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What is this “broadcasting” of which you speak?

What is this “broadcasting” of which you speak? published on No Comments on What is this “broadcasting” of which you speak?

My kids do not understand the idea of broadcast TV. The idea that you’d let someone else choose when your favourite shows will be on is utterly alien to them (to the point that when one of them saw it in a department store a few years ago, they gushed to their mom about this amazing new feature. Shows that change by themselves at the top of the hour without you having to pick a new one? What will they think of next?)

Years from now, as I enter my doddering years, I plan to go on at length about how you used to have to wait a week to find out what happened next, and what reruns were, and how you if you missed an episode of something with a long arc, boy, were you screwed. And how we couldn’t rewind or fast-forward. And how we all basically lived like bonobos, flinging feces at each other and picking fleas out of our fur while we watched Barney Miller. (Which is still one of the best effing sitcoms in history, kid — here, let me see if I can find an episode on YouFlix or whatever they’re calling it these days. Maybe the one with Dietrich and the conspiracy guy.)

Aside: If YouTube acquired Hulu, could they please call it YouHooLu?

Meals on wheels

Meals on wheels published on 3 Comments on Meals on wheels

I whipped up this cartoon to mark tonight’s premiere of Eat St., the newest show on Food Network Canada, and yesterday’s launch of Eat St., the companion iPhone app.

The show comes from Paperny Films, the Oscar-nominated production company that gave us The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter. And the app is a partnership between Paperny and Invoke Media (1), with help from Emily Carr University‘s SIM Centre (which is how I found out about it, through Alex (2)).

The Eat St. app lets you find nearby food carts, check out their Twitter feeds (which are kind of huge in the street food world) and check in when you get there. It’s well worth the free download. (And check out stories from Gillian Shaw and Mashable.)

The show airs tonight at 9:30 Eastern, 10:30 Pacific. Congrats to everyone involved!

(1) You may know them from HootSuite, the Twitter-client-turned-social-media-command-centre. You know the way Bond villains usually have giant illuminated maps of the world, showing the real-time progress of their robot armies as they advance on the planet’s nuclear arsenals? Imagine that, except for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Foursquare.

(2) Alex is in the middle of a fascinating project leading up to her 40th birthday, where she traces the past 40 years of Internet history, looking at one year in each daily post. Go read. (Today’s post is about… gasp!… pornography.)

The Bourne Connectivity

The Bourne Connectivity published on 2 Comments on The Bourne Connectivity

This one came to me while I was watching an episode of Burn Notice (please hold your applause until the end of the post), where Michael, Fiona, Sam and Jesse have realized they have a piece of unspeakably important information in their hands. And maybe a decade ago, I would have found their dilemma compelling.

But today? In a few minutes, they could post it to Tumblr, Posterous, WordPress, 4chan and – just for the hell of it – Plenty of Fish, with plenty of time left over for Michael and Fiona to agonize over their relationship, for Sam and Fiona to explore their rivalry for Michael’s attention (I suspect they each had emotionally distant parents), and for Michael and Jesse to finally acknowledge the sexual tension between them.

It’s possible I’m overreaching. That may have to be a two-parter.

My point is this: time was when a screenwriter’s greatest enemies were the studio system, writer’s block and, well, other screenwriters. But now writers working in the action/adventure/suspense/blowing-stuff-up genre also have to contrive ways to deprive a character of connectivity.

So to the action movie clichés of which wire to cut and cars slamming into fruit carts, you can soon add batteries running low, cell phone jammers, and “Why did I choose AT&T?”

Think we can get Ellen Page to play the actress in the movie version of the cartoon?

Think we can get Ellen Page to play the actress in the movie version of the cartoon? published on No Comments on Think we can get Ellen Page to play the actress in the movie version of the cartoon?

Ok, did we all get it out of our system yet? The sly digs, the guffaws, the skeptical snorts? CBS is turning a Twitter feed, a Twitter feed, for crying out loud, into a comedy series, and there’s been a collective rolling-of-the-eyes out there in medialand.

The news that William Shatner has been tapped for the lead role – the “dad” of “Shit My Dad Says” – is icing on the cake for anyone who wants to pooh-pooh CBS’s programming savvy. (Yes, I said “pooh-pooh” in a post about “Shit My Dad Says”. Moving on.)

Well, here are three reasons I think this thing has a hope in hell – with the caveat that the vast majority of pilots self-destruct before they make it to air, let alone without ever becoming a successful series.

