Mr. Coogans Weekend Groove Tube Update 02.08.04

Normally when I write these columns, I try my best to fill up about half the material with various news stories coming from the television industry with a little analysis worked in as well. Then, I work on the second half, which contains reviews, and more opinion based content.

However, this week, I’m going to cut the news and analysis drastically and move right onto the opinion pieces because I have so much to say. Ironically, the column has a distinct “football flavor” to it since a lot of news relating to the television industry comes from football themed places like the Super Bowl and ESPN’s “Playmakers.”

However, this column wouldn’t be complete without SOME news bits. So, here they are cut down significantly of course

** NBC is bringing back Donald Trump and “The Apprentice” for a second season. Considering the ratings, this is about as surprising as the statement: “Donald Trump is rich.”

** Maria Shriver is leaving NBC News (again) because she’s concerned about being objective while her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, holds the office of California Governor. She was probably going to get the boot anyway, so this isn’t earth shattering news either.

** David Letterman canceled his Thursday, February 5th taping of CBS’ “Late Show” after a stunt involving professional snowboarder, Tara “The Terrorizer” Dakides went wrong. While attempting a stunt on a closed course, she ended up falling more than 25 feet to the ground. Amazingly, she only ended up with stitches. It was classy of Letterman to cancel the show and spend time with “The Terrorizer.” Reportedly, she is in good health and spirit after her accident.

** This appears to be the time of year where the television industry announced new pilots being produced for the fall seasons. Some notable performers starring in TV pilots include John Goodman, Patricia Arquette and the immortal Heather Locklear.

** Wanda Sykes is heading back to Comedy Central after Fox recently canceled her sitcom. The show will feature Wanda trying her hand at everyday jobs and offering her own unique “analysis” to the situations.

The announcement featured this quote from the popular comedienne:

Comedy Central is like the boyfriend or girlfriend who’s always there. You can go out and cheat on them with another network, and get jilted, and come back to them and they’ll still take you in. Dave Chappelle, Colin Quinn, Jon Stewart, me, we’ve all messed around on Comedy Central, and they always welcome us back with open arms.

Nice

** Finally, Carol Vessey (Julie Bowen) and Ed Stevens (Tom Cavanagh) finally got married on what appears to be the series finale of “Ed.” No official word has come NBC. However, Zap2it’s “TV Gal” had a good point Since the producers and writers never bothered to heavily develop other characters and relationships, the viewers got the pay off, what could possibly be next?

How about the rest of this column?

Opening Credits: “Playmakers” is gone. The world’s gone mad!

Back in December, I reran a column on ESPN’s “Playmakers” on this site that I originally wrote for Matthew Michaels’s Moodspins.com. In that review, I remarked that I found “Playmakers” to be an engaging show that the storylines were compelling and interesting and that “the storytellers gave the audience multiple reasons to care about the characters almost within several minutes of their first appearance on the screen.”

However, I also expressed a great deal of concern that “Playmakers'” over-the-top storylines complete with various stereotypes to be a potential problem that the show would run into while it aired. After all, many people argued (specifically those affiliated with professional football) that the show wasn’t realistic and locker rooms wouldn’t contain as much drama as the show portrayed.

After “Playmakers” finished its 11-episode run at the end of 2003, it was evident that the television viewers were not overly concerned with how realistic the show or its’ characters were because new Tuesday night episodes averaged almost two million viewers per week, a 500% increase when compared to the same timeslot from the year before.

Unfortunately, (at least for ESPN and those associated with “Playmakers”) the National Football League (NFL) appeared to disagree vehemently as players, ex-players, and even Commissioner Paul Tagliabue all spoke out about how ridiculous and unrealistic the ESPN show depicted professional football players.

The questions to come from this would have to be: Who would win out? ESPN and the fans of “Playmakers” with a second season? Or would the sports and entertainment billion-dollar behemoth, the NFL, come out victorious and get the show canceled?

Well, let’s just say ESPN is heading back to the drawing board when it comes to creating original programming

This week, ESPN announced that it would be canceling the critically acclaimed “Playmakers.” While Executive Vice-President of Programming and Production Mark Shapiro denied shutting the show down because of the NFL, he did tell the New York Times:

It’s our opinion that we’re not in the business of antagonizing our partner, even though we’ve done it, and continued to carry it over the NFL’s objections. To bring it back would be rubbing it in our partner’s face.

