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Dateline, Sopranos, Strippers...Must be Tuesday in Florida

It's the lazy days of summer and I've got the world's worst toothache (root canal scheduled for Thursday a.m.!), so forgive me for not having a good post up sooner this week.
What I do have is a bunch of smaller observations that may or may not be worth noting, starting with....

Dateline Crosses a Thin Line, Again

Anyone watching Dateline NBC Sunday saw a new investigation by "Catch a Predator" star Chris Hansen which bore all the classic trademarks of that show's stories -- questionable research tactics serving an attention-getting, bust-the-bad-guys kind of story.

This time, the subject is counterfeit prescription drugs. On Sunday, the newsmagazine offered a compelling look at a black market industry which is effortlessly sneaking expertly counterfeit drugs into the U.S., where some patients are dying from taking substances they think are drugs but are actually ineffective fakes.

Unfortunately, Hansen gets to this story, in part, by pretending to be a company interested in buying the fake medicine -- setting up a hotel room with hidden cameras to record his conversations with Chinese counterfeiters.

For journalists who make it a point to never lie or misrepresent themselves when researching stories -- I just attended a speech by Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post writer David Finkel who refused to disguise his identity while working a story in the Middle East -- it's just another example of a big media outlet cutting ethical corners which tarnishes all of us. For people who just want to see the bad guys go down, it's another Dateline victory.

Does Anybody Pay Attention to Movie Critics Anymore?

The Da Vinci Code: "Only occasionally thrilling." The Los Angeles Times

X-Men: The Last Stand: "Driven to dumb itself down." Entertainment Weekly.

The Break Up: "Dull and Trivial." The New York Times.

All three movies garnered lackluster to downright hostile reviews in major media outlets. So why did each movie make box office history, with Da Vinci Code garnering $154-million worldwide, X-Men earning $120-million and The Break Up snagging $38-million in its debut weekends?

My bet: blame a curious combo of critical pack fever and an audience desprate for escapist entertainment. All these movies had been highly-hyped for months -- which often fuels anger from critics who are forced to endure the brunt of the marketing push -- translating into harsher reviews than usual and greater audience desire.

My advice: even though critics expect to be on the wrong end of a trend now and again, folks in the movie mob better revise their expectations or readers will tune out even more than they already have...

Even Denis Leary Doesn't Get the Sopranos' New Season

Just after finishing Sunday's season-ending episode and realizing I had spent an hour watching A.J. Soprano and the suicidal nurse from ER get laid, I flashed back to a conversation I'd had with Rescue Me's Denis Leary about The Sopranos.

I had always assumed that my frustration with this increasingly directionaless show was a personal thing -- I just didn't get it. But Leary, a fan of the show since it's start, admitted to me he's been throwing objects at his TV screen through this entire, sad sixth season.

"I've spent the last four weeks saying 'What the Hell is going on?'" said Leary, who has structured his Sunday night scriptwriting routine to make room for watching the series' new episodes. "We're stuck with all these minor characters. Jimmy (Gandolfini) and Edie (Falco), I could watch them all night...but we get the minor characters and the kids and stuff. And that Carmela went to Paris and didn't have an affair is really pissing me off."

Join the club, Denis. I remember Sopranos creator David Chase telling me -- displaying his trademark, Hollywood optimism -- that he never expected the show to last past its first season. And that was, indeed, the last time the series had anything resembling an overall storyline or direction, charting Tony's slow realization that his mother wanted him dead (He was supposed to kill her at the end of the first season, but the popularity of the show prompted Chase to change that plot point).

I'm convinced that's why so many critics glommed onto the Gay Vito storyline when it unfolded -- finally, there was some kind of story at hand. This season is proof: you can have the greatest characters in the world. But if you don't make them do interesting things, we might as well be watching Walker, Texas Ranger.

Strippers Bring Dialogue

Our story last week on the mother/daughter stripper team brought lots of angry mail and prompted a friend who teaches school to email me in complaint about the subject matter...Wild 98.7 even organized a call-in segment asking area strippers if they would dance with their mothers (most said they wouldn't, or their moms weren't exactly in shape for it, even if they wanted to).

The typical arguments about glorifying the lifestyle or the explicit subject don't sway me much. I liked the story for its access and descriptiveness -- occasionally, even family newspapers have to delve into edgy subjects. But I think it only pierced the surface, as most such stories do.

We often write about the women on the front lines of Florida's sex industry as if the business stopped there. Sometims, it feels to me like describing the auto industry by hanging out with a used car salesman. Given that Tampa is listed third in the number of strips clubs per capita, there is clearly a gargantuan sex industry in place here which area newspapers rarely outline.

I'll be more interested in seeing a deeper, more substantive look at the area's sex industry -- which is now so powerful, that it can even ignore local laws against strippers touching customers with little concern.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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