Tag Archives: television

Bands Not Subject to Murphy’s Law for Glee

By Jason Menard,

For a show called Glee, there’s certainly a lot of anger surrounding this show floating around the Internet — a lot of anger, but a stunning lack of common sense.

At the heart of it stands show creator Ryan Murphy, who taken up the standard for his show and, like a protective parent, is fighting back against those who don’t think his brainchild is the greatest thing in the world. In his crosshairs: Kings of Leon and Slash, formerly of Guns ‘n Roses. Continue reading

Hosts Forget Who Stars Really Are

By Jason Menard

It happened at about 5:35 this morning. It was the 1,374,913 th Austin Powers non sequitur that did it, but I’m finally ready to declare war on that most nefarious pox on our society – the television sports highlight show host.

Let me set the stage – although you’ve probably seen this play many times before. In recounting the events of last night’s baseball action, the immaculately coiffed – and slightly unctuous – host prefaced a home run with by shouting, “I’m a Sexy Beast!” and then proceeded to get to the part that mattered: a Randy Sexton home run.

Now, the image on the television continued to show the highlight, but you just know that the living bobblehead who uttered that line was on the verge of dislocating his shoulder in his attempts to pat himself on the back for such a stellar bit of witty repartée. Either that, or he was twisted in internal debate as to whether he should have broken out the ol’ Right Said Fred “I’m Too Sexy” reference. After all, that’s comedy gold.

I know I sit in a precarious position here, as – in hosting a radio show – words are the only tools I have to simultaneously inform and entertain. Yet the question has to be, when is enough enough?

Humour has a wonderful place in all aspects of life and sports, by no means, is immune to its presence. In fact, one could argue that sports of all of life’s follies, is most open to moments of laughter, ridicule, and levity simply because we are talking about – in essence – a game. Yet I’m a firm believer in allowing humour to come naturally from the setting, whether it’s a witty observation, or a clever comment.

But a random outburst based on nothing but someone’s name that has nothing to do with the action on the field? What’s the point?

Unfortunately, TV highlight shows are geared towards a particular demographic and hire accordingly. On-air personalities are trying to hard to be just that – personalities. Vague pop culture references and snide asides are peppered throughout a broadcast as if to allow the host to say, “You see kids, I’m down with you…”

The problem is that each and every bit of allegedly witty repartee diminishes the focus on the game and the real stories therein. Insightful analysis is sacrificed at the altar of lazy writing. After all, it’s much easier to shout “Duncan Hines you do make good cookies,” when someone scores a goal than to explain the how’s and why’s of the action.

Every sports broadcaster has their catch-phrases that are tossed out with semi-regularity. I still remember Howie Meeker semi-screeching that, “You’ve got to put it upstairs!” And play-by-play men like Buffalo’s Rick Jeanneret and Pittsburgh’s Mike Lange are known for their creative ways of describing highlight-reel plays.

Unfortunately, the highlight show desk jockeys try to make every highlight and every opportunity a time for an extraneous comment. Whether or not those comments are appropriate or needed is besides the point. And any value that these aside add to the on-field or on-ice action is accidental at best.

Maybe I’m showing my age. Maybe I’m pining for a show that’s targeted at someone beyond their teen years.

I like a little insight with my sports. It’s why I have trouble with the “he-who-shouts-loudest-wins-the-point” analysis of certain televised NFL pre-game shows and tend to favour the quieter depth provided by radio, print, and on-line pundits.

I don’t need the person on TV to be quick with the catch-phrases. What I need is for him to catch the intricacies of the action and present it in an entertaining fashion. And although the argument may be that highlight shows are too tightly packed and don’t offer the time for this type of commentary, but doesn’t that make the waste of that precious time on self-indulgent non-sequiturs all the more tragic?

Each of us remembers that kid we grew up knowing that wanted so desperately to be funny. He’d try and try to punctuate every situation or comment with a joke – most of which fell flat. And heaven forbid he or she would actually get a laugh – they’d milk that line for life. The kid from my youth spent a year shouting “Soap on a Rope” at every occasion following one serendipitous moment where that phrase proved to be funny.

I always wondered what happened to those types of people. Now I know — they grow up to host TV highlight shows.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Hyperbolic Infomercial Teaches a Lesson

By Jason Menard

It’s amazing how one person’s hyperbolic statement can be another person’s accurate reflection of an event. You can call it synergy, you can call it fate – I call it the power of the late-night infomercial. And maybe our eyes, once opened by shock and disbelief, can remain open to potential happiness that we once took for granted.

