Monday, September 29, 2008

The Office Season Five Premiere "Kicked Our Ass"

Thank you Greg Daniels, Gene Stupnitsky, Gene Eisenberg and Paul Leiberstein, show runner, producer and writers of "The Office" season five premiere. You have melted my heart, unleashed the summer long feeling of despair over the state of "The Office", relinquished the Fatwa I placed on your heads. You had been put on notice after the exasperating last five minutes of May's season finale, "Goodbye Toby", where instead of getting a Beesly/Halpert proposal, you left us with Dwight's sweaty back and a snitty look from the newly christened office Ho - Angela. This fan cried foul at the sitcommy contrivance, the betrayal of "Office" high standards by fearing the show was doomed. Fonzie's shark loomed in the distance. The gate to the pasture was open, and I was ready to put you out.

Instead, you flipped the awesome switch, and reverted back to the fun filled world of Dunder Mifflin, giving us satisfying results to open ended issues. You gave us summer - a Dunder Mifflin summer - filled with a very likely branch-to-branch weight loss challenge, bringing out the extreme dieter in Kelly, the creepy nature of Creed, the Nazi commander of Dwight, and the dorky-ness of Holly Flax, who floats Michael's boat from ship to shore, break room to warehouse.

As Dwight and Angela rekindled their backroom passion, Andy Bernard tugged at our heartstrings as he earnestly planned his wedding to Miss Martin, who half heartedly went through the motions of being sort of in-like with the Nard dog; however, not so much with the Cornell bred acapella posse "Here Comes Treble", who will collectively be his best man and the wedding band for the event. Oh, Angela loved that. She loved it so much she paged Dwight for a quickie in the warehouse closet.

Michael is still a student of the Jim Halpert training course: “How to be Friends Before Lovers: 101”. It's painful, but so needed for the impulsive Michael Scott, whose reserve may have to hold out until he's learned a lesson in patience. As Holly embarks on a date with a lame yoga instructor, Michael swallows his hurt in fits of grunts and spastic verbiage as Holly stares at him wondering if the Heimlich lessons she got in HR camp might be useful about now. Michael blames Jim for his soul sucking hurt, telling him he’s not getting paid for the year. Jim looks at camera. Michael is an idiot.

Ryan's back, and he's still the d-bag he was when we last saw him, which was on YouTube being lead away in handcuffs for fraud. It seems a stretch to have him come back to Dunder Mifflin, even as a replacement receptionist considering he committed a crime against the company. Realistic? I guess it doesn't matter. Fans wanted to see this happen to Ryan so his big fat coke absorbed head would find humility and remorse. But not this Ryan Howard. This Ryan Howard still has the burning flames of revenge for those who will gloat or wrong him. He even keeps a list, so that "when I'm back on top" he'll get even. Back on top? On top of what? The top bunk bed in prison after being incarcerated for his second white collar crime?

Let’s keep score on Ryan’s Revenge Bucket List shall we? Jim Halpert for reminding him that his community service was court ordered? Check. Kevin Malone for giving him a noogie and calling him Fire Guy? Check. Of course, he's a bad dog who wants to come home to Kelly, luring her with the promise that she can pick him up at eight and buy him drinks. "No thanks..." "See you around then." "It's a small office." Oh Kelly, your high road knows no bounds. That was a gratifying exchange. Maybe her starvation diet weakened her into being smart? Or perhaps the hospital pumped some smart sauce into her IV the day her three day cleanse diet made her hit the floor.

Meanwhile, back to life on the warehouse cattle scale: The weekly weigh in is taking its toll as the weeks go by. First week had Pam weighed in with the group, then kicked off the scale when Michael realized she'd be leaving. As the Dunder Mifflin dieters calculated her weight in their heads, we begin to realize that our Pam-cake is indeed splitting from the crew, and this symbolic photo was taken. Sadness.

The weeks go by and the weight loss stalls despite starvation, chicken eating, and a proposed cake-free birthday party where a cheese cake was smuggled in anyway.Jim promises to lose 65lbs, which would render him invisible to the naked eye. Tapeworms not withstanding, nerves are frayed as collective poundage fluctuates between losing one pound to gaining a few. Hmmm...maybe Dwight's growing gut has something to do with that. Yes, Dwight. You are the problem.

Who am I kidding? I watch"The Office" for the beauteous love of Jim and Pam. I’m a number one fan of seeing Pam use her talent for a better job, but the idea of her going to Pratt has given me indigestion. Oh, the possibilities. The hipsters, the higher learning, the fancy world that will make Pam question her life in Scranton with Jim. Who the hells cares! It took a rainy day at a New Jersey rest stop to kill all my doubt. As Jim looked up at Pam like a child, and as Pam gasped for breath, the fireworks from that moment, that “yes”, that kiss, was better than any cherry bomb or firecracker flare that arose from the Dunder Mifflin parking lot in May's season finale. The years of misery, hurt, and confusion ended for Jim. He lost of ton of emotional weight, and Pam gained 180 pounds of floppy haired love for the rest of her life. Pam has her guy, and Halpert got the girl. It was a good day.

Next episode entitled “Business Ethics” will air on Thursday, October 9th at 9pm, may Daniels and his crew of merry writers keep it up. If the season premiere is anything to go by, this is going to be a great year.

NBC Two Minute Replay "Weight Loss":

Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Letterman Speaks His Mind and "The Office" Tonight!

