Saturday, June 24, 2006

Brandy thinks she's Randy

If there's anyone out there wondering what I'm watching on television now that American Idol is over, on Wednesday night I did turn on the Simon Cowell-produced, America's Got Talent, which is basically American Idol crossed with The Gong Show. But I don't think it's going to become a regular habit or a subject of this blog.

For the first half-hour I was kind of intrigued, but by about the 45-minute mark I started to get bored. And one of the major reasons was the general lameness of the judges. So you have some British guy named Piers Morgan, who is supposed to be Simon except he smiles too much and isn't nearly as critical or interesting. Then you have Brandy (is her music career dead already? Paula Abdul had been off the charts for almost a decade before she ended up on Idol), who one would think would be the Paula Abdul-type judge but wants to be the Randy Jackson judge, since in the first half hour Wednesday night she said that "That was hot" twice and "You did your thing" another time. And then there's David Hasselhoff, who seems to like everyone and therefore takes the Paula slot.

Aside from the judges, my problem with the show is that I don't really understand how they have the post-audition weekly competition aspect of it like Idol does. Is the 70-year-old male stripper that somehow got put through to the next round going to do a new routine every week? How about the guy who snapped his fingers to "Wipe Out"? Sure, he can do the Addams Family theme the first week, but what next? And there were those guys who did the basketball dunking routine with trampolines and flips--the kind of act you can see at halftime of any NBA game any day of the week. How many different versions of that act can they come up with week to week? I can't imagine too many, so despite all these freaks being put through, we'll just end up with mostly singers anyway. And why would I want to watch an inferior version of American Idol? Having said that, maybe a comedian would make it through, and I did find the 8-year-old comedian amusing if somewhat frightening. So maybe I'll give it another chance in a few weeks when they get past the audition phase.

And why does every show Simon Cowell produces always include three judges--the inventor show, this one and Cupid? Can't he think of another concept? And the reason his previous shows haven't succeeded--the jury is still out, although the initial ratings were good, for America's Got Talent--is because the judging is an essential, but not the only, element making Idol a success. It's also the thrill of the performance. Going on a good date can be a thrill if you're part of it, but watching someone else go on a good date, as the audience did in Cupid, really isn't a thrill at all, especially if you don't know them--unlike how watching someone sing well can be thrilling on Idol.

To finish what I started, here's some of what I have been watching this summer: Entourage (Enjoyable, although it seems like it could be a better show than it is--maybe that's a topic for a different post), reruns of the third season of The Wire on HBO (an incredibly dense show about crime in the inner city that's fascinating) and Hell's Kitchen on Fox. Hell's Kitchen is the perfect summer show--I doubt I'd watch it during the regular TV season, because there are a lot better shows on. But in the summer, Hell's Kitchen's can be appreciated for what it is--a fairly insubstantial and yet sometimes entertaining show that takes very little brainpower to appreciate on a hot Monday night. I do wish they'd spend less time on Gordon Ramsey's yelling and more time showing us why exactly the cooks are so incompetent (How does it end up that Maribel puts cold duck wellington on a plate? Did she not cook it? Did it sit out too long? Can't we get some kind of explanation?), but I guess that might be a show that belongs on the Food Network and not on Fox.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What happened to the Post's hockey coverage?

So I might have been the only person who woke up after Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, turned to The Washington Post sports section and wondered why their article about the game was a wire service story and not written by an actual Post staff writer. (Actually there was at least one other guy--he had a letter printed in the Post this past Saturday.) Considering Washington does have an NHL franchise with the man widely considered the best and most exciting young player in the game, and that the Post fancies itself a national sports section (more on that later), it bothered me. So when I saw that on the afternoon of Game 3, had scheduled a chat with Capitals beat writer Tarik El-Bashir, I decided to ask him myself.

Did Mr. El-Bashir fall ill and was unable to cover the games? Did he have a wedding to go to over the weekend, and the Post couldn't find someone to replace him, but he was now in Edmonton prepping for Game 3? No, actually my worst fears were realized. Tarik--apparently through no fault of his own--was watching the games on the couch just like I was. Here's my question and his response:

Rockville, Md.: So why aren't you or anyone from the Post actually covering the Stanley Cup finals? Raleigh isn't even that far away--less than five hours by car. The paper couldn't send anyone down there for games one and two?

Tarik El-Bashir: My editors made the decision that the interest in the DC market simply did not justify the expense. The teams involved are from small markets and T.V. ratings -- a major indicator of public interest in a sport -- have been smaller than usual.

But don't think that our not covering the finals means we have given up on hockey.

