Friday, October 30, 2009

Brand Creep

I remember a long time ago sitting mesmerized by Twyla Tharp's The Catherine Wheel, set to the music of David Byrne. Almost as interesting as what I was seeing was how I was seeing it. On television. On the Bravo channel. At one time there was slim chance of seeing such a performance outside New York City, but thanks to networks like Bravo and A&E, that had all changed. In the early years of Bravo and A&E it was not uncommon to see dance of all types, jazz and classical music, and stage productions from drama to opera.

These days, the closest you'll get to Don Giovanni, is a mafia Don in The Sopranos. The Sopranos is as close as you're going to get to art these days on A&E. Shows like Dog the Bounty Hunter, Gene Simmons Family Jewels and Steven Seagal: Lawman are typical of a schedule devoid of art, and offering little in the way of entertainment. Inside the Actor's Studio must feel a bit lonely in Bravo's line up. The word bravo is the Italian form of brave. There is scant brave to Bravo's schedule, cluttered with "me too" train wreck shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Orange County. I may love Top Chef, if only for Padma Lakshmi, but art or brave it ain't. Two networks with names they no longer have any connection to. Maybe A&E could drop the Arts and just go with E....but wait....there's already an E!, Entertainment Televison, so that's out. Come to think of it, there's nothing entertaining on E! Damn! This getting the right name for a network might be harder than it seems.

How about MTV? Music Television abandoned music years ago in favor of reality shows and soap operas. When enough people complained, Viacom launched MTV2 with the promise of playing nothing but music videos. Then they stopped playing music videos on MTV2 as well. Recently--and probably due to the soft ad market--the MTVs added a few token hours of music in the small hours of the morning. Hey, unlike all that other programming, it's free! Rest assured, when they can go back to selling that time, they'll be back to their old ways. The last thing they want on Music Television is music.

Most of what you can learn on The Learning Channel isn't worth knowing. Watching shows like Jon & Kate Plus 8, Toddlers & Tiaras and I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant you can feel yourself actually getting dumber. Maybe they should call it The Unlearning Channel.

Now, it's the Weather Channel. I know there should be some embarrassment and shame associated with being the sort of sad geek who watches the Weather Channel. Yet, I freely admit to watching the Weather Channel all the time. No shame. No guilt. Yes, it's a sad existence. Lately it's gotten just a little sadder. Lately, there has been less and less weather on the Weather Channel. It started in April, when they added Wake Up With Al. For a couple hours weekday mornings the viewer is treated to a range of weather-related segments about why Vanessa Williams uses Botox and why Miley Cyrus thinks being young, beautiful and filthy rich is fun. Oh, and David Beckham really likes to snuggle. Stick around long enough and Al's friend Jim Cramer might come by to show he knows as little about the economy as Al does about the weather. It's excruciatingly bad. But wait, things have gotten worse.

Starting tonight, the Weather Channel Presents will be showing a movie every Friday night. A movie. Oh, wait! They assure us that in every movie, the weather will play a pivotal role. Sure enough, in the first movie, The Perfect Storm, the weather played a major role. Next up? The March of the Penguins. A wonderful movie to be sure, and it sure looks cold, but really, how does the weather play a pivotal role here? The penguins do this every year, no matter what the weather. They live there and have adapted. Saying March of the Penguins is about the weather is like saying My Dinner with Andre is about food. What's next? Misery? Please....the blizzard is mostly over before the opening credits finish, and after seven minutes in the weather has nothing to do with the movie. After that, it's Deep Blue Sea, about mutant, genetically engineered mako sharks in a secret floating lab and....shit, I can't even finish that sentence. Deep Blue Sea might be about something, but it sure isn't the weather.

Why not come right out and admit it? Pathetic geeks like me, who love weather, are a small and probably not very desirable demographic. Go ahead, it won't hurt our feelings. In the course of admitting it, why not avoid the mistake that has plagued so many other cable channels? Why not change the name to something that reflects the new programming? Given the strange hodgepodge of programs, and what changes undoubtedly lie ahead, the Weather Channel should change its name to the Whatever Channel.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

"You can see why...."

While wing-nut crowd celebrates Chicago's failure to become the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games as some massive world-wide repudiation of Barack Obama, it's worth taking a moment to consider what really happened. The marketing sucked. Check out the presentation (sorry about the poor quality and the commercial).

If you made it much past the point of Anita DeFrantz saying, "You can see why that setting will create an extraordinary experience," you did better than me. No, Anita, I can't see why. When you're bidding to host one of the premier events on the world stage, you should really put more effort into it than slapping some new text over the same presentation the Tourism and Convention Bureau uses to attract conventions of accountants or proctologists. Before an Obama took to the microphone, the members of the IOC had to suffer through thirty minutes of the most heartless, thoughtless dreck imaginable. By that time, poor old Juan Antonio Samaranch had fallen asleep, face down in his copy of Mein Kampf.

The failure? Chicago didn't tell anybody anything that made the city seem in any way different than any other city. If Chicago can't get excited about its self, why should anyone else? The sad thing is, Chicago IS a great city. They would have done far better to have Sarah Vowell come read her essay on the Michigan Avenue Bridge from Take the Cannoli. Hell, just play them Ferris Bueller's Day Off--even just the Twist and Shout scene would do the trick.

It wouldn't have been that difficult. Some cities have real image problems. It's difficult to think of Rio and not be reminded of its crippling poverty and massive, oppressive slums, but that's balanced out by the images of natural beauty, fabulous beaches and, of course, Carnival. Chicago's image problem is that for the last couple decades, it really doesn't have an image. When much of the world thinks of Chicago, the first thing they think of is Oprah. Let's compare those two images:

Which city do you want to go to? Hell, even this guy gets it: