Category Archives: Mumblings

Twitter Telelevision?

During my two summers working at MySpace I saw a great deal of frustration towards the insular nature of the “webisode.”

Try as they may, internet hits could not make the transition into successful full length television series. Why? Too many reasons. One: web series tend to have unknown, sometimes untrained, actors. Two: they lack the production connections to perpetuate growth and funding opportunities. Three? People discredit anything birthed on the internet to be unfit for anywhere but the internet – it’s a cultural pigeonholing that has yet to be proved un-founded, for the few webseries who have attempted to cross over into real television (Quarterlife anyone?) failed miserably.

Yet recently, Twitter has been spawning movie and television deals one after another. Why? Because Twitter is selling ideas, pitches, not pre-packaged, actor attached, already produced content.

Great success Tweeters. Now you don’t even need an appointment to sell a script.

The Hidden Power of Cult.

I’m always surprised when it takes me more than two seasons to catch onto a good show – yet it happens ALL the time. Arrested Development and Veronica Mars didn’t become two of my all-time favorite shows until YEARS after they were cancelled. Supernatural had started it’s sixth season by the time I became enamoured, Dexter was in its fourth.

How is it that certain TV shows become mainstream hits overnight, while others silently succeed in the dark? Supernatural is a widely popular show, with a highly dedicated fanbase, yet it receives very little mainstream attention – even in it’s 6th season.

So in order to understand this phenomenon, I try and dissect why people watch what they watch.

At the network level, NBC, FOX, ABC, HBO all have their flagship programs, the big buzz, money making series – and it is these shows that that the advertising funds are poured into. These are the summer blockbusters of television. Spectacle cultural phenonmena like Glee and Mad Men. Low budget animation series like Family Guy, The Simpson, South Park. Things that have either proven formulas for success or instant niche explosions. Wide reaching content. The hit programs on any network in turn tend to define audience perception of what the given company is all about. 30 Rock and the Office have defined NBC as the “quirky off beat indie” network. FOX, because of it’s a member of the Newscorp family is known for its conflicting image of hyper-conservatism, coming from its news programming, and crass animated humor (Family Guy and The Simpsons) and semi-wholesome hit family programming (Glee.) ABC, owned by Disney? Family television. CW? Gossip Girl. Sex and blood, baby! That shiz sells.

While these network trends/stereotypes aren’t always true, they limit the openness of viewership and hinder the widening of their demographics. For the longest time I rejected the possibility that Supernatural could be a quality television program because it was on the CW. Boy was I wrong.

Furthermore, the hyper success of one television show tends to funnel the resources and attention of both the industry and the viewers away from the other less-hyped programs that are out there.

Then, not everyone has, or can afford to have, premium television – putting Starz, HBO and Showtime at an inherent disadvantage for viewership numbers. Furthermore, the edgier type of programming put on premium television limits itself to an older less conservative fan base, forcing it into a 18-40 year old liberal demographic, considerably less widespread than “easy a” cable programming.

But this is all the technical stuff, television fandom is much more than numbers and time slots, it’s the heart and soul of millions.

This is what makes the idea of “cult” media so fascinating – it separates from the technical, the structural and the industrial constraints and parameters of it’s network or context and succeeds without million dollar advertising campaigns, big stars or prime time slots – they succeed because of the passion of their fans and the intensity of viewer participation.

And if that ain’t love? I don’t know what is.

“It’s called breaking, and it’s unprofessional!” …poking through the fourth wall.

Tina Fey is no stranger to the world of live television, consequently, it didn’t exactly come as a surprise when she and NBC decided to air live versions of an episode of “30 Rock” last month. This choice did several things for the already popular series; first off, it made an attempt at reasserting the power of television scheduling – asking viewers who normally stream online content at their leisure to revert back to the days of traditional network determined time slots. Did it work? No way. At least not for anyone under 30. Every person I spoke to about the episode streamed it off Hulu a day or two after it aired, partially, I’m sure because our school doesn’t offer us basic cable, but even more so because at Middlebury, Thursday nights are religiously dedicated to drinking too much and making a fool out of oneself.

Even now, I had to look up what day of the week and time “30 Rock” airs because I have grown dependent on constructing my televisual life around my own convenience and rapidly evolving schedule.

Yet, “30 Rock’s” rebooting of live viewing was not meant in any way to inspire us backward towards old audience habits – instead it was a call to the acknowledgment of the nature of the medium itself. It was a call to “meta.”

But what exactly is this META thing? Hell, I had no idea until the beginning of this semester, when Mr. Toren Hardee, the media savvy king of all things current and hip, explained it to me (with just a hint of filmic pretension): Meta is self-reference for the sake of self-reference. It knowingly creates an extra dimension of audience interaction that blurs the lines between the medium and reality thusly altering audience relationship to the content.

This however, is not a new concept; the idea of purposefully self-referential media has been around for quite some time, take for example some of the early “cinema verites” where intrigue into the medium produced the filming of filming. Or the evolution of an interest in the lexicon of the “Stars” as seen in Keaton’s knowing nod to the audience when trying on hats in Steamboat Bill Jr. “Meta” filmmaking can take on several different forms, though each involves some sort of acknowledgment of film as film. This breaking down of the fourth wall can exist in an addressing of the medium itself (the camera, the audience) or in the admission of an outside context, unmasking characters as actors. In many cases, such meta exposition overlaps medium and context, creating a separate space for extended audience connection or advanced understanding of the medium, shifting viewership from passive to personal and active.

The live episode of “30 Rock” is a perfect example of multi-dimensional meta; the cast frequently acknowledges the fact that things look different, and that there is something off about the episode, the title of the show itself references the change in film style (live episode), and the narrative follows the concept of breaking character on live television – it’s meta upon meta upon meta.

What “30 Rock” succeeds in doing in it’s live episode is providing the audience with the true benefits of self-referential cinema, it strengthens audience connection with the characters and the narrative, and allows us a feeling of commitment to the both the source text, and the outside world it exists in.

Another blazing example of this appears in season 2 episode 8 of the series Supernatural, “Hollywood Babylon.” It is here that the two protagonists visit the very studio lot where the series does their post production work within the context of their narrative, and then, when taking a tour of the lot, pass the set of “Gilmore Girls,” one of the former stars first shows, causing the actor to make a knowing face and hop off the tour tram.

Meta is an inside joke between the audience and the actors, a secret between a director and fans, a shared moment or glance or scene that breaks the wall between viewer and creator. It doesn’t have to be funny, or overtly obvious, but it blurs the lines between the consumer and the consumed, allowing for a renewed sense of free viewership.

Rajwinder Kaur and MC Hentz Present: DRABBLE.

It’s: HIGHper-Sexed Semi-Political allegory sweetened by Southern Hospitality and the just right amount of… “What the hell was that?”

It’s: Creatures of the night, Ghoulish Greek Mythology and the endangered Nymph-Dandelion-battle for the BRIGHT POWER SOURCE of the working class girl, who… pumps liquid life and Love through her beer-tapped short-short veins and whose… accent isn’t even mildly believable during those emotionally EXPLOSIVE self-righteous post-feminist monologues.

It’s: the love of a Drainer-Transformer, cold and pale, trend-inducing, hip cannibalistic Civil War Era sexual encounters that sell in bottles of O-Positive and A-Negative high definition.

Romeo DRINKS Juliet.

Viral video changed everything

I’ve recently stumbled upon some wonderfully high-larious web series based/celebrity impersonations which personify how deep this whole remix culture really goes. Not only is content out there to be remastered and reimagined, but the people themselves… given it’s a little mean, but still, wonderfully creative and funny none-the-less.

Very Mary Kate:
…And a fan remix: ReMIX!

Chloe (Sevigny): “Resolutions, by Chloe”

Brilliant. : the Epitome of REmix

“In everything I do, I endeavour to espouse and inspire enthusiastic novelty. My intention is for that to come through loud and clear in my interactions with everybody I meet. Especially you.” – Burning Dan

Last year I spent the very end of my J-term in Park City Utah, by myself, at Sundance.

Why? Well aside from my overwhelming desire to spend all my time watching off-beat indie films and animated shorts – this was a trip spurred on by an overwhelming sense that I, Mary-Caitlin Hentz, was floating. I had gotten into a pattern of artistic passivity, subconscious complacency. I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t creating; I was asleep. I was stuck with one foot in college and the other in daydreams that sat at least a full year outside my reach. I was frustrated with my transience and my perceived inability to be doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

So I packed a suitcase, bought a ticket, and left.

Days go by, and all of a sudden I’m getting my sparkle back, that insatiable need to put words on paper, to paint, to sing, to swim. Screening after screening, lecture after lecture, bar conversations and sidewalk talk with people like me, people who can’t imagine another path or course ahead of them – people who know themselves too well to fight their daydreams.

This wholeness, however, didn’t reach it’s full potential until the very end of my trip. The night I found Lexy and the rest of the hitRECord team. The very second I met Lexy, a whimsical mess of red lipstick and 40’s flair, I knew it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. She shimmered and smiled like a disney princess, her spirit overtaking everyone she met with optimism and beauty – she’s the one that introduced me to the endless possibilities of the world of remix culture.

Her boyfriend Joe, an actor, had started a hitRECord five years earlier with the help of his brother (Burning) Dan and friends. The idea behind the website is stated by Joe as such:

“We create and develop art and media collaboratively here on our site. So rather than just exhibiting and admiring each other’s work as isolated individuals, we gather here to collectively work on projects together. Videos, writing, photography, music, anything — we call them all RECords. Now and then, when I think something we’ve made has come out especially well, I approach the traditional entertainment industry to turn our work into money-making productions; and then we share any profits with the contributing artists.”

I logged on, and the passivity dissolved. hitRECord allows us to work together as artists and as people to create lasting relationships and beauty across oceans and time-zones, culture and class -this is what I had been looking for all along. A playground for my own overactive imagination, were whimsy and passion are born and bred, upheld and revered.

This is art. This is active viewership.

TV vs. Film

I’ve been watching a great deal of television as of late – by which I really mean to say, the past three years. I used to think that I only wanted to work in film, to make grande acrylic opus’ of 115 pages – self contained art. A beginning, an end. The medium first appealed to me as the intersection of everything I loved : music, dance, theater, painting, photography. I had watched the Mothlight of Stan Brackage and the Eclipse of Antonioni, I felt the ache of The Graduate and the guilty fluff of Pirates of the Caribbean. To me, TV felt like second hand cinema. Filler for bored children of the attention deficit generation and people home sick from work. Of course there were shows I watched, The Simpson’s was a Sunday night staple in my house for the first 13 years of my life. The first season of The OC, the occasional Episode of Charmed… Friends, blah blah so on and so forth.

Yes, these were all things I flicked on at 2 am when I couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to finish my math homework – but they didn’t inspire feeling in me like the Dustin Hoffman’s post collegiate detachment, like the black and white click clack of tap shoes on 42nd Street, like the spectacle of a film explosion or the reunion of a films formerly star-crossed lovers.

But then, a few years ago, something happened: I discovered better television, and consequently discovered the true power of Television over Film – a deep emotional core that allowed focus on character development and relationships without sacrificing the narrative arc. Suddenly my eyes were opened to the subtly that more time allowed, the evolutionary power of season upon season of: Six Feet Under, Arrested Development, Freaks and Geeks, Dexter, Weeds, True Blood, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Lost, Veronica Mars, Glee, 30 Rock, The Office, Dead Like Me – it was like having my first serious boyfriend; the movies had been fleeting summer flings, memorialized in coffee table photo albums and fond Facebook messages… but these television shows were the real, committed, living together, buying a cat and breaking up painfully kind of deal.

Every passion we have is a relationship. Every human interaction with the natural and creative world a contract in time and space, a molding of intent and emotion within our minds and hearts. Every like and dislike a conscious forming of ourselves and the world around us. It’s hard to be a dedicated television fan, to fall in love with characters who evolve and change week after week and season after season – there’s more room for disappointment in television. Your favorite actor is killed off in season two and it ruins the rest of the series… or perhaps the writing just stops being good. Losing faith in something you once adored and revered is never easy. I feel the ache in this current season of Dexter… the energy is gone, the routine tired, and I feel myself waxing nostalgic about John Lithgow and bathtubs.

It takes more energy to dedicate oneself to a series. It’s draining. It’s time consuming. It’s commitment. Perhaps thats why stand alone-episodic shows like Family Guy and Two and a Half Men are so popular – once the 23 minutes is over, the fan can disconnect, not worry about where their make-believe friends are headed. Because, despite Charlie Sheen’s rampant cocaine addiction, he’ll be back next week, all smiles and one liners to sedate the masses without any real form of commitment.