So, essentially, Shapiro is conceding that ESPN needs the NFL a hell of a lot more than the NFL needs ESPN. The sports television network has paid billions of dollars to the league for the right to televise games (primarily on Sunday nights) over the years and finds those telecasts to be very important to its identity as a true sports network. While it has been ESPN’s mission over the last couple of years to expand their programming past highlight shows and live sporting events, the bottom line is anything that takes away from that PRIMARY goal of providing highlight shows and live sporting events can not be tolerated. The continuation of “Playmakers,” despite the ratings success as the way ESPN saw it, would impede that PRIMARY goal and therefore was expendable.

So, one might ask, “What’s the big deal? TV shows get canceled all the time.”

Those who ask that question have a valuable point. However, it’s obvious that when most shows get canceled they either are a) ratings disasters or b) too expensive to continue despite ratings success. It appears neither was really the case with “Playmakers,” it was just an example of another organization playing “Big Brother” and almost dictating what the network should and shouldn’t air.

“Playmakers” Creator and Executive Producer and accomplished TV man, John Eisendrath expressed extreme displeasure when talking to the New York Times about it. He stated:

The NFL is entitled to its opinion but I think they’re wrong, and I think they’re bullies. They’re a monopoly. I think it fell to ESPN to have the strength to stand up to the NFL’s opinion. It’s offensive to me that they would bully ESPN that way, so I’m most offended by the NFL’s attitude, which is blatantly hypocritical considering some of the things that go on in the league, which far exceed anything I wrote about.

That quote came from a New York Times article published this past week AFTER the Super Bowl. So, as the NFL is upset about shows like “Playmakers,” they are dealing with their own “scandals” like their Super Bowl halftime show (“Boobgate”), what to do with players who excessively celebrate after positive events in a game situation, and equal hiring practices. It would make a lot more sense for the NFL to worry about itself instead of the networks airing its’ product.

Bob Raissman, author of the “Tuning In” column for the New York Daily News also voiced an intense negative reaction to ESPN’s decision to cancel the show amid pressure from the NFL essentially questioning everything the network stands for. He opened a recent column about “Playmakers” with the following potential scenarios that seem ridiculous at face value but with recent events may not be so ludicrous after all. He said:

The next time Chris Mortensen appears on ESPN with some sort of NFL “scoop,” viewers should wonder if he’s telling us all he knows. Could it be part of his report has been censored by the NFL?

The same holds true for Bob Ley. The next time he reports an NFL story on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” (an ESPN news program) viewers must assume the NFL got an advance look at Ley’s script and approved it.

ESPN The Magazine readers beware. Is the NFL getting an advance peek at the pro football-related stories the staff of that publication is working on? Will “The Magazine,” as it did on the cover of its Feb. 2 issue, ever again be able to use the word “Playmakers”?

I think Raissman deliberately overstated this for the purpose of making people think about how serious of an issue this may be, but the point is made. Part of me always felt that airing a show like “Playmakers” might cut into the credibility of its primary mission: delivering sports news and analysis. Since the show, its’ characters and storylines aren’t really realistic, people might confuse what ESPN may really think about the players it covers.

Well, Raissman addresses a good point. Canceling the show amid the pressure of the NFL cuts into its credibility EVEN MORE because it makes us think how much the NFL is involved in ESPN’s business. Of course, the network and the league will fervently deny that is the case to the media in assorted spoken and written comments. Can we believe them?

Taking this issue even further, Suzanne C. Ryan of The Boston Globe takes the issue to a whole different level and questions what this does for the television industry in general bringing up two now infamous words: “The Reagans.”

Uh-oh

Ryan stated the following in a recent article about the cancellation of “Playmakers:”

Some observers pointed out that the move, which comes three months after CBS reacted to pressure groups and canned its planned broadcast of the controversial miniseries “The Reagans,” is a bad sign for television.

So, conservative groups and now the NFL are helping shape what television viewers are allowed to consume in their leisure time? That notion may be a little far-fetched, but at the same time, if the television industry continues to play slave to the advertisers and other corporate dollars and cave under pressure, what could happen next?

The Grammy Award ceremony getting canceled because a rich organization supporting the marches of John Philip Sousa paying for advertising is offended by all the rap and hip hop music on the show?

