Saturday, February 25, 2006

That’s that, goodbye

“Then last week, as it must to all men, death came to Charles Foster Kane”

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.

Tags: Australian Television,

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Now the carnivale is over...

An email from Mez:
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 – 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

Little Mr Square Eyes Apologises

A reader has complained about Little Mr Square Eyes describing Today show weather presenter Steve Jacobs as a 'persistent dickface'. The reader ("my first and last time") points out Jacobs has worked in the media industry for nigh on 20 years as a presenter, actor, and radio announcer.

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.

Tags: , Today Show, Tasmania

Friday, February 03, 2006

My Favourite Blonde (Android)

The news Jessica Rowe -- Network ten’s erstwhile favourite blonde android -- was finally set to make her debut on Nine’s Today Show prompted Little Mr Square Eyes to ask (all Carrie Bradshaw-like but nowhere near as winsome):

“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.

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.

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.

Tags: Tasmania, Australian Television, , Today Show, Sunrise,