In the beginning, TV critics underestimated 30 Rock, choosing to focus instead on another TV show debuting at the same time on the same channel: Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
But it turns out Fey's oddball comedy about a hapless TV producer managing a band of misfits to put on truly weird television comedy show was the concept with legs, lasting seven seasons before calling it a series with a one-hour final at 8 tonight.
Fey, as it turns out, had a relentless drive to be funny and fresh, hidden by her unassuming manner and self-deprecating humor as put-upon executive producer Liz Lemon. We underestimated a comedy legend who had already revolutionized SNL and she let us, probably because a sneak attack works better.
But 30 Rock also has a less impressive legacy: Helping create the critically acclaimed, low-viewer style of smart TV comedy which has nearly erased the legacy of NBC’s Must-See TV franchise.
Critics like me love the show’s lightning-fast pace, whip smart pop culture references and unexpected cameos (who else could welcome a list of guest stars unlikely as Elaine Stritch, Jon Bon Jovi, Condoleezza Rice and Sorkin himself?). And the industry loves them too, handing the show a raft of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG awards, honors from the Television Critics association and a Peabody award.
But the ratings haven’t followed. Last year’s season finale drew 2.8 million people; ranked 130th out of 195 network TV shows in the 2011-12 TV season.
And there’s a line of similarly low-rated, critically-beloved NBC shows right behind them, including Community, Up All Night and the showcase for Fey’s former SNL partner-in-crime Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation.
I pulled together a piece for NPR about these ideas, which has drawn complaints from Big Bang Theory fans (because I suggested the show was a broader, "less smart" comedy) and 30 rock fans (who don't like the show getting blamed for the death of Must-See TV).
So check out my piece below and see what upsets you about it:
This is what a victory lap sounds like in the world of shock jock radio:
Kicking off his show with a parody song that gloated "I could use your lawsuit to fertilize my lawn," shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem turned his broadcast this morning into an extended celebration following his court victory Wednesday against fellow radio personality Todd "MJ" Schnitt.
Clem, his lawyer and his on air crew spent lots of time this morning talking with a woman they said served on the jury; she had called into the show after they asked jurors to contact them (the judge barred Clem and Schnitt from initiating contact with jurors, keeping their names from the press).
Calling her Jane Doe and disguising her voice, Clem and his crew asked the woman which legal strategies seemed to work, thanking her and the other jurors for taking them time to serve.
"I actually don't think you did anything wrong," "Jane Doe" said on air about Clem's legal strategy, noting that the jurors were sequestered from the news and had no idea of the controversy surrounding the trial, such as a drunk driving arrest involving one of Schnitt's attorneys. "It was crazy...I am in shock and awe."
During the conversation, Clem also said his team allowed one juror to remain who had won a contest on Schnitt's show. And in an exchange which might speak to where the juror worked, Clem asked if he noticed what brand of bottled water he consumed during portions of the trial.
"For the record, that had no bearing (on the jury's decision)," "Jane Doe" said. Earlier, when Clem asked if she wanted free Bubby Army merchandise, she replied quickly: "Hell, no."
"I think I out-legalled them," said Clem, who started his show on WHPT-FM (102.5) talking with reporters from WSTP-Ch. 10 and local cable newschannel Bay News 9 crowded into his Tampa studio at 6 a.m. "The thought we were trying to convey was about the 1st Amendment, and I think the jury got it. The system worked; it really did."
Clem admitted he was nervous as the jury deliberated Wednesday at the end of a two-week trial which local TV stations streamed online every day, drawing coverage from ABC's Good Morning America. Schnitt filed his defamation lawsuit five years ago, alleging that Clem's insults and exhortations to fans damaged him substantially, encouraging fans to confront him in public and throw eggs at his home.
Clem told Bay News 9 this morning he and WHPT owner Cox Radio likely spent "close to $2-million" over the life of the lawsuit, saying he was nearly bankrupted funding his defense.