Every police drama show on network TV getting canceled because a rich organization supporting the rights of “alleged” criminals is offended by the way murderers, rapists, and pedophiles are portrayed on television?

Sure, I probably sound as crazy as Bob Raissman does but his point and my point are similar. If it happened with “Playmakers” (and I believe with “The Reagans” too), then it could be the beginning of a disturbing trend and that NEEDS to be considered.

Isn’t it astonishing how football played a role in potentially demolishing the television industry?

Just think about it

My Review of the Super Bowl

It could be argued that it is very difficult to provide a “review” of a sporting event. I mean, the game was played, one team won, one team lost. Maybe it was entertaining, maybe it wasn’t.

However, television critics aren’t going to chime in and talk about Tom Brady’s “performance” or how intriguing the “storylines” are or that the “writers” are not making enough of the “characters” likable to the general viewing public. That’s one of the main difference between sports writers and television/entertainment writers. For sports writers, they have to create the characters and potential interesting storylines AND THEN review their performances where as television/entertainment writers comment (and usually criticize) on characters and storylines provided by separate companies who are supposed to provide engaging entertainment to those consuming it.

Let’s be serious though Television/entertainment writers AND sports writers play an intricate part in the Super Bowl being the global popular culture phenomenon it has become. Not only do the sports writers cover the players and the game itself but those affiliated with television cover the pre-game show, halftime show, and all the commercials in between the actual game action.

So, it’s become perfectly acceptable for television/entertainment writers to provide reviews of the event. That’s why I have a three-pronged review of the events the day of the Super Bowl covering the pre-, halftime, and post-game ceremonies, the commercials, and oh yeah the game itself.

Various “shows” through out the game

Pre-game show – If I were Toby Keith or any member of Aerosmith, I’d be pretty pissed off with the treatment at the Super Bowl. They are both accomplished, award-winning artists and were treated like the opening act at a seven-band festival. It just felt very amateurish and bush league. People were still filing into the stadium, those involved didn’t provide any of the pomp and circumstance in the form of the crazy light shows the halftime show comes with, and I am pretty sure they were still constructing the set for Beyonce to sing the National Anthem while the artists were performing. If the NFL and the network televising the Super Bowl want to continue to using A-List musical acts for the pre-game show then it might be nice if they were treated like the music industry veterans that they are.

Post-game show – Well, there was kind of a post-game show anyway As nice as it would have been to see Bon Jovi (or better yet Metallica or AC/DC) to sing Queen’s “We Are the Champions” for MY New England Patriots, that’s not what the post-game show is all about. By this point, only people really interested in football, or at least those interested in the team that won, are watching the presentation of the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Head Coach and Owner and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award to that person most deserving. So, as a New England Patriots fan, I give that part of the show an A+ since I got to revel in my favorite team’s victory.

However, CBS made the questionable decision of cutting the post-game ceremony off so they could go to the debut episode of “Survivor All Stars.” Now, I understand the network’s philosophy. They know that the Super Bowl is the one sporting event that everyone tunes in for, whether they like football or not. Therefore, CBS figures that instead of boring those people not interested in football with Dan Marino’s and Deion Sanders’ overblown analysis of the game, they cut right to another popular culture phenomenon, “Survivor.” OK, so I see the point. But it felt that the whole process of wrapping a season’s worth of quality football coverage that the network paid millions of dollars for was too hasty, all to maintain a good lead-in for “Survivor.”

Halftime show – As we all know by now, this is where the fireworks of the night really were. This is where we heard people who never watched football in their lives throw around the terms “Super Bowl” and “halftime” as if they had been watching their whole lives and the term “breast” as if they ever had sex in their lives.

Since the story is three years old now (well, one week in media time, it feels like three years anyway), I won’t sit here and offer any scathing, untimely analysis about “boobgate” or whatever the kids are calling it. Instead, I’ll just say that it’s events like this that really question whether I am a liberal or a conservative. After all, I look at an event like this and I watch the conservative groups jump up and down in outrage and frustration that our country is going to hell and I think “Calm the F**K DOWN!” First of all, it was a two-second view of a woman’s breast. It’s not like CBS was broadcasting a 2 Live Crew concert or something. If you don’t like that particular take, then that’s alright too. If we, as Americans, are not ready for full nudity on broadcast television the same way it is accepted in other parts of the world (Europe especially ) then let the FCC take care of business and discipline those involved. That’s a pretty liberal point of view, I’d say. However, if you ask me United States military involvement in the Middle East, you’ll probably get a decidedly conservative reaction

Anyway, I feel that the real outrage of the halftime show was the show itself, not “boobgate.” I had several problems with the way the show went down. First, was it really necessary to have six different artists appear on stage for about four minutes each? I know it’s the television industry’s job to keep our attention since human beings (supposedly) have a notorious short attention span, but C’MON!

Second, every artist that appeared on stage was relegating to singing older, more popular material. Yet, with all the crowds, on and off stage, and the crazy light and smoke show at Reliant Stadium, everyone’s material was dressed up as brand new, real hot stuff. I think anyone who is even remotely familiar with each artist was able to figure out that the material brought out wasn’t exactly new and fresh.

Finally, I found the show itself to be WAY too wrapped up in the visuals involved and much less about the music. While the crowd and television audience was bombarded with bright colored lights, smoke, crazy dancers, fanatical fans on the field, and three-minute performances from the artists involved with the show, the art that is the music got completely left out and that’s downright offensive. So, it wasn’t Janet Jackson’s breast that pissed me off, it was the ridiculous nature of the show in general.

As I write about the ugly monstrosity that was Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, I keep thinking about the Super Bowl XXXVI halftime show of 2002 at the New Orleans Superdome. That show featured U2 singing some of their great songs while paying tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11th (2001). That was poignant, powerful, and quality entertainment not because it’s the kind of music I like, but because it was about the music and paying tribute, not the gaudy visuals we were forced to endure here in 2004.

Of course, the circumstances of the 2002 halftime show were MUCH different than the ones surrounding the 2004 show. After all, the 2002 game took place just a few short months after September 11th and this country was still in shock and mourning. However, it’s relevant now because it showed what a truly classy halftime show can be like. The NFL and its broadcast partners should keep that in mind when they plan the 2005 halftime show. A couple of artists putting on a real concert would be a lot better than the junk we were all forced to endure this year.

Commercials

Overall, I found this year’s crop of commercials to be disappointing compared to years past. I was watching with ten friends (both men and women) and many of us sat on the edge of our seats for the beginning of commercials only to be disappointed with the climax either because it was stupid, sophomoric, or even inappropriate. There were some memorable moments that are worth mentioning though some great (I will call them “studs”) and some well not so great (“duds”).

Studs

1. Mastercard – This spot featuring the world famous “priceless” campaign and one of the biggest popular culture icons since 1900, Homer Simpson, was bound to make many people’s “good commercial” list. I got the impression my friends were a little disappointed with it, especially considering the way I built it up, but it was successful. After all, I laughed, I want to use my Mastercard and watch “The Simpsons” Sunday night on Fox.

2. Mitsubishi Galant GTS – A Mitsubishi Galant is placed side-by-side next to a Toyota Camry and, while moving at a fair speed, are forced to try and avoid various items thrown from two trucks including bowling balls, trash cans, and two full-sized cars. The point of the commercial was to show Mitsubishi scored better in accident avoidance than Toyota Camry.

I place this commercial in the “Studs” category because it was a cool concept and because I LOVE Sweet’s 1970s smash hit song, “Ballroom Blitz.” However, making the audience go to seewhathappens.com to see the ending isn’t going to get more people to buy cars from the website, it just annoys them instead.

3. NFL Network – The spot started with Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones and Head Coach Bill Parcells walking on the field of Texas Stadium unhappy about losing their last game and being eliminated from the playoffs. Jones breaks out into singing “Tomorrow ” and then the director cuts to other NFL players (from losing teams) singing lines from the same song. Anytime manly men sing show tunes, I’ll laugh.

4. Pepsi – The soft drink maker ran several ads but my favorite was the one set in Seattle, 1953. A boy walks on the street looking for a soda, sees a Pepsi machine on his side of the street and a Coke machine on the other. The boy decides to get a Pepsi and sees a guitars store there and smiles big. We then find out it’s legendary guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. At the end of the commercial, we discover that an accordion store is next to the Coke machine and the words at the bottom of screen: “Whew that was close.” Very cool.

