Open Mic

August 2011

MTV's No-Host Video Music Awards: Much More to Go Gaga About Than Just Beyonce's Baby News

Hillary Atkin Posted August 31, 2011 at 9:01 AM

MTV’s Video Music Awards are known for generating zeitgeist pop culture moments -- like Kanye West's infamous onstage interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech in 2009 -- and this year's edition was no exception.

The buzziest moment -- which generated a record number of tweets, measured by Twitter at 8,868 per second -- was pop singer Beyonce's big pregnancy reveal, unbuttoning her purple sequined jacket and rubbing her tummy at the end of her performance.

Despite coping with Hurricane Irene on the East Coast, ratings were record-breaking with 12.4 million viewers, making it MTV's most watched telecast ever, according to the Nielsen Co., up 9% over last year's show.

But what this show really lacked was a host to stitch together some of its big and unexpected moments, like Chris Brown's Cirque du Soleil-esque performance, Britney Spears almost kissing in-drag Lady Gaga or Katy Perry's peculiar cheesehead ornament.

The show started off with a bizarre monologue by Gaga as her male alter ego, a chain-smoking Jo Calderone, with slicked-back Jersey pompadour hair. It was hard to tell which direction that was going, making for a rocky opening. But props to Lady G for remaining in character all night without resorting to the insanely over-the-top get-ups she usually sports. Meat dress, anyone? Not this time, although Perry took up the slack by doing four costume changes.

Little-known actor/comedian Kevin Hart followed Calderone/Gaga at the top and, during a not-very-funny monologue, continually made references to the fact that he wasn't hosting, but if he did, he would say whatever he was saying differently. That went over like a lead balloon.

It soon became apparent that there would indeed be no host after all, as MTV had signaled a few days before the show. The decision marked a departure from years past, when personalities from Chris Rock -- who was absolutely hysterical multiple times -- to Jimmy Fallon, Dennis Miller, Ben Stiller, Jamie Foxx, Shawn and Marlon Wayans and, last year, Chelsea Handler handled the MC duties.

But having a host-less show was not unprecedented. The VMAs, which date back to 1984 with inaugural hosts Bette Midler and Dan Aykroyd, also went rudderless in 2004 and 2007.

With this year's material including tributes to the recently departed Amy Winehouse and honoring Britney Spears with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, the guiding hand of a host would've been appreciated. Not to mention laughs that might have ensued at appropriate moments.

Russell Brand, who received widespread exposure in the United States when he hosted the VMAs in 2008 as a little-known comic and actor, and was brought back in 2009 to further acclaim, was obviously available.

As the high-profile husband of multiple nominee Perry and called upon to begin the Winehouse tribute with his reminiscences of her in London -- about which he had written -- Brand seemed to rush through the rather poignant material, perhaps miffed that he didn't get the hosting gig -- or given a cue that the show was running long.

Still, it lurched along and provided other hot-button moments: Chris Brown's aerial moves along with other performers during a medley of songs that unexpectedly included Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." West and Jay-Z taking the stage to perform. Adele’s emotional rendition of a song that wasn't the lauded "Rolling in the Deep." Young the Giant’s debut VMA appearance with a mosh pit crowd of fans from the band’s California hometown. Best new artist recipient Tyler the Creator giving an expletive-filled acceptance speech geared toward kids. Gaga’s performance of "You and I," for which she was joined by Queen guitarist Brian May.

In the end, it was the announcement of Bey’s bey-by that will be remembered. Yes, that unborn offspring of musical royalty was, to coin a Gaga phrase, born this way.

The 'Baddest Show in Late-Night' Is No More -- and TBS May Have to Face the Consequences

Hillary Atkin Posted August 12, 2011 at 12:06 PM

The “baddest show in late-night,” as host George Lopez called it, is now relegated to the history books -- and if there is such a thing, the television business etiquette books, under the chapter of “How Not to Fire Your Cast and Crew.”

Could there have been any less respectful way for TBS to have made a major schedule change than by unceremoniously dumping George Lopez from his late-night perch with scarcely 36 hours’ notice?

