Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: TV (page 2 of 4)

David Simon’s open letter to New Orleans

David Simon writes to the residents of New Orleans to beg their indulgence for minor inaccuracies inserted for the benefit of better television, and to explain that they want to be judged on whether or not they get the larger themes right. Here’s a snippet:

We offer this bit of information freely, as Exhibit A in what will surely become a long list of cited inaccuracies, anachronisms and equivocations through which New Orleanians reassure themselves that not only is our little drama a fiction, but that those who have perpetrated this fiction are indifferent to facts, chronologies, historical possibilities.

I can’t wait for the premier of Treme tonight.

The future of Tivo

The good news is that Tivo is releasing a new DVR. It looks awesome. I have been a Tivo customer for many years, in fact, Tivo is perhaps my favorite product of all time.

The bad news is that Tivo is a perpetual money loser, and lost 730,000 subscribers last year.

For many years I’ve had a DVR provided by Time-Warner hooked up to the second TV. It is the worst product I use on a regular basis. The interface is terrible, the remote is ungainly, and the performance of the device is pathetic. But what we’ve learned over time is that people are not willing to pay the premium for the Tivo experience — the cable company DVRs are good enough for most people. I doubt that many people even know that the Tivo is so much better.

One big problem Tivo faces is that it’s a lot easier for a cable company to ship a DVR that you just plug in and start using than it is for Tivo to do the same. In addition to the Tivo, we have two cable cards that enable it to tune in digital channels, and a tuning adapter that the Tivo needs to tune in SDV channels. Getting the CableCards to work was incredibly painful and required several visits from the cable guy and many phone calls with tech support, and the tuning adapter required for SDV crashes frequently and sometimes takes the Tivo down with it. The miserable piece of crap that is the cable company DVR just works.

I’ve always wished that a cable company would license Tivo’s software and use it in their own DVRs, but it has never happened. That’s a pity, because I continue to worry about Tivo’s viability as an independent concern.

Jeopardy and Family Feud

Fred Clark argues that on health care reform, Democrats are playing Jeopardy while Republicans are playing Family Feud:

At the recent health care reform “summit,” Republican leaders made it clear that they’re not interested in playing Jeopardy. That would be a losing proposition against President Ken Jennings. Obama was eager to show that he really does have the right answers — cost containment, near-universal coverage, lower premiums, better quality care, deficit reduction. All of that is well covered in the plan he’s pushing and any attempt to challenge him on the facts would be doomed.

So the GOP has decided to play a different game — to switch from Jeopardy to Family Feud. That way it’s not about the facts, or about what works, or about the actual effect of actual policies on actual people. In the subjective guessing-game of Family Feud, none of that matters. Family Feud is all about perceptions — about what those hundred people surveyed think or guess or dimly remember having heard something about.

This is perhaps my favorite blog post I’ve read this year and a gold medal winner in the Metaphor Olympics.

Ethan Watters’ advice for Daily Show guests

I’ll probably never be a guest on the Daily Show, but Ethan Watters’ advice for guests was interesting anyway. I’ve seen this advice from several former guests:

Don’t try to be funny unless you ARE funny. If you are not sure if you are funny, assume that you are not and if you try to be in this situation you will look like an incredible jackass because you are sitting next to someone who is preternaturally, almost freakishly, hilarious.

Vice interview with David Simon

For hardcore addicts of The Wire like myself, David Simon’s interview with Vice Magazine is can’t miss material. The interview is huge, here are some good bits. David Simon explains what’s wrong with TV writing:

But I guess where I was originally going is that nobody wants to write endings in television. They want to sustain the franchise. But if you don’t write an ending for a story, you know what you are? You’re a hack. You’re not a storyteller. It may not be that you have the skills of a hack. You might be a hell of a writer, but you’re taking a hack’s road. You’re on the road to hackdom and there’s no stopping you because stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The difference between Greek and Shakespearean theatre:

This seems to play into what you mentioned earlier, that you were writing Greek tragedy, which certainly had comedic elements.

Yes. Before finishing the first season I’d reread most of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, those three guys. I’d read some of it in college, but I hadn’t read it systematically. That stuff is incredibly relevant today. As drama, the actual plays are a little bit stilted, but the message within the plays and the dramatic impulses are profound for our time. We don’t really realize it. I don’t think we sense the power in there because we’re really more in the Shakespearean construct of—

Yes, the individualism kind of thing.