5. Chevrolet – The spot ran with several kids sitting with soap in their mouths, apparently after saying something they shouldn’t have. At the end of the commercial, we discover that the kids are so impressed with their parents’ new car, they scream out “HOLY S**T!”. Creative and funny.

Duds

1. H&R Block – Another take off on the “Willie Nelson has problems with the IRS, let’s get him to advertise a company that does people’s taxes” premise, Willie is back “advertising” his new doll that gives advice to people doing their taxes. It doesn’t work well for the people doing their taxes and doesn’t work well for me since Subway already did something similar with their “Ask Jared” and “It’s OK if I do something wrong .I had Subway” campaigns.

2. Bud Light – A romantic evening goes bad when, while sitting in a horse-drawn calendar, a woman’s hair goes up in smoke when one of the horses passes gas while she’s holding a candle. Are fart jokes still funny?

3. Major League Baseball – Not only did Major League Baseball act like cheapskates by failing to air a commercial during the Super Bowl, the commercial they did air during “Survivor” made three players (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Josh Beckett) look foolish. While the three are at one of the player’s houses (we assume it’s Rodriguez’s), a woman (Rodriguez’s wife?) asked if the game was over. They said yes and commented about the commercials before playing with a plastic bat and baseball.

Reminding the viewing public that baseball is coming is a good idea, but making the players look like inattentive prima donnas unable to focus on anything but baseball is selling the players short.

4. Frito Lay – A young man drops his Lay’s potato chips and elderly grandma and grandpa fight for them. Grandpa gets the chips but Grandma has the dentures. I guess it’s kind of funny I didn’t laugh though and I was supposed to And I laugh at EVERYTHING

5. Monster.com – Two separate scenes show a young man and an older gentleman getting ready for work concurrently. We find out that that the young man works for the older gentleman and they came together thanks to Monster.com. I put this on the “duds” list because no one I know finds jobs through Monster.com, so it’s probably false advertising.

Oh yeah the game

The New England Patriots won their second title in three years thanks to another Adam Vinatieri field goal with less than ten seconds left in the game. The first and third quarters were boring and the second and fourth quarters had lots of points scored.

But with everything else going on that day, how could anyone notice the game being played? I think even interested football fans like myself could have a hard time notice the game being played.

Closing Credits: You’re GROUNDED!

For some reason, I’ve been fascinated all week with CBS’ (alleged) decision to rescind their invitation to Janet Jackson to appear at the Grammy Awards and present an award to Luther Vandross. It’s as if poor Janet has been grounded and is no longer able to use a nationally televised event devoted to the music industry to hype her new album since she flashed the crowd during the Super Bowl halftime show.

So, it got me thinking Since people in the television industry feel like they can go around and essentially punish people outside of their industry, what if some higher power (probably some combination of the FCC and the Television Critics Association) decided that when people affiliated with the television industry did something wrong and/or stupid, they would get punished in some way, shape or form. Here are some examples of where I’d be handing out punishments:

** In this day in age, the standard broadcast networks rarely ever give new shows they create a chance to resonate with the fans. How about a network doesn’t show a new show for at least 12 consecutive weeks and yank it early, they also have to yank one of their more popular shows off the air for a month. NBC would lose “Friends,” Fox would lose “American Idol,” CBS would lose “CSI,” etc Give new shows a chance!

** Since Viacom and CBS chickened out when it came to showing “The Reagans,” I say they should be banned from airing any miniseries events for the period of one year. Those in the television industry who don’t have a spine will not be tolerated.

** While we’re at it, since ESPN didn’t have the gall to stand up to its broadcasting partner, the NFL, when it came to whether or not it was going to air “Playmakers,” I would say their punishment should be airing a one hour sports bloopers special in the timeslot “Playmakers” vacated. We all love bloopers, this is true, but the catch is the show has to air 52 straight weeks even if the network wishes to air an important sporting event of some kind. That will show them

** Every time a network airs something foolish like the “Great American Celebrity Spelling Bee” Fox is putting on this month, they also have to put on a historical documentary so dull and boring that not even the most desperate school teacher would use it for educational material. People shouldn’t be subjected to B and C list celebrities taking part in a spelling bee. It’s just not right

See, all this content for a column and it all stemmed from the sport of American football.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Anyway

Enjoy the show!

— Coogan