Last night’s was the final episode of "Lopez Tonight" after two seasons on the cable network, per an abrupt announcement on Wednesday.

The comedian, who hit the airwaves at 11 p.m. his first year, graciously moved back to midnight to make way for Conan O'Brien after O’Brien was booted from NBC's "The Tonight Show" -- with a lot more notice, and a nearly global media frenzy.

The two late-night hosts made a big play of working together during TBS’s upfront presentation to advertisers and industry executives this past May in New York.

Lopez, well-known for his ethnic humor -- and often derided for it -- termed them "Coco and Loco.”

TBS topper Steve Koonin was quoted as saying the cancellation was a business problem and that "Lopez Tonight" was an expensive show to sustain as it lost ratings, which was the ostensible reason for the booting.

Still, it's highly unusual -- not to mention disrespectful and unprofessional -- that there would be so little notice given. It's not just that Lopez is losing his gig, but so are large numbers of staff members who work on the show, including musical director Michael Bearden and the house band, the Ese Vatos.

The network’s sparse statement distributed Wednesday morning read just this: “TBS has reached the difficult decision not to order a third season of ‘Lopez Tonight.’ Thursday will be the final episode of the show. We are proud to have partnered with George Lopez, who is an immensely talented comedian and entertainer. TBS has valued its partnership with George and appreciates all of his work on behalf of the network, both on and off the air.” It was attributed to simply “TBS Spokesperson,” who apparently has no name.

We haven't heard the last of this. Critics in certain corners will be calling out Atlanta-based TBS as racist and there could be breach of contract lawsuits.

In his monologue Wednesday night, Lopez himself predictably joked that his ethnicity was the reason for his firing.

"Big news!" he said. "Sony just announced they're doing a sequel to the Smurfs movie, so today I lost some work because I'm brown, but also I got some work because I'm blue."

But during his final outing on TBS last night, Lopez expressed no bitterness and was all about the love for his crew, his friends Eva Longoria, Slash, Arsenio Hall, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher -- all of whom appeared -- and his fans.

Of course, there was some humor about the firing, delivered in the guise of the character called Creepy Little White Girl, who delivered increasingly bad news: that Erik Estrada was being hired as the replacement, that there are not a lot of jobs for Latinos on TV, that a few of them involve whispering to dogs and that he was running out of show titles using his name.

“Thanks for reminding me,” said Lopez, as the band launched into a blistering rendition of Cee Lo Green’s “F--- You.”

At the very end, after ordering cameras to shoot the audience so everyone could see how inclusive it was, the host could be seen with tears in his eyes as he proclaimed “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Who is having the last laugh here? No one at “Conan” can be resting easy either, as its ratings have also taken a nosedive.

 

The Great Consumer Companies, When They Screw Up, Admit To Their Customers They've Done So. Does This Video Supplier Have the Guts to Say 'Mea Culpa' To Its 23 Million Subscribers?

Arthur Sando Posted August 8, 2011 at 1:32 AM

[Editor's Note: This commentary first appeared on Jeff Grimshaw's The TV News, which can be found at www.tvnews.com, and we appreciate Jeff letting us reprint it.]

It wasn’t so long ago that we were singing the praises of Netflix, calling them a game-changer for their foray into original programming and their exemplary customer service. It seemed to be a time when they couldn’t get out of the way of their own great publicity.

Well, that all changed in a hurry, when, without warning, Netflix announced a new pricing structure that represents a 60, that’s 6-zero, percent rate hike for customers who want to keep the same video-streaming and DVD-mailing service they already have. Reaction was predictably swift and fierce. Reports were that almost 5,000 customers posted negative comments on the Netflix blog the day of the announcement, and 20,000 more were posted on its Facebook page.

Some representative samples: “Great idea to kick people when their down.” “So much for customer statisfaction.” “Can you imagine how much champagne was flowing at the Redbox, Hulu and Amazon offices today?” Stephen Colbert tweeted his dissatisfaction, Jason Alexander posted a Funny or Die video entitled, “Help white people keep Netflix,” and, just this week, Dish Network told the LA Times that it now plans to become a Netflix rival.

