Monday, April 30, 2012

Ratings Race

Are NBC’s comedy ratings woes because its shows are now too racially diverse?
Does CBS have TV’s #1 comedies because it isn’t?

To find out, we need to look at the respective comedy lineups and the composite of their casts.

NBC Thursdays:
Community—This show has taken its name to heart: a white guy, two white girls, a black lady, a black guy, an Indian guy, an old white guy, a pan-sexual guy and an Asian guy. In other words: a community. And the show treats each of its characters with respect.

30 Rock—Four of the five main characters (Liz, Jack, Jenna and Kenneth) are white. Unfortunately, the fifth character, Tracey, is a buffoonish African American who is consistently crazy, so it’s a mixed bag on whether or not this is a good thing.

The Office—Set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the cast reflects what I assume is a rather accurate picture of the local population—A lot of white people with an African American gentleman and a Hispanic fellow to round out the office.

Parks & Recreation—Set in the fictional Midwestern town of Pawnee, Indiana, the cast consists of two white ladies, a mixed race lady, a black lady, an Indian guy and five white dudes. For TV or Indiana, that’s pretty “diverse”.

CBS Mondays:
How I Met Your Mother—I love this show, but there’s no arguing that its principle actors are all white. Once in a while a guest, like Kal Penn, will add a little diversity, but it’s primarily a show about five white New Yorkers.

2 Broke Girls—I watched this show for one and a half episodes. Beyond the two white main actresses, there is more diversity in the cast—an Asian, an African-American and a Pseudo-Middle Eastern-ish guy—but the characters are grounded in lazy racial stereotypes that would be more offensive if I wasn’t already greatly offended by the hackneyed writing.

Two and a Half Men—Two and a half white men. If you add Charlie Sheen back into the mix it’d be three and a half. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—the show started off with the premise that a brother and his son moved in with his rich brother. But the producers definitely had an opportunity to cast a different sort of brother at Mr. Sheen’s departure.

Mike & Molly—I’ve never seen this show, but the previews often only feature the two main characters, both white. Looking online, it looks like Mike, a police officer, has an African American partner on the force.

But wait. Maybe the success or failure of these shows has nothing to do with diversity at all! Maybe it’s the writing. And the acting. Maybe the CBS shows are just funnier?

Perhaps. But funny in what way? Comedy is subjective. Are we talking Louis CK funny or Larry the Cable Guy funny? Or both? Or neither?

Let’s explore:
Of the CBS shows, How I Met Your Mother is the most unconventional. It’s very much a character-driven romantic comedy at its core, but one that will play with flashbacks, gimmicks and all sorts of unique narrative structures. The other three shows, however, are pretty straightforward, meat-and-potatoes comedies with a clear set-up/punch line structure that’s easy for the casual viewer to follow, but Two and a Half Men is clearly the highest rated of all of the shows. If we look at that show as the benchmark, then we can assume that most viewers want a familiar structure with familiar characters that tell easy jokes that are sometimes a bit crass.

Of the NBC shows, The Office, which happens to be the most popular, and its spin-off, Parks & Recreation, are the two most conventional. They are shows that average Americans can relate to because, hey, who doesn’t have to work at a job or deal with government bureaucracy from time to time? 30 Rock started off as the story of a woman who tried to keep order in a crazy situation, but the show has devolved into farce and slapstick, which should actually make it MORE popular, but which has dropped it to the ratings basement. The show also currently has a plotline involving a woman marrying a man who dresses exactly like her—not the most conventional sitcom premise. Community is one of the most daring shows on TV, but it requires more of a commitment week to week to follow the larger story—it’s more like a drama than a typical comedy.

So what’s the verdict? Does having a more diverse cast matter? Or is it the subject matter of the jokes that matters most?

I suspect that a majority of viewers want shows they can relate to, which means characters and situations they can relate to. CBS offers up stories of people trying to find love, girls struggling find good paying jobs, men trying to raise boys and two overweight people living a happy life. NBC offers stories of community college students finding their ways in the world, office and government workers struggling to find humanity in the machine and a TV executive trying to deal with show business egos.

So depending on where you fall in the spectrum, maybe it’s a little of both.

Friday, April 27, 2012

If I could have time in a bottle ...

Let me try this again*. Here's my dilemma with the concept of time travel. I'm fine with the idea of "time" being a long stream that can be entered and exited at different points. The thing I can't wrap my head around is that to go backwards or forwards in time, you'd also need to travel across impossibly vast distances, since the Earth (and our solar system) is constantly moving and therefore would not be in the same physical location as it is right now. My point, lame that it may be, is that we often talk about traveling through time as if location is a constant, but the reality is that it is not.

Now, if I could go back in time, I would, of course, post something completely different.

*Thanks, Houvenagle, for calling me out on this post. In my haste to post something for today, I missed a few steps in my thought process.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Things I’ve learned this week (so far)

Sometimes a week comes along where every moment is unexpected and every experience makes you question everything you’ve ever learned, seen or done beforehand. This is not one of those weeks. But it is a week where I discovered a few surprising facts.

FACT 1: There were a lot of amorous hippies looking to score some dates on Earth Day. My site visits were almost double my daily average thanks to the words “Earth Day pickup lines”. To all the Earth Day babies out there: welcome and always recycle.

FACT 2: People with “Proud Parent” bumper stickers probably have “embarrassed children”. That is to say that the parents are questionable drivers. I learned this by getting cut off twice during my daily commute by two separate drivers! No sticker for you.

FACT 3: My video gaming skills are a bit rusty. I found this out while playing Mass Effect 3 online with a buddy of mine. Let me put it this way: the mindless, stationary, automated drone eliminated more foes than my cogent, mobile, reactionary self did. Pathetic.

FACT 4: The proper ratio of toppings to salad is not 5:1. Turns out that a healthy amount of lettuce is what makes the whole thing work. Delicious. 

FACT 5: The automatic scheduler on Blogger has been flaking out on me. I'm not sure what happened yesterday, but my post should have been up at the regular 4:30 am time. My apologies if this ruined your day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ripped from the headlines

This should be attached to a wall
This wall

Apparently, I'm super strong. I found this out when I had a "superhero" moment in my bathroom*. It happened when I went to open the medicine cabinet that had been hanging solidly above my commode for over a year. One second I'm pulling on the handle of the door and the next I'm lifting the whole unit like it's a cup of coffee.

So the natural conclusion is NOT that I did a terrible job of anchoring it to the wall in the first place, but that I am INSTEAD super strong. And, yes, I realize that it could have fallen and killed me while on the toilet--just like Elvis, without the peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

*Not the one where I tie a towel around my shoulders like a cape

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dramatis Personae

A friend of mine introduced me to The Walking Dead—the graphic novel, not the TV show. Normally I run from the horror genre like a co-ed from an axe murder, but the premise sounded interesting and the artwork looked solid. I love it. The writing, while not always even, is compelling and even though there are times when the story gets violent, I don’t feel like the writer or artists are being gratuitous or pornographic with the subject matter. But the thing I appreciate above all is that I have no idea which of the characters will live or die. It’s riveting and creates real pathos for and with the characters. The stakes couldn’t be more real in this fictionalized world.

It reminds me why I liked the show LOST and currently like the Game of Thrones series—everyone is vulnerable. It’s a nice change of pace from all of the big screen movies where you know that there will always be a happy ending. YAWN.

I wish more writers would be willing to kill off their characters. One of the problems I have with the show 30 Rock is that the creators have kept Jenna, Kenneth and Pete around even though it’s clear that they are a force-fit—I keep hoping they’ll spin off a show featuring just Liz, Jack and Tracey.

The show Breaking Bad is a great show, but how much more daring would it be if the creative team were brave enough to kill off Walter White*? Mad Men without Don Draper?

And on and on.

Look, I get the reality. But sometimes I want the reality to be, well, more realistic. Is that too much to ask?

*Full disclosure, I haven't seen the latest season. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Top 5 Earth Day (4.22.12) Pick-up Lines:

1.     What’s 100% organic and likes to party? This guy.
2.     What do you and this used soda can have in common? I’m going to pick you up around 7pm.
3.     Do you know what time it is? It’s time to take your boyfriend to the dump.
4.     Why don’t we go back to my yurt and plant some seeds?
5.     Do it for Mother Earth.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Comedy Review: Mr. Universe, By Jim Gaffigan

The Premise:
Comedian Jim Gaffigan attempts to make an audience laugh over the span of 75 minutes (using the $5 direct-download model pioneered by Louis CK).

The Good:
Mr. Gaffigan is flat-out hilarious. I found myself crying from laughing too hard and actually stopped the video several times—no hyperbole. And on paper, it’s the most mundane subject matter: fast food, going to the gym, staying in hotels, etc. Even more impressive is that he rarely swears; it’s pretty much family friendly comedy (definitely not the same sort of comedy as Louis CK). Mr. Gaffigan is a comedy veteran who knows what he’s doing and makes it appear effortless, especially when slipping in and out of his signature voices.

The Bad:
Fans looking for the next “hot pockets” or “sea cow” routines aren’t going to find it here—that’s not to say it’s not an entertaining special, it's just not as distinctive as some of his earlier stand-up topics. Also, the special could probably lose one of the fast food routines (sorry, Domino’s) and not suffer for it. 

The Verdict:
Worth the $5 ($1 goes to some charity). Download it or give it as a gift at  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Unsanctioned endorsement

This is not a link. Link is below.
The fine gentlemen over at Unsanctioned Garbage Party did a neat-o little video skit show with the help of JR33D. Check out Episode 1 for FREE.


I'm exactly like you. It's true. I hate meetings that don't involve me. I'm self-centered in that regard. But I love meetings that involve me in some way. Weird, right?

Pop Quiz: Guess which type of meeting I was in when I did this drawing?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How Advertising Works

Advertising is not a difficult concept to grasp. Or it shouldn’t be. But it seems advertisers and consumers have lately been confused as to how it works.

So allow me to clarify.

First, advertising is a paid announcement (as opposed to “public relations”, where no money is paid). A person, an organization or, more often, a company wants you to know about their product, service or other “thing”. But they may not know you personally, so they pay someone with the means to reach you. That “someone” could be your neighbor, but it’s most likely someone who can reach a lot of people frequently, such as a pastor with a church bulletin, an executive with a TV station or a person running a website. And, oftentimes, the money advertisers pay to announce their “things” actually help sustain (or even create) those very same bulletins, TV stations and websites.

Second, advertising is straightforward. Every time money has traded hands, it should be obvious to everyone. This is for the advertiser’s benefit as much as it is for the consumers’. No one likes to be deceived and no good can come from pretending that an ad is not an ad. In every form of media, space (or time) should be set aside and designated as the advertisers’ or sponsors’. Sometimes it’s dramatic, like a commercial break on TV, or less obvious, like “promoted” hashtags on Twitter.

Third, advertising is not evil. Certain advertisers might be misguided, unethical, or evil, but the act of advertising is not, itself, inherently evil. As stated above, an advertisement is simply a paid announcement.

That said, a tactic like “promotional consideration” has been popping up lately. This is when the sponsor of a television show (or movie) pays a network to feature its products within the content of the program. So one of the characters might drive a particular vehicle and mention it by name during the episode (“Follow that specific make and model of hybrid luxury sedan!!!”). The only indication that this mention has been paid for is a brief line in the credits at the end. Does this pass the “straightforward” test above? Does this set aside a designated space for the message? It certainly pushes the limits.

