Tags: Television

Glen A. Larson, R.I.P.


Glen A. Larson, creator of The Six Million Dollar Man, Magnum P.I., and many other hit television shows in the pre-internet era, has died at the age of 77. Larson’s rich and deep catalogue has something for everybody, even members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to whom Larson reportedly embedded allegorical meaning in his pricey original Battlestar Galactica.

In a Hollywood Reporter obituary of Larson, Mike Barnes notes that “Quincy, Magnum, Knight Rider and Fall Guy accounted for 513 hours of television and 21 combined seasons from 1976-88.” Barnes also delves into the controversies that Larson’s massive output inevitably provoked, bringing in such diverse unfriendly witnesses as science fiction giant Harlan Ellison and Analytical Guide to Television’s Battlestar Galactica author John Kenneth Muir.

Full-throated defenses of Larson are so hard to come by that even this Mormon analysis of BSG quotes the writer Orson Scott Card denouncing the original series as “an uninspired, untalented, badly written television show” whose LDS themes were caused by the devil himself “in an effort to embarrass the Church.” This reporter always found the show as hard to follow as a Cylon’s moving eye and was even more baffled by the hip 21st century remake.

Quincy, M.E., Larson’s underappreciated masterpiece, drew on the life and writings of former Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi, re-envisioned by Jack Klugman, with Robert Ito bringing the laid-back Noguchian vibe as a chipper assistant to the intense Quincy. 

The show’s formula, ably depicted in this SCTV parody, followed a rarely changing pattern in which Quincy’s efficiency-minded bosses would pressure him to sign off on a natural-causes coroner’s report, but the hard-charging Quincy, who lived on a houseboat in Marina Del Rey and sometimes reported to work complaining of a hangover caused by mixing “the grain and the grape,” would get a gut feeling that there was foul play involved. Klugman played Quincy as a flintily moral character who was never more comfortable than when growling lines like, “Negligent homicide? I’ve got another word for it: depraved indifference!

While Quincy has a claim to being the progenitor of the CSI shows, the tools at Klugman’s crime-solving disposal now appear medieval, and the show is today mostly remembered for “Next Stop Nowhere” a late-period episode in which Quincy saves a troubled teen from the clutches of L.A.’s then-thriving punk rock culture. Made long after social causes of the week and Klugman’s penchant for soppy lecturing had begun to capsize the series, the fabled punk rock episode serves as an ironic touchstone for aging hipsters keen to remember when they were all scary and hilarious. On a fresh viewing, however, “Next Stop Nowhere” paints a fully true picture of punk rockers as they really were: deceitful social predators who wouldn’t think twice about framing you for murder and forcing you into a codeine overdose.

Larson himself claimed a co-credit, with the great Hollyridge Strings orchestrator Stu Phillips (still with us at 85 years young), of Quincy, M.E.’s opening-credits theme, which artfully conjures a bygone Los Angeles and a cop-show brio that you just don’t see anymore.

Casual TV viewers and students of postwar cultural history need not be concerned about the accusations of Larson’s heavy borrowings. (BSG’s debt to the then-new Star Wars franchise was obvious at the time and remains obvious today.) He employed good people and made entertaining, non-demanding television with high levels of quality in all parts of the production. Mike Post and Pete Carpenter’s theme for Magnum, P.I.:

Tags: Hollywood , The Dead , Television , History

Iraq State TV’s Anti-ISIS Comedy is the Plan 9 from Outer Space of Political Satire


Here’s another piece of information that might have tipped off James Clapper about the Iraqi government’ ability to take on the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). This clip from an Iraqi state TV anti-ISIS parody video indicates the American-backed state may lack even Jihad John’s ability to work an audience.

The birth of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from an egg — the offspring of a bride representing Israel and a groom representing Satan, according to Shep Smith’s synopsis — recalls the “Jew egg” from the “Running of the Jew” segment in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. An even earlier ancestor of the video is the Hal Roach comedy short The Devil With Hitler, a film so bad you’ll wonder how our side won.

