Monday, April 25, 2016

TV: Attempting to remember

Last week, the world was shocked to learn that Prince has passed away.  In the days that followed, another shock took place.

Prince was a singer-songwriter who altered popular music forever.

The list of artists he worked with is enormous: Sheila E, Vanity 6, The Time, Stevie Nicks, Sinead O'Connor, The Family, Apollonia 6, Andre Cymone, Jimmy Jam Harris, Terry Lewis, Wendy & Lisa, Mavis Staples, Madonna, Tevin Campbell, Sheena Easton, Patti LaBelle, Rosie Gaines, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder and George Clinton to name only a few.

The songs he wrote and had hits with were equally impressive and include "Controversy," "Little Red Corvette," "1999," "When Doves Cry," "Sign o' the Times," "Around The World In A Day," "Kiss," "Purple Rain," "Thieves In The Temple," "I Wanna Be Your Lover," "Let's Go Crazy," "Raspberry Beret," "Let's Work," "Delirious," "If I Was Your Girlfriend," "Batdance," "I Would Die 4 U," "Pop Life," "Anotherloverholenyohead," "Gett Off," "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man," "Partyman," "Alphabet St," "Cream," "Diamonds and Pearls," "Insatiable," "7," "The Arms of Orion," "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold," "Letitgo," "Uptown," "I Hate U," "Betcha by Golly Wow!" and "Pink Cashmere."

He won an Academy Award for writing the title track to his 1984 hit film PURPLE RAIN. He won seven Grammys and four MTV Awards.

He didn't just create the sound of the 80s when he emerged in the late seventies, he changed music period.

He was rock, he was pop, he was rhythm and blues.

He covered all genres.

And he emerged ahead of Boy George and Annie Lennox and other gender benders of 80s videos.

If there's a road today, chances are Prince helped pave it.

So the idea that two networks would devote their news magazines to covering him on Friday seemed like a good idea.

The best of the two was NBC's DATELINE featuring Lester Holt as anchor for "Prince: Life & Death of an Icon."

This news program attempted to provide context and treat the artist with the respect he had earned.

Over on ABC, 20/20 was attempting to provide something but what it was lacked clarity and focus.

It didn't help that Elizabeth Vargas seem stilted quoting Prince's lyrics.  Maybe not quoting them as if they were lines from a sonnet would have helped?

Far worse than that was the 'report' by Chris Connelly.

Even if the hack were back on MTV, it wouldn't have held water.




A fifty-something gray hair trying to appear 'topical' and 'current' by stealing the lingo from the 90s hit CLUELESS?

He did not look current.

He did not come off journalistic.

He just looked and sounded like an idiot.

And Prince deserved so much better.

Better finally arrived on Saturday night.

A special compilation of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE entitled "Goodnight, Sweet Prince."


Utilizing SNL performances from 1981, 1989, 2006 and 2004 as well as from a 2015 after party, the special telegraphed what made Prince so very special.

And utilizing Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph sketches ("Prince Show"), SNL provided the context that the performances alone could not.

All of that and a heartfelt tribute by Jimmy Fallon.

Watching all three specials, what became especially clear is how prime time is no longer set up to cover these passings.

There is no Ed Sullivan.  There is no SONNY & CHER COMEDY HOUR.  There are very few broadcast network music specials.

Music largely comes via guest spots outside prime time (GOOD MORNING AMERICA, THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON, etc) or from the talent shows (NBC's THE VOICE and formerly FOX's AMERICAN IDOL).  Every few months, one of the networks airs an awards show which features a few musical performances.

But despite the fact that Americans crave music, there is little effort to provide it during prime time.

We get why that is to a degree: several high profile failures.

The biggest bomb was US's promotion of their album POP on ABC with the April 1997 U2; A YEAR IN POP.  If anything was less popular than the album, it was the special which managed to come in 101 out of 107 shows that aired in prime time that week.

But that bomb (and others) should not have sunk music on TV.

The success of various live musicals on NBC and FOX demonstrates there is a strong audience for music.  The popularity of videos on YOUTUBE also makes that case.

Possibly the answer isn't a variety series starring some music performer but instead regular specials hosted/anchored by one performer?

The sort of special that would, for example, feature Adele or Alicia Keys as the primary music act and host who would bring on two or three other acts who would perform a solo piece as well as a number with the host?

ABC's SCANDAL is on its last legs and that's surprising to some.

Not us.

Check February to May 2015.  Last year.

We were explaining that the show was dying.

We were explaining why.

We were winning bets with an ABC exec who kept insisting that the next week the show would turn things around in the ratings.  (The bet -- a donation to St. Jude's -- was long ago paid.)

We're told right now that what's hurting that show is the breaks between new episodes.

True or false, if networks want to run these type of programs with as few interruptions (weeks between new episodes) as possible, one answer would be a month of special programs.  Thursdays in March could mean four weeks of one hour music specials.  SCANDAL could then have a month off (in its final season) and viewers could be treated to something different.

Music always has an audience.

But its an audience that's being ignored and forgotten by the broadcast networks currently.

With their special, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE demonstrated how to remember a legend.

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