Certainly, people understand that, if the economics are not working for Netflix, the Company has every right to make adjustments. Setting higher rates for new customers is not a problem. But a 60 percent rate hike for existing customers, with just six weeks notice, is asking for trouble, and trouble is what they got. In light of the social media backlash, the Company had to warn Wall Street that subscriber growth would cool down in the third quarter, and shares promptly fell ten percent.

In its letter to shareholders, Netflix said quote, “We hate making our subscribers upset with us.” Well, then, I say, “Try harder not to.” Netflix has done a great job of creating an image of the cutting-edge place to be, but this announcement was handled clumsily and callously. Despite that, it’s not too late for Netflix to come back and say, “Oops. We misstepped,” and ease the pain for existing customers with either a more gradual price increase, or postpone the increase till the first of the year, or come up with some other incentive to allay the anger of their loyal followers and make them feel the Company really cares about keeping their business.

Companies pay lots of money to build the kind of reputation that Netflix has successfully forged, and Netflix should absorb a short-term hit now in exchange for the long-term gain of demonstrating its commitment to its existing customer base. In this extremely competitive environment, when consumers are counting every penny and can abandon ship at a moment’s notice, Netflix should spend every day protecting its PR image.#

NBC's Upcoming 'Playboy Club': Nostalgic Fun or Something More Sinister? Is It OK to Ignore the Sins of the Past by Saying Hey, It's Just a Prime-Time Soap, Baby

Hillary Atkin Posted August 4, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Comparisons to "Mad Men" were brushed aside. The controversy over a Salt Lake City affiliate's refusal to run the program was glossed over -- because another station picked it up. The argument was set forth that the show is about women's empowerment.

Those were the headlines from the NBC TCA panel on the network's upcoming one-hour drama "The Playboy Club,” set to premiere Monday, Sept. 19, at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. Central.

Set in 1961 at Chicago's Playboy Club, the provocative new series is certain to be one of the most scrutinized shows of the fall season. It’s already engendering controversy -- and intrigue -- well before its premiere.

“It’s the early ‘60s and the legendary Playboy Club in Chicago is the door to all your fantasies ... and the key is the most sought-after status symbol of its time” is how it’s being billed by NBC.

Starring Eddie Cibrian, Amber Heard, David Krumholtz and Laura Bernanti, “The Playboy Club” represents a risky foray for the network, a high-budget period drama, but one with a built-in brand name.

Yet seemingly denying some of the brand’s attributes, executive producer Ian Biederman told the audience of television critics gathered in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom that the show is not racy or exploitive -- and stressed the difference between Playboy magazine and the Playboy clubs.

"In terms of content, it will be mild. These are characters who are in a certain time and certain place. The show will be a lot of fun. It will have a ton of music and lots of energy," he said, differentiating it from the noir aspects of AMC’s critically acclaimed “Mad Men,” which takes place during the same early 1960s time period.

When questioned about the tagline "Men hold the key, women run the show" and whether the bunny costumes were intrinsically sexist, female cast members became defensive. One talked about how they were coached not to let their breasts rest on the table as they were serving customers -- and then delved into a discussion about how bunnies are not centerfolds, while acknowledging that some bunnies became Playmates.

Biederman said becoming a Playboy bunny was a highly sought-after job at a time when women did not have many career choices -- and very few highly paid ones. He promised that they will be portrayed as intelligent and empowered women.

Cast member Naturi Naughton -- who coincidentally has guest-starred on “Mad Men” -- said her role as what she termed one of the few "chocolate [African-American] bunnies" was as a strong, ambitious, confident young woman.

The tension in the room was broken by castmate Jennifer Lewis, who said, "Someone has to have sex in the bathroom” before discussing her character as representing a big step up for black women coming off welfare.

Hmmm. We wonder whether Biederman or Naughton or Lewis has read Gloria Steinem’s landmark 1963 article “I Was a Playboy Bunny.” A journalist at the time, Steinem decided to go undercover to become a Playboy bunny at the Playboy Club in New York and report on her experiences.

