Jon Reed Goes Off On... April 2006
Tuesday, April, 18 2006
The Sopranos: Marketing Triumphs Over Product
Every Sunday, I religiously watch "The Sopranos." Through the entire episode, I'm on the edge of my seat...waiting for the previews for the next episode! The previews are taut with tension, full of pending betrayals and shattering secrets. It's official: "The Sopranos" previews are now better than the show itself. Sure, "The Sopranos" is still a great show, the best acted show on the air today and one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled. But the show has now become a referendum on the importance of plot over character development. Great drama involves three aspects: rich characters, a strong sense of place, and compelling plot tension. "The Sopranos" used to have all three, but now the compelling plots are gone. The first few seasons, provocative themes played out over multiple episodes and came to a tension-filled head. Now themes are developed and dropped at will. Is the FBI still after the guys? For an episode or two they were, but now they go to the same sub shop and talk about Al Queda together. Does Tony have a real adversary, or is his greatest adversary just himself? Tony's battle with his better instincts is a great character study, but it doesn't qualify "The Sopranos" as the best show on television. Shouldn't a guy as powerful as Tony have at least one enemy who is continually plotting against him and gunning for him? One that is not weeping at his daughter's wedding as he's led away in handcuffs? Recently, I read a snobby article in The Boston Globe proclaiming "The Sopranos" the best show on television, far better than popcorn fare like "Lost." To reviewers like this one, the avant-garde plot devices of "The Sopranos" (like Tony's near-death experience) are proof of the show's sophisticated clout. I see it as a violation of thousands of years of storytelling. "The Sopranos" is the best acted show on the television, but the best show on television is "Lost." Both have a strong sense of place and time. But what "Lost" loses to "The Sopranos" in performances, it more than makes up for in plots. "The Sopranos" has become a soapy "Six Feet Under" character study. It's still great television, but gone is the page-turning quality that makes "Lost" so popcorn-snarfing good. I have no problem that "The Sopranos" pushes the envelope with unconventional plotlines. But it's nothing like its own previews. Worship "The Sopranos" all you want - the show on the previews is the one I wanted.
Tuesday, April, 04 2006
George Mitchell and steroids: no conflict, no interest
One of the hallmarks of our increasingly corrupt economy is the lack of interest in a "conflict of interest." To put it another way, most of us seem more concerned with getting paid to worry about somebody else's payola. This may explain why folks who are accused of a financial conflict of interest no longer feel the need to offer up even a flimsy rationale. Does ESPN have a conflict profiting from a reality show on Barry Bonds and doing investigative news reporting on him at the same time? Apparently not. Are they obliged to justify it? No, because we are going to watch the program either way. An audience that doesn't draw a line in the sand doesn't deserve one. One of the more insulting recent examples is the appointment of George Mitchell to oversee a supposedly "independent" investigation of steroids in Major League Baseball. George Mitchell currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of the Disney Company, the "parent company" that owns ESPN, which has a lucrative contract with MLB. Oh, and he's also on the Board of Directors of the Boston Red Sox. What does Mitchell have to say about it? "There's no conflict of interest," he says dismissively, his response implying that the question itself is intrusive and inappropriate, asked by reporters groveling for dirt. Is it wrong that George Mitchell be appointed to this post? Maybe, or maybe not. By all accounts, he is someone of personal integrity, not just a Bud Selig crony. But for Mr. Mitchell to sniff his nose at the question is asinine. What I expect to hear from Mr. Mitchell is that there is a conflict, but that it can be overcome. It's on George Mitchell to let the public know how his obvious financial stake in the health of Major League Baseball has nothing to do with an unprecedented steroids investigation. I guess I'm old fashioned; I like to think of investigations as going into every dark corner in search of the truth. I guess I'm alone on this, but I would find it disconcerting if an investigator probing a homicide had a business partnership with one of the prime suspects. But then again, this is the same country where Dick Cheney's handlers said with a straight face that he had no financial interest in Halliburton despite millions of dollars in unexercised stock options. If we're that gullible, if we're that stupid, then we might as well just let Bud Selig investigate himself. I look forward to the "findings." Why do I get the feeling that the Red Sox brass isn't exactly sweating George Mitchell's next investigative move?