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October 22, 2014

TV 101

TV 101: The Royal Wedding Is Coming ... Why Do We Care, Again?

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Apr 28th 2011 1:00PM
Prince William and Kate MiddletonYesterday, I overheard some random woman in line at the drug store say to her friend, "Let's call in sick on Friday and watch the Royal Wedding!" As she blathered on while coyly posing next to Time magazine's special royal wedding issue, I thought about the upcoming regal nuptials and why anyone outside of the royal family and a handful of jilted exes would even care that it's happening.

Royalty
The concept of royalty is pretty fascinating if you really sit down and think about it, preferably over some scones. As archaic and absurd as monarchy is in our current cultural climate, it doesn't stop us from trying to construct our own hierarchy of arbitrary and meaningless power. We want the glitz and the glam of a royal family to gossip and obsess over -- so much so that we've created our own warped nobility out of people who have done nothing to deserve it: celebrities.

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TV 101: What Can the Networks Do to Compete With Cable?

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Apr 6th 2011 3:00PM
Network TVIt's no surprise that television audiences are looking away from the big four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) when they want quality, soul-preserving programming. It used to be that "network" was your only choice, and if you wanted to see Bo Duke in painfully tight denim on 'Dukes of Hazzard' you had to work for it. You had to orchestrate your life around it. That's pretty powerful stuff.

Drunk with power, the networks got complacent at the wrong time, as television soon began to expand quite considerably. The development of basic and premium cable channels offered a myriad of not only diverse and original programming but various delivery methods as well, giving the power back to the audience.

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TV 101: Who Cares If the Stars Are Dancing?

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Mar 30th 2011 4:30PM
Dancing With the StarsI watch a lot of television -- some would say an unhealthy amount -- walking the thin line between hobby and obsession. I have the luxury of having jobs (writing, teaching) that allow me to sheepishly categorize my viewing habits as "research," no different from Cousteau or Goodall, but probably with more Cheetos.

Through all the "research," all the time spent lying in bed thinking, all the shouting of things at random passers-by, there's still one thing I have yet to wrap my admittedly gargantuan head around: Why does anyone -- even members of her own family -- care what Kirstie Alley is doing?! Unless she's making you a pie or babysitting your infant (that's my show idea -- don't even think about stealing it), why would anyone care?

I don't mean to single out Ms. Alley, but I'm using her as an emblem for all of celebreality-dom. The truth is that there are countless others out there slapping on makeup and inking deals with the devil for one more shot at being recognized in line at Subway -- enough to necessitate the obnoxious term "celebreality."

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TV 101: Where Have All the Theme Songs Gone?

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Mar 23rd 2011 5:15PM
Growing PainsThe TV show theme song used to be an institution, something you could look forward to with joy, often overshadowing the show itself. I can't count the number of times my wide-eyed young self was steadily enthused by the warm, familiar theme to 'Who's the Boss?' just in time for Alyssa Milano to dazzle me with her sexy tomboy 'tude.

Those days are mostly gone, unfortunately. First they were replaced by popular songs -- but all Paula Cole made me do was vomit just before I got my Dawson and Joey on. I didn't want to wait for that SONG to be over -- now it seems "theme songs" are actually just titular lines blurted out between commercials by some singing robot. Why would you throw away something so unabashedly awesome?

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TV 101: Behind the Madness of March Madness

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Mar 16th 2011 3:30PM
March Madness starts tomorrow, and for those of you who don't watch ESPN year-round, the "Madness" refers to the men's NCAA basketball tournament. Sixty-four teams -- I refuse to acknowledge the four additional "play-in" teams -- all dead-set on one goal: missing as much class as possible.

But "Madness" is such a vague term that it carries interesting connotations. To whom is such madness really referring? It could be about the basketball itself: There's enough pressure, buzzer-beaters, and "pounding the ball inside" to keep even the girlfriend of a fan interested for awhile. But, relatively speaking, that kind of Madness is rare when most of the tournament is spent watching Awesome University pummel Sh*tty State.

If it's not all about the basketball, then the madness might define the way our culture reacts as soon as March rolls around. We make up words like "bracketology." We hang on Gus Johnson's every word as if he were FDR delivering a Fireside Chat. We may or may not position a urine jug next to the couch so we don't have to miss that new Papa John's commercial offering some ridiculous special, like "Meat Madness," that we initially scoff at, but after the 14th time seeing it we order 12 of those bad boys and wish we had the foresight to have a poo jug, too.

Whatever the madness might be about, the tournament is the only TV sports spectacle that rivals the Super Bowl in terms of sheer scope and magnitude. Read on for some of my humbly absurd TV tournament predictions.

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TV 101: Memorable TV Women in the Making

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Mar 9th 2011 3:30PM
Lisa SimpsonI'm not one of these guys who, upon hearing that it's Women's History Month, complains to his bros and random passers-by that there's no Men's History Month. And while typically the first thing that comes out of a guy's mouth after he says "Listen, I love women," is the most misogynistic thing you'll hear all day, I'm here to tell you that's not always the case.

Listen, I love women, and I owe a great debt to the TV women of my childhood for helping to make me the person I am today. See? I told you it could be done. But I'm here not to herald the women of television -- that has been sufficiently and wonderfully covered by TV Squad staff already in our Top 100 Female TV Characters list -- but to acknowledge the daughters of those great women. The young TV women influenced and molded by TV's greatest women. Women!

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TV 101: Stupid Is As Stupid Does, Especially on NBC

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Mar 2nd 2011 5:00PM
Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer on NBC's 'Parks and Recreation'Roughly eight years ago a subtle movement began to emerge on television screens across the country. It was a movement that you might not have thought twice about, your vision somewhat clouded by a blond, large-breasted blitzkreig and a sense of superiority that kept the true duplicitous nature of the movement creeping steadily forward.

I say "creeping" because that's exactly what it did. It lurked around our children with its mustache of fame and its van with a wolf air-brushed on the side of delusion, waiting for the perfect opportunity to offer them the sweet candy of glamorized stupidity.

Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Richie made being stupid cool. They made their way to the "top" by tacitly promoting a teen culture of vapidity. While they never overtly stated this intention, it nonetheless became an undercurrent of their respective shows: 'Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica' and 'The Simple Life.'

Who cares? Me. Why? Because it seems as though this movement has transcended its basic cable roots and moved into the mainstream, where it can reach a much broader audience via the major networks.

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TV 101: It's All Good in 'Portlandia'

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Feb 23rd 2011 2:00PM
PortlandiaEverybody has that someone in his life who is principled almost to a fault.

This person only buys clothes from the Salvation Army (and not for the ironic reasons I bought gas station attendant shirts with the name "Roy" on them in the mid-'90s). He will take a swing at you if you dare offer him something that isn't organic, and he always talks about how he liked something before it sold out and went corporate, like the 1980s NBA, hip-hop or coffee.

He's the vintage-collecting, Whole Foods–shopping, hybrid-driving documentary filmmaker who reads McSweeney's and formulates conspiracy theories about Disney while jarring his homemade pickles.

IFC's 'Portlandia' is a little show made for and by hipsters that simultaneously skewers and reveres them and their pious notions of 20-something cool.

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TV 101: Rise of the Machines?

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Feb 16th 2011 2:00PM
Watson Jeopardy
As you may or may not know, brainiacs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter (uber-nerds sent here from another planet to embarrass earthlings on 'Jeopardy!') are currently embroiled in a cross-species test of intellect, facing off against the IBM supercomputer, Watson.

Yes, we've reached a point in our culture that robots and machines should be considered another species altogether. On the surface, this might seem like just another TV gimmick designed to draw in viewers -- no different than a "very special" episode of 'Two and a Half Men' or those "Who can eat more hot dogs -- a fat guy or a bear being starved in captivity?" shows -- a closer look reveals a competition, the implications of which could fundamentally alter the course of humanity.

The future of mankind may basically come down to a Daily Double about President Van Buren.

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TV 101: TV's Most Dateable Characters

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Feb 9th 2011 1:00PM
Penny, Big Bang TheoryEvery Valentine's Day, the deluge of complaints about how "Valentine's Day is just created by the people at Hallmark and Hershey and KY and walk-in clinics to sell products and services" is overwhelming, and I have just one thing to say to that: So?!

We live in a country that dedicates an entire day to getting laid, and we're going to complain about it? I can think of plenty of worse things to manufacture a holiday around, like Amputation Day (created by pirates to sell more peg-legs).

In the spirit of embracing Valentine's Day, here's a list of TV's most dateable characters. In the event that you spend the day alone, you can flip on your television or pop in a DVD, open that bottle of wine and pretend to have a date with a fictional character until you fall asleep making out with a pillow.

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TV 101: TV's Perviest Characters

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Jan 19th 2011 2:00PM
Hank Moody Californication[Ed. note: Dr. Vaughan is taking over this column from Jay Black. For a note from Jay, scroll down to the bottom of this post.]

In order to do a list like this, it's imperative that we first establish what "perviest" means, especially since I'm pretty sure I just made the word up. When my editor -- the lovely Kelly Woo -- asked me to do this list, "in honor of the return of Hank Moody (David Duchovny) on 'Californication," I got to thinking: what really makes a TV perv?

Using Moody as a template, I determined that he was not, in fact, a perv. Sure his lascivious behavior and his overall filth make him look like a perv, but he simply gets laid too much to be considered one. If having lots of sex makes a character a pervert, then we could give the title to Dog the Bounty Hunter and be done with it.

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TV 101: An Open Letter To Apple, Google and Roku (From the Future!)

by Jay Black, posted Oct 20th 2010 2:00PM
This is a terminator. It's also probably what the future will look like if what I'm hearing on Glenn Beck every night is true.Dear Apple, Roku, Google, Sony and all the other companies who are gearing up to connect our TVs to the internet:

Greetings from the future! As you will one-day know, ever since a well-meaning historian tried to warn Archduke Ferdinand of his (SPOILER ALERT!) 1914 assassination and accidentally caused 'Two and a Half Men' to happen, time-traveling has been illegal here in the future. Luckily for you, the guard at the time machine is addicted to future-booze (a lot like your own booze, except a million times more powerful) and fell asleep, allowing me to send this letter back in time.

And it's an important letter. See, 2010 was the year that you all decided people wanted streaming media from the internet on their TVs, but none of you actually did it right. It took decades for it to be sorted out!

So I'm writing this letter to speed things up a bit. There are three major things you're doing wrong and I have the solutions ...

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TV 101: Frak You!! Seven Examples of Censorship That Made TV Better

by Jay Black, posted Aug 20th 2010 3:30PM
Tricia Helfer - Does this image only marginally relate to the topic at hand? Yeah, but look at her. (/linkbait)This week, PETA helped make a completely forgettable Chrysler commercial into something funny and kind of wonderful.

The ad in question is for something called the "Dodge Big Tent Event", which is designed to both move end-of-model-year vehicles and test America's tolerance for misusing the word "event". In it, as cars roll out of a tent, Michael C. Hall of 'Dexter' narrates that the "event could not be more amazing," at which point a chimp wearing an Evel Knievel costume shows up and presses a dynamite plunger. A meek explosion of confetti follows as Hall deadpans, "I stand corrected."

PETA, an organization always at the forefront of the most important issues gripping both man and animal, immediately protested due to the poor conditions "actor" simians must face, including -- but not limited to -- hanging out with Matt LeBlanc, sleeping with chimp producers for chimp roles, and boxing Clint Eastwood.

Chrysler responded to the criticism by self-censoring the commercial. And it was one the rare times when censorship actually made something better...

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TV 101: 'Jersey Shore' And Philosophy (OR The Tao of GTL)

by Jay Black, posted Aug 12th 2010 3:00PM
The cast of the 'Jersey Shore' - believe it or not, people of the future, but these are actual human beings!The other day I was Googling for pictures of Christina Hendricks naked researching 'Mad Men' online and discovered that there's a new book called 'Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing Is as It Seems'.

'Mad Men' thus joins the ranks of 'The Sopranos', 'The Simpsons' and 'Lost' as TV shows that have earned their own '...and Philosophy' books. If you've never passed the "New and Noteworthy" table at Barnes and Noble, here's how the books work: they use characters and situations from pop culture as jumping-off points to discuss different philosophical ideas.

It's a great racket. Other than drug-dealing or arms-manufacturing, there's no better way to make money in America than by helping pseudo-intellectuals pseudo-learn something. I want a piece of that pie!

So that's why I've written a new book 'Jersey Shore and Philosophy: How to GTL Yourself to a Better Life.' Read on for some choice passages.

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TV 101: How 'American Idol' Screwed Up The Judge Search

by Jay Black, posted Aug 4th 2010 2:00PM
Simon Cowell. He smells like cigarettes and awesome.Sometime in the far future, after the zombie apocalypse and the Seldon-predicted collapse of the empire, historians will look back at this period and try to puzzle out just who Simon Cowell was. A king? A sentient robot? A god?

It'll be hard for them to understand -- did a British guy in a nipple-hugging sweater really have more ink written about him than Lady Gaga and Lindsey Lohan combined?

But it's true: Simon's departure from 'American Idol' and the domino effect it's had on America's favorite show has dominated the news for months. Last week, I followed the reports about the show's judging changes like they were dispatches from the front line of a war.

The thing that's surprised me most about the search to replace Simon (and Ellen ... and Kara) is that no one has suggested the simple fix for the problem: the producers should have let America vote on it.

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