Iraqi TV’s State of Myths has better music than that movie, but Iraq could use some more Lebanese on its A.V. squad. There’s much better stuff than this on LBC’s Bas Mat Watan (which translates as both Smiles of a  A Nation and A Nation That Died), a sketch comedy show that was a major hit in the last decade and is still running. Back in 2006 Hezbollah goons burned tires and beat up Christians over a Hassan Nasrallah sketch on Bas Mat Watan. It looks like LBC is also still showing Douma Kratiye, a Spitting Image-style political satire whose title puns the word puppet (douma) with the word democracy. I could not understand anything in these shows but I testify that they are both funny. They are also popular, and it says something about Lebanon that its private media can still draw viewers to the Spitting Image model, one of the greatest forms of television comedy, while apparently the entire English-speaking world no longer can.

Tags: Iraq , Television

Liberals Experiencing Post-Election Letdown and Losing Interest


Wow. Thanks to everyone who came out for last night’s happy hour — our offices were packed, we ran out of beer, we ran through a bunch of bottles of wine, I’m told Jonah handled his duties with mixed drinks in a dramatic and exciting manner that evoked Tom Cruise in Cocktail, and everyone seemed to have a good time. My ego was already having a hard time fitting through the door frame, and now after all the kind words from readers, I’m going to be utterly insufferable.

From the final Morning Jolt of the week . . .

Who Saw This Coming? A Lot of Liberals Seem Depressed & Uninterested Right Now

My thought was that every politics-focused news-media entity is going to see its audience shrink after an election year. But ratings and audience size at three of the four cable news networks are actually up in May, compared to a year earlier.

Guess which one is limping along?

HLN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Jodi Arias trial has had substantial ratings legs. Surging around the time of the May 8 verdict, the network notched an extremely rare monthly victory: It topped MSNBC in total day and primetime. And with CNN posting its second consecutive month as a distant primetime runner-up to Fox News Channel, MSNBC is in a very precarious fourth place.

Averaging 539,000 viewers in primetime and 175,000 viewers in the adults 25-54 demographic, MSNBC suffered double-digit drops from last May — down a respective 20 and 19 percent. Losses were less substantial in total day, down 10 percent to an average 346,000 viewers and down 7 percent to 115,000 adults 25-54, while all other nets pulled growth in multiple categories.

The soft start for All In With Chris Hayes has not helped. Hayes, down 32 percent in total viewers from The Ed Show last May, has offered a poor lead-in for MSNBC’s primetime flagship, The Rachel Maddow Show, at 9 p.m. The show delivered its lowest-rated month since it debuted in September 2008 (717,000 total viewers) and its second lowest with adults 25-54 (210,000). Maddow was topped by typical time slot victor Sean Hannity and CNN’s Piers Morgan.

Read the complete rankings, May 2013 versus May 2012, via Nielsen:

Total Day
FNC: 1,246,000 total viewers, up 24 percent (236,000 in 25-54, down 5 percent)
CNN: 465,000 total viewers, up 61 percent (161,000 in 25-54, up 92 percent)
MSNBC: 346,000 total viewers, down 10 percent (115,000 in 25-54, down 7 percent)
HLN: 494,000 total viewers, up 111 percent (175,000 in 25-54, up 90 percent)
FNC: 1,973,000 total viewers, up 17 percent (308,000 in 25-54, down 6 percent)
CNN: 660,000 total viewers, up 70 percent (225,000 in 25-54, up 97 percent)
MSNBC: 539,000 total viewers, down 20 percent (175,000 in 25-54, down 19 percent)
HLN: 624,000 total viewers, up 91 percent (209,000 in 25-54, up 97 percent)

Over at Breitbart, John Nolte is gloating:

As we saw during the Boston Marathon Bombing, when people want actual news, they do not turn to MSNBC. What good is liberal-talk-radio-with-pictures hosted by unlikable hipsters who all share the same pair of glasses, when you want news, facts, and information? It is no good whatsoever. This is why, for the second time this year, the bottom has fallen out of MSNBC’s ratings.

Last week, between May 13-17, MSNBC averaged 350,000 overall viewers and only 94,000 in the all-important 25-54 demo. One day last week, in that demo, MSNBC averaged only 83,000 viewers, a low not seen since July of 2006.

But the phenomenon may extend well beyond MSNBC viewing habits. There’s some anecdotal evidence that a significant chunk of the Left’s rank-and-file started tuning out shortly after Obama’s second term began, and they’re not re-engaging.

Let me point to Digby, a liberal blogger:

The online left has seen a steep decline in traffic since the election as well, which indicates to me that our audience in general is simply not interested in following politics at the moment. . . . 

