Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

We live in an age of instant gratification.  The sheer number of hours of Olympic coverage that NBC is providing live through its website — free of charge to anyone with a cable subscription — is upwards of 3000.  You can see every event that you want to see, live, in High Definition, from your computer or mobile device.  If you miss it, you can go back and watch it later as NBC archives all* of its events to view at your leisure.  This is undoubtedly one of the most technologically successful Olympics games ever, and the ratings are at record highs for the Comcast-owned network.  But you wouldn’t know any of that if you took to twitter and searched the messages sent to @NBCOlympics.

By far the biggest complaint is that some events — think Opening/Closing Ceremonies, US Swim finals, Beach Volleyball, Gymnastics — are not shown live on television as they happen.  The reason for this is simple: they are happening between 9am and 3 in the afternoon EDT.  This is not what one would call “prime time.”  So NBC tape-delays its coverage of the most interesting and popular events so that it can help pay for the insanely expensive enterprise (more than a billion dollars) of providing the coverage with the $1B it’s gained in advertising revenues.  Four years ago, this wasn’t as big a problem for US viewers as the 12-hour time zone difference from Beijing allowed US viewers to see events in prime time that were happening in the morning.  Before 2008, no one would have considered expecting full live coverage of every event.  Sure, there have been some glitches with the NBC streaming, and the commercial breaks on the primetime interrupt the flow of action, but when I see the hashtag #NBCfail, I just want someone to retweet it from the @firstworldpains account.

The only legitimate complaints I’ve seen against the network is that some of the coverage has been either lackluster or downright offensive.  Skipping the tribute to those killed in the London bombings to put an interview between Michael Phelps and Ryan Seacrest in the middle of the opening ceremonies was, one might say, uncouth.  Some of the schadenfreude exhibited by American commentators as people saw their Olympic dreams crushed has made me feel a little uneasy.  The disparity in the way commentators discuss female competitors and male competitors has also left me wanting more.  In this respect, I find the British commentators on the livestream to be much more amenable. Not to mention that the commentators — even on a 4 hour tape delay — couldn’t bother to look up who Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) was before going on the air.  As a main feature of the celebration — and perhaps ironic that the web is coming back to bite NBC in so many ways — it was disrespectful to dismiss him as someone people don’t know.  That, and the first-day primetime coverage of the Gymnastics qualifiers was ENTIRELY THE AMERICAN TEAM.  I know we’re a bit of a jingoistic people, but the Olympics are about the whole world competing.

So far I’m impressed with NBC on the technological front, and I don’t think it’s fair to fault them for their decision to air some events live primetime.  That said, they need to get their act together and work on that primetime coverage to avoid creating another Romney-esque international incident (Exhibit A, Exhibit B).

On a lighter note… imagine how awkward this phone call to the Olympic Committee must have been?

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“I don’t give a shit, Madame Butterfly!”

HBO’s new show, The Newsroom, continues to draw the ire of many critics and journalists (although Dan Rather found the show remarkably accurate and the potential to be a classic) who have any number of complaints about the series.  People claim that the dialogue and banter is too intellectual and that people don’t really talk that way (a similar criticism was levied at Sorkin’s other hit television show that you might remember… The West Wing).  The blog-o-sphere is aghast at how the show is misogynistic and fails at creating strong, likable female characters (I would usually provide a link here, but you can just Google any recap from the first six episodes and you will see the same complaints rehashed over and over).  Others complain that the show is too one-sidedly liberal and that Will McEvoy, the main character, is the voice of Liberal TV-God Sorkin himself.  Others just rag on how the drama between the characters gets in the way of the good part of the show, which is the idealized newsroom covering events that are several years or months old with the benefit of hindsight to aid in the writing.

