Bland Finale

With this week’s overdue announcement that The Office will finally end, we find ourselves reflecting on the best way to end TV shows.

Even the best of shows have trouble tackling the finale problem. Sharp comedies are reduced to sappitude, like on The Larry Sanders Show. Even though Seinfeld took the classy early exit, nobody liked the last episode. And I’m willing to bet that, 10 episodes from now, Breaking Bad will be unable to satisfyingly tie up all the threads it’s been sewing the shit out of. I don’t think I need to give examples of the ones that just dragged on too long. Sometimes, the best finales are from the shows that are cancelled quietly and unexpectedly in the night, because the last episode is just another episode.

Regardless, the end of The Office means the system can occasionally work. And all it took was the lead actor leaving and taking viewers with him. And a couple extra seasons. And a lot of crappy new characters, forced down our throats like so many Sabre brand Pyramid tablets.

78712ea6ebb69589c2504c4fe69396f4 the office

So what other shows will defy expectations and manage to end in a pleasing fashion? We consulted our dreamscape to bring you back these other fantasy headlines:

‘Mad Men’ Moves to 1980s for Final Season
Video Preview: Pete Campbell Discovers Cocaine

Trebek-Bot Decommissioned

‘Whitney’ Pilot Retroactively Named Finale
NBC: Clerical Error to Blame for Series’s Green Light

These Jobs Haven’t Been Very Dirty For A While Anyway

‘Modern Family’ Never to Stop or Decline in Quality
God Alters Natural Laws For His ‘Favorite Show’

Fox Execs: ‘The Simpsons Ended in 1996
Last 16 Years Were a Bad Dream

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Satellite Wars

This was the week that we all learned about bundling — channel bundling, not the historic Pennsylvania Dutch courtship practice. It was also the week that a dispute with a single pay-TV provider, usually an opportunity for glee that my own cable isn’t involved, got a lot less funny when Viacom tried to take away full episodes of their shows (Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, etc.) for everyone online.

The whole thing became a corporate hostage crisis, with DirectTV as Jimmy Carter and Viacom as the Ayatollah. Even though Jon Stewart (in the link above) tried to convince us TV isn’t worth the apocalyptic rhetoric, everyone else on the Internet begged to differ.

Anyway, this particular dispute is all over now. You can read about how everything started here.

But — Gerald Ford’s optimism notwithstanding — the fight continues elsewhere, with Dish and AMC still locking horns over something or other. AMC has taken the opposite route of Viacom, inviting blacked-out Dish subscribers to watch their shows online. What a bunch of softies.

The sticking point is always that content providers want to lump in the crap channels — e.g. AMC’s WE, Viacom’s CMT — with the good ones, like AMC and Comedy Central. Everyone else, well, we’d prefer to just pay for the good stuff.

It’s a pipe dream, but de-bundling is still fun to think about. Here’s a Zen koan for you: is TV without lots of shitty channels still TV?

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Small Town Security: A real deal

“Television’s a facade. You only see what you see.”
— Judy O’Neal, public-access TV maven, Small Town Security

Sunday was the Breaking Bad season premiere, followed by the series premiere of a show I’d never heard of, Small Town Security. And while Breaking Bad garnered its fair share of quiet “wow”s and “cool”s — the show can be somewhat of a thrill ride, perhaps you’ve heard — it was only Small Town Security that caused me to leap to my feet and clutch incredulously at the TV, stunned by what I’d just seen.

Because, get this, it was a reality show, and it was a good one. In fact, the first episode was the best episode of any reality show I’ve ever seen. (You can watch the Small Town Security premiere on AMC’s website here for a limited time.)

Specifically, it was the ending that provoked my happy reaction. It was a twist ending — which might be unprecedented in reality shows — and since I don’t want to spoil it here, I’ll just say that it was a surprising, human, emotional moment. That list of adjectives alone should convince you this isn’t really reality TV like we’re used to.

AMC is taking a little bit of a risk with these reality shows, like this one and the less-good The Pitch, because their fans are used to top-notch scripted shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. But if the results can be as good as this, the savings will be worth it.

Still, some people aren’t very happy, mostly because we had to watch through the first commercial of this show to see a preview of next week’s Breaking Bad. To all the Breaking Bad fans who bitched about the commercials for this show and declined to try watching it, I say: Jesus Christ, Marie!

joan koplan reality tv

Joan Koplan on Small Town Security

One person wrote on an AMC forum: “Just by having this show air shoulder to shoulder with something like Breaking Bad makes my stomach turn, this show is a desecration of my beloved Network.” Yeah AMC, we’re here for American Movie Classics like  Mad Men, and Alien Vs. Predator!

The other reason everybody will be predisposed to hate it: they’ll think it’s a reality show, and it looks like one. But it isn’t! OK, it kind of is. Continue reading

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Flash-Matic remote inventor dies

flash matic tv news

We were very sorry to hear about the passing of Eugene Polley, who invented the Flash-Matic (above) for Zenith brand TVs in 1955. It was the first version of the remote control.

While I didn’t know him, I know we are all a huge fan of his invention. Along with cable programming, live TV, and the DVR, it ranks as a top turning-point in the history of watching TV. Of course, I have never known a world without remotes, but I have experienced the loss of a remote or the death of batteries before, and it was a serious blow to my short attention span while the situation persisted.

Remotes aren’t even a luxury anymore, because today’s TVs require them to do a lot of advanced tasks: decades later, the fight to control our televisions goes on. I need to use two, actually. And I always keep one close to “shut off long, annoying commercials” on the evil, evil channels that turn up the volume during ads.

So, I wrote a short poem, entitled “Zap,” as a way of saying thanks for the gift of “magic light”:

Now Zenith means the height of sitting.
Before, routine was get up, sit down.
After: Click click click.
“Remote” is good, “control” is better:
We draw, fire, decide.
Don’t be sad; he watches still,
surfing in the hereafter.

While the Flash-Matic is not technologically advanced by today’s remote standards — you had to aim it at different corners of your TV, and there was no pause or rewind to speak of — I have to admit, I would really enjoy a remote shaped like a ray gun.

“Marge, change the channel.”

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Veep’s intro is terrible

If you haven’t already, get a load of the awful title sequence to Veep, the new HBO show:

I don’t know which is more disgusting: the figurative vomit from whoever is responsible for puking this puke all over my screen, or my own pile of more literal and much warmer vomit from when I saw it. Gross, I know. But so is that awful music, the ugly Powerpoint presentation and news clippings, and the feeble stab at cleverness at the end when the line graph becomes the V in Veep.

If the alternative is an intro like this, I would be fine with scrapping the intro entirely and supplying my own hamfisted exposition.

At least it’s short. The show itself is OK.

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From the TV Catacombs: “Jim’ll Fix It”

tv catacombs tvFor the inaugural chapter of this new feature, we read about a “programme” that appears to be a British version of Fantasy Island or Queen for a Day. (Wait, was Queen for a Day British? How long do they keep their queens?)

I heard about Jim’ll Fix It while watching an episode of The Ricky Gervais Show (“Munchies”). Apparently it was a show where children wrote in to have their wishes fulfilled, but due to the limited imagination of British youth and more likely the limited budget of British television, their wishes were things like eating a meal in an odd place or driving a bus. Otto would be so proud.

According to Wikipedia — citation needed, obviously — stupid kids thought that host Jim’s name was actually Jim’ll, like the title, so they wrote salutations like: Dear Jim’ll. That’s a TV education for you.

TV Catacombs is an ongoing feature intended to highlight TV shows past, whether or not they’re worth remembering. Unlike other posts, these are based on secondary sources and not firsthand viewing, so we make no claim for the quality of the show covered. It probably sucked.

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Jeopardy! field report

photo jeopardy

Thar she blows

Somehow, even though it happened weeks ago, I was scooped on my story about the Jeopardy! taping I went to last month. Benjamin Freed at DCist has a writeup of his own personal struggles with the Jeopardy! machine, which I can recommend reading. I definitely agree with him that the practice round hosted by Jimmy from the stupid Clue Crew was disappointing.

Here’s my account of the evening at DAR Constitution Hall. Let me set the scene: Jeopardy! is filming a “Power Players” tournament for some reason. I guess all the real celebrities were on Dancing With the Stars? We shuffle in, watch Clue Crew Jimmy and the practice round, and definitely keep our cell phones in our pockets and don’t take photos. The contestants that night are Chuck Todd, Clarence Page, and Lewis Black. I don’t remember the outcome, and don’t care too much, but the episode airs Thursday night if you’re interested.

Alex Trebek took questions from the audience, and I took notes:

  • He predicted someone like Ken Jennings won’t happen again, calling the contestant’s streak “a perfect storm”
  • He also said his leg is still healing from that semi-nude hotel chase
  • And that the show’s producers haven’t had a new idea in years
  • Claimed never to have done drugs — also claimed to have a sense of humor
  • Could not name a single comic strip
  • Said he cries a lot (probably because of a lack of comics in his life)
  • For the record, listed his favorite sports teams: Lakers, Angels, Redskins and Canadiens

What I found most remarkable is that Alex Trebek is not standing behind that lectern (possibly due to the leg injury). He sits on a stool and uses good posture, the bastard. He may fool the camera, but now you all know the truth.

