Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Future of TV

Via Kottke, here's an article written by Michael Hirschorn in March '09 edition of The Atlantic, titled "The Future Is Cheese," about how--starting soon--it won't make financial sense for TV networks to produce high-priced, character-heavy shows, a k a, good TV. Lots of good stuff here, including this:

As network television takes up a lower-brow position in the cultural pecking order, the higher-quality, more expensive shows will become increasingly independent of the networks that broadcast them. Eventually, networks will stop being brands and start becoming, at least in part, mere “distribution platforms,” a first stop for cultural products on their long journey through other digital media, subscription services, and mobile devices—more like movie-theater chains, in other words, than like movie studios of yore. Just as a premiere in a movie house now largely serves as a way to market the DVD, or sell products, so too is the TV “premiere” just a billboard for the show’s future life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Can you spell your first name for me?

The basketball blogging community has devoted much virtual ink to Allen Iverson's new haircut. And with good reason: Iverson's cornrows was the defining hairstyle of the NBA for the last decade. And since the NBA is the only (popular) North American sport whose athletes don't don some type of protective headgear, AI's head stylings have been the most influential in all of sport.

TrueHoop, as part of this round-the-clock coverage, presented this video of the haircutting process.

Despite the wide-ranging cultural, racial, and stylistic meaning of the NBA's blackest player moving away from the blackest hairstyle, I was most intrigued by Iverson's barber. More specifically, I'm intrigued by his name, namely: Chaun. You can hear Iverson pronounce it right before the 3:00 mark.

Eureka! We've discovered another spelling of this name!

We can now officially add Chaun to Sean, Shawn, Shaun, and Chone.

And, just for fun, try this Mental Floss game titled "Shawn, Sean or Shaun." I only got two out of five.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Simpsons' New Intro

Some are claiming that this is the first time The Simpsons' opening montage has changed, but that's not exactly true: the intro changed slightly between Seasons 1 and 2. Here's the new version, which made its debut last night in the first ever HD episode.

As much as I don't like change--there is something comforting to the long-running intro; I must have seen it several hundred times--I appreciate the incorporation of 20 year's worth of material.

Here are the references I noticed:
  • Tomacco juice
  • Mr. Sparkle detergent
  • That early episode when Bart cut of Jebediah Springfield's head
  • The burning tire yard
  • "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man"
  • Krusty's habit of shameless shilling: Krusty does funerals and Absolut Krusty
  • Lard Lad ("Just don't look...")
  • Homer as an astronaut
  • Patty, Selma and a shopping cart full of Laramie cigarettes
  • Maggie's rival
  • The picture of Bleeding Gums Murphy
  • Apu's children
  • A host of new characters
  • [Update: I just realized on my sixth viewing that the black bird has three eyes.]
Fill in any I'm missing in the comments.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Hometown Exit on TV

New York Knicks basketballer Al Harrington was born in Orange, NJ, which is located slightly to the east of my West Orange, NJ home. Harrington debuted tonight a commercial for his new line of basketballing shoes, which includes the highway exit sign for The Oranges and Newark, at the ten-second mark of this video.

Despite YouTube's claim that this video is in high quality, the writing on that green highway sign is just about illegible. But still: New Jersey.

Michael Lewis on Basketball

Michael Lewis is my favorite living writer. Basketball is my favorite living sport. (I think I would have enjoyed the ancient Aztec sport of Tachli. It is almost impossible to find an intramural Tachli league these days, though.)

Michael Lewis has a new article in this week's The NYT Magazine titled "The No-Stats All-Star" that, in classic Lewis fashion, combines a profile of Shane Battier with an investigation into the advanced statistical analysis of basketball. This piece didn't strike me as groundbreaking as Moneyball, but, then again, Moneyball was my first introduction to advanced statistical analyses of any sport. But now, five years later, I'm a devoted reader of Basketball Prospectus and I already know much of what Lewis is describing. Also, I can't help the feeling that what makes basketball compelling lies much more intimately with the individual personalities involved. Basketball--in a way that baseball and football can't be--reveals a deep sense of character and style. Can that be reconciled with a Moneyball approach? I'm not sure.

That said, Lewis is superbly great at what he does and the article is well worth a read. The piece is at its strongest when looking at how selfishness plays a role in basketball. Here's an excerpt:

It is in basketball where the problems are most likely to be in the game — where the player, in his play, faces choices between maximizing his own perceived self-interest and winning. The choices are sufficiently complex that there is a fair chance he doesn’t fully grasp that he is making them.

