Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Shout! Shout! Let It All Out!

These are the things I can do without:

"Jon & Kate." Who cares? Apparently, 9.5 million TV viewers, according to the Nielson numbers. What I want to know is who are these 9.5 million people and how can I avoid them? Okay, so here's the premise: this couple has twins, and then she pops out a litter of six. Once upon a time, to become a celebrity you needed talent at a legitimate art or craft, such as acting, dancing, music, or comedy. These days in America, you get over 9 million viewers just for doing the same thing a sow can do. Stop it.

This just in: some kids graduated from high school! There are roughly 50 school districts in my area of media influence. Every year around this time, they hold commencement ceremonies. They did it last year. They're doing it this year. They'll do it next year. It is a predictable event, and, unless the valedictorian accepts her diploma in the nude, not unique from any other commencement ceremony. Therefore - say it with me, news directors - This is not news. Stop wasting my time putting graduation stories in the newscast.

Sportscasts that forget to bring us the actual game. "And now let's go up in the bleachers and check in with Joe Schlock who's found some fans to talk to. Joe?" Joe then proceeds to yak with a fan, a group of fans who drove all the way in from Gemethefugoutta, West Virginia, or some old timer who remembers the big game on this day in 1957. "That was quite a day, wasn't it?" asks Joe. "Yeah. Yeah. It was quite a day," says the old timer. Meanwhile, the game itself is reduced to a postage stamp image on the screen, where we strain to see the grounder that got through the gap and the runner sliding at second. The only people who actually benefit from this is the local Radio Shack, who sees a run in replacement remote control sales the next day after hundreds of baseball fans threw theirs at the screen yelling, "Shut the **** up!"

Shows that have no ending. The Season Finale has become a tired excuse for not bothering to write a proper climax and wrapping the story. In other words, if they didn't slather it "A gripping finale that will leave you breathless" promotional blather, you'd swear it was just a show without an ending. Southland left me absolutely dumbstruck. Someone want to tell me how the policewoman and the gangbangers traded multiple rounds of serious firepower outside her house without anybody hitting anything? Come on. That getaway car should've looked like Swiss cheese. A blown tire, at least. How did the banger completely miss the policewoman, the house, the trees, Planet Earth with an automatic going like blazes? Then, on Sunday night, NBC reran part one of The Last Templar without bothering to tell anyone watching it was a two-part movie to be continued Monday. Oh, no, let's leave that to the affiliates to explain to the viewers who called to basically ask WTF? The difference between "Who shot JR?" and "Who cares?" is in the construction of solid storytelling from beginning to end... within this episode. That's called a "Cliffhanger." To do otherwise is called, "Cheating the audience."

Dramas that ask me to endure a badly sung, maudlin song during the final five minutes. This ain't Titanic, folks. ER was the worst. It's gone. Let's just let it go. If I want a reason to kill myself, I'll just look at last quarter's 401k statement.

Radio stations that stop the music at 4:20AM only to run six minutes of PSA's and a spot for a "get it up" pill. Hey. If you didn't sell the time, shut up and play the music! Corner the 23 year-old program director (an honorary title, at best) about this malady, and he'll eventually blurt out that the automation makes him do it. No, asswipe, you are supposed to run the radio station, not the computers. And if somebody in San Antonio tells you to subject your listeners to this crap, you say, "Okay." And then you go ahead and do the right thing anyway. Because a company that's a kabillion dollars in the red obviously doesn't pay attention to the details in the individual markets. And maybe one of the reasons you're so deep in debt is because you've pissed away your listeners playing six minutes of clutter for no reason. Grow a pair, Sparky.

Publications with web sites that take decades of credibility and prestige and flush it down the toilet faster than you can say, "Mortgage rates are lower than ever." Hey, US News and World Report... do you have any idea how difficult it is to focus on an article on North Korea's nuclear ambitions and whether or not China's condemnation is nothing more than lip service, when the there's an animated horse's ass wiggling along the right column? Either ask me to subscribe, or switch to reporting on Jon & Kate. At least I can read about horses asses while I'm looking at one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Wow. You guys are angry. I mean mad as hell, and you're not going to take it anymore. Or has someone already said that?

Both Family Guy and Saturday Night Live last week ragged on pop-up promos, those annoying little graphics for upcoming shows that wedge themselves over your favorite programs. There's an article in the Chicago Tribune today joining in the rage. And I understand.

The industry slang for these things is "snipe." It's a simple technique; all you do is key in a source with the snipe material in the lower edge of the picture at the master control level. It's the same as when you see "This just in: a tornado warning has been issued..." or sports scores crawling, only this is promotional, not instructive. The recent innovations that have led to these things sprouting up like video weeds is: computers dedicated to doing nothing else but inserting snipes, and master control boards capable of keying in four or more sources over the main program source. That's right. I can, and occasionally do, lay in FOUR MORE THINGS over your favorite show. Some of them with sound.

Example: It's a Wednesday night, and Law and Order is on. As the show enters it's second segment after the first network commercial break, it is 10:09PM. I already have our local station's "crystal bug" keyed in on keyer #1. A "crystal" graphic is transparent, thus you can see it, but see through it and still see what's going on behind it, even though it's pretty small to begin with. The "crystal bug" is put there in part at the insistence of NBC to remind you that you are watching NBC on your local channel, but also to, and this is important, to discourage piracy. This is really important during sporting events that can end up on YouTube in five minutes. A local bug appearing on YouTube can help NBC/Universal track the pirates to their lair. Argh!

