Monthly Archives: March 2009

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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Dead dogs and Englishmen

Well, that didn’t go well, did it? Last night’s BBC thing, I mean.

If you were listening, you’ll know that a relatively light-hearted chit-chat about the quirkery of American television devolved within no time at all into a quagmire of dead dogs, multiple rapists, broken legs on Dancing with the Stars, and Rachel Bilson’s marriage (which, by the way, I put on the same level, interest-wise, as the previous three.)

As a result, I fear my stint on Up All Night may be over. Or, if not over, then drawing to a premature end. One of those premature ends that, quite honestly, is probably long overdue.

After all, it’s been eleven years. In fact, the eleventh anniversary was this very week, though I forgot to mention that in my haste to talk about not one, but seventeen dogs being burned alive in a propane explosion.

Doing TV reviews was not a job I applied for, by the way. I got it by nepotism. A friend of mine used to host the show in the mid-90s and he called me up one day with sad news: the previous guy had died. Or absconded. Or simply not shown up for work and proved himself unreliable. “Will you fill in this week for three minutes? You can do it on the phone.” He made it sound easy, which to me is important, so I said yes, despite the fact that I didn’t watch any television and had to get all my information from magazines in our local supermarket. And when the guy failed to show up the following Monday (the Slot used to be on Mondays) I filled in then, too. And it just grew from there, as these things tend to if you let them. Eleven years later, it’s now half an hour long and broadcast from a real studio in downtown Los Angeles with music and sound-bites and everything. Only one thing hasn’t changed: I still don’t watch television. Well, who has the time?

However, last night’s outing may be, if not the last, then the red flag that signals the beginning of the end. There’s nothing funny about rape or dogs being burned alive. Nothing at all. It just came out that way.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems either. Back in January, when I embarked on the Master Cleanser and fasted on maple syrup and fresh lemons for two weeks (the movie of this debacle is on my Facebook page, if you’re interested!), I dared go on the BBC and gush about the benefits of fasting, and the following day almost drowned beneath a tsunami of complaints, one or two of them from doctors who claimed it was irresponsible of me to talk about such ridiculous and dangerous things on air, and thoroughly irresponsible of the BBC to broadcast that kind of holistic drivel. The same doctors who will be dying of blocked arteries, distended colons, and damaged livers years from now, I predict. Though of course you can’t tell them that. Bloody know-it-alls.

Quite frankly, I thought my number was up then. But we soldiered on. Last night, though, was another low, and honestly I’m worried.

My Slot could so easily go the way of the rest of the economy. Cutbacks, downsizing. “Sorry, but we’re taking the show in a new direction, one that involves accuracy and sticking to the topic and not distressing listeners.” At which point that will be it. I’ll be no different to a laid-off mill worker in Ohio or a kennel owner in Pennsylvania whose business  just burned down in a propane explosion.

Not that I need to worry. I’m plenty busy. New book coming out in April, another book just completed, a TV travel show to shoot in May, plus all the American radio stuff I do. Still, after eleven whole years of showing up for something week after week –  I mean, man, that’s like an addiction. It locks you into a groove you can’t easily snap out of, even though I know the day must come at some point.  

One of the reviewers of my new book Naked in Dangerous Places wrote, “Cash Peters is our generation’s Alistair Cook…”  Seriously? Didn’t he report from America for the BBC for 48 years or something preposterous like that and die at the microphone during a propane delivery?  I’m hazy on the exact details.

Last night, I came home after the show with a heavy heart. You can tell how affected I was: I remained completely unconcerned for the safety of the blind contestant on American Idol. Walk too far in the wrong direction, drop into the orchestra pit – I didn’t care.  (He’s going to be voted off soon anyway; he’s outclassed by almost every one of  his sighted rivals) And I wasn’t even as downright appalled as I should have been by a trailer for the upcoming Osbournes Reloaded, a variety show that promises to be a trashy, calamitous disaster, hosted by Ozzy and Sharon, and which seems to involve Sharon being strident and irritating for an hour and Ozzy shaking and being incoherent. What’s reloaded about that? That’s exactly how I remember them from last time.

No, last night, not even the sparkly baubles on American TV could make me feel superior and better about myself. I turned it off, dimmer and even more depressed.

Now at last I know how the Up All Night audience feels after my Slot.  

NOTE: Inside Out, the short movie I made about the Master Cleanser is available to watch on my Facebook page, and only on my Facebook page.

The BBC Slot is available to hear again on http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00j2dr7/Up_All_Night_11_03_2009/. Have painkillers ready.

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Rachel Bilson causes BIG problems

As if I don’t have enough to worry about.

We have a celebrity problem in our neighborhood. It’s an infestation really. Too many stars living in a small area. At the top end, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie own the big house on the hill. Then there are the also-rans: the guy who played Jon-Boy in The Waltons lives close by, as do Courtney Love, David Hyde-Pierce, and Michael Feinstein. Alright, not stars per se, but certainly performers whose faces you recognize, even though you might not be able to put a name to them if you met them in Target.

Speaking of which, I came across Angelica Huston pushing a cart around Wholefoods a few weeks ago. I guess she saw me staring at her like Freddy Krueger, because she panicked and veered off up another aisle.

Our current menace in the street is Rachel Bilson. Personally, I couldn’t pick her out from a crowd of one, but Howard Stern nominated her as the “hottest chick” of 2008, and I see her drifting around her driveway sometimes with big celebrity sunglasses on, so at the very least she must think she’s a star. All I know is, she featured alongside Hayden Christensen (the guy who played Darth Vader) in the film Jumpers, which hit number 1 at the US box office last year during a very dull week for movies.

As is normal in Hollywood, the two of them then started dating, and now they’re engaged. Well, the paparazzi are very excited about that. I know this, because the entire street is filled with huge black SUVs, their drivers slumped low behind the wheel, all eyes fixed on Bilson’s driveway.  

Normally, not much goes on in that driveway. If this comes up in court, I will happily testify to that. Now and then, Christensen’s yellow Mercedes will be parked there, and I’ve seen the two of them sitting in it at the curbside, chatting. But usually they have the good sense to do whatever they’re doing that’s so newsworthy – talking! – elsewhere, and the media leave them alone. When she’s home, though, photogs love to be on Bilson Watch. There can be up to ten SUVs parked in the street at any one time, engines running, drivers slumped, watching. waiting for this unremarkable waif to go shopping or collect her mail or open a window or, for God’s sake, please, do something, anything, that US Weekly might buy a photo of.   

Anyway, yesterday I came home to find that something new had happened. A limo had reversed into Bilson’s driveway! (Could this be more exciting?)  The middle-aged chauffeur was standing there staring along the road, unable to believe, like the rest of us, that from one end to the other was nothing but parked SUVs filled with paparazzi waiting to take a photo of her climbing into the limo and driving away. Perhaps the more delinquent among them, those with lots of time on their hands, might then follow her to wherever she was going and pitch camp there instead. It’s such a waste of energy. I mean, who is this woman really? Not a single one of my friends has even heard of her!

Last year, our neighbors and I would call the police regularly to have these vehicles moved on. Initially, we didn’t know they were paps, we thought they were burglars casing the house. Seriously. But after a couple of visits, the cops gave up and stopped coming. You get rid of one pap and three more arrive.

In truth, then, our infestation is not of celebrities, but of photographers. To begin with it was a novelty and quite funny. One time, I walked out of our front door and watched as a black car reversed at high speed from Bilson’s house and screeched to a stop right in front of me, ready to take a picture. In case I was famous, you understand. Then, realizing US Weekly would pay nothing for a snap of me, the desperate driver discarded me like a used tissue, shut his window, and returned to sitting outside Bilson’s house.  

Personally, I wish she’d move. I’m not angry really about the inconvenience this is causing as much as I’m probably jealous that some fly-by-night “hot chick” the majority of people couldn’t put a name to and will have forgotten in two years is getting all the attention and I’m not.

Oh dear, now I feel unimportant.

But hey, wait! Last night, I learned that a guy who worked on my TV show got high on drugs at some point early in the production and committed four vicious rapes in one night. He’s currently in jail for thirty years. Now, I know that’s somebody else and not me, but I chatted with the guy, we hung out a bit at the office before he turned to crime. Doesn’t that make me even a little bit fascinating and worthy of a photo?

Anyone?

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Halloween comes early and starts a war

Nobody told me. 

Nobody stepped up and actually said in as many words that, when you start a blog, you have to keep adding to it all the time; you can’t expect people to enjoy yesterday’s entry sooooo much that they’re prepared to read it every day for the next week, and maybe even two weeks, while you get your strength back.

Oh really?

In light of this, it’s possible that blog-writing may suck. I haven’t quite decided.

Anyway, yesterday I was in Vegas. Drove there in the morning, stayed three hours, drove back again. You do things like that when you’re a corporate lapdog and have no mind of your own. Reason for trip: to record interviews at the annual Halloween expo, a tradeshow for manufacturers of inflatable pumpkins, large piles of skulls ($79.99 each wholesale), Obi Wan Kenobi hooded robes, werewolf mannequins that shake as if they’re going over a cattle grid, gay alien masks (the latest thing!), and, for some reason I can’t put a finger on, paper-plates with pictures of steam trains on them. I even lay in a coffin that, once the lid was shut, jerked and jumped around with all kinds of noises to stimulate the fun of being buried alive, confirming what I’d already suspected: that being buried alive gives you a horrendous five-Advil headache.

The result of this torture will appear on Marketplace’s PM show at some point. Dunno when exactly. Probably around Halloween. Call me psychic.  

It wasn’t a bad show. In fact, some of the stuff on sale was v. inventive. The motorbike made completely out of bones, with a skeleton driver, was especially good.  Useless, but good. All the same, I believe the Halloween Expo was less than a stellar attraction this year.

Almost everyone I met complained about the lack of traffic. Because of a poor economy and pesky daylight savings, customers had stayed away by the busload, they said. And sure enough, when I got there the Sands Convention & Expo Center was almost empty. Business was dead. 

But of course it was. It’s  a Halloween show. What did they expect?

Others were more bold. They claimed corporate greed was behind the lull. (Rest assured, this is going to die out rapidly in the coming months and years.  The revolution hasn’t even started yet, but the American people are back in the driver’s seat and the fat cats are going to get mown down in the rush for equality and fairness.) What had been an uber-successful event in previous years was, this time, split by the organizers into three separate trade shows, no doubt thinking they’d cover more bases that way and make more money. The result, however, according to traders on the floor at least, was that one of the shows was crowded and very successful, and the other two tanked. Not surprisingly, they seemed deeply unhappy about this.

I don’t know if this is true, by the way, that it was all due to greed. But let’s just say it was. Because reasoned argument on a Monday morning is hard! It was at least worth quizzing management about it, I thought. That’s only fair, right?

But so embarrassed were they, I guess, by the lack of attendees that they a) refused to put up a spokesman, b) wanted to know in advance what the questions were, and c) would only deliver their answers from head office by phone. By phone, though.

Needless to say, I wasn’t standing for that! Oh no. I’m not getting up at 5AM to go to their wretched horror show in Las Vegas, merely to be fobbed off with interviews by phone. Result: I put my foot down, we had an argument, and I won, as the guy who’s holding the microphone and gleefully recording every word of it generally does. In the end they spoke to me. By which time, I was so exhausted that I totally forgot to ask them about the attendance figures, and stuck to general stuff that I probably won’t even play on the radio.  Ho-hum.

Trade-shows, and arguments, are always exhausting. But this one especially so. Five hours later I got home tired. Very tired. So tired that I just wanted to flop down in front of the TV and watch something entertaining. 

Alas, that wasn’t to be. I ended up with Martin & Olly again, that silly new adventure travel program. (See Friday’s post.) Strangely, it’s not as uninteresting or as bloated as the clips on YouTube originally suggested, so maybe there’s hope for it yet. All shows need time to find their feet. Having said that, it was formulaic and boring enough to send me to bed an hour earlier than planned. Strikes me, the network may have come up with a useful and practical alternative to daylight savings time here. Air this show every night at 10PM. That’ll put the whole nation to sleep so much faster, and maybe even ensure higher attendance at next year’s Halloween expo.

TV Swami, he still say NO to M & O.

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Homer Simpson’s favorite travel show?

Clips are surfacing on YouTube – mainly because they were posted there by the network – of a new “adventure travel” show set in Peru, called Martin & Olly.

It’s one of those “let’s put these guys in the jungle and make it seem like they’re alone and in peril” kinds of deals, filled with shaky camera work and night-vision shots where tree-branches thrash the lens and people’s eyes are pearls in the darkness, in an attempt to give it at least the appearance of being real and dangerous and like the hosts are out there on their own and not being dogged by a crew of up to five people every step of the way. 

Not surprisingly, some youtubers aren’t convinced. Their comments on the “reality” of the show are less than forgiving, suggesting that the whole thing is set up and therefore “fiction”, forcing the network to jump in and write its own comments defending the series before it’s even hit the screen.

Problem is – and I speak as someone who’s been down this path and knows – these shows can almost never be authentic. Travel programs are by their very nature phony, and it’s the viewers’ fault. They’re idle layabouts. Fact. They can’t be bothered to travel into dangerous jungles themselves; they prefer to stay at h0me and let a TV network do it for them, Not only that but they then have the nerve to insist that the experience should feel real, like they’re walking in the host’s shoes. Jeez.

Well, to accomplish this is not easy, I need hardly tell you. 

From day one the producers are in a pickle. If the show were actually real and shot that way, it would look and sound crap, like Blair Witch mixed with a home skateboarding video. So they have to cheat. For the greater good, they compromise. They go to enormous lengths to make sure the pictures and sound, especially the sound, are vivid and professional. And the only way to do that is to have a full production crew “lost” in the jungle too. Which is where things get tricky. 

Example: in one scene, the explorers – that’s what M and O are, apparently, “explorers” –  suspect they’re being followed through the undergrowth by a mysterious stranger. Oh, and guess what, they are! Otherwise why mention or show that guy we can see lurking in the bushes? 

He comes to their camp in the night – cue night-vision cameras – and tells them in a series of easy-to-read captions that he was about to skin them alive for straying into his territory. Oh, right. Yeah, sure he was. For a start, he’s outnumbered, not only by the hosts but by their entire crew. Trust me, he wasn’t laying a finger on anyone.  But also, my experience in this genre has taught me that natives are better actors than even the host has to be. They’re completely unselfconscious when it comes to filming. All you have to do is tell them, “Walk into shot and start talking,” and have your fixer slip them a couple of bucks beforehand for their trouble, and suddenly they’re Tom Hanks, slick, word-perfect, unshakable. 

Their performance seems incredibly genuine, it’s amazing, but it is a performance, and because it is, somehow, by some invisible means, let’s call it intuition, the viewer smells a rat. Why? Because that’s not how life goes. The cameras might, might,  just happen to catch such a dangerous incident once, perhaps twice over the course of a series, but in every show?Excitement is fickle. It tends to be sporadic and seldom turns up to order.  You think those ice road truckers live in terror of their eighteen-wheelers disappearing through cracked ice into the ocean every single week? Come on!

These are early days, but Martin & Olly feels like old-style travel TV.  The kind of TV that I’d like to think is dying out slowly. Overproduced and vacuous, overplanned and clunky, hosted by dull, two-dimensional non-personalities stuck in inauthentic situations played as real. Pretend dressed up as genuine, in other words, on the premise that we are dimwits and will believe whatever we’re shown because, hey, it’s on TV, right? And TV is god, it never lies. 

Basically, Martin & Olly is the kind of travel show that Homer Simpson would love.

I like things to succeed, and so I hope the series is significantly better than the clips the network stuck on YouTube. But I won’t be setting my TiVo for it.

Rating for Martin & Olly: Two magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say NO.

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