The criticism that the show is too dialogue-heavy and intellectual, to me, should be more a praise than a complaint.  It has to be one of the most intelligently written shows since the West Wing and focuses on two things that I would prefer to banal plot, namely character development (and their psychology) and social/political issues.  The notion that people in this profession do not — would not — speak that way, I think, might be a bit disingenuous.  Has anyone ever watched Rachel Maddow?  She speaks that way, as do many journalists.  She spoke that was a radio host, and she speaks that was as a TV host, and I imagine she speaks similarly if I were talking to her outside her work environment (and very little of The Newsroom is set outside the work environment, so I still think it’s reasonable for them to talk that way).  People who are in environments of very educated people, and who are themselves well-educated, tend to speak in a more formal register of language.  I don’t find it so unrealistic that I can’t suspend my disbelief for the 52 minutes of an episode because Will or Mackenzie are just a bit too witty.

As someone who considers himself a budding feminist (or pro-feminist, if you’re in the camp of individuals who believe that men cannot be feminists), I don’t really understand the critique of the show as being overtly misogynistic (similar claims were made about The West Wing as well).  To believe that the show is an anthem for white male privilege, as many reviews would suggest, means that you accept as a premise that we are supposed to like and agree with the two most misogynistic characters: Will, our protagonist, and Don, who seems to be improving on the likability front these past two episodes.  I find Will to be one of the most interesting (but also damaged) characters on the show, but I don’t think for a second Sorkin expects you to agree with how he treats others.  He’s a bully and a chauvinist, and you’re supposed to dislike those parts about him.  If I had any complaints about the series thus far, it would be that tonight’s episode basically had to spell this out for the viewer as Will admits he’s a bully, and a strong female character shouts “Don’t call me girl!” after being patronized by Charlie (played by Sam Waterston from Law & Order, whom I love).

[Edit, rant to follow: I just felt that, after reading some more reviews, that I needed to elaborate even further on this.  It is true that some of the female characters on the show have serious character flaws.  Some of those flaws are ones that are typically and inaccurately ascribed to all women by society.  Similarly, some of the men on the show have serious character flaws, and some of those flaws are ones typically and innaccurately ascribed to all men by society.  But there are male characters who are not the epitome of patriarchy and masculinity (Jim) and there are characters who challenge female archetypes (Sloan, and to some extent, Mac).  People fail to recognize when railing against this show’s misogyny that these characters are highly competent yet flawed.  Those who lambaste the character of Mac for her technology savvy and being bullied by Will don’t recognize that she’s the same character who embedded herself to cover the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that Will is the highest-rated anchor on the air and seems to be a journalistic idyll but whose entire staff left him, hates him, or is afraid of him.  I am just frustrated that people don’t see that these characters are multi-dimensional and flawed as products of an imperfect society and a unique set of experiences, but rather see them as promoting some hegemonic male white privilege.  The whole argument reminds me of people who try to say (and they do exist, I promise) that Glee is homophobic because Kurt exhibits some stereotypes of the gay community.  They try to diminish him as a flat, archetypal gay character rather than looking past that to see one of the more nuanced and complicated characters on the show.]

As for the complaints that the show is too partisan and that Will is Sorkin’s mouthpiece, well, that’s just not really believable.  Will is a Republican (in the traditional New England style, not the radical Tea Party style or the Christian Right Neo-Conservative style).  But again, tonight’s episode pandered to those who didn’t quite get that by giving a Republican character a more likable place on today’s show (though the fact that fictional Sutton Wall is based on real-life ex-Santorum staffer Robert Traynham bothered me as out of line — unless there are other Black, gay, Santorum campaign staffers out there I don’t know about, this man is not a public figure and probably shouldn’t have been castigated in fictional form on HBO primetime).

Also, I love the drama between the co-workers on the show.  I love their relationships and I find the ensemble cast very symbiotic.  They have chemistry and continue to develop week to week.

And it seems like the viewers agree, if only because the show has already been renewed for a second season and is pulling decent ratings.  It’s not for everyone, and it’s not meant to be, but for its target audience it does a brilliant job and I will continue to watch.  I love the dialogue, adore the female cast, appreciate the voice of moderation (though perhaps in today’s political climate, moderate Republican really is equivalent to far-left demagogue), and find the characters compelling.  Sorkin at his best, and it had me from the opening hook: