Category Archives: Television

Star Trek 50th Anniversary

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Fifty years ago, Star Trek first appeared on American television. It is an example of successful brand management and historic timing. What most people do not know is what had to happen to make that possible. It started with one man.

First, Gene Roddenberry’s parents moved from Texas to Los Angeles in the 1920s. It put him in the neighborhood of the entertainment industry, but there was also a New Deal education program to teach people how to fly. Roddenberry graduated as a pilot and wound up fighting in the Pacific during WWII. The US Navy had a policy that personnel should not to disrupt local culture. I wonder if native peoples being caught up in a war between advanced civilizations stuck in his mind as the Prime Directive.

After the war he became a commercial pilot and had adventures around the world, including a plane crash in Iraq. That bit of excitement helped him decide to become a Los Angeles cop. Jack Webb hired him as a consultant and then writer for the TV show Dragnet. From there he cranked out scripts about cops, cowboys and soldiers. Tiring of this, he thought of a science fiction show about a naval vessel and its diverse crew in the future.

The second thing that needed to happen was a Cuban refugee named Desi Arnez. He arrived in Hollywood and married Lucille Ball in the 1940s. They sold CBS a television show about a diverse married couple that became one of the most successful shows in history. Selling Star Trek to NBC was one more diverse show, like Mission Impossible to CBS. They hired experienced actors. Oh, and they filmed it in color.

Third, they hired real science fiction writers like Harlan Ellison. As ridiculous as the show seemed, it was not a silly as Irwin Allen’s show Lost In Space.  (Harlan wrote for both shows, but you do not see Dr. Smith in the City Of The Edge Of Forever, do you?)

Fourth, even as NBC cancelled the show, Paramount put it in syndication so many people could see it many times. It developed a wider audience than when it was on network television. This led to more TV shows, movies and merchandising. You know a brand is successful when they name a space shuttle after it.

Copyright 2016 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

 

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Aug. 30, 2016 Late Night Update

Larry Wilmore’s show on Comedy Central was cancelled. I found out by catching up on all those episodes I should have been watching live. Wilmore took all kinds of risks and maybe that was too much for a mainstream audience. It was clearly a lot of work to do four shows a week. Jon Stewart’s other alumni HBO’s John Oliver and TNT’s Samantha Bee are knocking it out of the park by doing only one show a week. CBS’s Stephen Colbert’s new show was struggling until he fell back on his strengths of being the old Stephen Colbert. NBC’s Seth Meyers also fell back to sitting at a news desk and delivering the sharpest commentary of his career. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and NBC’s Jimmy Fallon seem to competing directly for the mainstream audience.

Copyright 2016 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Jun. 3, 2016 United Shades Of America Portland

Recently, W. Kamau Bell’s “United Shades of America” on CNN talked about gentrification destroying the African American community in Portland. While Bell and the TV show Portlandia tried to make light of it, the city is becoming known as the whitest large city in America. Like many large metropolitan areas, Portland had a history of redlined neighborhoods, but there had been some progress. Then, after the year 2000, many long time residents noticed an increasing lack of diversity. Apparently the new arrivals drove up real estate prices by buying large McMansions in the suburbs and rental investments in poor neighborhoods. The increasing rents forced people out, and destroyed one the things that made the city unique.

It is happening in the San Francisco Bay area too. A woman from Oakland gave me what she called her diversity test. She thinks the facts of everyday life are an indicator. Is the person you wake up next to different from you? Is your family? Is your neighborhood? Is your school? Is your workplace?

Copyright 2016 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Feb. 5, 2016 Super Bowl And Women Turning 50

Everywhere I go in San Francisco I see promotions for the Super Bowl turning 50. What I do not see is a celebration of women turning 50. On Jan. 14, 2016 the PBS News Hour’s Paul Solman broadcast “Why women over 50 can’t find jobs.” He cited a Federal Reserve study by Alexander Monge-Naranjo and Faisal Sohail titled “Long-Term Unemployment Affected Older Women Most Following Recession.” If you are a woman turning fifty you more likely to become one of the long term unemployed. Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economics at The New School for Social Research said “We have a lot of inequality in the United States, and much of that is generated because we create such bad jobs. Jobs that really don’t keep a family of two or three above the poverty level. So we have low unemployment for everybody, including old people, but these are really low wage jobs.”

