Category Archives: news media

The Following: The Poet’s Fire

Most fiction (in any medium, be it books, television, or film) works on the premise of suspension of disbelief. The target, in this case, the viewer has to believe what they are seeing. It’s very important in science fiction and fantasy, because in stuff like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, the boundaries of reality are being stretched. But in a way, it’s easier in those realms.

In something like “The Following,” which is essentially based in the ‘real’ world, albeit a larger than life version, it’s even more important. The viewer has to not just believe it can happen, but they have to believe it could really happen, if you get my understanding.

This episode, “The Poet’s Fire,” opens with a nutjob in an Edgar Allan Poe mask (after just two weeks, an already old and tired gimmick for this EAP fan) sets a man on fire on a crowded city street with witnesses with cellphones and security cameras overhead. Seriously, if such a thing happened in the ‘real’ world, the media would go batshit crazy. I know it, you know it, and quite honestly, showrunner Kevin Williamson should know it too. Here, no one but the Feds and the cops that seem to blink at all.

And that’s just the beginning. The rest of the episode is spent flashbacking and overexplaining motivations we have already guessed. And then there’s the obligatory serial killer follower of the week, whose plot twist I guessed from jump street. The blind followers are getting a bit too convenient as well. Perhaps it’s Williamson’s comment on reality television and sheeple. Or just lazy writing.

“The Following” has ceased to be clever, to be unique, and even – and I’m counting the cast members I like in this statement – be interesting.

The Newsroom

I love HBO. I think that they, along with the folks at Showtime, AMC, and Starz among others, just make the best television out there. Looking at ratings and award nominations, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that belief. I guess that’s why “The Newsroom” is such a hard pill for me to swallow.

I tried to watch the first season of “The Newsroom” when it aired. I just couldn’t get into it, and once the episodes started to pile up in the DVR, I gave up and resolved to catch up later. It’s hard to start watching a new show. Some things like “Dexter,” “Treme,” and “The Walking Dead” grabbed me immediately from the first moments. Others like “Rome,” “The Wire,” and “Homeland,” all of which I loved/love, took some time to warm up to. “The Newsroom” falls solidly in the latter category, but maybe without so much of the love part.

There’s a lot to like about “The Newsroom.” Jeff Daniels, in the lead as a on-his-way-out newscaster trying something new to stay relevant, is spectacularly selfish. He’s been given something few actors get – a platform on which to act over the top. His supporting cast is amongst one of the best ensembles in television. Dev Patel is someone to watch, and Alison Pill is the real star of the show, definitely watch her. Most of the performances are high caliber, a hallmark of HBO.

The show is a little bit Network, a little bit Broadcast News, with just a touch of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as well. The problem I have lies behind the scenes, in its creator, Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin belongs to an era and style of television I particularly dislike. Much like David E. Kelley, Sorkin doesn’t just want to entertain audiences, he wants to teach, to preach, to ultimately force feed his opinions into the viewers, whether they like it or not.

Here, in “The Newsroom,” it gets so bad sometimes as though it literally feels as though characters are merely taking turns on an imaginary soapbox than actually having a conversation or debate. It always takes me out of the show, and sometimes it’s painful in its execution. Shame.

Except for that, “The Newsroom” is definitely worth watching, especially for Jeff Daniels, Alison Pill. Dev Patel, and also genre favorite, Oliva Munn. The Bin Laden episode made me cry, and that’s saying a lot. The show is very very good, despite its preachiness, but it is, after all, HBO. Check it out.


Futureworld ~ I was just talking about Peter Fonda and this flick on this blog recently so when I saw Futureworld was on Encore Action, so I DVRed it. It’s been at least a serious three decades or so since I’ve last seen it. It’s nowhere near as good as I remembered it, and despite being a feature film, looks barely above television quality, bad for even a Samuel Z. Arkoff production. it does still have its merits though.

Futureworld is the 1976 sequel to the popular 1973 scifi thriller Westworld, and was followed a few years later by the very short-lived CBS TV series “Beyond Westworld,” which was even worse, as demonstrated by it only lasting five episodes.

In Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton, the Delos Corporation has created three ‘amusement parks’ – WestWorld, MedievalWorld, and RomanWorld – populated by lifelike androids where guests can indulge in any fantasy they can imagine in each park genre, including having sex with and/or killing the androids. A malfunction affecting all the robots makes them suddenly attack and kill all the guests, highlighted by the Gunslinger, as played by Yul Brynner, and terror ensues. So ends WestWorld.

In Futureworld, Delos seems to have recovered from this PR nightmare and gone back into business. Fonda and Blythe Danner are newspaper and television reporters invited to see what the new Delos is all about and make sure it’s safe. They elect to visit FutureWorld, one of the new parks that have been added. There is some great dialogue between the two regarding newspapers being dead, nice call from 1976.

Most frightening about the film is how much the parks resemble Disney in design and visuals, but I suppose that’s on purpose. On the down side the acting is abysmal and the sexism is humiliating. That the technicians must be gay or robots if they don’t succumb to Danner’s charms is one of the more pitiful bits. There’s also a painful conspiracy subplot about Delos replacing world leaders with robot doubles.

Yul Brynner as The Gunslinger does appear in footage from the first movie and in Danner’s bizarre dream sequence. Too bad he couldn’t be in more. As a true scifi movie villain, perhaps he could have dragged this flick up a few notches from its bad telemovie level.

Andy Rooney Dead at 92

Some folks are their work. I can’t help but think about that today as I write about the passing of journalist and writer Andy Rooney. He passed away Friday night from major complications of an undisclosed surgery, just weeks after signing off for the last time on his regular closing slot on the long running “60 Minutes.” Even in his final piece, an interview for the program, he said he wouldn’t stop writing – he couldn’t stop writing.

