Sunday, August 17, 2008

TV: Transformations

"It's Samantha Who with a jock strap." That's how friends at ABC described Eli Stone before it debuted. It's not Samantha Who with a jock strap. In both ABC shows, the lead charcter does a turn around at the start of the series. That's all they have common. But viewers who find Johnny Lee Miller sexy (a large number, we're sure) probably wouldn't complain if they just took Samantha Who scripts and filmed Miller reciting the lines in nothing but a jock strap.


Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a rare thing is happening, an actually sexy male is on TV in the lead. Not a boxy, Docker dude but a feast for the eyes. (And a cause for weeping at The New York Times where the Docker Boys run wild.) If only as a contrast to too many male leads, Eli Stone provides relief.

It also provides a cast that is worth watching for their acting. That includes Miller but special credit has to be given to Loretta Devine who has made Patti the heart of the show. Patti is Eli's assistant and she lifts the show every time she's on camera. Devine's played numerous roles on TV and despite holding her own with Angela Bassett in Waiting to Exhale, it took 12 years for TV to really find a role that was worthy of her. Not to insult her work in small parts (Everybody Hates Chris, Grey's Anatomy, etc.) but no one knew how to use her, not even on Boston Public. Devine's a grand piano -- you cheat her and the audience when you only allow her two notes to play. Patti does not get enough time but when she is on the writers and Devine know how to make the most out of it.

Though it's not Samantha Who in a jock strap, the show could be considered Ally McBeal in a jock strap. It needs the same light touch and that's why Miller and Devine are such standouts.

Julie Gonzalo (Maggie) comes closest to achieving the right balance. Natasha Henstridge (Taylor) is, so far, the weakest in the cast because she comes off too heavy. How much of that is writing and how much of that is acting will become obvious in season two (which starts in October). Victor Garber plays Taylor father's Jordan who runs the law firm everyone works at. And he has thankfully rediscovered the lightness so woefully absent in Swift Justice. This is a show were cad Matt Dowd (Sam Jaeger) refers to himself as "The Dowd" -- a bit of bragging we doubt even Maureen Dowd would resort to. But he does and he pulls it off because the show is a blend of legal drama, office hijinx and comedy.

And, like Ally McBeal, music. Eli Stone sees George Michael when others don't. When George is actually present at the law firm, Eli assumes he is hallucinating. Why is he hallucinating?

Eli has had a brain aneurysm. There was an effort to hide behind that in the attacks on the show before it aired. (The real reason it was attacked was due to first episode exploring the link between autism and mercury in vaccines). It's the aneurysm that leads Eli's life to change, including the break up with Taylor, losing his status at the law firm and taking on cases that others in the law firm might turn their noses at. Throughout the first season (now airing in repeats on ABC's last hour of primetime Saturday nights), Eli's status dwindled and dwindled at the law firm until finally Marci Klein -- a Katrina vanden Heuvel-like character played brilliantly by Katey Sagal -- showed up screaming for his head and also attempting to take over the law firm from her ex-lover Jordan. Marci almost pulled it off but, like Katrina vanden Heuvel's has learned (slowly), the truth has a way of biting you in the ass. So when Marci led the partners in a vote to oust Jordan over Eli's attempts to get San Francisco to close down the Golden Gate bridge due to his belief (and a scientist's) that an earthquake was going to hit on a specific day, she had her brief moment of triumph (it's always brief, ask Katrina) in announcing Jordan was voted out when . . . the earthquake hit. Sucks to be a vanden Heuvel.

And when you watch Eli Stone and grasp that the character was transformed -- for the good -- from a brain aneurysm, you may find yourself wondering what malady should strike others?

