Monthly Archives: March 2009

Bad-boy chef gets a spanking

News of the cancellation of a bad show, or even of a good show hosted by someone I don’t care for, is always a refreshing way to start any day, I find. The morning, for instance, I read that Ant and Dec’s horrendous US TV debut, Wanna Bet?, had come to absolutely nothing and those two grinning sub-par cretins had been sent packing, was an especially bright one in my calendar. 

So today, when I woke up to find that Marco Pierre White’s new cooking series on NBC had been torn from the schedules after only three weeks – well, it hit like a spritz of cold fresh lake water to my face. I was instantly awake, alive, and ready to face the world. 

I’ve never seen Chopping Block, mind, so I can’t comment on it. Then again, neither has anyone else. The ratings were abysmal, and American TV executives are extremely ruthless and unforgiving. But I did see a trailer for it, in which White, the bad-boy chef with the grizzled features, tried to do a Gordon Ramsay – projecting grim authority and an intimidating puffed-up inner ugliness that seems to come from working too hard, staying up too late, and having too many competing worries in your head at one time. Only for some reason there’s something quite entrancing about Ramsay and his nervous straight-off-the-spit temper tantrums that makes him a one-off and very successful here in the States. White, by contrast, has none of that. He comes across as unpleasant, horribly arrogant, and someone I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as for more than two minutes, let alone watch him for a full half hour on TV.  

Why so many celebrity chefs feel the need to be bad boys – sour and volatile, behaving like petulant five year olds, making life horribly difficult for everyone around them – is quite beyond me. I’m guessing it’s a put-on, an affectation, the spoilt child throwing a fit each time he doesn’t get what he wants, that gradually becomes integrated into their image. They see their combustible personality and obnoxiousness as a plus, a positive: a dynamic motivating force that gets things done under pressure. And look – they’re successful and rich, so it’s all in a good cause, right?

Well, no. You’re not a winner in life, friend, just because you have money or restaurants or fame. The biggest losers of all are sometimes the richest in material terms. Why is that so hard to see? 

By the way, this phenomenon isn’t only the province of the British either. We have TV chefs over here too who are cantankerous and deeply egotistical and unpleasant, and they are famous for it, which is unfortunate. But I don’t have to endorse their petulance by supporting their ventures into television, do I? That’s where I have power. That’s where I become richly dynamic and motivating. By ignoring them completely.

It’s a passive-aggressive thing.  

But that’s okay. Because, having failed to catch the worn-out-looking Marco Pierre White and his (I presume) wretched copycat cooking contest show, I find I’m helped considerably in missing future episodes by having it yanked from my screen before I get the chance. Good for you, NBC.

So that’s it. Another fatality. Another British personality in a long, long , looooooong line of trounced hopefuls who thought they would just breeze across the Atlantic and show those American simpletons a thing or two about television, gets canned and sent back again in a snit. Justice has been done, the petulant child has been packed off to bed without cooking supper, and we viewers can rest easy yet again. 

Who’s next, I wonder?

 

Marco Pierre White and Chopping Block get no magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say NO.

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PBS. Today’s excuse for not writing a blog

I’m snowed under. Truly.

Finishing book, finishing promo film, working on radio piece, doing taxes, sorting out insurance people after car crash, worrying that the right contestants might not get through on American Idol when clearly an Adam Lambert-Lil Rounds finale in May will make everyone’s life complete and possibly usher in a new era of international co-operation among warring nations…. I have a lot going on.

So I’m not doing a blog today. Bottom line.

In fact, I’m beginning to think that bloggers are people who resort to  writing down their thoughts as a handy alternative to doing anything useful or constructive. Watching TV would be one example. Whereas all I seem to do every day is write down my thoughts in one way or another. I make a living from it. So to then do it in a blog as well is beginning to seem kinda superfluous somehow.

Also when I blog I’m doing it for free. And every time I watch PBS, America’s version of BBC TV, I’m reminded what a bad business model ‘doing stuff for free’ actually is.

PBS – also known as The Begging Channel – is freely accessible to all. Each day they show a range of taped shows, from news hours to concerts to lectures, and whatever else they have lying around the office.

