Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Thursday, July 06, 2006
It opens with:
Ray Smith, the newspaper owner who died in Rotorua on Sunday aged 85, was an austere man, who went through life with a perpetual scowl...
and then becomes really frank. Worth a read, if only as a studied exercise in how to speak ill (and therefore honestly) of the dead -- could Smith have been the real life Mr Gormsby? You also wonder what Phil Campbell, the journalist who wrote the story, would have done with the Kerry Packer obituary.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
One of Australia's first foreign correspondents, TV presenter and movie critic, John Hinde has died in Sydney aged 92.Apart from his war work and hosting the first AM broadcast in 1967, Hinde found fame as the ABC's avuncular film reviewer and presenter. This report on the national broadcaster's website features a good summary of Hinde's self-depreciating appeal :
ABC Radio's AM program today paid tribute to Hinde, who filed a report for its first bulletin.
Mr Hinde began his career at the ABC in the news department and was a correspondent in the Pacific during World War II.
David Stratton... says Mr Hinde was a lovely man who was a pleasure to talk to.Just how good humoured was Hinde? Well, that's Libby Gore in the photograph with him dressed as Superman. Little Mr Square Eyes seems to recall the only other person at the ABC who voluntarily got that up-close-and-personal with Gore was David Hill, but that probably had more to do with Network Nine-style management techniques than anything else.
He says he had a roguish look on TV and always presented with wit, perception and style.
"It was something to do with his innate good humour and wit I think, and he would always focus on very often on small details, on whimsical little things that appealed to him, and convey them so beautifully to the listener or the viewer in his television introductions," he said.
Friday, June 23, 2006
During an aimless flick through morning television programs LMSE was surprised to see The Wiggles have spun off The Little Wiggles, a group of child performers portraying the skivvy aficionados when they were young. It’s a strangely creepy move that hints the franchise is being milked like a prize Holstein. The little Wiggles are notable for the lack of rhythm, singing ability and appeal they bring to their roles
Likewise, Rugrats also appear to have been back to the well once too often with All Grown Up. The show takes you 10 years into the future where the viewer learns what the writers and producers should have instinctually known (what worked with tots doesn’t translate to teens).
Finally, Variety reports two icons of the 80s are reuniting for a television comedy. You can see the whole, told-with-an-admirably-straight-face report here but the gist of it follows:
Former teen heartthrobs Corey Feldman and Corey Haim have teamed with RDF USA ("Wife Swap") on "The Coreys," a hybrid improv comedy that would center on fictional versions of themselves à la "Curb Your Enthusiasm."Ah-huh…
"The Coreys" picks up with Feldman living the comfortable suburban life with his wife Suzie and son, until circumstances bring his old pal Haim back into the picture. Episodes would follow Haim -- single and the total opposite of Feldman -- as he shakes life up for the Feldmans.Ah-huh…
RDF USA exec VP of current/development Greg Goldman said because Feldman and Haim have been friends on and off screen for several years, the chemistry between the two " just pops off the screen."Sweet Jesus.
"Everyone feels like we know the Coreys," Goldman said…. Feldman and Haim met on the set of "The Lost Boys" and appeared in several movies together, including "License to Drive," "Dream a Little Dream" and "Blown Away.Unfortunately, none of this last paragraph was much help because the only movie Little Mr Square Eyes recognised from the list is The Lost Boys and the only actor I can readily recall from that flick is Keifer Sutherland (and I still can’t forgive Donald for not employing birth control on that particular night 40 years ago). YourTV put the news into perspective a little better.
If the series is picked up it would be a big change of fortunes for the duo. Feldman's last major TV role was on ex-celebrity dumping ground The Surreal Life in 2003, while eBay busted Haim in 2001 for attemping to shill his molars on the auction site.It takes news like this to make you appreciate 24 (or more correctly 120, seeing we're into the fifth season).
Coming up next week, the truth about the Beaconsfield mine rescue
Monday, May 15, 2006
Friday, April 14, 2006
Oztam website frontpage
In the offices of cosseted Australian television executives they talk with numerical crudity – Dancing with the Stars 2.13 million viewers, The Biggest Loser 1.41 million, National Nine News 1.37 million. Amongst the closely groomed sales reps the peppy, incessant chatter is more homespun and they reach with frequency for HUTs, TARPs and (by turns haughty or meek) admit to audience share.
But when viewers talk about television, ratings fall by the wayside. When viewers talk about television we talk in units of “did-you-see-the-part-where?” or “there-was-this-one-bit” and “what-about-when-they”. Viewers talk about moments.
In no particularly order of merit, here are some of those moments that caught my eye over the last few months but failed to make it into previous entries.
The televised forum is a venerable format but it takes a skilled host and competent editors to produce a smooth, flowing program. Just don’t expect the results to even nudge towards the “well that’s that then” and “glad we finally sorted that one out” zone.
Insight (SBS) kicked off the year with special guest author and New York Times journalist Maureen Dowd whose latest book Are Men Necessary, provided the topic starter for the evening. Dowd (who, as most male members of the media seem obliged to mention, is anything but dowdy) divides her readers — depending on what side of the political fence you’re on, she is either a witty and incisive commentator or an inane, girly hack.
Whatever the case, she seemed comfortable in her role as a sort of feminist louche cannon but there was a quality to her voice that tugged at my memory for most of the program. Due to Little Mr Square Eyes’ innate shallowness he chiefly noticed three things, all of which had to do with superficial appearances or personal presentation.
*Hard studio lighting, a 100 metre stare, sharp looking teeth and a hunger for camera time conspired to give Catharine Lumby a passing resemblance to Gollum. Her idea that wearing an Armani suit or a lame bikini is part of a class issue was, like Lord of the Rings, a product of creative fantasy.
*Cosmo editor Sarah Wilson’s opinons would have carried more weight if her artificial tan hadn’t looked like it was applied with a watering can.
*Finally, the penny dropped regarding the featured guest's nasally tones - if MTV ever produces a series “Daria at 40”, they should consider Maureen Dowd for the voice role.
The celebrity interview is another television staple but when Andrew Denton is on top of his game, he can take it to interesting and entertaining places. At one point during an interview with Billy Connolly on Enough Rope (ABC), they discussed the furore over the Mohamed cartoons, the motivation of Jehovah Witnesses and the bible:
ANDREW DENTON: …I mean you've read the Bible or bits of the Bible...
BILLY CONNOLLY: Yes I have.
ANDREW DENTON: You know that it can be whatever interpretation you like.
BILLY CONNOLLY: I just bought it a couple of weeks ago actually in Sydney.
ANDREW DENTON: I wont tell you how it ends. It's fantastic.
Connolly was clearly tickled by the banter and the pair continued to bounce off each other for the rest of the interview. It was a measure of just how successful the Big Yin has been at portraying himself as “the welder who got away with it” that when the topic of dreams and ambitions came up and he expressed the desire to be a “hair-mitt ina keev" you took him at his word he wanted to be a grotto dwelling recluse. The fact that he had to make do with jetting back to Cairns after the interview to shag Pamela Stephenson on a luxury yacht notwithstanding.
Another ongoing delight of the tube is the way it juxtaposes wildly divergent talents and continually poses nagging questions. During a commercial break in The Mummy Returns, a promo for Rove Live (or as network ten tweely bills it ‘seriously Rove Live’) popped up — after watching the Scorpion King’s crazed minions, Rove’s toothy, vacant, gaping visage seemed much less jarring than usual.
Still to be answered: can romance author Di Morrissey ever do an interview without mentioning her daughter is a sexologist? Similarly, is interviewing serial plastic surgery witch Pamela Noon the ultimate benchmark of lazy journalism? Should the increasingly spaced out looking Joan Plowright simply get a t-shirt with “Larry Olivier slept here”, have herself declared an historical site and be done with it? And what is it about Ghost Whisperer (Southern Cross) that makes you carefully note down the writer's name so as to studiously avoid any of their future work?
Monday, April 03, 2006
If Tasmanian voters were an iPod, Status Quo would top the most played list. Due to the intricacies of the Hare Clark system, definitive (but not finalised) results came in a week and a half after the 18 March poll, with the Lennon government returned and the split of seats remaining exactly the same (ALP 14 — Liberal 7 — Greens 4). There was no slap on the wrist for Premier Paul Lennon, the bloke nicknamed by some as “the Big Chipper” and by novelist Richard Flanagan (with startling accuracy and brevity) as “a burst sav”.
A television blog is not the ideal vehicle in which to dissect the election campaign (‘grubby’ according to the Greens, ‘robust’ if you listen to the ALP and the Libs), what the result might mean for Tasmania (same old same old with extra cash thrown at the rickety health and education systems?) or speculate on the lighthouse project Lennon will use to stamp his mark on the ALP’s third successive term (hint: it's bigger than a bread box, reputedly has no environmental impact, will sit on huge chunk of land overlooking the Tamar River and should make Gunns shareholders very happy). Instead Little Mr Square Eyes will focus on the speeches each party leader made from the floor of the tally room on election night that were broadcast by the ABC.
The word schoolyard (or possibly even barnyard) comes to mind.
Rene Hidding (Lib), Peg Putt (Greens) and Paul Lennon (ALP) were all heckled to varying degrees, presumably by rival party supporters. This was particularly the case during Peg Putt’s now famous dummy spit over the “smear and fear” campaign waged by the Exclusive Brethren (a religious sect) and Tasmanians for a Better Future (a shill group for Tasmanian big business interests).
It gets better – media reports suggest one of the ringleaders of the hecklers was Michael Field, an ex-Premier of Tasmania. Nor were the Greens exactly house-trained with some forming a scrambling clot behind whoever was speaking so as to brandish bright, triangular “Greens” signs for the benefit of the cameras.
It made for good (if somewhat appalling) television. Little Mr Square Eyes hasn’t seen anything like it since a wine tasting session in Stanthorpe, Queensland some years ago.
Tags: Tasmania, Tasmanian election
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
On merely technical grounds, there are a few contenders. ALP candidate Judy Collins is running with the slogan: “Julie Collins Can” — i.e. “Who can make a real difference for Denison? Julie Collins can. Who can really get things done? Julie Collins can” (at which point you find yourself humming, “who can take a sunrise - sprinkle it with dew - cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two”).
Apart from sounding like a Sammy Davis Jr song, it seems one thing Julie can’t do is organise a piece to camera with acceptable sound quality and lip sync. At the end of the commercial the location V/O has been replaced with a studio grab that gives the impression she's talking into a plastic bucket. She’s not Robinson Crusoe in this regard.
One of the sitting members for Denison, David Bartlett (ALP), who incidentally has the sort of voice that sounds like someone dropped a chainsaw into a drum of petroleum jelly, also has a brief lip sync problem in his campaign tvc.
Nor are technical glitches confined to the Australian Labor Party. The Tasmanian Greens produced a campaign address with such cack-handed editing it made Peg Putt look as though she was the featured suspect on one of those “true crime” programmes the Nine network buys in job lots. Of the Mutt & Jeff double act Rene Hiddings and Will Hodgman (Liberal) perpetrated on the public in the guise of a health policy announcement I will not speak.
At the other end of the scale Lara Giddings (ALP) has the usual montage of smiling pollie with happy punter shots, complete with a vapid "I love Tassie" voice-over and, right at the end, a full screen super dominated by the word LARA. Admittedly there's no soft focus but Larsy obviously has a healthy regard for her own telegenic qualities.
It's a similar story with Elise Archer (Lib). Little Mr Square Eyes can't recall any of her policies and the only thing he took away from her tvc is the vague feeling she should ease up on the gym workouts and eat a sandwich or two.
Earlier today on local ABC radio, Little Mr Square Eyes caught the last part of an interview with Jason Bainbridge, a lecturer in journalism and media studies. Regarding effective election advertising, Bainbridge offered the idea that those campaign commercials showing the candidate out and about, talking to people and doing something in the electorate were doing a good job of identifying with local voters.
Apparently, the sheer magic of seeing your neighbourhood used as a backdrop for a tvc is supposed to win your tick in the polling booth. There’s nothing like considered analysis of the media during an election — and this was nothing like it — roll on Saturday 18th March.
Tags: Tasmania, Tasmanian election, David Barlett
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
A steady stream of tributes have since flowed on to the interwebs — including the whiskery old joke about Hugh Hefner, Dennis Weaver and Mick Jagger — but certain scenes and lines percolate through LMSE’s memory and demand an airing.
After leaving The Andy Griffith Show, Don Knotts started working under contract for Universal Pictures. The Ghost and Mr Chicken (1966), produced in just 17 days, was the first and funniest film he made under this arrangement.
Mild-mannered typesetter Luther Heggs, attempting to break into the newsroom of the Rachel Courier Express, stays overnight in the deserted Simmons place where 20 years before a murder had been committed. Indelible evidence of the crime remains on the blood-stained keys of an ancient pipe organ (“and they used Bon Ami!”).
Despite a woeful inability to deliver an orginal joke (“The electrician must be a Democrat”) Luther solves the crime and wins the girl (“Atta boy Luther!”). Confused? Watch the DVD and discover a time when B-grade movies were made with some thought and a finely-tuned cornball aesthetic rather than an FX budget.
Darren McGavin began working in movies at the end of WWII but is best remembered for his television roles in Mike Hammer (1956-59) and Riverboat (1959 -1961) along side a young Burt Reynolds. McGavin was a guest star in countless television shows and won an Emmy playing Candace Bergman’s father in Murphy Brown however, for Little Mr Square Eyes, it was Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) that defined his career.
Lasting but a single season (it did better than the ’05 re-make that tanked after nine episodes) Night Stalker’s lasting achievement was scaring the living shit out of small children around the world throughout the seventies. From a distance of 30 years it’s surprisingly easy to recall the mixture of anticipation and anxiety accompanying the start of each episode.
Breezy opening music ushers reporter Carl Kolchak into a darkened newspaper office, then abruptly gives way to some brutal cello work as he starts typing. The word VICTIM is typed out in extreme close-up and then fragments of two lines “— the river. He came at me —“ and finally “— kind of monster”. It finished with a freeze frame of Kolchak’s eyes as he spun round to see whether there was a seven-foot ghoul snuffling up behind him or just Miss Emily checking if he wanted a cup of camomile tea.
Next came a Chandleresque monologue to set the scene and some wonky special effects, all tied together by the grouchy, rumpled relentlessness McGavin brought to the role. Add to this the series helped inspired Chris Carter, creator of the X-files, plus kicked off the career of David Chase, head honcho of The Sopranos and Kolchak: The Night Stalker is rightly a cult favourite.
If you haven’t seen the episode where Kolchak is skittishly sewing up a zombie’s lips when its eyes suddenly open, or you aren’t even a little uneasy when somebody warns “Peremalfait’s gonna get ya”, it’s time to head back to the DVD store (and maybe pick up a bayou gum wood spear while you’re at it).
Dennis Weaver was an actor who also rode the first big wave of international television celebrity with three notable roles during the 50s, 60s and 70s — Gunsmoke (1955 – 1964), Gentle Ben (1967 – 69) and McCloud (1970 – 77), as well as starring in the made for television movie Duel (1971) which marked Steven Spielberg’s feature-length directorial debut.
Using the tried and true ‘fish out of water’ convention McCloud was built around the idea of a Deputy Marshall from New Mexico seconded to the New York Police Department to learn the ways of big city policing. Inevitably McCloud ignored these ‘slicker techniques in favour of more down home methods that always proved more efficient – much to the chagrin of his boss who (you guessed it) wasn’t supposed to like him but deep down really did.
Relying only on the shifting sands of childhood memories I have a strong impression McCloud was partially played for laughs but nothing will erase the excitement of seeing Weaver in one episode ride a horse through the streets of Sydney and across the Harbour Bridge, just a few months after LMSE and his family had visited the city for a holiday. The big, wide world suddenly seemed a little closer that night and really, can you ask any more of television?
Special thanks to Mike Winkel creator of the "Fiction and Reality: The Kolchak Papers" website for additional information on the Night Stalker series.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
When Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer, the richest man in Australia (and owner of the National Nine television network and Australian Consolidated Press) falls off the twig, you can’t help but dredge up a line or two from Wells' quote-packed 1941 epic. The Packer send–off (parts one and two) also capped off a big viewing fortnight that included the final episodes of RAN (Remote Area Nurse) and Carnivale, as well as the welcome news a remake of Monkey was on the way.
Based on the work of Wu Cheng’en, a 16th century writer who transcribed and embroidered from a much older, oral tradition, Monkey (or Journey to the West) is equal parts Grail quest, folk tale and Jackie Chan actioner. Little Mr Square Eyes recalls Arthur Waley’s translation, the best-known English version of this Chinese classic, has the habit of sometimes finishing an episode with a three-word wrap (or rap perhaps) of the main character – e.g. wise old Monkey!
Packer apparently used the same trick – when asked for a comment on Frank, his brutal, bullying father, Packer offered “strict but magnificent”. Given what Packer really thought of his dad, the word 'arsehole' probably should have been in there. Given what some people thought of Kerry, it might also have popped up in one of the tribute shows the Nine Network screened. Given the amount of financial muscle and influence the Packer family hass, it’s not surprising it didn’t.
So much for the givens - neither highly polished Citizen Kane style dialogue, nor Eastern aphorisms got much of a look in during the three hours it took to farewell Kerry Packer via the medium he made so much money from. It started well enough with part one, the John Lyons produced special The Big Fella: The Extraordinary Life of Kerry Packer. Despite his faults as a journalist (the main one being an eye for detail so selective it could have belonged to Picasso) Lyons makes highly watchable television – although we seem to disagree about the meaning of extraordinary.
Using a bevy of sportsmen, politicians and media folk the content was massaged into a reasonable bio without commercials breaking the flow. The vision was what you’d expect – young Kerry with freckles, Kerry in a silly hat, Kerry on the back of a tiny, somewhat stressed polo pony that was attempting to gallop – all intercut with relevant interviews (i.e. relevant to portraying Packer as a terrific, knockabout bloke who just happened to be worth $7 billion dollars or so).
Some magic moments did arise but you had to look carefully: Jack Nicklaus offering his expert opinion - on cricket, Greg Norman not talking exclusively about himself during an interview, James Packer hinting Kerry was a civil libertarian. Next, they wheeled in that other wealthy transplant survivor Sam Chisholm, to give the tributes that had been piled on the televisual burial mound a final polish.
Chisholm noted towards the end it was clear Packer’s days were numbered but added, “you can’t just say, that’s that, goodbye”. Which might have explain why less than 24 hours later Nine broadcast Kerry Packer’s state memorial service from the Sydney Opera House.
Whether Packer deserved what amounted to a state funeral has been hotly debated but it does seem there should be some distinction between those who have done great service and those who were great at making money. It’s a useful talent right enough but those in the latter category usually have more than enough eager cup bearers left behind to see them right at stumps.
Master of Ceremonies Alan Jones opened the batting by welcoming the audience and immediately started referring to Kerry Packer as KP – which had the unintended effect of recalling some old McHale’s Navy slang for ‘kitchen patrol’. Jones, sometimes affectionately known as AJ (to those with strong stomachs and no higher brain function), was flanked by a large video image of Packer in a white panama style hat looking rather like an elderly Marlon Brandon revisiting Mistah Kurtz.
At this point, AJ in his role as MC, smiled wetly at KP’s trampoline-sized mugshot and welcomed the PM to the podium. Much has been made of John Winston Howard’s ability to dodge responsibility, politicise the public service, appeal to the electorate’s baser instincts by skilfully employing wedge politics, all while presenting himself as a great economic reformer but, as always, the truth is a stranger beast.
“I had,” said Howard recalling the final time he met Packer, “my last, late, face to face, one on one, meeting, discussion, lunch with Kerry Packer”. It seemed that the condolences of a nation was being delivered by a Kath and Kim aficionado with grooming tips from Kel thrown in for good measure. Then it started in earnest, a small torrent of words including genius, larrikin, sentimental bloke and “a remarkable Australian” who had enriched “the Australian argot.” Well, Packer did use the word ‘fuck’ a great deal.
In contrast, James Packer spoke with a certain amount of style, dignity and the obligatory Packer sledge at old enemies (‘the Costigan affair’ he referred to was actually a royal commission). Whether this was a clear sign of a son masterfully stepping into his father’s shoes, the side effect of having a battalion of wordsmiths on hand to help write the eulogy or the direct result of being an Operating Thetan depended on how sceptical you were.
What more needed to be said? Unfortunately, it turned out the question was not rhetorical and the answer was (i) a small schoolboy murdering Waltzing Matilda and (ii) Russel Crowe reciting Rudyard Kipling’s If with all the vivacity of a mechanical hippo at Disneyland.
Cue more over the top eulogies and Kenny Rogers singing The Gambler. It was one bit of tacky television you couldn’t blame on KP – he had been buried weeks before (possibly on the QT) and was tucked away peacefully in the grounds of his New South Wales country property – lucky old KP!
PS See Anonymous Lefty for a slightly more robust view of the Packer passing.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Same as you with Carnivale. I strongly suspect it's really a crock, but by golly, it's an enjoyable one. I noticed they set up another series at the end of the one that just finished. BTW, the show replacing it on Sunday looks like an entirely different kind of fun.Coincidentally I was thinking of further exploring the strange attraction Carnivale exerts (perhaps after I’ve banged out something on the Kerry Packer send-off/carnival). The last episode certainly hinted at a third series but apparently it’s not going to happen. This from the HBO website:
“After a two-season (24 episode) run, HBO has decided not to renew its Emmy-winning Depression-era drama, Carnivale . As Carolyn Strauss said, "We have decided not to renew Carnivale. We feel the two seasons we had on the air told the story very well and we're proud of what everyone associated with the show has accomplished."The news has galvanised American fans – see savecarnivale.org – but with the creator and writer of the series heading off to Marvel to write Ironman comics it looks like the tents have been packed for the last time and the show has folded. As for the replacement show Poirot …. w-e-e-l-l-l ... (said with a Elizabeth Montgomery/Samantha Stephens drawl)… there’s a good chance I might be renting a DVD that night but granted it is classic ABC programming so it should work well in the time slot.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Furthermore, even if he was not employed by a national television program as one of its key hosts, the one-time reader feels it is highly doubtful Jacobs would attempt to retain a tenuous link with the industry by producing an anonymous, spiteful and sloppily written blog. Little Mr Square Eyes accepts the truth of much of this and apologises for describing Jacobs in the way he did. Clearly, Steve Jacobs is a professional or full-time dickface. Once again, LMSE apologises for any confusion.
Friday, February 03, 2006
“If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, what does the nutritional information panel for Australian breakfast television read like?”
Tuning into JR’s first day was a viewing experience in two parts. On the Today show, Sharyn Ghidella was a vision in pink framed by a textured beige background. A quick switch to Sunrise revealed Simon Reeve doing something similar but with less pink and professional verve.
The sports boys followed, Mark Beretta and Cameron Williams respectively. Both were jokey, blokey and read the sports wrap with a certain amount of clarity – though I’d take bets Williams has a deep, ongoing fascination for any shiny surface that catches his reflection.
Weather was next with Grant Denyer ("our favourite weather guy" said David Koch, weirdly hinting at the possibility there might be a couple of Mk II Denyer’s, with the batteries pulled out, sitting in the Seven props bay on standby) who did the usual forecast ‘n fun location thing. Over on Nine, Today, mindful of its tradition of sticking poseurs in the weather slot (do the names Monty and Sami ring any bells?) threw to persistent dickface Steve Jacobs, who proved All Together Now was not a career aberration.
Then came the woman of the moment, ensconced in a new, four-seater, desk set, Jessica was reputedly wooed over to Nine with a $500,000 salary. “Stay with us,” she enthused, “the fun continues when we return.” And you could tell she really was having fun because she was smiling winningly as though… well, as though she was being paid huge amounts of money just to turn up.
Back on Sunrise, Mel and Kochie defused the new Today desk by sitting in lounge chairs in a shade of purple you normally associate with heavy bruising. A stab of a button saw Richard Wilkins conducting an interview with Paul McCartney promoting his latest album.
McCartney, showing no ill effects from four decades of public adulation, explained, with mock distress, how one of his inner circle of adulators had suggested filming him during the song writing process. “Like footage of Picasso painting,” mused the ex-Beatle straight-faced, as my hand closed around the remote in a spasm of uninterestedness.
