Being Erica, CBC's only promising new series, has starting losing viewers since moving to Wednesdays nights, despite having the strong (well, strong ratings-wise) The Week the Women Went as a lead-in. The problem? Erica is up against LOST ... and recent episodes haven't lived up the the promise of the earlier shows, treading dangerously close to indulging in the twin CBC pitfalls of 'downer storylines' and 'stuff nobody likes in light entertainment' ... in this case, religious storylines. Even the Americans, who have been known a times to be a little bit religous, avoid putting religion in their shows because it crucifies ratings. You're giving Canadians religious story elements in your tv show? Now wonder the ratings are heading south.
Thing is, Being Erica mostly works, so hopefully CBC will resist the temptation to do too much retooling. But there are some elements that are hemming in the writing and could be tweaked. Here's how the show could be more fun:
1. Regress Erica's Dating Success Logically, the series ends when Erica fulfills her aspirations to have a relationship and a career. Dramatically, the show could also be over when Erica has the capacity to achieve those aspirations. Well, she already has that capacity for relationships ... next episode, she has two great guys and has to pick!
Slow down, already.
The show cheated us out of the most entertaining part of dating! The part when you date all the wrong people. Oh wait, they did give us some of that ... on Erica's blog:
Worse still, the two male characters Erica has two choose from are nearly identical, both physically and in their droopy, dry personalities. Contrast can add zing. You know who had a more interesting love life? Anne of Freaking Snot-Green Gables.
How to fix it: Make her best friend her best friend and make the other guy gay. Why does Ethan even have to be a romantic interest? Erica should be dating and it should be messy and fun. The people she dates should reflect her mental state ... the guys she's dating now suggest that she's easygoing and settled. Also, she should be dating a lot of interesting characters from outside of her immediate world. It should be a bit like traveling (as a counterpoint to 'time travelling'). Most of the show's target demographic married the guy they went out with in high school or university and Erica's messy, thirty-something dating should be a vicarious adventure for them. 2. Make Dr. Tom flawed. Michael Riley was one of the best things about This is Wonderland, but so far he's a bit wasted on Erica. He plays Erica's 'therapist' who sends her back in time to deal with her life's regrets. The thing is, so far Dr. Tom appears to be infallible and that saps the dramatic potential out of the character and the show.
How to fix it: You don't need to radically change the character; all you need to do is sow a bit of doubt. It could be done by having Erica go back in the past and, while there, she overhears another person talking about contemporary events. She confronts the person and that person explains that they're also being treated by 'Dr. Tom'. The character sees Dr. Tom and points 'him' out but Erica doesn't see him because the other Dr. Tom is a woman (I'd cast Lisa Ray because her smooth vibe would contrast well against Riley). The two Dr. Toms meet and they know one another and have serious philosophical differences ... I dunno, the second Dr. Tom might think that you only send a person back a couple of times because repeatedly sending a person back and overwriting their past over and over can overwhelm a person.
What this does is even out the power balance between Dr. Tom and Erica and lets her challenge him and the writers can have a bit more fun with their bickering. The actors have great energy and chemistry that they're not using. The way things are now, when she's upset he just pats her on the head and gives her sage advice and she eats it.
3. Time travel should be less routine. I used to have this recurring nightmare where I'd wake up in my parent's old station wagon on my way to high school in grade 10 ... but with full knowledge of the present. It was terrifying and my thoughts weren't of what I'd gained by being able to do everything over; I was crushed by what I'd lost. I'd earned those years and everything had been erased.
Only seven episodes in, the time travel has become to feel routine. In tonight's episode, they even jumped off Premise Beach and had Erica go back to someone else's time. Seven episodes in on a 13-episode season. If they're doing that now, what are they going to be doing by third season? Milk the premise!
How to fix it: Expose Dr. Tom as being a bit flawed and you have an excuse for making the time travel a little more unpredictable and risky.