Well, glad to hear that the Post will at least bother to cover the Caps next year (and to be fair, El-Bashir does a perfectly fine job of covering them.) And I'm not sure how much value there is to chat about the Stanley Cup finals with a reporter who is watching all the games on television(because one's understanding of hockey--and its excitement--is enhanced more than any other sport by being at the game because you are better able to see the ice, the plays develop, etc.), but I was overjoyed to see an NHL chat and hope they continue.

But much more important than those two things is that El-Bashir said his editors didn't feel it was worth the expense to send a reporter to the finals, didn't feel it was worth the expense to send a reporter to hear Commissioner Gary Bettman's "State of the NHL" speech, didn't feel it was worth it to send a reporter to hear all the league gossip, and, most importantly, didn't feel it was worth sending a reporter to, um, COVER THE GAMES. (Unbelievably, they didn't even deign to send a reporter for a one-night trip to Game 7, and, as I mentioned in my chat, it's only a few hours' drive away.)

El-Bashir said his editors felt interest in the D.C. market wasn't justified because the teams were from small markets (certainly true, but the Carolina Panthers are in the Caps' division and better known in Washington than probably a number of other teams) and the TV ratings were low. I'm certainly not going to argue that the TV ratings for the NHL playoffs were anything other than awful--although the fact that most of the playoffs were on OLN, a network 99 percent of the country either doesn't have or doesn't know it has, were a contributing factor. And I'm not going to argue that the ratings for the final five games of the finals in primetime on NBC weren't pathetically low either. But when you compare them with what the NBA fans like the Post's Michael Wilbon are calling the most exciting NBA playoffs in years with people more intersted than they've been since Jordan retired the first time, blah, blah, blah, they really aren't that bad, and certainly don't justify the Post's coverage decisions.

The Post has a beat writer covering the NBA playoffs, two columnists (Wilbon and Mike Wise), and even another reporter who works out of Miami (Amy Shipley) and has been filing some stories, including one in today's paper, about the NBA series. So if the Post is making its decisions based on TV ratings, that would seem to me to indicate that the NBA finals must have more than three times the ratings of the NHL finals. Let's look at the numbers.

Using the ratings provided by,the broadcast of Game 4 of the NHL finals on NBC last Monday night got a 2.5 overall rating and a 1.5 rating in the 18-49 demographic. The following night, game 2 of the NBA finals on ABC received a 7.0 overall rating and a 4.3 in the 18-49 demographic. On Wednesday, the NHL moved up to a 2.7/1.7 (actually beating ABC's night of programming, which included a rerun of Lost), and on Thursday the NBA got a 6.8/4.0. And on Sunday (I'm skipping Saturday's NHL game 6 because no one watches network television anymore on Saturday night), in what's being billed as one of the most exciting NBA finals games in recent memory, Game 5 ratings were 7.8/5.1, while last night's thrilling NHL game received a 3.5/2.3.

Without doing any sophisticated statistical analysis (and I don't remember how to do that standard deviation thing I learned in statistics class, nor remember whether it's even relevant here), a little adding and multiplying indicate that the NBA is not t tripling the ratings of the NHL, and is only slightly doubling the NHL ratings in the 18-49 demographic. Yeah, I know, that still sounds pretty pathetic, but it doesn't in any way justify the 3 1/2 to 0 coverage ratio of NBA to NHL. And keep this in mind: The NBA has probably the most well-known player in the NBA, Shaquille O'Neal, in the finals, as well as one of the two most well-known young stars in Dwayne Wade, and another guy who probably been one of the top 10 players in the NBA in Dirk Nowitzki, as well as two pretty big cities represented in Dallas and Miami.

The NHL has a small Canadian city in Edmonton and a Southern city in Raleigh much smaller than Dallas or Miami in the finals. And they have two teams with no known stars--in fact, I don't think I could have named more than two players on the Edmonton Oilers before the playoffs started, and I'm being generous. And I like hockey. (A finals with, let's say, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin might have drawn some more viewers, don't you think, although I know that Washington and Pittsburgh could never play each other in the finals and Mario is retired, but I'm just making a point....)

And the NHL hardly got any coverage in places like the Washington Post during the playoffs--the only actual staff-written article about the NHL in the last few weeks was an article about how bad the TV ratings were for the playoffs (Chicken or egg, anyone?).

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since while covering the Caps, the Post hasn't actually covered the NHL all year (one of the top players in the league, Joe Thornton, was traded during the year and I believe it merited one sentence in the Post.) And I'm still kind of stunned at the lack of institutional memory at the Post about hockey--during the Olympics, they covered the hockey tournament pretty well, but there was not one mention that the coach of the gold-medal winning Swedish team was Bengt Gustafsson, one of the best and most popular Cap players of all time (he played most of the 1980s with the club, and The Washington Times remembered and did a story.)

Maybe the Washington Post has access to the NHL and NBA ratings in the Washington market and the ratings were much worse for the NHL and much better for the NBA here. But of course, that shouldn't really matter, because it's clear after the past few days that the Post fancies itself a national sports section (except when it comes to the Redskins and they lose all control.)

Obviously, Post editors had no way of knowing beforehand that this weekend's Nationals-Yankees series would feature three unbelievably dramatic games in a row. But the Yankees were coming to town, for the first time since 1971, and won't be back for another six years, and you'd think that might merit a columnist, or at least another reporter to write a sidebar piece. But no, Wise and Wilbon are with the NBA, Boswell was at the U.S. Open, and all we got was Barry Svrluga's excellent, but lonely, game story. No columnist, no sidebar, no nothing. I was excited to get up Monday morning and read a bunch of articles about Ryan Zimmerman's thrilling walk-off home run, but no such luck. And what bothers me is this: I can read 46 articles on and and whatever else about the NBA finals (and choose to read none of them unless they involve Mark Cuban, because he's entertaining). I could have read 81 articles about Phil Mickelson's collapse on, etc., but got bored after about half of one. But I can't read anything but a wire service story on those sites about the Nats-Yankees game Sunday. The Post let me down, for the second time this month.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How do all these other bloggers do it?

I thank all of you out there who continue to visit my blog in recent days even though I have only updated it once since the end of American Idol. I must say I am quite awed by bloggers who post mutiple times a day--when do they get the time? I write for a living, and if I come home and actually have some time where I could blog, I sometimes don't really feel like it if I've been writing all day. Sometimes I'll go to a Nationals game or be out covering something for work until 10:30 p.m. and don't have time when I get home. Sometimes, of course, I'm just lazy-- I feel like I have a good idea for a post, but it will take a long time to thrash it out and so I put it off and the topic gets old and I never get to it.

Like the post I was going to do on why The Apprentice isn't that good anymore. Maybe I'll get to that this week, but I do want to post this thought--yes, a week late, but people in the Jewish blogosphere are still kvelling over Lee, the Orthodox contestant, making it to the final two, so what the heck--on the finale. Donald Trump, when deciding between the two in the boardroom, said, "I can only pick one of you." Hmm, why does that remark smell a little funny? Maybe because he actually tried to pick both last season, by pawning off the decision on Randal, whom he had chosen as The Apprentice, as to whether he should hire Rebecca too. (Which was the unpopular, heartless, but correct decision. If he had hired both, why would anyone watch the finale again?) It never should have been Randal's responsibility, and to watch Trump then go around the media in the following days and say stuff like, "Yeah, Randal made that decision--a lot of people may not have, but he did" and stuff like that was a low point for the Trump organization worse than the bankruptcy of his casinos. Anyway, my original point was that I can't believe Trump had the gall, after that display last December, to say he could only hire just one of the candidates. One of the reasons the Apprentice isn't good anymore is that Trump changes his mind on what he wants from week to week--there was no better example than the finale for that.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

He really can't understand that?

Richard Cohen's column in The Washington Post
Tuesday was ostensibly about the Pope's recent visit to Auschwitz, but was really about Richard Cohen's most frequent and favorite topic--himself. I guess the point of the column was that Cohen can't believe in God after the Holocaust, and that's fine and a legitimate view I suppose. But what caught my eye were these two sentences:

I know Holocaust survivors who are religious. I don't understand it.I know others who feel that Auschwitz is proof that there is no God. I understand that.

Like I said, I can understand the second two sentences written above. But I'm having a hard time understanding how Richard Cohen can't understand why a Holocaust survivor might believe in God or be religious. Maybe a survivor feels that despite all the horrible things that happened to him and his family, the fact that he survived is proof that there is a God. Or maybe a survivor feels that God allowed her to survive so she could tell thousands of others about what she saw, saved her so that she could sound the alarm of "Never again" whenever Jews, or any other minority, is threatened. Or maybe the couple I interviewed a few years ago, who met in a concentration camp, somehow found each other a year after the war, and have been married more than 55 years, might still be religious. Out of such a horrible time, something wonderful was created.

I'm not saying Richard Cohen should believe in God because of this--he can believe in whatever he wants. But he can't understand why someone might still be religious even after the Holocaust? Come on, Richard, open your mind. You may not approve, but I think you're smart enough to understand.