Network News is what Closes on Saturday Night

Filed Under Late Night, Satire

There’s been talk about the July 28th Nightline, which featured an exchange between Ted Koppel and Jon Stewart that some say outlines the gulf between old and new TV journalism. The description of The Daily Show as journalism gives insight into how low journalism has fallen. Not because The Daily Show is bad journalism, but because journalism isn’t doing it’s job and satire is having to pick up the slack.

Stewart and Koppel debate on what a News Anchor’s role should be. There’s a sense that there needs to be objectivity in news, presenting all sides to a story fairly and honestly. Stewart argues that the political spin machines take advantage of this and that TV news needs to adapt, not only to keep viewers, but to be effective. The audience doesn’t want them to stand idly by when each side presents contradictory facts.

The comedy presentation of news does give interpretations. Stewart rightly states that no one in his audience is coming for news, but they are coming for what they see is the truth behind the news. The real behind the measured coldness of just coverage.

At one point Stewart tells Koppel:

“...you CAN say that’s BS. You don’t need humor to do that because you have what I wish I had which is credibility and gravitas.”

News worries about presenting the truth and thus presents all sides of a story, penetrating none. Satire, while not necessarily giving truth, takes the elements of a story and uses them to illuminate something at their core. Stewart is pushing for Koppel to give more perspective. To bring more of a frame to stories and to call lies when he sees them. The fact Koppel seems to dispute the idea that he could call BS is bizarre when you read a speech Koppel delivered at a dinner of TV News directors that Jon Stewart himself introduced him at. At Koppel’s request! Koppel talks about the need to give news context… well isn’t that just a fancy way of saying “calling BS”?

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:31 AM | Send to Friend | Comments (0)

Chappelle Coming Back… I ain’t typing “Biatches!” It’s not funny unless Dave says it.

Filed Under Sketch Comedy

Despite recent ungrateful stand-up audiences, Dave Chappelle’s signed for two more seasons of Chappelle’s Show. Chappelle has mentioned the show’s a success because he writes it as if people aren’t watching. Now that he know they are, let’s hope he can forget.

Let’s hope idiotic requests for Tyrone or Rick James aren’t heard on his Showtime special.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 04:09 AM | Send to Friend | Comments (1)

Team America: An Act of Terror?

Filed Under Movies

Well, no. But a nice inflammatory headline, huh?

In the trailer to their new marionette movie Team America, Trey Parker and Matt Stone promise that George Bush, among others, won’t be happy when he sees the flick. Well, one down and ten or so to go. W. hasn’t even seen it yet and already his handlers are expressing their displeasure.

Though not the first time Trey and Matt have satirized a president, the Bush administration may want to “wait and see it” as Parker suggests. “That’s My Bush” was targeted more at the lameness of sitcom conventions rather than the policies of a President. Though much of the film references the current war on terror, the inspiration for it was action movies, specifically “The Day After Tomorrow” (which they wanted to shoot themselves perfectly straight, using puppets for all the parts).

And Bush isn’t even the flick according to Parker, despite how the website shows a similar looking marionette from the back (he may be added Parker admitted). Instead the main villains (if you can call them that) are the misguided legions of Hollywood liberals, who interfere with the terrorist fighting Team America group in an unspecified way. With a release date of October 15, three weeks before the election, it sounds almost eerily on message with the “heart and soul of America” speeches W.‘s been delivering in battleground states (side note: with red and blue states, why aren’t these states called purple states? C’mon, America loves color coding.)

However, judging from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut,” the satire will be anything but toothless. The actual villain implies a certain critique by his selection: Korean dictator Kim Jong II. (Of course, the duo may be done with Saddam Hussein jokes.) And the initial sequence set in Paris sets up parallels with go-it-along cowboy militarism and action movies that are very uncomfortable.

Though at times rumored to be Republican, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are apparently more libertarians. But they both claim people will leave the film wondering where they stand. I’m definitely looking forward to the film, and with the election thisclose, both sides are bound to be inflating their positions. I hope Trey and Matt not only don’t have any sacred cows, but no sacred donkeys or elephants either.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 08:06 PM | Send to Friend | Comments (0)

Sitcom’s Great White Hope Gets Some Hype

Filed Under Sitcom

“The sitcom is in trouble” story is both true and in nearly as much trouble as the sitcom itself for one reason: it’s been written for the past five years. There are no more fresh angles. The articles are taking on a last gasp quality. Sunday’s New York Times paints Arrested Development as writers’ best hope at reviving the moribund genre. (And the reporter should know, being a sitcom writer himself.)

I think Arrested Development, though it hasn’t “found an audience” yet (except for highly educated people in a very important young demo like myself… but I guess I don’t count, do I?), has a lot going for it. Number one they seem to understand the comedy is pretty much the art of surprise. Take this quote from creator Mitchell Hurwitz, when he talks about the Sopranos as an influence:

“I love how sprawling it is. And how they can totally surprise you by, say, killing off a character. I want that freedom. We felt: `Wouldn’t it be great if we did a show that actually does change? Where people could die?’”

