kottke.org posts about television

Slow TVApr 04 2014

Slow television is the uninterrupted broadcast of an ordinary event from start to finish. Early efforts included burning Yule logs on TV around Christmas and driver's views of complete British rail journeys (not to mention Andy Warhol and the pitch drop experiment), but Norwegian public television has revived the format in recent years. The first broadcast was of a 7-hour train trip from Bergen to Oslo, which was watched at some point by ~20% of Norway's population. You can watch the entire thing on YouTube:

Not content with that, in 2011 an entire ship voyage was broadcast for 134 continuous hours. The entire voyage is available for viewing, but you can watch a 37-minute time lapse of the whole thing if you can't spare the 5½ days:

As the show progressed and the ratings climbed (half of the Norwegian population tuned in at some point), the show became an interactive event, with people meeting the ship along to coast in order to appear as extras in the cast. Some even followed in smaller boats, filming as they went along in the ship's wake.

Other shows included 12 hours about firewood (including 8 uninterrupted hours of a burning fireplace), 18 hours of salmon swimming upstream (which some felt was too short), 100 hours of Magnus Carlsen playing chess, a 30-hour interview with a noted author, and several continuous hours of sweater production, from shearing to knitting.

Shows currently in the planning stages include A Day in the Life of a Snail and "a 24-hour-long program following construction workers building a digital-style clock out of wood, shuffling planks to match each passing minute". The slow TV concept might soon be coming to American TV as well.

P.S. Does this 10-hour video of Tyrion Lannister slapping Joffrey count as slow TV? Either way, it's great.

Twelve Monkeys TV adaptation is in YOUR FUTUREAug 26 2013

Looks like Syfy has ordered a "cast-contingent" hour-long pilot for an adaptation of Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, with an eye to make it into a proper TV series. One of the producers of Gilliam's 1995 film is on board, and Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, who both worked on Terra Nova and Nikita, wrote it. The model here is Battlestar Galactica: a movie reboot that could be a mini-series that could be multiple seasons.

Syfy's Mark Stern talked about it with The Hollywood Reporter, back when the pilot was 90 minutes long and still waiting to be approved for production while the network and producers figured out what the whole series would be about:

It's a return to our roots in terms of science fiction: cool, interesting push-the-genre science fiction. Some we're looking at doing straight to series, because you really want to give them the flexibility and do a closed-ended, arced run. Some of them are going to be traditional pilots, and then we'll decide and they may be a bit more episodic.

Given the time-travel theme, the fact that the source material (both Twelve Monkeys and La Jetée) are well-known, and the way TV's changed over the last ten years with jigsaw-puzzle series like LOST and the revived Arrested Development, I'm curious to see if the showrunners might mess around with the timelines a bit, jumping around, giving the audience previews of things the story doesn't explain right away, and generally making Doctor Who look like it's for precocious kids (which, really, it kinda is).

Via Adi Robertson at The Verge.

Mad Men comingMar 23 2012

Season 5 of Mad Men starts on Sunday. It's been on hiatus for 12 years, and it might be hard to remember season 4 without some of the Mad Men related info linked below. With such a long break, there's been quite a bit of Mad Men news floating around. In order to cut it down a little, most of this stuff is from the last week or so. Don't try to eat it all in one sitting you'll get a stomach ache and have to sleep off your hangover on your office couch.

-Here's where we left off in Season 4.

-Everything Don Draper Said in Season 4.

-Although, Matthew Weiner has asked reviewers with advanced copies of Sunday's premier not to discuss key details in their previews, such as the year this season takes place, Weiner is changing a song featured in the episode because it wasn't released until 6 months after the episode takes place. 'Look of Love' was released at the beginning of 1967 placing the episode in, or around, the summer of 1966. This is about a year after Season 4 ended. Maybe this is subterfuge?

-George Lois is still mad.

-Newsweek recently had an issue celebrating the return of Mad Men where the ads were all retro. Here are all those ads.

-The psychotherapist who consulted on Mad Men's development talks about why the characters feel so real.

-Some (spoiler free) previews of what to expect on Sunday.

Imagine if Mad Men was a Nintendo game...

Magnetic Attitude, Community's teenage prodigyMay 05 2011

NBC's Community has a minor character (nick)named Magnitude, who overwhelmingly speaks in just a single catchphrase -- "Pop Pop!" Both the character and the phrase have unexpectedly taken off. Here's their first appearance:

The Wrap's John Sellers has written an oral history of Magnitude where show creator Dan Harmon (along with actor Luke Youngblood and staff writer/character creator Adam Countee) fills in the character's surprisingly rich backstory. Highlights:

Harmon: In the end, I really liked Magnitude because I realized that the reason he calls himself Magnitude is because it stands for Magnetic Attitude.

Countee: This guy has a nickname within a nickname. The layering of the character, I thought, was so funny and so brilliant. That little nuance spoke volumes about who this kid is and who this kid is trying to be.

Harmon: At some point, we had to give Magnitude a birthdate. And someone decided that he was 16 years old. We were like, "That's hilarious." He's, like, some kind of weird prodigy. There is also a deleted couplet from the election episode. Magnitude is up there talking, and the dean applauds his bold urban flavor. And in response to that, Shirley, in the audience, says, "Bold urban flavor? Please. That boy's from Barbados. His father's a cardiologist." So, there's some biographical information to add to the canon.

Weirdly, when I lived in Chicago, my roommate Bob:

  1. looked surprisingly like Magnitude (same haircut, same glasses, same attitude)
  2. BOTH his parents were cardiologists
  3. the family wasn't from Barbados -- they were from Nigeria.

He disappointed the entire family by getting an MA in psychology, then dropping out and spending all day listening to Gang Starr, drinking brandy, and reading books about conspiracy theories and the paranormal. He was easily the best roommate I ever had.

Reality on televisionMay 03 2011

Kelefa Sanneh offers a little history of reality television's transformation from public documentary to commercial game show:

On January 6, 1973, the anthropologist Margaret Mead published a startling little essay in TV Guide. Her contribution, which wasn't mentioned on the cover, appeared in the back of the magazine, after the listings, tucked between an advertisement for Virginia Slims and a profile of Shelley Winters. Mead's subject was a new Public Broadcasting System series called "An American Family," about the Louds, a middle-class California household. "Bill and Pat Loud and their five children are neither actors nor public figures," Mead wrote; rather, they were the people they portrayed on television, "members of a real family." Producers compressed seven months of tedium and turmoil (including the corrosion of Bill and Pat's marriage) into twelve one-hour episodes, which constituted, in Mead's view, "a new kind of art form"--an innovation "as significant as the invention of drama or the novel."

"An American Family" was a hit, and Lance Loud, the oldest son, became a celebrity, perhaps the world's first openly gay TV star. But for decades "An American Family" looked like an anomaly; by 1983, when HBO broadcast a follow-up documentary on the Louds, Mead's "new kind of art form" seemed more like an artifact of an older America. Worthy heirs to the Louds arrived in 1992, with the debut of the MTV series "The Real World," which updated the formula by adding a dash of artifice: each season, a handful of young adults were thrown together in a house, and viewers got to know them as they got to know one another. It wasn't until 2000, though, that Mead's grand claim started to look prescient. That year, a pair of high-profile, high-concept summer series nudged the format into American prime time: "Big Brother," a Dutch import, was built around surveillance-style footage of competitors locked in a house; "Survivor," a Swedish import, isolated its stars by shipping them somewhere warm and distant, where they participated in faux tribal competitions. Both of these were essentially game shows, but they doubled as earthy anthropological experiments, and they convinced viewers and executives alike that television could provide action without actors.

The essay includes this tidy and maybe prescient quote from Mark Andrejevic's 2004 book Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched:

The Illinois housewife who agrees to move into a house where her every move can be watched by millions of strangers to compete for a cash prize exhibits more than an incidental similarity (albeit on a different scale) to the computer user who allows Yahoo to monitor her web-browsing habits in exchange for access to a free e-mail account.

Here's another thought. Traditional game shows are spectacles of consumption, plus luck. Think "The Price is Right" or "Supermarket Sweep," where you try to win household and luxury goods based on your knowlege about household and luxury goods.

Now, game shows/reality TV are overwhelmingly about work -- "American Idol," "Survivor," "The Apprentice," "America's Next Top Model." The incentive at the end, if you win, is that you'll get enough fame and exposure that you'll win the right to continue to work.

The aspiring model/singer/washed-up celebrity who agrees to go on stage and engage in cutthroat competition with other aspirants to satisfy the whims of mercurial judges exhibits more than an accidental similarity to unpaid interns and at-will employees who can likewise be cut loose at a moment's notice.

We're all in the prize economy now.

PS: I still think Chappelle/Puffy's rant starting around 4:20 is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Words to live byAug 02 2010

"So here's some advice I wish I would have got when I was your age... Live every week like it's shark week." - Tracy Jordan

In its 24th year, the Discovery Channel's Shark Week is really coming into its own on the internet. At least on the meme-filled internet of Tumblr/Twitter/Reddit etc. Add in the clever guerrilla marketing of having sharks appear off the coast of Cape Cod and NJ this past week, and you've got the makings of a media phenomenon I can hardly bear.

Live 30 Rock EpisodeAug 02 2010

In case you missed it on Friday, NBC announced that the October 14th episode of 30 Rock will be performed live. In fact, they'll be performing 2 shows, one for the East Coast and one for the West Coast. (Pro tip: Air the opposite coast's episode before the next week's show.) I am, of course, excited to see the Tracy Morgan/Tracy Jordan combo live.

Incidentally, the Wikipedia entry for Live Television is jam packed with interesting nuggets such as an incomplete list of notable live television episodes (West Wing, 2005. ER, 1997). Also, the last scripted series to "do it live" regularly was Roc in 1992.

Lost finale roundupMay 21 2010

I get giddy around big television events. The Lost finale this weekend certainly qualifies and a big question is, "Will fans of the show be satisfied with how it ends?" From Seinfeld to the Sopranos (for different reasons), series finales have a history of being disappointing. In this way, it's almost easier when a show is canceled because then we get to blame the network as opposed to the writers. That said, I want to be satisfied Sunday. LOTS of other people are talking about Lost this week. Here's what some of them are saying:

Doc Jensen

I'm ready for the final chapter, ready to see how it sums up the season and brings the series to a close. I'm ready to watch meaning (which, to be clear, is different than answers)... But will the meaning leave us in despair, or take us into happily ever after?

TV Guide Magazine

What makes Lost so special is that it never spelled things out for us the way a normal TV show does. It defies formula in a medium that regularly rewards it. Lost asked us to get lost within the show and to be satisfied with being lost for most of its run. TV almost never operates that way.

NYTimes.com:

The show had one good season, its first. It was very, very good ...but none of the seasons since have approached that level, and the current sixth season, rushed, muddled and dull, has been the weakest.

NPR

To me, some of the trick of Lost has been that some things are important and some things aren't...And that doesn't bother me at all, because that's part of constructing a convincing universe.

Newsweek.com

I'm not saying there aren't major mysteries of Lost that I don't want solved...But I've accepted at this point that the running tally of questions I've had about the show will likely never be answered...I don't want them to be. Why? Because the answers would probably suck.

3 Lost Links: Lost Re-Enacted By Cats and I'll Never Be Lost Again, a hip hop homage, and this from the National Post.

Slate Magazine

Or perhaps the message will be that we should all find meaning in one another, instead of in some mystical riddle. (A swipe at religion? An affirmation of personal agency? A meta-critique of fans who take the show waaaay too seriously?)

The Atlantic

It's all going to come down to this: is this a story about fate or choice? All along, many clues left us thinking it was a matter of fate: the numbers, the crazy mainland connections, Jacob's touch...

Jezebel

The show really had a lot of ground to cover this season in order to satisfy its loyal fans, but I think we all knew deep down that we'd never really know everything. Still, we were thrown several bones of juicy Island lure...

io9

If you think of Lost as being one big novel...then the stuff that happened in Chapter Five ought to be meaningful in the final chapter. There ought to be a sense that everything was leading towards this ending...

NYMag

Nothing that was key in the early seasons...is even in play. Even the ambiguities of "Across the Sea" now seem like attempts to shade the battle between mustache-twirling, murderous Smokey and his limp, Jesus-y antagonist.

Sepinwall

And now we see that the writers have saved the explanation of the sideways universe for the finale. Even with all that extra time to play with, that seems like an awful lot to squeeze into the finale...I still find myself oddly trusting that they know what they're doing with this finale.

TIME

Inevitably, any answers we get from this point on will satisfy some people and not others.

The Watcher

Did their deaths have meaning or were they just more victims of the seemingly endless battle between the Man in Black/Smockey and Jacob? This episode started the process of claiming that their deaths did indeed have meaning...

The Boston Globe

For a drama that traffics in philosophy, religious allegory, physics, and literary references from Jane Austen to Kurt Vonnegut, "Lost'' has a decidedly B-movie feel. After the remarkably cinematic 2004 pilot episode, set immediately after the Oceanic 815 plane crash, the adventure has been pretty schlocky.

Zap2it

With only two and a half hours to go, there's simply no way for the show to answer every lingering mystery still up for discussion. I'm not entirely sure that's a bug as a much as a feature.

WSJ.com

If we give the writers a little grace and extend some patience, the suspense leading up to the finale of this television show could teach us something about faith in general.

Defamer

We propped up the show with our eyeballs, our blog posts, our participation in those agonizing summertime internet Easter egg hunts. They created the whole thing, out of nothing...Let them end it their way.

LATimes.com

For years series were canceled and disappeared without ceremony, but nowadays...it is more usual to aim for some sort of closure. (Just as it's become more common, in life, to think we need it.)

KansasCity.com

If we were to do a poll on which of the three retiring shows will have the longest and strongest afterlife, I'd bet the winner would be "Lost." Of course, the poll would be conducted on the Internet, which is sagging under the load of commentary...

Best Week Ever

What They Died For Better Not Be That Stupid Light

PopMatters

Now I'm just holding on for whatever may come. As long as it isn't a snow globe in an autistic child's hand, I'll be okay.

USATODAY.com

Fates will be decided, questions will be answered, and one of TV's greatest series...will come to its conclusion. Not since The Fugitive, one suspects, has a series finale been greeted with such anticipation, and such dread.

Bart Simpson's blackboardMay 19 2010

Recently, Mat Williams hand wrote 288 of the lines Bart Simpson writes on the blackboard to open every episode. He used 20 white markers over 2 days to complete the work on the 22m long blackboard at Work Club, a London based ad agency. Clicking here will allow you to zoom in on any part of the blackboard, while clicking here will allow you to watch a video of Mat skateboarding through London and writing on the blackboard in a Bart Simpson mask.

Incidentally, there have been 463 episodes, and Bart doesn't write on the chalk board in the opening to all of them. To read a list of all the openings, go here. To SEE a list of all the openings, go here. There's an electrical outlet in front of Bart's knee in every season except season 1 and season 21. This might only be interesting to me.

(via nerdcore + thedailywh.at)

Television stimulus neededMay 17 2010

NBC announced on Friday that Law and Order would be canceled after 20 years.* As the New York Times ably put it, "the wheels of TV justice will soon grind to a halt." City officials estimate that the show pumped about $1 billion into the New York City economy. And won't someone think of the actors.

Several casting directors for theater, film and television estimated on Friday that the majority of actors' resumes that came across their desks included "Law & Order" credits. Some actors who worked chiefly in New York theater, drawing weekly salaries of $500 to $1,500 for their stage roles, supplemented those paychecks by playing judges, jurors and police officers on "Law & Order." Pay for those jobs ranged from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or so a week for only a few moments of screen time.

*They also announced that Heroes would be canceled, but I didn't know that was still on.

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