A six-member jury rejected Schnitt's claims of defamation, deliberating less than three hours. According to a story in today's Tampa Bay Times, one alternate juror, Alana Wilshire, said earlier Wednesday that Schnitt needed to "put on his big-girl panties and get over it...I think anybody that runs and cries and hides in their house needs to grow up, you know? Develop a thicker skin, especially if you're in the public eye."
Schnitt didn't talk to the media crowded into the courtroom Wednesday, but issued several statements on Twitter. "My wife & I were protecting our reputations & also standing up for so many others who have been defamed, but didn't have the means to fight," he wrote. "This was never a 1st Amendment case. I love our Constitution. The 1st doesn't allow you to lie and make false and defamatory statements."
Schnitt also passed along abusive messages from fans of Clem, often called the Bubba Army on air and in the trial: "The jury just elected @toddschnitt as the official village idiot of Tampa Bay!" wrote @MikeDamato1. Another tweeter named @LawlBucci wrote "It's okay, @toddschnitt, your 17 fans still support you..."
Clem said he didn't expect his show to change, given the court victory reinforced their claims that they crossed no lines in their broadcasts. His show this morning turned into a mini party, as Clem aired compliments from callers and asked jurors on the case to call into his show, noting that the judge barred them from contacting jurors but not the reverse.
He didn't say if his team would sue to have Schnitt pay their legal fees; with five years of depositions and a two-week trial, the total amount of funds spent on his defense is likely considerable.
And the judge in the case has not yet ruled on the request for a mistrial lodged by Schnitt's lawyers after their lead attorney was arrested for DUI after drinking with a paralegal from the firm representing Clem. Schnitt's lawyers have alleged the arrest was set up by Clem's attorneys.
On Thursday, Clem talked of hosting a mock funeral for Schnitt, who hosts a 3 p.m show weekdays on WFLA-AM (970), making plans to tell his story on fellow shock jock Howard Stern's satellite radio show and hinting that he might return to satellite radio on Sirius XM himself.
"It's the one dark cloud for five years that's been hanging over our heads," Clem said on air. "My next step is to move on...concentrate on the show and make the show the best I can."
As a TV critic, I've watched and praised series centered on serial killers, murderous mobsters, biker gangs and the biggest meth dealer in Alberquerque, N.M.
But I've never seen a set of antiheroes quite like the couple at the heart of FX's The Americans -- a new drama debuting at 10 tonight about two Soviet spies who have lived covertly as an American family for more than 15 years.
Set in 1981, the series stars Felicity alum Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings; co-owner of a travel agency by day, she's a loyal daughter of Mother Russia by night, kidnapping defectors, planting listening devices in the homes of U.S. officials and collecting as much information as possible on the Great Satan, America.
This show works hard to make you sympathize with characters who have been the villains in countless TV shows and movies over the years. When they consider killing a defector they've captured, viewers learn he's committed an awful crime worthy of the worst penalty. Pushed to get information on a U.S. official, they agonize over a plot where they threaten the life of a maid's son to force her into helping their cause.
What struck me, was that a series like this would not have been possible during the time it takes place. Less than 30 years ago, our paranoia about the ability of the Soviet Union to bury the United States would have made it impossible for us to see such characters sympathetically.
So I put together a commentary for NPR looking at what The Americans' debut on cable TV says about our Cold War fears, and what really scares Americans today.
About 15 years ago, I stepped into the Washington Post's newsroom to make the case for why I should be their new music critic, and I met a lot of legendary journalists.
Steve Coll, then the paper's managing editor, had already won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Securities and Exchange Commission and would win another years later for a book on the shadowy world on the CIA. Milton Coleman, then the deputy managing editor, had broken news that Jesse Jackson used the word "Hymietown" to refer to New York City, sending shock waves through the 1984 presidential campaign.
But nobody made an impression on me like Eugene Robinson, then the editor of the Post's features section, called Style.
Smoothly professional and highly respected, he was the kind of features journalist I wanted to grow up to become, an assessment only confirmed many yeas later when he began writing a widely-read op-ed column, eventually winning his own Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for his writing on Barack Obama's election as America's first black president.
He's also a reasoned, incisive voice as a commentator on MSNBC, slinging opinions with Rachel Maddow, Joe Scarborough and the Rev. Al Sharpton. And he's written three books, including Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America, a look at how civil rights advances have split black Americans into three categories, including a poverty-stricken underclass who may find it harder to succeed than ever.
Robinson headlines an evening which includes a tribute to another Pulitzer winner, longtime Tampa Bay Times reporter Lucy Morgan, who will receive the group's Thomas Paine Award. There will also be tributes to former Governor Kenneth “Buddy” McKay and former State Senator Dennis Jones.
Held with the theme, “A Night With The Tigers” the dinner gets underway at the St. Petersburg Marriott, including a 5 p.m. VIP reception and 6:30 p.m. dinner and program. The whole event is co-sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times and Tucker Hall public relations company. Click here for more info.
Tampa PBS station WEDU-Ch. 3 will honor the memory of former St. Petersburg Times editor Eugene C. Patterson by rebroadcasting a profile on the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist originally aired on its Suncoast Business Forum back in March 2009.
Patterson died Jan. 12 at age 89 after a long illness. As the first editor of the then-St. Petersburg Times to lead the newspaper after legendary owner-editor Nelson Poynter, Patterson led the newsroom to two Pulitzer Prizes, set the tone for the paper's dogged investigative reporting and helped establish the newspaper's independence under the ownership of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
WEDU's profile of Patterson -- who had won his own Pulitzer as editor of Atlanta Journal-Constitution for his brave, challenging columns on racial equality -- airs at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Read more about Patterson's life and legacy here and here.
A Minnesota office worker spreads joy through his workplace through a sunny attitude he earned by taking a ride in his new Volkswagen Beetle sedan.
That might sound like a perfect -- if boring -- commercial, until you consider the twist.
The worker's sunny attitude is conveyed by a thick accent which seems imported straight from Jamaica.
That's the setup of Volkswagen's new Super Bowl commercial called "Get in. Get happy." showing an office drone lighting up his workspace with Jamaican vocal style and attitude. His boss and coworkers pick up the same patois after a ride in his cherry red Volkswagen (why a German car would make people talk like they were born in Kingston, is beyond me and not explained.)
New York Times columnist Charles Blow called it "like black face with voices," while Today show co-anchor Matt Lauer said the accent just reminded him of sunny times relaxing on the island.
The issue, it seems, is connecting a personal attitude to a way of speaking that's entirely identified with one racial group. Jamaicans already face stereotyping as lazily laid back; is it fair to build a whole commercial around the idea that speaking like them can make uptight white folks relax and ignore problems they maybe should be dealing with at work?
It didn't bother me as much as it did the Times' Blow, but i understand his misgivings.
It may be the lowest-profile departure for a 30-year veteran in the recent history of local TV news.
Longtime weather forecaster Andy Johnson said goodbye to viewers for the last time on WTVT-Ch. 13 during its noon newscast today, capping 33 years at the station. But Johnson, who first announced his retirement on his Facebook page about a month ago, hasn't yet agreed to an interview or talked much about why he decided to retire now.
When colleagues such as Kathy Fountain, Bill Murphy or Frank Robertson left WTVT after long tenures, their departures were prefaced with enough media attention and on air tributes that their final broadcasts became small events.
But Johnson left WTVT in the same low-key manner he delivered weather forecasts for more than three decades, often on the station's weekend newscasts -- with an unassuming manner and a wide smile.
Johnson, who grew up in Tampa, graduated from Florida State University and came to WTVT in August 1979, known as a protege of the station's powerful and popular top weather forecaster, Roy Leep. As Paul Dellegatto came in to succeed Leep, Johnson kept to his role as the station's weekend forecaster, quietly racking up more than three decades on air.
"I got to actually live my dreams," Johnson told viewers today. "I always wanted to be a meteorologist, I knew what I was going to do when I was seven years old, I knew where I was going to work...I got to do something that most people don't get to do."
As the trial between local radio stars Todd "MJ" Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem continues today, Good Morning America has been drawn to the latest developments like a tabloid-sniffing bee to honey.