Fourth, advertising is transactional. This might seem like a reiteration of the first point, but it’s not. In the first point, the transaction is between the advertiser and the media provider. Here the transaction is between the advertiser and the end consumer. This is the point that seems to have been forgotten by both sides; advertisers and consumers should each benefit from the transaction. We, the viewers and readers, allow advertising in our programs and magazines because we understand (or should understand) that the advertiser is supplementing the true cost of the content.

If we watch a program on TV or on the Internet and it features advertising, then we have a reasonable expectation of free content—we pay for it with our time. And, yes, time is most certainly money.

Now, if we prefer to watch the same TV show without commercials, then we should not be surprised when we’re asked to pay a fee to watch the program. The producers need to cover their costs somehow, whether it’s one advertiser paying $2 million or 2 million consumers paying $1 apiece.

Services that try to have it both ways—charge a fee and show commercials—run the risk of alienating their consumers. Examples of this are movie theatres that show multiple commercials and previews (commercials that should supplement the price of the tickets) before the feature and Hulu Plus.

The rampant availability of illegal downloads (music, movies, TV shows, books, etc.) has changed the game, but not it the way that you would think. Most viewers understand that content costs money to produce and are willing to pay for it, within reason. Fewer still believe they are entitled to enjoy whatever content they want for free without advertisements. This is understandable, actually. These people believe they were unfairly price-gouged by entertainment companies for decades and are only getting what’s theirs. But, for the most part, people are actually willing to pay for content and will only turn to illegal downloads if there are no viable options. The comedian Louis CK understands this phenomenon and recently sold his comedy special directly to fans for $5 and asked them not to share it illegally. So far it seems to have worked.

But what does this have to do with advertising? People hate ads. They hate ads because as costs to produce a TV show/movie/song/album/book have gone up, so has the need to increase the amount of ads shown. So it’s actually the responsibility of advertisers and networks to strike a fair balance between too much and too little advertising.

The balance between the wants of advertisers, the needs of media providers and the tolerance of consumers is a win for all parties. Consumers should recognize the benefit advertisers provide in making their content free or reduced in price; advertisers should respect the right of consumers to accept or reject the “thing” being advertised based on its merits; and media providers should strike the right balance between their true costs and desired profits.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Behold! Life!

This should be interesting
Like the hearty pioneers of yore, I'm going to attempt to live off the land and, failing that, eat any remaining members of my party. I've planted what is known as "the Pizza plot" and have red onions, arugula, egg plant, bell peppers, tomatoes, basil, jalapenos, chives and more onions. On the corners, as suggested by some people who have done this before me, are marigolds, which are supposed to smell bad and keep pests and predators at bay. I'll post stats of what's lived/died throughout the growing season. Wait, did I just invent Fantasy Gardening*?


Thursday, April 12, 2012


I've never been a fan of this bumper sticker. It's not the message I'm opposed to exactly, but the means. It'd be one thing if there was actually a bumper sticker that read "endless war". Then the crossing out of the "less" and adding "this" would make sense. But there isn't. Not even Bush 2 is audacious enough to put "endless war" on his ride*.

The other issue I have is that it calls out "this" war. Are we to believe that the driver is fine with other wars? Are they Civil War reenactors afraid to offend their peers? It's possible, but I doubt it.

If you want to say "end this war", just say it. If you want to say "end war", I applaud you. And if you do, in fact, have a "endless war" on your car or tank, I hope I never cut you off in traffic.

*Cheney, maybe

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: We The Animals, By Justin Torres

The Premise:
Three inseparable, half-white, half-Puerto Rican brothers—the animals—grow up and come of age within a household where the parents love and hate each other passionately.

The Good:
I chose this book based on a review I had read in Esquire Magazine and because it was only 128 pages long. The review lauded the language, and rightly so. The first chapter is a lean, taut, athletic exercise in language and many of the chapters sizzle and crackle off of the page. Mr. Torres has a distinctive voice that is both enjoyable and enviable.