4. No More 'Pretty Betty' You would think the CBC would have imposed a 'No Pretty Betty' rule after 'Sophie', but no dice. Erica has a new job in an office with Ugly Betty-esque qualities (except Erica's boss, instead of being funny and lusty, is just mean) and Erica, like Sophie, is the 'Pretty Betty'. And the job isn't just boring, it's too predictably 'Toronto' ... and the Erica character is too compelling to be working in trade fiction. Anyhow, that's probably turned off a few viewers.
How to fix it: 'Pretty Betty' never works. Stop it. Now.
Fortunately, Being Erica will survive because, so far, CBC's goal of creating ''popular" shows isn't working out so well.
Just in case you missed it over at Day in the Life, Melissa probably wins The Bachelor next week (warning: spoiler):
Following on the heels of last year's dust up, Steve Page has left the Barenaked Ladies. I saw the Bareknaked Ladies perform once and they put on a great show and a big part of that was Page's energy. In 1992. It was all downhill once they left cassette tape behind.
Watchmen premiered in the UK and despite a bunch of positive reviews, the one from an actual fanboy says it's a stinker. But he thought the revised ending was fine. If the movie is as lame as he thinks, I would argue that it was because they changed the ending. "Screenplay is structure" as they say (hey, I got an 'A' in 4th year screenwriting) and you write to your ending.
Star Trek desktop images good enough to make Carole Pope cream her jeans ... that is, if she liked Star Trek. She probably does.
Well, now we've got a different story, right? Now, it's no longer a story about the appropriateness of our choosing Kathy to appear on the program. Now it's a story about a well known Liberal Party operative threatening us (with what? We didn't know) unless we did what he said.
Kinsella was the first to leave a comment:
3. I contacted the Minister responsible, as I clearly noted in the first sentence, as a citizen. I do not lose my rights to object to TVO's bad editorial judgment simply because I am, as you say, a "Liberal Party operative."
The National Post and right wing bloggers danced with glee upon reading Paiken's defense of Shaidle ... althought it was a bit pyrrhic as both Paiken and the Post reposted Kinsella's list of racist Shaidle quotations. Shaidle used the attention as an opportunity to launch a fresh round of blegging, but stageleft asked:
we've raised funds here at Stageleft for cancer research, the Terry Fox Run, the Drive For Dad, the Aboriginal Youth March Across Canada - boring stuff like that. Tell me: you've got tags all over your site inviting readers to donate money to you for your "books", your nonexistent-so-far legal fees, and now for the "pink short barrel shotgun" you crave. Just curious: do you ever raise funds for a cause that's not, you know - YOU?
And if the Post loves Shaidle so much, why don't they give her a writing gig?
"You revel in the New York-inspired romance of the place"
"Mr. McEwan decided the Shops at Don Mills was perfect for the launch of his $6-million Europe-meets-North America food-retail experiment."
Holy shit. Can you imagine such a thing? New York & Europe melded together in one amazing location? Where in Toronto could such a thing be possible?
Oh ... it's Don Mills:
"This demographic is massive," he said. "People don't understand how big it is. If you imagine people hopping in their car, which you have to do in Toronto ... it's very convenient for people."
In other words, it will be absolutely nothing like New York or Europe. Unless by "New York" you mean suburban Syracuse. After all, if you say that something is like New York or Europe, aren't you implying that that you don't have to hop in a car? And you don't have to hop in a car in Toronto ... I've never even owned a car.
Whatever his skills are as a chef, when it comes to city life, McEwan doesn't seem to have very good taste.
Actually, I care about the Academy Awards about as much as I care about the Olympics. Even during the best years, the Oscars are an exercise in recognizing unremarkable blandness -- try and name the Oscar winners from, say, ten years go -- and 2008 was such a dribbly year for flicks, the task is even easier.