Taking a bad shot when you don’t need to is only the most obvious example. A point guard might selfishly give up an open shot for an assist. You can see it happen every night, when he’s racing down court for an open layup, and instead of taking it, he passes it back to a trailing teammate. The teammate usually finishes with some sensational dunk, but the likelihood of scoring nevertheless declined. “The marginal assist is worth more money to the point guard than the marginal point,” Morey says. Blocked shots — they look great, but unless you secure the ball afterward, you haven’t helped your team all that much. Players love the spectacle of a ball being swatted into the fifth row, and it becomes a matter of personal indifference that the other team still gets the ball back. Dikembe Mutombo, Houston’s 42-year-old backup center, famous for blocking shots, “has always been the best in the league in the recovery of the ball after his block,” says Morey, as he begins to make a case for Mutombo’s unselfishness before he stops and laughs. “But even to Dikembe there’s a selfish component. He made his name by doing the finger wag.” The finger wag: Mutombo swats the ball, grabs it, holds it against his hip and wags his finger at the opponent. Not in my house! “And if he doesn’t catch the ball,” Morey says, “he can’t do the finger wag. And he loves the finger wag.” His team of course would be better off if Mutombo didn’t hold onto the ball long enough to do his finger wag. “We’ve had to yell at him: start the break, start the break — then do your finger wag!"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Traveling Snowman

Sometimes I write things in places other than inside this blog. Last week was one of those times. Here's a letter to the editor I submitted to the YU Commentator.

And the flimsiest possible blogging pseudonym just became a bit flimsier.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book Proposals From Other Former New York Coaches

After the strong early publicity generated by former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre’s new tell-all book The Yankee Years, other New York coaches of the past are looking to capitalize on the trend. Published here for the first time are excerpts from several proposals currently being considered by major New York publishing houses. (Note: Former coaches of the Devils, Nets, and Islanders have been contacted by leading acquisition editors and informed in no uncertain terms that they are insufficiently “New York” for the purposes of this Freakonomics-style copycat publishing meme.) All of these manuscripts have been co-authored by Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated writer and collaborator on The Yankee Years, who has publicly requested that no one judge these works without reading them, until such time as he cashes his royalty checks.

Eric Mangini: Jets 2006-2008
Tentative Title, The U-2 Spy Plane Wore Green

“Everyone knows about the Patriots and Spygate, the team’s taping of opponents’ signals. They got caught, the team and coach were fined, they lost a draft pick, and everyone thought that was the end of it. No one realizes how much deeper this goes. I was a spy for the Patriots during my three years coaching the Jets. Bill [Belichick, Patriots coach] identified the Jets as our greatest threat in the division, so he let me go interview with them. It worked better than we could have hoped for: I got the job and made sure the Jets never threatened the Pats. It was Bill’s idea to have me get involved in the Spygate accusations so that we wouldn’t be suspected. That’s why we never shake hands after games anymore: Bill was worried he’d start laughing, which would blow our cover. We finally got caught this year. [Jets GM Mike] Tannenbaum knew something was up when I kept playing [Jets quarterback Brett] Favre down the stretch even after his disastrous December interception streak. Bill’s a good guy, though, and he used his old Browns connections to get me hired there right after the season ended. God knows they weren’t impressed by my coaching.”

Pat Riley: Knicks 1991-1995
Tentative Title, Riled Up

“The players drew a fair amount of notoriety for shaving their heads during those great playoff runs we had. Most people assumed this was just a way to display team unity during the playoffs. Eventually it turned into that, but it started off because Mase [Knicks player Anthony Mason] screwed up his patented “Words shaved into the head” haircut. His barber made some type of mistake, and his head said, “Except to Win.” That obviously isn’t acceptable in the playoffs. He had to shave it off, but he was too embarrassed about going clean-shaven after taking so much pride in his hair throughout the season. So he brought a pair of clippers on the team plane and shaved off a tuft of everyone’s hair. He forced the other guys to shave their heads too. The New York media bought whatever I was selling those days, so we got away with it.”

Davey Johnson, Mets 1984-1990
Tentative Title: The Bad Guys Won!

[Johnson submitted to numerous publishers dog-eared copies of The Bad Guys Won!, the 2005 book by Jeff Pearlman chronicling the 1986 World Series Champion Mets. Johnson blotted out Pearlman’s name on the cover with a Sharpie in less than half of his submissions. This proposal is still under consideration.]

Willie Randolph, Mets 2005-2008
Tentative Title: The Yankee Years Were Better

“It drove [Mets GM Omar] Minaya crazy that I was always talking about how the Yankees are a better-run organization. One time after he made a trade at the deadline, I emailed him to say that [Yankees GM Brian] Cashman would have made a better deal. I think he signed Billy Wagner just to spite me.”

Isiah Thomas, Knicks 2006-2008
Tentative Title: If I Destroyed a Franchise, Here’s How

“I was never really good with numbers as a kid. I used to have nightmares the night before math tests in high school. I tried to ignore the salary cap because I suffered really bad headaches any time I thought about it.”

“I was sued for sexual harassment. That was pretty embarrassing. Especially because we lost the case. We had to pay $11.6 million.”

“I think I alienated some fans when I got caught saying that I don’t care about white people.”

“I tried committing suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Then I blamed it on my daughter.”

[Note: Publishing insiders are reporting that too many of Thomas’s revelations are already public knowledge, possibly hurting his advance.]

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What Makes The Wire Different

Middlebury College is offering a Spring 2009 course titled "Watching The Wire." The syllabus is posted online, and it includes a pitch letter written by series creator David Simon to two HBO executives. Here is my favorite section of the note, which acts as a type of thesis statement for the show:
But The Wire is, I would argue, the next challenge to the network logic and the next challenge for HBO. It is grounded in the most basic network universe--the cop show--and yet, very shortly, it becomes clear to any viewer that something subversive is being done with that universal. Suddenly, the police bureaucracy is amoral, dysfunctional, and criminality, in the form of the drug culture, is just as suddenly a bureaucracy. Scene by scene, viewers find their carefully formed presumptions about cops and robbers undercut by alternative realities. Real police work endangers people who attempt it. Things that work in network cop shows fall flat in this alternative world. Police work is at times marginal or incompetent. Criminals are neither stupid nor cartoonish, and neither are they all sociopathic. And the idea--as yet unspoken on American TV--that no one in authority has any reason to care what happens in an American ghetto as long as it stays within the ghetto is brought into the open. Moreover, within a few hours of viewing, the national drug policy--and by extension our basic law enforcement model--is revealed as calcified, cynical, and unworkable.
And, while we're here, David Foster Wallace loved The Wire:
He was, in fact, extremely fond of The Wire -- he stopped me in the hall one day last year and said, look, I really want to sit down and pick your brain about this, because I'm really developing the conviction that the best writing being done in America today is being done for The Wire. Am I crazy to think that?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Twitter is for those that think young

Sorry for another post about Twitter, but there is just a special type of irony inherent in characters from Mad Men twittering completely in 1960s character. This irony must be recognized.

See, for example:
And yes, these accounts are not updated by the show's actors, but whoever is providing these updates is doing a great job.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Twitter as National Consciousness

And here's the coolest thing I've seen all week, via kottke: a The New York Times mapping of key words used by Twitter users during the Super Bowl. Take a moment to explore this interactive graph. Then come back to read a few observations of mine.
  • Note, first of all, how perfectly designed this graph is. The presentation is clear, the categories (player names, commercials, etc.) are exactly what I am interested in knowing about, and the geographic distribution clarifies any partisan behavior. The writers behind the Free Darko book mentioned at a book reading that they had no idea how to create graphs before working on their book. So the first thing they did was study as many graphs and charts from The New York Times as they could. This is a great example of why that turned out to be a good idea. Another thing this chart is a great example of: the value of the Times in general. I'm not sure if any other media outlet could have put together a presentation like this on such a fascinating topic, but I do know that no one else did put it together.
  • But the real genius of the presentation is in lining up the word-mapping with the game situation. Italo Calvino in his novel If on a winter's night a traveler... satirizes people who read books by counting up the number of specific words used. So if a a book uses a preponderance of military words, you can be certain that the book focuses on war. In the context of the book, it's a biting critique of those who don't truly read. But on this twitter-graph it's almost true. I know exactly what happened when I see the map covered with "Fitzgerald" or "Holmes" or "Springsteen." I am able to see the dominant thought pattern of the more than one million twitter users at a particular time. That's the strongest representation I can imagine of the intimate thoughts of a significant portion of our population. This graph, to a large extent, displays what around one million people were thinking across the course of four hours.
  • Sports fans (or, I guess, regular people while they watch sports) overuse the word "go." We as a sporting nation should be able to devise a more thoughtful sentiment than: Go team from my geographic location!
  • Twitter, famously, only allows 140 characters per update. I would think in this environment of concision that more twitterers would use "Bruce" instead of "Springsteen" during halftime. Your followers would all understand whom you're talking about.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Different Type of Product Placement

I spent a huge amount of time riding subways today. And this means I spent a huge amount of time looking at subway ads in order to avoid making eye contact with other riders. In addition to horrible usage (e.g., "Dr. Zizmor has been treating New Yorker's skin problems for over 25 years;" I feel bad for this poor New Yorker, and I wonder why Dr. Zizmor's treatment hasn't been effective over the course of a quarter century), I was struck by Dentyne's Make Face Time ads.

The key to subway ads is simplicity. And these manage to have a consistent and easily understood message. But the coolest part is found in the bottom, left-hand corner. I love how the actual product serves as the logo. Products, obviously, are often featured prominently in ads, but it seems rare for the item to be placed above the main action of the advert, really functioning purely as a logo would. The only other example I can think of is Coke's bottle-shaped logo, a type of abstraction of the company's product. Coke is an icon. I'm not sure that Dentyne will ever match what Coke has been able to become, but I applaud this effort as a step in the right direction.