Sunday, January 23, 2011

Any colour as long as it's funny

Here's an interesting article in the New York Times (linked from the front page of Chortle) about a new, even more stripped-down, even more assembly-line approach to comedy production, courtesy of the good folks at Country Music Television.

Working Class - new CMT sitcom (photo from NYT)
Looking at the positive side of this style of production, it could break a whole new raft of really tight, really good comedy writers who are currently finding it difficult to get bigger networks to take a chance on them and their work. These lower-budget comedies could offer them the showcase they need to get noticed, in a way that sketch shows, radio comedy, and the Edinburgh Fringe seem to do in the UK and, as Mrmonkey pointed out, in the same way that Roger Corman has done over the years for aspiring film-makers. It could also mean more comedy, and there are few things I love more than comedy. If my television schedule is going to be filled with cheap programming, I'd greatly prefer it be filled with cheap scripted programming rather than unscripted (and madly inarticulate) programming. If I'm going to be expected to laugh at people, I'd prefer it if those people were in on the joke.

But of course we know that's not what will happen. What will happen is that the big networks will look at these new, brightly-liveried, low-cost, no-assigned-seating comedies and they will look at their own beloved, high-budget, single-camera, first/business/premium economy/economy/free-meal-with-every-seat comedies and they will change the way they make their shows. That's not actually going to affect the world's biggest comedy juggernaut too much. Two and a Half Men will continue as it has always done, because it's a traditional multi-camera setup and it's shot like an old-fashioned comedy. They might lose the studio audience (if they haven't already. I don't know if they tape that show in front of an audience, actually) but otherwise they're probably fine. But the shows I truly love could be in big trouble. Who's going to give Dan Harmon the money to bring in actual movie directors for his wonderfully crafted Community if shows like Working Class become the norm?

NBC's Community - photo from some other blog somewhere
Don't get me wrong, I'm a great fan of the traditional sitcom format, but Community and 30 Rock and The Office are some of my very favourite television programmes of all time. All time. 

Watching the DVDs of the first season of Community, it's easy to see the work that goes into this show, from everyone. They treat these episodes like 20-minute films. They care about the costumes, the characterisation, the story arc, the music, the effects, the props (check out some of the posters on the walls around the college when you have time), and they still manage to pack in jokes. You can't do that kind of thing if you've got a three-day shooting schedule and you're working on sets left over from someone else's pilot. 

I guess what I'm saying is that you should buy Community on DVD. I guess that's mostly my point.

Monday, January 17, 2011

No more Daily Show in the UK

Instead, this from Channel 4. 

Look, I know why they've dropped the Daily Show from More 4. I know it's because the ratings aren't high enough for what they've been paying for it (which slightly makes me wonder why they don't just put it on the more prominent Channel 4 station instead of continuing to tuck it away on More 4, but whatevs). That doesn't stop me feeling irritated when I read something like this (from the Guardian):
The hope, at the channel also responsible for Bremner, Bird and Fortune, is that it will become a UK equivalent to The Daily Show, where leading figures such as Barack Obama feel comfortable sparring with Jon Stewart.

and thinking "just to be sure it becomes a UK equivalent to The Daily Show, we've cut The Daily Show back to once a week to ensure that it's harder to make direct comparisons between the two."

I also wonder about the wisdom of basing your hopes for the future of a show on the ratings it got during a particularly high profile election night. Yes, 1.6 million people watched your show on election night. That's because people, particularly 24-hour-news-cycle generation people, like to watch live election results come in, and many of them thought they'd rather watch it fronted by comedians than Jeremy Vine. But will that translate to regular weekly viewing?

Most of all though, will this programme be any good? The trailer is poor, but of course it's hard to trail a live show because you don't actually have any footage yet. I would like it to be good. I wasn't keen on the election night version, which seemed to have a lot more titting about than actual coverage, but maybe that wasn't a great indicator. The network is apparently throwing everything it has at the show, so let's hope some of it sticks.

I am also heartened by this quote from David Mitchell:

I think too much of political journalism is thoughtlessly scrutinising," argues Mitchell. "It's always about contradicting the thing they've just said and crucially finding the difference of opinion they may have had with someone else they work with. Apparently, that's what you get 1,000 points for.
 This also bugs me about political journalism, and if anyone could start introducing a new, non-combative interview style, I would welcome that.

Meantime, we're buying our Daily Show from iTunes, just like I've resorted to buying Downton Abbey from iTunes (RTE doesn't have it on its web service and my Sky box has no way of learning that if I recorded all of Little Dorrit and Upstairs Downstairs, hey, maybe I'd like Downton Abbey as well ). If this keeps up, I'll just start getting all my telly from iTunes and do away with my satellite dish entirely.


