Dec 22, 2009

The Story of The Four Networks

Once upon a time, there were four networks.

One was an orphaned network that struggled a bit when they were growing up trying to find an identity. He didn't like his name, Nimby. He spent the sixties trying to find out who he is, started wearing colorful clothes that people didn't get at first, hung out with spacemen, and ended up found in the haze of the hippie counterculture. He felt good, but he realized they had to grow up, so, they did some soul-searching, figuring out what's out there. Seeing what works and what doesn't. He found himself back in the counterculture again, though they limited their parties to Saturday nights. After a few rough spots, he cleaned himself up, was proud as a peacock, and now called himself Pete. During the booming 80s, he hung out with a lot of rich folks with kids, taxi drivers, doctors, students, families, cops, barkeeps, mercenaries, lawyers, and judges. At the turn of the decade, they shied away from those people and lived a single life while making long-term friends with cops and lawyers in New York and doctors in Chicago throughout the dot-com years.

When the bubble burst, the good times kind of ended for Pete. He finds himself working for a huge universal corporation stuck in an office writing a list of things they want, looking at the past a little too hard, and looking for a hero, though across the hall, he finds one in a bright-eyed TV producer. At that moment, Pete realized he could go to community college and look for a new start without relying on old friends. In the middle of refining himself, Pete decided to hook up with younger chick named Cassie, who came from newer money but was a lot more shady than the people Pete grew up around. Love has blinded ol' Pete and this courtship is about to be tested. Either Cassie's a true match or, as many of Pete's friends fear, a black widow.

Another is a distant cousin of Pete. They used to be close until they moved apart. He struggled to find a place, got made friends with a superhero and later found friends in Milwaukee, angels and single young adults in Los Angeles, and cops in New York, before striking it rich like their distant cousin did in the 80s by hanging out with moonlighters and family dynasties. Lets call him Abe. Around this time, he dated a mousy chick named Diz off and on for the latter half of that decade and vicariously through the families they met, especially a pair of families in Illinois (one was headed by a brash waitress and the other tends to be visited a lot by this scrawny nerdy kid) and this one family in San Francisco.

Abe ended up marrying Diz after SHE proposed, and they had a rough patch for a while. They found advice and friendship from crude cops, more families, and an office worker in Cleveland, but they still weren't happy. Fortunately, they looked to a millionaire for some help and confidence while they got lost in new thoughts and finding friends on a strange suburban street. some brothers, sisters, bachelors, and bachelorettes they knew, a smart yet whiny doctor out of Seattle, a slightly older, smarter doctor who had the good sense to leave that place, and others while trying not to wipe out their good fortunes so soon.

The third network defies a stigma. Her given name is Columbia, but everybody calls her Tiffany, because she's a sophisticated lady. At least that's the way she presented herself. She hung out mostly in urban/suburban locales early one, particularly with a red-head married to a bandleader and a brunette married to a comedy writer. For a while, she embraced her rural roots and acted a little silly. Tiffany looked at the changing world around her with an open eye and became more socially conscious in the era of women's liberation and the civil rights era. She still retained some of her rural roots, but it was somewhat balanced around this time. Like Abe, she also found herself surrounded by family dynasties in the 80s and more liberated women that decade as well. Like Pete, she found herself a little burned out in the much of 90s.

She married a well-known business man who died soon after and married someone she was "familiar" with back in her period of self-discovery. Her new husband liked music, movies, and kids while she was still set in her ways a little. They changed each other and adopted a son of a mountain man. Tiffany realized she was a survivor after her second marriage fell apart, though she did get a nice piece of a rock when the dust settles. She got back to her youthful ways but she discovered her attraction to guys who worked in forensics.

Finally, there's a younger network named Phoebe, largely uncertain about who they want to be. At first, she wanted to be just like the other three networks. This foxy lady decided that to make an impression, she had to be different. Her friends were married with children, sang duets, did impressions, and other things. They were quite entertaining, but they didn't impress folks. At least she found comfort in a colorful family of five who were a lot more animated than her other friends, a relationship Phoebe enjoys to this day. She embraced the sweet life of Beverly Hills, crime stories, sci-fi, and her urban roots until she discovered a love for football.

Once football overtook her life, a lot more people noticed Phoebe. She became a cover model of excellence. Unfortunately, she no longer felt the need to embrace her urban roots and shook that part of her loose once people began paying attention to her. She experimented from time to time and found herself trying to make it big. She wanted to be a star by any means necessary. She hung out with lawyers, federal investigators, the pretty people, half-cat freedom fighters, conspiracy theorists, mercenaries in browncoats, special agents, forensic anthropologists, prisoners, cops, and blank slates. Phoebe sang, danced, tried to find love, got greedy, be smarter than grade schoolers, and entertain everybody. She re-embraced her California roots for a while, but she was really scared to try something new and different. But at least she's still more animated than her fellow networks, especially finding a New Englander named Seth particularly funny and still hanging out with that family of five she met over twenty years ago.

