Monday, April 27, 2009

JD Recommends: Peabody Award Winners

The Peabody Awards are given out each year to what is deemed the best in electronic media as chosen by the Peabody board, a conglomerate of smart, educated, distinguished media folk.

Well I guess my ballot got lost in the mail. No one asked my opinion on squat.

To make up for it, here is a quick rundown of some Peabody Award winners that I also give a thumbs up to. There are 36 winners this year. I'm not going to touch on them all, as we all know about the Opening Ceremonies, the presidential election coverage, and "SNL's" political sketches. I'm going to quickly mention a few lesser known that I think you should check out. There is a lot on this list of winners that I am not familiar with, so if you have a recommendation, I'd love to hear it:

This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money
This episode of the "This American Life" radio program from May of 2008 deals with the housing and financial crisis. Normally this topic is not something I want to listen to for an hour, but this kept my attention because it was the first news program that explained everything that was happening in a way that made sense and provided clarity. It helped me better understand exactly how we ended up in this mess. I highly recommend you give it a listen. The episode was a collaborative effort of "This American Life" and NPR News. It was so successful, that it spawned a follow up program last fall, and a daily NPR program, Planet Money, dedicated to covering all things financial crisis in a user-friendly way.

John Adams
All the awards and accolades that this HBO miniseries has received over the past year are well deserved. I'm normally not a fan of historical period pieces, and I watched this whole thing over a weekend last summer. It's a 7-part miniseries with each episode ranging from 60-90 min. Not all of the episodes are winners, particularly in the middle, but the boring parts are few and far between. The DVD of the series is available pretty much everywhere you would care to look.

Breaking Bad
This is AMC's second original scripted drama ("Mad Men" being the first), and I dare say it is the better of the two. I'm new to the show; I just started watching a few weeks ago. It premiered to critical fanfare last winter with an abbreviated 7 episode first season (thanks to the WGA strike), and went on to win an Emmy for lead actor Bryan Cranston (the dad Hal from "Malcolm in the Middle"; Tim Whatly the dentist from "Seinfeld"). Created by a former writer/producer of "The X-Files," "Breaking Bad" is about a chemistry teacher named Walt who finds out he has terminal cancer. In order to secure the financial future of his pregnant wife and teenage son, mild mannered Walt teams up with a drop out former student of his, Jesse, to make and sell crystal meth. Being a skilled chemist, Walt is REALLY good at cooking meth. They make a lot of money, and then get in over their heads.

I know, it sounds weird, and it is. It's also funny, suspenseful, creepy, emotional, quiet, sometimes tough to watch, and addicting. I could go on and on, but it's better just to see for yourself. It's not a show for everybody; if you don't like the first 3 episodes, you won't like the rest. The first season is available on DVD now, and the second season is currently airing on AMC on Sunday nights. Usually towards the end of the season's run, AMC will run a marathon of all the episodes allowing viewers to catch up. If I remember, I'll try to find out when that is.

36 Years in Solitary: Murder, Death and Justice on Angola
This is one of those NPR stories that you end up listening to while sitting in your driveway, because you don't want to get out of your car until the story is over. Told in three 10 minute segments, reporter Laura Sullivan tells the tale of two Louisiana prison farm inmates who have been kept in solitary confinement for more than three decades for a murder that people are just now realizing, maybe they didn't commit. There is more to it than that, but I don't want to give away too much. Without leaning one way or another, the story does a good job of laying out the facts of the case and interviewing as many people involved as they can.

You can listen to part 1 here. Links to parts 2 and 3 can be found below the pictures in the left hand column of the story.

OK, I'm cheating here a little bit. ABC's "Lost" is not exactly a lesser known pick. But seriously, if you haven't started watching it yet, what are you waiting for? It really is as good as everyone who obsesses over it says it is. And now it's Peabody Award winning (and JD Recommended). Next season (#6) will be its last. Start watching the DVDs now. You will easily finish seasons 1-4 before season 5 is released on DVD in December. Then, you will be all caught up for the final season when it starts in late January of 2010. Get to it!

The Onion News Network
For years The Onion has been known to produce some of the best news, media, and political satire around in the form of "newspaper journalism." Now they've expanded into video. This has provided The Onion with a whole new genre to satirize, and they do it well. All forms of television "news" are covered, including morning talk shows, CNN Headline News, ESPN, "Crossfire"-like arguelism, CSPAN, financial news, and more. Each week three or four short news stories are released on their website (or can be downloaded as a podcast through iTunes). As is the case with The Onion, the content is not always suitable for work. Their latest clip, which I've included below, is clean. It's a segment of the ONN morning show "Today Now!":

That's all I got. That should be enough to keep you busy. Do you have any recommendations you'd like to share (Peabody winning or not)?

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

'Kings' gets pulled from Saturdays ... Until June

Did you remember to DVR 'Kings' last Saturday night? It was the first night of its triumphant return on a new night.

You didn't remember? Or care to? Well neither did most of the world.

After TANKING in the ratings, even by Saturday night standards, NBC has decided to pull the remaining episodes from the air until the end of the regular television season. The remaining episodes will air Saturdays at 8 p.m. from June 13-July 25; at least that's what's being said now. That news could change by June 16.

Make a note of it, all 7 people still watching the show. (Seriously, is anyone still watching 'Kings?' I am, but I may be the only one.) Read more!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Simpsons Fun Facts: Groundskeeper Willie

  • He was conceived, born, and educated on a pool table in a tavern near Loch Ness.

  • Failed at the culinary venture of selling Chef Willie's Haggis Helper

  • Future plans are to build a security bog around his prize-winning heather, catch a leprechaun, and marry his tractor.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

'Trust Me' (& its Product Placement) Cancelled

'Trust Me,' the TNT drama about the CRAZY agency life of two CRAZY ad executives has been cancelled after one UN-CRAZY season.

Why? Simple: No one was watching. Were you? I wasn't. I watched (suffered through) the first episode and that was enough for me.

When it premiered I wrote about the endless amounts of product placement deals in the show, and wondered if they were intruding in on or leading the storytelling.

Judging by the number of people who regularly viewed that post the day after a new episode aired, the product placement was a problem. People reading the post (the most read post on this blog) often came to it by searching for terms such as. "too much promotion, trust me," and "annoying product placement, trust me." It appears that the general consensus on the Internet is that the product placement got in the way.

I still have yet to actually hear from someone who watched the show, however. If you did, what did you think? Will you miss the show at all, or just its built-in commercials? Read more!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fox wants you to mourn, advertise, buy stuff

For those of you who have yet to watch last night's episode of 'House,' and hasn't been spoiled by what happened, and don't want to be spoiled at all, STOP READING NOW.

I'm not a big fan of "House." My wife likes it, and I'll often watch it with her while multitasking. It's amusing enough, but I have no vested interest in the show. For those that do, however, last night's episode, where Kal Penn's character Lawrence Kutner is found dead by a self-inflicted gun shot wound in the show's first 10 minutes, must have come as quite a sad shock.

Unlike most television deaths, this one wasn't coming from a mile away. There wasn't a "farewell" episode, a redemptive scene, or endless foreshadowing. In fact, the suicide was so shocking (and realistic) because there were no signs or backstory leading the viewers (and characters) to a reasonable conclusion. The episode was well written, acted, and edited; a high point in the series this season.

Then Fox had to go and cheapen all that creative work with a stupid cross promotional marketing gimmick. Fox has set up a "In Memoriam" website for the character. On the site (which I do not want to link to), visitors can view a fake memoriam video, read fake letters written to Kutner from the show's other characters, read his fake obituary, and see clips from "Wolverine" while buying a "24" T-shirt via links at the bottom of the page.

Fox has also set up a Facebook group "in loving memory" to the character. There, viewers can post their favorite memories of Kutner and get a memorial badge to post in Facebook profiles and blogs.

First, there is something morbid and wrong about an international corporation asking me to join them in mourning a fictional character. Second, after so many people worked so hard to create this episode, why did they feel the need to cheapen all that hard work by turning it into a commercial for News Corp. products? They told a moving story that was less moving once Fox decided to manipulate fan's connection to the show to help them promote the network. Nowhere on these sites are there links or discussions about suicide or suicide prevention. Just a lot of ads.

Plus, THE CHARACTER ISN'T REAL!!! How can you share your favorite memory about someone that doesn't exist?! That's a waste of everyone's time. Instead of spending time mourning over "losing" a "friendship" that never existed, why not see what your real friends and family are up to. Lean on them during this "tough time."

What do you think? Did Fox cheapen things or do you want to see more of this type of cross-promotion?

Oh, and in case you haven't heard, Kal Penn asked to leave the show so that he could take a job as the White House's associate director in the Office of Public Liaison. I consider that a step up from "Harold & Kumar."

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'Kings' moves to Saturdays

A few weeks ago I recommended the new show on NBC Sunday "Kings." Well, not enough people listened to me (or read this blog), because the show has been tanking in the ratings.

After four weeks of last place, bottom-of-the-barrel ratings, NBC has decided to move the show to Saturday nights starting on April 18. Basically, it won't be renewed, but the remaining episodes will see the light of day (for now).

That's too bad, but I'm not surprised. It's a quality show, but not easy to follow with a mass appeal. It never seemed to be a good fit on Sunday nights. To me, it would be a better fit for Tuesday night. It's still worth your time though, so set your DVR or wait for inevitable DVD release in a few months. Read more!

Monday, April 6, 2009

BRAND UPDATES: Tropicana & Starbucks' VIA

Here's a quick update on two previous posts:


In February I wrote about the outrage consumers had over the new packaging design of Tropicana's orange juice. The mob was loud enough that Tropicana ditched their $35 million dollar campaign to revert back to their old OJ design.

Last week, Tropicana reported a 20% decrease in sales from Jan 1 - Feb 22 (the day before the debranding announcement). That is a loss of nearly $33 million during that short time period; all because of a little change in art.

has anyone seen the old/new design back in the grocery store?

Starbucks' VIA

Two months ago I also wrote about Starbuck's new venture VIA, its single serving, water soluble, instant coffee. At the time I thought it was a bad decision for the brand, and that opinion hasn't changed. Whether it tastes good or not, Starbucks shouldn't try to be everything for everyone. They already tried that and it backfired.

Regardless, the VIA rollout continues. VIA is now being sold in Target, Costco, and Barnes & Noble stores in Seattle and Illinois. If you live in those areas, try some and let us know what you think? Would you have VIA every day or only on days when you're in a hurry and need a last resort coffee? Read more!

Happy Opening Day!

Baseball's back! Although it's snowing in Cleveland right now, looking forward to the start of the baseball season. I heard a commercial on the radio today that reminded me of this classic clip:

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