Tagged: House of Cards

Mike Gold: Time Is On Our Side?

I had an interesting conversation last Sunday night with Glenn Hauman, ComicMix’s Empirical Wizard. He was giving me a lift from Martha Thomases’ place to Grand Central Terminal following a remarkably productive yet still highly entertaining staff meeting – a rare gathering indeed, as this time it did not involve fried chicken. Hey, every business has its own work ethic.

We were debating the machinations of the then-threatened Writers’ Guild strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Fortunately, the strike became unnecessary yesterday when the Guild and the AMPTP agreed on a new contract.

Overall, the business changed radically between this current action and the last one in 2007, which screwed up things pretty nicely. The media ain’t what it used to be back then, or last year, or even last week. There is so much production going on that in some cities arranging the services of a qualified production crew, equipment and sound stage space has become extraordinarily difficult. Usually, when operations such as Netflix or Amazon Prime acquire a series they shoot the whole season all at once. There’s no cancellation and subsequent halt in production, or even (necessarily) downtime between episodes. That’s very, very different from the way television shows were manufactured before February 1, 2013, the debut of House of Cards, the first high-profile direct-to-streaming dramatic series.

Which, in my typically circuitous way, brings me to “the point.” Just before I got out of Glenn’s car I said television and movies, but particularly television, has changed more in the past four years than it has in the previous 65. Most certainly, it took a lot of advances to get to this point. HBO gave broadcast teevee its first major competition in 1972 and started offering original programs – concerts and movies – a few years later. In 1975 home video recording ended our reliance on having to be in front of the tube at the time of broadcast, lest we miss our show. Cable expanded upon all that, and within a decade our choices expanded from three networks and a couple of independent stations to over 100 simultaneous choices.

Growth and expansion increased exponentially. The Internet (which I continue to capitalize because I live in fear of it metastasizing), mobile computers, digital video recorders, streaming, live streaming… change keeps coming faster and faster, and whereas we are not certain what will be next we do know it’ll come to us within months.

What we have today is something I never dreamed of just a few decades ago: far more programs on television that I want to see than I’ll ever be able to get around to seeing. I’ll bet you feel the same way.

This has a significant change in the way we relate to each other. It used to be people would discuss the previous night’s programming “around the water cooler.” It became a ritual. Today, we have spoiler alerts. We can no longer share the moment, but we can turn each other on to even more shows that we don’t have time to watch.

When it comes to home entertainment in the broadest sense, time is more important than money. We have public libraries, discounted movie showings, radio and audio programming… but no time to enjoy it all.

As an industry, television was dependent on advertising. To make the most money, owners needed to arrest the attention of the biggest audience. But now, broadcasting has given way to narrowcasting, and people have the option of avoiding commercials altogether (except on PBS stations – there is some sort of irony in that). By and large, advertising is being replaced by user fees.

This, in turn, changes our marketing world. Commerce must rely upon other means to promote its wares, and it appears these methods will become more important with each passing day. That’s all well and good, but advertising is the means through which we used to discover new stuff. Our habits are evolving every hour, and commercial interests must change with them. I suspect some agencies will begin to hire soothsayers.

I am not saying this is good or this is bad. It is what it is, and just as we get the politicians we deserve, we get the programming and the products we deserve as well. As long as we can afford them.

As long as we have time for them.


John Ostrander: Michigan Political Theater

House of Cards

I’m from Chicago. Most of you already know that. I grew up in the days of Mayor Richard J. Daley (the first Mayor Richard Daley) and the Chicago City Council of his era so I’m used to the concept of politics as theater, as popular culture. The rest of the country is catching up; the Republican Debate last week scored really high ratings for CNN. Some of the big TV shows such as House of Cards and Scandal also score well.

Given my upbringing I’m somewhat a connoisseur of political dramedy. Years ago, in one of the early visits to NYC, I read that a NYC borough president was caught in a scandal and committed suicide. I’m afraid my first rather uncharitable reaction was, “What a wimp.” I was from Chicago; when our politicians got caught and convicted, they would try to run their political fiefdoms from inside the prison and/or run their wife/brother/dog in the election to keep their seat warm until the malefactor alderman got out of the pokey.

I’ve been living in Michigan now for a number of years and we have our own set of entertaining politicos. In a state were over 60% of the population was polled and said their first priority was the state fixing our lousy and dangerous roads and bridges, the legislature has been unable to get together on a sane way of financing that fix without gutting things like education. They’d get close and then – whoops! – it was time to take a few weeks off. This, however, is simply incompetence; as I said, I’m from Chicago and I have higher standards for real political theater.

Recently, however, there has been an incident that has risen to my lofty standards. It involved two Republican members of the House of Representatives, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. Both are Tea Party activists and devout Christians who are self-proclaimed proponents of “traditional” marriage values. (Courser was also the representative for my former district, Lapeer.) And, of course, the two were having an affair.

Still, despite the delightful odor of hypocrisy, the affair still didn’t reach the bar for me in regards to political corruption. There was nothing really new or compelling in all this. It’s what happened next that really started making it entertaining.

Todd (the God) Courser decided to “leak” a phony e-mail saying that Courser had been caught having gay sex with a male prostitute. The “reasoning” was that it would “inoculate” Todd and Cindy if allegations of their affair came out.

Don’t ask me to explain it. I’m just reporting it.

This Dynamic Duo were using their offices and their staffs to help get this e-mail out and some of them refused. It was improper use of state funds and services. And, of course, the truth came out in all its jaw-dropping glory.

There was an investigation, Courser and Gamrat admitted to everything but asked to be censured and not expelled, there was a huge official report, and the whole messy debacle came to a head this last week. Courser resigned just before he could be expelled but Gamrat hung on to the end and got the boot. A new election was set to fill the now empty seats.

All this is fun and interesting to an old Chicago political junkie like me but it’s what happened next that raises the whole thing to Chicago level chicanery.

As of Friday, the last day for candidates to file, both Courser and Gamrat declared themselves as candidates for the very seats they just lost. That is Chicago style politics!

And they say, you can’t make this stuff up. I think if I tried to make a story that did all this, the editor would tell me it was just not believable. (Except for Mike Gold – Mike’s another old Chicago boy and he could easily cite three or four historic events that were much worse.)

Part of me is perverse enough to wonder if I should work in Courser’s and/or Gamrat’s campaign. You know; just as a way to say “thank you.” They made me nostalgic for the Chicago of my youth. I could even devise a campaign slogan: “Don’t let those bastards in Lansing tell you who can represent you! Vote Courser/Gamrat! Let the affair continue!”

Sigh. It seems like the old days all over again. I miss Chicago.