Jun 16, 2009

CN Real . . . ly Stupid.

adj. 1. not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory: GENUINE. 2. of or relating to practical or everyday activities 3. occurring or existing in actuality.

We're hours away from Cartoon Network's umpteenth pandering of Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel's usual audience while ignoring the successes of the past year with the exception of Total Drama Island and Clone Wars. Cartoon Network is still showing animation, but lately, it seems that animation is being pushed aside as are the small yet loyal fans of the network in favor of identity-changing programming and a persona that sheds everything that is genuinely Cartoon Network. In short, while Cartoon Network is getting Real, Cartoon Network isn't keeping it real.

Let me explain.

On Wednesday, Cartoon Network is launching a new live-action block of programming they're calling CN Real. They're airing a teen version of Sci Fi's Ghost Hunters called The Othersiders and a teen version of Discovery's Survivorman called Survive This. On Saturday, they're airing a teen version of Discovery's Cash Cab called BrainRush and a teen version of The Science Channel's Junkyard Wars called Destroy Build Destroy. Coming soon is a teen version of Discovery's Mythbusters called Dude, What Would Happen and a teen version of the various viral clips shows called Bobb'e Says. Six live-action shows will be coming down the pike in the forthcoming months, and it seems to be taking over the landscape of the network, which is disappointing because, well, they're not cartoons.

For some odd reason since 2005, Cartoon Network has been hellbent on adding more live-action to their lineup. In 2006, they premiered their first original live-action film, Re-Animated which spun off their first original 30-minute live-action series, Out of Jimmy's Head, a terrible show who's fate was determined by the Writers Guild Strike of '07. The strike caused the series to be delayed since it came under WGA jurisdiction, and that delay led to its cancellation. It wasn't missed especially since many critics and viewers saw it as a disappointment, and it's cancellation didn't cause anyone to shed many tears. 2008 was a rebuilding year of sorts for Cartoon Network, learning from their mistakes of the past year and rekindle their love affair with animation.

They learned to make strike-proof shows, and 2009 will be the first year these non-scripted projects commence. One of the shows, Survive This, is Canadian-made. The Othersiders, Dude What Would Happen, and Destroy Build Destroy aren't scripted while Brain Rush and Bobb'e Says barely qualify under the WGA because of the format of the series. The actual scripted live-action projects had been in the works for over a year, but I'll talk about them later.

What I'm talking about is the whole format of CN Real. I understand the live-action connotations the word "Real" has, but the use kind of baffles me. See, if the live-action block is called CN Real, does that mean the animated programs qualify as CN Fake? Seriously, when was the last time Cartoon Network promoted the hell out of their properties that they have an ownership stake in (i.e. shows owned by the network and sibling companies, NOT third-party shows like Clone Wars or Total Drama Island) the way they're doing with the CN Real shows? I think the last time Cartoon Network advertised the way they did for CN Real was for The Powerpuff Girls, a series that celebrated its 10th anniversary last year (while the anniversary was last year, they actually celebrated it this year), and it wasn't even as vast and far-reaching as what Cartoon Network are doing with CN Real.

The whole sense of the the word Real in CN Real just confounds me because the whole concept is anything BUT real. It's an artificial attempt to get the eyeballs of the diehard Nickelodeon and Disney Channel fans. And here's the thing. Despite everything Cartoon Network does, they're STILL going to be diehard Nickelodeon and Disney Channel fans, though for some odd reason, Nickelodeon's throwing Cartoon Network a bone by giving up primetime in July. So, in essence, it'll be largely the match Cartoon Network feared . . . CN vs. Disney. And Disney will probably embarrass Cartoon Network largely because many of the Nick viewers will migrate to Disney Channel because they will target that market more than Cartoon Network.

The biggest fear that the small yet loyal fanbase of Cartoon Network has is that the CN Real shows will be a success. But what constitutes as a success in Cartoon Network's eyes? Will it to beat Disney and/or Nickelodeon? Will it be to do better than they did a year ago while failing to acknowledge what aired in the slot (more often than not, it was a repeat on Wednesday and Saturday nights [quick note before the first press release comes out: the 8 PM E/P hour wasn't Toonami last year, so if folks tell you CN Real beat Toonami, it's a lie because Toonami wasn't in CN Real's slot]). They'll probably use the latter to justify and qualify the shows as successes which is a shame.

In the end, CN Real isn't the end of Cartoon Network nor the beginning of the end, but it is a move in a very idiotic direction. What's more moronic is that people are laying down and accepting the live-action direction of Cartoon Network as an obvious direction they should have taken a long time ago. No. Cartoon Network is not Nickelodeon, and they will never get Nickelodeon's audience, no matter how hard they try. Cartoon Network is not The Disney Channel, and they will never get The Disney Channel's audience no matter how hard they try. Cartoon Network is Cartoon Network. Not CN. They don't have to go the MTV route and ignore their roots.

Now, they have learned that advertising is key in promoting something, as if it was a new invention. It'd be nice if they do it with their animated fare, particularly the ones not made by Lucasfilms and Fresh TV.

In the meantime, CN Real will still air. Cartoon Network will still continue to lose their identity and add more live-action mess and fewer cartoons. And life goes on. Hopefully they'll learn the error of their ways, but somehow, I doubt it. Learning from mistakes isn't one of the lessons learned from the shows on CN Real.

Jun 11, 2009

An Appropriate Cartoon For Tomorrow's Milestone

In case you've been living in a cave for the past few years, tomorrow (June 12) marks the day the United States enters the digital television age. Television as we have known it since forever will change. If you have cable or satellite, you won't notice the change. If you rely on antennas (antennae?), well, I hope you have either a digital-ready set or a digital converter box to watch the new crystal clear era of television.

I have to admit that aside from my PBS and ION affiliates, I'm not getting the additional channels as promised by the ads. Universal Sports, RTN, ThisTV, and Funimation sound pretty sweet. Then again, as the following short from Tex Avery will show you, the television of tomorrow was supposed to have many changes, though Tex and company were right on the money on a few of the predictions.

Enjoy this MGM classic, The TV of Tomorrow:

Postscript: I'm not infringing on the copyrights of Turner Entertainment, owners of this short, but considering they aren't airing it in any capacity in the US nor planning on releasing it to the DVD market any time soon, I'm presenting this short under Fair Use guidelines under US Code Title 17
§ 107 , showcasing an historical commentary on the state of the then-new television industry for critical and educational purposes. Now, watch the cartoon.

Jun 8, 2009

Quick Waves #1

Over the next few weeks, I'm presenting Quick Waves, where I talk about a few spurts of thought that come to mind that I would talk about at length, but since I'm in the middle of totally revamping The X Bridge (it's not just a facelift, cats and kittens), I could only write small bytes. Here comes something:

- How come I didn't know that Elmore Leonard wrote a CHILDREN'S book? The guy behind Out of Sight, Rum Punch, Get Shorty, 52 Pickup, 3:10 To Yuma, and countless novels wrote A Coyote's In The House, a great story about a ravenous yet slick coyote named Antwan and a pampered, retired German shepherd actor named Buddy, who decide to switch lives. A pretty damned good book at any age (and probably the first published instance of the correct use of the word "bitch," a female canine), so pick it up. And this seems like something that could easily translate to animation. The old Disney, before they got preoccupied with teen sexpots and computer animated pablum from The Almighty Lamp, would have really snatched up for adaptation as an animated film. Nowadays, they'd probably take it and make it into one of those live-action talking animal fests ala Beverly Hills Chihuahua or G-Force, and that's something we don't need. Speaking of G-Force . . .

- Hey, Disney. About that G-Force movie . . . no. Just . . . no. The name alone evokes memories in my generation of another franchise which, coincidentally, is also in development as a major motion picture (an animated one at that with a script from noted animation scribe Paul Dini). I'm sure there were folks at Disney familiar with the name and its association with another property. Then again, they claimed that they didn't know about a story about a young lion cub who grows up to become the king of the savanna when they created their story about a young lion cub who grows up to become the king of the savanna.

- Strange realization. The plot of Spy Kids and The Incredibles are very, very similar. Both parents used to live alternative lives (spies and superheroes) and pretty much live seemingly normal suburban lives rarely expressing their past lives to their children, a girl and her younger brother. The father secretly goes on missions and finds himself missing (in Spy Kids, the mother also participates and gets kidnapped as well). The kids (along with their mother in The Incredibles) go on a mission largely unprepared for what awaits them and learn to work together rather than against each other. In the end, they are all reunited and realize that families that work together are stronger than anything the world throws at them. Yeah, it's probably a coincidence, and I'm not accusing the Almighty Lamp of swiping anything from Spy Kids (though Spy Kids had been written back in the mid-90s and in production beginning in 1999). It just happens to be a happy coincidence. Plus, a lot of the early reviews pretty much called The Incredibles "Spy Kids mixed with the Fantastic Four."

