27 December 2009

Hey networks doing remakes of classic TV shows, I have an awesome idea. It's called "reruns".

The New York Times just published this new article by its TV writer Bill Carter, "Why Studios Keep Cranking Out TV Remakes, Despite the Flops". It provides a context in the major US broadcast networks remaking classic TV series. In fall 2010, three remakes of old TV shows will premiere in primetime: Charlie's Angels (ABC), Hawaii Five-O (CBS), and (NBC). Interestingly, the original versions of all these shows were on the same networks: Charlie's AngelsThe Rockford Files ran from 1976-1981, Hawaii Five-O from 1968-1980, and The Rockford Files 1974-1980.

This season, the CW network has two remakes of 1990s teen dramas Beverly Hills, 90210 (the remake is simply 90210) and Melrose Place. In this case, the original versions of these shows were on Fox; the CW was established in 2006 after the UPN and WB networks (both of which were established in the mid-1990s) merged. Beverly Hills, 90210 ran on Fox from 1990-2000, and Melrose Place ran on the same network from 1992-1999. Regarding the CW's remakes, Carter writes: "No one would claim either approaches the success of their predecessors, or even passable hit status."

In his article, Carter explains that many remakes of classic shows have flopped recently.
- The Fugitive (ABC, 1963-1967; remade for CBS, 2000). Compared with the now-successful, still-running CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the remake of The Fugitive had a lot of buzz right before it premiered. It was canceled after one season.
- The Bionic Woman (ABC, 1976-1977, moved to NBC, 1977-1978; remade for NBC as Bionic Woman, 2007). Like The Fugitive, the Bionic Woman remake attracted a lot of pre-premiere attention. But the show lasted only 9 episodes.
- Dragnet (radio, 1949-1957; NBC, 1951-1959; remade for ABC, 1967-1970; remade for syndication as The New Dragnet, 1989-1991; remade for ABC as L.A. Dragnet, 2003). A rather interesting production history exists behind the franchise: Both the '50s and '60s versions had Jack Webb cast as main character Joe Friday and had "the same ominous theme music and intro about names being changed to protect the innocent". Dick Wolf, creator of the long-running Law & Order drama franchise, created L.A. Dragnet. Although it cast Ed O'Neill (who played Al Bundy in Married...With Children) and Eva Longoria (who was on the cast of The Young and the Restless), Wolf's L.A. Dragnet flopped after a few episodes.
- Knight Rider (NBC, 1982-1986; remade for NBC, 2008). NBC premiered a TV movie of Knight Rider in February 2008 shortly after the writers' strike ended. The remade TV series followed the next fall, but that flopped too.

Carter writes also:

It is easy to understand why. “It’s a good idea to try,” said Warren Littlefield, who was the top programmer at NBC and is now an independent producer. “Movies have proved you can do well with a presold concept.”

That is another way of saying it is only natural to turn to familiar titles because they attract attention. The question is whether the series that result will attract viewers.

The track record does more than suggest not: it screams not. In the history of network television, no remake of a previous hit series has ever become a hit itself on network television.

Regarding the relative lack of success of TV remakes:

Mr. Littlefield said that the woeful track record of previous remakes should not discourage network programmers from continuing to buy projects based on old hits. “But there has to be a series there,” he said. “It can’t be like a movie. You can’t trick them.”

Mr. Littlefield suggested a formula that could work: “At the risk of being oversimplistic: it also has to be good.”

OK, if "familiar titles" get more buzz than actual viewership, how about this: Instead of wasting money on remaking a show that has an already-established fanbase, why not instead devote part of primetime to rerunning TV classics that have been hits and have worked well with audiences? That way the networks will be giving more choice to viewers: a "then and now" type of lineup that'll get a wider age range of viewers tuning in.

26 December 2009

Religion's biggest blunders of the year

Yesterday was Christmas Day, a day celebrated by Christians as the birth of Jesus Christ.

I respect their right to celebrate that. If you were wondering if I'm religious in any way, well I've been godless my entire life. Except for weddings or maybe some classical music concerts, I've never gone to church and have much much less, in fact never, attended formal religious services ever in my life. Despite what others may say, I'm proud not to rely on a supernatural power out there for happiness.

That being said, I'd like to celebrate such a profoundly religious holiday my own way: by exposing the biggest religious blunders of the year. I'm not just targeting Christianity; instead to show how dumb and irrational religion can be, I'll include any ideology that includes belief in a supernatural higher power(s).

Gwen Tompkins, "Arrest For Wearing Pants Galvanizes Women in Sudan". Morning Edition (National Public Radio): October 13, 2009. Sudanese woman Lubna Ahmed Hussein was charged for wearing "clothing causing harassment to public sentiment"...for wearing pants! Seriously, Islamic law does prohibit women from wearing pants, even in an era where pants are acceptable business wear for women in the American workplace.