They’re also notorious for introducing Americans to truly mediocre Britcoms such as A Fine Romance and Are You Being Served? that were ratings winners when  I was about nine years old, and convincing them somehow that they are a freshly-minted example of the state of British entertainment today. In fact, it can’t be long before a British variety series I helped write when I was 15 and still in school – The Two Ronnies – gets shown over here, billed as the latest comedy craze. 

“Hang on, run that by me again. A short guy and a fat guy performing skits together? Really? Oh, you crazy goddamned English!”

The reason PBS is known as the Begging Channel, though, returning to my point, is because they proudly broadcast all their shows for free.

F-R-E-E. 

Including classical concerts by puffer fish chanteuse Sarah Brightman, and really excellent self-help lectures by such people as Wayne Dyer and that Rich Dad, Poor Dad guy. Which is fair enough. Who among us doesn’t like free stuff?

But then – then, they go and spoil everything by interrupting the shows with pleas for money. Every twenty minutes or so, some frumpy woman with a bad hairstyle, who wouldn’t be allowed on any other network with those looks and that dress sense, turns up to ask viewers to stump up cash for these so-called free programs. Pledge a financial donation of up to $300, she implores us, so that PBS can keep showing a wide range of “quality programming” – vintage comedies, stimulating lectures, and beautiful concerts by shrill, posturing divas with mannequin hands that we promise will be interrupted every twenty minutes next time as well with even more begging.

Meanwhile, in the background, a coachload of pensioners with similar fashion sense stare at a bank of phones that sound like they’re ringing off the hook but which nobody appears to be answering.

And they go through this ritual repeatedly. Week in, week out, year upon year, interrupting their shows with cheesy panhandling. No matter how much we send them, they’re never satisfied. They never have enough money, it seems, with which to broadcast their free programs. 

I, of course, have never sent them a penny, I can proudly tell you. My view is this: if you’re stupid enough to operate a TV network without advertising or other visible means of support, don’t then come to me and expect me to give you money for a service I can get for nothing. It’s not going to happen.

So that’s PBS. Now, extrapolating this money-pit scenario to my blog…

I write books. I get paid for that. I do radio. I get paid for that. I write material for a blog, for which I receive praise, comments, criticism, and attention, but never any money.  I mean, where’s the sense?

In short, ladies and gentlemen, I am not Sarah Brightman and will not be treated as such. Thank you and good day.

 

PBS gets three magic carpets out of five, simply for showing up.

TV Swami – he say NO to blog-writing.

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Today’s excuse why there’s no blog

I’m shooting a promo video for my book and it’s taking forever.

But I will say that Better Off Ted on ABC is one of the funniest sitcoms I’ve seen in a long while. As good as, if not better than The Class. It’s about a guy with morals who works for a company that has none at all. They spot-freeze their employees, invent pumpkins that kill people, and design electronic mice that can withstand temperatures of up to 195 degrees. For no reason.  

It stars Ellen’s wife, Portia, and is utterly fantastic. Waaaaaay too smart for its audience, of course, who like bright colors, aliens, and explosions in every scene. If you recall, The Class, which was also too smart for its audience, got canned. Better Off Ted will probably go the same way. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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The new travel book is here, people.

New book
New book

This is a first peek at the galley cover for Naked in Dangerous Places, my new travel book about living with a whole bunch of different cultures around the world for my TV show.

It’s a sequel to Gullible’s Travels, and is published by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House. Available 21st April.

The advance reviews have been fantastic. Everything from ‘Beautifully written and very funny’ to  ‘Cash is our generation’s Alistair Cooke – a travel writer who sees things none of us would see ourselves if we were there. Of course, sometimes you wish he’d just kept his eyes shut.’

Read more reviews on www.cashpeters.com.

Needless to say, I am deeply flattered. And very excited.  

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No blog. Car wreck. Sorry.

Normally,  I sit here merrily drinking coffee, eating cake, carping about US TV shows, and loving it. This morning I can’t. 

Yesterday some freak totaled my car on the freeway. I walked away shaken and dazed but unhurt for the most part, which was lucky. It means, though, that I have to spend the morning attending to more boring matters.

If you’re new here, welcome. Sorry our relationship’s beginning on such a sour note. But hey, we’re adults, we’ll push past this. In the meantime, why not take a look at a few of the previous entries, written in more innocent times?

The blog will return Monday.  

Oh, and in the time-honored tradition of this page: Rachel Bilson, Hayden Christensen, Hugh Laurie, and American Idol.

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Limping, Hobbling, and Collapsing with the Stars

Another injury hits Dancing with the Stars.

This week’s casualty – head-case and public urinater Steve-O. During the dress rehearsal, he fell on his microphone pack and jarred his spine. Of course, given what he does for a living, which is basically try to annihilate himself by any means possible, a jarred spine should have been peanuts. An embarrassing inconvenience at best. Like what getting a nose zit would be to the rest of us. But no, it benched him for the live broadcast and he had to be judged on his rehearsal performance.

Last week it was TV host Nancy O’Dell’s turn, with a leg injury that required surgery, and also the singer Jewel who fractured not one, but both of her tibias, which takes some doing. Both retired permanently from the contest and were replaced.

And I thought that was it. Bit of drama, bit of excitement, the stuff that makes for great television, and that’s all.

But then I did some research – well, as much as I research anything really – and discovered that this was only the tibia iceberg, and the roster of “stars” (because most of them aren’t stars really; they’re just people you vaguely remember from TV or sport who won’t go away) injured thus far during this show’s eight seasons reads like the passenger log on the Titanic. 

During season six, for instance, I recall that Kristi Yamaguchi, the ice-skater, almost snapped an ankle, Christian de la Fuente (isn’t he a model?) ruptured a tendon and was rushed to hospital, while lovely, lovely Jane Seymour, who played a doctor on TV, contracted food poisoning and presumably healed herself.

And who doesn’t remember Marie Osmond fainting in one show, which was due to fatigue and the lights, not because she craves attention and was trying to win sympathy from the judges when it looked like she might be voted off, you understand.

Then there was trashy socialite Kim Kardashian who stepped on broken glass and cut her foot, and comedian Jeffrey Ross who somehow managed to scratch the cornea of his left eye (which I guess is easy to do when you’re dancing, right?) and was forced to wear an eye patch from then on. Additionally, athlete Misty May-Treanor ruptured her Achilles tendon and needed surgery that put her out of the competition. And Susan Lucci, the soap actress, sprained her right ankle, fracturing two bones. 

Meanwhile, almost total nonentity Brooke Burke injured her foot while jitterbugging and was hospitalized. (Jitterbugging without medical supervision has since been banned by the World Health Organization). Boy band singer Lance Bass accidentally fractured a toe. Billionaire Apple co-founder and forklift truck-sized podge Steve Wozniak crushed his right ankle, only this was not an accident, I read somewhere – he was simply too fat, apparently, and the human body was not built to support such weight.  

Then Kym Johnson (model: I had to look that one up) hyperextended a leg, Mark Ballas (I’m struggling, but I think he’s a professional ballroom dancer) dislocated a shoulder and was packed off to hospital, and Karina Smirnoff (Oh God, I have no idea) sustained a neck injury that required urgent surgery, then later, for the sake of completeness, sprained her ankle as well. Not forgetting Derek Hough (nope – no clue), who injured his neck too. Then he contracted food poisoning, and also blacked out after hitting his head on something hard. The floor was considered the likeliest culprit.

Finally, Julianne Hough (Derek’s sister; pretty much unknown until she won this competition. Twice. Now she’s a star. So the show became a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing ) was laid up with stomach pains so bad that she was forbidden from taking part in hip-hop rehearsals the next day. Turned out she had enometriosis and had to have her appendix removed.  

I mean, that’s a pretty impressive list, right?

I haven’t even included Sara Evans, who was a different kind of casualty: she withdrew from the show because of her divorce.  And Vincent Pastore, who couldn’t deal with the physical demands – “You mean I have to dance? Every week?” – and ducked out before he got really hurt. Wise man.