There are others, but their stories are either boring or convoluted and not worth mentioning. So, I won't. Truth be told, the four networks have been around what seems like forever and try hard to remain relevant to today's audiences. Some have adapted to new technologies. Some have put all their bets behind their smaller cable siblings. They've been around forever, but as we prepare to enter the second decade of the 21st century, one will wonder if there will be four left standing by the end of that decade.

Dec 17, 2009

My Problem With Fantasy Schedules

As far back as I can remember, I've always seen fantasy threads on message boards. Of course, the places have changed, and message boards became chatrooms and later forums. Of course, if you put a thread on Twitter, you'd probably be laughed out of the way.

But fantasy threads involving how you'd program a network have been around for as long as there's been an internet. Well, as long as the thing we call the internet has been around as a public medium, which is roughly about 20 years in addition to the advent of cable television and its myriad of programming options. They're fun. It could also get a newcomer fame and friends on forum, not to mention pad their post counts, and they're usually of more substance than a two word response or my unfavorite response, "this." Has there been a lazier response to anything?

I don't dislike fantasy schedules per se, but in the end, my problem with them is that they tend to offer false hope, a hope for something that could never happen because show contracts ran out, they don't have rights to certain shows, or, as always the case, the executives at the networks are perpetually stuck on stupid and couldn't program their way out of a wet paper bag.

Don't believe me?

Okay, I'll provide you with an example of why I have a problem with fantasy schedules using everybody's favorite tabula rasa, Cartoon Network. The reason that people make fantasy schedules about Cartoon Network is because their lineup is less than impressive and lacking in real substance. You make a great lineup, you look at it with pride, you post it, people give you kudos and praise for coming up with a great lineup, and then you're back to disappointment because the schedule is not only not a reality, but you're despondent, depressed, and creating a new schedule because you can make it better.

Now, here's a sample of a Cartoon Network fantasy schedule. Not much thought about it, but hey, it's better than what they've got. Also, take in mind this is just a weekday lineup:

Weekdays (all times Eastern/Pacific)

6:00AM Storm Hawks
6:30AM Transformers: Animated
7:00AM Pokemon
7:30AM Gormiti
8:00AM Bakugan
8:30AM Chaotic
9:00AM The Mr. Men Show
9:30AM The Garfield Show

10 AM - 2 PM: The Boomerang Block

10:00AM The Flintstones
10:30AM Yogi and Huck (a new package of classic Hanna-Barbera shorts, M - Th)/The Jetsons (F)
11:00AM Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (M - Th)/Scooby-Doo, Mystery Inc. (F)
11:30AM Boomerang Sampler: Those Meddling Kids (M)/The Pink Panther (T)/Top Cat (W)/The Smurfs (Th)/The Banana Splits (a mix of shorts, classic clips, and new Banana Splits segments) (F)
12:00PM Tom and Jerry
12:30PM The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
1:00PM Looney Tunes (1 hr.)

2 - 5 PM: Cartoon Network's Last Bell (A three-hour block of comedic cartoons; classics hold up the first 90 minutes, recent shows the latter 90 minutes)
2:00PM Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends
2:30PM The Powerpuff Girls
3:00PM Dexter's Laboratory
3:30PM Johnny Test
4:00PM Chowder (M, Th)/Random Show (W)/Flapjack (T, F)
4:30PM 6Teen (M)/Stoked (T)/Total Drama (W)/Sidekick (Th)/Adventure Time (F)

5 - 7 PM: Action (No fancy brand name, but you know you're in a different environment just by looking at it. Plus, it's on in the afternoon, which is always a good thing).

5:00PM Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds (M - Th)/Samurai Jack (F)
5:30PM Pokemon (M - Th)/Batman: The Brave and the Bold (F)
6:00PM Teen Titans (M - Th)/Sym-Bionic Titan (F)
6:30PM Ben 10 (M - Th)/Generator Rex (F)

7 - 9 PM: Cartoon Network Prime (a different theme each night: Monday - The Standards, Tuesday: Made in Canada, Wednesday: Night of Heroes, Har Har Tharsdays, Fridays: You Are Here)

7:00PM The Bugs Bunny Show (M - W)/Cartoon Cartoons (Th, 1 hr.)/Action Title TBD (F)
7:30PM Scooby-Doo (M - W)/Action Title TBD (F)
8:00PM Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends (M)/6Teen (T)/Horrobots (W)/Flapjack (Th))/Batman: The Brave and the Bold (F)
8:30PM Powerpuff Girls (M)/Stoked (T)/Generator Rex (W)/Random Show (Th)/Sym-Bionic Titan (F)
9:00PM Scooby-Doo: Mystery Inc. (M)/Total Drama (T)/Sidekick (W)/Adventure Time (Th)/Star Wars: The Clone Wars (F)
9:30PM The Flintstones (M)/Johnny Test (T)/League of Super Evil (W)/Chowder (Th)/Ben 10: Alien Force (F)

See, and that's the problem I have with fantasy schedules. That's a very realistic lineup Cartoon Network could adapt right now. But they won't. And once I sat back and looked at what I made, I know I could make it better. Maybe I will one day, but right now, I won't.

Dec 9, 2009

Another Tale From Another World

It wasn't supposed to be this easy.

A year ago, they were just kids. Without purpose. Without hope. Looking for answers to questions that plagued their minds. Looking to belong to something bigger than themselves. Five kids who I've helped mold into the best chance this lost land has to offer.

For one year, I've trained them to become warriors. I've taught them how to fight without fighting, but I also didn't want them to get their rears handed over to them either. The big one's like my son. He came to me because I knew his father. I fought and trained alongside him in a previous life. I won't bore you with the details now, that's for another time. He is the most balanced of the quintet, shows precision with weapons and bare hands. The blonde is quick, even-tempered. She's a little headstrung, but lately, she holds herself back. She's not afraid, but nowadays, she knows there's consequences for her actions. Shame she's just learning that now.

Of course, I think she's too emotionally involved with that damnable troublemaker. Unkempt, vulgar, and arrogant. But I'd be damned if he wasn't the best student I've ever trained. He has this strange power about him that strikes me as a curiosity and an anomaly. I'm glad he's on our side, and I hope he stays that way. The twins are another story.

One, they're not really twins, not in the traditional sense. The girl was born a year later than the boy, who's about the same age as the blonde and the troublemaker. They have the talent, they have the ability to be taught, but they're distracted by something. They've been orphaned for years and being nomads across this land of ours. When they came to me, they've showed that they belonged here. But I can tell that they're scared of something, even when they show precision in their swordfights.

Tonight, they worked around their differences and infiltrated one of the hideouts of the Gunjin Shi, the group responsible for much of the destruction of our land. The people are afraid to confront them. My students are not. They made their first nighttime attack tonight. 250 armored warriors armed with swords, bos, chains . . . if it wasn't nailed down, they used it as a weapon. This would be seen by others as a suicide mission and I'd probably be assailed by child services. But I had confidence in my students. I knew they could handle those soldiers.

I never expected them to take out an entire army of armed warriors without harm to themselves. It wasn't supposed to be that easy. Perhaps they are ready.

To be continued in 2010.

Dec 8, 2009

Characters Welcome . . . Unless They're Animated

I like USA.

I do.

If the wags get their way and NBC goes cable through its new majority owner Comcast, I shall miss USA because I don't see them keeping a cable-only NBC and USA, unless they become like Time Warner's TBS and TNT networks, but better. But that's not what I'm writing this article about.

The tagline of USA for the past four or five years is "Characters Welcome." It's a catchy tagline, especially when they showcase folks of all walks of life. Of course on air, the characters that are present at seemingly all hours are detectives. There are detectives that are behind the badge. There are detectives that are freelancers, albeit with a few personality quirks. There are detectives that are fake psychics. There are detectives who work for the government. There are medical detectives who find out what's killing you from the inside. There are medical detectives who discover who and what killed you from the outside. There are detectives who are cops. There are detectives who are crooks.

There are plenty of characters on USA. However, most of them are detectives. Those that aren't are either warriors of the squared circle (that's wrestlers, cats and kittens) or those found in movies. Characters are wanted at USA, but for some reason, there hasn't been any animated characters on the network in a long, long time, and at this rate, they're in no rush to correct that.

The last time animation was on USA on a regular basis was in 1998. Sailor Moon was on weekday mornings as was Gargoyles. Duckman ended in 1997 and actually got away with a lot of stuff shows like The Simpsons could never do and was actually a precursor to the prime-time animation era to come with shows like South Park, Family Guy, and the whole fratboy mentality Adult Swim has captured and made their own.

Now I'm not in no way suggesting that USA brings back Duckman or Sailor Moon. Those shows are in the history books. But in an effort to be different, USA should invest in original animated productions. I think USA could be a network that would actually take a chance on something that hasn't seriously been considered on cable television or broadcast - an hour-long dramatic animated series (and before you say otherwise, yes, I'm familiar with Invasion America, Dreamworks' dramatic series. It aired for an hour, but they were two separate episodes rather than a continuous hour-long episode). There are many types of stories that could be explored in animation. Even detective/crime stories USA tends to be behind in droves.

I mean, if FX could have an animated series on its roster (Archer, from the folks behind Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021, officially debuts in January only on FX, so check it out, boosh!), why can't USA? It'd be kind of cool if at least this once, animated characters were welcome at USA again.