Staged sequences makes Hidden Kingdoms hard to watch | Television & radio | theguardian.com

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Green room, green screen.
Green room, green screen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Heard a discussion about this on Radio 4’s The Media Show this week (download the podcast). It seems outrageous to me that the BBC are “dramatising” factual programmes for “narrative or emotional impact” – without shame. That they were almost certainly doing this kind of thing in the past, goes without saying. What gets to me here is the corrupt morality. In the past, they’d have tried to keep this kind of thing secret, because of shame and embarrassment. Now they don’t appear to know what shame and embarrassment is.

It’s cheap TV, it’s dumbed-down TV, and it’s TV aimed not at the core audience for wildlife documentaries, but at that other, nebulous, “broader” audience, of people who aren’t interested in wildlife documentaries – unless they have drama, narrative, and emotional impact. Pandering, in other words. And you know what? I bet they still won’t watch.

Viewers are warned in advance, though, that some sequences have been dramatised for narrative or emotional impact, with some animals filmed in captivity or in the studio. Publicity material relating to the series further explains that, in order to present the perspective of the tiny protagonist in each scene, \”stages\” or tableaux have sometimes been digitally created around the genuine footage of the animals and insects.

This attempt at being transparent about the process was clearly intended to pre-empt a repeat of controversies about \”faked\” wildlife footage in previous series, even including some by Attenborough. However, admitting to heavy drinking does not prevent people concluding that you are an alcoholic and the controversy has simply happened anyway, with the spin that the BBC has \”confessed\” to fakery.

via BBC telling us it staged sequences makes Hidden Kingdoms hard to watch | Television & radio | theguardian.com.

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That sleighbell winter? It’s all part of climate change denial | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

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Here’s an interesting article by George Monbiot in the Guardian, all about the tabloid treatment of the Met Office and their use of “independent” weather forecasters. In another weather-related story this week, a long-term study of weather forecasting accuracy is being proposed, to see just who is more accurate. According to Monbiot, the tabs have been using independent companies, notably Exacta and PWS. The Daily Express in particular has been predicting a Siberian winter on its front page since the summer.

Who are they, and what are their credentials? I have been trying to obtain answers from Exacta since 20 December, without success. Among other questions, I asked whether it is true that the company consists of one undergraduate student and a computer.

PWS was more forthcoming. It admitted that its forecasting record had not been independently audited, and agreed that this was a failing. It also admitted that it does not keep a record of its prior forecasts on its website, which means that the public has no means of assessing its hit rate. But it failed to provide the qualifications or identities of the “independent meteorologists” it uses.

via That sleighbell winter? It’s all part of climate change denial | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian.

BBC News – Murdoch: the network defeats the hierarchy

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Here’s an excellent article by Paul Mason of Newsnight about the extraordinary events of the past week or so. More of this in class!

Outside the Murdoch circle knows the full answer, but I suspect it is quite prosaic: like the Wizard of Oz, Mr Murdoch’s power derived from the irrational fright politicians took from his occasional naked displays of it. The Kinnock “light bulb” headline was probably the signal moment. He was powerful because people believed he had the power, and that editors like Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson probably had a file on everybody bigger than MI5’s, and so you should never, ever, cross them.

via BBC News – Murdoch: the network defeats the hierarchy.

Roseanne Barr: ‘Fame’s a bitch. It’s hard to handle and drives you nuts’ | Culture | The Guardian

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Roseanne (TV series)

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Here’s a brilliant, excoriating article by Roseanne Barr in The Guardian about her experiences in making a sit-com in the 80s and 90s, and about the effects of fame.

A little while ago, I linked to an article in The Economist about how the distorted representations of “middle class” families on TV give wealthy people unrealistic self-images. Because the so-called middle classes on television are usually portrayed as living in the way that some of the wealthiest 10% of people actually live, nobody really has a clear idea of what middle class looks like. And that goes double for the working class. While British TV shows like Shameless attempt to portray working class characters who don’t actually do any work, our soap operas (for example) give an entirely unrealistic representation of what it would be like to, say, live in London and work part-time in a corner shop.

See, people can’t really afford to sit in the pub that much: the only way to do that is to be like Frank in Shameless: you’d have to be cadging pints off other people all the time.

I caught an episode of Roseanne on a recent holiday, dubbed into German, and it reminded me that this was a high point of working class representation on American TV. There they were: a working, feminist, mother, a non-criminal father who worked with tools, and a family of bickering kids who shared bedrooms and wore ordinary-looking clothes and took the bus to school.

Needless to say, according to her own testimony, it wasn’t easy to get this representation onto the screen. Once the show hit number 1 in the ratings, Roseanne Barr went to a list she kept in her dressing room, and fired all the people who had made her life difficult in the show’s first year.

It’s a long article, but worth reading.