And the reason I’m dragging up so much water that we all thought had passed under the bridge?  Why am I bothering?

Because I don’t feel well today for some reason, but I still showed up for work, people, and wrote this. Three cheers for me, I say. Now I must go lie down.

 

Dancing with the Stars gets four magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say YES.

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MacBOOM! MacBANG! Guess who’s back.

I’ll keep this short, but oh so sweet.

They’re bringing back MacGyver!

The show, a delicious piece of iconic escapist claptrap that snagged the imagination of a generation too high most of the time to debate story structure or ask any rational questions, featured Angus McGyver, a secret and very resourceful operative from the Phoenix Foundation who was always jumping over hedges and dangling from helicopters, and who could escape from any dangerous situation, any at all – just give him a roll of duct tape, a set of salad servers, and something long and very thin – ran for seven fabulous seasons on ABC in the late-eighties-early-nineties and made a star of Richard Dean Anderson.

Then, apart from two TV movies, including one where MacGyver found the lost treasure of Atlantis (some might say,But of course he did, you ass – he’s MacGyver!”), it was cancelled, to live on only in parody and in an endless roster of comedy shows, including The Simpsons and, most recently, MacGruber, an extremely unfunny and labored skit on Saturday Night Live.

It was this, the SNL thing, that became the final straw, I suspect. Hollywood loves taking your money way more than it loves entertaining you with movies. And the recurring  MacGyver references in popular culture must have proved to someone somewhere that the American public still has an appetite for crap that makes no sense. So New Line thought, “To hell with this! Enough with comedians mocking our hero and devaluing a potential cash cow, let’s revive this brothersucking franchise right away and make some serious dough, guys.” 

As a result, MacGyver will live again, this time as a full length feature film. If you don’t believe me, go check with someone reliable.

My memories of the show are hazy, I admit. Maybe it’s not as good as I remember it. As with Love Boat and Fantasy Island and Falcon Crest and Dynasty and The Munsters and Jonny Quest (which is also being filmed right now, as is Tintin), these programs hold up far better in the memory, where they’re packaged in a wrapping of fondness and stored in a quiet attic beyond the reach of ruinous modern-day scrutiny, alongside episodes of Get SmartRowan and Martin, the bear that kept falling over on The Andy Williams ShowDoctor Who in black and white, and Bewitched with a Darren you recognize, than they do in real life. 

MacGyver, though, was a great idea that still has legs and could be a hit. First, it had the best TV theme tune EVER…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w-oDZSLUrY  

…and also, despite coming under investigation by the IPIAF, the International Pretending Isn’t Acting Federation, the ludicrous characters and situations were often very engaging.

A recent special episode of Mythbusters kinda gave MacGyver even further credibility. The two host weirdos proved that some of his scientific jiggerpokery actually would work in reality. I mean, how cool is that? The MacGyver writers did research. That makes me so happy.

The only drawback, as far as I can see, to New Line’s plan is the long record of miserable and ghastly-to-horrendous failures when it comes to reviving TV shows as movies. Some have worked: Mission Impossible, South Park, Brady Bunch, X-Files, Star Trek, Batman, even The Addams Family, for example.

But let’s not forget Mod Squad, Bewitched (Nora Ephron and I had dealings with the same agent years ago. “She just doesn’t get it,” he wailed, holding his head at the forthcoming disaster. “It’s awful.”), Thunderbirds (horrrrible! What moron agreed to one frame of this travesty being shot?), The AvengersDukes of Hazzard, Inspector Gadget, Lost in Space, and Scooby Doo

And they’re not done yet. 24‘s going to be a movie soon. As is The A-Team. Which is like MacGyver, only he has a team! And then there’s Dallas. That’s been in the works for ages, with John Travolta as JR, though it never quite showed its face, and Baywatch too, which nobody at all is waiting for, except maybe teenage boys either too small to reach the top shelf or too young to buy anything on it.  The only one they haven’t attempted and failed at yet is The Man from UNCLE. Oh, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which, given the death (actual or imminent) of its cast, is thankfully right off the table. 

