Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reality TV, Glee, and Jealousy

I’ve watched a few TV shows die over the years.  I caught Firefly when it was first shown out of order, and tried to get people to watch, only no one would listen.  Now, ten years later, people are still wandering up to me and asking if I’ve seen it yet.

I used to rant more about it.  I do it less now.

I also caught a show called Drive, which was cancelled after four episodes, with two never making it to air (you can buy all six online).  And Wonderfalls, which ran four episodes, and then wandered onto DVD as a complete 13 episode tale.

That one was mind-blowing to me, with the series not even getting to the halfway point.  And it was a solid series, that later developed a touch of a cult following.  You can still get it on DVD even as I type this.

Most of those shows, however, didn’t go quite so quietly as one I ran across recently.  A short little series called The Next Big Thing: NY.

I found the way the show was handled fascinating, though frankly I didn’t like the show much.  It was a reality series that mostly followed this guy named Trapper, who is some kind of musical mentor/manager type.  He had a cadre of kids, and spent his time coaching them towards musical endeavors, like making albums and getting on Broadway.

Some of his kids have been on commercials and in movies and such as well, but I don’t know if he had anything to do with that.

Trapper might be good at what he does, and in fact he must be, because he has two assistants and a massive rehearsal area, and knowing what it costs to rent space in New York the guy has to be doing well for himself.

But man, what a not-fun guy to watch.  He yells a lot, frequently at his performers.  And at least two plotlines involved him lying to people in elaborate ways for reasons I didn’t understand.  As in, he told a producer that one of his kids was also part of a sister singing act.  Only they weren’t.  So he got the kids and made them into an act.

And then he held some benefit and used it entirely as an excuse to show off his kid collection, in hopes that they would get more work, because of course that means he gets more money as well.  Or not.  The show didn’t exactly explain that.

The point is, I can’t say that I could spend time with him in real life.

And then there are the kids.  A couple of them, I really liked.  They were down to earth, funny, talented, and working hard to get jobs.

But some of them.  Ugh.  In particular, one girl was like a real-life Veruca Salt.  She spent her dad’s money recording pop songs and making a music video (more on that in a moment) and she got some sort of massive party for her 17th birthday, where she also got to perform with her girl group and with some guy she liked, and her mom made sure that a bunch of buff dudes were walking around in their underwear serving people.

(One hopes that they were informed, vigorously, that most of the girls at the party were underage.)

Oh, and when she was told there would be a party, she was mad that there were only going to be 100 people there.  Yes.

Now, granted, I don’t think these people were Jersey Shore hateful, and maybe that’s why the show failed.  It was a behind the scenes show with people who didn’t suck enough to be interesting, or who you cared about enough to, well, care.

And then there was the scheduling.

The show debuted right after The Glee Project, which is a fairly plum spot, and pretty well-matched, what with the whole kids and show business thing.  But then, well, things went South in a hurry.

Next ran after Project for two weeks.  Then, the third week, it was shoved to Wednesday, at six PM.  Granted, they tossed a promo up during Project to alert you to this fact, but it was clear it was a last-minute shrug of a decision, throwing this show into a time slot no one was watching or looking for it. 

It ran there for another week, bringing the number of aired episodes to four.  Then, the next week, it aired an episode at 5 PM, and the second at 6 PM, and that was the finale, and boom, the show was over.


Granted, I already stated I wasn’t much of a fan of the show, but I was curious just how dire the whole thing was.  So I hopped on YouTube to find out whatever happened to the music video I wrote about a handful of paragraphs ago.

Now, it’s worth noting that the video was by the Veruca Salt girl, that it looks reasonably professional, and that the song was reasonably catchy.  Neither great nor awful. 

Two days after the episode aired, it had a few hundred views.

A week later, it had barely cracked 1000. 

I gotta be honest, I felt both good and horrible about this.  The fact is, a large chunk of the video was shown on a TV show on a cable channel.  That’s a major, major push.  Short of hiring a major music producer/director, which would probably run into the millions of dollars, this thing had some serious backing.

And yet, maybe 1500 people have looked at it.  That’s not going viral.  That’s going anti-viral.

Despite the fact that I didn’t care for the show, I stated that I felt a little bad for the people involved, and I stand by that.  A bunch of people made the show, and they had jobs, and now they don’t.  Some of these people seem genuinely nice, and fun, and talented, and they had gotten on TV, and that’s going to lead them pretty much nowhere, because no one was watching.

I’ll come back to that, too.

I already mentioned The Glee Project, which I’m watching again because my wife wants to and now it’s half-over anyway, so I guess we should just wait and see what happens, y’know?   I mean, we’re almost there.

We’re talking, of course, about a show that’s tied to another show that’s slowly dying, and I joked with my wife that the stars of Glee are a lot more willing to drop by for a visit because they need the money now that they’re off the show.  Or about to be off the show, when it finally limps off the air a year from now having created just enough episodes to make it to syndication.

This year, there are a lot of talented people on the show, and the singing is often first-rate.  So that’s nice.

But something is kind of off about the show, and it took me a while to figure out what it is, and really, there’s a bizarre letdown factor here.

Last year was kind of exciting.  They were coming off year two of Glee, the ratings were way, way, up, and the Project itself had a few fun twists in it.  Four winners (kinda).  The return of all the kids at the end, so everyone could cheer their friends.

There were moments.  And now, we see those moments again, and they’ve lost some of their luster.

There are other issues, of course.  After last year, it’s clear that we’re not watching a singing competition, so much as we’re watching Ryan trying to turn these people into characters he can pop into his show.  He’s not collecting talent so much as he’s collecting dolls.  (“Whoah, a Muslim!  I don’t have one of those yet!”)

And then there are the contestants, who keep talking about how badly they want this, about how important this role is, and then one of them flat-out admits they’ve never heard a particular song, only it was on Glee, so clearly they aren’t what you’d call a huge fan.

I’ll be curious to see if they’re putting up casting notices for a third year of this show, when the finale hits in a handful of weeks.

Speaking of things going through a revamp, people are now backing out of American Idol, now that the mutual fame bump has carried everyone as far as they can go.  Steven is back together with his band, and they’re heading out on the road.  The bad news is, they’re also putting out a new album, and the song they sang on Idol demonstrated that their songwriting chops have taken a serious hit.

On the other hand, they’ve got an hour of hits and more than a handful of filler, and they’ll make some money and that will be nice for them.

And Jennifer, of course, has this other TV show, and a new boyfriend, so she’s stepping down too.

There’s talk of Randy leaving as well.

Oddly, I was just having a conversation with some friends, wherein we were talking about when enough is enough.  I joked to my wife that if they offered me 16 million dollars to do Idol for a year, she should let me do it.  Even if I’m not home for seven months straight, at the end we’re set for life.

Randy has 11 years in now, and I’m sure his checks have gotten sizeable.  His coffers are filled.  And this is his side job.  He can wander away from everything secure in the knowledge that both he and his kids will never, ever, ever have to work again.

Of course, there’s a bigger question there.  If he leaves, would it help the show?  Would Fox get two more years if he left, and they brought in all new judges?  Would the show finally sink to the point where they decide to get rid of it?

How much does the nation love Randy Jackson?

For that matter, how much does the nation love the idols they picked?  There are 11 of them now, and a bunch of people who lost who are still doing pretty well for themselves. 

That’s the thing of it, really.  I find myself looking at all these people, on all these shows, and all of them want to be stars.  They want to get out into the world, and be creative, and be loved for it.  And maybe they don’t need to be rich, or really famous, they need just enough love that they don’t have to go into an office each day.

And maybe that’s what kind of tears at me, as I watch these people, on shows both well-loved and massive and barely noticed and forgotten.

It’s that two-sided thing, where you see people getting there, becoming someone who just gets to wake up every day and do what they wanna do, and you think, “I could do that.  Why don’t I get that?  What do they have that I don’t?”

And you see them fail, and you kind of laugh, and say, “I don’t get this, and you don’t get it either, so at least the world is kind of fair for a moment.”

It’s a strange thing, really, the human mind, that it wants people to succeed because it means you can, and then you want them to fail because someone has something you don’t.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Nice Man Makes Me Feel Stupid

Donald J. Sobol was probably the first man to ever make me feel stupid.

Granted, I don’t think he did it on purpose.  But at some point in my young life, one of his Encyclopedia Brown books was thrust into my hands. 

The format of the book was simple.  Various short mysteries were presented, and then Encyclopedia Brown would make some sort of vague statement, and then, if you were very, very, very smart, you (and Encyclopedia, naturally) would solve the case.

Of course, if you couldn’t figure it out, you could always flip to the back and learn the answer.

Over the years, I read several of the books, and I can count the number of times I solved a mystery on one hand.  Actually, I can count the number of times I solved a mystery on no hands.

I never solved a single mystery.

Really.  Not one. 

What’s worse is, over the years, some of the books got new titles, or were reissued with new artwork, and I’d find myself sitting at home reading a mystery I’d already read once before.

And then I would fail to solve the same mystery a second time.

One would think this would cause me to give up on the mystery genre altogether, but no.  Over the years, I read several books of this type, and I almost always failed to beat the book at its own game.

Granted, this wasn’t really my fault.  Most of the mysteries involved knowing some totally random fact that a kid my age had no reason to know. 

Ultimately, I was much more entranced by the companion volumes the author produced, which went under the title of Weird and Wonderful facts.  It was trivia stuff, with no real agenda or story beyond, “Here’s some crazy stuff about the world we live in.”

And perhaps that’s what I took away from Mr. Sobol, in the end.  I might not have gotten to feel “smart” reading his books, as I got mystery after mystery wrong.  But I certainly learned a few things.

And what can be better than a little failure and a little knowledge?

A new Encyclopedia Brown book came out a couple of years ago, after a very, very long hiatus.  I considered picking it up at the time, but in the end realized that certain childhood pleasures aren’t always as much fun as an adult.

But maybe now I’ll pick up the book, just to see if I really am older and wiser now than I was then.

And hey, even if I’m not, I’ll still learn a thing or two.