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30 Rock Is Still Underrated…

November 27, 2007 Leave a comment

Last week’s episode of 30 Rock has got to be a classic, if only because Tina Fey did what few people are willing to do so brazenly on a sitcom: Tackle racism in a way that makes you laugh.

NBC’s Emmy-winning 30 Rock, starring Tina Fey and Scott Adsit, may be too zany and witty for the average viewer, but it still packs a punch with critics each week. Photo © Broadway Video/NBC Universal Television.

Though the fear of terrorism has decreased somewhat on a national level, it’s easy to see why so many native New Yorkers will never be the same. The psychological effects of 9/11 and the Anthrax scares that followed will no doubt leave New York residents cautious and careful for years to come.

Unfortunately, even though New York City is incredibly diverse, the events of 9/11 still leave people wary of the potential terrorist around the corner. And, of course, the Patriot Act makes it a lot easier for the government to track down alleged would-be terrorists.

With such a serious topic on hand, one would think it’d be difficult to make it laugh-worthy. No so with Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, as her neurotic character, Liz Lemon, is suddenly bombarded with fears of a terrorist attack — most specifically by her suspicious-looking Middle Eastern neighbor, Ahmad, down the hall. He doesn’t make eye contact easily, he seems rather shady, and he won’t shake her hand. Her roommate and best friend Pete (Scott Adsit) questions Liz’s fears as racist and even hangs out with Ahmad, but she can’t seem to shake them.

At work, Liz’s uber-neo-con boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) tells her to “be an American – call it in,” and promptly gives her the phone number of one of his contacts. Check out the clip here!

Alec Baldwin (left), pictured with comedy guru Jerry Seinfeld in the second season premiere, has received both a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of oddball NBC/GE executive, Jack Donaghy. Photo © Broadway Video/NBC Universal Television.

It was interesting to see how Fey wrote Liz as initially concerned about discussing the situation in front of Jack’s assistant, Jonathan (Maulik Pancholy), who happens to be of Middle Eastern descent. His assistant is, as Liz expected, both shocked and appalled that she would stereotype, and Jack puts on a good show of being equally upset — until Jonathan leaves that is.

It’s a great illustration of how, no matter how much some people try to be politically correct, their honest feelings will eventually come out when they feel like they’re in safe company.

Still, Liz fights her fears and resists calling the authorities, until she catches Ahmad doing what appears to be some serious basic training in the park with his brother. Between the mysterious package that was accidentally sent to her door, the shifty eyes, and the the new exercises, Liz is finally convinced to call.

They work fast, and before Liz knows it, Ahmad is gone. His door is taped up after what could only be described as a possible raid. Not long after, she receives a package. Cautiously, she opens it up, sticks the enclosed tape in her VCR… and finds Ahmah’s audition tape for The Amazing Race. He and his brother love America, and were innocent all along. Liz is understandably floored by the mistake she made, but it’s the darkly hilarious reveal that makes it worthwhile.

Finally, Ahmad is returned, limped. He explains to Liz in the hall, after a chance and awkward encounter, that he was tortured. His last words are, “I just have so much anger inside now, that I want to do something… spectacular with it.”

Again, this is a serious topic that’s established in an oddly funny way. I believe the bulk of the message has to do with Americans and our fear of people who are different – specifically those who are of Middle Eastern descent. Racial profiling is an issue that affects many innocent American citizens every day, and by tackling the issue in an outlandish way, I believe Fey was making a statement, not only about her own fears of terrorism and of her prejudices, but also about the fears and prejudices of Americans. The execution worked perfectly, because it married comedy and truth, without preaching or lecturing the audience.

Here’s TV Guide’s Matt Roush’s take on last week’s episode, as he discusses the B-story of the episode, featuring Alec Baldwin and guest-starring The Soprano’s star, Edie Falco.

This was intelligent entertainment at its finest, as it addressed a real-life issue with more than a dozen laughs along the way. It’s unfortunate that 30 Rock hasn’t gotten the huge audience it deserves, though I imagine it’s the rapid-fire quips and the deliberate, over-the-top themes with cynical undertones that turns viewers off. People want easy laughs after all, and 30 Rock makes you think, concentrate and actually follow the story from beginning to end. Go figure.

CBS Owns Television and My Faves Aren’t Cool

November 21, 2007 Leave a comment

I know it’s nothing new… CBS has been dominating TV for a few years now, and they do it with authority. Still, I can’t help but think back to the days when Touched by an Angel was CBS’ big thing, and when they hit the ground running with now long-running reality shows, Big Brother and Survivor, taking on the crest of a reality television wave that soon died out. Remember The Weakest Link and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?… Good times.

I so hated reality TV, though. To some extent, I still do. I like my entertainment scripted, thank you very much. And I don’t buy the “reality” schtick one bit. Those gigs are so staged.