ABC's morning news show aired a story this morning on the allegations that Clem's lawyers "set up" Schnitt's lead attorney by having a pretty paralegal lure him into a situation here he would be arrested for DUI. The situation exploded in court last week, as Clem's lawyers admitted having possession of a briefcase from Schnitt's attorney filled with important trial documents after the lawyer's DI arrest.
So far in today's proceedings, the judge has rejected a request from Clem's lawyers for a mistrial on the ground that publicity has tainted the jury.
But the judge has reserved judgement on a request by Schnitt's lawyers for a mistrial -- leading me to wonder what might happen if Schnitt loses his case and the judge decides to declare a mistrial -- allowing Schnitt to try again.
Who would pay legal fees? And even if Clem loses this cases, could he sue his own lawyers for derailing his defense with this confusion over the DUI arrest?
"Any leftists that thought Barack Obama wasn't going to be a centrist president are fooling themselves," I told the crew at TMM's "Barbershop" segment, where a group of analysts, mostly men of color, chew over the issues of the week.
Obama had been elected, in part, by a wave of liberal hopefuls who assumed the first black president would stand up for climate change, economic equality, gay rights and immigration reform in the way they assumed a man excoriated by the right as a dangerous socialist might attempt.
If there was a theme to Obama's first term, it was his status as a reluctant liberal, dragged into more left-wing policies by slow acceptance of the reality that many conservatives would rather crash the economy than compromise with him. This came, even as conservative media outlets hysterically denounced the President as a Marxist, socialist, Communist and a lot of other super left-wing ideologies he never really gets near.
So, forgive me for a bit of skepticism as the world responds to his inauguration speech with cries that Obama's inner liberal has finally emerged.
Despite the hysteria from Republicans and conservative media, Obama has always been a centrist president whose liberal rhetoric was often backed by a pragmatism that curbed his actual policies.
That he is viewed as a near-socialist by some conservative opponents says much more about the propaganda of the right — along with a serious misunderstanding of what actually defines extreme liberal positions -- than the reality of Obama's actions. (The President is also adept at letting lefty allies presume he is liberal as they are, until they discover he isn't.)
To be sure, there was a lot for liberals to like in Obama's inaugural address. He called for income equality across gender, ensuring "our gay brothers and sisters" are treated like everyone else under the law, responding to "the threat of climate change," ending long lines to vote and finding "a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity."
But there's another prominent politician who has said much the same thing about immigration: former Florida governor and prominent GOP wise man Jeb Bush.
It is another example of how far America politics have shifted rightward that such ideas sound like liberal policies to some, though Bush was careful to criticize blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants currently in the United States. He also provided no specifics on how to deal with the 11 million people now living in America illegally.
There's plenty of other places where Obama is more centrist than his opponents would have anyone believe. He has not rolled back the powers of wiretapping, detention of suspected terrorists and killing of terrorists assumed by George W. Bush following the 9/11 attacks.
His economic advisers, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, came from the same Wall Street crowd who tanked the economy in the first place (though the appointment of a tough former prosecutor, Mary Jo White, to head the Securities and Exchange commission is a good sign).
His highly criticized "Obamacare" health care plan wasn't the single-payer, universal system supported by the far left and by other industrialized countries.
On climate change, Obama's predecessor George W. Bush rejected international agreements calling for steep reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases. But he also promised to cut greenhouse gases by 18 percent by 2012 and stop the growth of such emissions by 2025.
Obama has promised to cut greenhouse gases 17 percent by 2020 and 50 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2050. Does that seem particularly different?
Conservatives have decried Obama's "imperial presidency," saying he has instituted policies by executive fiat — telling agencies to loosen enforcement of laws he's doesn't like.
But when conservative opposition forces even a routine debt limit extension vote to the brink, Congress pushes the president to act on his own, giving him political cover from a public that has grown tired of a government too partisan to govern.
Linda Carson, a longtime reporter at WWSB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Sarasota, made national news the hard way after getting head butted to the ground by a goat on live television.
The incident happened during a report from the Manatee County Fair, as Carson was finishing a live shot. While bending down to speak with the goat, Carson got a good shot from the animal, which brought a quick scream before she landed on her behind.
Carson has been a good sport about it all, joking with an anchor on Good Morning America Sunday while WWSB's website has featured bits centered on the clip aired on Jimmy Kimmel Live and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper's The Ridiculist.
I was in Ft. Lauderdale Friday morning, and the CBS affiliate aired that story at least three times, making me wonder when the news got so sleepy in South Florida that an on air goat mishap in Sarasota could take up so much time.
My concern about violence on network TV boils down to a simple notion: Network and standard cable earns billions by presenting images on TV through advertising which make people take action: buying things, going to concerts, visiting websites or joining a political cause.
So why wouldn't repeated images of violence on those same shows have some sort of effect, even if its just on people who are already struggling with other issues?
Here's my essay for National Public Radio on that idea. Check it out.
It's the trial that has slimed everyone who gets near it.
When former shock jock Todd "MJ" Schnitt decided to take his defamation suit against rival radio star Bubba the Love Sponge Clem to trial, it seemed an even money bet on who might come out looking worse.
As testimony progressed, Schnitt talked about seeing his house splattered with raw eggs, getting confronted by fans in public and an incident in which he says he was nearly run off the road while driving on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
As his lawyer dryly read emails filled with awful profanities, Schnitt insisted he could not remember a time before Clem's on air attacks against him when listeners treated him that way.
Members of Clem's show took the stand to admit that there may have been times when they told listeners they were investigating issues related to Schnitt and they were not, or indicated they had unrevealed evidence Schnitt had done something wrong and didn't really have it. In depositions, Schnitt also admitted his MJ Morning Show indulged similar tricks, conducting prank call segments where someone employed by his show pretended to be an innocent victim called by the host pretending to be a clueless old man.
Both sides called it "theater of the mind." But listeners might feel misled.
Now lawyers for Schnitt are saying attorneys for Clem engineered a situation where Schnitt's lead attorney Philip Campbell was arrested for DUI Wednesday. Campbell had been having drinks with a woman he did not know was a paralegal at the firm representing Clem and was arrested for DUI when she asked him to move her car, according to Schnitt's attorneys. After he was arrested, his briefcase containing key documents outlining their strategy remained in the possession of the paralegal, 30-year-old Melissa Personius.
Attorneys for Clem strenuously denied the allegations, saying Campbell's briefcase was never opened and remained in their possession for about three hours.
After testimony today in which the paralegal cited her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination when asked her cell phone number and cellphone carrier and an attorney at the firm representing Clem, Stephen Diaco, didn't have his cellphone and said he didn't remember who his carrier was, the trial judge reserved judgment on the mistrial request.
That means, if Schnitt's attorneys should happen to lose the trial, the judge can still declare a mistrial and start the whole circus over again.
In the process attorneys for all sides have become part of the trial in unexpected, embarrassing ways. The controversy also provided a potent argument against some who complained about the local news coverage of the trial, in which many local news outlets offer streaming video of the entire proceedings.
Testimony is set to resume Monday, leaving open the question of who might get slimed next.
He's convinced both ESPN's Jeremy Schaap and superstar anchor Katie Couric. But I'm still skeptical.
I haven't yet seen information from an interview with Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o that explains how he wasn't part of the massive hoax which convinced the world he had a dead girlfriend who doesn't exist.
That feeling may change when I see Couric's full interview with Te'o airing at 3 p.m. today on WFTS-Ch. 28 in Tampa (seea preview here). Couric, who shares the same publicist s Te'o, reportedly beat out Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey for the first fully televised interview with the star, who insists he was not complicit in spreading the story which brought him fame in the world of college sports.
But I'm not sure the interviews I've seen so far really ask the right questions.
Schaap in particular seemed to breeze by the most damning parts of Te'o's story. If you believe the player's accounts, someone pretended to be a woman named Lennay Kekua for months, calling him, praying with him by telephone and communicating by text and Twitter as well. He told Schaap she lived in Hawaii, but when Te'o was there with his family, she kept making excuses not to see him.