So I’m happy today. I think we should welcome the news of MacGyver‘s resurrection with flung hats and open arms.

I won’t go see it, mind. I say I will, but when it finally arrives I’ll probably back out. Same with Transformers 2. I got so badly burnt the first time around that I’m not wasting another second on that overblown, pretentious bilge. All the same, let’s be positive. Let’s encourage New Line to do a good job, lead them into believing there’s a market for a new MacGyver, wait ’til the film’s release in 2011, but then stay away in droves, just to show them who’s boss and who pays their wages.

 

The idea of remaking MacGyver gets five magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say YES.

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Goodbye, brain-paralyzing garbage, we’ll miss you.

I read over the weekend that the upcoming season of the worst and possibly fakest reality show ever, The Hills, will be the last.

It’s okay, you can stop cheering now.

Not that I tune in to The Hills myself or anything. I can’t, unfortunately – I made a deal with MTV: “You continue to make this absurd, atrocious, vacuous rubbish, and market it under the guise of quality entertainment, and I won’t watch it.”

We’ve both stuck to our side of the bargain so far and it’s worked pretty well.

So, while “the kids” in America have remained oddly involved for five seasons with the flatlining intellectual world of Lauren Conrad and her fashion friends at Teen Vogue in Los Angeles, California, I’ve had to find other things to do. As a result, my life putters ahead quite adequately without  understanding to any great degree who Lauren and Heidi and Lo and Audrina and Spencer are, or what their lives are about, or why anyone would think it a good idea to give such apparently hollow shells a TV series in the first place.

Then I got the good news – I’m going to be spared the effort of ever finding out. The fifth season will be the last. Ratings are not as good as they were – fans are becoming less fannier and tuning out; Lauren, the lynchpin of the whole thing, is leaving the show; and the producers are pulling the plug.

Of course, there’ll always be an audience for bland nonsense like this, and something else just as bad will leap up soon to take its place, I’m sure. Cuz here’s the truth. Due to:

a) an underfunded school system that emphasizes individuality and being the best you can be, but without specifying what at; and which lets pupils emerge at the end claiming to have an education, even though they can’t spell or talk coherently or add up numbers or point to Europe on a map; and

b) a society morally and intellectually on the ropes, where too many kids believe that, if the whole studying thing doesn’t work out, they can always become rappers or TV stars…

a large part of today’s youth audience remains hardcore dim. They’ll happily sit for hours in front of the television watching tanned morons stare blankly at each other as they struggle to form complete sentences, then they’ll go out and, like the robots they are, mechanically buy without question all the products and silly fads and services that greedy networks promote in the commercial breaks, knowing their audience is not smart enough to figure out that they’re being manipulated.

Actually, I had the privilege of eavesdropping on a group of teens in Starbucks yesterday. Drawing inspiration from The Hills, no doubt, their conversation was a series of blank thoughts and long gaps connected with ten million combinations of ‘totally’ and ‘like’ and “so I go, ‘you’re kidding me’ and he goes ‘no’ and I go ‘what the hell? I mean, dude, come on, like, chill, alright?’ Y’know what I’m saying?”

And the other kids nodded. They knew exactly what he was saying. Because he was saying nothing. Which was about all they could handle.

Indeed, the only reason I feel comfortable telling you all of this is because I happen to know that none of the people we’re talking about has the mental capacity to read this far down the page. I guarantee they checked out after the headline.

“Like, wow. Seven of those word-things at one time is, like, totally enough, thank you.”

The reason I’m so cheered by the end of The Hills, though, is because it gives me hope. The world is in flux right now. Everything’s changing. Our very expectations about life and how to earn a living and what a secure financial future might mean are going through  a tumble-dryer of transformation. This, believe it or not, is good news.

Now that the economy’s down the toilet, I suspect we’re reaching the end of a cultural era too.

With any luck, it signals the demise of witless “reality” shows shot in Hollywood mansions, promoting the Beverly Hills lifestyle of celebrity and fame and glamour as aspirational, when in truth it’s  just an invention of TV and the movies. If you don’t believe me, go there. In the real Beverly Hills right now, people are hurting. The recession is biting hard. Businesses are struggling. Restaurants are failing. Life savings have been lost. Glamour and fame and celebrity are taking second place in a lot of cases to strategies for everyday survival and not losing their house and how to pay for college fees.  

