The Weekly Pulse: Mr. Coogan's Groove Tube Update

Look at this”¦

** RIP Rodney Dangerfield. Thanks for making us laugh all these years. Go look at his official Web site if you’re interested in some memories”¦

** Something tells me Donald Trump wouldn’t be a very good television producer. Look at the kind of show he wants to produce. Then again, he knows how to be a ruthless bastard, so maybe it would work”¦

** Headline: Poehler joins “SNL: Weekend Update” anchor team

My reaction: “In other interesting news, I’m wearing white socks for a personal record 44th straight day.”

Seriously though, without sounding sexist, I’m going to miss the male presence on that segment. Then again, Jimmy Fallon anchored that segment for 3+ years before deciding he was too famous for “Satruday Night Live.” What was I thinking?

THE OPENING CREDITS: What did my IPTV colleagues write this week?

** Cheap heat: Not only should you check out my column on “Boston Legal”, but you should also check out my Inside Pulse Profile page where I’m going to try and start “Bloggin’ it Baby.”

** I love Nick Warnock’s recaps of “The Apprentice.” Nick – are you available for birthday parties and weddings?

** Jessie’s back! And she’s right”¦no one would be interested in seeing her in a bathing suit in Puerto Rico. So, there’s absolutely no reason to visit her Web site.

** Speaking of “Survivor,” I’m still impressed with the amount of coverage we have for the show on IPTV. Dan, Patrick, Carlos, and Sarah Quigley have some good stuff up for you to check out.

** Diane/Didey has turned her column into her own personal TV blog and took the time to write about close to 900 different TV shows. Well, the list seemed that big anyway”¦

** Bob Reiss doesn’t like Donald Trump. I’m sure he can handle that. But you don’t think his show is “great?” He may send some goons after you Bob”¦

** Cheri waxes poetic about “The Gilmore Girls” and continues to pine over Jeff Probst (albeit briefly this time around).

** The Sarah Quigley quote of the week:

And his lukewarm reunion with Jodi at the end of the show proves that their marriage is flimsy and superficial, based purely on how good each partner thinks their spouse makes them look for the people who matter. Although she probably will be, I hope that Jodi isn’t too surprised when Steven has his mid-life crisis and leaves her for one of their 19-year-old Irish nannies.

She’ll probably be all right, though. No doubt they signed a pre-nup.

If you don’t know what she’s talking about, you’ll have to read her column about ABC’s “Wife Swap.”

** Murrey writes a column about Season 3 of “Family Guy” and incorporates his opinion into it”¦Hmmm”¦how novel.

** Lawrence recaps an episode of “The Simpsons” from 1997 and talks about poetry. Talk about an eclectic column.

TV NEWS

“American Idol:” Osbourne style”¦

MTV announced on Wednesday (Oct. 6) that the network will be working with Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne to launch a new reality competition show, “Battle for OZZfest.” The show will sort of follow the “Battle of the Bands” format with the winner getting a spot on the 2005 OZZfest tour and other assorted luxurious prizes that may or may not include a record contract. The show is set to debut Monday, Oct. 25, a good companion with the newest season of the “Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Sexes.”

However, unlike “American Idol,” the show won’t just be about the performances on stage. The cameras will also follow the eight bands as they are all thrown together to live on an oversized tour bus and mimic what life as a band traveling in major rock show is like.

MTV and the Osbourne family has released very little information about the exact format of the show except to say that there will be a “big twist” thrown in during the premiere episode that will set the tone for the entire competition. So, it is unclear if the show will eliminate one band every week until it comes down to the final two or three or if it chronicles the lives of all eight bands before one big blow out episode that will announce the winner.

That format distinction is important because with weekly eliminations, the show will definitely feel like “American Idol” or even, to some degree, “Survivor” or “The Apprentice” where a substantial part of the show is focused on the question “Who is going to get eliminated from the competition?” That means producers will be focusing a great deal on what the competitors are saying to not only build themselves up as worthy performers, but to tear down the bands that are essentially their new rivals.

Meanwhile, if the show merely follows the bands as they begin to understand what life is like with a traveling music festival, then the show will accomplish something completely different. Not only will it almost educate the audience of what life is like “on the road,” but it will probably resemble “The Real World” a lot more in that these people can be a lot more “real” and simply talk about what life “on the road” is really all about. Then, there will be the snide, snotty comments about the other people in the other bands. That’s always fun.