Nor was there any relief on Sunrise where the top part of Jonathan Coleman’s chins (the bit with eyes and hair) were interviewing Rowan Atkinson, who was threatening to make another Johnny English movie. It was left to Mel to take us to the commercial break with the question – “Can thin catwalk models send a positive message to young girls?”
Surfing back to WIN it seemed Today had already beaten Mel to the punch by surrounding a rake thin catwalk model with food (hang on -- it’s just Jessica hosting a cooking segment). By now JR’s permanent smile and bonhomie had taken on a slightly animatronic quality that even Karl Stefanovic couldn’t match.
Disaster struck when Today’s resident chef, Luke Mangan, fed Jessica a strawberry. The unscripted fruit pulp clearly shorted out some microcircuitry and JR’s voice chip started looping: “Bert Newton – he’s my friend!” Swiftly followed by “I can’t wait to have a chat with my friend!”
“Nothing to add there,” chirped Jacobs from the sidelines -- the luckiest man to have a job on Australian television speaking with far more perspicuity than you would normally expect.
When Bert did pop up it took three people to interview him. Richard, Karl and Jessica (he’s my friend!) lined up to puppy lick the old trouper, who returned the avalanche of compliments, praised JR like a heathen who’s found religion and even found time to be mildly entertaining. Little Mr Square Eyes imagines Newton, after five decades in the business, has seen a platoon of Jessica Rowes come and go and knows on which side the Network Nine bread is buttered.
“Hey Bert! What do you think about the new logo?” piped up Karl, a little like Chester, the Warner Bros cartoon dog. “Terrific – best thing they’ve every done,” shot back Newton, adding, “I’ve just started working here – what did you think I was going to say?”
“That question brought to you by the Nine publicity department,” said Karl showing that even when putting your foot in your mouth, the most important thing in comedy is...
And so it went on. Until finally, 9am rolled around and what seemed to be the complete stock of a small florist’s kiosk was lobbed in JR’s direction. The smile grew wider, as though invisible fishhooks were lodged either side of her mouth, the platitudes from Dick and Karl more effusive and someone in the control room cued up a grab from a Bernard Fanning song.
I just want to wish you well
I just want to wish you well
Why did you give up on me so soon? is another line from the song and according to Marcus Casey of the Daily Telegraph that’s exactly what many viewers did:
THE showdown between revamped Today and breakfast TV dominator Sunrise fizzled on the first outing on Monday.Breakfast Television Nutritional Information: Small amounts of fibre, cloying levels of sugar(coating) and too much fat(-headedness). Watch in moderation and only while you're doing something else.
Despite weeks of publicity and on-air promotion for new Today host Jessica Rowe, the vast majority of the five-capital city audience tuned into Sunrise.
It was Monday's 28th most popular show, with an average of 408,000 five-capital viewers from 6am to 9am, while Today was 60th with 246,000 - 46,000 above its average this year.
But it was much tighter in Rowe's hometown of Sydney where she enjoyed a summer of attention when Ten took her to court in a failed bid to stop her moving to Nine.
Today had 81,000 Sydneysiders watching to Sunrise's 104,000 - a promising figure for Nine.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
“Acting Nine chief executive Sam Chisholm had been a driving force behind the new changes, bringing in former colleague Bruce Dunlop to work on a new logo last year.”i.e. we’re dropping the balls.
“In a "back to the future" move, chief executive Sam Chisholm called in Mr Dunlop last May - soon after his own appointment - to start work on freshening up the image of the broadcaster.”i.e. nothing really new you understand, we’re just dropping those balls.
“Jens Hertzum, creative directive at BDA, said yesterday that the object had been to streamline the Nine brand. But he was not in a position to say how much the campaign cost.”i.e. we’re dropping the balls (it'll cost a motzah).
“Nine's new simplified logo, which dispenses with the familiar nine balls or dots - a feature from as far back as 1974.”i.e. in case you haven’t heard we’re dropping the balls.
And then there’s this report on the “new look” Wheel of Fortune (hosted by Larry Emdur, one of network television’s premier meat puppets) carrying the fantastical news that:
“Emdur will be joined by The Great Outdoors presenter Laura Csortan when the show hits Channel Seven's screens at 5pm with a fresh new look. Unlike in the past, Csortan will have a microphone on at all times making her an integral part of the show.”And you thought she was just there to show off prizes, wear designer duds and look good. What can Little Mr Square Eyes add except "Balls!"
Friday, January 27, 2006
Paul Riesner is back.
Finally, the Herald Sun carried a report claiming Greg Domaszewicz was one of the first to be approached by Granada Productions to appear in an Australian version of the British series, I'm a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here. Full story here but I’m not sure for how long.
Little Mr Square Eyes is attempting to contact the Australian arm of Granada Productions to confirm these details.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Huh-Hrnn! – Thwock!
Ahh-Eeeh! – Bok!
Huh-Hrnn! – Thwock!
So it went for three sets -- and, with the contest between Tszvetana Pironkova and Venus Williams sounding more like SFX for a “Xena versus She-Ra” adult entertainment video, it was clear that Summer (or Seven’s Summer of Sport as it was once referred to) was here in all its sweaty splendour.
As with other seasons, the Summer of Sport encompasses change and renewal. The laid-back Hopman Cup gives way to the Australian Open, one-day internationals replace test cricket and the commentary teams continue to throw out the banal and fluffy.
“Some pretty bad things have happened there,” observed Mark Nicholas sagely, by way of explaining the form of a Sri Lankan player during a one dayer against Australia. You had to wonder what tipped Nicholas off -- the tsunami or the generation-long civil war.
Meanwhile back at the tennis Allan Stone and John Alexander were musing on what the tournament promised for the locals. “Shortly, the great man begins his Australian Open Campaign,” intoned Stoney employing the sort of overstatement normally reserved for advertising dietary fibre products. “Something magical happens when Leyton Hewitt walks onto centre court at the Australian Open.”
Well, yes -- usually he fails to make it past the quarterfinals. Given the artistic media milking of the fairytale wedding, new fatherhood and a seeming inability to finish off lesser players in a timely fashion Hewitt probably doesn’t need any help from Stone and JA to ‘build the drama’.
A flick across to SBS revealed another short great man had already started his campaign. “Eat is sew beautyfool et the sturt”, noted Christian Clavier playing Napoleon at the beginning of a battle, just before ordering his troops into a cannonade. Made in 2002, Napoleon the mini-series combined gorgeous locations, an international cast -- including Isabella Rossellini, Gerard Depardieu and John Malkovich -- and English dialogue for Clavier to lathe with Gallic élan.
In between the carnage (and John Malkovich moping in the background) a Polish princess pleaded with Napoleon to mend her broken country. What are the people like, countered the wily Corsican looking up into her eyes. The princess then offered herself as a representative of Poland. “Shee must bee a fantas-teak leetle countree,” murmured the compact conqueror, his words and eyes falling level with her upper works.
Not so 'beautyfool 'is Growing Up Gotti (ABC) the latest fly-on-the-wall, putative reality show to hoist itself onto the increasingly teetering bandwagon set in motion by Sharon Osborne a few years back. Please note, the name Gotti in this case is pronounced with an ‘r’ between the G and the o.
The only amusement Little Mr Square Eyes squeezed from the program was when he absent-mindedly switched over to a Today Tonight story on a botched facelift a woman underwent in Thailand. Clicking back to GUG, Victoria Gotti’s scarified visage suddenly made sense.
Perhaps Vicky should sic Crane Poole & Schmidt onto her plastic surgeon. Boston Legal (Southern Cross), a spin-off from The Practice (remember Bobby Shouter, Catholic Jimmy and Helen ‘Skeletor’ Gamble?) is credited with refloating William Shatner into prime time, giving him a chance to chew the scenery, ogle woman and mow and glower at male cast members. In other words, act pretty much like Bill Shatner in any lead role.
Brief, Aretha Franklin-style riffs divide the scenes and break up the bon motts. Any appreciation of the show depends on just how much you enjoy David E. Kelly’s addiction to, and deployment of, inexorable quirkiness. Not that it isn’t fun -- “My ass may lie,” declaims Shatner quietly, in the manner of George Patton addressing the Seventh Army, “but it’s all muscle.”
The same could be said of the second series of Carnivale (ABC) that has re-established itself as the Sunday night event around which all other social activities revolve. If unavoidably dragged away from hearth and telly, the VCR programming is checked and doubled checked to make sure nothing is missed. Little Mr Square Eyes hasn’t been this smitten since the he first spotted Lee Majors performing a bicep curl with an engine block as The Six Million Dollar Man back in the seventies.
Now that’s something magical.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Minutes later for no apparent reason Geoff announced brightly, “coochindard looking very happy”, while the screen showed a pair of dour, middle-aged men sporting the sort of poker faces that suggested one of them had farted and was refusing to own up. Exactly who was Dutch player Michaella Krajicek’s coach and who was her father seemed inconsequential by this stage.
The ABC’s coverage of the Hoppy had everything you could wish for -- tangential observations, a smattering of tennis and astonishing outfits (this last was provided by Krajicek rather than the commentary team). She sported a pale, cobalt pantsuit so retro it seemed that earlier in the day she had hurriedly dressed in a pitch black room, relying solely on a wardrobe selected by Shaggy or Thelma, or possibly even Scooby.
Earlier during the week on WIN, Ricky Ponting was grinding out a double century, breaking batting records and steering Australia to an unlikely win over the Proteas. Up in the commentary box Tony Greig was grinding out diphthongs, Mark Taylor was proving why he’s the scintillating public face of Fujitsu air-conditioners and Richie Benaud quietly continued a conversation he’s been conducting with the Australian public for over 40 years. Benaud’s languid commentary had the added bonus of being intelligible.
Southern Cross responded by running some old Elvis flicks, thus posing the intriguing philosophical question -- which are the more irritating -- cricket tragics or Elvis fans? Quality is rarely an issue when dealing with the King’s oeuvre so pinpointing which movie sucked the most is difficult (particularly since I only saw the last few minutes of Paradise Hawaiian Style).
Mind you, the image of Elvis warbling across a sea of swaying, grass-skirted Hawaiians, while the following acknowledgement appeared: "Our gratitude to the peoples of the Pacific at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Laie, Oahu, Hawaii" did make an impression, particularly as the PCC was (and still is) a theme park operated by the Mormons.
Four and a half hours later and with four decades separating the production dates, RAN (SBS), navigated through slightly more complex ethnographic waters with aplomb. In terms of current Australian television drama, it contained a number of surprises.
Firstly, RAN appears to have been written by adults for an adult audience (and if you don’t think this is unusual I can only suggest you sit through an entire episode of McLeod's Daughters). Secondly, while set within an indigenous community in the Torres Strait, it managed to avoid the two fall back positions television often resorts to in this situation – either a gushy earnestness that kills real interest or convenient stereotypes, usually summed up by a grizzled old hand musing on the locals Weltanschauung via gimcrack mysticism.
Susie Porter, as remote area nurse Helen Tremain, injected the right mix of practicality, bedraggled patience and a wary curiosity -- a somewhat less vinegary version of Judy Davis. To begin with the script ran a little florid -- “This is my place: a teardrop of sand floating in Australia’s Coral Sea,” says Tremain in the opening internal monologue. “No one knows where it is and no one comes looking.”
But small, gritty pearls of realism steadied the ship -- cheeky little kids welcoming Tremain home by asking she was wearing any underpants -- the fey Myrtle refusing a foster mum for her unborn baby on the grounds she can’t sing a lullaby, “She sounds like a cat rooting.”
Another unexpected bonus was the excellent supporting cast combining professionals with local people from a variety of backgrounds. For example Louisa Taylor, who plays Myrtle, is a project officer on Thursday Island while Luke Carroll (Paul Gaibui) is perhaps best known for his recent work in The Alice.
RAN also introduces Australians to a part of their country most have never seen before and a people many of us are only aware of through the census form. For all this, it wore its responsibility lightly with veteran producer Penny Chapman (Brides of Christ, The Leaving of Liverpool, Blue Murder) concentrating on believable characters to hook in viewers.