"The road to the White House goes through me!" proclaimed David Letterman in his usual self deprecating way. But was he wrong? Sure, he's just a late night talk show host, but isn't this the exact forum political pundits and campaign war horses strive to join? Sitting on Letterman or Leno's sofa, speaking to the American public in the dark of the night has always been a prime platform for political discourse. Even if Dave is a bit cantankerous, ornery and perhaps lost his funny edginess, monologues discussed by late night comedians are part of the fabric of American watercooler discussion. The exposure humanizes a candidate, as we see him joke and speak of himself as a regular human being. Indeed, perhaps we shouldn't be voting in Presidents who are just like us. We should strive for someone better; yet, when McCain ditches Letterman, claiming his campaign is on hold so he can head out to Washington to help cure the economic catastrophe (that his party helped to precipitate), only to be found on the very same network with Katie Couric posing questions, one has to surmise that McCain is adrift.

Late Night with David Letterman was my obsession in college back in the 80's. I've seen him change the course of television comedy by using ironic humor to it's fullest. Along with Johnny Carson, he changed the complexion of comedy today. I'm glad he got his point across. Years ago, he would have kept it to himself. Who can blame him? When a guest flakes out, what better way to fill up dead air than to diss and expose him at the same time?

Hey "Office" fans, remember this? The look of shock in their eyes? The now famous Jim/Pam/Andy/Angela ring block? Pam is going to New York to study art, and Jim is home alone. We get to see the outcome of all this tonight on "The Office" season premiere on NBC 9pm! It feels like opening day in baseball. Ah...the smell of freshly mowed grass beneath the fences of the Dunder Mifflin parking lot. The new paper smell of the supply closets. The piney aroma of Phyllis' perfume wafting from the break room. The sound of Michael Scott weeping in a corner after Jan rips him a new one. And Holly. Oh Holly. Back to give us a dose of quirky, lovable sanity. Please kill Jan in a freak coffee pot explosion. Save the baby and raise it as your own.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"The Office" Season Five: Count Down

After a summer of speculation and an early fall of spoiler filled angst, "The Office" begins it's fifth season tomorrow night, NBC 9:00pm ET/8:00pm CT. In this one hour welcome back installment, entitled "Weight Loss", our friends at Dunder Mifflin will be participating in a branch-wide diet challenge, possibly putting "Biggest Loser" to shame. Spoilers have hinted that kooky Kelly bought a tapeworm off of Creed to expedite the process (Creed,"That wasn't a tapeworm"), and Mifflin-ites of the more rotund variety will be balking at the challenge. Is this the episode with the fabled "rain storm" of momentous proportions? Will it be between Jim and Pam? When is that freaking proposal going to happen? Because apparently Jim hasn't done the deed yet.

Spoilers have claimed a that a late October episode will show Pam putting together a New York City reunion between Jim and his brothers in an attempt to ingratiate the Halperts in justifying her commitment to Jim. Oh dear. I fear that the Halperts are a little ticked that our Pammy has dragged Jim through the mud of emotion a little too often, and are pulling their guards up. As per Jenna, the reunion doesn't really turn out well. I image it's more hilarity than tragedy, but who knows?

And crazy Jan. Bitchy, annoying Jan. She's pregnant and will not go away. Holly, the one true love Michael should marry and have babies and picket fences with, is still around. Melora Hardin mentioned in an interview with Kristin Dos Santos from E! that Jan will continue to dig her hooks into Michael. She even admitted to wanting a cat fight between Jan and Holly. Dear Greg Daniels and Paul Lieberstein, do not do this at your own peril. Never...ever go down the gutter path of cat fights on this show. I'd rather watch Rachel Zoe's reality show and bang my head with a hammer than see this.

As for Angela, Dwight and Andy...I have to admit, I actually don't care. Angela and Dwight should be together. Andy should go off and find another Cornell grad and make babies who wear plaid pants and polo shirts with the collar popped. I love Andy, but I don't really care about Andy and Angela.

Onward to tomorrow, where eight weeks of summer courses at Pratt will be crammed into eight commercial breaks and weight loss blunders. My fall courses at Pratt (yes, I attend Pratt as well) will be crammed into fifteen weeks, so I think she got the better deal.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The 60th Annual Emmy Awards: It Ended on Time

I just want to shout it. Tina! Tina! Tina! She’s the Mary Richards of television today, “This generation’s Elaine May,” as Alec Baldwin boasted. The lady brought them in. One for Best Writing for a Comedy, another for Best Acting in a Comedy, and another she shares with the crew for Best Comedy. Alright, so my “Office” people didn’t get it this year, but that’s ok. It was “30 Rock’s” night. The show has been mind blowing funny, incredibly well cast, guest stars galore who know how to blend well into a storyline. Oh, how I love “30 Rock”. NBC was the first company I worked for while in college and after graduation. Watching Tina Fey lead a cast of characters in an SNL-type television workplace sitcom is like visiting memories – if my memories had dialogue of funny written well by award winning writers.

If only the Emmy Awards ceremony wasn’t such a drag. Perhaps the look on John Krasinski’s face at the pre-ceremony red carpet tipped me off to what these actors go through. After being interviewed by Ryan Seacrest, Krasinski turned away with a faint look of dread, as if he were saying, “It’s hot as hell out here. I’m in a suit. Now I have to go into a theater and watch a crap festival of boredom when I could be home playing Madden or listening to Cold War Kids.” It was as if he was making run for it, away from the awkward Seacrest, whose interviews are about a scintillating as wads of wet paper balls hitting a wall.

