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A Chapter Closes in My Life (i.e. Thanks, Dave!)

A quick post (yeah, it’s been too long) about the retirement of David Letterman:

As most people know, Letterman left NBC on less-than-happy terms in the spring of 1993.

I left Salt Lake City, Utah, for Connecticut (for both happy and less-than-happy reasons) in August of 1993.

And the week after I arrived in Connecticut after a cross-country journey in my little Dodge Raider, Dave launched The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS (“the Tiffany network”).

I remember watching his first CBS shows from the living room of the group house I called home in Rocky Hill. I had just signed on to a job (Assistant Manager at the Wethersfield outlet of Strawberries Music), and was relieved to have found a source of income. Everything would be OK.

I sensed the same relief in Dave’s first week of CBS shows: he’d landed on his feet, and everything would be OK.

Now Dave has ended his 33 year experiment on television, from his fitful start on daytime TV, to two successful, groundbreaking, thoroughly enjoyable late night shows that blew apart the paradigm set by Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He was equal parts silly teenager and old grump, wearing his flaws on his sleeve and able to parry and dodge with the most evasive of guests. He was a master interviewer when he chose to be, and a first-rate smart ass just as often.

Along the way, he moved the goalposts for all late night television hosts to follow. The Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel), Conan O’Brien, Seth Myers, Craig Kilborn, Craig Ferguson, and James Corden all owe their shows to Dave.

(A special nod to Craig Ferguson, to my eyes the only late night host to push the medium beyond Dave’s model by further deconstructing the tried-and-true Carson formula.)

His final episode ran long, and rightfully so. He didn’t want to leave any member of his Worldwide Pants family unrecognized. He wanted to give the CBS Orchestra (still the World’s Most Dangerous Band) their full due. His face beamed when he recognized his wife and son in the audience. And he let the Foo Fighters play him out.

I feel lucky to have attended two tapings of Dave’s show, both times with Sam, back in the late 1990s, both times ending up in the 3rd row, right in front of Dave’s desk (I must’ve impressed the producers who interview the audience while it queues in the lobby to score great seats twice). Seeing the show in person was a treat, especially hearing Paul Shaffer and the band play full-length songs. These are NYC memories I’ll always cherish.

With Dave leaving the TV landscape, a chapter in my life comes to a close. It happens shortly after another chapter in my life closed (my job at Georgetown University), so it seems strangely appropriate.

So thank you, Dave. May your retirement be full of happy memories with Harry and Regina.

My mydunkin ad

social media connects in sweet ways

I tweet. Really – I do!

And I’ve met a lot of great people – many of whom are now friends – via Twitter. I’ve saved money via “tweet-only” special sales. Breaking news is almost always found first on Twitter.

And this past November, Twitter afforded me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to film a commercial for Dunkin Donuts.

It all started innocently enough with a tweet from Dunkin Donuts on November 21, 2013, asking me if I’d follow them back:

I thought it would be an offer for a discount coupon, given the sheer number of times I’d “checked in” at DD on road trips.

But it wasn’t.

Instead, they took fancy to the following tweet:

Yes, it’s a tweet that I posted 2.5 years earlier, but it caught the eye of Dunkin’s corporate HQ. They wanted to talk with me about “a project” they were working on, specifically with Dunkin fans. I figured it was worth a go, and I sent them my contact info.

Within the next two weeks, I was:

  • contacted by Dunkin’s PR department.
  • contacted by their ad agency, Hill Holliday.
  • contacted by ACNE Productions, who would film the ad.
  • contacted by a wardrobe consultant about my measurements.
  • booked on a flight to Chicago.

Yes, Chicago – not exactly ski country. But the commercial called for me to be in skiing mode, so I brought my full ski kit with me: skis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles, gloves, pants, jacket, base layers, you name it. For an overnight trip, it was a bit much.

So, all packed up, I left Washington National Airport after work on Wednesday, December 4th, arriving late in Chicago, where I caught a taxi to The Public hotel in the Gold Coast section of town. It is a gorgeous art deco hotel that has been lovingly renovated without losing any of its vintage charm.

Public Hotel lobby

Granted, I didn’t spend a long time in the hotel, as we – the film crew, the account manager, and me – had to depart our comfy digs at 4:00am to drive out to Lockport, one of Chicago’s exurbs, for our first bit of filming.

During the drive, I marveled at the call sheet for the day. This single sheet of paper listed every single person involved in the creation of a 30-second advert. Almost 70 people and organizations were listed on the call sheet – a staggering number, but they all had specific roles. Some directed, others filmed, others did lights and audio, still others provided our meals.

And I was just one little cog in this machine.

We arrived in Lockport at 5:10am, at the house of another Dunkin social media advert star, Elizabeth. She already shot a lot of footage in New Jersey back in the summer, but the ad agency wanted to film some setup footage at her house. Her tweet is featured in the ad, as are her really wonderful kids, who were given free reign to destroy their own living room for the sake of coffee! Click here to see Elizabeth’s ad.

Upon our arrival, craft services had a HUGE breakfast spread waiting for us in the basement of Elizabeth’s house. The whole crew for the day convened here, and introductions occurred over coffee, eggs, bacon, oatmeal, and fruit – all very tasty and very filling.

The camera equipment is set up

The whole day was produced under the auspices of SAG-AFTRA, which meant that strict union rules about shooting times were followed. So spot-on 7:00am, film rolled on Elizabeth’s ad, while I was whisked away to hair and makeup.

My brightly colored ski duds were exchanged for more earthy tones: light brown parka, navy fleece top, orange down vest, grey pants, black boots, and a multi-colored hat. This wasn’t the only option, but it’s the one that suited the fancy of Tyler, our director. All of the clothing was “de-branded,” with corporate logos removed as well as possible. Only my personal gloves and helmet were used as wardrobe, with the logos either taped over or obscured with clever angles. Likewise, while I was in the house getting into “TV shape,” my ski equipment was also “de-branded,” with multiple hues of duct and gaffer’s tape used to obscure as many logos as possible.

In between takes of Elizabeth’s commercial, I recorded voice-overs in a corner of the now-partially-destroyed living room. I used my own words, with a few key things included – namely, a mention of Dunkin Iced Coffee.

Wait – iced coffee? In winter?

Yes, this was the focus of the ad. Personally, I only drink hot coffee in the winter months, but I was willing to suspend my own druthers for this commercial – no problemo. Once my voiceovers were done, I retreated to my trailer out on the street.

I was ready to film, and didn’t know quite what to expect. I’d gone in with no preconceived notions of what would happen – a plus, I think.

My filming started around 9:30am at a house three doors down from Elizabeth’s. There was a rented car that I would drive, with a ski rack on its roof. My ski equipment was placed in the garage, and the director had me take the equipment from the garage to the car.

I did this move 5 or 6 times, each from different angles. I managed to scratch the car on the second take (oops), but otherwise, the filming went fine. I was then filmed pulling out of the driveway a few times.

Filming then moved to a Dunkin Donuts store in Orland Park, IL, which delighted the teenage employees to no end. They were read the riot act regarding social media (i.e. don’t post pictures from this shoot on Facebook or Twitter), but they were all quite pleased to have a national TV ad being filmed at their store.

This is where I got my iced coffee, which was really room temperature coffee (prepared to my usual level of cream and sugar) with acrylic ice cubes in the cup. It was cold outside, so an ice-cold drink wasn’t really what I wanted at the time. We filmed 10-or-so takes of me leaving the store, walking out to my car, and so forth. It went smoothly, and I listened to the directions from Tyler and his crew to help improve each take.

After our shooting was complete, we ate lunch (tasty chicken, salmon, and other great things) in the back room of the Dunkin store, where the donuts would be baked. After lunch, I went in for one last touch-up of hair and makeup, as my trailer wasn’t going to the final shooting location.

After leaving Dunkin, we drove on some country roads to give the impression of me driving to a bucolic ski mountain. I felt like I was on Top Gear in some respects, with a camera car doing its thing while I drove.

The final filming location was a ski area outside of Schaumberg, IL, a 45 minute drive from the Orland Park area on the outermost beltway around Chicagoland. During this drive, I chatted with the cinematographer, who has filmed so many cool events and places.

After driving around 40 miles on toll roads (in a car that, I might add, was still running its “Hollywood dummy” license plate – oops), we arrived at Villa Olivia Country Club and Ski Area. This is not the kind of ski area that anybody who really loves skiing would go by choice. My guess is that the place is reclaimed landfill, where the ski slope had vertical drop added by mounding the landfill.

Villa Olivia Ski Area

Also, note the lack of snow in this picture. Y’see, the week leading into my commercial shoot was very warm, so any snow that had been made to shoot the commercial had melted to the point where it wasn’t usable. Sure, it was cold on the day of shooting, but this place didn’t have the capability to make a skiable ribbon of show in our short window for shooting.

Fear not! ACNE had a plan: they would make “Hollywood snow” using cotton batting and spray foam to coat the lawn and sills of the ski lodge. It wasn’t perfect, but as it would only appear in the background of the shot, it wasn’t a huge deal.

Hollywood snow

And we had some “snowflakes” flying in the air, as well. These were created using dish soap suds blown by a powerful fan. The soap tasted nasty (I managed to get a few gobs of foam in my mouth), but it was convincing enough on camera.

We had to wrap shooting by 4:30pm, both due to SAG-AFTRA rules and the rapidly setting sun. The crew let out a big exhale, and everybody thanked each other for a hard day’s work well done. I managed to spy some initial edits taking place on a MacBook Pro in the ski lodge, which was very cool.

Editing in the ski lodge

The entire commercial was shot on compact, high-resolution digital cameras, so hard drives were sent via courier to editing studios. One of these couriers shuttled me back to downtown for a quick shower at The Public, after which I high-tailed it to O’Hare to catch my flight back to DC.

