Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back to School, 2014

OK Folks—so we’re back to another year in Columbia TV Land!  Most of you who stumble across my blog will be new (or perennially attached to the department) students. So I’ll offer my typical “starting new here” advice, and then move on to what we should all REALLY care about—new TV shows! :D

Let’s start with the basics. Food. As a teacher, let me tell you—we all understand the need for grabbing a bite in-between classes, or caffeinating yourself on break. BUT—you can’t use this as an excuse for running late. Dunkin is fast and furious—Panera is healthy, but slower. Forget the Starbucks unless you know how to tightly control your arrival/return times. For lunch, more leisurely...My top picks (and there are often various discounts you can score): Flaco’s Tacos, Hackney’s, Tamarind, Yolk.

But fair warning:you’re likely to be in the midst of peers and professors, so watch what you say unless you’re in a secluded booth that disguises your voice, to boot! :D  Also, look for Beaver’s Donuts food truck—they periodically appear near Wabash and LaSalle and are beyond yummy.

Next. Basic learning tips (especially if you’re new here...): Take the time to actually meet your teachers. Social media rocks but for teachers with a slew of students, the best way for us to truly connect with you is face-to-face, even if only for a 10 minute hello. Hit us up before advising starts in mid-October, because then we’re swamped with quick meetings that, while important, are less substantial in terms of getting to know you. The profs will hate me for telling you this, but those first 5-6 weeks are “golden time” for you as students to have a session with us that really starts to cement a long-term relationship. We’re here to help you and genuinely look to converse with you—take advantage of those “less crazy” weeks we have!

Also—know your departmental team and meet them. IN TV: Laura Levitt-Gamis is a sweetheart who knows the ins-and-outs of everything in our department. She is the lovely lady in the main TV Office who can answer most any question. Eric Scholl is your associate chair this year—meet him!  He handles, well, a mess of stuff but let’s go with the general tag of “all things students are worried about.”  And please, meet your chair Michael Niederman. He’s beyond nice and very down-to-earth and as a chair can only teach so much. So do yourself a favor and meet him before you have a problem/question/concern—because you really should just actually MEET your chair.

STAFF: THEY ARE YOUR BEST FRIENDS HERE—THEY MAKE THE DEPARTMENT RUN IN MORE WAYS THAN I CAN COUNT, SO PLEASE DON’T DISCOUNT THEM AS “JUST STAFF” (particularly as many also teach and create). Internship stuff right now is Niki Hoffman (we’re hiring a new person soon, as Niki is Queen of all productions at the school, which keeps her pretty busy...). Want to get involved in making the department run and shine? Find Christy LeMaster. Aiming for employment in the department?  Meet David Greene and Chris West and Tamale Sepp. Honestly—just walk the 7th/14th floors and pop in and say hi for 2 minutes (tell them I said it was ok) and then come back when you need to. (Like to engineer the mechanics of things or interested in the mobile truck?—hit the 15th floor and look for Dave Mason...My 6 year-old can vouch for his appreciation of a positive “can-do” attitude.)

Some changes for our returning students.  I’m NOT associate chairing this year; I am taking a much-needed break while the amazing Eric Scholl takes over. (Yes—I still have all my action dolls and DVDs and books but they’re now at 1401-J. I will also continue to advise and offer guidance on the bigger picture things you’re facing—but now I’m back-up to Eric as opposed to the frontline. :D) Fawn Ring, our amazing producing lecturer, has left for truly greener pastures at the Art Institute. Some of her classes have been taken over by the remarkable Tyler Kempf. (IF YOU IN ANY WAY GLORY IN SKETCH COMEDY, YOU’LL WANT TO MEET THIS MAN—YOU CAN FIND HIM ON THE 14TH FLOOR ABOUT A ½ “BLOCK” BEFORE MY OFFICE.) Our fabulous news guy, Frank Bianco, also is gone to a well-deserved retirement—just come see me, Eric, or Michael if you’re yearning to head in the direction of news...

So...Oriented enough? :D  Let’s move on the fun of TV—what we’re all watching/want to watch/are sorry we watched...

There is always too much to enjoy in the summer. If you know me, you understand I spent (and am still spending) time watching everything on ABC Family and MTV (scripted). I liked most, am hopeful for a bunch more...But have had the most fun with Orphan Black (am in utter withdrawal) and Drunk History (just has been brilliant this summer) and now catching up on You’re the Worst  (I cannot begin to explain the “so wrong funny” of this show...). But, being the TV geek critic I am, I am salivating over new Fall shows.

So here are just my top “wanna wanna yes please, more sirs and madams”: (in no particular order)

1)    Veronica Mars spin off Play It Again Dick (web series 9/15)
2)    Community season 6 on Yahoo (predicted to start in January)
3)    Gotham (Ben McKenzie)
4)    Red Band Society (so odd it should work)
5)    Black-ish (this cast rocks)
6)    The Flash
7)    American Horror Story—maybe—I loved Coven so am sad I won’t see all of that amazing cast or more of that story
8)    Constantine
9)    Transparent (Amazon)

(side note: still angry Tatiana Maslany didn’t get nominated even for an Emmy; am also convinced that TPTB hate Andre Braugher for some mystifying reason...)

A final note on the passing of 2 legendary comedic talents who have shaped TV (and beyond):

Robin Williams was key not just to the history of comedy, but also the history of “off-the-wall” comedy on TV. His turn as Mork on first Happy Days and then Mork and Mindy signified a major shift in what TV could accept in the ways of improv and general nuttiness...What he did for major social issues such as homelessness in the 1980s (let alone how those comedy specials helped cement HBO’s status as must-have cable long before The Sopranos) is crucial to much of what we are able to watch now. Do yourself a favor and go watch a sampling of his TV work—especially the fabulous Comic Relief specials on HBO. His was a tragic passing and as most of us know, tragedy is the flip side of the comedic genius coin; do him honor by reviewing his work (and paying maybe just a little extra attention to those around you who suffer for their art).

Joan Rivers’ passing truly caught me off-guard as well. She was such a vibrant presence in the world of TV and comedy and a role model to many—but especially to women seeking to break into the media and comedy arts. As with Robin Williams, her role in TV’s history is mighty—from being the “go-to” host on The Tonight Show, to being banned from it for daring to compete against it rather than wait a gazillion years. And seriously—Fashion Police is probably the best thing (other than The Soup) on E!—and come to think of it, there would be no ballsy Chelsea Handler aiming to revolutionize the internet right now without Joan. We are lucky as a school to have had her visit Columbia last February—she was charming and acerbic and I’m pretty sure I peed my pants a little during her “talk.” Find her old stuff—she’s a wonderful inspiration to both aspiring comics and well, really, those who aspire to anything that others scoff at.

So on that note of loss, take the advice of your “elder”: Doors close so that windows may open. As Robin Williams brilliantly delivered in a fab script—“Carpe Diem”/Seize the Day. College—especially at Columbia—is what you make of it. Embrace the victories and the defeats as part of the same bundle that is what leads you to success.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Some things die..A slow Horrible Death...and Others are Reborn Blessedly

So...I was reading EW's rather blase story on series finales this week...It struck me that there are so many shows we come to love (which is really to say that we come to love the characters)--yet the finales? I don't know so much. Murphy Brown? Roseanne? Brilliant series that I didn't see through to the end because they frankly overstayed their welcome. Much like How I Met Your Mother--which I don't think overstayed so much as it meandered into nothingness.

So here's how you wrap up a show--short-list style:

MASH (sort of)
Newhart 2.0
Lost (it stayed true to the core of the crazy)
Friends (wrapped up what we needed to be wrapped up, and made you forgive Monica's descent into shrill annoyance)
St. Elsewhere (say what you will, it set a template)

My still worst ending ever likely has to be Seinfeld...and oddly, HIMYM reminded me of this.

1) don't insert 20 minutes of depression (melancholy is ok--depression is not) for a sitcom finale.
2) divorce I can live with. A character who developed and grew emotionally over a few seasons suddenly regressing in fast-forward to "baby=love!" is a cop out. Daddies loving their babies is not "new." Daddies loving their babies of a woman we never see is retrograde.
3) Killing off the mom? REALLY?! You could have gone there if you'd led up to it sooner and more subtly. Don't give us a great actress and cool female character and then kill her off because you need to satisfy some fan quotient for a coupling. Let Robin stay single--AND HAPPY. Maybe Barney with the baby-momma in a couple would have been progressive and even "deep." I don't know--felt very "kill off the ladies" to me (both literally and symbolically)--which is weird for a show called How I Met Your MOTHER. Somebody has been watching too much Disney.

OK--on to more interesting TV items before my son's spring break starts...

1) I have watched Doll and Em. I enjoy Doll and Em. I am not blown away by Doll and Em.

2) Pilot of Silicon Valley?  LOVED IT! Remarkable cast, and curious to see what they'll do with the death of a lead actor. I could do without the tech gal who looks like she's shy of being a supermodel by a few inches--but I like the potential of her character. (Might be nice to see somehow Felicia Day--I know that's a different world, but still-there must have been some key women somewhere in this mix of SV...) I'll withhold final judgment though--I did like the hierarchies laid out and the dismantling of "I'm rich and uneducated" philanthropy at work.

3) Colbert as Letterman?  OK--I'm mixed. I love Stephen Colbert. He knows his pop culture and I want to see Fallon dump pennies on his head. But, I don't know him as anything but a character. Daily Show, Colbert Show--he's always been in some kind of character. Fallon was always Fallon, Kimmel was always Kimmel. And (not that I have any best replacements, but...) it might have been nice to see a lady. In 10 years, yet again, we''re looking at a lot of old hip but white men running the cool spot of late-night comedy...

4) Stray. For all that is holy, let's see what happens with Mad Men. Sopranos be damned, this show rocks my world better. And even more: WATCH ORPHAN BLACK!!! If you are inspired by either a) good acting for women, b) good roles for women, c)  messed up take on science and health and family...well, just watch it. Even if it only is good for one more season it will have been the best available to us in some time.

5) That being said, broadcast still rocks. The follow-up to The Good Wife rocked. And Brooklyn 99's season finale made me pee my pants pretty much. Andre Braugher is a god and any show that can end with warmth and hilarity and visual gags is going to make me take notice. It's like Community had a baby with Parks and Rec. WATCH IT!!!

OK-on to seeing what happens when my 5 year old and his buddy come to be guest speakers in my Nickelodeon class...

Friday, March 28, 2014

WTF?! Good Wife--you killed and impressed me in one fell swoop...

That's my still stunned reaction to The Good Wife. Let me wax historical and philosophic and industrial for a sec here. Coming off of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, I am struck by the lack of attention to broadcast fare. Can we still remember that most folks watch the Big 4 (and any number of basic cable channels like USA, TBS, MTV...). Where were the panels on the fun and fan-glory of Cougar Town, Psyched, Teen Wolf, PLL? Where were the panels on the remarkable inclusion of ASL on Switched at Birth or the stunning (albeit melodramatic) inclusion of "other family structures" on The Fosters? So I'll end my brief rant on how SCMS TV Studies panels too often replicate "Film Best Of" approaches to move on to what I've been privy to over spring break... (except to say, after a chat with a British scholar, that we still don't have enough truly valuable workshop/panels pertaining to the harsh realities/what-do-I-do-nows of MAs. MFAs, and PHds, and adjuncts--to our own peril...)

OK--my confessions. I don't watch Walking Dead--too much other good TV and I adore the novel. Behind on True Detective (too new, and sorry--and I am a former Austinite--McConaughey be crazy ego boy so I don't expect him to stick with the series...)

So--I stick to my tried and trues. Broadcast TV--especially when you ponder the limitations--is doing a variety of ass-kicking. Brooklyn 99 is hysterical and chock-full of stellar comedic acting at its best. Big Bang is holding its own and worthy of its renewal for 3 years. Why is no one discussing Parenthood's crazy survival (or doing a panel on Katims)? And please, why has there not been an almost-plenary on what Community has been from so many different perspectives?! Or Parks and Rec?

OK--enough about how SCMS shuns broadcast. Now my random Spring Break reactions to the finales I've seen.

1) Switched at Birth. Sorry, this is landmark TV, plain and simple. Can you recall, outside of appointment series, the last time a series (let alone a teen series), necessitated that you look full-on at the screen? I'll leave aside the compelling story lines and just go with the fact that ASL means you have to WATCH to catch the nuances and tremendous acting (both by deaf and hearing actors). And Community  and Big Bang fans-- Katie LeClerc, a hearing impaired actress from this series, did time here. It's great teen drama, showcasing ASL actors like Ryan Lane (also in Veronica Mars--the movie) and Marlee Matlin. Watch it. It will make you happy. OH--and Sandra Bernhardt--nuff said?

2) The Fosters. J-Lo's involved--and it might be the most truly meaningful work she's attached to. We seldom see the foster care system examined from a variety of angles, let alone the ins-and-outs of a lesbian couple doing the fostering. This is, simply put, the stuff I'd like any teen kids I know to be watching.

3) PLL (if you don't know what that stands for, you can move on). This is my most totally fun show. It's like Sex and the City set in some weird supernatural suburb of teen girls. One of the best serial mysteries out there with remarkable production values--and I know I ain't the only viewer over 15 who is slavishly addicted to it. Lesbians, body issues, ethics, mean girls, nice girls, smart girls--I really do think this is the epitome of "Millennial Girls TV"...Any show that makes me alternately love and hate the teacher sleeping with the student gets props for making me question "easy moral decisions"--but mostly, I love the interplay of guessing and predicting that occurs online across such a wide and diverse swath of ages and sexualities and races...Aside from Degrassi the Next Generation, this show figured out social media and TV first. We should be studying it more.

4) Cosmos--I just gotta' give props here. My 5 1/2 year old loves this reincarnation and it is captivating and informative. Do yourself the bizarre favor of watching something produced by Seth McFarlane and FOX and dive into this miniseries. It will make you fall in love with all things science and wondrous.

5) Veronica Mars--ok.  I finally got around to it after my American Airlines flight lost wi-fi. This was perfection (although really--can anyone explain to me what happened to Duncan, really?). I stopped watching the series towards the end (the rape storyline pissed me off), but was pleasantly surprised that I didn't feel in the dark because of that. Leave aside the genius of the Kickstarter campaign (and if you want to "see that coming," read my book Beyond the Box for how Rob Thomas predicted such an endeavor pre-Kickstarter)...This was just a fun movie, with cameos done even better (dare I say it?) than Muppet movies. Gratifying, true to characterization, felt like TV and a movie at once. Question (for next SCMS maybe)~ would it have been as gratifying without the Kickstarter element?

6) Good Wife--ok. Last but not least. I won't expound too long. But this really is one of the best dramas on TV (including cable--think of the restrictions). The episode was not so much clunky as pointing to several possibilities (we all knew that amazing Hunter Parrish was headed for something "just not right")...I thought he was going to just book or shoot himself or the professor (kind of love that we don't know if that professor was guilty). Maybe I'm tired as a mom-scholar, but I didn't see Will's death coming. And I am floored by the fact that no one spilled Josh Charles' departure--tat's rather epic. Maybe I'm also old, but the issues this show raises, both personal and professional, for women continues to make me happy to watch this show--and I'm pretty sure it's ratings would be higher if CBS HADN'T INSISTED ON PUTTING IT AFTER LIVE EVENT TV!!!! (and ergo, late all the time...) . Students of mine seeking drama writing (and directing and editing and music consultation--the show rocks in all these forums) this show.

OK--now on to other more "teacherly" things...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is it Spring Yet?!

Alright y'all--we're going to"think spring" by focusing on the great opportunities that are on the horizon for students this semester, starting with tomorrow's visit from Gregory Van Horn of Chicago PD at the Portfolio Center.  Get ye there!
(And I make no promises but if you're a fan of Big Brother at all, keep an eye out for possible guests this spring--or next Fall...)

I know you are all struggling back into your groove after a brutal winter that just won't quit, but getting busy early and often will energize you, I promise! Good things come to the hard-working--like the TV students who created and produced Film Fridays, which just advanced to a finalist round at the New York Festivals World's Best TV and Films (which had the good taste to also advance my favorite show, Orphan Black.)  See FF here:

Need some fresh TV before Orphan Black returns? There's tons out there that's yummy right now! I'm indulging in my ABC Family diet of The Fosters, Switched at Birth, Pretty Little Liars and Ravenswood (silly plot but insanely creepy and scary). Fellow fans, you know who you are (and hopefully caught the Community visit from our lead on S@B). I want Ezra to go down and need Callie to get her act together. Girls has been treating me well (which I did not think would be possible after last season's underwhelming finale). I will let you know if any of the mid-season replacements catch my fancy, but do check out Amazon Prime's foray into original TV with Bosch. And in a pinch, re-watch Veronica Mars to prepare for the movie arriving March 14th!!

Now, stop watching TV and get busy applying for internships (see Christy LeMaster) and fellowships and scholarships--tis the season!  I'll tell you a weird secret--every year, the TV Department has to struggle to find enough people to apply for scholarships--get busy and apply, no matter how much of a long shot it seems. If you're "young," it's good practice at learning how to ask for money, something you'll need to do well in this industry! Visit:

Two more things: WaterCooler (our TV student journal online is assisting with a really cool event at DePaul this May focused on celebrating the work of Joss Whedon. Visit here ask me if you have any questions--and support WaterCooler!!!

Last--and pass it on: I'm on a team this spring that is looking at how the School of Media Arts can better prepare students for working in the complexities of the media industry today by working better across departments--especially in the area of non-fiction and in the area of online production. Tell me: What are we not teaching you that we should be? You should know where to find me...