheapness of the Leno show means we ought not watch it because it represents a corporation’s thought that we not only deserve lower quality but will gladly reward them for downgrading us.

My second problem with it is that it represents NBC’s resignation. The business model for TV is changing and profits are dwindling.  But, this does not mean that TV is dead.  There are numerous shows on TV that make money.  Lots of money.  And then there are shows that are like those money-makers that may also make money.  NBC has given up though.  By moving The Tonight Show into that spot NBC has signaled its lack of willingness to try and break ground.  They have gone back on decades of programming wisdom and stopped trying to produce good shows and instead just produce sure-things, even though a Lost like show is also a sure-thing.

Some will say that it’s business and they’re in the business of making money.  Blah blah.  It’s about making money off of the art of storytelling.  Art needs to be fresh and experimental.  TV is still profitable.  NBC was still make money, what they have decided to do, however, is to give up and accept the changing current.  Maybe the current will sweep TV aside and maybe that cannot be halted.  Maybe they should try.

I own a TV but I do not have cable because I watch all of my shoes online.  For free without commercials.  However, there are some shows that I will watch online only in ways that provide advertising revenue to the distributor: Lost, Rescue Me, Defying Gravity (still giving it a chance) and Burn Notice. There is money to be made off of me and NBC has ceded that potential away.

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Previously used ESPN Classic Logo
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It’s not that I am bored, there is no shortage of stuff I need to be doing.  I can afford to do those things to-morrow and ESPN Classic may not be showing a marathon of Ali and Tyson fights under the heading Ali vs. Tyson.  While interesting to watch, it’s amazing to see how much we have changed in 20 years, I think ESPN Classic has the wrong marathon going on.  We should not be watching a bunch of Ali and Tyson fights, we should be watching fights of their opponents and then their fights with Ali and Tyson.

We can spend a lot of time seeing how Ali was able to duck and dodge and wear out his opponents.  We can spend a lot of time watching Tyson walk into the opponents and lay them out with a single hit.  That does little to provide good arguments for the ultimate hypothetical matchup.  What would help however is to see how they would have affected the other in the matchup.

What most people don’t see about Tyson was how he forced opponents into a weak game.  He wasn’t particularly fast.  He wasn’t particularly tough.  What he had was an abnormal strength and the fear of being hit by the punch forced his opponents to close up ranks and assume a defensive posture from the get go.  Ali just beat his opponents without forcing them into an uncomfortable position.  ESPN Classics contest is too limited, looking at the wrong transcripts for evaluation.

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Morena Baccarin  @ the Serenity Premiere
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Happiness is a warm…afternoon seeing an alien fleet around earth tellign us they come in peace.  Only to, of course, find out later that they are actually lizard-like posing as our friends so they can eat us because they used up all the resources in their homeworld.  Yes, I am talking about V, one of the best TV shows.  Ever.

Well, it seems it is coming back for the 2009-2010 season on ABC.  And it stars Morena Baccarin.  I am guessing she is the evil leader of the lizards.  If you do not immediately recognize the name Morena then you need to watch Firefly or its big screen adaptation Serenity.  Even if you do not like sci-fi you will like those shows becasue they are so well written.  And if you do not…then may god have mery on your soul!

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At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man (“back in my day…”) let me just say that back in my day TV quiz shows were better.  Visiting family means I watch a lot of TV, especially TV I do not normally watch.  One example is the modern day quiz show.  At home I will watch “Cash Cab” and “Jeopardy!” but not the others for a couple of reasons.  This essay is about why I no longer watch those quiz shows and why I find them so infuriating.

My first problem is related to a larger trend of TV programming: it is becoming democratized, which is to say it features ordinary people and not extraordinary people.  Quiz shows (remember Quiz Show, those were extraordinary people) used to be about watching people smarter than the average Joe answering difficult questions.  TV used to be about the super-humans and not about real people.  I want to learn when I watch quiz shows.  I want to watch someone smarter than myself do things I cannot do. I want to be amazed.  I do not want to wonder why this person is on TV and I am not.  I do not want to wonder why the contestant is having such a hard time answering a question I remember (I actually do remember, instead of being told that I did) learning in 5th grade.

My second criticism is related to, possibly a product of, the above trend in TV, melodrama.  I guess it makes sense that if the contestant is an average Joe then there should be some drama to make the contest more viewable.  This justification is, however, a side effect.  Just as talk radio is done s-l-o-w-l-y drawing out the air time, lessening the burden on content creators, so to do the quiz show producers.  If “1 vs. 100” were to fire through questions at the rate “Jeopardy!” does then the average Joe contestants would not last very long.  This revolving door show would then be giving away much more money, increasing costs and decreasing profits, and would also highlight the average-ness of the contestants.

While watching these shows I do not feel tested intellectually but I do feel my tolerance threshold being tested.  Maybe next year I will buy my mother a new TV that way I can guiltlessly put my shoe through her current one, which is what I really want for this holiday season.