Now, that’s the Hills they should be making reality shows about, because in the years ahead, it’s the only one that’s going to make any sense. A new era is coming, one in which the dim children of America are going to wish they’d spent less time watching frothy, mind-numbing confectionery about frothy, mind-already-numb people on TV, and actually studied and learned to speak and done something useful with their young lives when they had the chance. Karma has a reputation to maintain. She’s known to be a diva bitch. And the youth of this country is about to find out how much of a diva bitch that is.

Finally, in the spirit of Friday’s blog, which generated massive amounts of traffic and even made it on to the website of Time magazine, may I just say Rachel Bilson, Hugh Laurie, Jim Cramer, Homer Simpson,  and Jon Stewart?

Thank you.

The Hills gets no magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say NO.  And good riddance.

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When TV hosts attack…Star Wars…Jonas Brothers

I’m going to talk about this feud between Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart that’s all over the news.

First, though, I want to say something else. About blogging.

It’s not hard to tell when somebody is new to something. They’re very, very enthusiastic for the first couple of weeks, right? Positively brimming with fresh ideas that they’re eager to communicate to you. Not only that, but they’re willing to sacrifice a dozen other, less boring activities in order to get down and do this new special thing they’ve discovered. My dad’s passion for bird-watching comes to mind.

But then the initial burst of activity is over. What was, to begin with, fun, stimulating, and a challenge, starts turning into a small chore, and they find that the novelty doesn’t just wear off but turns yellow and gathers traces of mildew on it, like last week’s towels. That’s the critical watershed. It may take a year,  it may take only a few days to reach the damp towel moment, but once it’s happened, there’s no going back. From that point on, every time they embark on what was once such a bright, shiny, exciting new activity suddenly becomes a grind and they want to quit. My dad’s passion for bird-watching comes to mind.

His explosion of interest began the day he bought the book at the store and lasted well into the following week when he got around to reading it and discovered how unremarkable and dull birds are – they hatch, they fly, they make nests, they eat, they crap, they get attacked and eaten by cats, and they die horribly; that’s the average life-cycle. Once he knew that, he never picked the book up again and we gave it to a charity shop.

As you probably guessed, I was about to draw a parallel here between my dad’s shortlived hobbies (remind me to tell you about his clock-making binge) and writing this blog. But actually it’s not quite like that. I’m not bored with it at all. In fact, it’s been quite gratifying on one level to have so many people stop by and read my thoughts every day. It does an ego good to feel wanted and know it serves a purpose.

Or rather, it did. Until I took a look at the blog statistics and spotted something interesting.

People aren’t really coming here for me. I hoped they were, but they’re not. I get the most hits on this site, it turns out, when I mention somebody else. Anybody, it seems, will do. As long as it’s not me.

Rachel Bilson is a good example.

Dropping Bilson’s name, for no other reason than that she’s my neighbor and marrying Hayden Christensen from Star Wars, instantly attracts traffic from fan sites and other blogs around the world, curious to know what I’m saying about the (presumably) happy pair. And look! See what I did just then? I just mentioned Star Wars too. That’s a biggie. I can expect a huge response to that now, I’m sure. In fact, I’d better go doll myself up and put a clean shirt on. This blog’s going to be like Home Depot on a Sunday morning; I need to look my best.

Another sure-fire visitor-count winner is The Simpsons. A passing reference to them got a lot of people very excited the other day. So they stopped by as well, just to see what I was saying about Homer. Which was nothing, it turned out; I’d stuck his name in at the end of something else for no particular reason.

Oh, and let’s not forget Hugh Laurie. For some reason, House fans trawl the web at all hours of the day and night, hunting down any reference to the show or its lead, and their diligence brought them here, to the TV Swami blog, where they became instantly disillusioned to find that there was nothing of any substance about House and Hugh Laurie at all, I’d simply shoe-horned them in for the sake of it. I’m not expecting those people back again. They’re upset. We’re not speaking.