. . . My impression is that liberals are either bored or disillusioned right now for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that a liberal majority has been effectively obstructed and the president seems to be ineffectual. (I realize that political scientists tell us that the presidency isn’t very powerful, but most people don’t believe that since we’ve extolled the office as the most powerful on earth for decades.)

We’ve been through a number of elections, crises, other ups and downs over the past decade but I’ve not seen anything like the drop in interest over the past few months. If it was just me I’d attribute it to my little project having run its course but it’s happening across the liberal media spectrum. I don’t [k]now what the answer is, but it isn’t that there isn’t a permanent audience. There was until very recently. It’s that the liberal audience is tuning out and one can only assume it’s because they don’t like what they see in our politics.

It makes me a little bit more concerned for 2014/2016 than I otherwise would be.

A lot of possible reasons for this — scandal disillusionment, the crash after the high of Hope-ium, a public starting to feel like they’ve heard of all of Obama’s rhetorical tropes before, overall exhaustion and boredom with politics as a whole — but this is not a development that the Washington conventional wisdom has even noticed, much less even begin to analyze or explain.

Tags: Liberals , Television

How Many 2008 McCain Voters Went Libertarian in 2012?


Campaign Spot reader Michael writes in, having examined the claim of the missing Republican voters — the drop-off from McCain’s 2008 total to Romney’s 2012. Immediately after the election, many were left incredulous in response to the apparent news that Romney received 3 million fewer votes than McCain did.

As more and more states have counted their absentees and reported 100 percent of precincts, the numbers are less shocking. Michael points to Dave Leip’s  Atlas of US Presidential Elections and calculates the drop off is now only 479,000.*

Most intriguingly, many of those missing McCain voters may have voted in 2012, but this time for the Libertarian party’s nominee, Gary Johnson.

From 2008 to 2012, those voting for the Democratic ticket dropped from 69.49 million to 63.16 million, a drop of 6.3 million.

From 2008 to 2012, those voting for the Republican ticket dropped from 59.95 million to 59.47 million, a drop of just over 479,000.

From 2008 to 2012, those voting for the Libertarian ticket increased from 523,433 to 1.22 million, a jump of just over 700,000.

(* UPDATE: The great Dave Wasserman offers a spreadsheet with numbers updated day by day. Obama is up to 63.8 million votes, Romney is up to 59.87 million votes. This would have Romney down only 120,000 from McCain’s vote total, while Obama is 5.69 million behind his 2008 total.)

The irony is that at least at first glance, the Romney-Ryan ticket would appear more appealing to libertarian-leaning voters than McCain-Palin: No author of a restrictive campaign-finance law atop the ticket, a more sustained focus on cutting government, a nominee who opposed the bailout of General Motors (and paid a dear price for that stand in key states), and certainly a less interventionist tone than McCain offered in 2012.

This is the sort of time where someone traditionally offers a “How the GOP Can Win Back the Libertarians” op-ed. (Note that the popular vote margin for Obama was 3.69 million, so the Libertarian vote did not make up the difference, just about a third of it.)  But I suspect that if you voted Libertarian this cycle, you’re a pretty hard-core Libertarian, and unlikely to be won over by any half-measures the GOP might offer in the near future. Considering how there was little dispute that another four years of Obama would mean another four years of government growing bigger and taking a more active role in citizens’ lives, and how no one really thought Johnson would win, it would appear that the 1.22 million Libertarian voters were content to “send a message” with their votes . . . a message that will now be almost entirely ignored in Washington.

It’s their right; every vote has to be earned, and surely a Romney presidency would have offered its own disappointments to the Libertarian worldview. But it may be a continuing liability for the GOP that roughly 1 percent of the electorate believes strongly in limited government, but votes in a way that does not empower the GOP to do anything to limit that government.

Tags: John McCain , Television , Mitt Romney

Aaron Sorkin Should Try Journalism Sometime.


In the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt, I share a behind-the-scenes look at Fox News Channel’s “The Five” and “Hannity,” as well as the latest Democrats to bail on their convention this summer. Also, a bit of talk about television:

Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Newsroom’ Is As Bad as You Would Expect, In Exactly the Ways You Would Expect

So I caught the new HBO series “Newsroom.”

I’m sure that a lot of readers will roll their eyes and say, “snotty Hollywood liberal elitist,” and . . . yeah. Yeah, he is. But sometimes Sorkin’s political passions dissipate a bit and he creates actually entertaining films and television shows – I’d put “Sports Night” and Charlie Wilson’s War as among his best, and when he can bring himself to put the polemics aside, and just focus on the characters interacting as people, his work can be quite entertaining.

This is not one of those times. “Newsroom” is pretty uniformly insufferable, but it’s particularly frustrating because you can see flickers and glimmers of a better show in there.

Jake Tapper of ABC News reviewed the show for The New Republic, and offers a very fair critique:

The fact, then, that the show begins in 2010—at the height of the Tea Party’s fervor—is no accident; it’s what enables the show’s didacticism. Sorkin’s intent is to show how events of recent memory could have been covered better by the media if journalists had only had the courage. Some of Sorkin’s lessons are well-taken. We see McAvoy under pressure from his bosses to confirm, or at least repeat, the false NPR report that Representative Gabrielle Giffords had been killed. Those scenes ring true, as do others in which ratings pressures are discussed.

But more often than not, Sorkin simply demonstrates his own confusion about what ails journalism. He begins with the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. One of McAvoy’s producers has expert inside sources at BP and Halliburton, so ACN’s “News Night” leads with the story as a tale of environmental disaster, corporate sloth, and government impotence. Meanwhile every other network—bereft of such information—is myopically focused on the fire on the oil rig and the deaths of eleven workers. But citing the BP oil spill is a curious way to charge journalistic malpractice: By my recollection, that was a story the media covered fairly aggressively and responsibly.

I think this is one of the things that grated on me the most; “Newsroom” is clearly Sorkin’s lecture to everyone working in journalism today about how they ought to do their jobs. Except that Sorkin’s perfect fictional journalists are — at least in the pilot episode — working with ludicrously unrealistic perfect inside sources. One producer has both a sister who works for Halliburton and a college roommate who works for BP, and literally within minutes of the explosion, they’re calling the producer to tell him all kinds of derogatory inside information about their bosses — including why the explosion occurred and remarkably foresighted explanations of why all of the initial efforts to cut off the spill probably won’t work. A time-travel storyline would have been more plausible.

One: This has never happened in journalism. Two: Both of these people apparently want to lose their jobs, as they’ve decided to leak information that’s extremely damaging to their employers to a journalist who is their brother/former college roommate. You figure any whistleblower would call a reporter they didn’t know personally in order to hide their tracks.

Then there’s the fact that the show is written from the perspective of two years’ worth of hindsight. In fact, almost all of the facts that the Sorkin Squad uncovers literally within hours of the explosion are from Sorkin’s own research, gathered and written by real-life reporters weeks and months after the disaster began. The show’s creator is railing at journalists, asking why they can’t be as smart as he is, citing their actual work, and is oblivious to the irony.

Oh, and during the broadcast, they show video footage of the burning oil rig labeled, “Baton Rouge, Louisiana.” Baton Rouge is not on the ocean. For a show that’s all about journalists getting it right and the importance of the truth and so on, it’s an appalling error.

I figure this is what happens when CIA employees watch (most) spy movies, law enforcement personnel watch cop movies, lawyers watch legal dramas, doctors watch medical dramas, and folks in the military watch war movies: Ninnies in Hollywood who have never done what you do create a wildly unrealistic portrayal, that make the job look easy and suggest to the public that the people they see doing the jobs in real life are some sort of underachieving disappointment. (And yes, this has real-world consequences; think of the “CSI effect.”) Apparently Sorkin hung around on the set of Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” as research for this show. Hey, Sorkin, work the seafood beat for the Boston Globe for a while, or work sixty hours a week covering every floor vote in the House of Representatives for a year — you know, the kind of work less conducive to cocaine addicts than, say, playwriting — and see if you think better quality journalism is just a matter of “deciding to do better.”

So what’s the glimmer of a better show in Newsroom? For starters, as Tantaros mentioned on The Five, newsrooms are pretty fun places to work, if you can deal with stress, deadlines, and the occasional meltdown. The news business attracts its own share of . . . odd, often smart characters, often working in this business because they fit in nowhere else. It’s a good setting for a dramatic series, or a comedy series, or both. Things are always happening, there’s always the ticking clock of the deadline, mistakes are made, good work is done . . . the plots write themselves and the inspiration is fresh every morning, provided by the world itself?

Could you imagine a reality series following the Breitbart crew?

Tags: Media , Television

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