As to the reason of featuring a nurse in the lead role -- instead of the usual doctor, Chapman sums it up succinctly: “Doctors stitch and bandage and then walk away. Nurses stay. Especially remote area nurses who devote their lives 24 hours a day to the community they work in and who front the crises on their own. No wonder they're the most respected people in our country.”
As long as they don’t ask for a wage rise in recognition of this service. Little Mr Square Eyes can only wonder if Premier Lennon will be tuning in to RAN. Speaking of appalling, moustachioed reactionaries, Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby (ABC) continues its scorched earth approach to comedy and the New Zealand education system.
Like RAN, Gormsby is another ground breaker -- the first Kiwi comedy to be shown on Australian free-to-air television -- although in comparison, its take on race relations and cross-cultural sensitivity makes Paradise Hawaiian Style look as though it was it was penned by Claude Levi-Strauss.
The show is achingly funny for reasons that must simply be filed under ‘wrong’ -- in the first episode a student does a chalkboard cartoon accompanied by the legend “Gormsby takes it up the arse”. To track down the guilty party Gormsby threatens a shy, clearly innocent pupil with an unusual punishment, or, as one of his classmates reports to the principal, “Mr Gormsby is trying to bum Bastabus!” When the true culprit is revealed the weeping, traumatised boy is gently sent on his way with, “Sit down, Bastabus. I wasn't going to roger you. This isn't a Catholic school.”
Thinking about it, Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby has something for everyone -- the left will see it as more evidence of a resurgent, culturally insensitive right (with all the attendant opportunities to whinge about it that this entails), while the right will enjoy its “defiantly politically incorrect stance, skewering the foibles of social engineering” (or some shit like that, but just how they’ll link this to the “majesty of the free market”, as they always do, is anyone’s guess).
The rest of us will have to be content with the news that a second series of the program is currently being shot in New Zealand. The one place it's unlikely Gormsby will lose his 'min-tell in-tent-city'.
Friday, January 06, 2006
All this changed when a brief glance at Thursday’s Mercury revealed WIN Television is scuttling its local 6pm news bulletin. The 30-minute local news service is being scrapped in favour of a composite bulletin of local, national and international news. The Mercury reported:
The station's network news director Allen Clark said the changes were in response to what viewers were saying.......Apart from the non sequitur (they’re counting A Current Affair as — well… how to put this delicately — a current affairs program) my first thought was why not just lose ACA and continue with the two bulletins or better yet combine them and trim a little of the padding such as repeating the weather.
He said it appeared Tasmanians were saying half an hour of local news followed by half an hour of national and international news and then half an hour of current affairs was too much.
So Little Mr Square Eyes emailed Allen Clark a couple of questions and to my surprise and his credit, Clark answered promptly:
LMSEFair enough, rightly or wrongly commercial television lives and breathes ratings. As to the validity of the rest of the argument, Little Mr Square Eyes recalls as a beardless brat he would often try and pressure his long-suffering mother into agreeing to some particularly stupid activity by whining but all the other kids are doing it. And, as always, Mum would deadpan back, if they stuck their hands in a fire I suppose you’d do it too.
You're quoted in the Mercury story as saying: "It's quite clear to us there isn't in Tasmania a market or expectation for an hour and a half of news and current affairs.” Given this is the case couldn't WIN drop A Current Affair from its schedule rather than the local news bulletin? If not what are the reasons that this is not a viable alternative?
The ratings figures clearly demonstrate that an hour and a half of news and current affairs isn't what Tasmanians want. You prefer a half hour bulletin of State, national and international news followed by half an hour of current affairs, which is what SX and ABC both provide, and we're recognising that preference.
LMSEThis was interesting because the Mercury story didn’t specifically mention the changes were instigated by WIN Tasmania management. After paraphrasing state manager Greg Rayment at the start of the article, Clark was quoted a number of times, which gave me impression the orders were coming direct from WIN’s Wollongong death star.
From what I understand, in the other states, WIN runs a local news bulletin followed by a feed of nine's network news from the relevant cap city. Will these other WIN stations also eventually start running a composite service or is this move restricted to Tasmania?
The format change is driven by WIN Television's Tasmanian management to meet identified Tasmanian needs so no to your first point, yes to the second.
LMSEI thought the question was predicated on the idea that a better news service isn’t usually delivered by cutting available airtime. The idea something is improved because it gives folk what they want can only be taken so far. Keep in mind high-powered rifles, crack cocaine and the Black Eyed Peas are all very desirable to some people but that doesn’t make them better.
Finally, you're quoted in the Mercury as saying: "We're confident we'll be able to provide a very much stronger and better service by putting all our resources into one bulletin." Given that WIN is significantly reducing the amount of airtime that can be devoted to local news (and staff levels) is it possible for WIN Tasmania to provide a better service? And if so in what ways?
Your question is predicated on the assumption that better equals more; clearly the Tasmanian TV audience doesn't agree. The new format is better and stronger because it satisfies Tasmanians' preference for an hour of news and current affairs.
At this point, I emailed Allen with a supplementary question. Had WIN commissioned any market research, apart from ratings figures, that had sparked these changes? He rang back and, alluding to commercial in confidence matters, declined to comment further.
Naturally, I assumed this meant they hadn’t. For what it’s worth Little Mister Square Eyes believes that a dedicated local news service is important – as does the WIN Television website:
“Australia's largest regional broadcaster produces 21 half-hour local news bulletins across regional Australia… WIN believes local news is the cornerstone of being a part of the communities the WIN Network broadcasts to…..it is an important part of our strategy to ensure that our viewers receive the most comprehensive local news picture every weeknight."Unless, it seems, the ratings aren’t healthy enough. Somebody should change that to "20 half-hour local news bulletins".
Footnote (20/01/06). Since writing this column WIN Television have altered their website and there is now no mention of a commitment to local news.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
It’s difficult to accurately describe the erratic nature of Southern Cross Tasmania’s programming style**. Suffice to say, even armed with an up-to-date, dead tree television guide, surfing over to SX usually means at least one surprise (nasty or otherwise).
Haphazard scheduling aside, the return of Buffy gives me the chance to point out an amusing article on the future of TV by the program’s creator, Joss Whedon. Below are snippets. For the whole thing point your browser here.