She asked for his checking account number to give him money, but he never gave the information out. When they tried to talk via the iPhone's Facetime video chat app, "Lennay" said she could see Te'o but mysteriously he couldn't see her (why not try Skype?).
He told Sports Illustrated in September she was in the hospital for two months, having discovered she had leukemia after a car accident, and they cried about her tribulations in treatment together over the phone. But he never went to visit her. Not once.
And when she died suddenly and unexpectedly -- hours after to talking to him on the telephone -- he sent flowers to her address, but didn't go to her funeral or make any effort to see her relatives, supposedly because her funeral was on the same day as an important football game.
This is the part which makes little sense to me. The love of your life dies and you don't even try to meet her family in person? Or visit her grave? Or just show up at the address where the flowers went? And his parents don't ask about that, either?
It is dangerous to assume how people should act when faced with tragedy, no doubt. And Te'o may be a sheltered young man outside of his football success. But young people know how easily someone can assume false identities online -- the popularity of MTV's show on fake online romances, Catfish, is proof enough of that -- and spending months romancing someone who never meets you and has mysterious excuses or why you never physically meet them, seems a giant red flag.
Worse, because there was so much competition for an interview with Te'o, he's been handled with kid gloves by interviewers who should be more prosecutorial.
He's admitted to Couric that he lied to the media after discovering Kekua was fake Dec. 6, twenty days before Notre Dame says he fessed up to them (but he told Schaap he wasn't sure she wasn't real after getting a call Dec. 6 from someone admitting Lennay was fake). And the school kept silent weeks longer until Deadspin's story last week unveiled all. Now he implies his lies to the media were a desperate attempt to cover up having been fooled so badly.
But if you were fooled for months by somebody who tried to get your checking account numbers, why wouldn't you tell the police? Why wouldn't you blame that person for possibly damaging a multi-million-dollar football career by making you look like a fool in public? Why would you offer a story which insists the person who fooled you for months did nothing wrong but lie to you?
Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, whose request that an FBI agent friend look into anonymous threatening emails uncovered an affair which cost CIA director David Petraeus his job, has broken months of silence to tell her story.
In an interview with Howard Kurtz of Newsweek/Daily Beast, Kelley, 37, blamed the media for distorting or misreporting basic facts connected to the case, in which investigators discovered Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell had sent the emails to Kelley and also maintained an affair with the then-CIA director through another email account.
She also claims Broadwell tried to blackmail her, though Kurtz did not see the actual emails and provides little detail on their content.
"“It was devastating,” Kelley said to Kurtz. “To have your privacy invaded is truly—there are no words to describe it. Instead of enjoying a family birthday party, I had paparazzi storming my front lawn, pushing down the door. There are no words to describe the panic and fear at that moment.”
The controversy landed Kelley in the crosshairs of media, which camped out in front of her home along Bayshore Boulevard during her daughter's seventh birthday party.
It was reported that Kelley had exchanged 30,000 emails, some flirtatious, with another official, Gen. John Allen; that she had tried to use her honorary status as a special consul to South Korea's foreign ministry to arrange and grab an $80 million commission on an energy deal; that the FBI agent who she originally asked to look into the emails sent her a shirtless photo of himself and was sidelined from the investigation; that the emails told her to stay away from Petraeus.
But Kelley said many of these details were misreported or overblown, insisting the 30,000 email figure was highly overstated, while noting she and her husband share an email account, making it tough to have an affair online. She also said the emails never told her to stay away from the then CIA director, resisting her characterization in some tabloid newspapers as "the other, other woman."
“As much as I appreciate that they want to be the first one to come out with a headline, regardless of whether they did any fact-checking, they have to consider the impact they have on our life and our children’s lives,” she said. “Just because it’s repeated doesn’t make it true. It was living a nightmare.”
Kurtz says authorities decided not to prosecute Broadwell after Kelley declined to press charges against her; she says in the interview she was concerned about the impact of a trial on her friends and family.