Rooney was a journalist since the Second World War and had closed the CBS new program with his commentaries for over forty years. He was the curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, always questioning the most mundane and puzzling of the day’s mysteries. His voice was grating and his attitude confrontational and often sarcastic, but he was always entertaining, and if you weren’t careful, informative.

Andy Rooney wrote for television and news for decades, He won four Emmys while on “60 Minutes,” and many other broadcasting and journalism awards during his long career. We have lost a true legend and an epic voice in our times. He will be missed.

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Battle Los Angeles

Battle Los Angeles ~ This wannabe summer blockbuster took a new spin on the old alien invasion story by telling much of it through modern day news coverage and also through the eyes of one group of young Marines as they hold the line in Los Angeles against nearly indestructible extraterrestrial assault.

It’s a creative war movie rather than a scifi flick, but it’s spoiled by some dumb plot elements and tired clichés early on. I found it hard to swallow that if the powers-that-be knew we were up against aliens, they would not beat around the bush with the combat forces going in to fight them, they would tell them outright, and not let them find out by watching TVs as they go into battle. I was wrecked by stupidity for the movie at that point before we even saw any real action. And this is sooo full of dumb, like the victims in a teenage slasher flick.

That’s not to say that the effects aren’t spectacular, especially on a good TV with HD Blu-Ray, but I was already frowning by the time they actually do show up. What’s not news coverage is done with shaky cam, obviously trying to copy the effects of Saving Private Ryan, but it’s a loftier target that it should have been trying to attain. It got tired real quick. With all its special effects, the two decades plus old Aliens is a better marines vs. aliens movie, and The Boys in Company C has less war clichés.

On the surface, Battle Los Angeles tries to mix the new knowledge we Americans have of ‘real’ war and combat footage with the concept of alien invasion. It works for the two-minute trailer, but not for the two-hour movie. Good cliché TV movie about the Iraq war (or Viet Nam) with cheap District 9 and Transformers aliens thrown in for good measure – wait for the free TV viewing, a bowl of hot popcorn, and possible a good nap or two.

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Dave Roberts and Action News

I was directed to watch 6ABC’s local Philadelphia news at 11 tonight by a message on their Facebook:

Action News turn to 6abc right now! Dave’s gonna make the big announcement!

Now aside from the fact that such grammar from a news outlet would have made my Journalism professor choke on his Almond Joy, the announcement was that longtime on-air announcer Dave Roberts was retiring. He’s been with Channel 6 since the late seventies and has always been a friendly informative source for news and entertainment whether he was doing the news, weather, magazine shows or holiday parades. His final day will be December 11th so we’ll get one more Thanksgiving Day parade out of him. Dave will most certainly be missed.

What bugged me was that this was the first full episode of “Action News” I’ve watched in well over a decade. I know I’ve blogged on this before but I’m still shocked at how truly bad local news has become.

“Action News” used to be the local newscast in the 1970s. The witty and hip interaction (pun unintended) between the late Jim O’Brien and his cohorts invited viewers in to this television family. In hindsight, perhaps the much-missed O’Brien was the glue that held everything together for the newscast. He was never truly replaced by anyone his equal. Everyone after was just obviously trying to be him.

The broadcast I watched tonight barely spent five minutes on hard news but spent more than that on a special report about cougars. Then the weather was overshadowed by a longer story about what might be coming this winter. This is news? After all that I could have just clicked over to the station’s website to get the news on Dave’s retirement, and not suffered through this mess. But maybe that’s the point. Between the internet and the various 24/7 cable news outlets, local news is dead.

Good luck, Dave, maybe you’re getting out before it’s too late.

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Is Local News Dead?

Is local news dead, or have they just given up?

This afternoon was marred by the tragic shootings in Fort Hood, TX, and details are still coming in. I spent a lot of my afternoon switching channels back and forth between CNN, Headline News, MSNBC and Fox News – and they were all covering the story.

I noted the time, and realized that two of our local network affiliates had news programs on air (ABC had “Oprah” and you don’t mess with Oprah) so I turned to them. I was informed of Wyclef Jean was in town and that Sarah Palin is on a book tour. I switched a few times more between channels 3 and 10 and learned that pets can get the H1N1 virus and that Phillies fans are sad.

Wtf? No coverage of Fort Hood??? Shocked, just shocked. Now I know where not to go for my news. Apparently local news is anxious to go the way of the newspapers.

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Paula Exits Idol

As if we needed more proof that Twitter moves faster than the news media, Paula Abdul announced was leaving “American Idol” via Twitter earlier tonight.

With sadness in my heart, I’ve decided not to return to #IDOL. I’ll miss nurturing all the new talent, but most of all..Cont’d…

Paula, singer and choreographer, brought her expertise to “Idol” for eight consecutive seasons. She’ll be missed. In many ways, with her at times bizarre behavior, her chemistry with the other judges, and her professional guidance – she made the show.

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Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

Walter Cronkite’s was probably the first face and name from television I knew that wasn’t Speed Racer or Batman, and he was trusted just as much.

He visited my living room or kitchen every night at dinner time to explain the events in strange lands like Viet Nam, Cambodia, Watergate and the Moon.

Today the most trusted man in America, still even decades after he retired from giving us the news, passed away.

We have lost probably one of the greatest journalists of our time. He will be missed.

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Gary Papa 1954-2009

After a long battle with cancer, local news and sports anchor Gary Papa has passed away.

He joined the Action News on-air staff as a sportscaster in 1981 and was promoted to sports director nine years later.

Papa was also the host of “Prime Time” which he took over from the late Jim O’Brien.

He was beloved in the Philadelphia area and will be missed.

View more here.