Nonetheless, MTV and the Osbournes have come up with a fairly predictable, yet somewhat innovative show that really hasn’t been done before as well. And now, you can consider an even more potentially interesting subplot: how the show will develop.

Hoax TV returns to Fox

I’ve used this space before to talk about the concept of “Hoax TV,” which is sort of a sub-genre of reality television. Essentially, these type of shows are harder to pull off because they are trying to pull a mammoth prank on one (or many) individual(s) who believe they are on a particular show for an entirely different reason. “The Joe Schmo Show,” “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé,” and “Joe Millionaire” are all examples of this format that isn’t exactly making itself at home, but is certainly getting close to knocking on the front door.

Fox will now add another show to its library of “hoax” shows as it has already recorded its new show “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” and will debut it Sunday, Nov. 7 in the 9:00 p.m. timeslot. We’ll get to that timeslot development soon enough”¦

The premise of “Obnoxious Boss” is fairly simple. It features 12 young business professionals who arrive in Chicago ready to impress N. Paul Todd, the founder and CEO of IOCOR, supposedly a multi-billion dollar company. They’re prepared to do whatever business tasks are necessary to score a great job and earn a $250,000 cash prize.

Apparently, while the young business professionals appear to be hungry and eager, they weren’t smart enough to do much research on this supposed billion dollar company. Mr. N. Paul Todd is actually William August, an actor who wants nothing more than to confuse, humiliate an essentially emotionally and physically shred the 12 contestants.

However, unlike “Obnoxious Fiancé,” where the payoff was the revelation that the “obnoxious fianc锝 was just an actor and the reality show they were on was just a hoax, it appears “Obnoxious Boss” will have other twists incorporated into it as well. For starters, the show will follow a format similar to “The Apprentice” in which after the assorted business tasks, one person will get “fired.” The show will continue along with that format for the remainder of the season. Eventually, the “contestants” will be let in on the joke, but what they’re going to find out is that N. Paul Todd didn’t make the firing decisions. Instead, the real “boss” doing the firing appears to be a high profile personality that Fox has chosen not to divulge yet.

It sounds like it’s going to be a wild ride that will be a trumped up combination of “Obnoxious Fiancé,” and “The Apprentice” with some celebrity cameos mixed in as well.

Is it the most creative show in the world? Not really. I’m sure coming up with all the twists and turns took a great deal of intense research and good producing and writing to have it come off without a hitch. But, it’s not like these type of shows haven’t already been done. It’s almost as if Fox is simply making fun of NBC again while also taking what it has done before and raised it a notch or two. So, don’t get fooled about this being any sort of a revolutionary show because it isn’t. Let’s be honest though, it’s going to be one hell of a ride! Hold on tight!

And now”¦onto the timeslot of “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss”

Another topic that I’ve discussed in the past is the apparent takeover of reality television over quality scripted television that actually demonstrates a level of creativity that its reality counterparts rarely demonstrate. More and more reality shows appear in the Nielsen ratings Top 20 and networks that used to devote precious air time to scripted shows now devote that same time to reality shows (NBC Thursday night being the most glaring example of that).

Well, here we are again with Fox taking their previously very strong Sunday night lineup filled with powerhouse comedies like “The Simpsons,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” and the newest Outstanding Comedy Emmy winner “Arrested Development” and abandoning it in favor of airing “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss.” Granted, the show is only going to be on for a limited time (probably until the first week of 2005), but of all the times and says that are on the schedule, why did arguably the network’s best night of original scripted television have to take a back seat to an end-of-the-year ratings stunt?

Not only is Sunday a hard enough night to secure eye balls with HBO’s new original shows and other well regarded shows on CBS, ABC, and NBC, it’s one of Fox’s best assets. If the network’s executives are so sure that the show will secure high ratings, then it should get stuck on another night of the week”¦like Monday for example. Do they think that Shannen Doherty alone will significantly impact ratings of “North Shore?” Hell, almost any night of the week except for Saturday (everyone still loves “Cops”) could probably use a ratings jolt for Fox. Why does it have to be Sunday? It just appears unnecessary, unjustified and even reeks of desperation. Well, maybe, it’s more like arrogance in this product that the audience will blow off the other highly regarded shows on other networks to see what stunt Fox is pulling. Either way, nourishing the great comedies it already has with regular new viewings in the same time slot would be a much better strategy than abandoning them with a stunt like this.