LEAD ACTOR - Mickey Rourke, hands down. Everybody loves a comeback, especially now that the economy is tanking. Just like the economy, Rourke and his character endured years of bad behaviour. If Mickey Rourke can come back, surely so can Merrill Lynch. Of course, it's implied that Rourke's character dies at the end ... just forget about that part.
Wow, this is easy.
SUPPORTING ACTOR - Heath Ledger. I don't even know if I'm going to bother finishing this post, it writes itself.
LEAD ACTRESS - Winslet has it going on this year, so she'll win it. The only thing that could stop her is if enough people were annoyed by her overdone 'I can't believe it' speeches at the Golden Globes. Don't make us hate you, because we will at the drop of a hat.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS - It was weird when such a weak actress won an Oscar the first time, so she'll win because her winning again would be hi-freaking-larious! Sometimes the universe just loves to rub your face in it. And then do it again.
ANIMATED FEATURE - Rise & Fall of the Nazi Dinosaurs will win in an unexpected upset. Or Wall-E. Whichever one had the bigger budget.
ART DIRECTION - movies always look great so everybody nominated and everyone working in this area on every film should win. If only the writing of mainstream flicks matched the art direction.
DOC - Man on Wire. I guess. Rarely do the best docs of the year show up as Oscar nominees and this year is no exception. There were some really great docs last year ... The Betrayal, for example, was neat because it was shot over decades ... but it wasn't 'great' the way a bunch of other, unrecognized films were.
FOREIGN - I like the vampire flick, Let the Right One In ... but it wasn't nominated. I reckon Waltz With Bashir will win.
BEST PICTURE - Probably the Brad Pitt move. I can't see the enthusiasm for Slumdog Millionaire resonating the same way in the US as it has elsewhere. Besides, it's a really good movie ... but it's not a great movie. The year's other slum movie, City of Men, is better. I'll bet that if you watch City of Men and then watch Slumdog Millionaire right after, it won't seem as special.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - Frost/Nixon. It'll win as a sort of snub of the former Bush administration. That's funny because it probably wouldn't win if more Americans knew who David Frost is and that he works for Al Jazeera English.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - MILK.
I'll check back in on this post and tally the results after the show.
If you go and look at some lists of this year's movies, the mainstream movies were all just really tired and sad. Nothing great and nothing really bad, just lots of movies that make you shrug and think, 'so what?' But what do you expect from a time when the teen pop senations proclaim their virginity with 'purity rings'. At age 20. The 1950s just called, they want their stupidity back.
Cult and genre flicks had a much better year; there was some fun to be had from those selections. Maybe the Obama election, the financial crisis and the changing of the decade will energize non-mainstream entertainment again. The horror cycle will probably wane and sci-fi should rebound as we move from and even-numbered decade to an odd-numbered decade, so that holds promise. The more alternatives there are to dull 'award winners', the happier I'll be ...
Dead Things on Sticks has two great posts about the CRTC hearings and proposed internet levies. One thing he clarifies is that these hearings are only about "broadcasting in new media" and not a host of other issues that tend to get rolled in. I still think that using the word 'broadcasting' in relation to the internet keeps you from clearly seeing the issues ... but life ... goes ... on.
In the first post, he defends levies from the historical perspective and points out that levies have worked in the past ... and uses the example of the Canadian film industry to show what happens when you leave a cultural sector industry to the wolves:
Canadian film distribution is to Canadian TV as a greasy piece of street meat is to Dinner at that hot NY Bistro that just got written up but is so cool that it doesn't even have a name.
That's because years ago, thanks mainly to tireless U.S. lobbyist Jack Valenti, our screens were chucked wholesale into the miasma of the American machine. Now, Canadian box office is counted as part of the U.S. Domestic box.
But, again, his perspective is skewed by the belief that "People are already making money on the net. It's just the people selling the pipe." However incorrect -- here, buy some picture frame elements -- it's a convenient view because you're absolved if nobody can make money over the internet.