It happened just the other night, as my wife and I were mindlessly flipping through channels. Suddenly, a hyperactive piercing voice broke through the ever-changing sea of interrupted conversations, broken music beats, and flashing images. It compelled us to stop, hypnotically drawn to the surrealism of the event.

Now, I own a perfectly good vacuum. I also own a couple of perfectly broken vacuums that I keep around in case I have a technological epiphany and am suddenly able to do more with electronic equipment than simply electrocute myself. The point of all this is to say that I really don’t need a new vacuum.

That being said, the woman – in her increasingly manic state – was doing her best to convince me. Or, should I say, she was trying to stoke the dormant flames of my small appliance passion. The man next to her was doing the convincing – lifting up bowling balls; picking up freezers, and sucking up bowls of dust.

And it was in the midst of me thinking about how infrequently I need to vacuum up sporting goods, large appliances, and evidence of neglect so bad that if they existed in my home I would take my kids to Children’s Aid myself, it happened. That moment of clarity that enveloped me and made me one with the universe.

In the midst of an apoplectic, semi-orgasmic state of rapture regarding the ability of this vacuum to suck up water, the woman screamed, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!”

And I agreed with the statement, if not the target of the sentiment.

I too had never seen anything like that in my life. Never have I seen anyone so maniacally enchanted with an electronic appliance – well, at least one that wasn’t intended to induce apoplectic, fully-orgasmic states of rapture. And while my initial reaction was to mock, upon further reflection perhaps I should admire this woman for ability to appreciate all of life’s gifts.

Needless to say, I did not purchase said miracle bowling-ball sucking vacuum, as I came away less than impressed with the presentation. But maybe that’s my fault – maybe I’m too jaded by life that I take for granted the smaller things in life.

I, apparently, save my reverence for what I consider the bigger things in my life. I experience joy when I see my children greet me when I come home from work; I derive pleasure from the embrace of my wife; I am awestruck by particularly beautiful expressions of artistic talent whether it be dance, song, and prose. Alas, the joyful potential of appreciating functionality of home cleaning appliances has eluded me to this date.

The hum of a washing machine will not induce the release of dopamine; the beep of a microwave oven doesn’t cause tears to well in my eyes; and the sound of my freezer self-regulating its temperature completely fails to bring me any joy whatsoever. Yet vacuum woman – the one who had never seen anything like this – would probably derive hours of pleasure from any one of those stimuli. And perish the thought – if she experienced all three, she’d probably be incapacitated by the sheer waves of joy convulsing through her body.

I mock, but just think how wonderful life would be if we all could experience such exuberance over the smallest things. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here beyond why my vacuum fails to perform at its fullest potential.

Maybe we need to learn how to take more pleasure in some of the smaller things in life. We spend so much time thinking about our stresses, what’s wrong in life, and what bothers us that we let literally thousands of positive experiences slide right on by us. We spend so much time saving up for grand expressions of joy that we overlook the cumulative potential of experiencing several smaller moments of enjoyment.

Sure, reverential awe for a vacuum cleaner may be taking this to the extreme – but there’s really nothing wrong with enjoying all of life’s gifts. Whether it’s the smile on a child’s face, the feel of driving a car home from work, or the sound of a bird singing maybe we should all have a few more of those “I’ve never seen anything like this” moments in our lives.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Delusions of Culinary Grandeur

By Jason Menard

I’ve discovered that the greatest thing those TV cooking shows serve up are delusions of culinary grandeur in people like me. But for every cooking nightmare they spawn, they’ve also helped to foster a dream-like world of excitement, flavour, and exposure to a world of food influences.

I admit it. I’m a Food Network addict. I can while away countless minutes watching any manner of food presentation on television. From Giada De Laurentis to Anthony Bourdain, from the Iron Chef to the Surreal Gourmet, I’m hooked on the concept of food preparation – and now I’ve deluded myself into believing that I can emulate what I see on TV.

After all, it seems so effortless. The fact that these people have honed their craft through years of slogging through the culinary trenches doesn’t seem to register to the average viewer like me. If we view it, we can do it.

Maybe I’m hearkening back to my youth, when Martin Yan would exhort, “if Yan can do it, so can you!” Of course, back then I was content to let mom and dad handle the cooking duties, so that latent passion for cooking lay dormant for many years. Even in my university years, when long days working at the student newspaper meant take-out took precedent over home cooking my idea of cooking was to pour some salsa over a chicken breast. When I got married, my wife ruled the kitchen – although I was a willing assistant who had my own set of meals in the rotation.