Speaking of balls and Seacrest, the hilarity that never was continued to die when the first thing he said to Steve Carell was “Two words…Enlarged balls.” Nice attempt to be funny, Ryan. There is a story behind this. The day the WGA strike began back in October, Carell supposedly called in sick, claiming his ailment was “enlarged balls”. This story isn’t really true, and the comment was actually uttered by someone else, but boy our Ryan was all over it with his witty repartee, making Carell squirm, while his lovely funny lady wife Nancy looked at Seacrest as if his hair was about to explode.

As for the lackluster three hours of show, I think what got me were the hosts composed of the buffet of bland served up by Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Ryan Seacrest, Howie Mandell and Jeff Probst. Why must we have reality television rubbed in our faces during a night filled with television that ranks in quality and genre? The evening flowed with the usual bit of forced humor and conviviality, carefully tip toeing around, the election, Sarah Palin, the financial crisis, Sarah Pain, the war and Sarah Palin. The feeling of watching glittering gowns and shiny tuxes trapped at the Nokia Theater, breathing in the proceedings on tender hooks was odd and coma inducing at the same time. There were no cute opening dance numbers at which to snark, no funny comedy clips. Remember when Conan O’Brien hosted the Emmys in 2006? He started the ceremony with a VT of him sitting on a private jet, sipping champagne and ready to embark on his journey from New York to Los Angeles to host the awards. Suddenly, his plane crashed, and he immediately found himself in an episode of “Lost”, which lead him to the set of “The Office”, “House” and “24”. It was clever, refreshing, and funny. To fans of these programs, it was a kick to see their favorite characters interact with Conan as he surrealistically became part of their story. When he landed on stage at the Emmy’s, he had just taken a journey around the dial (or remote), and began his master of ceremonies duties. Last night’s litany of hosts winged it onstage, tele-promter-less, mulling around in flop sweat, while William Shatner came on stage to help Bergeron rip off Klum’s fake tuxedo. Meanwhile, back in the fun pit known as the audience, men’s collars pinched, and women held their breath under the tight girth of their dresses. I sipped a martini in my pajamas.

The Emmy awards seem to be a hodgepodge of well deserved wins, understandable loses, and confusing selections. “30 Rock” deservedly swept the awards this year. Their show has been consistently well written, gut wrenchingly funny, and pitch perfect in tone and pace. Tina Fey’s wins in writing, best actress and best comedy were highly deserved. This fan of The Office was saddened by the fact the show wasn’t on it’s game this year. “30 Rock” has indeed usurped the crew at Dunder Mifflin for tops in laughs and writing.

Awards for “John Adams” was not a surprised. The mini-series was highly acclaimed, with stellar performances from Giamatti and Linney. “Recount” garnered some prizes. Although the writing and performances were riveting, the idea of living out that horrendous moment in election history made it difficult for me to past into the second hour of the film. Still, what I did see was wonderful, even if the memories were too jarring to continue.

As much as I adored Bryan Cranston in “Malcolm in the Middle”, where he should have won the lion’s share of Emmys (and apparently didn’t), his win for best actor in a drama for his performance in “Breaking Bad” was definitely a surprise. Perhaps it’s because “Mad Men” has gained a cult following is the critic’s darling of the year. As a fan of the show myself, it was disappointing not to see Jon Hamm win the best actor award. Kudos definitely go to Cranston, even though I am in the category of fans who think that Hamm got robbed.

Why “Entourage” continues to be nominated in the Best Comedy category astonishes me. Everyone knows the show hasn’t been a comedy for about two years now. The snubbing of “Flight of the Conchords” continues to confound. Perhaps the Emmy voters like to stick to what they know. Maybe people from New Zealand singing funny, melodic song scares them? Jeremy Piven beating out Patrick Neal Harris and Rainn Wilson for Actor in a Comedy Series makes me believe that someone is paying off someone somewhere. Wilson continues to make the character of Dwight a compelling, funny element in “The Office”. Harris always brings out a quirky, intelligent humor in his role as Barney Stinson in “How I Met Your Mother”. This award was up for grabs between them. Having to watch raving, formulaic fits of anger from Ari Gold as per Mr. Piven doesn’t really feel like something worthy of anymore Emmys. He’s already got the prize. Let someone else carry that heavy thing home.

Highlight of the night was Ricky Gervais threatening Steve Carell to fork over his Emmy award, won last year for his work on "Extras". For two years straight, we've had the antics of Carell, Colbert, Stewart and Gervais stirring the cauldron of boring with some spicy fun. Why can't these guys be the hosts of next year's Emmy award ceremony?

The cast of “Mad Men” are delectable to behold. Jon Hamm, John Slattery (another actor who lost out last night) and the boys of Sterling Cooper are maddening in their handsomeness. The women are beautiful. January Jones is such a pleasure to see, Elizabeth Moss is stunningly adorable, and Christina Hendricks is a vision of lusciousness. They do not make women like that in Hollywood anymore – all curves and bumps. Bless her. But all shallow beauty aside, “Mad Men” came home the winners of Best Drama, making history as the first cable show to win best drama anywhere this side of “The Sopranos”. It was a satisfying end to an otherwise less than surprising and entertaining evening. As speeches were rushed and drowned out in "shut the fuck up" music, and presenters raced to get their comments pronounced in time, the show clocked in just under three hours. So, I guess that in itself is an accomplishment. Apparently it was the lowest rated Emmy Awards ever. Word to the Academy...get better hosts. Perhaps Gervais and Carell will be free?

