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Thought's on Conan and NBC

As you’ve most likely heard by now, Conan O’Brien and NBC have reached a deal, wherein Conan will be off NBC as of Friday, and Conan will recieve $33 million, while his staff (some 200 people), split $12 million. I’m guessing that constitutes some 6 months of severance for each staffer, but that’s conjecture. Conan, being the classy man that he is, has said he’ll be chipping in some of his severance to his staff.

I’ve watched Conan for years on Late Night, and I haven’t missed an episode his Tonight Show since it began seven months ago (thanks largely to Hulu. Needless to say, I’m sad to see the end of Conan’s time on NBC, but it is exciting to think of what he’ll do next.

NBC justifies their decision because Conan’s been doing poor in the [Neilsen ratings]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nielsen_ratings) against David Letterman, compared to how Jay Leno was doing. Frankly, this isn’t much of a surprise, since Dave and Jay both served a similar demographic, and Conan was attractive to a younger crowd. However, this is based solely on the Neilsen Ratings, which frankly, I don’t think are likely to be very accurate for Conan’s demographic.

Frankly, while I’ve watched every single episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, the number that I’ve watched live I can probably count on one hand. People my age, more and more, have decided to consume television differently, and in such a way that Neilsen’s rating system simply can’t measure. TV Executive’s (or more accurately, advertising executives) are incapable of measuring success of programming by any measure other than (and frankly more reliable than) Neilsen’s methods. Plus, though advertising on the Internet is getting more valuable, it’s still a fraction of what advertisers are willing to spend on TV, even though the data to support the advertising is far worse.

In the long run, I think NBC is betting on the wrong horse. Jay’s well established, but his demographic is getting older, while Conan’s demographic is still on it’s way up. Mostly though, as Media changes, Conan’s demographic is more willing to follow it where it’s going, which in the long run is the real story here. However, despite Revision3’s generous offer, I just don’t see Conan taking the plunge to a fully Internet-based show, even though I believe there is a very good chance Conan could make it work with the aide of savvy people like the folks at Rev3.

I look forward to seeing where Conan goes next, though I’d love if Letterman announced his retirement and Conan took over the Late Show, once again cementing that program’s status as the ‘Fuck NBC’ late night program (remember, NBC basically screwed Letterman out of the Tonight Show nearly twenty years ago). However, wherever Conan goes next, I know I’ll be watching.

Can’t say I’ll watch Jay though.

Trial By Fire on History Channel

The History Channel has been working on creating new shows at a faster rate than any of the other channels owned by Discovery. This is great to see for a network that we joking referred to in College as the “World War II channel”. Unfortunately, their last new show I was really interested in, History Hacker, was unfortunately not picked up.

According to Bre Pettis, the show wasn’t considered a good fit for History’s older audience. I feel a bit sorry for Pettis, largely because I really wanted the show to do well. This is part of the reason why I was so surprised to see the announcement for the new pilot, Trial By Fire.

Frankly, the show looks awesome, and having seen the first episode, I’m excited about the possibility of the show continuing. If you missed tonight’s airing, the only other scheduled showing at the moment is 3am on Sunday. I swear, I think History is trying to sabotage the program.

In the pilot, Tim Ferriss, a well known lifehacker tries to learn the Japanese art of Yabasume, or horseback archery. In five days.

And in case your wondering, Ferriss isn’t a horseback rider or an archer.

The show is fascinating because Ferriss talks a lot about the various tricks that he uses to teach himself these very difficult skills in a relatively short period of time. For instance, he practices the motions of drawing the bow and reloading before bed, to help ensure the muscle memory is fresh as he goes to sleep, and then wakes up four and a half hours later (between REM) cycles) to practice again.

I fear, however, that Ferriss is even less likely to mesh well with the older audience the History Channel claims to have. It seems to me that Pettis was more likely to succeed with that audience, but I really do hope I’m wrong.

Trial By Fire is a fantastic idea for a show. The tricks you could stand to learn just by watching the show could be invaluable for becoming a more effective person. Admittedly, it’s not just tricks that allow Ferriss to succeed. The man is clearly driven. He’s clearly very athletic. But ultimately, even if most people lack the sheer level of drive of a man like Ferriss, the tricks he uses could still be useful.

Even if you’re not interested in the tricks and methods, Ferriss keeps the show interesting, and the show is well shot and structured. It’s entertaining, and I certainly hopes it entertains the right people to keep it on the air.

History Hacker

Last Friday, on the History Channel Bre Pettis, formerly of Make Magazine and founding member of NYC Resistor, had his pilot for a new show ran. History Hacker is a potential new show where Bre, a well known name in the DIY crowd, chooses some technology in history and deconstructs it, working through a series of projects the viewer can try at home.

It’s an entertaining show, and on the premiere, they broke apart AC Electricity, focusing on the history between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, including how DC powered much of New York. While the history is interesting, and I really liked the art style used to tell the history story, it was the projects that were really cool.

Bre Pettis and a few others go through the process of building a generator that attaches to his bike, and shows how to use it to power a GPS unit. He goes to a glass-blower to make his own Neon tube lights, then shows how they can be lit through the air using a Tesla Coil.

I remember watching Bre Pettis on the Make Weekend Projects podcast back when he was still doing that, and Pettis is just as into the DIY stuff as ever, and his energy is somewhat contagious. Overall it makes for an entertaining show, and I for one would love to see more. No word yet on if History Hacker will become a full-time show, but I do crave more good DIY programming on TV.

Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Doc_Horrible.jpgJoss Whedon is at it again. This time with a online-broadcast of a three-act musical he wrote during the Writer’s Strike. Hey, clearly, some people just do it because they love it. Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a Superhero story pitting the evil Doctor Horrible (played by Neil Patrick Harris) against the hero Captain Hammer (played by (Nathan Fillion](http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0277213/)). Both of whom are competing for the love of the beautiful Penny (played by Felicia Day).

The project is written by Joss and his half-brother Zack, who wrote on Deadwood, and the music was all composed by his half-brother Jeb. Joss and Zack have worked together previously on the Nervouscircus series of YouTube videos, which I had never heard of before today, and will likely be consuming rapidly for a while in my love for all things Joss.

The visual style of Doctor Horrible reminds me greatly of the 1930s and 40s era superhero and monster films, though with perhaps a touch more satirical bent. The first Act went online today, July 15th, with Act 2 due on the 17th, and Act 3 on the 19th. However, the video will only be available online for free until Sunday, July 20th, so if you want to catch this special event, you’ll have to hurry! Luckily, after the fact you’ll be able to get the video off iTunes (I’d say buy, but it’s clearly just a prohibitive license), or on DVD.

The writing appears clever and funny, the acting is well done, and the music is nice to listen to. If you’re a fan of Joss Whedon’s work, like I have been since I first discovered Firefly, you owe it to yourself to at least watch this free webcast. And if you like it, please buy the video when it’s available. YouTube has shown that film production by Independent artists is not only possible, but a great cultural boon (admittedly, 90% of what’s on YouTube is crap. And at least half of what becomes popular on YouTube is crap too). I may be disappointed that the only downloadable version of Doctor Horrible is going to burdened with oppressive DRM, but that won’t stop me from buying the DVD, and enjoying the show for free until the 20th.

Up-and-Coming: Eli Stone

ABC has a new show in the works that I’m looking forward to. Eli Stone stars Jonny Lee Miller (best known among my friends as from his role in Hackers), as a lawyer who begins having visions which cause him to change his outlook on life. He goes from being “that guy, you know, the guy who has everything,” to seeking a higher purpose in things. He’s either crazy or a Prophet, and Eli decides to take the direction that he’s supposed to change the world for the better.

The pilot, which airs on Thursday January 31, 2008, has been circulating on the Internet for a week or so for those people who know where to find these sorts of things, and I’ve had the opportunity to view the program ahead of time. I’m not going to say that Eli Stone is going to be one of the best shows ever made, but I think it has the potential to be one of the best new shows this year.

Sure, some of it’s hokey. It’s a show about a guy who starts seeing things which inspire him to change his life, to try to make the world a better place. Eli Stone is in his thirties, and he’s developed a good reputation in his firm for winning cases. Of course, he describes his firm as “if you’re not a big corporation screwing over the little guy, you probably haven’t heard of us.” Eli was always told by his father, an alcoholic that Eli holds little respect for, that he was destined to do great things, speak truths and lead men. Like most things that are told to us by people we don’t respect, Eli forgot about his Father’s vision, and was leading a very different life. Then the visions begin, most of which start as music only he can hear, and often require his acupuncturist to make clear. George Michael is going to appear on the show, and his songs will title each episode, and possibly serve as inspiration to some degree.

The Pilot, which was likely called “Faith” by the writers, chronicle’s Eli’s story as he comes to term with his condition, what it might mean, and with his father. Eli goes from hating his father, to beginning to understand the man, and recognizing things in himself that he always attributed to the drunken ramblings of an alcoholic. The show asks questions about issues of Faith, Destiny, and asks all of us to inspect our own impact on the world. The show isn’t going to be wholly revolutionary, and it’s impossible to say if it will actually press on hard issues, despite the deserved controversy caused by the pilot.

Still, it should be interesting, entertaining, and most of all fun, which is all I really expect out of TV anyway. I’m definitely going to be watching Eli Stone this season, and I suggest you try to make your Thursday evenings available as well. Who knows, maybe there really is a Prophet, even in this day and age.

Tin Man

Last night saw the conclusion of the SciFi Channel’s most recent Miniseries, Tin Man, a reimagining of sorts of the classic Wizard of Oz story. The story opens with DG (a not-so-hidden play on Dorothy Gale), a girl growing up in a small rural town, working a dead end job, knowing she is destined for something more than this small-town existence. It probably doesn’t help that her father goes on an on about his childhood in Milltown, a small town where he felt everything was perfect. All in all, DG’s life was boring, except for the nightmares she’d have nightly about a strange world far removed from her own.

That strange world exists of course, as the Outer Zone (the OZ, get it?), and DG’s really from the OZ, but has been living on the “other side” to protect her as she grew up. When the Dark Sorceress, Askadelia, sends troops after DG, her parents throw her into the tornado the shock troops created for their own travel, and DG ends up in the OZ, alone.

The rest of the story has many parallels with the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first DG meets the Munchkins (who are tiny savages), then her first companion is a man who’s lost his marbles, then the Tin Man, then the Cowardly Lion. The Scarecrow, or Glitch, as he’s known, had his brain removed because of what he knew, though it’s a punishment often reserved from criminals. The Tin Man was a sheriff working for the resistance, who get locked in a tin suit and forced to watch his family get taken from him over and over again for ten years. The Cowardly Lion is from a race of savages who are psychic, and can read minds. All small twists on the original theme. Catherine described it as the difference between what really happened, and how it got written down. The changes are different and subtle, but do add a level of ‘realism’ to the world.

Overall, the miniseries was entertaining, though the writing was subpar, and the actress playing DG was terrible. The final act felt rushed, as if they either needed to do a 4-part miniseries, or simply structure the show differently, and the ending was predictable. What I did really, really like about the miniseries, is that it did a great job of focusing on the heroes finding that which they’d lost as they travel. The Tin Man eventually finds his heart, allowing him to show pity on a man he’d dreamed of killing for years, even if he still seeks justice. The cowardly lion finds the strength to be brave. DG learns how to make right a grave mistake from her childhood which caused all the problems the OZ was facing, and Glitch learns how to function without his marbles (they do find his brain, and presumably put it back after the movie ends).

In all, it was entertaining, but I was disappointed at how much more it could have been. It was a great mix of science fiction, old west, mythological and fairy tale elements, but the subpar writing, poor casting in key roles, and awkward pacing makes it far from a classic.

3 out of 5

The Next Iron Chef Heats Up

Catherine and I have been watching the Next Iron Chef every Sunday night since it started. They started with a field of 8 Chefs, and have now whittled it down to two. I agree with everyone who says that the American Iron Chef is inferior than original Japanese one, but it’s still entertaining.

My only major complaint with the American Iron Chef is Bobby Flay. It’s not that Bobby isn’t a good chef, and that the food he cooks isn’t fantastic, but when Bobby Flay descends on Kitchen stadium, you know what you’re going to see. He will use Mango, he will use chili powder, and he will use some sort of ancho-chili sauce. I don’t think I could tolerate being a Iron Chef judge on more than a few Bobby Flay challenges, because it just looks like it would feel so repetitive.

This isn’t about Bobby Flay though, this is about the next Iron Chef that Food Network is looking for. It is now down to two, John Besh, and Michael Symon. I knew John Besh from a previous appearance on Iron Chef, and he’s been a favorite of mine throughout the entire competition. Michael Symon was unfamiliar to me, but over the course of the show, he’s really shown himself to be a great, innovative chef. The lobster hot dogs he did last night were interesting, and really well received by the French. John Besh’s stuff looked fantastic, but I’m not sure he’s as innovative as Symon.

But next week is the final competition, being presented only as a Iron Chef competition can be. A head-to-head winner-takes-all showdown in Kitchen Stadium. I still want Besh to win, but I know Symon is going to give him a run for his money. If you like watching fantastic chef’s showdown, The final episode of The Next Iron Chef is going to be hard to miss.

Firefly

I really don’t watch all that much TV. Most of the programming is bad enough, I just can’t really get into it. Every so often a series comes and goes that I never really get into, and later find out I really should have. Firefly is one of those series’.

I’d been hearing about Firefly for a while, so when I found it on-line for download, I downloaded the first couple of episodes, and then went out and bought the DVD. The series was that good, regardless of the fact that it never completed it’s first season.

Firefly is Science Fiction from a different angle. There are spaceships, yes, but people dress in Western-wear, use older firearms, and speak chinese. The world is ours, 500 years in the future. Earth has been destroyed, and humans are spread accross the galaxy on various terraformed planets and moons. The crew of the Firefly Serenity are people who aren’t all that found of the current government, so they work in secret around the borders of Alliance space.

This was a great series. It was shot in such a fashion that you feel you are there, the characters are interesting and have a great chemistry. I’m pretty upset that the show is dead, because there was so much story left to be told, and so many adventures that could have been had. FOX, fuck you for killing one of the best shows you’ve broadcasted in the past decade.