Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

AMC shuts down Mad Men Twitter accounts

UPDATE: Quote of the day goes to Peggy_Olson: “Pleased to discover it’s not hard to make friends in advertising after all. But the guys in legal are humorless, and frankly not too bright.”

UPDATE 7:33 p.m.: Mad Men characters are back on the air. More details if I can get one of them on record.

Typical. I spend 800 words praising AMC for being innovative and cool, it turns out to be a fan project, and the giant clueless corporation invokes copyright to shut them down.

I said Hollywood doesn’t get the Internet, and AMC seems determined to prove me right.


Written by Michael B. Duff

August 26, 2008 at 10:53

Posted in TV

Mad Men invade Twitter!

It’s 3 a.m. on Thursday morning and I’m writing text messages to a fictional character. Peggy Olson wants to read “Atlas Shrugged” and I’m trying to stop her.

Hollywood hasn’t really figured out the Internet yet. I remember a good friend in 1993, promising to boycott any movie that had its own web site. I presume he’s reading books now.

These days, all movie web sites look the same — struggling to be different in exactly the same way. Buggy, flash-heavy pages that require dozens of plug-ins and fail spectacularly when you don’t have them.

Most promoters try to impress us with video, eye-candy and sound effects, but every now and then, somebody gets creative.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 25, 2008 at 11:35

Posted in TV

Duff: Striking writers are fighting for their piece of the Internet pie

Duff: Striking writers are fighting for their piece of the Internet pie

By the time you read this, the Hollywood writer’s strike will be three weeks old. And at the risk of sounding biased, this looks to be the most clear cut case of good vs. evil since David beaned Goliath.

Network execs sound particularly arrogant this time because they think they’ve figured out how to produce television without writers.

They think they can keep us distracted with game shows and reality TV while they work through their cache of scripted programs.

But “Heroes” fans won’t wait forever, and reality shows are old news. I’ll confess to being a fan of old-time game shows, but the modern variety are like cotton candy dunked in glitter.

There’s no substance here. Modern viewers need stories – characters, dialog and plots we can sink our teeth into. Look at what HBO has done for primetime TV.

Shows like “Rome,” “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under” have carved out an audience and raised standards for free and pay TV alike. That’s the kind of entertainment people are hungry for – the kind of quality that comes from strong writing.

So what does all this have to do with the Internet? Everything. The writers want a flat 2.5 percent cut of new media revenue, and the execs are talking out both sides of their mouths as they try to deny it.

In one speech, Viacom chief Sumner Redstone brags about the revenue potential inherent in “convergent advertising deals” while in another he says new media “won’t yield enough revenue to pay writers for at least the next five or six decades of my life.”

The writers say networks are using the new medium as an excuse to cut their residual rate, just like they did when home video was new.

The writers took a serious pay cut to help the fledgling home video market and they never got it back. The Writer’s Guild pushed for a bigger cut of DVD revenue this time but took it off the table in the last round of negotiations before the strike.

Don’t let the networks fool you. New media is about to explode as a platform and a revenue source. Streaming video of primetime shows is viable, practical and paid for.

NBC and HBO are poised to launch a new service called Hulu, a Web site that will feature, not just current shows, but all your old favorites, ad-supported and in high quality.

It’s not fully implemented yet, but you can preview the service at video.aol.com.

The writers aren’t striking over some abstract prediction of the future. The Internet is about to change the way you watch TV, and writers are fighting for their piece of the pie.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 23, 2007 at 13:47

Posted in Columns, TV

CBS don't need writers to write news good

CBS news writers have authorized a nationwide strike, and once again, the execs aren't worried. They say they've got plenty of nonunion writers who can pick up the slack.

And in the news today, President Bush said a lot of boring stuff and some guy in Russia wigged out at a cabinet meeting. Back to you, Velveeta.

And then, like an hour ago, this criminal dude was all like, “I'm escaping with teh cash!”

And the cops were all like, “Nuh huh.”

And the dude was all like, “Yeah, huh.”

And his car was all like VROOM!

Then the cops were all, “We put down spikes on the road!” and the criminal dude got all crashed.

Then a van came and the driver got even more dead than the first guy.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 20, 2007 at 14:06

Posted in Humor, TV

NBC/Fox to release your favorite programs on Hulu

Machinist says what we're all thinking. Hulu is a joke. When NBC started playing hardball with iTunes, we thought they were nuts. Your business model is dead, old dudes. The future is Apple, Google, and YouTube.

NBC had the content, but their distribution model sucked. But what if they fixed the distribution model?

What if they found a way to make money off the greatest TV shows of today and yesterday, without pissing off the “information is free” generation?

Well now they have. It's about 10 years overdue, but the big networks have finally thrown their hats in the ring.

Want to blog about last night's episode of Family Guy? What if you could embed the episode, the entire episode, streaming, high quality, in your blog?

Now you can.

So what if you don't like modern TV? What if you want to watch vintage Hong Kong Phooey, from 1974?

Now you can.

What if you want to check out Battlestar Galactica, without springing for a DVD?

Now you can.

Overcome with a sudden urge to date Scott Baio?

Seek help.

Hulu's not live yet, but you can get a preview of the best stuff on AOL.

This is a knockout punch from the old networks, wisely leveraging the power of their content. They're capitalizing on YouTube's dirty little secret. For all our talk of user contributed content and new media paradigms, YouTube was ultimately built on copyright violations, built by people posting the best bits of their favorite shows and sharing them with friends.

Now the networks have taken control of that audience. They're offering their best stuff for free, in high quality, and they finally got the technology right.

I don't mind watching ads if the player works. I think this is going to be a huge win for users, networks and advertisers. Imagine how much faster we could have had it, if the networks had spent more time innovating and less time suing people.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 29, 2007 at 14:41

Posted in TV

Duff: There is no such thing as a free monkey

Duff: There is no such thing as a free monkey

There is no such thing as a free monkey.

Recently I got a call from a lady named Betty Childers. Betty was calling to report “a scam on your Web site.” We take that kind of thing very seriously here at Lubbock Online, so I took her information and immediately checked with our classifieds manager.

Betty was responding to an ad that offered to provide a monkey from Cameroon “for free adoption.” The Avalanche-Journal stopped running these ads about a year ago, but versions of them are still floating around the Internet, waiting to trap the unwary.

Betty contacted a man named “Dennis Williamson” at his Yahoo address and eagerly awaited the arrival of her monkey. A few days later, she was told that Pan American Airlines needed her to pay $220 in “monkey insurance” before they could ship a monkey overseas. (Note: Pan American World Airways went out of business in 1991.)

Time passes, and Betty gets another e-mail, this time claiming that her monkey had been “held up in customs in France” and that it would take another $300 to get him released.

Betty was very upset about having her monkey “held hostage,” but she lives on a fixed income and could not afford $300. The broker offered to pay $200 of the fee if Betty could send him another $100, which she did. So Betty is out $320, and she still doesn’t have her monkey.

These kinds of stories are regrettably common.

The most infamous Internet scam is the Nigerian 419 or Advance Fee Fraud scam, where a wealthy foreigner offers to cut you in on a large percentage of a questionable fortune, as long as you provide a couple thousand up front.

It takes a special combination of greed and gullibility to fall for the 419 scam, but the monkey scam is a bit easier to understand. People give away puppies and kittens all the time, why not try the same thing with a monkey? (The ad describes the monkey as “DNA tasted” which may be my favorite spelling mistake of all time.)

Ultimately, the best way to be safe on the Internet is to use some common sense. Deal with established businesses, don’t send money to strangers, and if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Don’t open unsolicited e-mail attachments, and don’t forward strange or cute e-mails to other people.

The Web site Snopes.Com has an extensive database of scams, pranks and tricks that have been circulating on the Internet for years. When in doubt, check Snopes first.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 12, 2007 at 14:18

Posted in Columns, Humor, Movies, TV

Duff: Reality TV snares another victim; I am now part of the problem

Duff: Reality TV snares another victim; I am now part of the problem

I am now part of the problem.

For years I’ve complained about the declining quality of mainstream entertainment – the sad spiral of inanity as good shows are slowly replaced by reality TV.

I’ve tried to stay above it, but a friend told me I should watch “Big Brother,” and all the current episodes were available online.

I clicked the “Play” button and everything went black. The video started playing and when I looked up again, I was hooked. I knew all kinds of things I had never wanted to know, my head filled with intimate details about people I wouldn’t ordinarily make eye contact with.

“Big Brother” is the most obvious example, but the major networks didn’t invent voyeurism; they just gave it a better script.

Voyeurism is a staple of Internet culture. The craze started about 10 years ago with the ascension of a camgirl named Jennifer Ringley. Ringley started a site called “JenniCam,” where she basically pointed a camera at herself and broadcast the results, uncensored, 24 hours a day.

JenniCam inspired hundreds of competitors, guys and girls willing to expose their lives for attention and cash. These days most cams are sponsored by sex sites, but for a short period in the ’90s, broadcasting your life on the Internet could almost pass for art.

“Big Brother” takes the same concept mainstream. Most people just watch the show each week, but diehard fans can pony up some dough and watch live feeds of the contestants over the Internet. For a mere $15 a month you can watch total strangers eat, sleep, argue and lounge by the pool.

Kind of like living in a dorm again, except you can turn them off. It’s worth the three-day trial, just so you can disabuse yourself of any romantic notions that Hollywood may have left in your head.

As much as we might dream of spying on our neighbors, the reality is mind-numbingly dull.

After watching three hours of the unedited “Big Brother” feed, a reviewer for the Web site Television Without Pity was begging for “Vicodin and a handgun.”

“Big Brother” is an avalanche of banality, carefully edited to look like drama.

I’m afraid the Internet has taken the edge off many of our favorite sins. Webcams prove that the quickest way to get over a vice is to drown in it.

Written by Michael B. Duff

September 7, 2007 at 14:29

Posted in Columns, TV

Duff: Networks make it easy to catch up with your favorite shows on the Web

Duff: Networks make it easy to catch up on your favorite shows on the Web

Last weekend I spent 23 hours watching the entire “Jericho” series. I watched the episodes on CBS.com, streamed live into my Web browser.

All three major networks are jumping on this bandwagon now, allowing viewers to watch episodes of their favorite shows on demand over the Internet.

NBC offers “Heroes” and “House.” CBS offers “Jericho,” “Big Brother” and three different flavors of CSI. They also stream their daytime soap opera lineup, if you’re willing to watch that sort of thing.

The browser plugins require a bit of installation, and streaming video requires a fairly quick Internet connection, but the quality is good, and you can’t beat the price.

The shows are supported by advertising – ads on the page and brief commercials before each segment of the program. Right now there’s only one sponsor per show, so in a typical hour you can expect to see the same commercial five times.

Most of America probably isn’t ready to watch television on a computer screen, but if you’re hooked on a series and need to fill in the gaps, the networks are on your side.

You can’t see every show in the lineup, and you can’t always go back as far as you’d like, but most of the big shows are there, and the networks are giving us more every day.

I’d like to give the big three credit for embracing new technology, but they’re actually a bit behind the curve. Internet users have been able to download TV shows for years now; it just hasn’t been easy (or legal) until now.

TV pirates use a protocol called BitTorrent to swap video files of their favorite shows. The files are large, the download speeds are erratic, and some shows can be hard to find. Swapping TV shows is also illegal, and your Internet provider may disconnect you if you get caught.

Throw all those drawbacks together, and watching commercials actually becomes the least painful option. It’s the kind of trend I like to see – networks making it easy to do the right thing.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 3, 2007 at 14:51

Posted in Columns, TV

NBC rolls out the big guns

NBC is going supernatural next season, capitalizing on the success of “Heroes”, its only bonafide hit.

Their comedy lineup is struggling, leading to the demise of the smartest show on the network, and my erstwhile favorite, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip“.

“Studio 60” has had a long, tortured ride this year, dodging cancellation half a dozen times before it finally got the axe. Created by West Wing guru Aaron Sorkin, “Studio 60” was despised by everyone who should have liked it. The same left-leaning alpha consumers who loved the “West Wing” turned on Studio 60 with a vengence.

I don't know why the cool kids turned on Sorkin. “Studio 60” was still smart, still funny, and still insufferably left wing, but Sorkin's audience wanted to see elaborate power fantasies about Democrats in the White House. Democrats already run Hollywood, so there's no fantasy here — no fighter jets dispatched from the war room, no heroic speeches about socialized medicine, and no sniggering Republican enemy to sink your teeth into.

The West Wing was a soothing counterpoint to the Bush administration. Sorkin killed their favorite show and substituted a lesser one. It was like watching your dad bring home a new girlfriend.

So what comedy has survived the Spring Purge? NBC has chosen to preserve “30 Rock“, a desperately unfunny show that makes banter look like weight lifting. Alec Baldwin is the only watchable actor on the program, and half his lines are devoted to the promotion of GE products.

So what has NBC got ready for the new season? What will save us from an endless sea of procedural cop shows?

We can look forward to a “Heroes” spinoff — a new Hero every week, followed by an American Idol vote-off at the end. Forget super powers, I plan to vote for the one with the best hair.

NBC is remaking the “Bionic Woman”. Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner were like a second family to me in the 70s, so I will cautiously withhold judgment on this one.

Then we have “Journeyman,” a story about a San Franciso newspaper reporter who travels through time to alter people's lives. Somebody's been reading my Livejournal! Or maybe they're just ripping off CBS. The truth is, all newspaper employees can travel in time. Why just last week, I saved the life of Larry the Cable Guy and built a campfire in the middle of some dinosaur footprints. Keep it under your hat.

Next on the lineup is “Chuck”, a thriller about a computer geek who becomes a government agent after…zzzzz…oh sorry, I nodded off there for a minute. Please, no more shows about heroic computer geeks. I've been a geek my whole life — I don't need to watch thinly-veiled parodies of myself having wacky adventures.

Candace Bushnell is making a show that sounds like “Sex in the City Lite”, this time with Brooke Shields in the lead. Better get used to it, guys. This is the show your wife will be making you watch next season.

And then we have a new sitcom, “The IT Crowd” about a group of people who work in technical services at a large corporation. This could be really funny, or it could be terribly trite and embarrassing. Geek as outcast, geek as superhero. I think I prefer “Geek as maniacal supervillain” but nobody listens to me.

Written by Michael B. Duff

May 14, 2007 at 11:00

Posted in TV

Duff: Cool stuff on You Tube makes political warfare fun for us all

As the 2004 race was fought in the blogosphere, the 2008 race will be fought on You Tube.

The interesting thing here is not what’s being said in the campaign, but how the battle is taking place. The battle for 2008 is being fought with a series of provocative video clips – a volley of streamlined sound bites, laser-targeted and out of context, often distributed by the candidates themselves.

John McCain is feuding with the Club for Growth, Obama fans are tearing down Hillary with brilliant homebrew videos, and the worst dirt anyone has on Obama is a picture of him with a cigarette in his mouth.

The best video so far seems to be an amateur production: a spoof of the famous 1984 Macintosh ad depicting Hillary Clinton as the tired old order, smashed by her young, vigorous rival. Obama’s campaign has vigorously denied creating the ad, and I’m inclined to believe them. The major candidates are so risk-averse these days, I doubt anything this cool could make it past their lawyers.

Camille Paglia compares the candidates to racetrack thoroughbreds “rearing and shying as their handlers try to shove them into the gates.”
Michael Duff

With so much energy devoted to infighting, the actual Republican vs. Democrat sparring is starting to suffer. Greg Sargent of Talking Points Memo has been reduced to comparing divorce rates among Republican and Democratic candidates. The verdict? “The entire field of Dems deemed credible boasts fewer divorces than Rudy Giuliani alone!”

The fun part is watching the usual suspects play against type. It’s still early enough that partisans are willing to praise their opponents and criticize their own frontrunners. In a year or so the major parties will form ranks behind their candidates, but we still have a few months of in-party warfare left. I say enjoy it while it lasts. We’ll get down to business soon enough.

On the Net:







Written by Michael B. Duff

May 11, 2007 at 15:23

Posted in Columns, Politics, TV