I finally found the right lawyer to tell me what scares TV producers worse than anything – too late for me. What scares these guys – who think that the perks of success include humiliating and destroying the star they work for – isn’t getting caught stealing or being made to pay for that; it’s being charged with fostering a “hostile work environment“. If I could do it all over, I’d sue ABC and Carsey-Werner under those provisions. Hollywood hates labour, and hates shows about labour worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another Roseanne anytime soon. Instead, all over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But I’m not bitter.

via Roseanne Barr: ‘Fame’s a bitch. It’s hard to handle and drives you nuts’ | Culture | The Guardian.

Culture and economy: Watching rich people on TV | The Economist

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The Economist has an insightful article about why rich people don’t perceive themselves as rich. When asked if they are wealthy, they say no; when asked if they pay too much tax, they say yes; when asked if wealthy people should pay more tax, they also say yes. One of the reasons they don’t think they’re rich is because “average” people on TV are impossibly wealthy.

Think of Desperate Housewives. Where does the money come from to support those lifestyles in those enormous houses? We get vague ideas about what people do for a living. But there’s no consistency: when Susan married Mike and did encounter financial difficulties, they did eventually have to move out and rent the house (whereas as a single divorced mother earning her living as a children’s book illustrator, she encountered no such difficulties); when Carlos was in jail, however, Gabby didn’t have to move out of their “McMansion”.

In the soapy family drama Brothers and Sisters, again, Nora’s family home is huge and decorated luxuriously, this in spite of the fact that her husband died and left her a company in the red, her live-at-home drug addicted son was unemployed, and that she herself did nothing much except potter about.

Remember The OC? Always made me laugh that the fostered kid was living in the pool house because the main family home (which was about 6x bigger than the average British family home) apparently only had two bedrooms. But, still, they had a pool house. And a pool. Even though the father at least was doing a lot of pro bono legal work.

“Parenthood” seems in some ways to be trying to present the ethos and life space of young Northern California families in the same affirming, universally sympathetic fashion. And there are a lot of efforts to bring in a wide range of socioeconomic situations. We’ve got the divorced mother in her late 30s who moves back in with her parents, the slacker artist guy getting by on minimal income on a houseboat, a kid from the Oakland projects, and so on. But in terms of lived space, the show mostly falls prey to the familiar Hollywood syndrome of unrealistically gorgeous bourgeois set design. And that spills over into the economic underpinnings of plot lines. An interaction early in the first season drove the point home: when the central “everyman” family has to confront their child’s autism and is told about a highly sought-after special-needs school with high tuition, they respond: “We don’t care what it costs. We’ll pay whatever it takes.” The viewer thinks: how nice for you, that you can demonstrate your commitment to your child in that fashion! You must be part of the small percentage of American households that can afford to say things like that.

via Culture and economy: Watching rich people on TV | The Economist.

Upcoming iPad App ‘The Daily’ – a perfect Unit 3 case study?

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Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Fr...

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John Gruber links to a story from the Guardian about the forthcoming Daily – the first “newspaper” designed for the iPad. Not a web version of an existing title, but a news source you can only get through the iPad.

The collaboration, which has been secretly under development in New York for several months, promises to be the world’s first “newspaper” designed exclusively for new tablet-style computers such as Apple’s iPad, with a launch planned for early next year.

This is an interesting story in itself, but even more interesting for a media student because it’s based on an audience study. It’s a perfect example of how research into audience habits (reception studies, for example) leads to innovation in media forms and changes in the business model of media institutions. That’s three of your key concepts right there. The fourth, representation, will be revealed when we see the actual product, which (and here’s a clue) is said to be ‘Intended to combine “a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence”’.

Hmm. Do I really believe that 79-year-old Rupert came up with this idea, surrounded as he is by much younger tech-savvy people?

The 79-year-old Murdoch is said to have had the idea for the project after studying a survey that suggested readers spent more time immersed in their iPads than they did — comparatively speaking — on the internet, where unfocused surfing is typical. (emphasis added)

So the four key concepts, plus the context of the impact of the iPad on the media industry, the loss of advertising revenue and sales for print newspapers, and the ongoing debate about whether people are willing to pay for content and/or news. You could add in the debate about Murdoch being too powerful, add another one about Steve JobsReality Distortion Field (is Murdoch trapped in it?), and a fourth about whether information wants to be free.

In terms of theories, you could do no worse than look at the power law distribution, and the hard data that shows that iOS users seem far more willing to pay small amounts of money on a regular basis than the users of other operating systems. In other words, iOS users are the whales of content consumption.

Finally, to round off your case study, you could compare the upcoming launch of The Daily with the recent print-only launch of the i newspaper. Different approaches to the same problem? Interesting to note that the i too has a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence, whatever that means

via Daring Fireball: News Corp’s Upcoming iPad App ‘The Daily’ to Pioneer New Recurring Subscription Billing.