Sunday, January 25, 2015

Shameless self-promotion: New article at ClassicFlix

My latest TV Time column is a double review of two 1950s TV-on-DVD releases:…
Following the enormous success of I Love Lucy after its premiere in 1951, television viewers saw a batch of other sitcoms driven by female characters that got into equally wacky situations each week. Unfortunately, most of these women...
Click through to read, and tell 'em Cultureshark sent ya!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Earlier this month, stories circulated about British shows leaving Netflix at the end of the month. Then it was clarified that only BBC shows would leave, and then only certain BBC shows.

It rang familiar since the same thing happened last year at this time. By the end of the month, Netflix and the Beeb renewed their deal, apparently for another year. Now the year is up, hence shows are expiring. It's all very confusing because many people can't distinguish between BBC British shows and non-British shows, and I can't blame them because that info isn't always evident.

Variety reports movement in the situation, but the report is a little deceptive. Let's break it down. Full credit to Variety, and you can get the article and everything else right here.

Fans of British television can rest easy. Following numerous reports that Netflix and the BBC were parting ways, the streaming service has clarified that many of its most popular Brit series are staying put.

Uh-oh! Notice that word "many"? It's subtle, but I think that'll be relevant later.

In response to headlines that beloved series “Doctor Who,” “Luther,” the original “The Office” and more were going to be dropped from the service at the end of the month, a Netflix spokeswoman tells Variety that such reports were false.

"Such reports were false" that those particular series are not leaving.

Among the shows that will still be available on Netflix are classic and current “Doctor Who” series, “Luther,” “Top Gear” seasons 17 through 20, “Torchwood,” “Wallander,” “Keeping Up Appearances,” and the original “Office” and “House of Cards” series.

Rest easy, British TV fans!

The deal in question did not involve series including “Sherlock,” “Happy Valley,” “The Honorable Woman,” “Call the Midwife” or other series not up for renewal. These series will remain on Netflix.

Rest easier, British TV fans! This is the kind of clarification media outlets should provide as soon as they report on expiring series, not after they report it.

Actually, this kind of thing is why Netflix is so vague about when contracts expire and when shows are leaving. As much as I despise not having that information as a consumer, I can understand the value of keeping the info close to vest. For one thing, it calls attention to the quantity of programming disappears from the service. For another, people get antsy at the thought of their specific favorites leaving, and it leads to some bad pub for a while. Negotiations could be ongoing, and it might hurt leverage for Netflix if an outcry occurs, which might in turn make it hard to retain the shows. That said, I still want more info, not less, and I'd at least like to know if there's a chance shows will be retained.

Here’s a list of BBC series staying on Netflix’s service:
Classic “Doctor Who”
“Doctor Who” seasons 1 through 7
“Copper” seasons 1 and 2
“House of Cards” trilogy
“Keeping Up Appearances” season 1
“Luther” seasons 1 through 3
“Monarch of the Glen” seasons 1 through 6
“North & South”
“Robin Hood” seasons 1 through 3
“The Buccaneers”
“The Office” U.K. seasons 1 and 2
“Top Gear” seasons 17 though 20
“Torchwood” seasons 1 through 4
“Wallander” seasons 1 through 3

This is what we like, specifics! Conspicuous by its absence is "Ripper Street," a show I saw some online comments about. Well, as far as I know, it is staying, too, but in looking it up, I learned that its third season was commissioned by Amazon Prime UK, has not been on Amazon Prime US (and in fact, seasons 1 and 2 are not on Prime, either, but are still on Netflix), and will air on BBC America in 2015. Does this mean season 3 will stream on Amazon Prime US, or will Netflix get it after the BBC America run? I don't know, and I don't expect Netflix to issue press releases trumpeting that fact, but I include it to illustrate how difficult it is to follow this kind of thing. Streaming services are way less transparent than broadcast or even cable networks about programming.

Let's get to the kicker at the end of the "Variety" article:

Fans should plan to enjoy “Fawlty Towers,” “Blackadder,” “MI-5″ and “Red Dwarf” before Feb. 1 when they will no longer be available.

Hey-ohhh! Nice little kick to the gut at the end there. So "such reports" weren't ALL wrong, eh, Netflix? it looks like some of the iconic series that fans fretted about vanishing really are vanishing. And where will they go? Will they go anywhere? Who knows?

Well, I know. All 4 of these series are on Hulu Plus. It would be nice if "Variety" mentioned that--you know, as a service to its readers who are looking for information, as opposed to regurgitating some PR from Netflix. I also think it's disingenuous to imply that no British shows are leaving Netflix at the end of the month, only to tack on a bit at the end that, oh, by the way, some of those shows you love? Yeah, they are leaving.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rolling Stone's Best of 2014 issue

Don't worry, this isn't gonna be a big rant about injustices or idiocies scattered throughout the issue. No, I just want to point out two things that amuse me in this one (the one with Seth Rogen on the cover and a decent interview with him and a really good one with Chris Rock inside).