That said, reality television has its merits, and continue to play a large role in American pop culture today — as much as it pains me to admit it.

But, seriously, CBS used to be considered a network for old folks, to put it bluntly. Never did they have the wide breadth of programming that they do now. It was back when NBC consistently ruled the week on a regular basis, and fostered their “Must See TV Thursday” line-up with a two-hour block of strong sitcoms, ranging from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Seinfeld to Mad About You to Friends to Frasier to Will & Grace. All of that was followed by the popular medical drama, ER (which is now in its 14th season).

Mad About You debuted in 1992, and helped launch film careers of both stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. As a result, Hunt is the second actress to have won a Golden Globe, an Emmy and an Oscar all within the same calendar year; the first to do so was Liza Minnelli. Photo © In Front Productions and Nuance Productions

Over the course of roughly 15 years, starting in 1990 with Will Smith’s breakout series, NBC had a revolving door of choices that always gathered strong audiences. This, of course, does not even take into account the success of 80’s sitcoms like Cheers and The Cosby Show. As for the 1990’s, not one of the aforementioned sitcoms lasted less than six seasons, and one can’t turn on the television at any time of the day without finding one of these series airing in syndication.

Unfortunately, that control began to fade as these sitcoms began to die off, one by one. The Fresh Prince ended in 1996, Seinfeld in 1998, and Mad About You ended in 1999 — but not before stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser were making a cool million dollars per episode in the last season (this precedent undoubtedly helped the six Friends stars achieve the same pay a few years later). NBC finally let go of the six-character show with seven-figure actors in 2004, along with Cheers spin-off, Frasier. And they only just called it quits on Will & Grace in 2006.

Friends stars (from L-R) David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox Arquette, Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston were, at one point, the highest paid actors in television. Known for their real-life bond, these actors helped keep NBC in the spotlight for a decade. Photo © Warner Bros. Television

It was a bitter release that seriously hurt NBC in the long-run. It’s not to say that their other nights weren’t successful, because they were. However, “Must See TV Thursday” was a staple of the network. Whether it’s by coincidence or not, once the sitcoms faded away, so did NBC’s control. By the time 2004 rolled around, CBS already had several Jerry Bruckheimer dramas in tow, including the three-pronged CSI franchise, Cold Case, Without a Trace and Close to Home. It would seem the Old Fogey network snuck up on us all and wholeheartedly earned control of our entertainment.

So far, CBS hasn’t been sharing much by way of viewers, unless it’s begrudgingly with ABC, another network that underwent somewhat of a revamping a few years ago. Both CSI and Grey’s Anatomy fight for dominance on a regular basis — that is, when American Idol isn’t on, the World Series isn’t in full swing, or Dancing with the Stars isn’t airing. Otherwise, they take turns for the Number 1 spot of the week. Ironically, both series air during the same timeslot on Thursday nights — a night with which NBC seems to struggle rather consistently nowadays.

Popular online website zap2it.com has the Nielsen’s list of Top 20 series for the week of November 11th through November 18th. Of the series listed, CBS has 11, ABC has 6, NBC has 2 (with their highest ranking being at 11 with Sunday Night Football), and FOX has 1. Seriously, it’s no longer much of a contest anymore, and the tables have certainly turned.

Talk of Grey’s Anatomy leads me to the conclusion that my shows just aren’t “cool” yet, even halfway through the season, while dramas like the one starring Ellen Pompeo continues to dominate. I’ve never gotten into it, but I absolutely love Shonda Rhimes’ other medical drama, Private Practice. I really can’t believe it’s only recently broken into the Top 20 spot, though I have my theories as to why that is.

For one thing, they don’t have sex all the time. Grey’s was built upon the sex lives of the young interns.

For another, three-fourths of the Private Practice cast are over the age of 35. The leads, a cast of geniuses really, don’t really cater to the preferred demographic I guess, which would explain why there wasn’t as much crossover between both Rhimes series as perhaps everyone expected.

Private Practice stars television veterans (from L-R) Taye Diggs, Audra McDonald, Tim Daly, Kate Walsh, Amy Brenneman and Paul Adelstein, along with relative newcomer, Chris Lowell. Photo © ShondaLand

It’s a shame, too. Kate Walsh, Audra McDonald, Amy Brenneman, Taye Diggs, Paul Adelstein and Tim Daly are all immensely talented. I don’t really care that they all seem to have a “been there, done that” air about them. It’s because they’re not playing sex-crazed, twenty-somethings that I enjoy them so much. No offense to Grey’s, because it’s a great show in its own right, but Private Practice is much more mature without the “mature” content. It’s been nearly eight episodes, and I’m pretty sure there’s only been one sex scene — if that. It’s rare for a show to go that long without nookie, and I applaud them.