At the airport, I enjoyed a most welcome beer as I decompressed.

Beer and 737-800

I was back at work on Friday, having taken just Thursday as a non-specific personal day off.

The next questions were: who do I tell that I’ve done this, and when will the ad air on TV?

I decided to tell only a few people. Other than sprite, only 4 others knew of my adventure. I tried to stay mum on social media during the trip, using a “#blackops” hashtag on any tweets, Facebook posts, or FourSquare check-ins.

The ad first aired in the New England area during the pre-game show for the Super Bowl. I know this because Sam called me after it first aired, asking how he didn’t know about this, how did I get into this ad, and so forth. At the time, I was at National Rehabilitation Hospital, still recovering from the #projectfemur surgery, and I hadn’t yet seen any edit of the ad. Sam sent me a quickly-recorded video of the first airing, and I laughed a bit.

Mostly, though, the ad aired during prime-time coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. It aired twice per broadcast, every night of the games. Many more friends saw the ad, after which they would email, call, or tweet me that they had seen it and were shocked.

That was my goal in not telling: surprise, pure and simple.

“So,” you ask, “where’s the bloody ad?!?”

Well, here it is! This is the 30-second version that didn’t air on TV. The 15-second version is just a shorter version, with only the voiceover of me reading the tweet.

Dunkin’ Donuts “Rudi’s #mydunkin Iced Coffee Story” from Danny Rodriguez on Vimeo.

Did I enjoy this experience? Oh yes. Would I do it again? You bet!

So it goes to show that social media can connect people in rather sweet ways.

P.S. – for the curious, my typical Dunkin coffee is a medium or large Dunkin Turbo (i.e. red eye) hot, with a little cream and sugar. And yes, I still get hot coffee in the summertime.

a little more doctoring

As I said yesterday, “Day of The Doctor” was a brilliant episode for Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary.

But this mockumentary, showing what some of the “classic” Doctors would do to appear in “Day of The Doctor,” is just as brilliant. Written and directed by Peter Davison – i.e. The Fifth Doctor – it is a fun romp with enough awesome cameos to make any fan giggle with joy.

Enjoy while it’s still on BBC iPayer (non-restricted):

Also good to watch (especially good if you haven’t seen “Day of The Doctor” just yet) is the web-only short, “Night of The Doctor,” starring Paul McGann (The Eighth Doctor whose demise wasn’t completely explained in the 2005 reboot):

Another short film that serves as a setup to “Day of The Doctor” is “The Last Day,” a POV record of a Gallifreyan soldier in training:


ooo-EEE-oooo – yesssss…..

Maybe that post title is a little odd, but… well…

I totally loved the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, “The Day of The Doctor.”

Did it have David Tennant? Yup.

Billie Piper? Yup.

A fez? Indeed.

Nods to the past? Affirmative.

Other fun stuff? Yes!

sprite and I saw it on the big screen, in the theatre, and it was great! Granted, it was extremely tough to avoid spoilers, as I have a lot of friends who are big fans of The Doctor. I managed to avoid ’em (whew!), and the thrill ride was grand.

I did see the web-only shorts, “The Night of The Doctor” (a direct setup for the show I saw tonight), and “The Five(ish) Doctors,” a mockumentary with enough Doctors and co-conspirators to provide tons of entertainment value. Both are available online, from the BBC, and worth viewing.

choices & the fiscal cliff

I’m totally baffled by the tempest in a teapot that’s being stirred up by the media over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Fueled mostly by conservative pundits and Tea Party sycophants, and aided by a complacent media, it seems that the average U.S. taxpayer should be in a state of panic.

The thing is: yes, taxes could go up and paychecks could end up smaller. But making smart and simple choices in life can make it all academic, in the end.

Really – it’s simply a matter of choices.

If no agreement can be reached before January 1, 2013, many taxes will roll back to the levels they were at under President Clinton. These rates are lower than they were under Reagan or Bush for a majority of taxpayers.

For example, a person earning $62,000 per year would see their income taxes increase approximately $1,900 in 2013 – an average of $36.56 per week. That’s not a ton of money, by-the-by, if you look at it, and it’s easy to save this amount by making discretionary – i.e. not necessary of basic, day-to-day existence – spending choices.

A big choice that many people make each working day is to buy a coffee or related beverage at Starbucks or a similar purveyor of high-end coffee drinks. Your average latte costs between $4 and $5. If this expense is completely skipped for a work week, that’s $20-25 saved. If you also get a donut, scone, or breakfast sandwich with this – let’s say it’s another $2-4 for this – that’s another $10 to $20 saved per week, and the $36.56 weekly tax expense is covered.

Even if you cut back one, two, or three of these discretionary beverages, that’s money saved and tax “hit” blunted. And, frankly speaking, with a little practice it’s possible to make a top-notch espresso, latte, or cup of coffee at home for a fraction of the cost of the coffee house.

The same rule applies for buying lunch from a local deli, bodega, restaurant or food truck: save $10 per lunch, and it adds up.

Post-work drinks? Buy a six-pack or bottle of wine and enjoy it at home, and invite your friends over. Remember: each single bottle of beer or glass of wine at a restaurant or bar typically covers the price of the entire six-pack (beer) or bottle (wine).

Yes, this can affect others in this supply chain system – namely the baristas, wait staff, bartenders, and shop owners. So combine bits and pieces: give up a coffee here, a beer there, lunch from the food truck elsewhere. Don’t completely abandon your local haunts – just cut back a little. They’ll understand. If you keep track of the money, the savings will add up.

And then there’s the discretionary expense that riles me more than most things: cable TV.

I understand: there is some great writing on cable TV. Some of the shows are really awesome.

But most cable packages have you paying for a lot of channels you’ll never watch, as well as channels that you can pick up for free with a simple antenna, over the air.

Yup: there is still such a thing as free TV, people! And most of it is full, 1080p or 1080i high definition!

For free! Over the air!

Do I practice what I preach? Yes, though I could do better. I brew my own coffee, both at home and at the office, though I do enjoy an occasional flat white from Filter, or a gingerbread latte from Starbucks. I eat out for lunch more than I should, though I try to stick to cheap, healthy stuff (no food trucks regularly serve my office’s neighborhood, anyway). I’ve never subscribed to cable. I do subscribe to Netflix.

I save additional money by riding my bike to work, something I’d do even if I lived further away from my workplace than I do now. That’s let money spent on gas, parking, and other car-related things.

These are all choices I make. I do them to save money and simplify things.

And with the looming “fiscal cliff,” I’m prepared.

Life is a series of choices, some of which are harder to make than others. Some of the choices I’ve made would be very tough for others to do for themselves, and that’s OK.

But challenges, like a tax increase, require an ability to think creatively and, occasionally, make choices that feel like sacrifices. But part of being a responsible adult is making the tough choices that aren’t necessarily the easiest or more pain-free – sometimes, choices will seemingly hurt.

But saving money here and there means that, down the road, there will be funds to spend on other things, whether practical (e.g. a new house or car) or fun (a vacation or concert). It also means having a rainy day fund in case of emergencies – not a bad thing to have.

Now this could all be an academic discussion if the various areas of the U.S. government can come to an agreement on avoiding this “cliff.” But so long as the Tea Party remains as inflexible as C. Montgomery Burns, and as long as Democrats remain similarly inflexible, it’s best to be prepared to make choices.

ten on tuesday: shows of my youth

Today’s topic (as usual, from Carole) is “Ten Favorite TV Shows From [Your] Childhood.”

What a pickle, if you think about it: what part of childhood? If you count early childhood, grade school, middle school, and high school, there’s a ton of possible fodder for this. So I’m going t pick three from my early years (ages 2-6), three from the middle years (7-12), three from the later years (13-18), and one from my college days, when I needed a youthful release show.

I also decided that, to be fair, these shows had to be in first-run – no reruns or syndication allowed. Yes, this removes a lot of shows from contention, but it makes the job of culling the list a tiny bit easier.

So strap in – it’s going to be a bumpy ride:

  1. Sesame Street. This was the most-watched show of my early years, bar none. Bert and Ernie (or “Nert ‘n’ Nernie,” as I first called them) are ingrained in my memory as far back as I can recall, as are Sam the Robot (a much maligned Muppet), the “yip yip” martians, Harvey Kneeslapper, and Don Music. All of the adults, the Muppets, the animated interstitials, the songs by Joe Raposo (here’s a fave, and here’s another, and here’s a third) – they all inhabit a special place in my psyche.
  2. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers inspired me as a kid. He taught me that feelings were OK to share, that life doesn’t have to be fast, and that simple hand puppets are magical. He respected his young viewers in a way that few TV shows, before or since, have done. His example lives on today, and I aspire to be even 1/10 the man that Fred Rogers was. When he died in 2003, I cried – and even before I heard of his death, that same day (February 27, 2003), I went to the Smithsonian and saw his sweater. It’s as if I sensed that he had passed away and had to visit an old friend. His goodbye message to viewers is very touching.
  3. Hotel Balderdash. If you didn’t spend your youth in Utah, this one is likely a head scratcher. But I remember the antics of Cannonball (the hotel manager) and Harvey (the hapless bellboy) at their crazy hotel. This show aired over 400 episodes per year, with separate episodes for the morning and afternoon. It was a lot of very corny humor, but it was delivered sincerely with a fair dose of slapstick. You can see some clips about two minutes into this story from KTVX TV, aired as part of their 60th anniversary celebration (of all the shows in the piece, I only knew Hotel Balderdash).
  4. CHiPs. A mix of chase scenes, crimes, and comedy – perfect fodder for a tween. And I loved this show. Even when Larry Wilcox left for a spell, I continued to watch “7-Mary 3 and 4” do their patrols of the L.A. basin. Sure, it wasn’t high-level TV, but it was entertaining. Even now, if I’m in a hotel, flipping through the channels, and I land on CHiPs, I’ll stop and watch the remainder of the episode.
  5. Battlestar Galactica. Sure, they remade this recently, but the original holds a strong place in my memory. The banter between straight-laced Apollo and loose-cannon Starbuck was great, and Lorne Greene, as Commander Adama, was a wonderful father figure. The opening credits were, well, totally ripped from Star Trek, but were still cool.While I watched this show in first-run, I re-watched it in its initial syndication, as well (and yes, I watched the ugly mess that was Galactica 1980.
  6. Family Ties. What a classic sitcom! The show was both a tribute and a reaction to the 1980s, embracing the hopes of the Reagan generation (in the embodiment of Alex and, to a lesser extent, Mallory), while still abiding by the hopes of the “recovering hippie” generation of Steven and Elise. Jennifer provided a sarcastic-cum-innocent middle-ground, of sorts. Sure, when they did the inevitable shark jump of bringing in Andy, all bets were off, but the show was remarkably consistent and believable – far more than most sitcoms ever are, even today.
  7. Night Court. Lightweight humor? Sure. But Harry Anderson was great in this show, as was the entire supporting cast. John Larroquette’s lecherous Dan Fielding had a heart underneath all of the double-entendres, and Richard Moll’s Bull was a lot smarter than anybody realized. And it’s also the show that introduced the world to the talents of Brent “Commander Data” Spiner.
  8. Cheers. A great show from beginning to end, with great characters and a lot of heart. I watched every episode of this show, loved it all, and similarly loved its spin-off, Frasier.
  9. Newhart. This is one of the great sitcoms of all time. Bob Newhart’s character, Dick Loudon, is so perfect in terms of timing, and the rest of the cast was equally talented. And the way the series ended is one of the best series endings of all time.
  10. Animaniacs. During my college years, this show was a perfect escape: razor-sharp humor, a lot of jokes that were aimed squarely at adults, and enough nods to the classic “Looney Tunes” formula of the classic Warner Brothers cartoon studio. Between the lunacy of Wakko, Yakko and Dot, or the Citizen Kane meets The Village Idiot wit of Pinky and The Brain, this show simply worked – and brilliantly, at that. Given it’s an election year (ugh – enough with the ads already!), here’s a musical revue of the Presidents (through the mid-90s, at least).

Honorable Mentions: The Electric Company, Zoom, The Dukes of Hazzard, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, M*A*S*H, Growing Pains, The Cosby Show, Buck Rogers, The Voyagers, Diff’rent Strokes, 3-2-1 Contact, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Remington Steele, Moonlighting, The A Team, Battle of the Planets, and I’m sure many, many more!

What are your faves? Let me know in the comments!

once again, u.s. olympics fans lose to nbc myopia

Back in 2010, I wrote a post on this blog that criticized NBC’s dumbed-down approach to covering the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, expressing hope that NBC might – just might – improve things for 2012, 2014 and beyond.

You can read that post here. Go ahead, read it – I’ll wait…

Done? Good. Now let’s see what has happened since then.

In January of this year, NBC pulled over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting of its Universal Sports channel, making it a cable and satellite-only, premium subscription network. It seems that the OTA presence was nothing more than a “trial balloon” to see if the network was viable. So, under the guise of “improving broadcast quality,” NBC moved the network behind a paywall.

So for us OTA-only viewers, we have… just NBC.

And what does NBC do with their broadcasting? They show some events live and (relatively) uncut, during hours when most U.S. viewers are either at work or asleep. The primetime coverage? Well, I covered that in 2010:

NBC is showing sliced-and-diced coverage: coverage where events are shown in a non-contiguous manner, with rapid-fire switching between events and frequent interruptions of coverage with so-called “human interest” stories about Canada, culture, athletes with “inspiring stories,” et al. The only events with more-or-less contiguous coverage are daytime events that have lower viewership, hockey and figure skating. If you are a fan of alpine skiing (like me), bobsled, luge, ski jumping or long-track speed skating, the coverage is “custom fit” to showcase Team USA and “select favorites for the events.”

Substitute “England” for “Canada,” and various summer sports for the winter sports mentioned, and it’s the same basic thing.

I compare this to the BBC’s coverage for the London games, which includes:

  • all-day event coverage on BBC One
  • all-day coverage on BBC Three, usually of uncut events
  • web streaming of all events, live and interruption-free

Any UK-located fan of the games can watch this stuff for free (OK, folks in the UK do pay for a “television license” when they buy a TV, but that’s academic – it’s essentially free). They’re even offering everything in high-definition, and some events (such as the Danny Boyle-concocted opening ceremony and the 100-meter dash) in 3-D.

Put simply: it’s immersive, thorough, and damned impressive.

Of course, you need to be a UK resident to see any of this. Sure, there are ways for folks outside of the UK can watch this, but I won’t go into that (it’s not hard to figure out with visits to the search firm of Google & Bing, Ltd.).

And NBC? Online streaming is only available to cable and satellite subscribers, as are the iOS and Android apps. Us OTA folk have the basic NBC stuff, which, as The Onion snarkily (but, sadly, accurately) implies, is aimed at soccer moms.

And us fans of sport? Once again, we’re left with crap.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll watch a lot of the crap NBC gives us “disgraceful” OTA viewers. And I’ll find ways to watch the other events as presented by networks that seem to value the intelligence of their viewers.

And guess what? NBC has the IOC’s exclusive license to show the Olympic Games in the U.S. until 2022.


ten on tuesday: oscar isn’t a grouch (except when he is)

Finally, Carole has come up with another topic I like: 10 thoughts on this year’s Oscars. So, without any delay (“we’re running over time, folks!”), here goes:

  1. If I never have to see Billy Crystal host the show again, I’d die happy. Seriously, the man never really hit his stride. The “insert Billy in movies” bit is tired. The medley of Best Picture nominees morphed into showtunes was mostly flat. Most of his jokes were dated (as in “this is the early-90s calling – we’d like our material back.”). And when he started to pick up steam in the third hour of the show, he deflated all goodwill with a totally dated and off-color quip about the French. Perhaps we can get Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Neil Patrick Harris or Ricky Gervais to host next year.
  2. I’m happy that The Artist won for Best Picture. Let’s face it: I loved the movie. Loved it. Was engrossed the entire time (unlike Sarah or sprite), and felt it to be a wonderfully-executed study of the transition from silent film to “the talkies.” Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and Uggie were superb, as was the supporting cast of well-known Hollywood types. Châpeau!
  3. That said, I was also rooting for Hugo to win for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Hugo is a glorious film, a love letter to cinema, youth and embracing life, and had it won Best Picture, I would have cheered just as much as I applaud The Artist‘s victory. The cast is superb, the imagery vivid, and the use of 3-D is spot-on and essential to the total enjoyment of the film. It’s the first 3-D film I’ve seen where I can say, without reservation, that it is an essential element to the entire piece. This is a better film, by far, than The Departed, the film that won Scorsese’s only Best Picture statue. I’m happy that it won almost every technical Oscar for which it was up, but it deserved more.
  4. AMPAS still has a bias against movies aimed at children. That is why, to my eye, Hugo didn’t get any hardware outside of technical categories. It’s a shame, really, but it reflects the voting membership of AMPAS: folks who don’t really care what the public thinks and, if anything, abhor the opinions of the “unwashed and uneducated.”
  5. I would trade all of the “stars reflect on why they love the movies” bits for live performances of the two nominated Best Original Songs. I mean, it was two songs! Why were there so many pre-recorded bits doing the passive-aggressive “really y’all should go to the movies, chumps” bits, instead of performances of the pair of nominated songs. That would have been, what, 6 or 7 minutes of singing, with maybe a little dancing? That would have been far better than what we got.
  6. However, the Christoper Guest & crew Wizard of Oz focus group bit was top-notch! Indeed, it was one of the funniest moments of the evening.
  7. The acting winners were all class acts, and all were deserving. From Baron von Trapp finally winning, to Octavia Spencer’s shell shock, to Meryl Streep’s ease and honest surprise, to Jean Dujardin’s bilingual excitement (and short soft-shoe), all four winners were gracious in victory and deserving of their awards (and no, I haven’t seen The Help, Beginners or The Iron Lady… yet).
  8. The sound mixer for the microphones should be taken out back and subjected to a sonic bombardment of songs delivered by an over-amped Speak & Spell. Honestly, the digital compression artifacts were bloody awful. Some in the Twitterverse compared it to having a modem connecting constantly in the background, and that wasn’t far off the mark. The initial, official excuse was “well, the satellite is doing that,” but that’s bunk, as the pre-recorded bits were crystal clear and quiet. If the Oscars telecast gets nominated for an Emmy, then I’ll truly know that talent is no longer a requirement for reward – a sad, sad state of affairs.
  9. I love that the robot known as R.Y.A.N. C-Crest was completely unnerved and unhinged by Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Dictator.” Yes, it was a cheesy PR stunt, but as usual, Cohen’s delivery was deadpan and fantastic. That he spilled the “ashes” of Kim Jong Il all over Seacrest was a bit of brilliant absurdist art, and totally ruffled the feathers of a person who is very cautious to always appear uniformly “together,” with whitened-and-capped teeth gleaming, suit pressed to perfection, and not a hair out of place. It certainly made me giggle, and if that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
  10. Some little details made me very happy. I loved seeing Sheila E. in the house band. Chris Rock as a presenter was brilliant. Same goes for Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne breaking out the mini-bottles of vokda to play “The Scorsese Drinking Game.” The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a worthy winner of Best Animated Short. Penelope Cruz’s lavender gown and 1930s ‘do were elegant and, it seems, misunderstood. Cirque do Soleil was impressive, but didn’t really have any relevance at an award show for film (again, they could have performed one of the nominated songs here). Emma Stone’s comic turn as a presenter was witty, and she towered over the tan-from-a-bottle head of Ben Stiller (he was giving John Boehner a run for winner of “Best Orange Complexion”). Esperanza Spaulding’s performance of “What A Wonderful World” was brilliant (even if, as somebody pointed out, the sentiment of the song doesn’t apply to the deceased, does it?). And who knew that, for Hollywood types, 64 degrees Fahrenheit is “freezing?” I sure didn’t.

So: are there any things you found great – or lacking – at the 2012 Academy Awards? Let me know in the comments!

random olympics: how not to broadcast a showcase event

I need only look at last night’s abomination of a broadcast from the National Broadcasting Corporation to see some of the worst possible chop-shop, dumbed-down sports broadcasting ever put on TV. This four-and-a-half hour long exercise in broadcast futility can be broken down thusly:

The showcase event of alpine skiing, the men’s downhill, featured six racers out of 64 starters. These included:

  • Two of four starters from Team USA (including Bode Miller, the bronze medal winner).
  • Two of four starters from Team Switzerland (including Didier Defago, the gold medal winner).
  • One Norwegian (Aksel Lund Svindal, the silver medal winner).
  • One Canadian (Robbie Dixon, who crashed out of the race).

During this coverage there were four commercial breaks of 2:30 per break. The six racers accounted for a grand total of 11 minutes of racing time, plus about 4 minutes of interviews.

(Congratulations, by the way, to all three medalists, who raced to the most closely contested downhill in Winter Olympic history. And welcome back to the good side of media coverage, Mr. Miller.)

The next segment was a feature on polar bears who, as far as I know, are not competing in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. This was around 10 minutes, all told.

The following segment of speed skating had problems due to no fault of NBC, but that of broken Zambonis at the Richmond Oval.

There was about 12 minutes of coverage of snowboard cross, which featured one of the most compelling final rounds I’ve ever seen on a slope, be it skiing or snowboarding. This round was shoehorned in between rounds of…

Pairs figure skating! Yup, there was tons of figure skating on NBC last night. And that also meant way too much commentary from Dick Button, who sounds increasingly like Abe Simpson complaining about the applesauce in the Springfield Retirement Home. At least they have Scott Hamilton doing the play-by-play (he at least understands the athletic aspects of modern figure skating).

And the quality of skating, save for the top two pairs, was woeful. I mean, it was awful: crashes, slow-pace, spinning to a stop, the works. If these were truly the best the world had to offer, it’s a sad statement about modern figure skating. Seriously, it looked like Jamie Salé and David Pelltier were ready to bust out of the broadcast booth, strap on their skates and show these clowns how to actually skate with feeling and ability.

Back to my point: NBC dedicated more than half of the night’s broadcast to figure skating, showing many of the pairs in a sport that is so made-for-TV silly as to be painful. Granted, I enjoyed watching the two Chinese pairs who finished 1-2, as they looked like they actually were skating to win. So that was, what, almost 9 minutes of compelling coverage?

Otherwise, there were interview pieces (about 20-25 minutes of ’em), the worst of which featured Chris “I Can Only Really Broadcast NFL Football” Collinsworth interviewing Lindsey Jacobellis, the U.S. snowboarder whose hubris in 2006 was legendary. And Collinsworth asked her the same questions she’s been asked over the past four years, getting the same answers as every other interviewer. Why did NBC fly this clown to Vancouver?

Oh, and there was over one hour of commercial time during the 4.5 hour broadcast time. I guess that NBC Universal wants to recoup as much of the financial loss as possible.

NBC, you remain pathetic.

random olympics: nbc’s dumbed down games racket

For years, I’ve been critical of TV coverage of the Olympic Games by the United States media.

They think that the average American is stupid.

No, seriously – they do. Thee assume that, as a whole, we know nothing about sports other than baseball, football, basketball, NASCAR and hockey. They think that we’re only interested in Team USA and its athletes, or barring that, the athletes who “overcame every obstacle to get to the games.”

What’s lost in all of this? Showing the beauty of the competition as it unfolds, on its own, with the venue and the athletes as the stars.

That brings me to the National Broadcasting Company – a.k.a. NBC. They have exclusive U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics Games, both summer and winter, through 2018. This means that any and every bit of live or same-day-delayed footage of the Games, be it TV or internet, must be distributed by them.

As such, it sucks – big time. Let’s break this down:

NBC has five networks at their disposal for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games: NBC, Universal Sports, CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network. They also have the online presence of NBCOlympics.com.

There are a large number of events at the 2010 Games, many of which run simultaneously throughout the day, so it would seem that NBC, with their large investment in the games, would flex their collective broadcast muscle to show as many events as possible in as complete and immersive a way as possible.

But they don’t – and they won’t.

Here’s how they don’t:

Say, for instance, you are like me and get all of your TV from over-the-air broadcasting (i.e. no cable, no dish). There are two NBC networks available for Olympic broadcasting: NBC and Universal Sports. And how are they using these networks?

NBC is showing sliced-and-diced coverage: coverage where events are shown in a non-contiguous manner, with rapid-fire switching between events and frequent interruptions of coverage with so-called “human interest” stories about Canada, culture, athletes with “inspiring stories,” et al. The only events with more-or-less contiguous coverage are daytime events that have lower viewership, hockey and figure skating. If you are a fan of alpine skiing (like me), bobsled, luge, ski jumping or long-track speed skating, the coverage is “custom fit” to showcase Team USA and “select favorites for the events.”


And it gets worse when you count in Universal Sports, a usually wonderful network that is now saddled with “talking head” shows, where commentators blather on at length about sports and athletes without showing a shred of actual competition. During prime time, Universal Sports shows reruns of pre-Olympic competition that has zero bearing on the day’s competition in Vancouver and Whistler.

In a word: pathetic.

When you add in the cable networks, it gets even more warped. The combined power of CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network are showing hours upon hours of hockey (in all fairness, they’re showing both the men and the women) and some curling (ooh – curling, the most non-athletic event at the Winter Olympic Games!). Furthermore, they seldom show Games coverage is NBC if showing something on their flagship network, and haven’t yet scheduled anything in prime time to challenge the mother ship.

And just when you thought that was absurd enough, there’s the internet factor. NBCOlympics.com is the go-to place for internet coverage of the Games in the United States. They seem to offer a gold mine of great content, including live streams of skiing, speed skating, hockey, curling, ski jumping, luge, bobsled – the works! They even offer full event recap footage, with all of the competitors shown – hot dog!


If you try to access this content and are not a subscriber to a cable or satellite TV service, you are shit outta luck – “no content for you!” screams the National Broadcast Company. Sure, there’s some online video content available, but it’s all the “fluff piece” human interest interstitial bits, a montage of “hugs and tears” from the previous night’s figure skating competition, a bit on the science of the slap shot, and other things that have nothing to do with the day’s events.

If this is a direct result of the impending merger of NBC Universal and Comcast, consider me angry. Furthermore, this preferential content system is a slap in the face of net neutrality, a cause I believe in most strongly. If NBC’s argument is that people using non-cable internet providers “aren’t paying for content,” then riddle me this: I’m paying for my DSL connection, therefore I’m paying for access to content. Where’s the difference between that and cable TV?

Furthermore, if I had cable-provided internet and TV, why would I be watching events online if they were also available on TV broadcast?

I understand that NBC is a business and has a lot of money invested in broadcasting the Olympics. In fact, it’s estimated that they overpaid for the broadcast rights to the 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 Games to the tune of over $200 million.

I also understand that their two over-the-air networks are governed by the FCC and must provide a public service. And I see their mauling of the content on NBC, combined with the complete waste of their Universal Sports network with pointless talk shows, to be a misuse of their FCC license.

So why can’t NBC simply ignore the focus groups that state that their target audience for Olympic coverage is women, age 25-64, who want to see “pretty things” on their TV? Why can’t they assume that the average viewer will understand a new sport if given the opportunity to watch it, warts and all, seeing a lot of the field and learning to spot good moves from bad? Why can’t they flex the muscle of their five TV networks and spread out the coverage, offering simultaneous and full coverage of as many events as possible?

That was the promise of NBC when they first took over broadcasting of the Olympics with the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and the “Triplecast,” a pay-per-view set of three cable channels that showed simultaneous event coverage. And in the 1980s, the previous tenders of the Olympic flame on TV – ABC and CBS – showed more coverage of more events, without breaking to-and-fro between events, teaching people about the sports as the broadcast went along.

That’s how I became hooked on alpine ski racing: watching the 1984 Winter Olympic Games from Sarajevo, where brash Bill Johnson showed up ski racing’s Austrian royalty to win the downhill, and the Mahre twins raced to gold and silver in their final international competition. It was compelling without resorting to “sob story” tactics, while showing all of the top racers and not just the cherry-picked Americans. It made me say “I want to do that!”

And I can’t see this current means of presentation of one of the most compelling competitions around being as compelling to tomorrow’s athletes. Once NBC took the reins, the slice-and-dice methods of Dick Ebersol took over, and the quality of the broadcast went down as a result.

What NBC fails to realize is that great competition is compelling in and of itself. Remember Picabo Street? She was charismatic and compelling on her own, without the help of an “After School Special” biography before each of her races. Same thing with Alberto Tomba, the macho Italian whose rise to fame in the 1988 Winter Games was unprecedented. And how about the “Battle of the Brians” – Orser and Boitano – from the same year? The sport drove the narrative, not the other way around.

So please, NBC: respect the viewer and serve us a multi-station buffet of Olympic choices, rather than spoon-feed us carefully repackaged tripe. You still have almost two weeks to make things better, and there are four years until Sochii (and two until London) for you to make amends. Please do.

Otherwise, you’re all but dead to me.

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