"Well okay," the next argument comes, "you assess us a levy, and we're just going to pass it on to the consumer and they'll hate you because it's an extra tax." To which we say, you are given protected access to your market under the Telecom act. The government protects you from competition. Competition that might result in lower rates for you and me. And in the spirit of that, the tradeoff -- just as it was for Cable TV, and Broadcasters -- is that you have responsibilities to support the indigenous cultural industries. It is, in fact, part of your cost of doing business.
And it's followed up by some thoughtful comments:
Based on recent history I expect 90% or so of the money to go to the usual suspects and, also based on recent history, I expect them to do strange-counterintuitive things with it, things that won't work and then they'll go back to the CRTC and claim that 100 million just isn't enough and they need more (even though there are people doing interesting, creative and marginally successful things out there with no budget at all.)
He makes a good case for the levy and funding for creatives, and it's not something I'd really oppose ... it's just that I don't think that a fund like that would help as much as an attitude shift. Actually, what would really help is the fund and an attitude shift. And that shift has to be from the defensive view of the internet as a threat to an offensive view of the internet as a great opportunity.
We just finished watching the 4th season of The Wire and have one more season to go before facing a future without new episodes of the show. Yikes. The Wire has sort of ruined tv for me for now; other shows now seem stagey and a bit shallow in comparison. The CSI shows are now nearly unwatchable because they seem so silly (except for CSI Miami, which is still a treat because it's so Ed Wood-esque-ly bad).
My friend Mariela, who was watching the show way back when it started, says she's going to watch the whole series again, from the start. I reckon we'll do the same thing. But for now, the task is to try and figure out how to ration out season 5 between now and the start of Mad Men ...
I checked in on the REEL website the other day to see how things were looking and was greeted by ... this:
AAAggggghhhh ... that hurts!
After you finish with a project, you hope others will come along and build on it and improve it ... not turn it into a scrap heap. How many different kinds of ugly have they managed to squeeze in? The only element I created that's survived the years is the blocky REEL lettering on the logo. Even 'Canada' and 'Our films in our schools' has been mucked up by somebody. What's stunning about that page is that there is absolutely nothing right about it. You'd think that at least one thing would have worked out by accident ...
People just seem to love to wreck things. A few months ago there was an open house on our street and we went for a look and the old house had been perfectly maintained -- we were stunned when we saw it, it was that impressive -- and was in beautiful condition. Someone bought it ... and GUTTED IT! Same thing happened recently to the house I grew up in. My parents had planted a cedar hedge and built a rustic cedar post fence around the back yard and it had grown up and aged really well. But, after the house sold last year, the new owners ripped out the fence and replaced it with the cheapest-looking, ugliest new fence you could ever imagine.
Here's how we can ensure that Canadians will be able to see and share Canadian stories: First, those who are streaming live programs from Canada, through the Internet or to mobile receiving devices, must be licensed and subject to rules equivalent to conventional TV broadcasters.
First, Kinsella just posted a video. Should he be licensed and subject to rules (I don't know what the rules are but I'm pretty sure they suck) equivalent to conventional TV broadcasters? You might argue 'no' because it's just a guy posting a video on his blog. What if there was a Canadian equivalent to Channel101? Do they need to be regulated? Or how about OVN.tv, since they actually charge for content?
The actors mucked it up by equating "broadcasting" with the internet. As soon as it hits the internet, even if it's a streamed episode of 90210, it's no longer broadcasting. Compared to a Channel101 show, that 90210 episode may seem clearly like broadcasting today ... but in terms of policy, they're the same thing and some day any apparent differences won't be there at all.
Second, those who are using new media to make programs available from Canada for viewing at a time and place chosen by the viewer must be licensed and subject to regulations equivalent to other "on-demand" programming undertakings.
Hold on, he confused me! That first thing was about live events and this second thing is about pre-recorded content. I'm not quite sure why that distinction needed to be made in that way ... maybe because a live stream might actually be "broadcasting" if enough people watch it. Ok, he's concerned about his stand-up act being streamed from someone's phone.