Ourselves, we think the only thing that will help erstwhile 'media critic' Norman Solomon at this point is a whip lashing in the town square. We realized that last week when KPFA featured Will Bowers of PUMA on The Morning Show. Now Bowers supports Hillary Clinton so you knew he couldn't be the only guest. Hillary supporters have not been welcome on KPFA (or Pacifica). That's how we got Panhandle Media, after all. The KPFA post-debate 'analysis' featuring the 'unbiased' Barack supporters -- not disclosed on air -- who all found fault with Hillary. Had KPFA bothered to book equally or fairly, they wouldn't look like such idiots. That is what happened. They looked like hypocrites when they aired that garbage. And then came the Texas voting and they looked like idiots. From NYC and DC, 'experts' (and Barack endorsers off-air) could 'see' Texas (where the debate took place) and 'see' that Hillary would lose and that, most laughably, Latinos (though "Hispanics" was the term used most often by all the guests, none of which were Latinos but no one was supposed to notice that either) would go for Barack. Latinos didn't go for Barack and Hillary didn't lose Texas. Sucks to be KPFA.

And never more so than last Tuesday. PUMA -- People United Means Action (though we prefer "Party Unity My Ass") is a grassroots movement. That cannot be denied. As such it should have been reported on. It includes a large number of women (though it also includes males). It is just the thing that allegedly 'free speech radio' should be interested in exploring strictly from a news angle. So there might have been hope that when Aimee Allison interviewed Bowers, listeners could actually learn something about the group.

The decision to book Norman Solomon meant that would never happen. It was embarrassing and it was shameful.

First off, Aimee, you need to read more. You seemed dumbstruck by the notion that Hillary might have a right to a floor vote and, the day before, Michelle Cottle's "Calling All Votes" column was published in The New York Times:

You don't have to be a die-hard Clintonite, or even much of a feminist, to be moved by the significance of her presidential campaign. In 1972, the Democratic presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm made history by having her 151.95 delegates entered into the convention record. Mrs. Clinton amassed more than 10 times that number. Her achievement deserves an official salute.
Symbolic gestures and signs of respect always hold a larger meaning for the campaign that came in second. More than a few of Mrs. Clinton's devotees, including plenty headed to Denver this month, are in need of catharsis and a bit of closure. They remain convinced that their gal got a raw deal, that she was treated unfairly by the news media, that she was cheated out of her Florida and Michigan delegates by hostile power brokers like Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi, that she was a victim of sexism, that the historic nature of her candidacy was callously dismissed in all the hullabaloo over the historic nature of Mr. Obama's, and on and on and on.

Aimee's a Green, not a Democrat, so she can be forgiven for not being aware that men who have come nowhere near Hillary's 18 million votes in the Democratic primaries have been allowed to get a floor vote. She cannot, however, be forgiven for being unaware of a column in The New York Times, printed the day prior, on the topic she was supposed to explore. Sexism? KPFA broadcast plenty of it and no one wants to own up to that. It wasn't limited to Laura Flanders repeatedly using the term "cackle" to describe Hillary's laugh nor to Robert Parry's crackpot theories that a wife does just what her husband did. (That crackpot theory does, however, make us feel very sorry for Mrs. Parry.)

Aimee also can't be forgiven for doing nothing during the interview. She wasn't a moderator. She wasn't anything. She allowed Norman Solomon, a guest, to act as if he was a prosecutor. That's not moderating, that's not hosting. It's just embarrassing.

What is PUMA about? Norman Solomon didn't want listeners to know. He repeatedly cut off Bowers, invented flat-out lies (he has no shame) and made a real ass of himself. He also got that prissy tone that he can't help using when he's lying. If he could fake a decent British accent, he'd probably go with that. Being unable to, he just gets prissy with his delivery and his pronunciation. It does not make for enjoyable listening.

What is PUMA?

Does anyone who listened to the broadcast know from that broadcast?


Because Norman Solomon who regularly has tried to play himself as high minded (he blew that privately last year) and someone who debates issues decided the way to go was screaming character assassinations. Now if that was his 'normal' M.O. -- no prob. We don't care about tone. We do, however, care about consistency. Norman blew not just his consistency but also his 'record' such as it was.

Norman never looked crazier and, in 2008, that's really saying something.

He screamed at Will, he scoffed at Will, he told Will what he just 'knew' Will really thought. He didn't listen. He wasn't there to listen, he was there to attack. The Queen of all Attack Poodles.