Sadly, the same applies to my other favorite series, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty and Women’s Murder Club. None of them are in the top spots, they don’t have sexy, steamy characters in dramatic relationships, and that’s apparently what sells. That and crime dramas, like Criminal Minds and NCIS. Oh well. Thankfully they’re still performing strong enough to stick around.

Now, for spoiler junkies like myself, TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello has revealed some great scoop about some of the top-rated series on television (along with some other juicy secrets) here. You’ve gotta love this guy, if not for his fans.

Writers Guild Strike In-Depth

November 4, 2007 1 comment

Writers Guild to Strike Monday

The more I learn about this situation, the more convoluted it seems. I know members of the Writers Guild of America are striking Monday because they want more of the digital piece of the pie when written work makes it to the Internet. Members of the guild are also striking for more residuals from the multi-billion-dollar DVD industry. That sounds simple enough… And fair.

Tina Fey is the creator, executive producer and star of NBC’s 30 Rock, one of the New York-produced series that will be immediately affected by the strike. This quadruple threat (known for her work on Saturday Night Live as the first female head writer, and her breakout hit with Lindsay Lohan, “Mean Girls”) is also a WGA member who writes for the series. Photo from geekfitters.com

Here is the official press release from the Writers Guild of America.

To start, I’m always nervous when guilds and unions strike, because it gets into that gray political area, and I’m never sure what the underlying reasons for the picket truly are… I mean, sure there are the public reasons, the ones that are stated without censure by PR gurus and union representatives — but then there are the reasons that are stated behind closed doors. Unfortunately, nothing is black-and-white with politics, and I don’t believe unions and guilds are always above reproach.

The WGA strike, however, seems pretty legitimate. I believe they have every right to want more for the product they provide. While I value all the working cogs of the Hollywood Machine – from the grips to the crafts services men and women to the producers, actors and writers – I have to agree that historically, writers have gotten the least amount of respect considering what they do for the industry. Actors, directors and producers are among the highest paid in Hollywood, and while writers are paid considerably for their services, it would seem they also get paid to not complain when their works of art are altered without their consent.

Apparently it’s not unusual for writers to be vastly ignored once they step foot in a studio; their creative control ends once they send in their edits, because as soon as the director and the producers get a hold of it (not to mention when actors are given the freedom to adlib), anything can happen. Let’s not even go into what happens when the editors sit down in their labs.

To be fair, writers know the risk going in, and the pay probably isn’t bad enough for them to leave. Still, I am a firm believer in the idea that television and film should be a collaborative meeting of the minds. I respect directors, producers, actors and editors for their contribution to the film industry. In short, I think they’re all brilliant, and as a media production student who would love to work in the film and television industry one day, I can understand their positions.

However, writers continue to lack the respect and, yes, financial advantages that others in the industry have. Yes, producers have been known to write, but if all producers were meant to write for the industry, there would be no need for writers in the first place. Writers are more often than not the first ones to nurse a new story to life, to research and develop it; they also tend to be the go-to people when edits need to be made in a pinch, or when actors have issues with the content; they are the ones whom few viewers know by name or face. I firmly believe something should be done to rectify this 70-year-old industry trend.

That said, I am disappointed that it came to this. This strike is essentially halting production on many programs. It won’t happen right away, and it won’t happen in droves, but it will affect many actors and crews. As The TV Zone blog on newsday.com stated, late-night television will be “gone. And quickly at that. And per my understanding, don’t expect someone like Jon Stewart to do a Johnny Carson – who left the air in the ’88 strike, but returned a few months later in May of that year. Stewart’s a member of the Guild and it’s inconceivable that he’d break ranks with fellow scribes.”

Also, according to the online publication, daytime soap operas could be facing re-run time after the New Year. Love ’em or hate ’em, the soap opera industry employs many who will more than likely be out of work for some period of time. The aforementioned strike in 1988 resulted in the producers writing instead, which kept the soaps on the air, according to latimes.com. Maybe that will be the case here.

 

Conan O’Brien is one of the many late-night funny men who will be affected by the WGA strike on Monday. Photo from tv.yahoo.com

So, what we have here is an issue that no longer just affects executives (who continue to get paid no matter what, bless their wealthy hearts), but it also affects crew members, or even writers who didn’t want to strike. In addition, I’m not even sure the contract issues the WGA is currently fighting have anything to do with soap opera writers, as their work does not make it to DVD or the Internet — legally.

Also, I’m not sure how the various unions support actors and crew members who are out of work due to a strike, and it’s entirely possible that they are required to be paid something while they beat the streets of Los Angeles and New York — mostly New York — looking for jobs. Still, I find it very ironic that the writers of Hollywood, in their quest to gain more respect, have essentially turned the industry on its head.