The Bad:
Sometimes you want to go into a book knowing what it’s about and sometimes you want to be surprised. This was a book, much like Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, that surprised me in an unpleasant way. And like that book, I enjoyed most of it despite the unease. The main problem I have isn’t with the subject matter in the latter chapters, per se, but that the chapters feel rushed and tacked on. Throughout most of the book the boys seem to be of a certain age—or at least maintain a rate of grow at a certain pace—and then, all of a sudden, the story jumps forward several years without explanation. While I liked the brevity of the novel, I do feel that it could have been improved with a few more chapters that better lead up to the final act.

The Verdict:
If you love the written language, read the first five or so chapters. If you’re compelled to read on, just know that you’re in for some potentially abrupt and uneasy subject matter near the end.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Too true.

Someone at work sent me the original version of this video. I watched it and thought that the product, while potentially amazing, could be a bit annoying. But then I saw THIS version of the video and it made me realize just how awful Google Glasses would be. Because you know that it's true. Advertising ruins everything! Just kidding; I love it. But there is a time and a place for it. And inside my glasses, isn't one of them.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Abduction Deduction

So I was doing my taxes yesterday* and came across this truly horrible deduction. I hope no one I know ever has to take this.


*Is there anything I CAN'T do?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Home Remedy

I once had Athlete's Foot*. It was not pleasant. Or easily curable. I bought the sprays. I bought the salves. I even put the balm on. But to no avail.

Then That Dad Guy** suggested I try duct tape. I laughed. And then I tried it.

Each day, after I showered, I'd adhere a new piece. Some weaker brands failed to stick, but I finally found a brand (which I've since forgotten) that stuck throughout the day. Slowly, day by day, the fungus shrank until, finally, one day, it was completely gone. The theory was that the duct tape choked it out like a wrestler at Summer Slam X. 

So the next time you run into something that you just can't seem to beat, put a little duct tape on it. Who knows? That chest cold you have might just be cured with a little of that magical gray adhesive.

*Insert joke here.
**A.K.A., my Father

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good Ad vs. Bad Ad

Apparently, this is the time of year when new cars come out. I’ve surmised this from the slew of car commercials I’ve been seeing lately. Most are completely forgettable because they don’t really have new news to share other than “hey, new car”.

I’ve chosen these two because they actually have features that could make a difference in the decision-making process (as opposed to “heated cup holders” … patent pending).

The first commercial is for Cadillac and it’s based on a very real insight that most people would assume Ferrari is the innovative company and Cadillac is the follower. By calling out that this is not the case, and using it as the big reveal, it makes the viewer reconsider ALL of their preconceptions about Cadillac. Or at least take a second look at them. As for the magnetic-track-mumbo-jumbo, it sounds impressive enough to seem like it’s a valuable and viable point-of-difference, regardless of whether or not it actually is one.

The second commercial is for the Chevy Volt. The Volt is an electric-gas hybrid. One of the call-outs in the commercial states, “Volt drivers average 900 miles between fill-ups.” WHAT??? That’s pretty big news! Especially with gas prices currently in the $4-5 range. Instead we’re given tepid dialogue like this, “I care about my car … because I think it’s a cool car. I think it’s stylish and makes a statement at the same time.” Really? Hate to break it to you “Adam”, but you are not the arbiter of “cool”. I do not look to you to tell me what’s cool. I want to know that you are saving enough money every year that you can blow it all on stupid crap, like edible t-shirts or heated cup holders. I want to know that this car isn’t a big hassle to keep charged. Can you do that for me, bro?

Monday, April 2, 2012

I won!

Parent friendly. Parent approved.
I didn't win Mega Millions. But I did win some new fans to Mr. Dog-turd Hand. Which is worth millions*. The answer to the question is Tuesday. You're welcome.

*Overseas merchandising and movie rights.