Kurtz also implies that her silence amid the flood of stories -- her sister, Natalie Khawam, held one press conference with celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred in which she refused to talk about the Petraeus case -- kept the flood of flawed information coming. Even her birthdate is wrong on her Wikipedia page, he says.
Read the story, which resulted from a two-hour interview with Kelley in Washington, by clicking here.
It may be the biggest annoyance about writing on TV in the modern age. And Portlandia nailed it.
For those who remain unaware, Portlandia is a cute chunk of satire created by eccentric creative minds Fred Armisen (NBC’s Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag). It’s an often-amusing collection of sketches sending up the preposterously politically correct, hippie-tinged liberal-to-a-fault town where twentysomethings go to retire, Portland Ore.
And in one cheeky bit, they managed to encapsulate the one phrase sure to make this TV critic’s blood boil with the rage of a sci-fi geek forced to watch every scene in Star Wars featuring Jar Jar Binks:
The sketch features Armisen, Brownstein and two other actors playing an impossibly yuppie pair of couples trying to have dinner conversation about their favorite TV shows. But no matter which title they bring up – from Breaking Bad to Mad Men to The Wire, which went off the air in 2008! – someone yells “spoiler alert!” because they haven’t gotten around to watching all the DVDs or hadn’t seen their DVR or hadn’t caught up with it on Netflix.
This, my friends, is the unintended consequence of having so much television at your beck and call. At the risk of sounding like I’m ready for an AARP membership, there was a time not long ago when you could talk about a TV show after it aired, safe in the knowledge that those who didn’t see the latest episode had few options for catching up in a different way.
But in a world filled with digital video recorders, online streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, DVD releases of popular cable TV shows months after they have aired and on demand cable options, people can howl “spoiler alert” when you try talking about a show that aired last year.
A few readers got upset when I revealed that lost child Sophia has been turned into a zombie on The Walking Dead, even though the story was published months after that crucial episode aired. I had to slap a “spoiler alert” warning on a story about how John Lithgow’s Trinity Killer had murdered Dexter Morgan’s wife Rita on Showtime’s Dexter eight months after the episode aired (I bet somebody out there just got mad that I didn’t warn about the spoiler even now)
And the modern flow of television across borders doesn't help at all. Canadian and British TV viewers have had to deal with getting a look at groundbreaking shows such as The Sopranos months and years after U.S. media outlets have discussed them to death.
So it has been a curious sort of turnabout to see American audiences grow so enamored of British drama Downton Abbey, which airs in England months before PBS re-broadcasts it stateside on its Masterpiece series. This year, that's led to a massive spoiler for any fans on the Internet, as fans across the pond reacted badly to the way producers wrote out actor Dan Stevens, who left his role as Matthew Crawley after filming the season now playing on PBS. (don't worry, I won't spoil it, but you can read what happens by clicking here if you can't wait.)
Before long, you’re feeling a bit like the hapless dinner party in the Portlandia sketch, yelling "spoiler alert" every time anyone tries to broach conversation about TV shows that aired years ago, because you haven’t gotten around to watching them yet.
As professional TV explainer, I’ve decided a few things. First, knowing the details of a plot twist rarely ruins the show for me, because so much of television is seeing the action. So relax with the spoiler alert stuff, already.
Second, my statute of limitations for writing on plot twists has to expire when the show airs. The sports page doesn’t sit on game stories because some viewers have the Super Bowl on TiVo; I can’t sit back, either.
It’s amusing that, in a world where movie trailer often give away the entire plot of a film in 2 minutes, TV fans still get upset when you talk about twists such as Breaking Bad’s DEA agent Hank Schrader figuring out that his brother-in-law Walter White is the biggest meth dealer in New Mexico while using his bathroom.
The best TV shows, the worst shows, TV news, media issues and debates ... it's all here at the Feed, a blog on TV, media and modern life by Tampa Bay Times TV/media critic Eric Deggans. Possibly the most critical guy at the Times, he has served as music, media and TV critic at various times over his career here.