As we noted Tuesday:

Queen Norman Approximately. Yeah, he was lying again. Yeah, it was embarrassing. For now, Ava and I will note, Norm was spraying the drapes today and he's never been housebroken, somebody get him to the vet already. We'll tackle that garbage Sunday. If you suffered through Queen Norman today and need some reality, check out Katiebird's post (The Confluence).

Katiebird, like Riversdaughter, is a PUMA and, no, PUMA is not a Republican front group. Norman offered no proof because he had none but he did think if he screamed loudly enough, if he hissed and batted his paws, he could embarrass Will Bowers. He succeeded only in embarrassing himself -- and at this late date, who would have thought that was still possible?

Aimee just sat back and let it all happen. Here's a tip to Aimee, new at broadcasting, when any guest is being attacked while you're moderating -- even if it's Charles Manson -- as host, it is your job to step in and say, "Let the guest speak." That's why you're there. If that's too difficult for you, you don't need to be a host.

We love Aimee but Norman couldn't have pulled his little stunt without her refusing to do her job. It was embarrassing and Pacifica better start watching those stunts because guess who's paying attention right now? The RNC and Republicans in Congress.

If Pacifica thinks the start of this decade was difficult, they haven't seen anything yet because disgruntled Democratic members of the US Congress are pretty disgusted with Pacifica's election coverage stunts as well. You are public radio, you are not commercial radio. You operate under different guidelines. You are held to those guidelines. We were lobbying a Republican senator who privately is now opposed to the illegal war and he changed the subject after five minutes to ask, "What's the deal with Pacifica?" He meant all the complaints he's hearing from other senators. Pacifica is not your own private playground. You can't take to it and act crazy and get away with it. You have to be professional and professionalism has been in short supply at KPFA and WBAI for all of 2008. Your little stunts won't seem so funny and so cute if there's Congressional fallout for the s**t you've been pulling. And KPFA has so alienated listeners that they better not count on being helped out by the public this time.

Though it was a step-up that Norman was finally identified on air as a Barack delegate, that alone wasn't enough. Will Bowers was invited on the program. Bowers didn't curse, didn't scream, didn't offer up hate speech. There was no reason to stand by while another guest talked over him, shouted over him and attacked him. That was embarrassing and shameful on KPFA's part. It better not happen again because if it does, it's yet another example of how allegedly public radio has turned over its public airwaves to serve one campaign. That's not what Lew Hill created and it's not what the government allows.

Commercial broadcasting can do whatever it wants. Which explains the sewer that is MSNBC and a sewer that doesn't even require Norman Solomon to take it to Crazy Land. Last week, sexist (when you're suspended for two weeks and almost lose your job over sexist comments, you're a sexist) Dave Shuster and all of his chins went after Will Bower and Darragh Murphy. We know neither but would strongly urge Bower to hand his public duties over to Murphy whenever possible.

Bower seemed taken off guard by Norman's attacks (we don't blame him for that, who expects to have a snarling, lisping poodle go at you on 'the home of free speech radio'?) but with Shuster? Murphy seemed far more prepared and far more comfortable. She didn't take Shuster's bait, she didn't lose her cool, she didn't even let his distortions make her nervous.

Among his distortions was the one started by John Edwards worker and 'appropriator' of the work of women of color Amanda Marcotte. Marcotte likes to play it that conservatives were responsible for her departure from the Edwards campaign; however, Terry Moran's compilation makes it clear that Marcotte can only blame conservatives if she thought no one was reading. Hot off her very public crash and burn, Marcotte decided to float that Gloria Steinem was a racist this year. Yeah, she's that pathetic.

Shortly after doing that, she wrote an article for the unmentionable website where she refused to credit the work done by others and would go on to claim that she'd credit brownfemipower before so what was the big deal? Take a moment to absorb that. Gloria writes a column arguing that all women matter and Marcotte's floating racist charges at Gloria. Months later, Marcotte's ripping off a woman of color blogger and then plays injured party when people are outraged by her theft.

Her problems only worsen when she publishes the book. It doesn't set the publishing world on fire and that might bother her the most. However, the original cover got a lot of attention online in 2007 . . . due to its racist nature when Marcotte thought it was so delightful that she just had to share it with her readers online. This year, the book was published and racism was again the charge -- due to the illustrations. As Katrina can tell Marcotte, truth can really bite you in the ass.

With such a history, for some reason Marcotte was allowed to smear Murphy as a McCain donor in 2000 while leaving out how much Murphy donated to Hillary in the primary cycle. It was so stupid and the Barack campaign was none to pleased with Marcotte's little stunt. Murphy donated to Clinton this election cycle (and states she voted for Al Gore in 2000). What is Barack supposed to be? The Uniter. He's supposed to be bringing in Republicans and not just swing voters. And there's Marcotte going nuts online about someone who donated to McCain in 2000?

She probably won't get it but the Barack campaign did. These are the people they are trying to bring in, they don't need Marcotte treating a 2000 donation to McCain as a cardinal sin. Her actions sent the message, unintentional on her part, that the Democratic Party tent is closed to you if you donated to Republicans, even if it was eight years ago. Marcotte is one of the Barack supporters doing his campaign damage and someone needs to explain that to her.

So there was Shuster, chins a-flapping, stridently screeching that Murphy donated to McCain. When Murphy pointed out that she also donated to Hillary, Shuster wanted to make an issue out of the size of donations. Apparently he's unaware that the country and most of its citizens were better off in 2000 than they are in 2008?

Bowers attempted to note Hillary's 18 million votes and let Shuster dismiss it and distort it. Murphy should have been speaking then -- and she attempted to many times but, sexist that he is, Shuster kept tossing to Bowers.

Bowers didn't come off as a bad person and we're not trying to hurt his feelings. We're merely noting that Murphy -- in her limited time -- did a far better job of conveying PUMA. (And we aren't trying to suggest she would have faired any better than Bowers did on KPFA -- that was a set up before it ever broadcast.)

Since KPFA listeners couldn't learn about PUMA, here's the deal as we understand it having spoken to several members of PUMA after Norman's stunt: PUMA sprung up not from the GOP and is not GOP controlled. It came out of Hillary supporters. The movement is not about Hillary at this point. They would love to see Hillary get the nomination.

The movement is about the huge disrespect shown the first viable female presidential hopeful. Joseph at Cannonfire (we didn't speak to him) has done a great job repeatedly of showing exactly what created PUMA: The non-stop attacks, lies and distortions (usually including sexism) on Hillary. It's something that Norman Solomon can never grasp because he's apparently sold his soul to become Barack's Boy Toy. We called out his crap awhile back where he pretended -- for a brief passage -- to be concerned about sexism (noting that his slight remarks on sexism were nothing but slight of hand). On KPFA, Norman proved how right we were as he repeatedly refused to address the very real sexism that came out during the primaries.

He can't address it because he and his baby (FAIR) were part of it. FAIR isn't 'fair.' Their weekly show CounterSpin couldn't stop noting perceived racism, week after week. When they finally got around to noting sexism (only once this year) in the campaigns, it took Hillary being called a bitch on TV and they were so uninterested in sexism that they rushed off to do three lengthy items on racism (perceived or real) aimed at Barack. In that episode, you saw what FAIR thinks of sexism and women. As with female guest, they need multiple items on a man before they can note a woman. They're like the CHR stations in 1986 fretting about the playlists because so many women (including Whitney Houston) were on the charts and they didn't want to play two women in a row. They could play four men in a row without a care, but the idea that two women might be played in a row apparently made them, like Tucker Carlson when he hears Hillary's voice, cross their legs.

Some PUMAS are now supporting John McCain. Some are supporting Cynthia McKinney (and from our conversations last week it was obvious that if Cynthia issued a serious statement decrying the sexist treatment of Hillary, she would see an influx of donors). Some are planning to support Hillary (if she's not the nominee) by writing in her name. Some are planning on not voting. We were told some were supporting Ralph Nader but didn't speak to any Nader supporters.

On KPFA, Norman was screeching that it was time to get behind Barack, all that for-the-good-of-the-party b.s. What he failed to grasp (or refused to) and what Bowers was never allowed to address is a lot of Democrats (PUMAS included) do not believe you reward bad behavior. Murphy, on MSNBC, was very clear that she thinks you call this out now or you suffer the damage for many years to come. That position are not unreasonable, no matter how prissy and loud Norman wants to get. If you honestly believe that homophobia and sexism are not Democratic principles, you are going to be frightened by the campaign Barack ran and you are going to fear for whatever's left of the party's soul. After each election, the Norman Solomon's show up with their criticisms of the Democratic Party and how its betrayed this or that. If you believe that to be the case, you call it out when its happening.

Shutting up for the good of your crush does no one any good. We're so very glad that Norman has finally found someone to love, we honestly feared he'd go to his deathbed only having known the love of self, but his courtly desires toward Barack do not trump the message of PUMA.

Here's a question for Norman, how would you have responded if someone had tried to silence you when you declared, " This week's cave-in on Capitol Hill -- supplying a huge new jolt of funds for the horrific war effort in Iraq -- is surprising only to those who haven't grasped our current circumstances"? You published that ("Deadly Illusions, Rest in Peace") in May of 2007. What if you'd been screamed at then that you needed to focus on getting with the program for the good of the Democratic program?

It's a serious question. It's asked seriously and it's serious issue. On the latter, Norman's arguing that a floor vote is bad (or was arguing it on Tuesday, now that it's a done deal, who knows what he'd say). Well it can be argued that your critiques in 2007 weren't 'good for the party.' You don't get to decide when others choose to stand up. You can scream as loud as you want, you can speak as phoney as Joan Crawford in any of her 'cultured lady' roles, but you don't get to decide. You've abandoned your position as a media critic, you've forsaken the transfer of information and are now nothing but a crotchety old man screaming at strangers.

It's not attractive and it's not winning converts. Bullying rarely does.

Norman's associates at FAIR do not infuriate us because they are so comical. They used to be intentionally funny but now they've become a lot like Jack and Karen on the last seasons of Will & Grace, caricatures of their former selves. Take the now always scowling Janine Jackson. Friday she was babbling on about Cokie Roberts: 'Oh, how dare Cokie say that Barack should have gone to Myrtle Beach. Oh, Cokie must have said that because she has property there. Oh blah, blah, blah, oh whine, whine, whine. Oh listen to me disgrace myself so that no one will ever hire me again.'

Myrtle Beach is in South Carolina. The state that shows Barack is now either in a tie with or trailing behind (some polls say hugely) John McCain. Barack elected to go on yet another vacation (at least his third this year) and elected to go to Hawaii. And Cokie, on NPR, described it as "exotic" to some people. Oh, the racism of it all, stewed Janine. Janine Jackson, finding racism where its not present. Type in "exotic hawaii vacations" (we did) and you get 399,000 results. Type in "exotic hawaii getaways" and you get 75,400 results. Search Hawaii and exotic and you'll find such results as "Exotic Tropical bouquets: Hawaii florist and Plumeria flowers." There are many reasons for that.

For example, last week when we got off the plane in Charleston neither we nor anyone else had someone rush up to put a lei around our neck. Daniel Akaka was offended by Roberts statement and felt the need to issue a press release objecting. Funny, he didn't object to a May 16, 2008 press release from Rep Neil Abercrombie stating, "Exotic pests in Hawaii cause $300 million in yearly financial losses due to crop damage and lost export markets." While Akaka was making the usual fool out of himself, the Maui News took a different angle in "Cokie, thanks for the plug:"

Hawaii spends millions to promote the islands as a tropical vacation destination. Imagine the worth of having the media make a big deal out of a commentator's description of Hawaii as "foreign" and "exotic" on a national television show.
The description has a number of people - including Sen. Dan Akaka - with their tails in a twist. With the visitor industry slumping, resort destination Hawaii should be celebrating the description.

Monday on NPR's Morning Edition, Cokie declared:

I know that he is from Hawaii, he grew up there, his grandmother lives there, but he's made such a point about how he is from Kansas and, you know, the boy from Kansas and Kenya and it makes him seem a little bit more exotic than perhaps he would want to come across as at this stage in the presidential campaign.

The previous day, on ABC's This Week, Cokie had declared:

I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be in Myrtle Beach, and, you know, if he's going to take a vacation at this time.

Cokie did not call Hawaii a "foreign place," she noted "it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place." There's nothing wrong with using "exotic" to describe Hawaii. It is exotic, it is tropical, that's part of its charm. We wish Cokie had said it was "foreign." We certainly consider it that. It wasn't a state until 1959 and that was after many, many years of colonization. We love Hawaii. We grieve over what has been done to it. So, had Cokie said it was foreign, we would have applauded her. She didn't say that.

What she did was note that he was taking a vacation and that it might not be a good time to take a vacation. She noted Myrtle Beach because his fall (in some polls) in South Carolina is shocking to many. And when you constantly give speeches claiming that you're going to be said to appear foreign, maybe you should take into considerations impressions you create before acting. Certainly if John Kerry had known (or someone had the guts to tell him), "John, you look ridiculous in the compression shorts," he might not have gone windsurfing. "Windsurfing" was never the issue or even the focus of attack. It was seeing Ichabod Crane in compression shorts, all gangly.

Should Barack have gone to Hawaii? Not if he's not going to campaign there. (Fundraisers don't count. Remember he didn't 'campaign' in Florida but he held fundraisers -- he also held a press conference until the press pointed out he was breaking the rules and he left in a huff.) Were we on his team (yes, we'd have to be doing some heavy drugs for that to happen), we would have said, "Grand Canyon or something similar." For the simple reason that when you whine incessantly that people are going to try to make you look foreign (whining that can end up re-enforcing that opinion), you should probably be focused on a vacation that screams "America!" Take the kids to Disney Land. Do something that low income workers could identify with. In March, he jetted off to the Virgin Islands (so pure!). Now he's off in Hawaii. Again, we would have gone with Grand Canyon and think he could have many of those mythic photos he so enjoys posing for on such a trip.

But Janine wanted to cry racism (we warned you in May it was going to be a long summer) and, the way things are going, not even Eli Stone's aneurysm could give Janine a 'lift.' She's became the Dour Queen. And we're all supposed to be as amused by what she says as she is. Little too much (bad) comedy shining through and not enough facts. Add to it that her already problematic delivery has only gotten worse.

Eli Stone is only getting better. This Saturday, ABC airs the finale of season one. In October, new episodes return (on Tuesday). ABC has a great series. The sad thing is they still don't grasp that. "We renewed it," huffed one suit when we were talking up Eli Stone. He made it sound like the network was doing it a favor. A favor would be giving it the promotional push it deserves. Until that happens, ABC's hiding the show and blowing their own lineup because for all the attention they've given to Pushing Up Daisies, they've yet to grasp the basic implosion that will most likely take place on that show. They've also failed to grasp that, as hard as they've pushed that show, Pushing Daisies, it's not a hit.

Not only is it not a hit, it's lost viewers. Not due to the writers' strike. Pushing Daisies aired new episodes from October through December. When it finished that run, the last episode trudged across the finish line at 54 for the week. That's not a hit, it's not even respectable considering all the monies ABC spent promoting it (including bus billboards). What you have with Pushing Daisies is a quirky show (read Twin Peaks) that most viewers cannot relate to. They know about the show, 13 million people watched its debut (approximately half watched its final episode in December). They've heard it pimped like crazy by the Water Cooler Set. After Studio 60, the networks should be leery of any series the Water Cooler Set pimps: Their approval is the kiss of the death.

Eli Stone's about life. A tragedy befalls Eli and it changes him for the better. It expands his understanding and his circle. In an election year that's all about constriction, it should make for an entertaining alternative. With any luck, fall 2008 will be when it takes off just as ABC finally realizes that Pushing Daisies is tanking (and, no, as one suit asked us, the problem is just the eyebrows on that show's lead). Eli Stone is also about transformations and, unlike what the so-called 'alternative' media has exhibited, it's a transformation you can believe in.
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