Friday, April 14, 2006

Hair Mitts & Moments

“…television ratings information is the currency by which television is bought, sold and evaluated.”
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...


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

A Tasmanian iPod

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