Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"An Unexpected Surprise"

Is there any other kind?

“We knew that surprise was coming.”

Is that really a surprise?


“We’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

(Note:  Though I worked hard on “the exact number of dashes”, I am unsure of the result.  You should just know that I tried.)

You think westerns aren’t funny?  Not counting Blazing Saddles, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Paleface and Cat Ballou?

Lemme try that again.

You think westerns not intended to be funny are not occasionally funny nonetheless? (A lumpier sentence, though more accurately hitting the mark.  “Art versus Precision” – an ongoing conundrum.)

Sad but researchable – most westerns are not funny.  Happily, I found one recently that, for one startling moment, loped down the comedical trail.

I watched Black Bart last night.  Black Bart is a “B” western, a struggling sub-genre, lacking the bucks and ambitions of “A” westerns.  Truth be told, I often prefer “B” westerns to their loftier counterparts. 


“The Unexpected Surprises.”

(Another Note, Off Topic, But More Interesting Than The Previous Note:  I have learned more from inferior pictures than from well-made ones.  Bad pictures expose the structural underpinnings good pictures artfully conceal, helping me learn the basics from their rudimentary approach.  Of course, considering my failing track record, I may have learned to write bad pictures.) 

Here’s why “B” pictures provide “Unexpected Surprises.”

The people who make them are indifferent to what’s in them, their sole concern being,

“Can we ‘ship it’ by Thursday?”

Of course, the “standard westerns trajectory” needed to be followed.  “Bad guys do bad stuff.”  “Bad guys finally get caught.”  Besides that, to the “Money Men”, it was just “Blah-blah” and “Bang!  Bang!”

Understanding these “realities”, bored-to-tears studio contract writers occasionally slipped stuff in they knew no one will catch ‘cause nobody’s paying attention.  If the movie was the right length and right-side-up on the screen, off it went to film-hungry theaters. 

“B” westerns were about “product” and “Names.”  With Dan Duryea and Yvonne De Carlo, who cares about content?

I care about content.  And here’s the “beaut” I discovered last night.

Two outlaws, headed for hanging.  On the “ride to the rope”, “Black Bart” claims, “We’re not guilty!”

The accompanying sheriff retorts,

“‘Not guilty?’  You were caught leaving town with a kidnapped woman, riding stolen horses, and carrying moneybags from two banks!

To which “Black Bart” replies,

“You call that evidence?

Pretty good, right?

They did not have to write anything.  “Black Bart” could have said “We’re not guilty” and the sheriff could have scoffed derisively, and that’s it.  But they didn’t. 

They threw in a joke. 

A traditionally-structured joke, it’s true.  But in a “B” western?  That’s finding gold in a horse stall.

Why did they bother? 

Desperation.  Knowing they could do better.  Could be a long shot “stealth audition”, the lowly “B” westerns writers, hoping some studio “Big Wig”, catching their cleverness, promotes them to movies with ashtrays, rather than spittoons. 

Grasping at straws, they said, “What the heck”, and they did it.

Sixty-one years later, a tickled blog writer heartily guffawed, and promptly gave them their due.

Wait, I didn’t!

Black Bart:  Written by William Bowers, Jack Natteford and Luci Ward.

Now I did.

Three writers. 

I wonder which one pitched the joke?

Monday, September 16, 2019

"The Next Thing"

Essentially podcasts are just blogging, but with talking.

You’ve gotta watch that word “just.”  It’s tricky.

“Space travel is just flying, but higher.”

“Shooting is just punching, but with bullets.”

You see what I mean?  It’s the same, but it’s different.

I hear word that blogging is “out” and podcasts are “in.”  This scares me for two reasons, which are two more than I’d prefer, because I want to keep blogging.

I have heard such rumbling predictions before.  While I was still riding high, my agent warned me my career was in jeopardy because “edgy” (Read: mean and sexualized) comedy was replacing the kind of comedy I did.  It was, “Be edgy or you’re dead”, and shortly thereafter, I was.  The second one, not the first.

I now take these proclaimed “The British Are Coming!” alerts seriously, few people bothering to proclaim that if they aren’t.  (False claims of that nature invalidate credibility, and tire your horse.)  So when someone shouts, “The podcasts are coming!” I have this nagging feeling they’re right.  

But do I really want to do that?

Firstly, technologically, I can’t.  As with starting this blog, someone would have to come in and set things up.  (As an encouragement, Dr. M bought me a microphone. But it is not currently plugged in, and I think, as a preliminary “Step One” it probably should be.

A friend with a podcast (on which I have appeared, or at least my voice has appeared) explained he has a professional service mounting his episodes for him, but you need three thousand listeners or it’s not worth their while.

Two words about three thousand listeners and me:

Fat chance.

So there’s that.  I am on my own and have no idea how to get started.  Then, there’s this, whose revelation I have blown twice by mentioning it.

Do I really want to do a podcast, rather than keep doing a blog?  (Despite dire predictions that the enthusiasm “choo-choo” has moved on.)

Okay, let’s look at this.

The common denominator of both forms of communication is this:

Blogging is “writing to yourself”, a personal diary you allow other people to read.

Podcasts are “talking to yourself.”

Only one of those is related to “mental aberration.”

So they’re the same, but they’re different.

Except in one case, when they’re not.

I wrote an All Things Considered commentary once (which they rejected, though they accepted five others), exposing the truth about “radio commentaries.”  (Which I believe is why they rejected it.)

Perched in an NPR studio, my prepared script in my hand, I said,

“You may think I am talking to you, but I’m not.  I am reading to you.  When I said, ‘I am reading to you’ I read that.  And when I said, ’I read that’, I read that as well.”

And so on, in the same “blow-the-lid-off” direction.

In the payoff to that commentary, I announce I will put down the script and “just talk.”  I then immediately become tongue-tied, and, learning my lesson, I crawl desperately back to the script.

I could imaginably read my podcast.  But I am a terrible reader – I inevitably “rewrite” while I’m reading, thus impeding “a fluid delivery.”

So that’s out.

“Just talking”?

Remember “immediately anxiously tongue-tied”?

The thing is, although we “just talk” all the time, podcasts involve the less natural “just talking” into a microphone, the pressure of “right now” pleasing listening strangers.  Just thinking about that gives me the sweats.

And you can forget about “interviewing”, the “go-to” staple of numerous podcasts.  Chances of me, calling anyone to appear on my podcast – zero.  I might not even show up myself.

So that’s my rationale for not doing a thing I was unlikely to do in the first place, which you need because if you don’t have them you’re “stubborn.”

Maybe I am.  I have a history of resisting things that turned out to be great fun, examples currently blocked because they make me look stupid, but they are embarrassingly numerous. 

Who knows  That could eventually be me, and podcasts.

Then again, it could not.

But then again a third time,

The clock is ticking on blogging.

Friday, September 13, 2019

"The 'Broadening Spectrum' Fallacy"

Arguably my classiest title to date.

Focusing Question:  How – or is it “Why?”, so it’s not that focusing – how, or why, or wait!  What… is the relationship between the broadening television spectrum and plummeting network audience viewership?

Think about this.

Once, the most talked about shows – Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family – were all network television offerings, the most popular of them, garnering audiences of thirty million, or more, as compared to today’s audiences of less than a third.

Note:  You see, that’s what I hate about this process.  I originally typed “poplar” when I meant “popular”, and my computer said, “Fine.”  What happened to “context”?

Anyway… having egregiously digressed myself…

“Duh!” is how you’d respond to what I said five paragraphs ago.  Of course, the audiences were bigger.  There were no alternatives back then, other than turning your TV off and living your life, and who wants to do that?

“There was no competition – a viable rationale for today’s networks’ decrease in ratings. 

“Viable” for now.

Let us follow this sad downward trajectory.

“Premium Cable” arrived, offering nudity, and, eventually, iconic series like The Sopranos.  Right away, the networks’ juggernaut ratings started to recede.  “More competition”, you say.  Yes, but there was an accompanying factor.

The Sopranos was better.


If The Sopranos was worse, or putting it another way, if the networks’ dramatic offerings were qualitatively equal, the networks’ popularity would have held strong, relegating cable TV to also good shows, flashes of nudity, and infomercials for “Squeegees.”

Then streaming services with their “Let’s throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks” mentality entered to fray.
And the ratings erosion began to increase.

Because of the “broadening spectrum”?

Or ‘cause the “stuff that stuck to the wall” was better?

Do you see what I’m driving at?  Network television has a handy excuse for their dwindling ratings.

NETWORKS:  “The ‘broadening spectrum’ has siphoned off viewers.”

Avoiding the less comfortable explanation:

“Have you seen what we put on lately?”

Think about this now.  (Sorry for making you think so much.  I just hate thinking alone.)

Suppose Seinfeld premiered today.  The exact same show, with its hilarious “Bubble Boy”, “Marine Biologist” and “Puffy Shirt” episodes, and so so many more.  The “show about nothing” two-parter?  Are you kidding me?

“You are wallowing in nostalgia.”

You think so?  (SPOKEN COMBATIVELY)  Sitcom blockbusters like Seinfeld and Friends score spectacularly in reruns to this very day.  And now, Netflix is opening its vaults further broadcasts.  You think the windfalls would keep coming if those shows weren’t still popular?

I’m tellin’ ya, if Seinfeld premiered today, it would do, perhaps not as well as originally – due to the “broadening spectrum” – but it would do a lot better than the top-rated sitcoms today. 

I mean, why wouldn’t it?  You love your favorite restaurant.  Does it really matter how many new restaurants they open?

“You watch reruns of Seinfeld”?

“Not much.”

“You don’t like it?”

“I love it!  ‘The Chinese Restaurant.’  Are you kidding me?”

“Then why don’t you watch it?”

“Because of the ‘broadening spectrum.’”

“What are you saying?”

“There are more shows available today.”

“Shows you like better?”

“Not better than Seinfeld.”

“Let me understand this.  You love Seinfeld, but, because there are shows on TV you like less, you don’t watch it?”

WARNING:  “The ‘Logic Train’ has just run off the tracks.”

Interim Conclusion: 

Primarily, it is not the “broadening spectrum” that makes network television less popular. 

It is network television itself!

What happened to network television?  Since I am running out of time, I will venture one guess.

The creative talent went elsewhere.  (Meaning no disrespect to people working in network television, though I can see it might look that way.)

And the “Talent Drain” is bound to get worse.

Originally, network television paid more, but denied creative control.  People who valued their personal “Vision” over “The Big Payday” gravitated to cable, which allowed free, or at least freer, reign.  (Some having no choice, because their personal “Vision” precluded “network acceptability.”  The Sopranos was originally pitched to the networks.  Fat chance.)

With the moneybags “streamers” involved, the top practitioners get creative control and so much, what they coarsely call, “F-You” money, they can now tell the networks “F-You.”

Actual Conclusion:

It is not “the broadening spectrum”, per se.

It’s what that “broadening spectrum” is offering.

And what the traditional networks are not.