The individual and the interior struggle for self. Macbeth and Hamlet and Lear and Othello. These are the great tragedies—the dramatic branch that leads to O’Neill and our modern theater. But I saw a version of Aeschylus’s The Persians done on the stage in Washington, and it made my jaw drop. They put it on during the height of the insurgency in Iraq—after that misadventure in Iraq had made itself apparent. If you read that play and if you saw this production of it, it was so dead-on. I don’t know if you know the play.

There’s a ton of other great stuff in there, especially for fans of The Wire. My main impulse after reading the interview was to go off and write an essay explaining how the Gervais principle applies to The Wire. Maybe over the holidays …

What The Office teaches us

Venkat Rao deeply examines the US and British versions of The Office and tries to distill a theory of management from them. Seriously, read the whole thing.

Update: The essay’s description of over-performing losers moving up to join the ranks of the clueless (if you read the essay this will make sense) reminds me of a story. There was a guy on our high school football team who wanted to come in first in every drill. If the coaches told us to take two laps around the track, he had to finish those two laps first. If the coaches had us pushing a sled, he’d push the sled the hardest. I won’t tell you what all the other players called him, but even at that early age, most people seemed to get that his effort was almost entirely misspent.

The guy wasn’t a great player, and the coaches didn’t give him any extra playing time because he practiced harder than he needed to. His extra investment in over-performing in unimportant drills didn’t make him a better football player. I wonder what he’s up to today?

Links for August 24

Trying yet another format for daily links. Here we go:

  • This is accountability.
  • Footnotes for last night’s Mad Men. If you like those, there’s a whole blog of Mad Men footnotes by the same author.
  • I wanted to second this notion from Matthew Yglesias that it’s stupid to blame Obama’s mistakes for the trials and tribulations of passing health care reform. This is an incredibly complex, emotionally charged issue, and trillions of dollars are at stake. Plus the opposition party is willing to lie constantly to scuttle reform for political reasons. There is no simple road map to reform.
  • The next World of Warcraft expansion (due sometime in 2010) will feature an in game launch event. The theme of the expansion is that an evil dragon unleashes an event that rips the original game world apart, so it’ll probably be worth renewing your game account just for that event when the time comes.
  • How rich are the super rich? Richer than ever.
  • Security researchers are looking at ways that botnets can be controlled through Google or Twitter. As far as I know, right now the most common approach is via IRC. Honestly, it strikes me that the simplest approach would be to set up a blog on BlogSpot and have all of the zombie PCs subscribe to the RSS feed.

Hulu remembers the early adopters

For their one year anniversary, Hulu sent special T-shirts to the first 100 people who registered for the site. Very cool.

Battlestar Galactica vs The Wire

Battlestar Galactica had its high points, but does it really deserve to even be mentioned in the same sentence as The Wire? The Guardian seems to think so, but we’ll assume they’re just trolling.

Battlestar Galactica and Mitochondrial Eve

I wanted to post a few thoughts on last night’s Battlestar Galactica series. I watched the entire series, from the miniseries/pilot to the big finish last night, and found the quality to be somewhat uneven. Its high points were very high, but it had plenty of low points as well.

The biggest spoiler I saw going into the finale was series creator Ron Moore saying in the special about the show’s production that the show was about the characters, not about the plot. I think that showed from beginning to end — the best parts of the show were very much character-driven rather than plot driven.

So, as to the ending. When the survivors arrive on Earth, Baltar informs them that they are DNA-compatible with the primitive humans that they find. Then in the present-day flash forward, we are made to understand that Hera, the child who is the key to the survival of humans and cylons, is Mitochondrial Eve. There really is a Mitochondrial Eve — she is the earliest common ancestor all humans alive right now share. (I believe she lived about 90,000 years ago, so the 150,000 number on the show is wrong.)

What this implies is that none of the humans or cylons who wind up on Earth (other than Hera) are able to successfully reproduce, or that all of their progeny die out. Hera’s offspring are the only ones who make it. And indeed, none of the indigenous residents of Earth will have produced successful offspring, except through Hera. So she’s not a MacGuffin — she turns out to be the only path forward for humans or cylons. And one could also argue that this is what the Harbinger of Death prophecy that the hybrid gives Starbuck meant as well — nobody but Hera has a future.

Distributing the surviving colonials around the planet to increase the odds of survival can be inferred to be a complete failure. For the Mitochondrial Eve plot point to work out, those colonies must all fail. So what appears to be an up ending is really a down ending, although I’m not sure the writers thought through it enough to see it that way.

The research that led to the discovery of Mitochondrial Eve is interesting. I’d suggest The Journey of Man, an excellent book on the subject by geneticist Spencer Wells.

Update: Be sure to read the comments, it seems I didn’t understand the scientific meaning of Mitochondrial Eve as well as I might have thought.

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