Tag Archives: TV

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

Reality Bites

By Jason Menard

Feb. 21, 2006 — The perils of watching reality television include the simple fact that the more you watch, the more familiar it all becomes. And, when it comes to reality, one thing’s for sure – good things don’t come in threes.

Trying to get caught in the draft of the unexplicably popular American Idol (as proud of a Canadian as I am, I refuse to even refer to that Ben Mulroney-helmed disaster of a knock-off to which we’re subjected), two other shows have joined the fray: the “pick-some-words-out-of-a-hat-and-throw-them-on-a-page twins, Dancing with the Stars and Skating with Celebrities.

Both shows enjoy a sort of Surreal Life cachet of faded stars and B-list performers stepping out of their element and performing on a national stage. And, unlike the karaoke-quality wannabes that turn out for Idol, these dancers and skaters are able to instill a sense of conviviality with the viewers due to the fact that any of us can imagine ourselves in a similar fish-out-of-water scenario. Whereas the Idols are convinced they are the world’s gift to singing, Dancing and Skating’s participants appear to truly enjoy the experience, revel in the learning process, and grow.

Unfortunately, all good things don’t come in threes, and the inexplicable decision to replicate the judging tribunal on each show reveals either a lack of creativity or a calculated tweaking of the audience’s nerve endings in order to artificially stimulate a response.

All three shows employ archetypal judges that fit into three categories: the vapid, schmoopy, “I love everyone” soft-sell, female judge (Paula Abdul, the saccharine overloaded Dorothy Hamill, and Carrie Ann Inaba, best known for her stellar role as Fook You in Austin Powers: Goldmember, and her seeming dislike for anyone from the female race); the catch-phrase ridden, animated foil, middle-ground judge (the Aallllight Dawg-repeating Randy Jackson, the “what clever play on words did I think up this week to wedge into a performance review” Bruno Toniol, and the man who somehow mixes blandness with hyperbole, Mark Lund.

And, of course, there’s the third judge. Snarky, to-the-point, and British: the archetype, Simon Cowell, and his ex-pat brethren Len Goodman and John Nicks. These are the, albeit acerbic, voices of reason. They cut through the niceties and say what needs to be said – and, of course, a worthy competitor would take constructive criticism to heart and improve.

But that’s not the way these shows work. Taking a cue from our cultural over-sensitivity, the studio audience vociferously boos whenever a negative syllable is uttered. Apparently we’re not allowed to have people who are worse at something than another. To these fans, these shows should be nothing more than televised T-ball, where everyone gets a turn and no-one loses.

Or maybe it’s just another way to rub the British’s faces in the whole American revolution. You can have your cantankerous judge who speaks the truth, but they’ll assert their American dominance to thwart the judges’ nefarious cultural colonialism.

Want proof? Master P. Need more? Bruce Jenner. Again? How about any of the American Idol rejects who inexplicably outlive their usefulness at the expense of audibly more talented performers? And what’s the best way to ensure that these less-than-shining lights stay on the show? Make sure that the British judge either chastises the competitor or chides the audience for keeping them in the competition.

American voters hate being told what to do. Being told by a stuffy Englishman with an attitude? Horrific. I mean, the only thing I can think many Americans would find worse is being condescended to by a judge from France.

Alas, the joy in watching these shows doesn’t come from the idea that you’re going to see something groundbreaking. What people like is the familiarity. That’s why the rosters, for the most part, are riddled with known faces from our past, that’s why the songs used are non-offensive standards culled from history, and that’s why the sets and judging are all identically formatted. It’s electronic comfort programming at its best and its worst.

In the end, we want everyone to hug, everyone to be friends, and everyone to congratulate each other for just giving their all! And if it takes booing down a surly British judge, well then so be it.

Now, if only we could figure out how to export Ben Mulroney to one of these shows…

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

NHL Scores with OLN Deal

By Jason Menard

Just because it’s on the Outdoor Life Network doesn’t mean that the NHL has been put out to pasture. In fact, the NHL can finally revel in the fact that it’s been put on a pedestal and will get the respect that the game deserves.

Getting away from ESPN’s hipper-than-thou style of bluster and bombast can only help put the focus back on the ice, where it needs to be. Instead of focusing on ESPN’s fast-talking, cliché-ridden, telecasts, they’ve moved to a channel that is content in letting the story develop on its own, without all the bells and whistles.

What ESPN – and, unfortunately, its Canadian subsidiary TSN has been moving the same way – sells is watered-down, forced cool to its target demographic of yearning-to-be-hip teenagers and early 20-year-olds. Every highlight recap is rife with attempts at edgy witticisms, strained pop culture references, and puerile puns. Each broadcast is more about selling the sizzle while ignoring the steak.

However, the very nature of the Outdoor Life Network’s programming means that its viewership is accustomed to savouring the meat of the broadcast. After all, this is a channel that features fishing as a significant aspect of its daily programming. With all apologies to all the anglers out there, there’s nothing sexy about fishing. The channel’s viewers appreciate the programming for its own, and instead of being blinded by the pomp and circumstance that ESPN/TSN’s viewers are enamoured of, they’re more tolerant of letting the game speak for itself.

And really, that’s what we love about hockey. It’s a game best served stripped of all the extras that ESPN revels in. It’s as simple as black and white – puck and ice. That’s what’s made the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada so successful. There is a reverence for the game that comes across with every broadcast as they’ve chosen to focus on the game, not the extras. It’s a concept that the American networks have ignored in the past.

Watch an American football game and it’s hard to see the on-field action for all the crawls, scoreboards, and animations that crowd the screen. But at least the stop-start action of the NFL lends itself to this deluge of information. The fluidity and grace of hockey at its finest needs to be appreciated in its entirety – the simplicity of a black puck on white ice gets overwhelmed by encroaching statistics, graphics, and overlays.

While laudable in its attempts to bring hockey to the masses, Fox swung and missed in its attempt to aid the viewing public. Whether it was the distracting fuzzy blue dot that made it look like our game’s finest were stickhandling a beach ball or the digitally created vapour trail added to every shot and pass, the additions served to distract viewers from the actual game action. Instead of appreciating the game’s speed, grace, and beauty, they were drawn to non-integral artificial additions.

Even watching a game on American TV just doesn’t feel right. The camera angles are too wide or too close. They lack the intuitive feel that the CBC has mastered with its generations of broadcasting history. Most importantly, they lack the reverence and respect for the game that comes through on each and every Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.

So, instead of being an afterthought on ESPN, buried behind other sports that are more ingrained in the U.S. viewers’ psyches – an afterthought on the broadcast schedule, the NHL now becomes the marquee property for a cable channel backed by the financial clout of Comcast.

Instead of being shuffled around the schedule, fit in where time permits, and generally ignored in promotions, the NHL now benefits from a consistency of broadcast – 58 games exclusively shown on the network on Monday and Tuesday nights. Even the additional features have been designed to get people closer to the game – miked players, net cams, and more access to players and coaches both on and off the ice.

Welcome to the Outdoor Life Network NHL. While some Canadians may mock the league as it takes a place alongside bull riding, the Tour de France, and professional yachting, the fact of the matter is that hockey will move to the front of the pack on OLN. Much as Hockey Night in Canada is the CBC’s flagship show, so too will hockey become the dominant property of the Outdoor Life Network.

For American viewers, that means they’ll finally get to see the game treated with the respect it deserves. And maybe now they’ll see why our little game of shinny played on a frozen pond fans the flames of our passion north of the border.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved