On 'Two and a Half Men,' Charlie Sheen's Character Died -- But the Wrong Way
September 21, 2011 9:20 AM
By P.J. Bednarski
I don't watch Two and Half Men often enough to know if that first episode was up to the show's usual comedy standards. But it wasn't very funny. And executive producer Chuck Lorre didn't find a very plausible way to introduce new lead Ashton Kutcher.
All in all, Lorre missed the opportunity to make a statement he obviously believes: Booze kills.
He could have killed Charlie Harper, Sheen's sitcom alter ego, and still found a way to get lowbrow laughs out of the episode. In April, way back when Sheen was in the news, I proposed CBS kill him this way. I wrote, in part:
"Isn't it hypocritical for a network and his studio to condemn Sheen for his 'statements, condition and conduct,' when that is what they have built the show around? Two and a Half Men is about a delusional, drunken, womanizing asshole. It stars Charlie Sheen. CBS and series creator-producer Chuck Lorre have gotten what they paid for. Exactly.
"Typically, television ends enormously successful sitcoms by planning a final episode that sums up the series with a realistic ending that is true to the characters. The honorable, honest way for CBS to end Two and a Half Men would be a 'very special' episode in which it is revealed that a drunken Charlie has killed himself in a car crash. That's a typical way for alcoholics to die."
Well, that didn't happen. Charlie Harper got hit by a train, perhaps pushed by a woman he married and immediately cheated on.
At his funeral, according to the premiere episode, we learned that Charlie had transmitted herpes, genital warts and chlamydia to a few of his girlfriends. So, without remorse, the show dealt with consequences: It acknowledged that his casual, indiscriminate sex hurt him and his partners. This got gales of canned laughter, the kind the producers insert.
But anything about the possible consequences of drinking? No way.
Replay the very same open scenes, with all those same references, and then conclude with a better death scenario: In my "script," in a drunken stupor, Charlie fell off a pier. He survived for a short while, but badly injured. At the hospital he is ministered to by a volunteer, Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher), a recovering drunk who has devoted his life to counseling alcoholics with the billions he made from an Internet start-up.
He gives Charlie unconditional support to get well and get sober. Charlie stays alive long enough to change his will and leave his Malibu home to his the guy in gratitude. He knows he'll take good care of his brother and nephew. (That also sticks him with the mortgage.)
That's clunky, but it's slightly less contrived than Walden being a billionaire who just appears at the beach home window. I think Chuck Lorre is a recovering alcoholic; it would seem he would have thought of something like this himself.
Instead, Kutcher's character, who at first professes he doesn't drink much, downs several appletinis in his debut. So here we go again.
I guess the bigger point is that since Charlie Sheen self-imploded, CBS and Lorre had a chance to make at least a small point about how alcoholics live (read the police blotter in your community newspaper) and die (ditto), and how recovering alcoholics can live "normal" lives without drinking.
It didn't have to be a lecturing screed. But it could have been something.
Imagining a Very Special Final Episode of 'Two and a Half Men'
March 1, 2011 3:30 PM
By P. J. Bednarski
The Charlie Sheen show, now playing on almost every channel, is just another in a series of self-deprecating screams that once would have happened in private, and now happen in front of everybody around the world. The fall of Charlie Sheen was predictable. Vegas should have odds on his death by now.
In the last quarter hour of his interview on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight, Sheen noted that the Charlie he plays on the CBS sitcom is more, not less, like the Charlie he is in real life. So what follows is a logical question: Why punish Charlie?
Isn't it hypocritical for a network and his studio to condemn Sheen for his "statements, condition and conduct" when that is what they have built the show around? Two and a Half Men is about a delusional, drunken, womanizing asshole. It stars Charlie Sheen. CBS and series creator-producer Chuck Lorre have gotten what they paid for. Exactly.
Typically, television ends enormously successful sitcoms by planning a final episode that sums up the series with a realistic ending that is true to the characters.
The honorable, honest way for CBS to end Two and a Half Men would be a very special episode in which it is revealed that a drunken Charlie has killed himself in a car crash. That's a typical way for alcoholics to die.
With Sheen now banished as a cast member but contractually attached to the show, we could learn of the crash at the beginning of the episode, and let the remainder of the half-hour fill up with wall-to-wall clips of Charlie in an alcoholic haze from the past seven seasons.
The entire cast could gather one last time to cue the memories of crazy Charlie that, if this were real life, would likely include domestic violence, unemployment, chronic sickness and a police record.
On TV, the laugh track would be in overdrive.
Fade to black out.
Piers Morgan: Freeze-Dried Facetime
January 18, 2011 8:02 PM
By P.J. Bednarski
No doubt Piers Morgan will succeed on CNN, or at least survive on the CNN scale, which pretty much means his show will continue, like The New Adventures of Old Christine, which stayed on the air until it didn't.
I have a feeling Piers will be like that. For CNN, that's an improvement, recognition-wise.
Suggested slogan for Piers Morgan: More Likable Than Eliot Spitzer.
Morgan's first show Monday night featured a probing interview with Oprah Winfrey. It is hard to get her to talk about herself, as you know. And especially these days when she is so busy running her own network. It is a credit to Morgan's hard work that he somehow talked Oprah into showing up. As she said, more than once, "Oh, you're good." I wonder if Oprah Winfrey, who has hosted a daily talk show since 1983, possibly knew that saying "Oh, you're good" to a new talk show host could be used as a promo. And did Piers?
Really, really lucky, that.
Morgan's first-week guests show a strong propensity toward obviousness. (Obviousity? Whatever.) This is not the man who is aiming to surprise you. He'd be terrible picking Baskin Robbins' 32 Flavors, absolutely not the guy you want picking stumpers on your Charades team. Look at that list: Howard Stern (formerly interesting), Ricky Gervais (good, but only to explain his Golden Globes attitude), and Condoleezza Rice (see parenthetical for Howard Stern). A quality booking, to be fair: Morgan later this week (Friday night at 9 ET) will talk to George Clooney and his father, Nick Clooney, a pairing that if done right would exhibit how a remarkable and classy father raised a remarkable son.
But besides the Clooneys, nothing seems too clever here, and nothing coming up in the near future, either. TVGuide.com found it newsworthy that Morgan will not invite Howie Mandel onto his show. Yes, you read it correctly. The banishment, honest to God, sounds like something from The Onion. (Talk Host Vows to Shun Howie Mandel Booking! Subhed: Wise-cracking Germaphobe Will Have to Dish Dirt Elsewhere)
Upcoming guests Piers Morgan will entertain all come from the low-hanging fruit basket. They include Rod Stewart, Rudy Giuliani, Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, Donald and Melania Trump. I hardly have the energy to type their names. Fassss-cin-ating. Direct from Mary Hart's old clips file.
So what am I crabbing about? Well, at least with Larry King (and starting from the least is a good place to start), he took calls, and while he was dithering and all that, Larry King Live wasn't the same old polished taped TV tripe. I get the idea that in the last few years when guests didn't know where Larry was going with his questions, they began throwing out opinions left and right as a kind of aggressive defense. It was sometimes fun and very often ridiculous, but at least he wasn't as freeze-dried as Piers Morgan appears to be.
One day in, and I'm bored with Piers Morgan Tonight, bored with his guests, unsure he really has much intelligence and uncommitted to finding out.
Sometimes you meet an anchorman and realize he's all artifice, and then you shake yourself for ever supposing he was something more. I think that way about Piers Morgan. Not much to him. Hard to believe he was ever a newspaperman (pardon the prejudice). Take away the British accent, and all you have left is a stiff, with a television chat show.
Predicting the Emmys -- Take One
August 27, 2010 4:37 AM
By P.J. Bednarski
Emmy night is now one of my favorites. It didn't used to be.
Now, whatever I am doing is better than being at the Emmy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Let me put it succinctly: Being at the show itself is a long night, especially with your bosses in proximity.
Don't get me wrong. Otherwise the Emmy event is an OK time. And that's just it. It's not fabulous, and it should be. And it's not awful, which you kind of hope it will be once you realize it's not going to be fabulous. You always get the idea that somewhere, the right people are really doing something fun or naughty or both.
It is a lot like being in Los Angeles itself.
The winners in the big categories this year are pretty obvious to me, and that won't change even if they don't win. So below, I've picked winners that, if it came to be, would be mediocre choices. Even so, I think a few of these unpredictions may come true.
Like Jon Hamm. He's a good-looking guy. And plays a great character, that Don Draper, so grey for television. But there's not much acting there. I could almost pick him. But I would rather stick with Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights, who will never do anything better, even if what he does in that overrated show isn't so remarkable to start with. I hope he wins. I don't mean to be mean. But TV actors only rarely graduate to movies. Chandler never will in any big way. So let's root for him. This is his shot.
Of course, the outstanding actor in a drama is Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad, whose performance is nearly mesmerizing. Academy voters apparently agree. They could give it to Glenn Beck for his purely fictional role as a patriotic American, but, thankfully, he wasn't nominated.
The best actress in a drama ought to be Juliana Margulies for The Good Wife, which also should be named the best drama. Neither she nor the show will win. January Jones, the Mad Men beauty (with ever-folded arms), gets my vote. So does Mad Men, which IS the most unusual and most meticulously produced series on television, but really has a rather slight story to tell. The Good Wife, week by week, is far superior.
(This sidetrack: The real best actress on Mad Men is 12-year old Kiernan Shipka, who plays the ever-watchful Sally Draper and steals every scene she is in, and has ever since she ripped off $5 from her grandfather a couple seasons back.)
It is still true that 30 Rock is television's outstanding comedy series, Tina Fey is the best comic actress and Alec Baldwin the outstanding comic actor. So instead, in the acting role, I choose Matthew Morrison from Glee (though I cannot remember one overtly funny thing he's ever done).
In the comic actress category, could anyone be more unremarkable than Julia Louis-Dreyfuss from The New Adventures of Old Christine? It's a series that is so anonymous that she at least deserves an award for finding the soundstage. It's possible the very clever Modern Family will win, and that would be fine. But since I'm in the business here of picking the least likely, my lack of money is on Curb Your Enthusiasm, which, to me, hit that curb and dented the rim after its first season.
To recap, here's just about the worst that could happen:
Best Drama Series: Mad Men
Best Comedy Series: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Best Actor, Drama: Kyle Chandler
Best Actress, Drama: January Jones
Best Actor, Comedy: Matthew Morrison
Best Actress, Comedy: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
GUEST BLOG #104: P.J. Bednarski on the Rumors about Larry King's Probable CNN Replacement
July 14, 2010 7:52 PM
[Bianculli here: Contributing critic P.J. Bednarski has read the list of rumored front-runners for Larry King's soon-to-be-vacant job at CNN, and he's not impressed. In fact, he's somewhat irritated...]
Is CNN About to Take
A Long Walk Off a Short Piers?
By P.J. Bednarski
Apparently someone -- in addition to Piers Morgan's agent, his family and Piers Morgan himself -- believes that this British star of America's Got Talent, our nation's favorite derivative reality competition series, needs a second career as the new host of CNN's Larry King Live. I read he's in line for the job, in a New York Times story by Brian Stelter and Bill Carter.
Immediately, some things are clear. If CNN has to tap Piers Morgan, then America must not have as much as talent as is commonly believed. And clearly, the agents for many other no-profile journalists or marginal "personalities" have dropped the ball because they might have thought CNN was looking for someone more... substantial.
No. It could have been any of us, with the probable exception of anyone who has been or will become one of the Real Housewives anywhere. Fact is, there are a lot of relatively unknown and/or inappropriate people who could replace King. There's a world of them out there -- many of them in this country.
More to the point: IF Piers Morgan, a British tabloid journalist turned minor star of an American television series, is considered a replacement for King, then it really is true: CNN has lost its way.
This is a very bad idea.
Someone quoted in the Times story said that, historically, "almost every other UK TV import has been hugely successful" in the States. Stelter and Carter didn't examine that statement. But let's count the ones who are "hugely successful": Simon Cowell, David Frost, Craig Ferguson.
Then there's Anne Robinson, host of NBC's Weakest Link. For about 10 minutes starting in 2001, she captivated us. Oh. And Alistair Cooke. Google him.
I'm losing count, and I'm probably missing a few. But I don't think it's true that out there in the America that television serves and simultaneously disdains, many people have been saying, "Well, it's obvious. With Larry King going, only game show judge Piers Morgan can step in." Even Vegas oddsmakers were blindsided.
(To be really honest, NPR's Fresh Air host Terry Gross would make sense. To be honest again, she might be too smart. Even when she does celebrity interviews, she asks thoughtful questions.)
Fox News, which trounces CNN, wraps itself around the American flag. Fox ought to murder CNN for this Piers Morgan thing, even if it is a network owned by an Australian who had to become an American to be allowed to own TV stations in this country.
Still, I think it's fair to say that, on a day-to-day basis, Americans like lurid tales of fallen politicians, insights about breast implants, and chats with stars of fabulous movies that open this Friday at theaters everywhere, on a program fronted by an American host, or one who sounds like one.
News organizations have jettisoned thousands of people in the last decade. Most of them are highly qualified, and some are like me. But if it must be a dumb-down hour, can't CNN find an average -- and I mean average -- American journalist to give this job to? I think it must pay well.
P.J. Bednarski is the former executive editor of Broadcasting & Cable and longtime TV critic and contributor to TVWW. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GUEST BLOG #50: P.J. Bednarski on Leno, The Day After
September 15, 2009 12:58 PM
[Bianculli here: My own review of the premiere of NBC's The Jay Leno Show can be heard today on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, or on the Fresh Air website after about 5 p.m. ET by clicking here. Meanwhile, here's contributing writer P.J. Bednarski's take on Leno's move Monday from late night to prime time...]
First Night Out, "Jay Leno" Digs Own Grave
By P.J. Bednarski
America may still be able to fall asleep watching Jay Leno.
His 10 p.m. premiere showing on NBC Monday night was a showcase for bad television and an embarrassment for a network trying so hard to create a marketing "event" that it forgot Leno's talents: A powerful gimmick in the variety show/talk show toolbox is real or illusionary spontaneity, not a video screen featuring a "surprise" appearance by Oprah Winfrey. God, that was painful.
The first show was bad enough to get a network-TV-watcher a little peeved. If this is what we're going to get every night, NBC will have failed to launch a programming experiment that could have been interesting, and should be kicked around for wasting the moment. One night does not a massive failure make, but NBC and Leno too eagerly began digging their own grave Monday night.
Even the monologue wasn't very crisp. Leno cracked wise about the University of Wyoming's decision to name its center for international students after that great world Kumbaya-chanter Dick Cheney, and Leno couldn't resist the irony of the item. Trouble is, Conan O'Brien did exactly the same joke last week, and The New York Times repeated it in its Laugh Lines feature in Sunday's Week in Review.
The funniest moments in the show all involve Kanye West. He was supposed to to be creating an instant headline with the celebrity heartfelt apology of the week, that for rudely dissing Taylor Swift on an MTV awards show Sunday night and leaving her on stage humiliated.
Leno managed to get West at least squeamish -- or at least looking squeamish -- by asking what West's recently departed mother would have thought of his MTV appearance. West's response has to be boiled down to a paraphrase -- if you DVRed the premiere, and have the time, transcribe West's reply and try to find the full, coherent sentence. I don't think it's there.
Anyway, he said she wouldn't have liked it, in so, so many words. It was pathetic to watch Leno try coax this emotional crescendo, but after West did a lackluster shame bit, it was time to move on. Said Leno, all bubbly-like, "Hey, you ready to sing? Give it a shot?" Somehow, West pulled it together.
Unfortunately, Leno did not. This was one bad hour of television.
P.J. Bednarski is a veteran TV critic and former executive editor of Broadcasting & Cable magazine.
GUEST BLOG #10: P.J. Bednarski offers an 'American Idol'/Jimmy Durante mashup
April 21, 2009 5:21 AM
Bianculli here: Yesterday, guest columnist Tom Brinkmoeller came down on one side of a hot-button current journalistic issue, whether "vintage" references in stories were helpful or irritating to readers, especially those much-coveted younger ones. Today, another of our new TV WORTH WATCHING correspondents, P.J. Bednarski, takes the opposing view.
I'd make a "Jane, you ignorant slut" joke here -- but since that Dan Aykroyd retort to Jane Curtin on "Weekend Update" from Saturday Night Live is over 30 years old, that's sort of the point at hand. So read P.J. (and, if you missed yesterday's post, Tom), then weigh in yourself...
Forget the Past: It's Like, History
When J. Max Robins became the editor in chief of Broadcasting & Cable magazine in 2004, his role was to goose the place into the 21st century. He often told us that before he took over, he had read a lead in the magazine that referred to Jimmy Durante, and that was a cultural reach-back that bothered him a lot. B&C was just too damn old to appeal to younger readers. By making hipper references, B&C circulation briefly spiked past Maxim, before readers noticed that the stories were still about subjects like "cable must-carry" and "multicasting," and things went back to normal.
The offending lead: "As Jimmy Durante was fond of saying, 'Everybody wants to get into the act!'" was written in 2003. Jimmy Durante, actor, vaudevillian, guy with a big nose, always signed off performances with "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are," and he died in 1980.
The fact is, Robins was right to at least make reporters make more contemporary references, and Editor & Publisher is on solid ground suggesting that newspapers could get a little more hep, daddy-o. After all, the Catholics quit performing the Mass in Latin more than 40 years ago, and Latin was a dead language for quite a long time before that. Talk about being the last network to go HD.
But we live in a time of throwaway information, with disposable stars, victims and even reputations, and now, through American Idol and You Tube, there are even shortcut pipelines to fame. It's also as fleeting as possible. Journalists should know history; so should regular old people. But it's out of fashion. Those who forget history are bound to repeat it. Those who remember history are bound to get bored stares.
Oh, we lucky, pitiful Baby Boomers; we grew up in two worlds between a great war and a great upheaval, mainly created by our parents, who spawned like rabbits. We knew Bob Hope. He wasn't the least bit funny, but we knew that at one time, he was. We knew, or knew about, Edward R. Murrow, Charles Lindbergh, Joe McCarthy and Timothy Leary, Billy Graham, napalm, Elvis Presley and The Pill. And yet, well into my 20s, after the Rolling Stones, acid, the summer of love, Vietnam, Woodstock, the Manson Family and Kent State, new year's eve on TV still meant Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians. Though our world was certainly not at peace, generationally or otherwise, anomalies abounded. Which had bonuses. It's how I listened to Dusty Springfield, Frank Sinatra and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, all on the same radio station, and there was a newscast every hour that actually reported news.
The Internet, and cable, changed all that. Once, networks and newspapers set the agenda. They were institutions. They're going away.
The speed of pop culture and its pure abundance has made less mean a lot more. On the other hand, it's over quicker; here today, gone by this afternoon. So, as E&P says, if you're going to make references, they'd better be fresh ones. The fame-making machine is a remarkable display of the speed of newsworthy shock followed quickly, very quickly, by inevitable blah.
Last week, a young, good friend sent me the video link to The Lonely Island's I'm on a Boat, with lyrics like these:
Fuck land, I'm on a boat, motherfucker (motherfucker)
Fuck trees, I climb buoys, motherfucker (motherfucker)
I'm on the deck with my boys, motherfucker (yeah)
This boat engine make noise, motherfucker
And so on. The Lonely Island is a comedy group, also known for videos Dick in a Box and Jizz in My Pants, and helped along by Saturday Night Live. Fuck isn't very shocking anymore. I'm not even shocked by the banality. But I am amazed by the popularity of it. You can get I'm on a Boat as a ringtone, and as of Friday, the video has been viewed 18,215,531 times on YouTube. Assume for a second it's funny. Is it 18.2- fucking-million funny? No, it isn't.
And when a TV critic recalls that in 1990, the short-lived CBS sitcom Uncle Buck made headlines when one of its young characters exclaimed "You suck!" the how-times-change notation only makes a difference to those who remember when there was a mainstream culture, or corporate or moral gatekeepers. Now, who cares? History is over. Everybody's famous for five minutes, and forgotten three minutes later. Good night, Mr. Durante, whoever you are.
P.J. Bednarski is a veteran TV critic and former executive editor of Broadcasting & Cable magazine.
GUEST BLOG #7: P.J. Bednarski Votes Yes to Leno at 10
April 10, 2009 7:00 AM
At this point, our recurring guest columnists are established enough to need no (more) introduction. So here's P.J. Bednarski, with a contrarian -- but very interesting -- take on NBC's decision to import Jay Leno to prime time...
What if Jay Leno actually reinvents NBC's 10 p.m. hour?
By P.J. Bednarski
I hardly ever watch The Tonight Show, and in fact I believe, probably too tenaciously, that Jay Leno ruined the franchise, and his move to 10 p.m. ET will damage Conan O'Brien's chances to create a Tonight Show that will allow him to thrive. For O'Brien, an eminently decent human being, the Leno move proves that Life Is Unfair.
All that said, Jay Leno is funny. I don't think NBC should be crucified for giving him the 10 o'clock show. It's TV critic mantra to say NBC is just using Leno to reduce costs, and that they are sacrificing the time period, and that the network is putting dramatic series in peril by taking away five prime hours where they could have been scheduled. All that is true. And so what? There are about 400 other networks. If NBC has its head up its rear end, well, OK by me.
But I'm not sure the Leno move is such a bad idea.
Let's look at a brighter side. Leno's 10 p.m. show has to be reinvented so that viewers will watch the beginning -- he has no problems with that now at 11:30 -- and stick around for the end -- where right now Leno's Tonight Show loses a lot of its audience. That's a problem for NBC and its affiliates because the 10 p.m. show should crescendo into the 11 o'clock news. In an ideal world (I live there! Let's go swimming!), Leno would be a great lead-in for those hard-pressed newscasts.
Maybe that can happen. Who says Leno at 10 p.m. should even resemble Leno's Tonight Show? Leno and NBC could recreate some blend of The Daily Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and, especially, the old Steve Allen late night shows, which had a repertory cast that included, in various guises, Louie Nye, Don Knotts, Bill Dana and Tom Poston.
Those guys created for the time an early platform for nightly sketch comedy; David Letterman learned television, and how to do his show, from following Steve Allen's template, and he has repeatedly paid tribute to the fact, especially on his old NBC show. (Indeed, paranoid Chris Elliott and Larry "Bud" Melman, the elf-like and perfectly inept character often paraded out to the unsuspecting public, were perfect Letterman substitutes for Allen's characters.).
That cast of regulars is not really so different from what Jon Stewart does now. Indeed, age aside, I think if anybody ought to be sweating about Jay Leno at 10 p.m., it's The Daily Show, which stands a good chance of having some of its broader news-breaking satires usurped by Leno an hour earlier.
If the new Leno show opened with his monologue, then segued to the obligatory guest and musical act, and then segued into sketch comedy where he was either absent or involved only peripherally (because he's lousy at it), that would be a show that would have something going for it. Any mix like that could work.
The fact that I've consciously chopped Leno's show into parts doesn't hurt. If viewers don't TiVo, they graze. If NBC saves the best (Leno's monologue) for the beginning and the end (a nightly mini-version of Saturday Night Live, if you will), Leno works. If not a nightly hit, it would at least be a hit some days of the week, which seems to be better than what NBC has now.
While the world is filled with superstars, Leno does a great job of getting name guests that you might want to see if you A) don't have to stay up late, or B) imagine that you'll actually watch on TiVo at some point. This week, guests include Ellen DeGeneres, Halle Berry, Keith Olbermann, Reese Witherspoon and Condoleezza Rice. Musicians include Prince, P.J. Harvey and John Parish, and the incredible Raul Malo, old of the spectacular Mavericks. Out of five days, I could see myself drifting over there perhaps three or four times, particularly if NBC is smart enough to make sure Leno's still on when competitors go to commercials.
All this is a long way to say that WHDH, the Boston affiliate which made headlines in the last few days by announcing it plans to pre-empt Leno for local programming, is making a mistake if it fears Leno at 10 will torpedo its news at 11.
NBC has told WHDH owner Ed Ansin, in essence, to shut up. I'd take that advice because when NBC wants to, it can give wayward affiliates a bad time.
Consider the plight of former NBC affiliate KRON in San Francisco. When, in 2001, Young Broadcasting acquired that station, beating a bid by NBC, the network was so livid it made it almost impossible for KRON, once owned by the San Francisco Chronicle, to remain associated with NBC. Without that affiliation, Young has suffered to the point of bankruptcy, as an indie. Ansin reportedly has protection against that; I wouldn't count on it.
When it comes to money and Leno, NBC is sure to get the last laugh. And as a former Fox general manager told me, why does Ansin think Fox won't continue to dominate the news ratings at that hour?
Maybe the best advice would be for NBC affiliates (and others) to try a little reinvention themselves. At best, they're in a world of alien hairdos and stupid puns. At worst, they're in a world of stupid hairdos, bad puns, insipid weathermen and dumb teaser questions at the commercial breaks.
Jay Leno won't always be the biggest joker in the evening. The news team is coming up.
P.J. Bednarski is a veteran TV critic and former executive editor of Broadcasting & Cable magazine.
GUEST BLOG: Welcome Our Newest TV WORTH WATCHING Contributor -- P.J. Bednarski
March 19, 2009 6:55 AM
The site redesign is about a month away, and I'm still Smothers-ing. But the veteran army of TV critics and experts hopping aboard TV WORTH WATCHING is about to grow, and I couldn't be more excited or proud. As a taste of things to come, here's the first salvo from one of our new contributors: veteran TV critic and editor P.J. Bednarski.
His impressive credentials appear at the bottom of this blog. But first, here's his take on Sci Fi Channel's recently announced name change, to Syfy. Please read, and enjoy, and welcome him to the fold. I've known the guy for decades, and he's terrific...
Sci Fi to Syfy: Wy O Wy?
By P.J. Bednarski
You may have read Stuart Elliott's advertising column in The New York Times Monday (3/16), in which he reported that in July the Sci Fi Channel will rename itself -- or respell itself, I guess -- and become Syfy. The trouble, as Elliott relates, is that executives concluded spelling Sci Fi like that was limiting -- Sci Fi, the channel, is also about superheroes and reality shows, which are, in their minds, just cousins of science fiction. Also, you can't trademark it, because Sci Fi is a genre.
They say television is a business of C students, and if so, then maybe marketing is too, because it rewards spelling things incorrectly. (They're See students?)
But Syfy is not alone...
Discovery Communications execs get prickly rashes whenever anyone refers to TLC as The Learning Channel, though once it was quite proud of that designation. No more. It's TLC, and it stands for nothing, and that allows TLC to be as stupid as it wants to be.
NBC Universal, which owns Sci Fi, also owns Oxygen and Bravo, which both used to be something they now aren't. And that's apparently a good thing.
I was thinking about this. Scripps Networks owns something it once called the Fine Living Network, an "aspirational" channel that once put on programs about fine wine, yachts, fabulous architecture and other stuff that made you start talking like Robin Leach. Now Fine Living mainly has a schedule of reality shows, including one series called Bulging Brides. Definitely not aspirational.
I have a little sympathy for Scripps. Fine Living Network doesn't fit with these hard times -- rich people are now trying to live like the hoi polloi -- so Fine Living had to swerve out of that line of work. Plus, the network heretofore flew under Madison Avenue's radar, but as of January, it's in 50 million homes and is now getting rated by Nielsen, so it needs to score some points.
It is however, unfortunate that FLN is also the way the National Liberation Front of both Algeria and Burundi refer to themselves.
Think about some other cable networks. If ESPN wasn't so successful, you'd think they'd like to change their name, which once stood for Entertainment and Sports Network. (Why not the Cover Your Ass Network, or CYAN?)
Nickelodeon is named for a device none of its viewers, nor most of its viewers' parents, have ever heard of. VH1 seems to have been a thoughtless name for MTV's second channel, as if somebody wrote it on a napkin and a logo artist took it seriously.
Lifetime sounds sufficiently vague to be anything, which again, is a good thing. But it started out as a cable network that delved into health and medical topics; it doesn't make sense as a name for a women's network. Meanwhile, WE: Women's Entertainment sounds alternatively like a new medical condition or a dowdy campus service organization.
Before it became Spike (a name everybody thought was pretty stupid when it was announced, an opinion that hasn't budged), it was TNN. That once stood for The Nashville Network, but when Viacom bought it, it, too, stood for nothing. But why Spike? I never heard a satisfactory explanation, but Dude! wouldn't have been bad, and it would have probably played well with the fart-joke crowd.
Which gets us to the Big Three. CBS no longer stands for anything, but it once was the Columbia Broadcasting System. And NBC and ABC don't really mean anything, don't really say anything. All three are, on the Vague Name Indicator, nebulous enough that they can set their own course.
But each of the Big Three have iconic logos -- the CBS eye, the NBC peacock and the stylistic ABC dot -- and here's where the old broadcasters are out of sync with consumers. Those icons represent a culture, a history, a sense that these networks are institutions, which they are, and thank God.
But that doesn't matter much to the evolved viewing public that prefers brand marketing (something new!) rather than brand integrity (something with roots). That's not the reason broadcast networks are losing audience, but maybe it says something about how they differ from vast millions of viewers. They're traditional in an era where that is a mortal television sin.
Syfy it is.
P.J. Bednarski is officially "former," but definitely here and thinking and dreaming and dreadfully unaware of his real age. For the record, I'm former executive editor of Broadcasting & Cable, former editor of Elecronic Media, TV critic at USA Today at its inception, (when many believed it would be quickly gone), the Chicago Sun-Times (which I fear is nearly former, dammit), Cincinnati Post (no longer in existence) and Dayton Journal Herald (ditto). You can reach me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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