And perhaps I should also mention the Jonas Brothers and Rihannah.Y’know, just because.

The reason I’m telling you this, in case you’re wondering, is because the whole issue of how to gratuitously whip up public interest happened to cross my mind last night as I tuned in for the very public brawl between CNBC’s Jim Cramer and The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart. You probably heard about it. And how the result was not just a bloodbath, but the best TV bloodbath EVER. Or at least the best since Jon Stewart did the exact-same thing in 2004 to Tucker Carlson on CNN’s Crossfire, a show that never recovered and died soon after.

If you don’t know how we got here, let me give you a summary: Jim Cramer’s an ex-hedge fund manager who’s made it big as a crazy-shouting-manic financial advisor on TV. I’ve only followed two of his tips.  Both times I lost what was, for me, a ton of money. So I don’t trust him at all. And now I find I’m not the only one.

Jon Stewart was on fire yesterday. He blamed CNBC and Cramer for being in bed with the very Wall Street criminals they’re reporting on and supposed to be exposing. Caught in the crosshairs, unable to run away, Cramer was high-pitched and helpless. He had nothing rational to say. He was dithery, stuttery, lame. Worse, he’d made the mistake of trying to defend himself on The Today Show and even Martha Stewart earlier in the week, where he dared mock Jon Stewart for being just a comedian and hosting a variety show.

Bad move. TERRIBLE move.

Cramer was booked as a guest on The Daily Show Thursday. He said beforehand that he was nervous. He was right to be. But even then, he didn’t see what was coming. Stewart tore him apart, not only limb from limb, but cell from cell, molecule from molecule. It was horrendous to watch, squirm-making, both funny and sad, diabolical and delightful, all in one.

The bout was also peppered with commercials. More commercials than I ever remember seeing on this show. Why? Because Comedy Central knew they had a winner. The media had chattered so much and for so long about this escalating feud that it became headline news, and people who normally aren’t interested in Jon Stewart and don’t even know who Jim Cramer is, much less invested in Best Buy a couple of years ago on his advice and watched it tank, tuned in to see this contest of heavyweights.

Actually, to be fair, there was only one heavyweight in the match. The pairing wasn’t fair last night. Then again, fairness didn’t come into it. We’re in a deep recession. People have lost their savings and houses and pensions and security. They’re angry. They wanted blood. And they got it.

Now, enough about them. Famous people. Back to me.

In a simple TV blog I can’t do any of that. I can’t give you a bloodbath every day. But clearly, good writing and interesting topics alone are not enough to make this page a magnet to web traffic.

However, what I can do, I now realize, is up the ante by riding on the back of other people’s bloodbaths. I can namedrop like fury whenever the opportunity presents itself, and sprinkle famous people, noteworthy people, newscentric people, throughout the blog – Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Doctor Who; there, see? – to draw in readers.

So that’s it. From now on, this will be my plan.

That way, the blog will stay popular, new people will come constantly, and The TV Swami will stay fresh and alive and exciting, and not go the way of my dad’s momentary fascination with bird-watching. And, later, clock-making. And winemaking. And caravanning. And playing the organ. And, come to think of it, being a father.

The Daily Show showdown gets five magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say YES.

The Cramer/Stewart fight is here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/12/jim-cramer-on-daily-show-_n_174503.html

Stewart’s take-down of Crossfire and Tucker Carlson is here:

http://www.spike.com/video/jon-stewart-on/2652831?cid=YSSP

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I’m not going to lie to you: we’re screwed

They’re showing an episode of new cop drama Lie to Me on hulu.com. Episode 6. A young girl has gone missing. In order to track her down, the main character in the show, played by Tim Roth, is given the job of striding around various houses and offices being quirky and unpredictable for an hour, as main characters in dramas have to be now, if they’re to compete with Hugh Laurie in House.  

Roth plays a human lie detector who uses body language and other psychological tics to tell if people are being deceptive. And we the viewers play a group of people who have to sit through sixty minutes of this stuff, of actors clearly acting and reciting words they’ve learned from a script, and try to pretend we’re enjoying it.