In Memoriam: Roger King:

We lost some great people: Bernie Brillstein, George Carlin, Charleton Heston; however, one person’s face flashed across the screen during the tear jerking stream of goodbyes that gave me pause. Roger King passed away in December 2007. I was his assistant from 1993 to 1996. I remember reading about his death in Variety the Monday after the weekend he passed away. The expression has been used before, but it serves a purpose: It felt like a giant Redwood had fallen somewhere. He was a formidable man. Full of vinegar one minute, a playful good ‘ol boy the next. He was the gruff executive who came from the school of hard knocks, brought up by a family who found success after working hard and paving paths in the world of syndication where no one paved them before. His voice boomed through the halls of King World. “Debi, any messages?” I can still hear him. To be honest, I never got that close to Roger as a boss or friend. He kept some people at a distance, and I always felt he trusted very few. It was a trait I understood and respected. Roger died of a massive stroke. I remember thinking, “Man, even when he gets sick, he doesn’t do it half assed. He does it big time.” May he be placing his bets at the Baccarat table in that big casino in the sky.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

60th Annual Emmy Awards Tonight!

The Emmy awards are tonight!  The red carpet, the gowns, the tuxedos and shiny shoes.  My head is spinning with the luvvie-ness of it all.  Personally, I tend to view the Emmy awards as a grand night, but since some of the same old shows seem to get re-nominated, I wonder if the members of the academy are actually watching television.  "Entourage" really wasn't special last season, and "Two and a Half Men", while funny, doesn't beat "30 Rock" or "The Office" (which has taken a dip in storyline believability last season).  

My money is on "Mad Men" sweeping  the awards across the category board, and "30 Rock" leaving the ceremony towing crates of statues from the Nokia Theater.  This may be my first foray into blogging on the awards as they happen.

It's all on tonight...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Web-evision: Television on the Internet

Tuesday was “Digital Day” at the New York Television Festival. One panel of interest for this writer was “The Web Effect: How the Internet is Changing Television”, moderated by Television Without Pity’s Dan Manu, and featuring Craig Engler (SVP, and SCIFI Magazine); Joe Michael (Senior Director, Business Development, MSN Entertainment, Video & Sports); Dalton Ross (Editor-at-Large, Entertainment Weekly), and Douglas Rushkoff (author of “Cyberia” and Founder, NYU’s Narrative Lab). It was a broad range discussion on how web extensions, provided by television network websites, have dedicated creative input into their program sites, expanding offerings for viewers such as original content webisodes, character blogs, and fan forums.

"Battlestar Gallactica", "Lost", "The Office", "Ugly Betty" and "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" are shows that produce the most fervent online fan following, thanks to what Craig Engler noted as the “Wow Factor”. Shows must find their success on air, which will lead to fans to seek a social online community to discuss episodes and character development. Fan sites begin to sprout with discussions, and cult followings are born, proving the program is ripe for full dedicated network produced web extras. where storylines are carried out through deleted scenes, webisodes, social networks, fan fiction, gaming and live community chat rooms.

What makes a show gain momentum in Cyberspace? According to Dalton Ross, the most popular shows on the web are the “hardcore geek programs”, where people can weigh in on the outcome of story, as well as discuss contestants in a real life situation such as “Idol”. Also, serialized shows such as “Betty” and “Buffy” gain popularity on the web due to addiction to story outcome. "The Office" has held onto its on air popularity due to internet buzz. NBC committed to six episodes of the show as a mid-season replacement in 2005. Homegrown fan sites such as and started to sprout. The show took off as the second season produced a full twenty two episodes, and earned industry awards for best comedy. The documentary format may have created an online monster. Since "The Office's" organic situations provide limitations to where the cameras will go with the characters, much is left unsaid and unseen, allowing the fans to fill in the rest, by speculating on spoilers, and devising their own wish lists for storyline conclusions.

"The Office" site is groaning with fun extras for fans to mingle over. Deleted scenes are available the day after broadcast, and are canon, providing more fodder for the online chats and bulletin board analysis. Also available are company newsletters for fans to read, Dunder Mifflin regional branch offices run by fans, fan community, video selections, online games and blogs written by characters such as Dwight and Meredith. Wanting to test the waters of original online content, The Office was one of the first to venture into webisodes: short story vinettes using the writers and cast to create short episodic programs made exclusively for the network website.

Webisodes branch out storylines, helping to titillate the audience, and taking the entire show to a whole new level. For example SCIFI Channel’s “Battlestar Gallactica” has embraced the internet as an extension to the show by producing webisodes as canon, filming them simultaneously with the original production and full cast and crew. One can see how the online community, already staunch contributors to bulletin boards and blogs will not only eat these mini stories like candy, but will use them as fodder for their discussions, solidifying a presence on the internet that will stimulate more programs and online extensions of the show.

ABC provides a dedicated website to “Lost”, and offers an outlet called “Missing Pieces”, a series of scenes omitted from the show that meld into canon, and reveals subplots and secrets not seen on the televised program.

The first “Office” webisodes, entitled “The Accountants”, was a ten part series of short two and a half minute episodes featuring the accounts of Dunder Mifflin Scranton as they try to solve the mystery of $2000 missing from their books. For summer 2008, the show produced another series entitled “Kevin’s Loan”, featuring another member of the second tier cast, Kevin Malone, as he brainstorms ways to make money to pay off his gambling debts. It’s hard to say if either storyline was canon. Nothing from the “Accountants” story was mentioned in subsequent episodes; yet, Kevin’s gambling issues, noted in this summer’s set, have always been hinted. Nevertheless, it opened a new extension to The Office fandom. These snippets of story have been successful for The Office and others, but they don’t work for all.

Webisodes are not suited for certain programs with a more serious, theatrical foundation. Popular programs such as Six Feet Under or The Sopranos have never devised a fan interactive sight due to cast demands and production costs. Also, the intensity of storyline did not cry out for fan interaction other than popular bulletin board discussions on HBO’s site, or on Television Without Pity.

A show such as Friday Night Lights, which has appealed to a smaller audience, has a web presence on NBC’s mother page, but the online community and web extras, albeit well established, are basic offerings, and is not breaking any ground on the internet as of yet. That may be due to the tenuous position the program has faced in the two seasons it’s been on air. The quality of “Lights” is high, but the viewership is low, which may attribute to the limited online experience for the viewers. Again, the on air “wow-factor” or lack thereof for “Lights” plays into the view that the more successful the show is on air, the more networks will contribute toward the web extras offered.

Sometimes scripted storylines are not always needed to add fuel to the online fan’s flame. Another topic discussed at the forum was the popularity of reality shows online. As Dalton Ross mentioned, programs like American Idol is one of the most popular blog sites on, with Lost next in line for the lion share of fan presence. Personalities and competition sparks talk among viewers longing to share the experience of Simon Callow’s bickering or Paul Abul’s wooziness, as singers strive for supremacy. The maturation or implosion of a competitor is key. It’s the “it could be me” factor that “American Idol” provides that may also contribute to the interest. Of course since American votes on the winner, that feeling of empowerment may increase a viewer’s need to share their thoughts on a contestant who has either improved from week to week, or forgotten the words on live television.

Bravo’s “Project Runway’s” show site is teaming with videos and blogs from judges and guest judges alike. Tim Gunn’s blog allows for his own insight into the challenge. There are also extras such as fashion tips and personal interest stories on the cast of “Runway”. (Who knew Tim could play piano?) The appeal of “Runway” is the pure creativity of the competitors that keeps the fans going to sites to congregate and express their opinions by trashing and lashing at the snarky stars, or lavishing affection for the most gorgeous couture creation. The show itself has been helped by sponsors who fit so well into the environment of Project Runway. TRESsemme and Bluefly as well as Mood are interwoven as tools of the competitors. It’s a case of sponsors killing two birds with one stone.

Advertisements online was brought into the discussion, but not as something to be part of the storylines of scripted shows or the outcome of reality, but as part of the website itself. MSN’s Joe Michael suggested that product placement could play an important factor in the interface of television sites, so that advertisers can place their product in a way that promotes their product, but doesn’t interfere with the programming. For instance, if Coke is the sponsor, the window of the media player could be in Coke red, with signage placed strategically and unobtrusive on the page. However, as most frequent visitors of television content sites can attest, commercials, in addition to ad space, are rampant within content, breaking shows with commercials, and interrupting the short attention span of the average internet user.

New York Television Festival

The fourth annual New York Television Festival (presented by MSN) took place on Friday, September 12th through Wednesday, September 17th at World Stages, welcoming the new fall season with an array of network screenings, independent comedy showcases, panelists and workshops. As viewings of indie television pilots and media student projects fortified a jam packed weekend, networks also dabbled their wares in the intimate festival atmosphere. ABC presented their fall lineup on Saturday night, while Monday night featured a discussion with Ben Silverman, Co-Chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, and Jim Wiatt, Chairman and CEO, Wiliam Morris Agency, both on hand to speak of the current state of affairs in television development. As the conference passed along in themed days, such as University Day (Student film screenings), Production Day (Workshops and chats about breaking into television), and Industry Day (the Ben Silverman discussion and business related panels), Tuesday’s Digital Day presented fascinating panels and workshops, proving a new vision in how television and entertainment is extended in various ways through the internet. The festival provide a somewhat intimate scene for the media industry to mingle with independent performers and producers providing an alternative to mainstream entertainment. It's worth keeping one's eye on this event in years to come.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Early In The Morning, About the Break of Day"

Reality poked it's ugly Jimmy Barrett head into the pretty picture of perfect in Sunday's "Mad Men" (Episode: "A Night to Remember"). After the affairs and lusty surrender to Jimmy's pushy and hoary wife Bobby, Betty threw down the hammer and held up Don's infidelity to his face. He denied away, living in his own state of "it never's shocking how this all never happened", toying with Betty's sanity, telling her she was wrong. Yet, the pretty blond stood by her guns. This is were the bride and groom on top of the wedding cake drips off the top and falls into the garbage. Betty found her groove. She woke up. Suddenly, the black and white sixties are on the verge of switching to color, not just for Betty, but for the women of "Mad Men".

Much like Don, Peggy Olsen lives her own lie. Her denial is held firm by mental anguish and sheer obstinace. Her accomplishment of landing a copywriter job in a big advertising firm has provided a shield from the realities of her home life, where her mother and sister use passive aggression to open her eyes to her Catholic duties, and the child she bore. When Peggy is asked by her priest, the young Father Gill to help with flyers for a fundraiser, per pride gets in her way. Another sin? Although her defiance of the CYO committee is understandable, there is a sense of conceit over the ladies who disapprove of "A Night To Remember" motif. How dare these old biddies question the creative mind of a Madison Avenue copywriter? Of course she's sensitive to this. Her job is her escape. It's her life. It's what she believes defines her.

Peggy is the ultimate enigma to the audience and to Father Gill, who won't let on his knowledge of her baby; yet, he tries to chip away at her patience, indirectly breaking her down to seek the Lord's help in admitting she had the child. It's interesting to annoy someone into admitting something, and it seems young Father Gill may have broken an emotional wall in that pony tailed head of hers. Peggy held onto her belly as he left the room, perhaps trying to connect to the child she carried and ignored. Later that night, alone in her bath, she sat like stone in the same trance in which we viewed Betty. One could compare the vision to a baptism. For one moment she awakes in a startled fit, almost as if everything she denied hit her between the eyes. It will take subsequent episodes to see how that might play out.

And there is Joan, the wowser, with breasts like bullets and curves that kill. She's a husband seeker who landed a doctor who'd like to keep her in bon-bons for the rest of her life. But being placed as a temporary Broadcast Operations liaison for Harry, allowed her to realize she had a knack for more than just one day ditching the carbon copies for the hairnet and slippers. Reading soap opera scripts and anticipating the needs of the sponsor and network was actually a blast. As Harry introduced Joan to her replacement, a young man with dumb stories and nary a clue about the job, the disappointment, so palpable, seemed to rise like bile into her throat, quietly knocking her for a loop. Joan's image, once the high flying top secretary, riding the wave of gorgeous glamor on Madison Avenue, kept her stuck into the ever solid mold of sexy assistant. At the end of the day, all she has to show for it are bra marks that denote the burden of holding those triple D's high while wiggling those hips, much, perhaps, to her own detriment.

Living a lie is an nasty business. When the truth comes down, it destroys all in its path, creating a catalyst that may awaken others around them to reality. As we observe from the AMC 's original series "Mad Men", Don Draper exists in a cloud of mirrors and falsehoods, where even his own name isn't his own. He borrowed someone else's identity, and created an illusion of Madison Avenue visions as a lifestyle. He found the perfect pretty blond girl and married her. They had the two beautiful children and put them in a house in the country. For Don, or Dick Whitman, it destroyed a family he never knew - the real Draper family - who, at this time, exist in a state of nothingness. His lie destroyed his lonely step brother, who on his last tether of hope, reached out to Don, only to be spurned. Now it will destroy the very image he built up on a pile of lies. However, will the women and children who make up the collateral damage find a path to their own truth? It's too early too tell. They've all just woken up.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spread the Love of Jim and Pam

The long overdue on-air promotion for the new season of "The Office" aired last night , and has the Office blogosphere up in arms at the beauty of the thing. Season Five premieres on September 25th at 9am with an hour long episode entitled "Weight Loss". It will be the first time we actually see summertime for the Dunder Mifflin-ites. The crew in Scranton embark on some crazy branch competition on who drops the most pounds. (Do I smell a "The Biggest Loser" tie in?). As per the promo, it appears Team Scott will be doing some yoga under the instruction of Ms. Flax. She also seems to be Michael's BFF as seen in a sympatico hip hop sign off "a-wicka-wicka-wicka". Oh, Holly. How I love you. You make Michael human. Please stay. Tell Jan to take her lab baby and move out of town.

Pam will be away at Pratt, and we'll see eight weeks of this in the first episode (in between what I presume are eight commercial breaks). There has been some controversy on whether or not an internship is involved here. Paul Leiberstein has used the word "internship" while describing Pam's time in New York which freaks out every fan to kingdom come. An internship isn't going to classes at Pratt, it's going out on the field and working for school credit. So, if there is an "internship", does that mean Pam stays in New York longer than originally planned? I will be one pissed off bunny if that's the case.

But no matter. The promo flashed our couple embracing. Jim lunges in, Pam gets swept off her feet. A talking head shot seems to deliberately show Pam's hands so we fans get the cryptic signal that there is no ring, and therefore the engagement we are hitching our hopes on has not yet happened. But seeing Pam in her dorm room, in Jim's embrace, as his photo rests lovingly on the desk that holds her art supplies, and doofus glasses and printer and notes from Halpert filled with encouragement, it is heart warming. But New York is going to open her mind up to so many things. Why would should go back to Dunder Mifflin as a receptionist? We have two weeks to ponder this. Two weeks!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NBC Universal and iTunes: Reunited and it Feels so Good

Let iPod lovers who are fans of "The Office" and "30 Rock" rejoice! NBC content is back on iTunes! About one year ago, Jeff Zucker, head of NBC Universal's Universe, decided they weren't making enough money on digital downloads via the Apple client and wrangled to get Steve Jobs to raise the price per episode from $1.99 to roughly $5.00. Apple held firm by sticking to their manifesto of low priced downloads. Episodic television's set price for was to remain at $1.99 or else any network that chirps otherwise can take a walk. Zucker, one of the many AMPTP members using digital downloads as a bone of contention with the WGA prompting last year's strike, believed that keeping NBC content on iTunes was not lucrative. "We don't want to replace the dollars we were making in the analog world with pennies in the digital side," said Zucker to Variety.

