Tag Archives: Modern Family

Calling all journalists (ok, some journalists)

If you were 22, recently graduated from the college of your choice, and fizzing with literary talent, where would you be headed?  Novels? Broadway? Off Broadway? Television?

Exactly. You would be headed for TV. This is where the action is.  (Let me read the following programs into evidence:

House, Modern Family, Mad Men, The Good Wife, Glee, Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, Fringe, The Closer, Weeds, The Office, The Big C, The Simpsons, Psych. Just for starters

TV is where people as vastly talented as Aaron Sorkin and David Milch now ply their trades. This is the Globe of the moment.  This is our London in the 16th century.  This is our Paris of the first half of the 20th century.  LA is it.  

A couple of days ago, when I was noting the sheer volume of good programs on TV, I failed to see there is no culture without structure.  It just didn’t occur to me that for Hollywood and Burbank to be turning out good TV, there has to be an influx of talent of every kind (writing, directing, acting, casting, etc.).  

Hence my image, here, of Hurricane Fred.  This is meant to represent talent being pulled from all directions into Los Angeles.  (Yes, I know, Hurricane Fred had nothing to do with LA.  Work with me.)

You say hurricane.  I say virtuous cycle.  The better TV gets, the more talented people come, and the better TV gets and the more talented people come…and so on.  

Which means at this very moment there has to be a 22 year old getting off the bus in LA preparing to make his or her fortune in this the great center of popular culture, make that American culture.  

Which means that there is one whopping story to be written here for Rolling Stone or someone, the story of great talent pouring into a city now prepared, sometimes, to make it welcome.  This means there are bars where aspiring writers meet to aspire.  There have to be places in town where talent eddies.  There has to be a whole lot of networking going on.  

If I were not preoccupied with other things, (the proposal for the new book is as of this evening officially done. Publishers, start your engines), I would fly to LA and start an anthropological investigation of LA and its literary subcultures.   So, I can’t.  How about you?

Can your DVR take it?

I have a friend who keeps two DVRs running day and night.  She loves TV that much.  I used to think this was one DVR too many.  Now I see her point.

House, Modern Family, Mad Men, The Good Wife, Glee, Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, Fringe, The Closer, Weeds, The Office, The Simpsons, Psych. Just for starters.

Then there’s the anthropological riches of Reality TV The Real Housewives, Project Runway, Wipeout, Ice Road Truckers, Jersey Shore, Deadliest Catch, Survivor, Big Brother, Amazing Race and American Idol  

And now the new Fall season and lots of interesting newcomers: Terriers, Rubicon, The Big C, Boardwalk Empire.

So much for Newton Minow’s "wasteland."  So much for academic orthodoxy.  So much for the intellectuals who bet heavily on the idea that television was bankrupt and moribund.  (No metaphor was left unmixed.)  For a wasteland, TV is surprisingly fecund.

Would love to hear from readers how this Fall season compares to last.  I can’t honestly remember.


Minow, Newton.  1961.  Television and the Public Interest. An address delivered 9 May 1961, National Association of Broadcasters, Washington, DC. click here.

Calling all CCOs: how good is your gut?

Next week, Fox will launch a cop show called The Good Guys.  (It previews May 19th. The series starts June 7.)

Outwardly, things looks fine.  The producer is Matt Nix, who recently triumphed with Burn Notice. Its stars Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford, able actors to be sure. Plus Fox is good at making good TV.  

But my gut says this show is going to be a stinker.  The Hollywood Reporter description:

[The show] centers on Jack (Hanks), an ambitious, by-the-book detective whose habit of undermining himself has resulted in a dead-end position at the Los Angeles Police Department. Worse, he has been partnered with Dan (Whitford), a drunken, lecherous, wild-card cop who hangs onto his job only because of a heroic act years before.

This made the eyes roll back in my head.  At a time when Modern Family is reinventing the family comedy, Burn Notice the spy story, and New Christine the situation comedy, this doesn’t sound promising.  My first warning: I got bored in the middle of the 15 second promotion.  

Of course this is why people hate bloggers.  We don’t do due diligence.  We just make shit up.  We don’t investigate or even think very hard.  We shoot from the hip. 

But exactly!  This is precisely the time to judge the show   Before we know the details, before we have seen an episode, before any diligence is done.  When all we know is the concept, this is the best, the only real, opportunity to see whether our instincts are good for anything. (Sometimes, that is to say, bloggers do the wrong thing for the right reason.  Hasty judgment in this case is due diligence.)

It’s also a chance to go on the record.  So I’m going on the record.  I believe this show will be a stinker.  I believe it will be so bad Fox won’t run the whole of the first season.