In the end, necessity truly is the mother of invention. And its father is clearly access to information. A few years back, my wife and I were involved in an accident that has left her with severe pain issues. As such, I’ve gladly taken up the slack in the kitchen and the Food Network has fuelled my delusions of culinary grandeur.

A recent meal? Tandoori chicken with saffron-infused basmati rice. If the ends justify the means, then the meal was a success – but the process of preparing the meal certainly didn’t come off as smoothly as the Man-Made Food broadcast made it seem it would. And that’s often the case. Exotic ideas that celebrity chefs pull off with flair and élan often don’t have the same sense of romance when you try to transfer that experience from the television screen to the dining room table. Yet despite the challenge (and the mass clean-up that resulted), I know I’ll be back in the kitchen trying out something new.

But at least I’m not alone in this passion. It seems that our increasing access to culinary television has broadened our perspectives on food as a whole. Meals and presentations that were once the exclusive domain of high-end restaurants have been demystified and made accessible to the average family. Ingredients once considered exotic are now commonplace on the local grocery store’s shelves.

Best of all, people are no longer will to settle for the status quo. My generation has truly embraced the foods and influences of a broad spectrum of cultures and our palettes have been improved because of it. We grew up in a Canadian society that was becoming increasingly multi-cultural. As such, we were able to take the staples we grew up with and accent them with ethnic influences that we were comfortable seeing as they were the ones our friends were growing up with. For us, it wasn’t about experimenting with food – it was about embracing our peers’ cultures as we embraced them as friends.

And we’re seeing that change commercially as well. Where not all that long ago Italian and Chinese restaurants were considered ethnic, we’re now inundated with a delectable panorama of dining options ranging from Lebanese to Peruvian to Ethiopian to Indian. Our culinary passport is now only restricted by our own threshold for experimentation!

So as our cultural influences expand, we’re introduced to new influences in our food. And then when you combine the proliferation of food-based television designed to make cooking accessible to the masses, you have an equation that allows average guys like me to believe that cooking for my family can be an event, not just a chore.

In the end, not all experiments turn out well, and I’ve had my fair share of disappointments. That will happen when one’s aspirations exceed one’s talents. I know I’ll continue to grow in the kitchen. Already I’ve come leaps and bounds – moving from dry chicken with salsa to hand-made Chicken Kiev or Marsala dishes. But the great thing is that there will never be a point where we’ve done it all.

There’s always room to grow, there’s always room to learn. Too often we shovel our food down without appreciating it. We take for granted what we’re eating, when we should be savouring it. And if food television has taught me anything, it’s been that food should be an experience.

So I’ll continue to emulate what I see on TV. After all, the worst thing these delusions of culinary grandeur can bring is a failed cooking experiment. But the potential reward that comes from making food an experience is one that my family and I can enjoy for years to come.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Time to Say Get Lost to TV Schedule Makers?

By Jason Menard

Remember when there was actually a TV season? The new trend towards flexible scheduling and multi-week delays television fans throughout the nation ready to tell certain producers to get lost. Unfortunately, since we’re not willing to vote with our clicker in all cases, chances are we’ll continue to stew in our own juices.

I’m not better. There are very few shows I consider “must-see,” but I must confess that I’m addicted to Lost. My wife and I watch it religiously, I talk about it with other co-workers similarly afflicted – heck, I even have a friend who has published a book on the subject whose blog I frequent!

But because of my passion for Lost, I’m now counting down the weeks until the show goes on an extended hiatus – to the effect of being off early November and not returning until February! And there’s nothing I’m willing to do about it.

You see, too many shows are willing to play fast and loose with the affections of their viewership. They’ll try to sell the programming break as a benefit for the show’s viewers – enabling them to watch extended stretches of the show free from re-run interruptions.

Forgive me if I’m remembering the halcyon days of my youth in a better light, but I seem to remember that we once had a TV season. There was an extended period of time from October to April where weekly shows regularly played new episodes. Oh sure, there were the odd repeats – and, of course, the Christmas break that allowed claymation versions of your favourite holiday classics to be played for the umpteenth time – but for the most part you could be fairly comfortable knowing that when you sat down to watch your favourite show, it would be a new episode.

Now, it’s hit or miss. In fact, things got so bad last year that someone had the bright idea to build a Web site, http://www.islostarepeat.com, which only displayed one of two words: yes or no. Three weeks new, two weeks repeat, one week on, three weeks off… fans of many shows dealt with the same issues.

New shows, like Prison Break last season, saw the momentum built by strong starts get derailed by an extended hiatus. And then TV execs wonder why shows have trouble penetrating the market.