When the 2007-2008 Fall season began, all new episodes were not added to the iTunes store. NBC's contract with Apple expired, and all content was unceremoniously removed over a weekend while no one was looking.

Here’s the sadness: iTunes was an important factor in the success of a show such as "The Office". It was the number one downloaded television show on the site, allowing people who were unable to view the Thursday night lineup, or couldn't afford TiVo or various a DVR service, the chance to view it for a minimal fee. One can also surmise that "30 Rock" may be dealing with a ratings struggle because the people who would rather download a show for keeps might have been able to boost the show’s popularity the same way. It’s interesting to see that NBC Universal's tactic to get more money backfired. Jobs will not play around with the pricing of content, and is too powerful to screw. Not allowing another platform for viewers to see their shows on another platform may have hurt the network. NBC is worse off in the ratings, their presence as a technological kill joy has shown them to be unfair to fans that rely on iTunes. To top that off, their fall 08 lineup is less than spectacular. At least they have their show back up for download just in time to offer programming to those who might not otherwise see it on television.

NBC gave download junkies the option of, a free service where all NBC, Fox, and all other broadcasters could provide programming of all shapes and sizes. Not only would you be able to view new episodes with limited commercial interruptions, you could also view archived programs, clips, trailers, deleted scenes and classic cult television like “The A-Team”. Whoopie!

Actually, Hulu turned out to be a pretty decent alternative to iTunes. The content was plentiful, and the quality of picture was high. Many a friend would tell me there were catching up on the “O.C” or another prime time show that went off the air years ago. Some people didn’t want to pay $1.99 to view television shows, and were perfectly happy watching commercials since there was usually one spot per break rather than multiple spots. I personally enjoyed viewing programs on Hulu. Deleted scenes sometimes were available for viewing before they appeared on the network site. There was a vast array of past seasons of programs to choose from. Also, those commercials weren’t so bad. Plenty of “pros” to the alternative; yet, the one “con” I can conjure is the inability to keep the show on your computer and to download to iPod for portable viewing. As a commuter, I enjoy being able to call up any episode of “30 Rock”, or a segment from “Late Night” while chugging it back and forth between the suburbs and Manhattan.

iTunes 8.0 provides subscribers with the option to once again view “The Office”, “30 Rock”, “SNL” and all NBC content once more. When I upgraded and went to the store, the vision of prime time favorites, once missing and now found, was like seeing the coolest bike under the tree at Christmas. I hope Zucker is somewhere licking his wounds.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

TV Spoilers Don't Spoil Me...

...they drive me to the peak of despair.

We are about two weeks away from The Office season five premiere. Throughout the off-season, fans have been following morsels of spoiler information tossed out like tasty teasers from the cast and writers of the show. This has been a summer of Office anguish. The season finale, known as "Goodbye Toby", swam along in the sea of awesome until the final five minutes of contrived bull that would make Fonzie's shark laugh. We screamed at our TV's and burned our Office DVD's in effigy. Fans crowded the boards with "WTF's" and "OH HELL NO!" screaming from their keyboards. I was right there with them. Confused. Bewildered. Office season finales are masterpieces. This one soared like "the eagle's nest" and crashed the way Michael's Chrysler Sebring's front hood met Meredith's body.

When last we left them, fireworks (sponsored by Jim Halpert) exploded in the fine crisp air of a Dunder Mifflin night, capping off Michael's day long celebration of his hatred for Toby, and the happiness to see him ship off to Costa Rica. Jim and Pam, our pals, our favorite couple, the two people in this work of fiction who should be together, be married, have adorable babies, and live in that white picket fenced house of our dreams, get ring blocked by the dumbass Andy Bernard, who steals Jim's crackling romantic moment, making it his own by proposing to Angela. Angela. The Angela who allowed him to sail off in a sumo wrestling fat suit off the Scranton Sea in last year's "Beach Day" episode. The Angela who keyed Andy's car when he tried to oust Dwight from his job. The Angela who did this because in her own God Loving way, she will borrow a little from the devil to protect her man Dwight. The Angela who is part of Dwangela, the matching tight assed lid to the teapot of Dwight's geekness. Since she's taken up with the "Nard Dog" to punish Dwight for mercy killing her cat, this couple has never been taken seriously. Lets face it. No one gives a rat's ass about Andy and Angela.

To go back a few commercial breaks, we also discovered that Fancy NewBeasly is about to get even fancier. The Pratt School of Design has opened their doors to her, giving Pam the opportunity to shake the paper dust of Scranton off her sensible shoes and try some hipster wholesome in the big apple. I guess those schools in Pennsylvania don't really cut it. Shut up Carnegie Melon and the University of Scranton. You're not fancy enough for this new Beesly. Jim is her main cheerleader, and probably poured over New York schools on the web to help her make a selection. Since three months away is "no big deal", then I guess it's no big deal. But something caught in my throat when all this came down in the break room. How does a receptionist from Scranton financially swing three months in NYC without her job? I live there, am older, have more substantial work, and it's still hard to get by. When did Greg Daniels and company start taking Ex Deus Machina so seriously? Why throw an easy bone into the story just to get it moving along? I related to Pam (more to Jim, but still, as a woman, to Pam), and I know that I can't take time off from work to get that certificate or Masters in digital media I've always wanted. Grrr. There was much nashing of teeth. All my empathy for Beesly turned into jealousy and betrayal. However, as the summer drifted in a lovely haze, I got over it. It's just a TV show. Just like in baseball, there is always next year. I don't think the writers will break up Jim and Pam. We have next season to see what the writers are doing to the future Mr. and Mrs. Halpert.

The addition of Holly Flax, HR lady, the one person on this green earth who actually "gets" Michael, is a blessing. Not only is she replacing the pervy and wallpaper paste Toby, she's adorable, smart and normal. NORMAL. A normal lady with some sweet quirks and a good sense of playful humor. And she actually LIKES Michael! This is very much needed. When Michael is being spoken to on the same level, he actually calms down and speaks rationally. He doesn't crash his car into a lake. He doesn't tell high school boys that Pam would "do them". He actually acts human. That is why the sight of Jan, jobless and pregnant in Scranton is a let down. After the histronics and toxity of the Dinner Party, it would have been nice to say goodbye to that woman. Michael will now convince himself that he can be a dad to a lab baby, and keep Jan rolling in his paycheck. What a lovely thing to do while bringing a child into the world. Go. Away. Jan. Or, rather, come back as the professional Jan who hated her job but still had a brain. We liked you so.

We all huddle in the sanctuary of our bulletin boards at TV Without Pity, OfficeTally and More Than That. We worry about Pam leaving for three months of schooling in fancy New York City. The questions pound in our heads like jackhammers. Will she become a hipster and fall in love with a funkytown Frenchman and tell Jim she has second thoughts? How is able to afford classes at Pratt and live in New York without a job? What will happen to Holly and Michael, a couple we'd all like to see. Why do we have to care about Jan and her pregancy, when she got sperminated in a lab while living with Michael? And as for Toby coming back? I had a basset hound who had more personality then this guy. (Seriously my dog was a human in a dog suit). Please. Stay in Costa Rica.

Time ticks toward the premiere. We hear snippets of spoilery from Executive Producer and writer Paul Leiberstein indicating that Toby will be back (who cares?), there will be a baby shower (again...who cares, especially if it's Jan's) and there are engagements at hand, but not Jim and Pam's. There has been indication that Pam will remain in NYC longer than we all thought, leaving Jim Pam-less and alone in Scranton to face all the drones who long for pretzel day. Fine. If Pam gets to be all grown up and find herself, then I hope Jim will as well. May Halpert learn a few lessons as well, like, how to exist in life for something more than just Pam. Perhaps he needs to re-evaluate his professional needs by taking the lessons from his mistakes and applying them to growth, whether it be professional or spiritually.

I love The Office with all my heart. No other supply paper company has captivated me as much as Dunder Mifflin. However, the contrived and timely interruption of Jim's proposal to Pam indicates to me that NBC brass is making The Office "Power's that Be" switch to tired plot device to move a story along and keep the viewers talking online as well as keep them watching. NBC may have succeeded in the former, but the latter is a question that will be answered on September 25th at 9pm EST.

Even when The Office flounders, it's still beats out other comedies out there. With the exception of "30 Rock", which is the funniest, quirkiest, smartest comedy out there, The Office will always remain top notch. Yet, I fear that its quality may waver as the pressure to keep viewers interested and ratings high surmounts. I long for the sublime pace of storyline, realistic situations and humor of season two and parts of season one. It feels that the show is becoming too mainstream. Our little television show that could, went to the big city and came back all fancy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mad Men and Englishmen

The second season of "Mad Men" has been underway for weeks now, and the mysterious world of Don Drapper is beginning to open itself like a dirty, soiled flower ready for weeding. Man, this is getting good. Since I'm beginning this blog a bit late in the season, there is no point in recapping stories that can be found on Television without Pity, or AMC; however, the stories thickens has the ever hateful, yet pretty damn honest Jimmy the comedian who selling UTZ and just bagged a television show, throws down the gauntlet of reality with the ever dainty Mrs. Drapper and the always dapper yet deer-in-the-headlines Donny D facing the deed of what he's done with Mrs. Jimmy. Oh how the mightly hath fallen, and how the former Rick Whitman keeps rearing his blood stained head into the ever clean Cadillac of Don's dreams, now filled with the puke of despair.

Sal breaks my heart. Forever shut in the closet forced by society's mores of the day, he's living a lie, dreaming of Ken Cosgrove and trying not to be a heel to Kitty. Hand in there Sal. Stonewall is about 8 years away. You shall be free! And Kitty - hook up with Ken. He loves a pretty face and a nice home cooked meal.

The Office:
Season Premiere is titled: "Weight Loss", and the websites and bloggers are feverishly typing their little fingers off at the prospect of our "Don't Call Me Pam" Fancy New Beasly going all hipster on Jim and ditching her sweet little town blues, which we hope won't melt away. The short of this episode is - The Dunder Mifflin Crew are going to enter into a branch weight loss competition, and if Michael Scott is in charge, there will be plenty of starving, exercise challenges a-la- Celebrity Fit Club, and some scenes of Kelly starving herself. If the NBC promotional photos say anything, the dark circles under our very own Kelly Kapour show that this girl knows how to diet.

Jenna Fischer reported in her blog that Stephen Merchant will be directing the episode they are shooting this week. It will be a Halloween episode. Stephen Merchant is a co-creator of The Office, along with Ricky Gervais. He is very tall and very talented. That's the Englishman part of this blog.