- A lot of graduations are happening now, so to those of the class of 2009, congratulations . . . now, find your place in the world and enjoy this life. Never stop learning because new things happen every day, and you're not as smart as you think. Don't let people tell you you can't or it's impossible, because you can and it is possible. Understand there will be moments of doubt and fear, but also understand that too will pass. Eat a slice of pie at least once a week, the world's most perfect dessert. Take and heed the advice of those that came before you and then give it back to those that will come after you. Create something everyday. Relax, but don't be lazy. Work, but don't extend yourself too much. Chew gum, preferably bubble gum. Love this life, it's the only one you've got. Don't fall into trends; they're not forever. Last, but not least, never forget who you are, where you came from, and the people who created half of what you've become; you're on a path to completing and presenting yourself to the world.

The rest of you guys and gals should heed that advice as well.

Jun 7, 2009

Defending The Red-Haired Man

Have you heard that there's a new host of The Tonight Show on NBC? Like our current president, he served as a head of a prestigious Harvard University group (he was the president of the Harvard Lampoon, one of only three to serve in the role twice). He's a former comedy writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons and a two-time Emmy winner and three-time host. He's freakishly tall like his favorite president, kind of looks like the current president of Finland, and made a grown man say "Buddy Boy" and "Jub-Jub" during the World Series.

Did I mention he hosted his own late-night talk show for 15 and a half years?

Conan O'Brien has only been host of The Tonight Show for a week, but he's doing pretty well in the slot. The fans of Late Night With Conan O'Brien loved the revamped Tonight Show, but many of the show's critics are complaining that his show is nothing more than Late Night with a bigger shinier set and that he's unworthy to sit in the seat formerly occupied by Jay Leno.

I'm sorry. Unworthy? I think that Mr. O'Brien is more than worthy of hosting NBC's marquee late-night franchise. He has over 20 years of industry experience prior to moving to his current slot. Yeah, he wasn't a stand-up comic, but then again, neither was the guy who preceded Leno.

What? I'm not saying anything that isn't true. Johnny Carson was a comedy writer and sketch comedy performer before he honed his hosting skills on various game shows before ascending to the role of a lifetime. I think a lot of these critics of Mr. O'Brien have selective memory because they largely forgotten what kind of show The Tonight Show was before Jay Leno, which had a lot of sketch comedy segments and memorable characters like Carnac the Magnificent, Floyd R. Turbo American, and Art Fern.

And I just realized I've aged myself and alienated readers under the age of 24.

But yeah, Jay Leno's Tonight Show was a much more political show than his predecessor's show and relied on less sketches and more on man-on-the-street segments. That's not to say it's was a bad show because, let's face it, it wasn't. However, if The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien was going to be the same show as The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, and if a lot of people expected that it would be, well, disappointment is going to be an emotion a lot of Leno fans are going to be experiencing for a good while now.

The thing is, well, people aren't going to like Conan's brand of humor. And here's another observation. People didn't like Leno's brand of humor either. A comparative statement is water is wet. The reason Conan took over Late Night 15 and a half years ago wasn't because he was just like David Letterman, because he's not. The reason Conan took over The Tonight Show wasn't because he was just like Jay Leno (and, for the record, Jay Leno didn't have to leave The Tonight Show; he chose to; Conan could have been gone and about $40 million richer and on a new outlet). They liked him because he's himself, not a carbon copy of Carson or Leno.

Otherwise, what would be the point?

Conan's not from "retro Hollywood." You know, that so-called glamorous period that existed on television between the end of the Eisenhower presidency and the beginning of the Reagan presidency. An era between the premiere of I Love Lucy and the Who Shot J.R. episode of Dallas. Television was still a virgin period and largely untested. Jay Leno represents the last link to the "retro Hollywood" era of television, and I think that's why a lot of people are so hellbent on criticizing every nuance of what Conan's doing on his . I know Conan respects the past, but he also realizes his viewers are younger and expect a lot more from him.

I'm not saying everybody has to like Conan. People had ill feelings towards the guy for many other reasons, but give him a chance on The Tonight Show. He's pretty good at it.