The beginning of real interactive TV? Or just stupid?

On Oct. 17, NBC is going to try something completely different with “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and the viewers get to be involved in the decision making process.

“Criminal Intent” is going to feature a storyline where Det. Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) meets up again with his “nemesis,” sexy, sultry Nicole Wallace (returning guest star Olivia D’Abo). The story will feature either the character dying or managing to escape unscathed yet again. One version of the story will be aired in the eastern time zone and the other will be aired in the other three United States time zones. Then NBC will post both endings on the Internet (at NBC.com) and viewers will have until Oct. 20 to decide which one they liked/thought that fit better. After that, NBC will announce the results, a week after the original episode aired on Oct. 24.

This particular episode will be set up kind of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type story. However, doesn’t it seem a little pointless if the story doesn’t build off of what the viewers choose? It seems remarkably anti-climactic if the viewers choose an ending only for it to not mean anything in the grand scheme of the story telling process. If that’s the case, it’s not really “Choose Your Own Adventure” it’s more like “Choose Your Own Ending.” That’s relatively interesting, but not as exciting as having more of a say through out the story telling process. And is the television viewer really interested in having that much to do with the story telling?

This news reminded me of the concept of interactive television. The notion itself is probably 20 or more years old and probably 20 or more years away from actually happening, but people believe that at some point, some day it will be a regular thing and that viewers will be able to buy products they see on shows just by clicking on a link on the screen and doing what NBC is doing now in terms of filming different endings that allow the story to morph in different directions.

Again, is this what the television viewer wants? Bob Thompson, Syracuse University professor of television and popular culture and Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television has noted in numerous lectures that television has always been a PASSIVE medium and that viewers don’t necessarily need or want additional choices or the chance to multi task while contributing full attention to the television. Some choose to pay full attention to it and do it because they want to escape. Meanwhile, others have it on simply because they desire background noise. Either way, these types of television uses don’t really coincide with the concept of interactive television.

It could be argued that interactivity is slowly (very slowly) being weaved into the way we watch television. People can vote for their favorite contestant on “American Idol” or “Last Comic Standing.” Fox Sports and ESPN often put quick polls on the screen attempting to see what the fans/viewers at home think about a particular issue or strategy. Then there’s something like this. They are nice features, but they still require the use of a second machine, either the computer or a cell phone to be involved in the process. So, it’s not really interactive TV after all.

Nonetheless, these new features are considerably more interactive than when the concept first arose a couple of decades ago.

What’s the point of all this? Well, it’s just interesting to see this level of “interactivity” involved in NBC’s upcoming broadcast and it made me reflect on the status of “interactive TV.” Bottom line: It’s still a long way away”¦

CCTR: Coogan Comments on the RADIO!

THUD!

That noise you heard was satellite radio officially becoming a viable product that could compete for the attention of those who listen to regular radio. That’s because Howard Stern announced this week (Wednesday, Oct. 6) that he will be taking his highly popular morning radio show to Sirius satellite radio when his current contract with Viacom-owned Infinity Broadcasting ends in 2006.

Once he gets there, he will be able to do just about anything he wants to with his show and not have to worry about FCC regulations and what kind of material is transmitted across public airwaves. After all, those who subscribe to Sirius not only have to buy the unit that the programs are transferred from, but also pay a monthly fee to maintain the service and all it provides the viewer.

Sirius already offers a bevy of NFL coverage including a station that analyzes the action 24 hours per day, seven days per week and play-by-play calls of all the games the league offers every week. Now, securing Stern is just another commodity for the burgeoning industry.