The actual show was alright in the end, I thought, although it needs quite a bit of work to make it actually good. I was surprised to see that out of the four presenters, I liked Jimmy Carr best and if I had to pick one of them to be the British Jon Stewart, I'd pick him. Who'd have thought, eh?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy new year, you narky old bastard

I met the most awful man today. He was walking his dog off the lead and so was I, and when I saw him in the distance he had all the hallmarks of trouble: unsteady on his feet, flat cap, one dog, walking stick. I always put our guys on the lead when I see people like that, so I leashed up all five dogs and started to walk towards my car. The man leashed up his dog and continued to stand right where he was, on the path between me and my car. I then realised he was shouting something at me, but I couldn't hear him. He started to gesture with his stick and I figured he wanted me to walk the other way. When I got within earshot I called "I'm just trying to get to my car, it's right there."
"You and your car can wait!" he shouted, "you stay there while I walk on."
"Do what you like then," I said, and set off to make a wide circle around him. Then he called something else after me and I stopped.
"Excuse me?" I shouted.
"You've too many dogs. You can't hold all those dogs on the lead at the same time."
I looked down at the dogs I was holding on the lead all at the same time, quite comfortably, and said, "I'm doing just fine, thanks. If I couldn't hold them I wouldn't walk them together."
"It's against the law to have that many dogs."
"It's not. It's against the law to have more than three unmuzzled greyhounds."
"You're breaking the law. And you can't control those dogs."
By some miracle, my dogs were not only under control, but were actually just walking along patiently. They weren't even barking at the guy, never mind straining at the leash.
"I'm controlling them fine," I said. "You're the only one around here having a problem."
"If they come near me I'll take the stick to them," he said, and as if to prove his point, he hit his own dog with his stick.
"If you touch my dogs with your stick I'll have the guards on you," I said in a very stern voice, "and there's no need to hit your own dog, he's not doing anything."
"Mind your own business!" he shouted at me.
I swear to god this is exactly what happened. He told me to mind my own business.
"Oh, do you know what?" I said, "just fuck off, you narky old bastard." (I'm not especially proud of that, but I was shaking with anger now and I needed to blow off a bit of steam.)
I walked off towards the car, him still calling after me that I had too many dogs to control and that he would call the guards on me. When I had all the guys piled into the car, I watched him for a bit. He hit his dog several more times, not savagely, but hard enough for the dog to be worried. He really could barely walk and he certainly couldn't manage a dog. He kind of reminded me of what my dad would be like if his health was a bit worse and he was a bit more narky with strangers. I know that mobility difficulties and unexpected circumstances can make people edgy and defensive, and that can cause them to become aggressive, but this was beyond the pale. I considered going after him and taking the stick from him, but then I would be the bully and I didn't want that.
The sad thing is, if he wasn't such a horrible old bollocks, I would have offered to walk his dog for him.
In the interests of balance, I should also point out that I met four other people today who were out with their dogs and we all had a lovely time, with dogs running around together and barking and a bit of chatting among the people and so forth. If the thing with the man had happened at the start of the walk instead of the end, the effect of his sour old personality would have been dissipated by the friendliness of the others. Oh well.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Go cry, emo Frankenstein

We read this in Ian's Classic Book Club recently, and although I read it years ago, I was glad of the chance to go back and read it again. People's memories of it are so bound up in the movie versions that even I had forgotten that there are no villagers wielding torches, there is no fear of fire, and that the monster is articulate and well-spoken throughout most of the book.
Okay, so the book itself is kind of amateurishly written: there's a lot of repetition of words like "enduced" (a word I've never seen before and had to look up), Frankenstein does an awful lot of moping about some of the most dramatic scenery in Europe, and some of it just reads like a thrown-together travelogue at times, but overall it's a gripping book filled with tension, heartache on both sides, and serious allegorical points about human expansion into uncharted physical and scientific territories. Shelley gives a clue to her intentions when she talks about the tears the family of cottagers weeps over the fate of the American natives, the attempts of the ship to push through the Northwest Passage, and the suspicions of the Irish people in dealing with the outlander who comes among them.

Other things of note:

  • It's very hard to read phrases like "I was working in the laboratory all night" and not start singing "Monster Mash" to yourself.
  • Victor Frankenstein is a very stupid man. On his wedding night he's practically smacking himself on the head going "r-r-i-gh-t, now I get it". 
  • It's interesting that the actual creation of the monster, something that's gleefully indulged in several of the movies, sometimes involving grave robbing and murderers' brains and so forth, is completely glossed over in the book, apart from some vague hand-wavey stuff about galvanism. I did wonder how Frankenstein intended to put together a bride for his monster on Orkney, where he said himself only about three families lived.
  • I never really realised how tense the book is. That monster just chases him around for years and years. 
That is all my thinking about Frankenstein. Next up in Ian's Classic Book Club, Northanger Abbey, which I have never read.