Mochrie has one last thing:
Third, if the CRTC is going to create space for Canadian stories in new media, there must be stories to fill that space.
To that end, a levy should be imposed on Internet and wireless service providers to fund new media production, modelled on the levy on cable companies.
Shouldn't that have been the first thing? Where are his priorities? Anyhow, the most revealing bit comes in the paragraph that follows:
New media broadcasting is the future. We need to set out what the rules are going to be now so everyone knows what the terrain looks like and appropriate business models can develop.
This is a battle for the future.
Again, it's not "broadcasting". In this case you can pretty much assume that "appropriate business models" means "current business models grafted onto the internet." Remember how well that worked out for the music industry? That's why he (and the head of ACTRA) characterizes it as a "battle" ... the old business model isn't suited to the internet so it has to be imposed by force.
So, what's a cowboy to do?
First, look at what's working. Out in Calgary, istock managed to shake up a multi-billion dollar industry by starting small and evolving a new model. While lots of Luddites feel that the internet glass in half empty, istock showed that there are opportunities for people with a little imagination. I have over 1600 images available for purchase (please buy some or lots) all over the world through istock and Getty -- and that's Canadian content!
Second, the new business models are not going to come from the big, established companies or organizations so funding an 'appropriate model' through a levy is only diverting talent away from the appropriate task; coming up with a new model. istock was created by frustrated people who couldn't break into a stuffy, closed industry. I know lots of people in tv and film scrambling around trying to catch a break ... and one of these days one of them could have a great idea.
La Shaidle, for all her bluster, was totally out of her league, and it showed. If I were an opponent of the Atheist Bus Campaign, I'd be writing angry letter's to TVO to complain about showing their side to be so bad by having a pitiful boob like her representing it. It wasn't close to fair.
No! Seriously, that's pretty much it: My enemies are belligerent Muslims -- from now on I'm calling them "brown supremicists" -- and the radical left. Both are unfortunately being enabled by our liberal elite Establishment.
We watch The Agenda frequently and think Steve Paikin is a national treasure ... but I think they tripped up by not keeping current with her blog. Today's Shaidle is not the same writer she was several years ago when she wrote Relapsed Catholic.
Back "in the day", Shaidle had the qualities of the classic comic book villain; she was the blogger you loved to hate. She was funny, feisty, mean and unapologetic -- back when those qualities were in short supply on Canadian blogs -- so of course you'd want to book her on your show. Her blog was interesting and covered a broad range of subjects and she blunted her more radical, fringe views with code and weasel words.
But over time she tread closer and closer towards crazy. Her blog became an endless spew of racist insults. She seemed to cross the line around the time of this post about the Errol Morris doc, Mr. Death, a film about a man who becomes a white supremacist and holocaust denier. I thought it was odd that she didn't see herself in the film ... I dunno, maybe her whole 'racist' thing is some sort of bizarre art project.
Anyhow, there's probably no god ... but there's certainly nobody reading Shaidle's blog at TVO.
Kathy Shaidle ceased to be Relapsed Catholic a long time ago, and if I have a beef, it is with TVO representing her as the former writer of Relapsed Catholic and not the current writer of Five Feet of Fury. Five Feet of Fury is a sewer of bigotry, so much so that most of Kathy’s former TV or radio friends (Michael Coren for example) have left her by the wayside. TVO needs to update their information.
And here's a good thing: OVN.tv. It's a site where you can download independent films for the price of a rental ... you can -- and should -- watch Monkey Warfare right now for $5. It's a good idea but I just tried the system and it's not instant if you use Paypal. Let's see how long it takes ...
The solution to that problem is to offer a credit system, like istock. That way, you only have to wait when you buy a credit pack and OVN could offer discounts for larger credit packs. The site has lots of potential, let's hope they run with it.