I bring this up not only because it’s a huge story in all of the entertainment industry, but the comparisons can clearly be drawn to television as well. Companies offering subscription media services for something that’s always been free for consumers and advertising paid isn’t exactly new. The most glaring example of this type of business model already exists in the form of all movie cable channels like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and The Movie Channel. For an extra fee added on to their monthly cable bill, customers can have access to these channels and all that they offer, unedited and without commercial interruptions. This is because customers have chosen to pay for access to the channels and presumably know what they are getting when they tune into them. All bets are off. If you don’t like it, then don’t pay the money for it.

The same concept applies to satellite radio, a product that appears to be catching on with people and will only get bigger as more high profile personalities (like Howard Stern) and commodities (like the NFL) start making the move over.

The cable television analogy also relates to satellite radio in that we already know the answer to the question: If satellite radio continues to get bigger, will commercial radio survive?” Well, networks like CBS and NBC have been on the air for over 50 years in conjunction with networks like HBO for the last 20. It’s definitely true that CBS and NBC don’t attract as many viewers as they did even as recently as five to ten years ago because of the various other choices on cable. However, they are still there going strong and still attracting more viewers than any of the cable networks.

The same thing could very well apply to satellite radio. While the product is in the process of establishing itself as a viable money making business option, it seems doubtful that the old fashioned commercial radio format would ever go out of style and lose that much of an audience. Sure, over time some sort of drop off could be seen as more and more people will want their NFL coverage or their morning dose of Howard Stern. So, at least for the foreseeable future, it appears the commercial radio format is still safe just the way it is.

The rest of the news in 500 words or less”¦

** HOW MANY viewers? According to various reports, the first debate between Presidential candidates John Kerry and George Bush attracted close to 63 million viewers. Not bad considering everyone I know can’t seem to stand either guy.

It gets better”¦

The Vice-Presidential debate between John Edwards and Dick Cheney secured more than 43.5 million people. Do these guys even have an active role in the United States Government? They kind of remind me of Cal Ripken Jr.’s permanent back up third baseman. He’s there if you need him but when is that going to happen?

Finally, ABC appears to have hit the mega-jackpot with its new show, “Desperate Housewives.” It was the most watched (non-debate) show of last week taking in a whopping 21.3 million viewers. According to Zap2it.com and Nielsen’s data, that’s the most watched new show of the season and ABC’s best debut since “Spin City” in 1996. Wow.

** Nick Lachey – television superstar (apparently) – He’s had his own reality show; he’s had his own variety show; he’s had a part on a popular, long-running network show; he’s even recorded a pilot for ABC that wasn’t picked up. Now, he’s signed another development deal, this time with Fox, sister studio 20th Century Fox TV and Brad Grey TV. According to the terms of the deal, he will have a half-hour or hour show developed for him starting next year if ABC declines the option they currently hold the actor/singer/guy lucky enough to snuggle up with Jessica Simpson every night.

** Bill Cosby and Fox? Sound strange to anyone else? – Fox has given a script commitment to a comedy project based on Bill Cosby’s book “Congratulations! Now What? A Book for Graduates,” according to Zap2it.com. Cosby will serve as an executive producer.

The show won’t be any sort of “how to” guide, but instead will incorporate material from the book into a sit-com type situation that will focus on the relationship between a man and his son, who moves home after finishing college. This sounds like it belongs on CBS or ABC, doesn’t it?

** An example of a statement that isn’t a surprise: Fox has decided to move the ultra low rated boxing reality show off its prime time schedule and is giving it to its various Fox Sports Net affiliates across the country.

Considering the original prime-time airings averaged less than five million viewers, it’s lucky it lasted this long.

** An example of a statement that is a mild surprise: “Star Trek: Enterprise” begins its fourth season on UPN on Friday, Oct. 8.

Despite an intensely loyal fan base, this show has been on the chopping block on and off for a while now. I find it interesting that the network keeps giving it a chance.

** An example of a statement that is a complete surprise:NBC has canceled the third season of “Last Comic Standing”¦”with one show left in the season”¦that would have announced the winner of the competition that had been going on over the last seven weeks or so. Huh?

So, instead of airing the finale next week, NBC will air repeats of the “hit new show” “Father of the Pride” and apparently announce the winner at some point between those repeats. Does arrogant or ignorant sum up this move better?