Women turning fifty in the next few years need to think about strengthening the social safety net when they vote.

Copyright 2016 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Jan. 4, 2016 Manhattan Season 2

I watched the first episode of the first season and the last episode of season two about the WWII Manhattan Project on WGN.  I clearly did not miss much. There is so much spying and carrying on that I am surprised the gadget was ever built. The Koch brothers’ company sponsored the series so I am naturally suspicious of whatever message is buried in the convoluted spot. Still, the last image of the last episode is so memorable I will not spoil it.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Jan. 2, 2016 Fargo Season 2

My time-saving strategy of watching the first and last episode of a television series does not work with the second season of Fargo. Like the original movie and the first season, the plots are woven into such a complex tapestry you have to watch the whole thing. Everyone in the cast gives a great performance. The music makes you want to buy the soundtrack. The cinematography makes you want to book a flight to Calgary. The violence makes you want gun control. Spoiler alert below.

I think the overall theme is the futility of turf wars. The series starts out in 1883 with Europeans driving Native Americans from their homes and destroying their ability to make a living. The invading pioneers never think they would be invaded. Then in 1979, a woman who likes to think she runs a mafia from a big house up north is fighting over territory with very real mafia from the south. In the end she and everyone associated with her are dead. One son is killed by a self involved hair dresser and her loving husband. Another son is killed by a straight shooting highway patrolman. Several are killed by a Kansas City hit man who quotes Shakespeare. The woman and her last son are killed by their own poorly treated employee, a resourceful and relentless Native American Vietnam veteran named Hanzee Dent played by Zahn McClarnon. His character is one of the only survivors of a final battle that involves (I kid you not) a flying saucer. Are they moving into the territory next? I could not stop laughing. How will the screenwriters top that? Clearly this is obviously part of a much bigger story.

Note:  Providence for Absecon? North Shore and Faunce Landing? My best to Bessie Lane?

Copyright 2016 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Dec. 26, 2015 Stephen Colbert

I liked Stephen Colbert’s show on Comedy Central. It was a tightly written half hour. Whereas David Letterman’s show had clearly run out of steam, Colbert’s new late show tries to too hard to be a party show. The things I like about the new show are the the things I see in bits of the old show: the interviews and filmed sketches. It took awhile to work out the details on the old show and the new show is only in its third month. I will check back later.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Dec. 23, 2015 Seth Meyers

The NBC Late Show starring Seth Meyers has been on for more than a year. The template for the show was created by David Letterman then refined by Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon. Meyers was one of the better writers on Saturday Night Live and it is apparent on this show. His writers appear and perform their own material. Meyers makes notes on camera when jokes do not go well. He does not do a stand-up monologue, but sits behind a desk to deliver jokes on the news. He regularly has authors push their books. He is the only late night host to recreate New Yorker cartoons on camera. Pretty high brow stuff late at night.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Dec. 19, 2015 The Man In The High Castle

The Man In The High Castle will eventually be available on the SyFy Channel. Just about everything Philip K. Dick ever wrote has been turned in to a film except this story. I don’t know why. It seems like an easy film to make. Hollywood has all the costumes and sets from all those other WWII movies they made. I think the problem is the unsettling nature of the story, the idea that our world can change dramatically on the actions of a few people.  Maybe it is the idea that a writer can imagine a different world and the people in charge are threatened by that idea.

You have to admit the alternative history Dick created is farfetched. The world lives under the threat of a nuclear war. Everyone drives around in German or Japanese cars. American manufacturing and the middle class have been destroyed. Violent people come from other countries to kill American citizens. Wealthy conservative racists dictate policy. People are killed, arrested or detained without due process. Despite all this, there is a writer in that timeline that says that maybe the the world does not have to be like this. Maybe reasonable people could work to make it better.

For whatever the reasons, it took a long time to see this story on the screen. They have made changes. The subversive book has been changed to a film reel in this version, which would have been difficult to produce, distribute and exhibit in any 1962. The characters have been rewritten. The plot has been extended. I am fine with all of that because the story is about how things change and there are different outcomes with every roll of the dice. Somewhere out there is a timeline where Philip K. Dick is watching it.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Aug. 7, 2015 Jon Stewart Daily Show Finale

Jon Stewart stepped down after sixteen years on Comedy Central’s Daily Show. He made a point in showing how many people it took to make the show a success. Just about everybody who ever worked on the show was recognized. Being from New Jersey, he closed with Bruce Springsteen. Combined with Stephen Colbert’s trippy finale, this is the end of an era. Two of the best counterpoints to billionaires controlling public debate are off the air just as the country is heading into one the most decisive elections in history. Will Trevor Noah be able to fill Stewart’s shoes? John Oliver, Larry Wilmore and Seth Meyers do not yet have the audience or influence yet. There is no sign that Stephen Colbert’s new show will be as political in its attempt to compete with the more juvenile Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel. We have not heard the last of Jon Stewart, but for now his voice is silent.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Jun. 22, 2015 Madmen Finale

During the Korean War, a soldier takes the identity of an officer and turns himself into a Madison Avenue ad executive by 1960. He drinks, smokes and carries on for the next ten years. The show’s writing, acting, costumes and set design capture the period. Don Draper knows how to sell himself and anything his clients want. Advertising firms often persuade people that the lesser argument is the wiser. Their work has had catastrophic effects on the world. The series ends with Draper going to a hippie retreat and creating the iconic Coca Cola ad of teaching the world to sing. For the Madmen, time moves on, but I am pretty sure that all the characters in this series would be dead from cancer by 1999.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Jun. 20, 2015 Breaking Bad Finale

A high school chemistry teacher trying to make ends meet. He is raising a child with special needs and his wife is pregnant. Soon he is diagnosed with cancer and wants to provide for his family. His solution is to use his technical skills to make money. There could have been any number of different storylines. In one of them, Walter White could have become politically active and campaigned for higher pay for public school teachers, health care reform for everyone or family leave for parents with special needs. His struggle to help others through a corrupt process would have been dramatic and inspiring. He could have used his skills to create or encourage others to find a cure. Instead he goes on crime spree destroying the lives of countless people. Too often when people who do horrible things say they do it for their children, while destroying someone else’s. White does not do that. He says he did it because he wanted to, because he was good at it. I had not seen that before. No excuses. He owned up to it and then he died, but he could have lived and died differently.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Jun. 19, 2015 Sopranos Finale

I have known people from the New York metropolitan area and none of them are the stereotypes depicted by very talented actors on this show. I know for a while people would brag about being in the “this or that mafia” but frankly being part of a criminal organization is nothing to brag about. Many people who brag about being in any sort of a mafia meet an unhappy end. The series followed the Orson Welles strategy that you get a happy ending if you stop the story at the right time. The odds were good the family was about to be whacked, so ending it as they were eating dinner at a restaurant was the right time.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Jun. 18, 2015 TV Finales

I used to review television shows. It is rare now. I have a rule about watching and reviewing the first and last episodes of a television series. For a long time, American television networks wanted at least a hundred episodes for syndication. This led to hundreds of mediocre episodes. British television took a different approach. They would make a dozen or so quality episodes and stop. Now, no matter the country of origin, the internet makes it possible to binge watch an entire series. I do not have time for that.

If the first episode is promising, I might fast forward through later episodes. If it is really good, I might watch it in real time. You can judge the cinematography by turning the sound off. You can judge the music by closing your eyes and just listening. You can judge the writing by reading the closed captioning.

It is time to post reviews based on series that interested me.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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May 21, 2015 David Letterman

While others count David Letterman being on the air for thirty three years, I count from his daytime show in 1980. Six thousand shows over thirty five years, three time slots  and two networks is clear evidence that he knew he was funny. He did not want the biggest audience, he wanted the biggest audience who laughed. He was actually on the air longer than Johnny Carson. There were many reasons Letterman retired, one of them probably that Jay Leno retired first. Now no one can dispute who was better. Time to recognize.