In the piece [we could not find it online, but it’s available in her still in-print paperback “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (Second Edition)”] Steinem explains that she applied for the job as a bunny by answering an ad. Here’s a portion of that ad, as Steinem recounts in her article:

GIRLS:
Do Playboy Club Bunnies Really
Have Glamorous Jobs,
Meet Celebrities, And
Make Top Money?

Yes, it’s true! Attractive young girls can now earn $200-$300 a week at the fabulous New York Playboy Club, enjoy the glamorous and exciting aura of show business, and have the opportunity to travel to other Playboy Clubs throughout the world. Whether serving drinks, snapping pictures, or greeting guests at the door, the Playboy Club is the stage -- the Bunnies are the stars.

Steinem found the job short on glamour, excitement and money anywhere close to the $200-$300 a week mentioned in the ad.

Besides discovering that being a Playboy club bunny was just plain hard work -- plus painful from wearing the deliberately ill-fitting, too tight bunny outfit -- journalist Steinem found it exploitive and demeaning.

She wrote about some of her experiences her first day waiting on tables as a bunny: “One of the customers gave me his Playboy key together with a room key from the Hotel Astor. I gave it back and started to fill out the check.

“‘Well,’ he said, slapping the table with delight, ‘you can’t blame a man for trying.’

“‘Nope,’ said his friend, ‘you can’t tell us your address, but nothing’s to stop you from remembering ours.’”

Steinem continued: “With the drinks balanced on my tray, I approached the two [men]. ‘Are you married,’ asked the table slapper? I said no. ‘Well, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because I’m married too!’ Pointing my right hip into the table, I bent my knees, inclined myself backward in the required Bunny dip, and placed the glasses squarely on the napkins. I felt like an idiot.”

After the article was published, for a time Steinem says she regretted writing it, partly on account of the “loss of serious journalistic assignments because I had now become a Bunny -- and it didn’t matter why.”

One of the good things that came out of the experience, she writes, was the 1985 TV movie made from her article, though Steinem hates the title, “A Bunny’s Tale.”

Finally, she writes that one of the long-term results of writing the piece was “realizing that all women are Bunnies. After feminism arrived in my life, I stopped regretting that I had written this article. Thanks to the television version, I also began to take pleasure in the connections it made with women who might not have picked up a feminist book or magazine, but who responded to the rare sight of realistic working conditions and a group of women who supported each other.”

As fate would have it, Steinem was also at the TCA press tour the other day, publicizing an upcoming documentary on HBO, and she was asked about the upcoming Playboy Club show on NBC. Lisa de Moraes of The Washington Post wrote about Steinem’s comments that Steinem “wondered what was the intent of the Playboy Club series. [Is it] aggrandizing the past in a nostalgic way, or is it showing the problems of the past in order to show that we have come forward and continue to come forward?’ she wondered out loud, adding, ‘I somehow think the Playboy show is maybe not doing that.’”

Both "Playboy Club' actress Amber Heard and show producer Biederman took exception to Steinem’s conclusion.

As for actor Cibrian, who plays a character named Nick Dalton in the show, he said he has studied up on the period by looking at photos and reading books that describe the era. In order to inform his character, however, he said he did not have to look further than the present-day establishments of Chicago -- and witnessing how businessmen brashly treated waitresses serving them lunch.

Yet 50 years later, there's no denying that other things have changed. "People smoked and drank, and didn't think about the consequences," he said, discussing an era when mobsters, celebrities and politicians all rubbed shoulders.

Those interactions will be reflected in the show, set to a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Sammy Davis Jr.

We already know someone gets murdered, but will Cibrian’s Nick Dalton be broadcast television's Don Draper, the enigmatic man around whom everything else revolves?

We're betting viewers in Salt Lake City, and everywhere else, will tune in to find out. Along with wanting to see those iconic bunny costumes, worn by enlightened, empowered women making a good living.#

Chuck Ross contributed to this entry.