So, one source is already keyed over at the local level, when somebody at 30 Rock hits a button and starts keying in their own snipe. The peacock turns from crystal to solid color, and if the local station is doing their keying just right, it appears that the crystal bug changed right before your eyes. A banner opens up across the bottom of the screen, and we're told that we're watching Law and Order now - no shit, Sherlock - and coming soon it's America's Got Talent! As these things go, NBC seems to have the least offensive promotional snipes in the biz, with a general lack of images, moving or otherwise, and no sound. Of course, NBC is still waiting for Cheers to come back, and they've never really recovered from CBS stealing Jack Benny, so give them time.

As this is happening, the Wilmington, Ohio office of the National Weather Service has just issued a Breeze Warning for Wherethefugarewe County. Following our policy of keeping you informed with the News You Can Use, from the Station Where News is First, Live, and Local, with Late Breaking Developments, On-the-Spot Reporting, from reporters who Know the Miami Valley, we are honor bound in master control to activate the second keyer and insert a Weather Alert graphic in the upper left corner of the screen.

So, you now have 2 local key-overs, plus the network snipe... and for the first ten minutes of Law and Order the actual film of the show itself will continue to drop in their own title graphics telling us who wrote, directed, produced, executive produced, catered, and groomed Ice T's goatee. Somewhere underneath all this is a dead body - at least that's the inference I get from the dialogue.

Then, after the local break at 10:30ish, and I'm not making this up, I am required to use the keyer #3 to insert a local snipe about the transition to Digital Television. This not my idea. The FCC demands that we do this. Yes, that's right. The government is adding to the clutter. But is that really much of a surprise? I have to wait for my cue on the NBC timing sheet to insert this snipe, in order to prevent my local snipe from interfering with the network's snipes. I swear, I'm not making this up!

Put this same senario into an episode of Dateline, and we add keyer #4, the keyer that inserts the columns of fill graphics along the sides of the screen during standard definition 4:3 ratio programming. Viola! I've just maxed out our master control board. There are four things going on the air, and somewhere underneath it all is your favorite show.

We get complaints about other things, like commercials. One common question: "Why do you have to run that annoying song for cable TV over and over?"

Simple answer: Because the cable company pays us to do it. Same thing goes for all the other commercials. But I think the real question you're asking is, "Why do advertisers use the most annoying music ever foisted on a group of humans since the Waco Compound?"

Ever notice how a train whistle sounds? Or car horns? Or any other warning device? Those things are pitched out of tune on purpose in order to get your attention. (For you musicians reading this, they use augmented 4ths, diminished 5ths, minor 7ths, and chromatic steps. In other words, dissonance. Hey, it worked for Mozart. FYI: The old EBS tone still used in EAS emergencies is really two tones at half-step intervals.) Pretty harmonies won't wake you up and stick in your brain. Think of the first line of The Beatles' Michelle. What the heck is that chord when Paul sings "Ma belle?" You remember that, don't you? The difference is that McCartney is using the technique of tension and release to create one of the the most popular songs of all time. Advertisers use lots of tension with little, if any, release to jangle your nerves. A woman singing above her range in a whining voice while the musicians seem to be playing in another key grabs your ear and won't let go. The current state of pop music feeds this machine quite well. The ad agency geniuses who dream this stuff up hope it leaves a memorable impression. Based on the number of bitch calls we get, it apparently works.

Finally, we reach into the mail bag for this real letter from a concerned citizen. Here is an unretouched excerpt:

dear w*** at what point does it stop the filthy things you allow over the air I was watching my name is earl the other night for a few minutes and the flithy things so we have to start a boycott of your advertizers

I swear to God, that's real.

OK. Sir or madam, in respectful response to your letter... You only watched a few minutes of My Name is Earl? You didn't give us a fair chance. You needed to watch the whole show, and then The Office, and then Southland. Next, you needed to watch our late night lineup, starting with the monologue on The Tonight Show. Then you needed to catch Saturday Night Live. Had you watched a fair representation of our programming, you would've realized that we hadn't begun to offend you. Besides, how could you see anything objectionable through all our snipes and inserts?

Damn! There's only one solution to this problem... We'll add more snipes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Take It With You

So, what media do young people prefer these days? Here's a clue.

Last week, my wife and I took a trip to the Columbus Museum of Art. There, we saw the Ancient Egyptian collection "To Live Forever," including a few actual mummies and sarcophagi. The exhibit was geared to all ages, and there were number of kid-friendly details. At one point, there was a bulletin board posting the answers to the question: "What would you like to take with you in the afterlife?"

Zoinks. That's a big question for anyone at any age. As you might imagine, the answers ranged from the simple, ("My Qu' ran," "My Budda,") to the touching. ("My memories.") But a lot of young people want to take their i-pods wherever they go. I would say based on what I saw in this sample, portable music players rank number one as the media of choice. Something to remember if you want to connect with kids.

As for the museum bulletin board, my favorite answer read something like this:

"My savior Jesus Christ will provide me everything I need in Heaven.

But I'd still like to take my i-pod, my laptop, and my cell phone."

Let's hope Heaven has broadband. You know, if you go into your cell phone's contact list, and replace a person's name with "Heaven," then whenever that person calls you, your phone will display, "Heaven calling." I dare you to let that call go to voice mail.

Speaking of not having the nerve, during the past few months, I've programmed my TiVo to capture all the episodes of NBC's detective show Life. I really like the show, and I didn't want to miss any of it, but now the season is over, and I'd like to clear some space on my hard drive by deleting the show. So, I go into the options menu to do so, only to be faced with a display message that asks me,


I just can't do it.