Very few shows qualify as appointment television for people. They’ll have their favourites, and they’ll enjoy watching others. But, for the most part, people can live with or without TV. And when they grow accustomed to living without your show, it’s very difficult to bring them back.

The odd thing is that, in the case of Lost, they’ve proven themselves to be quite adept at creating new and exciting ways to keep people involved – even during the off-season. The summer’s on-line Lost Experience, while meeting mixed reviews from its participants, enabled zealot-like fans to continue to immerse themselves in their passion, even without new shows. Yet, despite this savvy marketing ploy, they’ve managed to neglect the will of its audience through the implementation of a three-month hiatus.

The last thing anyone working in entertainment wants to do is tick off its target audience. But how are people supposed to feel? In a multi-channel universe where compelling competition is only a click away, one must do everything in one’s power to retain those viewers.

Sure, there are those like me who will return to view Lost in three months – in fact, we’ll probably be eagerly anticipating its return, as I did for the aforementioned Prison Break last season. But if other shows tried this? No problem, I can find something else to do. We’ve become mercenary TV viewers, ready to switch affiliations at the drop of a hat. For that reason, progress may require learning from the past.

Going back to the set TV season may not be a bad idea. That way, serial dramas can have the opportunity to tell their story, people can become involved in the shows, and brand loyalty can be fostered. Increasingly, networks and cable outlets alike have shown a willingness to use cheaper-to-produce reality shows in the summer months, where viewership trends lower.

I love to get Lost – but if the producers continue to play these scheduling games it won’t be long until I’m ready to say, “get lost.” And chances are I’m not alone.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Revisiting TV Memories Not Always Good Viewing

By Jason Menard

Despite the advent of personal video recorders, there are some cases when the television medium and the rewind button just don’t mix – especially when it comes to shows we prized in our youth.

An affiliate of the Cartoon Network, aimed at the 18-plus demographic, has purchased the entire run of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and intends to run it during the 11:00 p.m. slot – too late to be targeted to a new audience. And while the wannabe hipsters will embrace the show, the vast majority of us who saw the show in its first go-around will probably end up disappointed.

The adage of you can’t go home again has been disproved over and over. But while the phrase can’t be used as a generalization, it does still apply in certain areas, especially to the things we loved as a child.

The shows don’t change – it’s the way in which we see them that’s evolved. The wide-eyed wonder of our youth is replaced by a more jaundiced, discerning perspective that adulthood provides. We know more, we understand more, and it’s harder for us as adults to suspend disbelief.

And, in the case of Pee Wee Herman, our viewing experience will now be filtered through a bit of salacious knowledge that Mr. Reubens unfortunately had, uhm, exposed. Simple jokes, innocent banter, and personal interplay will now be heavily coloured by innuendo and double-entendres – even when they’re not there.

The gazillion-channel universe that we live in has almost ensured that no show will ever go unwatched again. Entire channels are dedicated to replaying so-called classic series to the nostalgic. So the chances are good that the show you loved as a child is either on some channel’s schedule, or will be in the near future. The choice of watching again is up to you.

But, from personal experience, I’d advise you not to.

Everything’s bigger and better in our youth. The snows were higher, the games were more fun, and the shows were simply better. With an 11-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, I’ve been able to stay abreast of what’s on now: much of the older child’s programming features smart-alecky, pseudo-rebellious kids with a penchant for back talk and clichés. For my younger off-spring, her choices are more Princess-oriented and Disneyfied, along with some (absolutely entertaining) educational shows like Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go.

Watching our eldest’s shows, my wife and I have occasionally fallen into the trap of turning up our noses at the shows and lamenting about the loss of intelligent viewing options. Fortunately, with alternative channels like Animal Planet and Discovery Kids, we can take solace in the fact that there are more opportunities of education and entertainment to blend. But, let’s face it, as a kid sometimes you just want to be entertained and put the ol’ brain on park.

Both my wife and I were fond of the Incredible Hulk, so we were excited about the chance of catching it again when it appeared on the schedule for one of our subscribed channels. After two episodes we began to question our intelligence. Maybe we weren’t as smart or discerning as we thought we were.

My wife was a Charlie’s Angels fan. Another memory tarnished by reality. Miami Vice? Terrible. A-Team? B rate. But the worst, most disappointing wasted childhood memory? V.

Whenever discussions of shows we loved came up, V was at the top of our list. We remembered it as a stylish, intelligent, exciting show – even though the only memories we could conjure up was the image of the aliens peeling off their fake human faces. In this case, the stature of the show continued to be built up due to its stubborn refusal to show up on my dial. My faith in the quality of the show was unwavering.

Until we saw it. Let’s just say I miss my memories.