Copyright 2015 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Top Ten Homeland Homage

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I seldom watch TV these days but Liz Fraley recommended the Showtime series “Homeland” to me. The premise seemed far fetched, so I came up with my own ideas for shows:

1. Hometime – about sinister lemonade
2. Homestead – about sinister subprime mortgage predatory lending
3. Homespun – about sinister knitting using sustainable materials
4. Nomeland – about sinister Alaskans
5. Gnomeland – sinister gnomes with one them possibly being a troll
6. Mobile Homeland – about sinister women in tube tops yelling at drunken men in dirty t-shirts
7. Homeless – homeless moles

Liz then came back with her own show ideas:

8. Nursing Homeland – about sinister doctors experimenting on the elderly
9. Homebase – A coming-of-age-romp set in high school (Rated: MLV)
10. Homeplate – about children of the corn little leaguers
11. Homebody – about sinister gardeners
12. Homecoming – also set in high school only (Rated:MLV)
13. Homecraft – about sinister craft fair circuit regulars
14. Homely – about sinister pageant moms

And a super special bonus from Liz:
15. Homemaker – about a sinister baker who always brings her special “almond cookies” to bake-sales, starring Jodie Foster.

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Portlandia Season 2

Portlandia is the show about hipsters who move to Oregon and the locals who politely put up with them. The first episode started like “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” where no matter where a couple goes, they just can’t get away from DJs. (Naturally I thought this was funny.)

The strong point of the show is making fun of people who cannot take a joke. The humorless couple at the bookstore is back, giving a hard time to an old guy just trying to make a living. An upscale couple put on an remarkable presentation to get their unremarkable kid into the right private school. The people I know in Portland are always trying to top it with something they really experienced.

Copyright 2011 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Game Change

HBO’s Game Change is based on the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Daunted by the excitement generated by Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, John McCain’s advisers were looking for a game changer. They needed a way to appeal to women voters without actually recognizing or supporting women’s issues.

The movie focuses on Sarah Palin’s brief career as Republican Vice Presidential candidate. Palin had another brief career as Alaskan governor and yet another as Wasilla mayor before that. The talent pool in this particular corner of the Pacific Northwest must have been pretty shallow. It turns out the reason the careers were so brief is that Sarah was a triumph of style over substance. Sarah could deliver a carefully prepared speech, but would stumble when reporters started asking questions.

As the reporters did their jobs, it became clear that campaign advisers and supporters had not done theirs. Obviously Sarah did not realize the problems becoming a public figure. Her contradictions and hypocrisy became clearly visible. Despite her moralizing about other people’s families, her family was a mess. Her father’s statements would startle Mel Gibson and yet Sarah was strangely silent about him. Her unwed teen daughter became pregnant. Despite her promoting working for a living, she made it impossible for people who worked with her to ever work again, as seen in Troopergate. Despite the risks comparing herself to a female dog or a dangerous animal she decided to tempt fate.

Amazingly, despite casting the first stone, she managed to portray herself a victim. Astoundingly she managed to exploit the people around her to create this persona. At the end of the film the supporters close to her realized they were the one being taken for a ride. In the end she was defeated by a candidate who not only looked different, but also was different. The game change ultimately had to be about his change, not her games.

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Alphas

The SyFy channel’s new show “Alphas” covers a lot of the same territory as ABC’s “Prey”, NBC’s “Heroes” and the Marvel franchise of the X-Men. People with extraordinary powers do battle with each other and shadowy organizations. Considering the repeated unrealistic premise, this version tries to base itself in more reality than previous attempts.

The characters are better drawn than most. The leader is a Manhattan shrink who mixes therapy and fighting crime. There is a woman who can ‘push’ people into doing things that would not ordinarily do, but only if you make direct eye contact. She has to deal with the guilt of misusing her powers. There is another woman with keen senses who must learn to assert herself. There is an FBI agent with enormous strength who must control his rages. There is a war veteran with extraordinary coordination and serious PSTD. My favorite is a computer genius that can access the internet without a device but must develop some people skills. I run into people like him in Silicon Valley all the time and count myself lucky to know them. The villains are equally interesting. I was intrigued by the man who could change a series of events with the flip of a coin.

The series is an amusing diversion from sorting through other people’s resumes, trying to find a superhero with extensive database developer experience. Now that would be useful.

Copyright 2011 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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