Sunday, November 03, 2013

TV: Be wary of the helpers

Beware the 'helpers.'  They may have other motives, they may lack knowledge and things may get ugly.


Take NCIS, one of the all time worst shows on television.  If there's anything to be grateful for about the long running CBS TV series it's that Mark Harmon keeps his shirt on.  Looking at his elderly, girlish face today (he's one of those men who looks more and more like a woman as he ages), it would probably shock many to know he was once considered sexy and, in fact, People magazine once crowned him Sexiest Man of the Year.

That was a century ago and it shows in Harmon's face.  But the only reason he got selected a sexiest man in the 20th century was that he was keeping his shirt on.  We're not knocking his hairy chest.  We are knocking his hairy back and hairy shoulders.  We picture poor Morgan Fairchild (Harmon played her husband on NBC's Flamingo Road) coughing up fur balls for days after filming a bed scene with the actor.

The years have not been kind to Harmon, an actor we think of whenever we see that oft played TV ad asking men if they need to consider taking testosterone supplements.  As we noted when reviewing the show in 2005, "Like Paul McCartney, each passing year makes Harmon look more and more like Jean Stapleton."  He looks so much like Edith Bunker, you keep waiting for someone to insist he 'stifle' himself.  And he looks much older than 62 and you really get how old he is when you grasp that the 'kooky kid' on the show, Abby, is played by 44-year-old Pauley Perrette. There's something really sad about that, even sadder than the fact that Abby is not just supposed to represent Young America, she's also supposed to represent Goth America -- all this at an age that makes her older than Mary or Rhoda was back in the days of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

But if they didn't cast people in their forties as 'young,'  if they actually used young people on the show, Mark Harmon would look even more ancient.

So it's another season where Michael Weatherly will play 'youngish' despite being in his forties (he's now 45).  Last season struck the suits as erratic in terms of ratings and they want young.  So they got into a power play with Cote de Pablo had who played Ziva since 2005 to muscle her off the show.  If you never get how screwed up the suits are, grasp that they felt the show needed "young blood."  So they muscled out the youngest member of the main cast (de Pablo's only 33).

On the show, de Pablo played a serious, even stern, character.  Her possible replacement Emily Wickersham isn't pulling in viewers or support at this point and, if things don't improve, CBS wants an offer made to de Pablo to get her to return to the show.  (Money was the issue that forced de Pablo to leave.  Despite being a huge fan favorite, she was making less than every male in the cast.)

If Wickersham is a brief footnote in the show's history, she'll handle it fine.  In terms of disappointments, she made it through Valentine's 2010 and still married the guy.  (That's all we're saying on that.) She's also got a great deal of talent and really shouldn't be joining, moldy established shows but finding parts on new, exciting ones or even in film.

NCIS is one of those awful shows that we summed up in 2006 when we tackled the original CSI:

Striding into Jim's office slowly, again for the Helgenberger effect (we were still wearing the tight blue jeans), we waited for him to look at us questioningly.
Then we leaned in at odd angles since that's a key to CSI's visual "style."
"It's Occam's Razor," Ava explained.
"Reductionist philosophy," she added for those who hadn't majored in the liberal arts.
"Give the aging set what they want," C.I. continued. "Stocky men as sex objects so none of the stocky husbands watching with their wives feel threatened."
"Throw in an older woman in tight clothes, with a gorgeous body," Ava explained. "That way the women watching can feel 'At least she's not twenty' and the men can still drool."
"Shape the show, the entire episode to what they knew forty years ago," C.I. said choosing another odd angle to stand in. "Add in a Who song on the soundtrack to make them feel that they're not that old in a 'Hey, I know that theme song!' kind of way. Give 'em a kid who quotes an Eagles' song everyone their age knew but no kid today would be caught dead quoting as a first choice."
Ava nodded and followed with, "Toss in a Nazi-inspired criminal because Nazis were the 'big bad' when they were kids. So the Depends-set will find comfort in that in a sort of 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' sort of way."
"Show a young woman naked, but it's 'okay' because she's a discovered corpse," C.I. chimed in. "Show her, alive, in flashback, just wearing a bra repeatedly, and it's still 'okay' because this isn't 'titillation,' it's 'reenacting a crime'. Get's the blood pumping a little. Let's the middle-aged men leave the Lazy Boys with a bit of a spring in their step."
"It fills an hour with nothing but questions, pulls some answers from offscreen, sets up things so they're all relatable to those about to kiss goodbye middle-age, while giving them one last false hope that they're still 'with it'," we concluded. "That's why it's a hit. It's a pacifier. That tells them the crime gets solved, the guilty are punished, the world is black and white."
Jim nodded and was about to say something but we stopped him. These shows always end in silence.