1) You have to love that their top two albums of the year are by U2 and Bruce Springsteen. Don't give up the dream, "Rolling Stone!" Hey, I'm serious about this. As a guy whose musical taste is based largely on what he grew up listening to, I like that 'RS" still waves the banner for classic rock.

Actually, what amuses me more is not #1 and #2, but the album slotted at 19: Jackson Browne's "Standing in the Breach." Jackson Browne? They also throw him a bone and give him #33 on the list of the year's top singles.

2) A letter from a reader, reproduced here in its entirety:

Great interview with one of my favorite people ["Checking In With Jon Stewart", RS 1222]. Stewart's tiresome Springsteen worship aside, we are truly lucky to have him holding up a mirror to ourselves--even when it looks ugly.

So someone loves Jon Stewart, loves the interview with him, yet feels the need to devote about a sixth of this letter to a slam on his "Springsteen worship."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The difference between Netflix and Hulu

Well, apart from the annoying commercials that pollute Hulu programming...

Netflix added "Gilmore Girls" to its service October 1. By that I mean 7 seasons, 153 episodes of "Gilmore Girls" are available on Netflix for Instant Watching.

Hulu added "Gilmore Girls" to its service a few weeks ago. However, on Hulu, you only get 5 "Gilmore Girls."

No, I don't mean 5 seasons. I mean 5 episodes. Hulu added 5 episodes of this show. Why bother?

Netflix doesn't mess around with "Let's save some money and license the first 3 seasons," or, "Do we really need so many episodes of that show?" No, it almost always adds ALL episodes when it adds a series. In fact, the recent debut of 'The Roseanne Collection" stands out because it IS an incomplete series add, but even that is 50 or so episodes. 50 is a lot more than 5.

UPDATE: Hulu apparently removed even the 5 episodes it posted before. Maybe the show went up too early and lingered too long. Perhaps someone there realized how lame it was to have 5 scattered episodes of a program that ran 7 seasons. Now if someone can get them to work on the CBS/Paramount library shows...

Monday, January 12, 2015

More BS in the Entertainment Weekly Best and Worst 2014 issue

I can't help myself. Consider this the last post on the topic, and just indulge me while I get some of this out of my system. Here's a sampling of the BS in this issue:

*It puts "The Comeback" in its Must List at the beginning, saying, "it took us a while to get back in sync with it," which is its half-assed way of acknowledging the revival tanked critically and commercially. It's a mystery why the mag continues its fawning coverage of this "franchise."

*It mentions Willow Smith.

*It makes 3 significant references to Viola Davis removing her wig on an episode of "How to Get Away with Murder" as if it were Who Shot J.R. In fairness, Tracee Ellis Ross ("Blackish") writes an intelligent take on it that does make a good case for its impact. Yet this magazine can't leave it at that.

Someone even says "it changed the face of TV" in listing that episode as one of the best of the year, and earlier an anonymous blurb says it "shattered narrow beauty standards." I didn't see it, but I do remember outlets like "Entertainment Weekly" making a big deal out of it. Sounds like it was a meaningful scene. Fine. But what impact did it have? How the hell did it shatter narrow beauty standards? Did I miss the issue of "Vogue" that put a wigless Viola Davis on the cover? I guess you had to be there.

*It devotes nearly two pages to tweets of ordinary people.

*It runs an inane piece trying to make a "trend" out of songs about asses, as if the fact that Jennifer Lopez made a video about her butt was some kind of revelation.

*It shrinks yet again its "Critical Mass" chart of movies of the year, which used to be one of the most useful features of the year-end issue.

*It 's snappy choice for "Worst Olympic Event" (paired with Poking Fun at Bob Costas as the Best), maybe because of the formatting of the page as much as the way it's written, makes me spend 3 minutes trying to decipher it. Nothing in this magazine should require 3 minutes to decipher.

*When listing Jack Antonoff as one of music's "breakouts," it lists his accomplishments in 2014 and tacks on "and still found the time to support his Girls-friend Lena Dunham." Supporting Lena Dunham? What the what? Even if we don't see this as the Dunham-obsessed magazine's way of giving her another shout-out, it's a clumsy bit. Better just to say, "Oh, yeah, and he's Lena Dunham's boyfriend!"

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sorting through the BS that is Entertainment Weekly's "Best and Worst 2014" issue

I know this is folly, but the whole point of this blog is to gripe about inconsequential things that bother me, and hope that maybe it makes me feel better.

Uh, and to enlighten my readers, too, of course!

As a lapsed subscriber from way back, let me tell you this magazine gets shallower every year. I have found getting it at la biblioteca is a good way to consume it. Even if I get worked up about something, it's out of my house again in a few days and out of mind.

There is an inordinate amount of BS in the December 12, edition, though, and I'm not really talking about their top 10 choices. Reasonable minds can disagree on those. It's more just scattered inanities that make their way into everything. But let's start with the cover boy Jimmy Fallon, chosen as "Entertainer of the Year."

This in itself isn't terrible. After all, Fallon has had a very successful launch to his version of the franchise. In a year with no dominant movie or TV personality, someone as inconsequential as Fallon isn't that offensive a selection for this label. Clearly they didn't want to pick, say, Taylor Swift, or she was busy, or something.

The rationale for picking Fallon is pretty funny, though. He...makes celebrities feel at ease by playing games with them! Was Jane Lynch the runner-up? He...gets good ratings relative to his competitors in late night! And best of all...he makes videos that go viral!

This "viral video" garbage is out of control. Cats and 4-year-olds, and very likely some 4-year-old cats, make viral videos. Here's the thing, though: Nobody pays for them. Someone one clicks on a Fallon bit 10 times to kill time at work, and that's a big deal?

Besides being a much bigger star by any metric, one who had a prominent year herself, Taylor Swift makes music that people actually pay money to enjoy. The magazine's own coverage of Spotify makes it clear what a big star she is. By that I mean it cares about it all. I think you could argue that Swift pulling songs from Spotify was the best thing ever in the short term for the company because millions of people suddenly learned about Spotify.

It's not that I'm passionate about Taylor Swift being Entertainer of the Year, but I just think this Fallon thing is absurd. Even worse is they don't get anything interesting out of it. They ask Fallon to give his faves of the year throughout the issue, including his pick for best movie even though he says in the profile piece he doesn't really get to go see movies anymore.

Later we see his pick for show of the year is "Knife Fight" on Esquire Network. I call BS on that. Nobody knows what's on Esquire Network. People may watch the shows, but they don't know anything about that channel. In what may or may not be relevant, Esquire Network is half owned by Fallon's employer, NBC Universal.

I'll either grow up and forget about this issue, and get back to Amazon Prime this week, or I'll keep it a few more days and complain some more about it. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The 10 Biggest Stories of 2014

Let's get right into it: These are the 10 biggest pop culture events of 2014. Each one had a huge influence and impact, but they are presented in no particular order:

1) I look online and discover how much movies are in the theater these days: I had a notion to go see something, saw how much it would be, and figured, eh, I didn't want to see it that badly. It was another year confined to the Projection Room at Cultureshark Tower.

2) Netflix waits until a quarter of the way of season 2 to carry season 1 of "Agents of SHIELD": The ramifications of this were major. I didn't wind up watching "Agents of SHIELD" even though I kind of wanted to.

3) Cultureshark returns on November 22: And it's back to stay! I think.

4) Someone at the library keeps an issue of "Entertainment Weekly" for, like, 4 weeks: Waiting for that issue to show up on the shelves drove me crazy.

5) Taylor Swift releases new album, "1989": Thus dictating what my kids will make me listen to for the next 3 years or so.

6) ClassicFlix changes its mailers: I'm not just highlighting this because I write for them, either! Since they switched to a sturdy new mailer, zero damaged discs.

7) AcornTV adds the complete run of "Cold Feet": Finally someone picks up those last seasons. When BBC America just stopped the reruns years ago in the middle of a season, I kind of gave up on taking it seriously. There have been a few shows I actually checked out there, but now there aren't really BBC shows to me, but there are BBC Netflix shows,BBC  Hulu shows, BBC Amazon Prime shows...

8) I fall way behind on reading my buddy's comic books: I got some catchin' up to do. This is not only a big story of 2014; it's going to have a substantial impact on my reading habits into 2015.

9) Hulu continues to not add new episodes to many of its more prominent series: If you're counting, there are still a whopping 25 episodes of "Happy Days." And I'm beginning to give up hope of anything past the third season for "The Bob Newhart Show," "Lou Grant," and "Kojak." Seriously, they should run an ad campaign with "3 Is a Magic Number" playing in the background.

10) Redbox raises its prices: Fortunately, I can still go to the local video store for a cheap rental. Oh, wait, no, there isn't one.

Wow! Now that I look back, the entire cultural landscape experienced seismic changes this year. This isn't including some of the lesser events like the Sony hack, people paying attention to the Cosby stories, Jay Leno leaving, "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Game of Thrones," Amazon's wars with Disney and with Hachette, the Winter Olympics, the death of Robin Williams, "Big Bang Theory," 'Thursday Night Football and Ray know, stuff like that.