I hope I’m wrong.  Unlike Angie Tempura (above), I am not a sneering, know-it-all, blogger.  I wish this show well.  No one likes to see this much talent, money and risk go to waste.  

Please come join me.  I would especially like to hear from those who like the sound of the concept. 

Your comments please!


Andreeva, Nellie.  2009.  Colin Hanks Revs Up for Jack and Dan.  Hollywood Reporter. November 3.  here.  (subscription fee may be required)

For more on The Good Guys, check out the Fox cite here.  But, please, form a judgment first!

Blank looks for a new comedy and culture

There are two facial expressions I haven’t seen on TV before.  One is a look of suppressed speech.  The other is perplexity.  Both show TV characters going blank.

If you’re a fan of The Office or Modern Family, you know the looks I mean.

Suppressed speech blank

Jim or Pam (in The Office) stare blankly, as if to say, "I know exactly what I think but I can’t say it."  Michael Scott or Dwight Schrute are up to something embarrassing, stupid or juvenile (usually all three) and comment is unnecessary. It is in any case forbidden. Michael is the boss and Dwight is a lunatic. Provoking them is a bad idea. Better to stare blankly. (Occasionally they Jim or Pam will blank to the camera, because they know we know exactly what they mean.)

Perplexity blank

Phil or Claire Dunphy (in Modern Family) stares into the middle distance, as if to say, "I have no idea what to think.".  A little cloud appears between the brows.  They are nonplussed. They have done something embarrassing, stupid or juvenile, and now they are perplexed. Occasionally, Phil or Claire will blank to the camera, because, well, they know we know they have no idea what they mean.)

Four questions:

1) Is this new?  There is a standard sit com facial repertoire, that includes, laugh out loud, smirk, grin, frown, grimace, and operatic outrage.  There is every kind of facial posturing. And, yes, there are blank looks.  In fact there’s a long tradition here that includes Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Don Adams, Edith Bunker right up and through The 70s Show, Frasier, and Seinfeld,

But this blank?  The one that says says, "I am not saying.  I’m not reacting"?  Yes, I think this kind of blank perhaps is new. Is it customary to seeing sit com characters biting their tongues? The point of situation comedy is to loosen tongues and let fly. Conventional sit coms were positively disinclined to silence a character in this way.  This blank is new.

2) What does "blank" stand for? In the first case, The Office case, the blank is a way of acknowledging how utterly and hopelessly over the top is the behavior of a Michael Scott. Without these characters registering a real world reaction, this comedy would tip into its own lunatic world and cease being exceptional. The blank exists to refresh the standard by which Michael Scott is appalling. This blank exists to prevent a "Dunder Mifflin" world from terraforming in which the bizarre is ordinary.

The Modern Family blank is confessional.  The character is saying, "I understand that I have completely failed in the responsibilities of a social actor, to manage social impressions.  I am undone."  We are now looking at the person behind Goffman’s mask. The character is saying, "I stand before you without credibility." (How much fun must it be for a theatrical actor to play a social actor who is no longer capable of action?)

3) Why is this facial expression now a ubiquitous part of some sit coms?  I’m not sure.  I welcome reader speculation.  Some of it has to do with the mockumentary convention that has characters aware of the cameras and playing to it.  It’s also an expression of the comedic moment championed by Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and the antics of Michael Cera, Jack Black and Seth Rogen as directed by Judd Apatow.  Call it squirm comedy.  It excavates social rules by breaking them.  And there has to be someone standing around to observe the mayhem (to make sure it remains departure and does not "freeze" into norm).

Plus squirm comedy pushes characters into appalling situations.  (Think Ben Stiller in Something About Mary.)  And now in a sense they have played out the string of the scene. There is no recovery. There is no next.  And this means there is no way of way to end the scene, except to show the character just standing there.  The social actor can’t act anymore.  The writer has written herself into a corner.  The only thing left to do is blank.

4) But here’s the really hard question.  Why should our culture find this funny now? Readers (and I think it is now clear I have the most interesting and brilliant readers) start your engines.

Last note:

Those of you who haven’t seen Modern Family might want to take a look.  It’s now a critic’s darling and according to TV By The Numbers it is the no. 1 scripted show in its time slot for 6 weeks in a row and nows ties with American Idol as the No. 1 program among men 18 to 34.  

Really last note:

I just want to say how grateful I am for reader comments. I haven’t been at all good at responding to them lately. Things are hectic. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t read them. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t treasure them. Thanks a million.

Totally last note, and this time I mean it: This post reposted December 23, 2010.  It was destroyed by Network Solution neglect.  I just came across it floating around on line.  Hurray!