So unriveting is this show, in fact, that, leaving it to play in the background, I skip the visuals and only half-listen to the dialogue while switching to another screen and writing emails.  

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding dramas like this harder and harder to focus on these days. And it’s all the fault of reality television.

Such is the pervasive, even insidious presence of reality TV in our lives, from the good ones like Amazing Race  and Kathy Griffin, Life on the D-List (and even those are contrived to a certain extent), right down to the lowest of the low, such as I Want to be a Hilton, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Hey Paula, Kid Nation, and Sons of Hollywood – clunkers all – that anything less than real people on screen yelling at each other and facing constant rejection and upset in real environments (mostly Hollywood mansions), is starting to seem phony and dull and performed.

I’ve said this before, but actors need to watch out, because they’re going to be surplus to requirements soon. In fact, a word to Rachel Bilson and Hayden Christensen about their wedding: I hope someone’s filming it, my dears. You may need the income.

Luckily for us, TV networks are in a recession too, and since top dramas cost around three mill an episode to produce, and reality shows cost…I don’t have an exact figure in front of me, but let’s say fifteen bucks. And also since recent tentpole dramas that were supposed to be huge – Christian Slater’s My Own Worst Enemy, for instance – tanked badly in the ratings, the focus is shifting away from scripted tosh to less costly ways to keep us entertained. Or if not entertained exactly, then at least preoccupied, diverting our minds from how this ghastly economy is impacting our lives, which nobody wants to think about.

Anyway, according to ABC News today, when the fall season rolls around in September, one of the networks’ prime responses to the deepening recession will be a raft of programs about…the deepening recession.

Kelsey Grammer’s in one of them. He plays a Wall Street financier who becomes a nanny. Totally believable, that. Another is about young investment bankers who quit the world of finance to become something else. What that might be is unspecified – though unemployed and living under a bridge is probably the most realistic option. And there’s a sitcom about a Detroit car worker who’s down on his luck. Of course, if he were to move out of Detroit, his luck would change immediately and he would be a lot less depressed, it’s a terrible city. But I don’t think that’s part of the story arc.

So you get where I’m going here. TV is downsizing. Even NBC, to save money among other things, is about to replace its entire 10PM drama strand five days a week with Jay Leno’s new talk show. A bad idea? Sure. And believe me, I’ve told them a thousand times in my dreams. But one we’re stuck with. 

Interestingly, though, the crisis we see playing out on TV is a reflection, not only in content but actual substance, of what’s going on out here where it matters, in the real world.

Hard times like these are good for us. They’re cleansing. The tide of prosperity has gone out and it’s going to stay out for a while. That forces us to reevaluate our priorities. Losing your savings, being laid off from a job, getting thrown out of a house you couldn’t really afford because you overextended – all of that is traumatic and a major shock to the system, natch, but believe it or not, it’s a good thing. It helps you regroup, prioritize, clean out the cobwebs. You’re compelled to ask yourself, the way the networks are doing: what job do I really want? Where would I like to live in future, now that this unwanted and unexpected choice has been thrust upon me? Am I in the right relationship? Have I been happy up to this point or do I need to make changes? Was it wise to put Jay Leno on at 10PM, given how bland, uneventful, and anemic his talk show usually is?

All of this is a vital step towards a better life. So that when the tide comes back in again, and it will, you’re ready for the next stage. That’s why there’s no point complaining about it, or getting depressed, or, worse, taking it out on society by shooting up a post office or shopping mall, or whatever your plans were for today. Instead, get a grip. Make the big changes now, and when everything stabilizes again, you’ll be glad we all went through this. Trust me.

By that time, of course, Lie to Me will have been canned, as will that Kelsey Grammer sitcom probably, reality shows will represent 95% of all TV output, and the only memory our children’s children will have of these gruesome, difficult, depressing times will be that Jay Leno will still be on at 10PM and nobody can figure out a way to get rid of him.   

Lie to Me gets two magic carpets out of five for being slick. Otherwise…

TV Swami – he say NO.  

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Filed under Cash Peters, television, Television commentary