  1. There’s an audience. No, SMDS’ million-plus Twitter followers won’t automatically translate into a faithful TV audience. But those followers represent a big chunk of people primed to at least consider giving the pilot a look-see – and that’s quite a hurdle to jump. What’s more, many of them are die-hard fans… and if they like what they see, they’ll work tirelessly to promote the show to friends and family.
  2. Justin Halpern is legitimately funny. SMDS isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it takes real craft to crank out laugh-out-loud jokes that fit into Twitter’s 140-character limit, and he clearly has an ear for dialogue. Granted, doing that once every day or so is a long way from hitting the sitcom pace of three or four jokes per minute – but he isn’t alone in writing for the show. Andthat brings us to…
  3. The producers know how to walk the line without crossing it. SMDS is being produced by the creators of Will and Grace, a show that often flirted with transgressive humor and pushed the boundaries of good taste – often gave them a good, hard shove, actually. But they had an instinct for their audience’s comfort level. If anyone can pull off the balancing act that SMDS is going to demand, they’ll do it.

To everyone who says you can’t turn a Twitter feed into a TV series, of course you can’t. But can you take the talent, passion and spirit behind that feed, and channel that into another medium? Absolutely.

Will it work? I guess we’ll find out.

Meanwhile, my agent awaits your calls.

The director’s cut runs 3 hours, 47 minutes

The director’s cut runs 3 hours, 47 minutes published on 1 Comment on The director’s cut runs 3 hours, 47 minutes

Most TV news credit sequences I’m seeing these days rival Avatar for sheer sensation. “Dude, it’s like I’m totally flying. Through. The news!

The only problem is, the net effect becomes “Holy crap! HOLY CRAP!!… HOOOOLLLLYYYY CRAAAAAP!!! Good evening. Wheat futures dropped half a percentage point today in light trading…” They raise the dramatic stakes so high that, unless the lead story is “Monster robot army rampages through Oslo,” the actual news is bound to be a disappointment.

(Then again, if your news network’s dominant narrative is that the President is actually an alien bent on the destruction of the United States of America, you can probably meet that standard without breaking a sweat.)

Freeze! Zoom in! Now enhance. And fart rainbows and turn lead into gold.

Freeze! Zoom in! Now enhance. And fart rainbows and turn lead into gold. published on 3 Comments on Freeze! Zoom in! Now enhance. And fart rainbows and turn lead into gold.

It’s getting to be a joke: the magic things cops can do with computers. “Wait – there’s a reflection in the teakettle! Magnify! Enhance! Now pull a DNA sample from the image! I don’t care, just do it – boost the power if you have to! Crossmatch it with every person named Brent in the continental United States! Damn, this new version of GIMP rocks!”

Annnnd… DING! Three seconds later, up pops the photo of the perpetrator, out go the cops to haul him in and America sleeps a little more soundly tonight.

We’ve grown to accept this, partly because without these little storytelling cheats our streets would be crawling with fictitious master criminals executing horrific, if imaginary, atrocities. And partly because we have a tacit understanding with directors that they’re going to keep us entertained, and there’s nothing pulse-pounding about “Well-elp, might as well take the rest of the week off while this thing renders.”

But maybe what really sells us on the idea of magic high tech down at the precinct is that, deep down, we kind of wish it were true (never mind the bladder-emptying implications for civil liberties and privacy). If we were being stalked by a sociopathic ex-con determined to exact a terrible revenge for our having sentenced him to 30 years in prison, well, dammit, we’d want those nice CSI people to have every tool they needed to stop him in the nick of time.

And maybe, just maybe, that technology could trickle down to, say, the prosumer market. “Computer… draw cartoon!”

New year’s resolution: 1080p

New year’s resolution: 1080p published on 3 Comments on New year’s resolution: 1080p

When I first got a big TV (28″!) I thought it was the most astonishing video experience imaginable… especially because it replaced an old 14″ screen. I could see Peter Mansbridge’s pores, for god’s sake.

That held me for a whole decade. Then it was the 32″ LCD – and the jaw-slackening truth of DVD video in its full glorious progressive-scan resolution. And once I figured out how to watch high-def TV… suffice to say I kept looking for Laurence Fishburne to yank me out of it. (“720p is all around us. It’s in the air we breathe…”)

Late in 2009, we moved up 10 inches in diagonal size. We moved to 1080p and Blu-Ray. And for the first time since… god, since my parents first got a colour TV… I had that weird experience of watching something that looked just for a moment a little more real than the world around me. Certainly more vivid. And definitely louder, and with more Romulans.

Then again, Star Trek notwithstanding, 1080p isn’t the final frontier. Something else will come down the pike (the people at CES last week are swearing it’ll be 3D TV), and my kids will probably remember the TV we have today with fond exasperation. (“Remember how you couldn’t actually touch the characters on the screen?” “Yeah, or feel heat from the explosions?” “Or mate with the Vulcans?”)

In the meantime, I’m going to run. We have last night’s Simpsons 20th-anniversary special on HD PVR… a show I first watched on that old 14″ TV. Now I can see Homer’s pores, for god’s sake.