One other thing: It’s my understanding that executives are unwilling to raise residuals on DVDs because they’re not sure how sales will fare in the future. While I completely understand the logic in that business model, DVD sales are a very lucrative business for studios. It’s gotten to the point where a movie can essentially tank by industry standards in the box office, but rake in enough to make it a relative success in domestic and international/overseas sales, which include rentals and purchases. If I’m not mistaken, I believe the same can more than likely be said for television shows as well, which explains why the TV on DVD market skyrocketed a year or so ago.

I’m sure nothing is black-and-white, even in the WGA’s understandable attempt to gain more leverage. There may be more to the situation than meets the eye — in fact, I’m sure of it, considering WGA members haven’t been allowed to discuss their closed-door meetings since threats of the strike began. At the same time, they are honest grievances that are backed up by fact and historical precendent.

I hope the situation is secured in a timely manner, however, if only so WGA member Ajay Sahgal (video below) can stop stressing out. Poor guy.

I’m Out of the Loop Here…

October 17, 2007 Leave a comment

Well, I checked out last week’s Nielsen’s ratings, thanks to zap2it.com, and it would seem that I’m missing out on the so-called “popular” shows. It may be because I have little tolerance for reality television, but there also seem to be a lot of scripted shows out there that I’m missing out on… I think I’m out of the loop.

Listed below are the ratings.

1

DANCING W/THE STARS-MON

ABC

Mon

8:00 PM

12.8/19.0

14,386,000

19,623,000

2

CSI

CBS

Thu

9:00 PM

12.4/19.0

13,981,000

19,794,000

3

GREY’S ANATOMY-THU 9PM

ABC

Thu

9:00 PM

12.3/19.0

13,847,000

19,036,000

4

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES

ABC

Sun

9:00 PM

11.8/18.0

13,365,000

18,892,000

5

60 MINUTES

CBS

Sun

7:52 PM

11.3/17.0

12,690,000

17,227,000

6

HOUSE

FOX

Tue

9:00 PM

10.8/16.0

12,177,000

18,033,000

7

DANCING W/STARS RESULT-TU

ABC

Tue

9:00 PM

10.7/16.0

12,072,000

16,362,000

8

NCIS

CBS

Tue

8:00 PM

10.4/17.0

11,726,000

16,357,000

9

CSI: MIAMI

CBS

Mon

10:00 PM

9.6/15.0

10,875,000

14,452,000

10

CRIMINAL MINDS

CBS

Wed

9:00 PM

9.3/14.0

10,480,000

14,554,000

11

COLD CASE

CBS

Sun

9:22 PM

9.1/14.0

10,258,000

13,876,000

12

WITHOUT A TRACE

CBS

Thu

10:01 PM

8.9/15.0

9,999,000

13,616,000

13

CSI: NY

CBS

Wed

10:00 PM

8.8/15.0

9,873,000

13,431,000

14

SURVIVOR: CHINA

CBS

Thu

8:00 PM

8.6/14.0

9,734,000

14,222,000

15

LAW AND ORDER:SVU

NBC

Tue

10:00 PM

8.4/14.0

9,432,000

12,303,000

16

BROTHERS & SISTERS

ABC

Sun

10:01 PM

8.2/14.0

9,306,000

12,514,000

16

PRIVATE PRACTICE

ABC

Wed

9:00 PM

8.2/13.0

9,296,000

12,420,000

18

TWO AND A HALF MEN

CBS

Mon

9:00 PM

8.1/12.0

9,176,000

13,016,000

19

DEAL OR NO DEAL-WED

NBC

Wed

8:00 PM

8.0/13.0

8,999,000

12,575,000

20

EXTREME MAKEOVER:HOME ED.

ABC

Sun

8:00 PM

7.3/11.0

8,256,000

12,227,000

Chart by zap2it.com; Ratings information by Nielsen Media

Among the Top Twenty shows, I have no use for Dancing with the Stars (though my family watches it religiously), I watch CSI casually because of my sister; I keep up with Grey’s Anatomy from a distance; I can no longer stand Desperate Housewives, though I totally respect the talented actresses; I watch 60 Minutes out of a desire to be “informed;” I respect House for its uniqueness; I am ambivalent towards NCIS, for it was a spin-off of my beloved JAG; CSI: Miami is somewhat ‘meh’… I could go on and on.

I guess I’m just concerned that I’ve been completely off-base when it comes to “Quality Television.” I don’t mind straying from the crowd and not following the status quo, but I do wonder if perhaps I should rethink my standards, and maybe give some of these hit shows a chance.

 

Photo by ABC

It’s still interesting that there are no new, huge hits, yet none of the currents series have been cancelled. Then again, there’s still time for some series to hit the chopping block. I’m still (patiently) waiting for the relatively controversial Cavemen to get the axe — no offense to the talented ape-boys who play the insightful title characters. I just don’t see the point.

Categories: Uncategorized