Jonathan Turley, "Four Irish Bishops Resign in Wake of Abuse Report". December 26, 2009. Ireland's Catholic Church has had a big public relations snafu this year over its failure to report priests who abused children. It was so bad that two bishops resigned from the Church on...Christmas Eve! Way to please God!

Jonathan Turley, "Blasphemy Blog: Egyptian Court Upholds Four-Year Sentence of Blogger for Criticizing Islam". December 24, 2009. Yet another wacky story of Islamic law - known in Arabic as sharia - not giving a flying bug about something called basic human dignity. If I were writing this from Egypt (or just about any country in the Arab World) I'd get thrown in the slammer the next hour.

Jonathan Turley, "American Taliban: Family Group Calls for Laws to be Strenghtened That Criminalize Sex Outside of Marriage". December 12, 2009. Turley used "Taliban" in his headline for a reason: This kind of BS law, proposed by the Minnesota Family Council, translates to sharia! (Ironically, American conservatives claim that Muslims want to bring sharia to the US, but the same conservatives cheer on the Christians who want to pass laws like this that violate human rights.) Turley wrote an editorial in 2004 tackling this issue too and pointing out why such a law theoretically would violate the Constitution; it upholds a religious ideal! Specifically, the commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery". Some may argue that it's not really religious to prosecute adultery, given that a victim does exist in the spouse whose partner cheated.

I take doubt in that argument though. Is it really practical to prosecute all those "man cheated on wife" cases? Given that's such a common activity among humans, it'd jam an already bulky caseload on judges throughout America. Furthermore, prison overcrowding would be worsened, especially in California.

Then comes those who are pushing public schools to teach abstinence education, promoting the idea that waiting until marriage to have sex is the healthiest choice in life. Even though the US government has spent billions in that kind of program, studies have shown that such education is very futile. In another expression, codifying abstinence in this sense would really make things worse. From 1920-1933, the 18th Amendment of the US Constitution put Prohibition in effect. This banned consumption and sale of all alcoholic beverages. Sadly though, it didn't put America back on a moral track as the Prohibition proponents hoped. Instead, organized crime went on the rise, as gangs found that they could make big profits off of the "prohibited liquid". A Cato Institute study from 1991, "Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure" finds:

Not only did the number of serious crimes increase, but crime became organized. Criminal groups organize around the steady source of income provided by laws against victimless crimes such as consuming alcohol or drugs, gambling, and prostitution. In the process of providing goods and services, those criminal organizations resort to real crimes in defense of sales territories, brand names, and labor contracts. That is true of extensive crime syndicates (the Mafia) as well as street gangs, a criminal element that first surfaced during Prohibition.

So if premarital sex were banned, teens whose hormones were raging would just go underground to evade the law, like prostitutes often do. The Minnesota Family Council's proposed law just makes the sin look all the more satisfying.

PZ Myers, "Shame on Italy". Pharyngula (Scienceblogs.com): December 25, 2009. "The Italian National Research Council is sponsoring the publication of a creationist book, titled Evolutionism: The Decline of an Hypothesis." Yep, the government is seriously helping write a book that promotes pseudoscience. I ain't surprised given that Italy's a heavily Catholic country. It's bad enough that creationists have hijacked the American public schools; we don't need other countries sinking to our level.

Jonathan Turley, "Blasphemy (American Style): Obama Administration Supports Resolution on Limiting Free Speech to Bar Criticism of Religion". October 6, 2009. Yep, the Free World is passive about restricting the right to criticize religion.

PZ Myers, "Ireland has a blasphemy law". July 13, 2009. Ireland passed a law saying that anyone caught offending a significant number of religious people will be fined 25,000 Euros, which translates to approximately 36,000 US dollars. Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins considered this law to be medieval. I agree with Myers and Dawkins; isn't Ireland much better than those silly Islamic nations that whiplash people for speaking out against Islam?

PZ Myers, "What did she expect? That Jesus would stop by and give her a turnip?". December 5, 2009. "Poor, uneducated, obese, and religious". December 9, 2009. Both cases involve people who relied on faith, not medicine, to recover from illness. Sadly, epic fail.

PZ Myers, "The pope is an evil quack". March 18, 2009. Why? Because he lied to Africans about condoms and HIV! Way to express human dignity the Catholic way.

So what happened in my month sans any blogging?

- Finals. Out of my 5 classes of fall semester, 4 of the classes' grades were released. Those were all A's. Still pending is my calculus grade.
- On the Saturday before Christmas, I got my wisdom teeth removed and was nearly malnourished the next few days.
- Now that finals are out of the way and I get to fool around and do nothing really until January 26 (when spring semester begins) I've started cleaning out my DVR, which has shrunken from nearly 95 shows around finals time (Dec. 11-14) to just 65 today.
- Hopefully I can find old high school friends when they've still got winter break.
- On Christmas Day, I took a hike with family in Hellyer Park.