We were reminded of that last month when we caught the "Informative Murder Porn" episode of South Park, where Stan's parents were getting turned on by criminal re-enactments on TV shows.

Viewers made NCIS the number one show on TV and did so because it strokes their fears and jollies all at the same time.  We're really embarrassed for some of the people we know who've guested on the show.  They always pretend like it was something amazing but every script's the same and the only light moments always come from the obvious.

Mark Harmon probably kids himself that acting on this show is helpful -- like he kidded himself that he was helpful when he took his sister to court and tried to take away her son.

Someone should have told him to sit his tired ass down.  In fact, someone should tell him that with regards to what he considers his acting as well.  He still can't act.  All these years and he still can't act.  He was the weakest thing about Flamingo Road, he ran viewers off from Moonlighting, he was a joke in one TV movie after another and he's the kiss of death for any film.   Doubt it?  From 1977 to 1979, Jane Fonda starred in seven films.  She raked up 3 Best Actress Academy Award nominations in that time (one win) and six of the seven were hits.  The only one that flopped?  Comes A Horseman, the one Mark Harmon appeared in.  Some might say, "It was a small part!"  Small part, big part, Mark Harmon's never been a name that could sell tickets.

How bad is his acting?  He's starred in the number one TV show, NCIS, for ten years now and never been Emmy nominated for this performance   Pretty boys, pay attention, this is what happens to you when you hit your sixties without ever having bothered to learn your craft -- your looks are shot and the industry laughs at your attempted acting.

Could it be any worse?  Well, he could resurrect that mid-80s home perm and take off his shirt.

NCIS is a very damaging show.  If it were a talk show, in fact, it would be hosted by Chris Matthews -- it's that damn bad.

Chris fancies himself a helper and, certainly, no one kissed Jack Welch's ass more than Chris and, as a suck up, he can help the so-so in power believe that they're really something.

To do this, he has to lie.  A lot.

Fortunately, Chris never lost any sleep over molesting the truth.

Bob Somerby thinks he helps as well.  Sometimes he does.  Sometime he doesn't.

And last week, our media watchdog went to town on Chris and Lawrence O'Donnell with regards to the way the two distorted a simple (and tired) joke that US Senator Ted Cruz told.  This is how Somerby quoted the spin from Chris Matthews and his flunkies (correctly quoted):.

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Cruz returned to his supporters this weekend, where he got shouts of approval Saturday night from his most fervent backers. Here he is, drawing the line between them and his following senators, and by the way, all the people represented in Washington.

CRUZ (videotape): Having spent the past month up in D.C., it is really great to be back in America.

MATTHEWS: Howard Fineman’s editorial director of the Huffington Post and David Corn is Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones. Both are, of course, MSNBC political analysts.
Howard, this isn’t a casual reference. This is, “We’re Americans, we white people out here in Texas, as opposed to people who live in the big cities, the ethnics, the blacks, the browns. Those people in Washington, those liberals, they’re not Americans.”  This guy either has a total lack of understanding of American history and the hell we went through in the McCarthy period or he knows it damn well and is playing that card. What do you think it is, knowledge or ignorance?

Somerby noted that Cruz's remark is standard (and stale) political humor when a politician returns home during a DC break.  He noted how it had nothing to do with race.

That was good.

But it wasn't enough.

Ted Cruz delivered those remarks in San Antonio and Chris Matthews lied and said that Ted was saying, "We're Americans, we white people out here in Teaxas, as opposed to people who live in the big cities, the ethnics, the blacks, the browns."

First off, Chris has a home in Nantucket.   Do you know the racial make up there?

Bob Somerby didn't think to raise that.  But Chris is tossing around "we" which includes him.  Nantucket is nearly 90% Anglo White.  African Americans are only 8.29% of the population.

Again, Cruz was speaking in San Antonio.

72.6% White.  So only a little better?  Uh, no.  26.6% of that 72.6% are Anglo White.  Let's repeat because Chris Matthews is really stupid:  Less than 30% of San Antonio's population is what Chris would label White.   The majority of the population in San Antonio is Hispanic or, as Chris might put it, "brown."

How do you make a stupid statement and imply that San Antonio is Anglo White?  You do it because you're that stupid and that uninformed.  You do it because you're riding so high on hate that facts don't matter.

Chris is a cheap little hustler -- well that's not accurate.  He's fat.  So he's a cheap fat hustler.

And he'd probably try to worm his way out and say he meant the crowd Ted Cruz was speaking to. That's not what he meant.

But let's anticipate that weasel move and focus on this:

Chris Matthews:  Howard, this isn’t a casual reference. This is, “We’re Americans, we white people out here in Texas, as opposed to people who live in the big cities, the ethnics, the blacks, the browns. Those people in Washington, those liberals, they’re not Americans.”

What are the demographics of Texas?

44.8% are Anglo White
36.1 are  Hispanic ("White Hispanic" is the term that the Census Bureau used, that's where all the demographic figures are coming from, and when Latino is allowed in, the figure rises to 37.6%).
11.8% are African-American or Black
3.8% are Asian-American
2.7% are bi- or mutli-racial
.1% are Pacific Islander
and 10.5% list "some other race"

Nantucket is part of the state of Massachusetts.

Now Texas is 44.8% Anglo White.  What's the figure for Massachusetts?  83.7% are "White" with 75.8% being "Non-Hispanic White."  So over 75% of the state is Anglo White.

The state Chris Matthews lives in.

And he said what again?

Chris Matthews:  Howard, this isn’t a casual reference. This is, “We’re Americans, we white people out here in Texas, as opposed to people who live in the big cities, the ethnics, the blacks, the browns. Those people in Washington, those liberals, they’re not Americans.”

The population in "(Anglo) White" Texas is much more varied than it is where Chris lives.

He's a liar and he's a weasel.  So he might try to insist he was comparing to DC (Chris does not live in DC).

What's the Anglo-White population in DC?  35.5% are Anglo White.  That's not that far off from 44.8% for the state of Texas.  And remember, the San Antonio number is 26.6% -- so there are more Anglo Whites in DC than there are in San Antonio.

The points we're making?

They refute Chris Matthew's claims and demonstrate he's stupid, lying and trying to use (lies about) race to tar and feather someone he doesn't care for (someone he and/or his bosses don't care for).

Bob Somerby did two posts on this and said a lot.  For example:

Wow! Even for Matthews, that was an especially ugly translation of a very familiar type of stock joke. According to Matthews, Cruz was saying that white people in Texas are Americans, but black people in cities are not.
Chris is determined to make you a hater. Sadly, Howard Fineman was up to the challenge posed by his terrible host. 

Bob Somerby wanted to help.  And pointing out that Matthews (and O'Donnell on his show) lied was helpful.

But more helpful?

That would be fact checking the claim.

Matthews, in his demented and cloistered mind, has an image of Texas.  It's a false image.  And you prove him false by taking his claim and fact checking it.

There's nothing wrong with having a Nantucket home.  One of us has one on Martha's Vineyard. There's nothing wrong with living in Massachusetts -- we have many friends who do -- including Trina and Rebecca.  But when you start pointing to states with more diverse populations but pretending that they're majority Anglo White?

There's something seriously wrong with that.

Bob Somerby tried to help and it was some help.  Also true, he's a comedian so he would probably naturally go to the fact that Cruz was telling a joke.

But if he wants to insist -- as he does over and over -- that talk show hosts and personalities need to be fact checked then maybe he should be fact checking them himself.

Matthews is stupid and a liar.

And it would have been so easy for Somerby to have knocked Matthews off his high horse if he'd only fact checked him.

We don't doubt that Somerby wanted to help and we even grade him as having half-helped with his work last week.  We don't doubt that Chris Matthews wanted to help.  But we do think Somerby wanted to help the people while Chris Matthews wanted to trick the people.  Like Mark Harmon starring in that awful TV show, Chris Matthews is just in it for a check.

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