And that’s the key. Few things are as good as we remember from youth, and it’s made me gun shy about what I’m willing to watch again. I picked up Schoolhouse Rock andUnderdog DVDs and was pleased that they still met my lofty expectations. I watched Sesame Street with my daughter, or the old Spider-Man cartoons (you know, the one that used stock images when he was swinging so that the Empire State Building would appear in any jungle or any country…) with my son and they’re still entertaining.

Yet, I’ve lost so much by revisiting my youth. Fond memories have been tainted by present-day realities. I remember loving the Electric Company, but do I really want to pick up the new DVD set and risk slaying Speed Reader?

When favourite shows return to the tube, your decision on whether or not you want to watch comes down to how much are you willing to gamble? How fond are your memories? Are you willing to compromise childhood reminisces? I’m finding, personally, the answer is less and less in the affirmative.

After all, absence does make the heart grow fonder – and those built-up memories rarely stand the test of time.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

CBC Olympic Coverage On Target

By Jason Menard

Oh, the pundits are out in force, suggesting that the CBC has been too hockey-focused throughout this Olympic Games. But, really, is there any reason to argue with giving the viewers what they want – and what they’ve proven to want in the past?

How have those competitive luge ratings been over the past three years? And what were the overnights on biathlon from 2005? Oh, non-existent, OK. Pass the microphone back to Mr. MacLean now.

If the CBC wanted to dedicate all of its programming to the men’s Olympic hockey tournament and only run a crawl of the other events along the bottom of the screen, would there really be any reason to complain? These same columnists, pundits, and talking-heads – have they used their valuable air time and ink to promote these same sports that they’re now lamenting as suffering from a lack of coverage?

No. The point is, in large part, we don’t really care about these secondary sports. Some of us will jump on the old Olympic bandwagon and take some undeserved pleasure from our dedicated Canadian athletes bringing home medals. Those same fans will be the first ones to lament the loss of a medal from an athlete of whom they previously hadn’t shown any interest in.

But hockey, ah… there’s the rub. It’s the reason why the CBC clings so tenuously to the rights to broadcast these games. There’s gold in them thar rinks and, whether or not it hangs from the necks of our players, as long as the pros are playing in the Olympics it will be ringing in the national broadcaster’s coffers from Turin to Vancouver.

The hand-wringing over the CBC’s men’s hockey obsession is just a small part of the greater, unsaid debate about the broadcaster’s mandate. If we look at the broadcaster as an advocate for fair public representation responsible for showing the depth and breadth of the Canadian experience, then coverage should be meted out equally for every event and every athlete. We can let everyone have their 15 minutes of fame and then all get together at the end of the day for a big group hug.

But the CBC is hesitant to fully embrace their role as a public broadcaster – especially if tightening that grip means they have to loosen their grasp on the ideal of commercialism.

The CBC isn’t at this time just a northern PBS, preparing quality programming without being concerned about ratings. It isn’t a channel that’s dedicated to quality and diversity just for quality and diversity’s sake. It’s a network competing with others like CTV and CanWest Global for advertising dollars and viewers’ eyes. If, for the past three years, viewers have shown a marked apathy for watching non-marquee sports, why change a programming focus when the goal is to get the remotes clicked to your stations?

The simple answer is, there is none. Life isn’t fair and while bobsledders, ski jumpers, and biathletes work and train as hard, if not harder and in far less luxurious conditions, than their professional hockey counterparts, the simple fact of the matter is that those sports just don’t seem to resonate with the fans.

As a competitive broadcaster, the CBC has to dedicate air time to the events that will bring in the ratings. However, wearing its public broadcaster’s hat, it has a responsibility to help build an audience for other sports and highlight the complete mosaic of Canadian athletes. CBC hasn’t exactly blacked out these other sports and has given its viewers an opportunity to experience a wide variety of events, competitions, and disciplines. But now it’s time for the average citizen to vote with their wallets and their support.

Skeleton or Snowboard Cross pique your interest? Then spend the intervening three years between Olympics going to local competitions, supporting the athletes, and watching it on TV. If an event isn’t televised, contact your local affiliate or the broadcasters themselves and say that you, as a viewer, are interested in these events and would like to see more air time dedicated to their coverage.

That way, the next time around, when a broadcaster goes about defining an on-air schedule, they’ll know that there’s value in dedicating resources and assets to events that previously may not have warranted as much attention.

After all, while the Olympics are all about gold, silver, and bronze, for the broadcasters the only colour they care about is green. And the viewers’ eyes and the advertisers’ dollars are the only groups that they’re interested in soliciting.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved