Archive for the Television Category

Another Late Night

Posted in Television on June 3, 2009 by Adam

Late night television was a big part of my adolescence. I have never been an early-to-bed type, and for the majority of my teenage years, my night-owl schedule allowed my to tune into Late Night with Conan O’Brien quite regularly. It was pretty much a nightly tradition, in fact. I would occasionally catch the last few minutes of Leno while waiting for Conan’s introductory horns, and I never enjoyed those times. Whether it was a musical act, a stand-up comedian or Jay taking part in some goofy science experiment, it always seemed…I don’t know…a bit 11:30 pm for my taste. But then Conan came on, and I was sure that all of the fogeys who had to force their eyes open during Letterman (who I do like very much, it should be noted) or Leno were finally safely asleep. The real “late night” hours began. I would eat some junk food, turn the lights off, and, in later years, maybe smoke a bowl. Come 12:30, I felt as if I were part of a secret club of insomniacs, ready to chuckle to ourselves until the sun came up. Especially during the summer, weeknights belonged to Conan–and whatever was on Adult Swim afterward. There were parts of his show I loved, namely the post-monologue, pre-interview sketches, when absurd characters like Preparation H Raymond and the Masturbating Bear would make it impossible for both me and the host to keep a straight face.

So I watched this week’s first episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien with a sense of excitement and trepidation. It was obviously going to be better than Leno, but I wondered just how much it would hearken back to the earlier days of a later time slot. I hoped O’Brien would retain the self-deprecating schtick, as worn-out as it can sometimes seem, while still looking forward to the partially new personality he would have to build for his expanded audience. I sat down, and I waited for two worlds to collide and produce a delightful hodgepodge of old and new, New York and LA, underground comedy and mainstream entertainment.

By my own account, O’Brien was fairly successful in achieving this with his first show, especially if one were to give him the “all pilot episodes suck” benefit of the doubt.

But by the time 12:35 rolled around, I had experienced an interesting feeling: apathy. At first, I thought it was just because the episode was merely okay, neither a disaster nor a masterpiece.

That’s when another funny thing happened. As the fast-paced opening credits of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon whizzed by, I suddenly got that old feeling. I looked out the window and the Brooklyn sky had a tinge of suburban twilight coloring. I got a craving for Sprite and Pringles. I imagined for a moment that I was the only one on my block who was awake. And I began to watch and I no longer felt apathy. I still didn’t love Fallon as a host or as a comedian, but that hardly mattered. I felt special, I felt like it was summertime and the clock had just struck and all the old folks had hit the hay and I was left with my show, the one that was a little bit weirder, a little bit cooler and, most importantly, a little bit later.

And I realized that content is really only part of the story. My relationship with Late Night with Conan O’Brien was one not founded on jokes or interviews or the host’s persona–all of which were enjoyable, to be sure. The real thing that kept me coming back every night was the feeling that things were just getting started for me at a time when they were winding down for most others. It was a feeling not unlike invincibility, and even though I am no longer young enough for such feelings to be wholly acceptable, I often yearn for them.

Welcome to my life, Jimmy.

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Sheer Madness

Posted in Internet, Television with tags , on March 22, 2009 by Adam

Earlier this week, I received a work e-mail from a higher-up at my magazine with the words “March Madness” in the subject line. Because this was not from the co-worker in charge of the office pool and because of the job title of the sender, I was pretty sure that I knew what this e-mail would be about: “Please don’t gamble or partake in activities that support gambling while at work.”

If only. Because despite the fact that I had already submitted 25 dollars in cash for an office pool, I could have lived with being scolded for gambling or even told that my money would be collected and used to buy a new copy machine. But the e-mail was more along these lines: “Please don’t watch streaming video of games on your work computer. We have to pay for our bandwidth and it slows the network down for everyone else.”

Outrage. Pure, vengeful outrage racing through my bloodstream. “How?” I thought. “They can’t…” “This is my com-“. Aha. I realized I had fallen into a dangerous modern trapping. Although my employer had provided me with all of the hardware and some of the software that I was using, the fact that I had been the only one who operated the machine on a daily basis gave me a false sense of ownership, one that seems to mirror many people’s feelings about the information they share with the world. While a false sense of information ownership is nothing new–think of all the musicians from the last century who believed they would get a cut of royalty money only to find out that the record label is the sole proprietor of a piece–what makes this modern naivete so much more prevalent is the fact that the tools used to send forth this information, unlike a record studio, are generally in front of us every day.

My inability to use my office computer for streaming video at first seemed like a Fascist prohibition of information flow. Before long, though, I realized it was much simpler. It was a reminder that the tools used for transmitting this information can sometimes be legally and appropriately snatched right out from under us.

Katie Couric’s Heart of Darkness

Posted in Music, Television with tags , , , on February 5, 2009 by Adam

The above interview of Lil’ Wayne by Katie Couric has been hitting the Internet pretty hard since last night, and the general reaction seems to be giddy amusement. Now I am not above this (see bottom of post), but I would feel odd if I weren’t to point out the King Kong-like overtones of sociological fascination and sexual curiosity that shine through. At numerous points in the video, you can see Couric take on the role of wide-eyed colonialist who has landed on foreign shores and tries to figure out the secrets of the strange culture upon which she has come:

“What does that mean when you say, ‘I’m a gangster.’?”

“Can you take me through a little journey of your face?” (Notice how we don’t hear about the teardrops.)

“And by the way, do I call you Wayne, Weezy, Lil’?”

“Tell me about this drink, Wayne, that you like…called syrup.”

And then there is bowling scene. The hand-holding, arm-grabbing bowling scene. Without making any declarative statements about the hormonal influence on this portion of the interview, I do think it’s undeniable that, when combined with the above bits of outside-looking-in curiosity, these moments reveal something about Couric’s approach to her subject. As does this.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed this interview. At times, Couric and Wayne had a very real, respectful rapport, and Weezy comes off as very likable. But, still, there is something patronizing about Couric’s voice, about the glow in her eyes, about the way she reverts back to softening things up. Best case scenario, it’s a testament to the fact that rappers, much like pierced punk rockers, are still seen as cultural oddities that are there to be studied. Worst case scenario, it’s a bit of Bamboozled.

Either way, as I said, I am not above any of this. When Lil’ Wayne talks, I am enthralled; I cannot stop listening. And for that reason, I am also curious to know what your favorite line or scene was. Comment below…

Hulu Saves The World. Or not.

Posted in Internet, Television with tags , , , on February 5, 2009 by Adam

One of the most talked-about commercials from last Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast was Hulu‘s “An Evil Plot to Destroy the World” spot. Understandably–the ad was funny, it enlisted the star power of Alec Baldwin, and it had the dubious privilege of existing within a Bowl broadcast that produced few other memorable commercials. As you know, though, the real appeal of the spot comes in its startling acknowledgment of the kinds of critiques that have been leveled at modern media purveyors, namely, that the constant presence of screens in the modern life is making us less socially functional and more relying on technology to get us through our daily journey:

“And the best part is, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I mean, what are you gonna do, turn off your TV and your computer?”

I can only assume that Baldwin’s question forced a lot of people–many of whom were undoubtedly checking their Facebook page as they kept one eye on the TV screen–to stop in their tracks and think about how close to home the words were hitting. Yet, for every viewer who was appalled to be confronted by such a brutal truth, I believe there was another who shrugged and said, “Yep. I am addicted to having a screen in front of me.”

This acknowledgment may be the key to harnessing the wonderful access that our computers, phones, and television sets give us, using them to make us all the more intelligent about both what what we consume and what we produce. The fact that Meetup uses a digital, Evite-like program to put into effect their “Unplug Your Friends” screen addiction intervention program is a humorous reminder that turning off completely is both unnecessary and, ultimately, limiting. Gone are the days when it was trendy to say you didn’t own a television. Cultural literacy is, I would say, as valuable a form of social currency now as it has ever been.

And while I do not subscribe to Steven Johnson’s belief, put forth in 2005’s Everything Bad is Good for You, that today’s lowest common denominator media artifacts are significantly more challenging and rewarding than their counterparts of yesteryear, the abundance of screens has certainly raised the bar on the highest common denominator, both in quality and quantity–the more transistors, the more opportunity for consumer control. This consumer control is also made possible by the self-selection of time and place of consumption, a well-documented factor in the continued proliferation of digital forms of viewing. And, perhaps most importantly, the abundance of screens has given us a powerful cross-referencing tool, and the fact that we are becoming quite good at using this tool easily stamps out the notion that we are falling into passive realms.

It is the tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of these aspects of modern media–as well as their Luddite naysayers–that made the Hulu spot such a breath of fresh air. If more media outlets can intelligently acknowledge modern consumption and thereby encourage its most intelligent use, we will be on the right path to avoiding mental destruction.

UPDATE: It has occurred to me that all of these goddamned screens have, in fact, started to rot my brain and everything I said above is a lie that I was tricked into thinking I believed. Sorry for the confusion.

UPDATE: I just did some online research, and it now appears that the original post was both accurate and honest. Please disregard first update.