Finally, I was hoping that seeing Trebek off-camera would humanize him a bit, show a funny side, perhaps. But no. He wouldn’t even pretend to like a comic strip to answer a little boy’s question. However, his riveting performance in that Wheat Thins ad (not the Family Guy one) is making me wonder if he has a heart after all:

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Our 100th episode!

meaningless milestones tv

Wow, 100 posts already? It seems like only yesterday we were copying our first Simpsons jokes and trying to start Twitter wars with celebrities.

It’s been over a year of blogging, vlogging, and generally clogging the Internet like with the most intimate details of my viewing habits in my photo diary and on Twitter. See if you can guess what show I was watching at the time of these obscure tweets!

Because compulsory reminiscence isn’t just for TV, here’s a list of other self-congratulatory 100th episodes:

“100” (30 Rock) I actually wrote a limerick about this very episode when it aired last year. This was the one with Michael Keaton and the gas leak that was an hour too long, where some of the extra time was taken up by a clip-show-type deal.

Fun fact: While the idea behind the episode that it was the 100th episode of TGS, the show within a show, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make any sense with the show’s timeline. Prove me wrong!

“100 A.D.” (American Dad) started with Roger’s humorous announcement that to celebrate the show’s 100th episode, they will kill off 100 characters “you’ve come to know and love.”

100 episodes tv

No, tonight we're gonna find out who shot Mr. Burns! What? 15 years ago? Who was it? Really, the baby? (sigh) I want a baby.

99 out of 100 turned out to be random throwaway characters and a dog. This episode showcases American Dad’s amusing tendency to bring back characters you assumed were one-timers, as well as its amusing tendency to kill characters without prejudice. Remember when they killed Stan at the end of “Hot Water”?

Fun Fact: this actually aired as the 97th episode, making a liar out of my TV yet again!

“Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song” (The Simpsons) gave us the chalkboard gag above, from a show that has gone on to celebrate so many more, increasingly depressing, milestones, with the latest being 500. The plot of “Baadasssss Song” was refreshingly non-reflective, instead chosen as the 100th because it focused on Bart. And Principal Skinner, everyone’s other favorite character.

Update: Mere hours after this post was published, Saturday Night Live celebrated their 100th web whatever with, yes, a retrospective (explored through the metaphor of autofellatio … at least I think it was a metaphor).

Well, that wraps up this history lesson. It’s really true — we’ve reached 100 installments. And you know what that means: syndication! Without the profitability.

1001 tv


P.S. What’s on the horizon for 5 Hours A Day, the TV blog? Controversy. Increased use of multimedia. Fewer typos. Journalistic enterprise, including a series on the storied relationship between TV and naptime. Graphs!

P.P.S. In the interest of history, here is a list of names considered and rejected for this blog:

  • OnUrTV*
  • Channel
  • Channelz
  • (They Ought To Call It A) Remote Out Of Control
  • Hot 99.5 “The Blogg”
  • That’s So TV

OnUrTV was actually the original name of this blog before it was abandoned because it was too clear. Channelz, unrelatedly, is now the name of an unpopular nightclub in Providence, Rhode Island.

I would also like to send a special thanks to my friends whose published work here represents 23 percent of this milestone. Your support, edits, co-watching, ideas I swiped for posts including this one, and other such enabling probably merit a larger number than 23, but I prefer to stick to the hard data.

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Roger & Roger

together forever american dad

Hedonistic, witty, and named Roger: Roger Smith from “American Dad!” and Roger Sterling from “Mad Men” have exactly 3 things in common. Let’s not get carried away here.

But, they do both get all the best lines in their respective shows. Watch:

Warning: the preceding video contained images of binge drinking, vomiting, and a fire extinguisher full of tequila.

Bonus
Drinks inspired by these two drunks:

The Roger Sterling: Fill a highball glass 3/4 full with milk and an ice cube. Top with vodka. (As seen in the video.) “Like a drop of strawberry jam in a glass of milk,” but with vodka in place of the jam. Man, this guy talks about milk a lot.

The Roger Smith: Cola and grenadine, AKA a Roy Rogers. Roger’s love for this drink inspired one of his more memorable personas — Roy Rogers McFreely, from the episode “Roy Rogers McFreely.” Per that episode, there are two acceptable temperatures for the cola: cold, or warmed for 3 weeks in the crotch of an alien’s cowboy pants.

Going with a non-alcoholic drink for the king of substance abuse was an odd choice, but it was a good episode.

Next time: Donald Draper and Donald Duck?

donalds american dad

Creepy.

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“The Office” on the decline of “The Office”

“The Office” had been getting bad for a few years, but wow, have they given up since Michael Scott left. The show itself seems to comment on its obsolescence regularly this season, so we compiled all the commentary into a video for you. Watch out for Robert California’s head.

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