Archive for April, 2010

End of an era as late-night TV grows on cable

April 12, 2010

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 12, 2010 — It’s the end of the world as we know it.

TBS’ decision, announced today, to mount two back-to-back late-night shows on weekday evenings means we’ve reached another one of those watershed moments in the evolution of cable TV’s long effort to even the playing field with the old broadcast networks.

Have you heard? Conan’s going to cable.

Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable:  Two hours of original late-night talk and comedy on a basic cable channel — a two-hour block of programming that for years was something only a broadcast network could afford to do.

Not anymore.

By signing former NBC star Conan O’Brien and pairing him with George Lopez, TBS is signaling that the era of late-night dominance by the likes of NBC and CBS is over.  TBS is saying: We can do it too — we have the distribution, the money (via advertising and subscriber revenue), the audience numbers, the channel positions and the know-how to do what the old guard can do.

Imagine it: Here’s this cable network that traffics almost exclusively in reruns of old sitcoms, running hour upon hour of them — “The Office,” “Family Guy” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” some “Seinfeld” and heaven knows what else.

And yet, despite this cable channel’s paucity of original anything, its analysis of the TV landscape has revealed that the time is right to take on the biggest, most established TV networks in late-night TV, and not with half-hour satires such as “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report,” or with a single hour either.  No — TBS plans on taking on CBS and NBC with two hours of traditional television: Personality-hosted late-night shows with monologues and celebrity guests — the kinds of shows seen since the dawn of time only on the so-called “big” networks (and only on CBS since 1993).

Over the years, the cable networks grew and the broadcast networks shrank.  Now, in the wake of Conan O’Brien — a network TV stalwart — deciding to stake his future on cable, you might say they’re all pretty much the same.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

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Dead man talking: Tiger’s Nike spot interpreted

April 8, 2010

Tiger Woods and his father.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 8, 2010 — Stop wondering what Tiger Woods’ new Nike “ad” means — it’s not that complicated, though it is unusual and, to many people, downright strange.

Let’s break it down: This 30-second spot, filmed in black-and-white, consists of Tiger Woods looking straight into a camera lens which has framed him from the chest up. He has a grim, almost shell-shocked expression on his face — which is to say, he is apparently feeling “serious” as opposed to “jovial,” in which case he would presumably be smiling.

Why the grim look? Because the “commercial” presents this scenario in which a serious, perhaps contemplative Woods, is thinking about or perhaps listening to the words of his late father, Earl — words recorded long ago in some context that is not revealed, but have now been repurposed — in the ad and, by extension, in Woods’ mind — to apply directly to the situation in which Woods finds himself today.

The voice of Earl begins: “Tiger? I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was.”

In this new use of this old recording, Woods’ “thinking” refers to what he “thought” at the time when he was conducting his extramarital affairs.

“I want to find out what your feelings are.” This, of course, is now supposed to serve as an inquiry into how Woods feels now that his public image has been tarnished, his earning power weakened and his domestic life nearly destroyed.

“And did you learn anything?” This one’s easy: Has Woods learned anything from the scandal? Does he feel chastised or humbled? And will he dramatically change his behavior now and forever?

At this point in the spot, the voiceover ends while the camera moves in for a tighter shot on Woods’ face. At that moment, some lights seem to flash, perhaps representing flashes from the cameras of paparazzi, symbolizing the intense glare of the media attention now being paid to Woods for reasons other than his golf game. And suddenly, the spot ends with a glimpse of the Nike swoosh.

So, what does it mean? It’s really just this: The words voiced by Earl are meant to represent what we, the public, are all thinking. We’re all wondering: Hey, Tiger, what were you thinking? We all want to know (according to the spot): How are you feeling about it? We’re all curious to find out: Tiger, are you going to change your behavior?

Well, of course the whole thing is shrewdly calculated to get you talking about Tiger Woods. This is the kind of ad that, because of its subject matter and timing (premiering on the eve of Woods’ “comeback” at the Masters) — not to mention its eerie texture — is being featured in every morning newspaper today, and every media Web site. It was designed to go viral and get talked about and it succeeded.

It is also supposed to generate sympathy — or the beginnings of sympathy — for Woods in the way it presents this scandalized celebrity in a meditative, perhaps chastised frame of mind and engaging in an inner dialogue with his late father. Woods and his father had a famously close relationship and the commercial seems to suggest that Woods, in listening to the words of his father, realizes he has let his father down.  At the same time, his father’s inquiring tone implies that, if Tiger can summon up the courage to explain his actions and take responsibility for them, then his father — and, by extension, all of us — will then forgive him.

Cynics will say Woods and Nike are merely exploiting Woods’ dead father for an ad that represents only the first step in a shrewdly calculated corporate ad campaign whose goal is the eventual rehabilitation of Woods’ image and, hence, his effectiveness as a spokesman for Nike.  The cynics would be right.

On the other hand, many people make mistakes in their lives and after they’re caught (an often fortuitous event because it applies a much-needed brake to their behavior), they are suddenly better able to see the damage they’ve caused and then make sincere efforts to change and make amends.   Sure, it’s easy to be cynical about a corporate ad campaign.  But you can look at Tiger Woods another way too — he’s just a guy, like many others, who got swept up in behavior he’s now ashamed of.  And now he wants to find his way back.  Certainly, that is not a crime.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

‘Treme’: It doesn’t rhyme with Krispy Kreme

April 6, 2010

COME BLOW YOUR HORN: Wendell Pierce plays a trombone in a funeral band in New Orleans in the new HBO series “Treme.”  Photo: Skip Bolen

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 6, 2010 — It’s pronounced treh-may.

That’s how the word “Treme” is pronounced in the theme song that plays during the opening titles for “Treme,” this new HBO series about life in New Orleans a few months after the floods of Hurricane Katrina.

And since this theme song, titled simply “Treme Song,” is sung by a jazz singer from New Orleans, then treh-may must be how this word is pronounced.  This singer, John Boutte, should know this because he is a musician and Treme is the name, apparently, of a neighborhood in New Orleans that is known for its music and musicians.  On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry for Treme shows an accent mark on the second syllable, so I suppose the pronunciation of this word varies.

One thing is for certain, “Treme” is not pronounced treem, which is how 99 percent of the potential audience for this series has likely been expecting it to be pronounced ever since they began reading about it — you know, like “extreme,” “scheme,” “theme” or even “Krispy Kreme.”

Why bring this up?  Because a title whose pronunciation is not readily understood by most people of reasonable intelligence makes you wonder if the producers of this TV series ever considered whether their title would prove to be vexing — and by extension, a tad off-putting — to their show’s potential audience.

I bring it up also because, as a journalist, you try and anticipate what your readers want to know, and I’ll bet many people who have been eagerly awaiting this new series are scratching their heads over its name and too embarrassed to ask any of their peers if they have any idea how it should be pronounced.

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TV HOWL REVIEW

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At the very least, now that that’s out of the way, puzzlement over the title does not have to stand in the way of your enjoying the show.  For that, “Treme” presents other obstacles, particularly some of its characters, who are among the least likable personalities you’ve ever been taxed to spend time watching on TV.

Steve Zahn / Photo: Skip Bolen

First and foremost is an indigent musician and public-radio disc jockey named Davis McAlary, played by Steve Zahn.  With his deep knowledge of the musical lore of New Orleans, McAlary is a sneering, snobbish, obnoxious know-it-all, the kind of person who disdains tourists, newcomers, next-door neighbors, or progress of any kind.  After watching three episodes provided for preview by HBO, I cannot tell if McAlary has been purposely drawn as an unlikable jerk of world-class proportions, or the creators of this show actually believe they’ve written him to be likably roguish or elfin.  Or maybe the character was created just to represent a point-of-view the producers felt their show could not live without.  However, living without him would be OK with me.

Another one is an itinerant trombone player named Antoine Batiste (played by Wendell Pierce of “The Wire”).   He’s portrayed in “Treme” as an unfaithful womanizer who wanders aimlessly from gig to gig, blowing what little money he has on expensive taxicabs and, in at least one instance, a visit to a prostitute.  Here too, you get the feeling the producers might believe Antoine is just a very colorful cat who is emblematic of a certain New Orleans type.

EASY, BIG FELLA: John Goodman pontificates in a scene from “Treme.” Photo: Paul Schiraldi

The problem is that Antoine and Davis (and a few others, such as a bloated, pompous English professor played by John Goodman) are such bums and blowhards that you might find yourself thinking: Hey, why should we save New Orleans just for the sake of people like these?

That, of course, is the opposite position that the creators of “Treme” — David Simon and Eric Overmyer (“The Wire”) — want you to take.

As for the rest of “Treme” (which starts this Sunday — April 11 — on HBO), great pains have been taken to give you access to some of the many subgroups and subcultures that comprise this city’s ethnic jambalaya (the various forms of music on display, performed by real New Orleans musicians, are a glorious highlight of this series).  Among the tribal groups is a neighborhood clan of Indians led by Clark Peters (also from “The Wire”), who plays one of the better people of New Orleans, and one who doesn’t happen to be asking for handouts.  He’s come back to town three months after the hurricane to take his tools in his own hands and rebuild what he lost, with little or no help from anyone.

Anyone who loved “The Wire” can at least expect “Treme” to look great, and it does.  It is a polished made-for-TV production, filmed in neighborhoods that still look like Katrina blew through them just last week rather than five years ago.  And yet, despite the meticulous quality of its production, its huge cast and its many storylines, not much actually happens.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

Shocking ‘Intervention’ story on addicted boxer

April 6, 2010

YO, ROCKY! This is former junior lightweight boxing champion Rocky Lockridge, who became a homeless crackhead on the streets of Camden, N.J., and ended up on “Intervention” last night (April 5). Photo: GRB Productions

MOST ASTONISHING EPISODE YET FOR THIS AMAZING SERIES

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 6, 2010 — “Intervention” has featured so many shocking stories of addiction that it might seem impossible for the show to top itself.

But last night, it did just that.  It was the story of a former two-time boxing champion who has lived for nearly 20 years on the streets of Camden, N.J., panhandling and smoking crack.  It was the most astonishing single episode of a TV show seen so far this year.

As reality shows go, this A&E series — now in its eighth season — goes deeper into the private worlds of its subjects than any other unscripted series.  And last night, the show took viewers on a harrowing  journey to one of the most forlorn locations ever seen on TV, period.

Producer David Simon’s Baltimore (“The Wire”) and producer Shawn Ryan’s Los Angeles (“The Shield”) were formerly TV’s champions of urban grit, but “Intervention” — produced by an outfit called GRB Entertainment out of Sherman Oaks, Calif. (the GRB stands for Gary R. Benz, the company’s president) — bested them both with its on-location documenting of the life of Rocky Lockridge, 51.

Champion: Rocky Lockridge in his prime in the early 1980s.

Lockridge once won two junior lightweight titles, but has been fighting a losing battle with drugs and alcohol ever since.  He was estranged from his two 25-year-old twin sons for more than 15 years;  one of them, Lamar, avoided contact with his father right up until the taping of last night’s episode.  Earlier in the show, Lamar faced a camera and admitted he “hated” his father.

On the show, Lockridge was seen begging for crack money on a littered street corner in one of Camden’s worst neighborhoods, a region of abandoned houses and broken sidewalks.  In alleys and backyards overgrown with weeds, Lockridge would turn his day’s earnings over to the crack sellers and eagerly use crack — snorting and smoking it.

And then there was the intervention, led by interventionist Cindy Finnigan.  Many of the interventions shown on the series — in which family members tearfully implore their addicted loved one to accept their offer of rehabilitation — are deeply moving.   But last night’s was the rawest yet, as Lamar and his brother Ricky vented years of frustration and anger over their father’s abandonment yet nevertheless told him they loved him and begged him through uncontrollable tears to get help.

As the episode concluded with its ending theme song, “Five Steps” by the Brooklyn-based band The Davenports, uncertainty lingered over the effectiveness of Rocky’s stint in rehab as viewers learned that Rocky left the facility after only two-and-a-half months, without completing the program and against the advice of his counselors, and is now living with another “sober” patient somewhere in Louisiana.  Long-time “Intervention” watchers may have taken that as a sign that his rehabilitation didn’t take, although the episode’s parting statement on-screen said he’s been sober since November 2009.

“Intervention,” airing Monday nights on A&E, won an Emmy last fall for best reality series.   The award was richly deserved.

MOMENT OF TRUTH — A key scene from this week’s “Intervention” on A&E: Ex-boxer Rocky Lockridge (left) agrees to go to rehab after hearing tearful pleas from his estranged twin sons, Ricky (center) and Lamar. Photo: GRB Productions

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com


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