So many sitcoms rely on stories we’ve seen before. We know from the beginning how they’re going to end. You’ve seen this show before and you’ve seen it done better on Nick at Night. If sitcoms are going to survive, you need to have a sense that anything can happen. Anything. The article also touches on how Arrested Development, much like BBC’s The Office, is shot and paced to look like a reality show. All excellent stuff. But the article also mentions one more item that gave me insight into why the show works as well as it does. All of it’s writers came from multi-camera shows originally (the traditional style used from I Love Lucy to Friends). Yes breaking the genre is great, but only if you know how to build it again. If you know how to tell a story well and pace the funny faster. (Though Hurwitz asserts that multicamera shows get more jokes in every episode than single camera shows, I don’t entirely see it. Maybe he says that because some single camera shows tend to waver off into filmic territory, rather than using the multiple set-ups to create a frenetic gag pace). Fox is doing right by a good show for once (rest in peace, Tick, Greg the Bunny and Andy Richter Controls the Universe). Putting it on after the Simpsons (something Futurama never even got). Promoting it heavily. Getting out a Season 1 DVD right before the start of the second. Now people, do us all a favor and just watch the damn thing?

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:29 AM | Send to Friend | Comments (0)

This Land Is Our Land

Filed Under Funny 2.0

I’m sure you’ve seen the very funny cartoon done by the folks at JibJab that uses a parody of “This Land is Your Land” as a vehicle to have some fun with both candidates and, poignantly enough, imply a desire for bipartisanship in this election year. And naturally, somebody had to come along and try to spoil it.

The copyright holders of “This Land is Your Land”, Ludlow Music, Inc. (apparently a tentacle of The Richmond Organization) have threatened a lawsuit, claiming damage to the original song. JibJab has consulted the Electronic Freedom Foundation and their own lawyer. The obvious defense of this is fair use, particularly for satire and parody.

One of the first cases to set this standard was from Mad Magazine‘s “Sing Along with Mad” songbook, which published sheet music with new lyrics to songs such as “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “If You Knew Susie” (remade into “If You Knew Hitler” - the UGOI aren’t subtle). Lawyers for the Music Publishers Protective Association claimed that only copyright owners had the right to make parodies of their songs, suing publisher Bill Gaines, Mad and much of it’s editorial staff to the tune of $25 million in 1961, a dollar for each infringing song in the million copies that sold.

In the first trial before US District Court, the Judge found for Mad in all but two of the songs, the aforementioned “There’s No Business…” and “Always”, believing that those two were too similar in theme to the originals to be fair use. This wasn’t good enough for the music publishers who appealed and quickly lost their case entirely with the US Court of Appeals finding:

“We believe that parody and satire are deserving of substantial freedom - both as entertainment and as a form of social and literary criticism.”

The MPPA continued to push the case, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. The case made the satire and parody of song lyrics protected fair use. In my admittedly biased layman opinion, JibJab should have no trouble actually wining this case if it went to trial. But in some ways the damage has been done because of the need to retain lawyers to handle such a silly suit. Though I don’t think Weird Al is nervous about his next parody album, it could make some people blink before creating funny works of all kinds… simply because they may not have the funds to retain the lawyers they would need to protect their rights. And even in corporations, there are few maverick publishers like Bill Gaines who would fight back to protect the right to parody or satire anything. The lawsuits they might draw just makes it too prohibitive.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 04:29 AM | Send to Friend | Comments (0)

Pilot Season: Brilliant and Airing

Filed Under Improv, Sitcom

Comedy nerds will rejoice to hear about Trio’s first original comedy series Pilot Season (read the release here). Pilot Season will be about the people who struggle to try and get something of quality on TV every Spring. And fail. Though I’m over TV about TV, with talent the calibre of Sarah Silverman and David Cross involved, I’m interested. Plus I enjoyed the original movie the show’s based on, Who’s the Caboose. And they’re shooting it mockumentary-style, so hopefully we’ll get some Office-influenced uncomfortable moments in it. Trio’s pairing the show up with its next “Brilliant but Cancelled” month (something Pilot producer Sam Seder creator knows about with perennial Other Network fave Beat Cops). Mark your calendar or TiVo for September 6.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 06:15 AM | Send to Friend | Comments (0)

UnFriendly Work Conditions?

Filed Under Comedy Writers, Sitcom

To write comedy, do you have to have an uncensored environment? That’s essentially the question that’s being put before the California Supreme Court in a harassment case involving some of the Friends writers. I absolutely fall into the idea that it’s a creative necessity to be able to say anything, because that’s how you find laughs. What makes funny stuff is usually inappropriate stuff that makes people feel uncomfortable. Saying them out loud, creates laughs. And a show like Friends, which is so focused on the sexual behavior of the characters, it seems impossible to work in an environment where talking about sex would be verboten.
 
But reading the description of what the plaintiff says went on (via The Smoking Gun), it sounds like a lot of it crossed over into the personal, and rather pedestrian, fantasies of the writers on staff (sex with cheerleaders, C’mon?). Although arguably, talking about turning Joey into a serial rapist is a creative process decision (and might explain the sudden move of the character to LA in Joey). This document, of course, only shows her side of the story. What really happened is probably someplace in-between. 
 
It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out. I imagine a plaintiff win could mean a lot of repression in writing rooms. For a rather amusing anecdote about an uncensored environment, one that doesn’t cross over into the personal and done purely to relieve creative tension, check out this Louis CK description of a late night writing session at Conan (4th Item down).

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:20 AM | Send to Friend | Comments (0)
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