THE CLOSING CREDITS: My stroke of “genius” that got turned in to my professor

I don’t know who’s reading this column for the first time or who’s been reading it ever since I wrote for that “other site,” but I’ve said before that I’m a Maste’s student at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY. Sometimes, I incorporate material written for the classes I’ve taken for the columns I write and I thought this would be a good time to do so too. I didn’t write about a specific show so much, but I took a quote from Marshall McLuhan and turned it into an 775 word reflection about the difference between acting for television and acting for films or plays/musicals.

What do you think? Am I on track?

(By the way”¦I do make mention of the series we’re analyzing in the class I wrote this for. “Frank’s Place” ran on CBS during the 1987-88 season, but was pulled after that due to low ratings.)

Marshall McLuhan was one of the first scholars to come out and analyze the emerging phenomenon known as “mass media” (emerging as of 1964 anyway). His ideas were different and revolutionary at the time. It could be argued that he set the groundwork for an entire area of research: mass media, still emerging and growing today. However, while McLuhan should be recognized as one of the first, it also could be argued that his ideas regarding “the global village” and “the medium is the message” were significantly dated and largely archaic. To this day, scholars still remind anyone who will listen that McLuhan’s theories were flawed at best.

While this may be true and in reading even just a few pages in his book, I understand why he gets grilled so much, he wasn’t completely off base in his some of his thoughts. In he 30th Anniversary of “Understanding Media” McLuhan states in the Television chapter on page 317 that “”¦TV acting is so extremely intimate, because of the peculiar involvement of the viewer with the completion or ‘closing’ of the TV image, that the actor must achieve a great degree of spontaneous casualness that would be irrelevant in movie and lost on stage.”

What’s fascinating about television is the way it tells stories and how it’s so much different that movies or theatre. Even today, when people go to see a movie or a play/musical, they expect big things. Maybe in the case of a movie, it’s a lot of violence or destruction. Perhaps in the case of a musical, it’s an outstanding dance number or dramatic song that communicates a message better than a simple monologue or some other relaxed situation.

That could be because movies and musicals are different than television in that they generally require people to contribute their own money and time to travel to a theatre to see a show. (In the case of movies, the trip to the local Blockbuster or online movie provider is shorter, but it still requires more effort and more money than television.)

So, since the audience has been drawn in, it’s the job of movie and musical producers and directors to provide the most “bang for your buck.” Considering they only have a couple of hours to tell a story from beginning to end, they require cramming as much stuff in as possible in that fixed period of time. The stories have to be big, the scenery and settings have to be big and even the actors’ performances need to be big. If not, there is a good chance that the movie or musical will flop and not be highly regarded. Many times movies (especially) are labeled as moving “too slow.” In television, it’s remarkably hard to do move “too slow.” In fact if the stories didn’t progress “slowly,” they wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves for multiple seasons and potentially, hundreds of episodes.

So, when I see a show like “Frank’s Place,” I’m reminded of the wonders of television storytelling. The first episode clearly establishes the main storylines that will be followed through out the season. However, with a cast of characters and the potential to see these characters for several years (at least that’s the hope when a show starts), it’s perfectly acceptable to not necessarily focus every single episode on the two or three most important characters and wrap all the important storylines in a few episodes. I think that’s part of the reason why television writers and producers are allowed to take episodes of series in different directions. Bubba is clearly a supporting character on the show, but with so many stories to tell, it’s perfectly acceptable to take the focus off Frank, his new life and his burgeoning love for Hanna and look at what else Bubba has to offer besides being the bumbling southern lawyer that likes to imbibe some cocktails.

If television viewers are patient enough, they will welcome all the characters into their homes every week as if they are friends or family. That’s when the “casualness” McLuhan speaks of becomes all the more relevant to television. Movie actors provide big performances and characters that aren’t always accessible or easy to understand. Television actors provide subtle performances that more resemble every day life the same way a viewe’s friends and family do. While it would be mentally unstable to really call television actors your “friends” or “family,” the concept is there at least in part. I say that because over the history of a series, viewers invite these characters into their homes every week and allow them to tell their stories and be entertained by them. They really do provide much more of a casualness and relaxed atmosphere that can’t be duplicated in the movies or musicals. That isn’t a slight on the movie or theatre industry, it just means the entertainment “service” they provide is different. That’s all”¦different.

Have a good weekend”¦

— Coogan