Tag Archives: Better Off Ted

The final word on Travel Channel (unless I think of more)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an entry on the blog about TV travel shows – how terribly uncreative and bland most of them are, in Britain and here, and how so many people still write to me about my show, Stranded, after four years.

Boy, did that stir up a hornets’ nest. I never expected so many of you to be that interested, frankly.

Well, anyway, there have been several developments since then. So here, quickly, before we all grow bored with the topic, is an update.

First, the blog generated another avalanche of belated support for Stranded from fans – bless you all; I only hope that level of allegiance spills over into the documentary I’m shooting currently – and also a steady level of disgust, apparently, with Travel Channel for canceling it. Not something that was intended, by the way, but I totally understand. There’s a general malaise out there these days. As TV viewers, we feel shortchanged by network executives who, after finally getting around to producing a decent show for once, axe it again almost immediately before it’s built an audience. Personally, I am still grieving the loss of Journeyman and Better Off Ted. Damn you, NBC and ABC respectively.

When it comes down to basics, my problem when I was filming Stranded was that I wanted to make an intimate travel experience that I shared with the viewers, revealing the ups and downs of a guy voyaging around the world alone, surviving on the kindness of strangers and exploring other cultures, other perspectives on life. Whereas the production company wanted to make a whiz-bang fast-paced adventure show.

Right there you can see the issue. Those two don’t go together well, and so the series behind the scenes became a constant battleground, with me on the one side seeking to make programs about people and cultures, and the producers on the other hand insisting on having lots of bungy-jumping and snowboarding and whatever else. I wanted spontaneity and living by the seat of your pants-type stuff; the producers insisted on planning everything down to the last detail, leaving barely any room for anything real to happen at all. In truth, I thrive and come alive in spontaneous situations. That’s my forte; it’s where I excel. So of course excessive planning was claustrophobic for me. I was forced to be an actor and often made to do three or four takes to ‘get a shot right’. Ultimately the American audience sensed the fakery and pretense of it all and tuned out.

At its core, the show was a great idea that could have worked – in fact, it did work to an extent, in that, when I got my way and did what I wanted to do, it was refreshingly different and very funny – but in the end it died as a result of too many unwanted cooks jumping on board and messing with the ingredients. There was also someone working with us who had severe anger issues and who could be a ferocious tyrant at times. That attitude, I noticed, seemed to generate so much fear and unhappiness among the staff and crew that the show felt doomed almost from day one.

In respect to Travel Channel, the general drift of the conversation seems to be, “What were they thinking, getting rid of one of their best shows ever and replacing it with one dopey series after another?” But since I don’t watch T.C., I honestly can’t comment on how dopey their recent series are, if at all. Then again, when you’ve experienced the cringing torpor induced by most travel shows over the years, you can understand anger mounting at a network when something really good and refreshingly original makes it into the schedules, only to be allowed to die on the vine.

A former executive from Travel Channel (and there are a lot of them these days, from what I hear) wrote to me commiserating with viewers’ disappointment that the show wasn’t better supported at the time. “I don’t think it ever got its due,” this person said. That seems to echo many people’s opinion. The email additionally assured me that there was no bad blood between me and the network at all, that was just a bad rumor. Most of the original management team and others had gone, so how could there be? Well, that’s something, at least.

One extra fascinating little snippet: it seems the show was axed in the end, not because of lack of devotion by viewers, but because it told the truth about the various locations, especially the bad ones. I didn’t know this, but apparently no travel network can allow that. Travel shows are exercises in PR, pure and simple. That’s why they’re so bland. If the producers want to go back and film in the same locations in future, they need to appease the local tourist office at all costs. That’s what killed Stranded: the perky little bugger was just too honest for its own good.  Of course, I’m kicking myself now. I wish I’d lied about everything – we’d be in season 9 by now.

So there you go. Who would have thought people would still remember? Not me, that’s for sure. And certainly not Travel Channel.Then again, with so much lame retardo rubbish being thrown at us on TV nowadays, as networks increasingly across the board try to pass junk off as entertainment and hope we don’t notice, maybe it’s not so surprising.

TV Swami – he proud and teary-eyed at fans’ support.

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First Adam Lambert, now this.

“Best show on TV this year?” you ask.

Oh, that’s easy.

lambertI could also have said the campest. If anyone thought Fox had blown the gay meter with Adam Lambert on American Idol last season, then they need to watch Glee. Compared to this, Lambert is Hulk Hogan in thigh-length boots.

Up until now my favorite show was Better Off Ted. And that’s still an amazing sitcom. But I LOVE Glee, and it’s not often you’ll hear me say that about a scripted show. I love it to bits and shreds and I want to have its children. Seriously. My uterus belongs to Fox. In Gleeterms of originality, wit, infectiousness, excitement, fearlessness, funny lines per episode, and the sheer genius of the idea, there is nothing – nothin‘, I tells ya – to beat Glee.

The basics: bunch of hormone-raged misfit high schoolers try to find their identity by performing in a glee club, coached by a visionary teacher who’s also busy fending off the various forces of evil trying  to shut the club down. That’s the nutshell version.  But it’s so much more. Funny, involving, surprising, bitchy, sexy. There’s something for everyone. Black diva, hunky jock, acid-tongued queen….and I ask you, how many dance troupes feature McLovin’ in a wheelchair? It reminds me of the first season of Desperate Housewives before it grew old and tired.

I love that some TV executive at Fox had the balls to greenlight this. Whoever that is, I want to find him and kiss him thank-you. (So he might want to leave town now. I’m just saying.) Suddenly, maybe television isn’t doomed after all.

Watch this show, I implore you, or miss out on a major cultural experience that’s about to sweep the world. One of so many. First Barack Obama, then Adam Lambert and Better Off Ted, now Glee. America – you’re back.  

Glee gets FIVE magic carpets out of Five.

TV Swami – he says YES to original TV programming finally.

 

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Drop everything! We’re forming our own army.

It’s rare I feel strongly enough about a show to actually fear for the life of it, but that’s how I am with ABC’s Better Off Ted right now.

Superbly written, acted, produced, entirely original, daring, envelope-pushing, and setting a new standard for “funny as hell” – in any fair and just world that would be the perfect combo to guarantee the extended life of a new series. It certainly worked for 30 Rock. But that’s because 30 Rock had Lorne Michaels and a bold NBC management behind it, so it lived on long enough to become a cult hit.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Better Off Ted, which is still a nervous fledgling fighting for survival, and I’m not sure the weaselly suits at ABC  have the balls to stick with it. Currently, my spidey sense tells me that this genius of a sitcom isn’t doing well enough and could be cancelled.

Why? Because it’s simply too good for us. Fact.  

The premise is easy enough: Ted is a good-looking, smooth-talking, moralistic R&D guy at a big immoral corporation, Veridian Dynamics, one of those sprawling faceless global leviathans that makes everything from “pills that look like candy” to “hurricane-proofing for dogs.” His days are spent locked in battle with his boss, Veronica – played by Ellen Degeneres’s husband Portia di Rossi – an ambitious, feisty blonde with a viper’s tongue and both eyes of the tiger. She would never settle for just one.

Half the fun of the show is seeing these two locked in battle, negotiating the tricky problems that go hand in hand with introducing new products to a world gone mad. Last night it was a solar-powered microwave oven that is perfectly safe until it’s exposed to sunlight, at which point it kills anyone using it.

The week before, it was money-saving sensors that reflect off a person’s skin as they enter a room to automatically turn on lights, elevators, water-fountains. Only one flaw: the sensors don’t work on dark skin, which means the building is full of black clerks trapped in elevators and black lab technicans unable to go home because the doors won’t open. The solution Veronica comes up with is ingenious: she hires a white intern for every black person, to walk behind them everywhere they go. 

Now, please, tell me that isn’t funny, daring, and everything else I said!   

And because it is, I think it’s doomed.

I’ve said this before: too many viewers now are poorly-educated, lazy, and dim. They want straightforward humor. Slapstick, fart jokes, and sometimes witty banter, but only if it’s accompanied by strange facial expressions or lots of manic gesturing.  That’s why The Simpsons does so well. Oceans of stupidity, bright colors, and movement.

What doesn’t do so well is stuff the audience has to think about. Where they have to put two and two together and stick with something – a joke, a situation, a story arc – ’til it pays off, and do so without the help of a laugh track. When TV executives in the 1950s invented the laugh track it was because they understood the mentality of their viewers – those unaccounted-for millions who make up the audience figures, and who are basically content to sit idly in an armchair all night with a six-pack and a bag of doughnuts, watching almost anything that’s put before them, as long as it has bright colors, explosions, emergencies, shouting, running about, a sappy “you’re perfect just as you are” kind of message crowbarred in two minutes before the end, and can be squeezed in between bathroom breaks. 

That’s not Better Off Ted, alas. You have to stick with it to like it.  You have to use your brain. You have to have a sense of humor that’s triggered by actual humor, not by a sign saying “laugh now.”

So, like some of my other favorite shows – Journeyman, Surface, and a wonderful little thing I loved called Stranded With Cash Peters – this one looks destined for the scrapheap.

Unless, that is, we do something to save it.

Making sure we tune in and don’t miss an episode, that’s one way. The old way. The old way that leaves people to make their own minds up – which we know is extremely dangerous and doesn’t work. Look at the 2000 and ’04 elections. One catastrophe after another.

No, this new way I’m thinking of is to form a small private battalion – you, me , and a few others, coalescing into an unarmed but brutal militia that goes door to door on Wednesday nights in every corner of America and makes sure everybody with a TV is glued to Better Off Ted. And if they’re not, we ridicule them. Ridicule them hard. And wherever possible make them feel small, using the only weapons at our disposal: our intelligence, superior sense of style, and wit.

Good, eh? So what do you say?   

The idea’s only at its formative stages yet – like solar-powered microwave ovens that kill people – but I think it might work. Are you in?

 

Better Off Ted gets five magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say YES.

www.cashpeters.com.

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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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