Many people have asked me, "Joss, what is the future of television? What will we watch? And how will we watch it? Surely you must know, for you are wise, and slender."Whedon apparently spent some of his formative years in the UK, which explains the little cross-cultural flourishes both Buffy and Angel exhibited. He’s also one of the few people to take a middling film and spin it into a great TV series — the Buffy movie was released in 1992 and featured Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry, Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), Hilary Swank and David Arquette.
The networks will all be creating exciting, innovative new spin-offs of today's shows. Approximately 67 percent of all television will be CSI-based….
… we'll see advances in technology….. But don't listen to the talk about having shows beamed directly into your brain. That's science-fiction nonsense. Shows will be stored in the pancreas and will enter the brain through the bloodstream after being downloaded into your iHole.
And what of me? My short-lived series Firefly was the basis for the epic action film Serenity (now available on DVD! I have little or no shame) … the future will see even more incarnations of this visionary work…. I promise it'll be as heartwarming and exciting as the original Serenity, now available on DVD. (Explain again this thing you call shame....)
As he alludes to in the article, when he attempted a reverse ferret with Firefly/Serenity the manoeuvre was less successful. Nevertheless, Whedon makes highly entertaining television so more power to his arm
**Although if I did, the description would probably contain the phrase “the visual equivalent of coitus interruptus".
Monday, January 02, 2006
And really, is there anything more sad arse than seeing in the New Year via the flickering blue glow of the telly? (well yes, that would be writing about it the following day but I digress). Various kitchen duties, including the frenzied preparation of a beurre blanc sauce meant the set wasn’t switched on until Elton was well into his second wig change for Elton John at Radio City (7:30pm ABC).
Pudgy, slightly puffy but ever the old pro, Reg — sporting an outfit so bright it threatened to interfere with microwave signal transmission — banged out his back catalogue, ably supported by a symphony orchestra and gospel choir. The highlight was Tiny Dancer and the opportunity it afforded to maliciously substitute lyrics:
Hold me closer, Tony Danza,Over on WIN (the Nine Network regional affiliate) Lorelai and Rory were engaging in the sort of relentlessly perky banter that helps make the Gilmore Girls one of the most annoying programs of the last decade. This theme continued when Richard Wilkins popped up to host the first part of Nine’s New Year’s Eve 2005. Dick, looking more like Dorian Gray as the new century progresses, was assisted by a trio of network personalities so lacking in talent that Little Mr Square Eyes started searching the crowd shots to see if Kerry Anne Kennerley was going to put in an appearance.
Judith Light never cut it any way…
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you'll marry a music man
‘lyssa-Milano, you must have seen her, nude shots on the sand…
A quick jump to Southern Cross (which in Tasmania broadcasts a weird mix of network Seven and Ten programs) plunged you into two hours of American national security wish fulfilment with NCIS (the swabbie/jarhead version of CSI) and Numb3rs (the Poindexter/ Professor Julius Sumner Miller version of CSI). After speculating on just how down on his luck Judd Hirsch must have been to appear in Numb3rs and singing another verse of “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” in honour of the Taxi connection it was back to Aunty for Long Way To The Top: Live in Concert.
The original LWTTT documentary series was a long overdue nod to local rockers and their determination to make music, score drugs and ensure that even someone as delusional and lumpen as Jim Keays could pull. Whether it was then such a good idea to get all the old belters together, load up the band bus with walking frames and oxygen cylinders and set off on a national concert tour is debatable.
Little Mr Square Eyes is probably just a bee’s dick outside the show's perquisite demographic and thus the emotional circumstances that allowed some members of the concert audience to applaud wildly at the sight of elderly, former rock stars strutting onto stage in leather pants. Even some of the acts that really had little to prove (and yes we’re talking about you, Brian Cadd) were infected by stage-light-swine-flu and butchered their own material with hammy, over the top performances (admittedly, Cadd was egged on by renowned serial camera hog Glenn Shorrock).
In between acts, and to soothe away any irritation, the repeat of Inspector Rex – The Early Days (9:00pm SBS) got a quick once over. You either get Rex’s shaggy charm or you don’t. Rice paper thin plots and acting so wooden you can almost see the grain are all part of the cheesy fun, and at least Rex doesn’t do reunion tours.
Back on Southern Cross, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo – A Salute to Australia (10:40pm), squealed into action. Shot in February 2005, this repeat was a clear indication from Southern Cross that when it comes to asking inane questions, keeping an eye on the big hand of the New Year's clock and remaining oddly unwrinkled around the eyes and mouth, Richard Wilkins could not be bested.
Little Mr Square Eyes’ long suffering co-viewer revealed the fake Edinburgh Castle used as the setting for the Sydney performance took 40 people four months to construct. Or was it four people 40 months?
The arithmetic seemed as impenetrable as the logic behind the notion that after transporting a 55-year military nostalgia-fest to the other side of the planet, it must have exactly the same friggin’ backdrop as all the others. Tony Squires and Anna Coren co-hosted this two and a half hour kilty knees-up, with Squires doing his usual boy-oh-boy patter.
Only a slight bugging of his eyes at crucial stages betrayed the inner struggle between Squires' mind and mouth. At one point, breezily introducing a contingent of Scandinavian cadets (The Norwegian Blues? Bjork Warriors?) the veil lifted and we got a glimpse of a man whose entire higher brain functions were on hold and silently screaming the question, “What the fuck are we doing here?”
Meanwhile Anna — another of those talented creatures who can look good, smile at the camera and read an autocue, which the television industry seems to unearth regularly — demonstrated all three of her skills, at one stage, simultaneously.
Towards the end (of my patience, not the show) the CEO or perhaps OIC of the Tattoo appeared and drawled something about tradition, duty and pride, while in the background the sound of tartan bladders being prodded and pipes being fondled gathered strength ominously. A quick stab of a button and a mumbled “good luck champ” under my breath for Tony Squires took us back to WIN.
Richard Wilkins, possibly in preparation for the countdown, did a visual gag to indicate Leo Sayer is very, very short, not as good looking as Richard, yet inexplicably more famous. The New Year was almost here but would anything change? Somehow it didn't seem likely