— Free Beacon (@FreeBeacon) April 27, 2015
Ben Brumfield reports: Sawyer Sweeten grew up before the eyes of millions as a child star on the endearing family sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Early Thursday he committed suicide, his sister Madylin Sweeten said in a statement.
He was 19.
“We are devastated to report that our beloved brother, son, and friend, Sawyer Sweeten, took his own life. He was weeks away from his 20th birthday. At this sensitive time, our family requests privacy and we beg of you to reach out to the ones you love.”
“This morning a terrible family tragedy has occurred,” Madylin Sweeten said in a statement passed on by her manager Dino May.
The entire cast of #EverybodyLovesRaymond is in shock. Prayers for the Sweeten family.
— Patricia Heaton (@PatriciaHeaton) April 24, 2015
“We are devastated to report that our beloved brother, son, and friend, Sawyer Sweeten, took his own life. He was weeks away from his 20th birthday. At this sensitive time, our family requests privacy and we beg of you to reach out to the ones you love.”
‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Creator Phil Rosenthal Remembers Sawyer Sweeten http://t.co/Z5WHkSE4fA
— Deadline Hollywood (@Deadline) April 24, 2015
Sweeten, best known for his role Geoffrey Barone, was visiting family in Texas, entertainment industry magazine Hollywood Reporter reported, where he is believed to have shot himself on the front porch.
TOYOTA PRESENTS: Baseball Party!
For Variety, Maane Khatchatourian writes: The first trailer for the documentary “Live From New York!” — which chronicles the iconic NBC sketch comedy show’s cultural and historical impact — has debuted, offering old footage from the series and a new look at the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into putting it on week to week.
“It’s the only form where everyone is necessary to the end. We don’t go on because we’re ready, we go on because it’s 11:30.”
— Creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels
Eric Thurm writes: TV is an odd mishmash of a medium. It shares enough qualities with film that we can use the word “cinematic” as a blanket compliment, yet its traditional broadcast model more closely resembles radio. In fact, with the advent of original programming from online-only platforms, it’s increasingly difficult to tell what, exactly, TV is.
“At its core, that self-reflexivity is rooted in anxiety for the future—as well it should be. Because as it turns out, the end of Mad Men is not the end of TV, but rather the end of a particular era for the medium, one that has been repeatedly canonized in books like Brett Martin’s ‘Difficult Men’ and Alan Sepinwall’s ‘The Revolution was Televised’.”
Maybe that’s why, dating back to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, TV is so often about itself. There’s a long history of scripted TV that’s about making TV. Yet, for all the literal examples of it—Sports Night, 30 Rock—Mad Men, which returns for its final seven episodes on Sunday, is the most self-reflexive series of them all.
[Order Brett Martin’s book “Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad“ from Amazon.com]
Mad Men‘s ad firm Sterling Cooper & Partners (né Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, né the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency) is itself a representation of the process of making television. The writers’ room pitches, the long nights, the fights with executives over the creative integrity of material that, with varying degrees of explicitness, is ultimately about selling products. Many of the show’s most triumphant moments come not from interpersonal dynamics, but the act of intellectual conception—being struck by writerly inspiration, often in a room full of people trying to come up with their own perfect idea.
And the show’s behind-the-scenes dynamics become manifest in its characters. Critic Todd VanDerWerff has described episodes as “fan fiction Matt Weiner is writing about his own writers’ room,” something that’s especially apparent in the relationship between Don Draper and his protege-turned-peer, Peggy Olson.
“The writers’ room pitches, the long nights, the fights with executives over the creative integrity of material that, with varying degrees of explicitness, is ultimately about selling products.”
Their tempestuous creative partnership prompts fights over the ownership of everything from ad campaigns to each other’s careers, culminating in the infamous “That’s what the money is for!” scene from “The Suitcase”—an episode in which they argue over what you can and cannot do on TV.
In later seasons of the show, even that layer of metaphor has fallen away; the show has become much more explicit in enacting its own struggle to surpass the limitations of TV storytelling. In particular, the merger between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and onetime rival agency Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough is a self-conscious solution to the problem of keeping Peggy on the show once she had naturally grown past the point of needing Don as a mentor and professional champion.
“Many of the show’s most triumphant moments come not from interpersonal dynamics, but the act of intellectual conception—being struck by writerly inspiration, often in a room full of people trying to come up with their own perfect idea.”
Don and Betty may have gotten divorced, but their relationship is effectively unchanged from what it was in Season 1—because to send her offstage is to deny Don his true moral foil. Will any of these characters ever change?
Maybe not, but they’ll certainly keep trying, and stay painfully aware of their failures. Matthew Weiner and his staff threaten change, but it’s never real; they’re just daring us to confront what would happen if the status quo ever seriously shifted. And it’s all so artfully done that Mad Men more than justifies the level of Talmudic recap coverage it has historically received.
“Indeed, many of today’s prestige shows feel like the creative efforts of people who watched ‘Mad Men’, ‘The Sopranos’, and ‘Breaking Bad’ and then tried to replicate them without understanding what actually made them so good.”
But at its core, that self-reflexivity is rooted in anxiety for the future—as well it should be. Because as it turns out, the end of Mad Men is not the end of TV, but rather the end of a particular era for the medium, one that has been repeatedly canonized in books like Brett Martin’s Difficult Men and Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution was Televised. The Difficult Men narrative of “visionary” showrunners provides a picture of what Good TV is supposed to look like, and how it’s supposed to be made: by exacting geniuses like Don Draper. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s Not About Substance. It’s All About Signaling
Jonathan V. Last writes: In economic theory, “signaling” is an action one party takes that has, superficially, no plausible economic explanation. The reason the action is undertaken isn’t because the action itself is helpful, but because the action transmits important information to a second actor.
“Why do reporters ask politicians what they think about evolution? Practically speaking, no one really cares what a senator or a congressman-or even a president-thinks about evolution. But what a politician says about evolution is a handy signal to certain types of voters telling them what they’re supposed to think.”
So, for instance, the entire field of higher education is essentially a big production in signaling, with students paying lots of money to achieve-not because a college education is worth anything as a good, but because the students hope that the the credential will signal value to potential employers. You don’t pay $200K for a bachelor’s in history from Williams because the class on colonial oppression in West Africa is worth the price of a house. You pay it because you hope that Goldman Sachs sees a Williams diploma as proof of intelligence and will want to hire you.
“The president of the United States-who’s also a constitutional law scholar!-decided that in order to get his arms around reforming the criminal justice system he had to consult with the producer of a fictional TV show that went off the air seven years ago.”
Political life is full of signal theory, too. Why do reporters ask politicians what they think about evolution? Practically speaking, no one really cares what a senator or a congressman-or even a president-thinks about evolution. But what a politician says about evolution is a handy signal to certain types of voters telling them what they’re supposed to think.
“President Obama has always been skilled at sending out very precise, targeted signals, whether it’s to mainstream swing voters or to his liberal base. But the group Obama works hardest at signaling to is the young, Millennial hipsters who were so vital to his 2008 victory over Hillary Clinton.”
So if you’re a nice, well-educated cog in the Goldman Sachs machine who thinks that, generally speaking, public-sector unions are harmful, that the federal government is operating in a suboptimal manner, and that the mullahs of Iran probably shouldn’t be allowed to have nuclear weapons, you might consider voting for someone like that tough, can-do governor from Wisconsin.
But then someone asks the governor whether or not he “believes in evolution” and he doesn’t answer by jumping up and down chanting and “Darwin! Darwin! Darwin!” And suddenly you understand: This guy isn’t really like you. Better to let Iran have nukes.
You got the signal loud and clear.
“As a substantive matter, Obama’s presidency has been terrible for these people. High unemployment numbers for recent graduates. No bending of the curve on college tuition prices….Yet Obama has made sure to signal that, despite everything, he’s really on their side.”
Ah, the Japanese fan dance. In popular culture, its staid connections to Noh and Kabuki theater are put aside in favor of something more risque. Usually it’s a coy geisha slowly using her fans to seductively cover and reveal her face and body. But just as more business are capitalizing on male sex appeal these days, the modern Japanese fan dance has a hot, sweaty man version too.
This may have started with the Japanese musician and provocateur DJ Ozma, who famously earned a lifetime ban from national broadcaster NHK after his first appearance featured dancers in skin-colored leotards painted to look like naked bodies. His 2008 song DRINKIN’BOYS featured a group of naked male dancers using strategically placed fans….(read more)
Burn Her! She Would Act Like a Witch in a Situation That Will Never Come Up!
Matt Welch writes: Someone please tell me if my progression here is inaccurate in any way:
1) Family owners of small-town Indiana pizzeria spend zero time or energy commenting on gay issues.
2) TV reporter from South Bend walks inside the pizzeria to ask the owners what they think of the controversial Religious Restoration Freedom Act. Owner Crystal O’Connor responds, “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no….We are a Christian establishment.” O’Connor also says—actually promises is the characterization here—that the establishment will continue to serve any gay or non-Christian person that walks through their door.
3) The Internet explodes with insults directed at the O’Connor family and its business, including a high school girls golf coach in Indiana who tweets “Who’s going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?” Many of the enraged critics assert, inaccurately, that Memories Pizza discriminates against gay customers.
4) In the face of the backlash, the O’Connors close the pizzeria temporarily, and say they may never reopen, and in fact might leave the state. “I don’t know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it’s safe to reopen,” Crystal O’Connor tells The Blaze. “I’m just a little guy who had a little business that I probably don’t have anymore,” Kevin O’Connor tells the L.A. Times.
Rod Dreher titles his useful post on this grotesque affair “Into the Christian Closet,” and it’s apt considering the progression above. If only these non-activist restaurateurs had simply kept their views to themselves when asked by a reporter, April Fool’s would have been like any other day for them.
But as it stands, they’re now being trashed not just by social-justice mobs from afar, but by powerful politicians where they live and work. Democratic State Sen. Jim Arnold represents the O’Connors’s district. This is what he said about his constituents:
“The vast majority of people in this country are not going to stand by and watch that kind of activity unfold,” he said. “If that’s their stand I hope they enjoy eating their pizza because I don’t think anyone else is going to.”
Sen. Arnold says he’s upset by the news because of the negative attention it’s bringing to a town he says is a great community.
He said this kind of thinking has no place in this town. And the Religious Freedom Restoration Law is not an excuse for them to discriminate.
“This is America and if people say they’re not going to serve them and they feel this is some kind of defense, which by the way doesn’t take effect until July 1, but if they feel it’s some kind of defense, I think they’re sadly mistaken[.]“
Almost every word out of Sen. Arnold’s mouth was wrong, horrifying, or both.
1) The O’Connors did not say “they’re not going to serve them,” they in fact stressed the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »
“A strange virus is going around…” Fear the Walking Dead premieres Summer 2015.
Popcorn Time’s BitTorrent-for-dummies approach has become the virtually undisputed future of video piracy
Netflix, but with far more content and none of those pesky monthly payments. Hollywood quickly intervened, pressuring Popcorn Time’s Argentinian developers to walk away from their creation. But anonymous coders soon relaunched the copyright-flouting software. Today, Popcorn Time is growing at a rate that has likely surpassed the original, and the people behind it say they’re working on changes designed to make the service virtually impervious to law enforcement.Popcorn Time was an instant hit when it launched just over a year ago: The video streaming service made BitTorrent piracy as easy as
“We’re like Google. scraping for new content all over the internet.”
— Popcorn Time’s anonymous developer, known here by the popcorn-box mascot name “Pochoclin”
As Popcorn Time celebrated the first anniversary of its rebirth, WIRED chatted via email and instant message with a software developer from Popcorn-Time.se, one of the most popular of several reincarnations of Popcorn Time. (The anonymous developer asked us to use Popcorn Time’s smiling popcorn-box mascot “Pochoclin” as his or her pseudonym.) Popcorn Time’s masked spokesperson says the streaming movie and TV app is flourishing—in defiance of many of the world’s most powerful copyright holders and EURid, the domain registrar that seized the original site’s web domain last year.
“After everything we went through, this will be our sweetest revenge.”
— Anonymous Popcorn Time spokesperson
Popcorn-Time.se, Pochoclin says, has millions of users and is growing at the mind-bending rate of 100,000 downloads per day. He or she also hinted that a forthcoming switch to a peer-to-peer architecture will make the service far harder for copyright cops to attack. “We’re at the threshold of one of the most exciting times since we started this project,” Pochoclin writes. “Making all our data available via p2p will mean that Popcorn Time will no longer rely on domains and centralized servers but only on its user base.”
“After everything we went through,” Pochoclin said, “this will be our sweetest revenge and our biggest victory.”
When Popcorn-Time.se started responding to WIRED’s questions in November, Pochoclin said the reborn project already had 4 million users. But it had taken a serious hit a few months earlier, when Brussels-based domain registrar EURid revoked its website domain, Time4Popcorn.eu. At its new Swedish domain, it’s only recently returned to that earlier adoption rate. (Pochoclin wouldn’t reveal the size of its current user base for fear of drawing more attention from law enforcement or copyright holders.) “[EURid’s domain seizure] was just a small setback … a small but painful kick to the balls,” the spokesperson says. “We’ve grown this project tremendously since we picked it up … The numbers just keep rising.”
For any other year-old startup, those numbers would seem ludicrous. But Popcorn Time is giving away Hollywood’s most valuable content for free, and making that piracy easier than ever. Download Popcorn Time’s app and in seconds you’re offered a slick menu of streaming TV shows and movies at least as easy to navigate as Netflix or Hulu—but with higher-quality video and hundreds of recent movies and TV shows paid services don’t offer. Read the rest of this entry »
Timothy B. Lee writes:
For the last week, Hillary Clinton has been at the center of a media feeding frenzy over allegations that she used a personal email account while Secretary of State to avoid public scrutiny of her official communications. The real Clinton has been tight-lipped, but her Saturday Night Live alter ego, Kate McKinnon, took to the airwaves on Saturday to address the controversy.
McKinnon portrays Clinton as aloof, awkward, and power-obsessed. And these portrayals can have a big influence on a candidate’s public image….(read more)
Nick Gillespie writes: A show that was once darkly great has descended into prosaic moralism. God save us from fictional pols who are serious about jobs programs.
Is anybody else kinda-sorta done with House of Cards? Not literally but figuratively. Season three is a real letdown, but not because the Netflix series is, in the words of one reviewer, too “bleak” or negative or dark.
“House of Cards is going softer than President Frank Underwood’s gut. The first two seasons were a palate-cleansing, tit-for-tat inversion of Aaron Sorkin’s cloyingly earnest West Wing, where even the bad guys tended to be good-hearted, if ideologically misguided.”
It’s the exact opposite: House of Cards is going softer than President Frank Underwood’s gut. The first two seasons were a palate-cleansing, tit-for-tat inversion of Aaron Sorkin’s cloyingly earnest West Wing, where even the bad guys tended to be good-hearted, if ideologically misguided.
But in just three seasons of House of Cards we’ve gone from Underwood (Kevin Spacey) not thinking twice about shoving under a train the unethical journalist he was fucking to a world where he actually takes seriously the idea of a federally funded jobs program that will—finally! seriously! emphatically!—end unemployment as we know it. He actually seems to earnestly want to do something for people and not simply because it will give him more power. Hell, at one point, he echoes FDR talking about how the “country needs bold, persistent experimentation” to turn the economy around and approaches his “America Works” program as something other than the shovel-ready malarkey the old Frank would have gleefully exulted.
Do we really want the characters in House of Cards to start developing consciences and to grow into moral actors? Please, the whole kick of the show is precisely that its universe is inhabited only by ethical gargoyles.
Even more disappointing is the devolution of First Lady Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) from a ruthless operator who puts Agrippina the Younger to shame into a latter-day Lady Macbeth filled with doubts about her and her husband’s patently unredeemable actions. “We’re murderers, Francis,” she says at one point in the new season—as if that’s a bad thing.
What’s going on here might be called the “Archie Bunker Effect,” and it’s no prettier than when All in the Family’s protagonist would belch loudly after chugging a beer while sitting in his favorite living room chair. When All in the Family started in the early 1970s, its protagonist was supposed to hold up a mirror to America and depict the petty and base racism, sexism, you-name-it-ism of the working class. Bless their hearts, Hollywood big shots such as creator Norman Lear just wanted to ennoble the little people.
“He actually seems to earnestly want to do something for people and not simply because it will give him more power. Hell, at one point, he echoes FDR talking about how the ‘country needs bold, persistent experimentation’ to turn the economy around and approaches his ‘America Works’ program as something other than the shovel-ready malarkey the old Frank would have gleefully exulted.”
“By giving bigotry a human face, Lear believed, his show could help liberate American TV viewers. He hoped that audiences would embrace Archie but reject his beliefs,” wrote The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum in an essay inspired by Saul Austerlitz’s 2014 book Sitcom. But as Nussbaum puts it, “‘A funny thing happened on the way to TV immortality: audiences liked Archie,’ Austerlitz writes. ‘Not in an ironic way, not in a so-racist-he’s-funny way; Archie was TV royalty because fans saw him as one of their own.’” Probably even worse for Norman Lear, in many ways the ultimate limousine liberal, was that the show’s resident liberal mouthpiece, Mike “Meathead” Stivic (brilliantly portrayed by Rob Reiner), was the show’s true laughingstock.
“We’re murderers, Francis,” Claire Underwood says at one point in the new season—as if that’s a bad thing.
But if there’s something more frustrating than fans misunderstanding a character and a show’s dynamics, it’s when producers do. All in the Family quickly became increasingly less funny and more preachy until it finally transmogrified into the godawful Archie Bunker’s Place. That last, comedy-free permutation was set at a bar Archie owned and operated. He still mangled the language (gynecologist became “groinacologist,” for instance) but Archie was now a standup guy who literally took in and cared for orphans.
“For all that, we are reminded time and again—and without irony—that leaders and policymakers are constantly balancing an impossible array of interests and tradeoffs.”
Similarly, the third season of House of Cards spends a hell of a lot of time humanizing the Underwoods and other characters. To be sure—spoiler alerts!—recovering alcoholic and chief of staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) is still capable of going on booze-and-sex benders and killing innocent people, but even he thinks twice before finally dispatching the prostitute Rachel, a loose thread whose existence threatens the president’s reelection. Read the rest of this entry »
[PHOTO] William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy Reading MAD Magazine Between Takes on the Original Star Trek Series, 1968Posted: March 4, 2015
The spat began earlier this month, when director Feng Xiaogang lambasted the popularity of a spate of recent Chinese movies based on popular reality television shows
Lilian Lin reports: An unusual public spat between a famous director and the Communist party’s main propaganda arm is shining a light on the state of pop culture in China.
The spat began earlier this month, when director Feng Xiaogang lambasted the popularity of a spate of recent Chinese movies based on popular reality television shows. Such movies, he said on a local television program, are “shot in five or six days” yet make quick money. That hurts genuine filmmaking, he argued, because it draws investor money away from more serious movies.
The apparent target of his criticism was a new film called “Running Man,” which is based on a popular reality show of the same name. The TV show, which is based on a South Korean program and is similar to “The Amazing Race” series in the U.S., pits celebrities against each other in random tasks. (The losers face indignities such as being flung into a swimming pool.) The movie, which has a similar plot, has taken in over 400 million yuan ($64 million) in ticket sales after only two weeks, according to the local film research company EntGroup.
“Is film censorship really based on rule of law and letting the market call the shots? Of course not.”
— Zou Xiaowu, marketing director of theater chain Dadi Cinema
Another movie based on a hit Chinese reality show, “Dad, Where Are We Going?,” took in nearly 700 million yuan and was the country’s third highest-grossing domestic film last year.
Mr. Feng himself made his name initially with light-hearted comedic films that became major box office successes. But in recent years he has turned to more serious films, including 2010’s “Aftershock,” about a deadly 1976 earthquake, and “Back to 1942,” a 2012 film about a famine that killed up to three million people.
“The films that really should be criticized are those films that put people to sleep. At least ‘Running Man’ is logical.”
— Wang Zhengyu, a producer of “Running Man”
His critique of the new reality TV movies is a familiar one, and not just inside China. (A spokesman said Mr. Feng didn’t have more to add.) But the counterargument came from a surprising source: The People’s Daily newspaper.
In an editorial last week, the Communist party’s main newspaper said the films are “the choice of audiences and the market.” The challenge for filmmakers like Mr. Feng, it said, is to “complain less but make more good films.”
A separate, later editorial on the paper’s Weibo social-media account suggested such criticism is hypocritical. “Directors of commercial films looking down upon variety show film is kind of like a crow accusing a pig of being black,” it said. Read the rest of this entry »
[VIDEO] Prank: Unsuspecting Bachelors Set Up On Blind Date With Attractive Woman Who Turns Out To Be Professional Stunt DriverPosted: February 12, 2015
Ford pulled another commercial-turned-stunt by setting unsuspecting bachelors up on a blind date with an attractive woman, who also happened to be a professional stunt driver.
After chatting at a cafe, the couple take off in a new 2015 Ford Mustang and the woman lets the men know that she’s not very experienced at driving a manual transmission. Then, right when the first date banter reaches peak boredom, the driver dips off into an empty parking lot to take the dates for an unexpected thrill ride…(more)