Pop Culture with Paul Farhi: '24' ending its run, war movies sanitized? More.

Apr 20, 2010

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi will be online Tuesday, April 20, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

The clock is running out on "24." The thriller/suspense TV series will end for good next month after eight seasons, but not because its ratings have slipped. Well, they have, but the more important issue for Fox is that "24" costs too much to make. Is this a.sign of the times? Also: "The Pacific" on HBO says a lot about how war movies (even made-for-TV ones) have evolved--more brutal, more realistic, more you-are-there. It also says a lot about how TV and movies have sanitized the reality of war.

Greetings, all, and thanks for stopping by...So, "24" is in its last hours. After eight seasons, I'm not all that broken up about its forthcoming demise; it's about time, frankly. "24" was frequently ridiculous, mostly in the writing and plotting (never in the acting or production values), but it maintained a generally high standard for nearly a decade. Very few shows can say that.

What I find interesting here is the reason for "24's" disappearance. It wasn't ratings, per se, which is the usual reason to disappear a TV show. Nor was it creative exhaustion; "24" is still a good show (though we've already seen most of its best moves). Rather, in this case, it's all about the deal. Fox determined that "24" was simply too expensive a production to continue. How expensive? Well, Fox determined that It could not make a profit on 1) the network run; 2) foreign-rights sales; 3) DVD sales; 4) cable/satellite/syndicated repeats; 5) whatever other ways there are to skin cats in the TV biz these days. So, while decent ratings are a pre-requisite, they're not the only thing. The deal has to make sense. And "24" no longer did.

What we learn here: No matter how good or popular a TV show is, the complicated underlying profit-and-loss considerations are far more important factors. Unfortunately, TV series are going to get cheaper and cheaper; there's just no margin for constant location shoots, loads of special effects and big star salaries. I wonder if it's not just "24" that's going away, but shows like "24." We may not see big action series like it again. For people (like me) who like their explosions loud and their car chases fast, that's reason alone to grieve for "24."

In other news: "The Pacific" (speaking of loud, violent series) on HBO is terrifically realistic and brutally so. In Sunday's episode, the Marines assault an airfield held by the Japanese. Bullets fly, bombs explode, bodies and limbs wheel through the air in reaction. It's horrifying, and it's supposed to be (I found myself shaking at the end of the jaw-dropping assault sequence). But it also reminds me: Up until fairly recently, we never saw this level of grim realism in war pictures. Look at anything that appeared for decades after World War II; the action and blood are sanitized. War looks merely uncomfortable. I guess it's only in the past couple of decades that we've seen the reality (or what we presume from a distance to BE the reality) of violent conflict. Movies like "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Saving Private Ryan" showed it up close and all too personal. TV series like "Band of Brothers" (also HBO) and now "The Pacific" are doing it, too. I guess there's a risk that too much splatter will dull the senses and make us forget how horrible war is. But I had a hard time thinking that while watching "The Pacific" the other night. It was revolting. Just as it should be.

In still other news: (from a Comedy Central news release): New York-- April 20, 2010 -- Comedy Central has reached individual agreements with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to extend the contracts of the hosts of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report"....

Stewart's contract extension with Comedy Central will keep him at the helm of "The Daily Show" through June 2013. He will continue to serve as executive producer, writer and host. Colbert's extension will keep him and "The Colbert Report" at the all-comedy channel through the end of 2012. Colbert serves as executive producer, writer and host for "The Report."

Okay, let's go to the phones...

We've been watching "The Pacific" since it began. "Enjoying" a war movie or series is much different than "appreciating" it. Just as with "Band of Brothers" from the same producers, or "Glory" and "Gettysburg" documenting the Civil War, or "Saving Private Ryan" and even "Schindler's List" I feel that the attempt at realism is a positive thing if our visceral reaction makes war more repulsive. I use "attempt" because no image on a screen could ever capture the horrific reality.

After 35 years of ridiculously loyal viewing, I'm about done with Saturday Night Live. Lousy hosts (Ryan Phillippe? Jennifer Lopez?), sappy musical guests, lame cue-card reading, truly dumb "humor" (the recurrent ESPN "lady parts" bit is screamingly offensive and unfunny, just to name one; the nasal stylings of Kristin Wiig have gone from good to repetitively unwatchable) -- the show has truly jumped the shark this season. Jon Stewart is funnier and more original in five minutes than SNL is in an entire season. Why don't other networks counterprogram? Saturday night seems ripe for the taking.

Hi, gang...Sorry about the delays. Techno trouble bigtime....Anyway: I actually thought it was a pretty good show. Ryan Phillippe was an afterthought; he never appeared in anything after the open, but the rest was mildly amusing. And I LIKE the ESPN skit.

What up, P-Far? "24" was great for a short time, then mediocre, then really good, then fell into a consistently formulaic rut for awhile before finally hitting the bricks this season. Eight  seasons is a pretty good run, especially on a network that doesn't have much sympathy for shows that don't revolve around Seth McFarlane, the Simpsons, or singing, dancing or arresting felons; however, it may be that if costs were indeed a concern for Fox, "24" is the latest, more-far-reaching casualty of the WGA strike. With a hat tip to Bill Simmons's analysis and how the WGA strike mirrors the upcoming NBA work crisis, A-listers and proven showrunners are still getting big checks, but networks are more gun-shy about spending for ballooning budgets and iffy pilots.

Well, as I tried to say in my open (did that publish? it may have been eaten), "the deal" killed "24", not ratings or creative problems. It was just too expensive to keep on the air, despite reasonably good ratings.

An interesting point, Paul. While I have not seen "The Pacific", since it is brought to us in part by the producers of "Band of Brothers", I can only assume that it will be raw (the trailer alone could've qualified as a red-band in some theaters). This reminds me of Veterans Day, 2004, when ABC was broadcasting Private Ryan, unedited --  though most of the dissent over that seemed to be because of the language rather than the blood. Look at CSI, 24, or Criminal Minds -- there's some pretty violent, nasty stuff out there; I don't know why war movies are treated differently, but they are.

Well, no one could get away with showing "The Pacific" on basic cable or broadcast TV. It's just too graphic and coarse. But that's war. And I'm glad it DOES have a place on TV.

There's been so much talk of 3-D television as the wave of the future. Personally, I can't imagine wearing special glasses for everyday viewing -- I'm often doing a couple of other things at the same time. What's changed since the 1950s, when 3-D movies were the rage and then fell off the map?

The technology is about 12 times better, for one. And, I would say that the movies are, too. I have not seen 3-D TV, but the possibilities seem unlimited. Looking forward to it!

Say it ain't so...Jack is no longer here to save us. I guess the siren song of low budget "reality TV" is finally winning...any suggestions for some decent substitutes?

Absolutely true. Reality shows fit within the tighter budget-ratings-cost matrix the networks must employ these days. Me, I've always liked "Amazing Race." Compelling locales (how could it fail?), great personalities, actual suspense. 


What do you like? Glad to entertain YOUR suggestions...

I never realized how bad things had gotten until I saw one of the last episodes of the now defunct Ugly Betty...they used a blue screen for their trip to London montage...it was completely depressing.

Was never a "UB" fan, but my daughter was.  She said it went downhill over the past few seasons. I believe her, too; she's darned smart.

I listen to radio stations on my cell phone all the time, including some over-the-air ones. Could cellphones save some radio stations, AM ones in particular? How successful has WMAL's cell phone application been?

I've got an FM receiver on my iPod and listen to it occasionally. But "save" radio? I don't think HOW you listen matters. What matters is if there's anything on. And lots of discriminating people don't find the programming on regular old radio all that compelling.

Speaking of money - Are spies out of fashion? The 23rd Bond film has suspended filming. If they need more money to finish, why doesn't MGM manufacture a death ray, find a convenient volcano, and threaten to destroy a major European city?

Apparently the suspension is related to the pending sale, or non-sale, of MGM. I think the producers of the Bond films are trying to figure out who they're working for. This WILL get sorted out, however. The Bond franchise is still huge and it's about the most important asset MGM has. Or has left.

They'll have to make 3D bifocals, so you can do more than watch TV. I can't imagine 3D making TV compelling enough so I don't want to read or organize papers or do something else at the same time.

I'm not sure you're being facetious, but I really do think the glasses issue IS a big deal. People like to do 6,000 things while they "watch" TV--read, sew, surf the internet,  chat, eat, whatever. If you've got to keep the glasses on all the time, and it disrupts all the other stuff you want to do, it could change the TV-watching "experience." But my guess is that only SOME shows will be in 3-D. Which means you won't need the glasses most of the time.

How are you celebrating, Paul? And next year, it will be legal in California!

I didn't get what you meant, until I got what you meant. I was thinking the legalization movement in California was, ahem, a pipe dream, but the state's financial problems are so severe these days that legalization isn't out of the question. Pot, or potheads, have come a long way since I was a kid...

Personally, I do NOT want to see a 3-D image of a 100 mph Mariano Rivera fastball headed for my noggin from behind the catcher. 3-D TV has to move beyond the old hokey arrows flying at you shtick. It reminds me of the SCTV sketches with John Candy and Eugene Levy in a bad horror movie -- Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Beef ("Would you like...A MENU!") with the menu being thrust at you five times.

No, a Mariano Rivera fastball coming right at my head is EXACTLY why I want 3-D TV. How much would that enhance my viewing experience? Greatly, I think. Or maybe just somewhat. And I'll take "somewhat" as soon as the cost of the sets becomes reasonable.

Survivors on BBC is a great drama about post-viral apoclypse Britian. I am watching more BBC everyday. They still have GOOD TV. Funny comedies, great vamp shows.

I started watching the nightly news on BBC America when I was on vacation a few ago. It's really great. Matt Frei is a wonderful anchor--funny, smart, a fabulous interviewer. I don't want to be one of those American news snobs--i.e., I get all my TV news from the BBC--but it really is smashing, baby....

It's not a reality show, so...

Right. But it has been an "anchor" show for them for years. Sigh. All things must pass.

But don't you think it's a chicken or egg concept? Perhaps if radio was worth listening to, more would listen, especially if, as the commenter mentions, you have other ways to listen... OR the reverse, more would listen if the WAY to listen was easier for them (ie - via cell phones, computers..etc)

But radio doesn't have a problem reaching people. It's in every car in the world. In fact, it may be THE most accessible electronic medium around. And the old cliche applies--people don't watch "channels" or a "medium." The watch/listen to/read programs that delight/amuse/inform them.

No matter how unwatchably lame and unfunny SNL is, it's still a launching pad for a long line of unwatchably lame and unfunny movies (Blues Brothers one excepted) with characters that have been beaten into the heads of a few million viewers. You're not going to see a Daily Show movie any time soon, so there's not much incentive to counter-program for a really small audience.

We were just talking about this very concept the other day (inspired by Phillippe's opening monologue). The list of lame SNL movies is much longer than the two good 'uns (Blues Brothers and Wayne's World). Did anyone actually see "Night at the Roxy" or "Ladies Man"? Does anyone think "MacGruber" isn't going to be better as a movie than as a predictable 15-second skit?

"Man, I could really use some sleep!" Or even, "I had to take a catnap -- I was beginning to question my decision-making ability." I came to the party kindof late (mid season 5), so has a character ever addressed the grueling hours they've all been "up"?

How about the obvious question: "Why do we keep getting into these messes EVERY year?" Also, Jack, who is the least reflective character on TV maybe ever, might want to ask why everyone he has ever slept with gets bumped off the same day he sleeps with her...

I think the term "jumped the shark" has jumped the shark.

I'll see your shark snark and raises you one: I think people who criticize  people who use the term "jump the shark" have themselves jumped the shark.  So there (I think)....

The problem with that Rivera fastball coming at your head is that Fox will have a graphic for some other show pop up right in front of it, so it will look like House is about to almost kill you right before he saves you.

Hahaha! So true....

I watched the first 5 episodes. The battle scenes are good but the characters look interchangeable and I couldn't tell one guy from another, and I didn't bother to watch Sunday.

Yes. You'll notice that I didn't really praise the show--just  it's very realistic depiction of battle. But I did like the episode in which Sledge(?) does some time in a battle-fatique hospital. Didn't expect that. 

Bonus: they'll all talking with ACCENTS!

I hate to say this, but the accents DO tend to make the Brits sound smarter than us. I know, I know: They aren't. But you can't help thinking it.

Sometimes the closing segment of SNL -- in which the host signs off and then goes around hugging the cast -- can be fun to watch in itself. Sometimes the interactions are awkward (why is the regular cast hugging each other anyway?) or a cast member stands off to himself to be unapproachable. Sometimes it seems to go on forever.

Funny, I've never thought much about it, but I do watch those interactions every week (if I make it to the end, that is, without falling asleep). They are interesting, but do seem a little self-congratulatory (you just did a TV show; big deal). And I don't think that bit has changed much in 35 years.

Snort. They will have to compete with Iceland, who says they will not turn off the volcano unless their demands are met.

I never thought of it before, but Iceland could be the home for Dr. Evil's lair!

And this is a lame seque but I'm supposed to mention my story today, about this British family that's stuck here because of the eruption disruptions.

Radio isn't compelling anymore for the same reason that "24" is being canceled. In an effort to make the most possible money, all the stations engaged in a race to mediocrity. The goal these days is to be the channel that housewives and offices play in the background, and no one actually listens to. Interesting radio in the D.C. area died when WJFK became just another Sports Talker. They're doing as bad or worse in the ratings than they did before, but it doesn't matter since they got rid of the contracts of their interesting radio personalities. Financially, it was a net win.

I try to listen to WJFK, I really do. But outside of the Junks, and sometimes Mike Wise, it's hard. I just don't care about the Redskins' fifth-round draft choice prospects enough, I guess.

Yes, but I hardly ever drive and they blocked streaming stations at work. So when do I listen? When my alarm goes off in the morning and the games (Caps, Nats) with the TV sound off. That's about it. If I could get it on my phone, in the metro tunnels...

Would help somewhat, I guess. But it's like newspapers--getting the paper isn't a problem (glad to sell you a subscription); it's getting people to READ the damn things that's a problem. There's so much competition for people's time and attention.

Oh me too, and guess what? I always forget it's there. Why would I use when I have 2,000 songs hand- picked by myself that I'm guaranteed to like? Okay, I did use it once to listen to radio. But that was just to find out what happened at the Pentagon that messed my commute up, that day when the guy showed up with guns.

I sometimes forget it's there, but you're getting to the larger problem of radio on an iPod: I got an iPod because I want to listen to my iPod. Having a radio on it is nice, but it's not why I wanted an iPod in the first (and second and third) place.

and the least believable is the current "MacGruber" a whole movie based on that one-tric-pony skit?

Unless I'm really badly mistaken, it seems like it's going to be the modern equivalent of Al Franken's towering classic, "Stuart Saves His Family."

Actually, the obvious question is: "How come we're always hiring traitors?"

Yep. CTU has more moles than my backyard.

Who does he think he is, Captain Kirk?

Did that happen to Kirk, too? I don't remember. I vaguely recall, though, that after each of his conquests, Kirk got back in the Enterprise and jetted off to another galaxy. He had the perfect excuse to love 'em and leave 'em. "Sorry, honey, I'm due on Alpha Centauri. Gotta split!"

Dan Aykroyd was quite good in "Driving Miss Daisy" among other character roles in a few movies. I know that's not the same as an SNL spinoff, but Aykroyd and certainly Bill Murray, among others, have been launched from SNL.

That's a whole separate category. SNL alum have done some great movies, or at least some decent ones over the years.

Been reading it on his blog? (Dave Barry)  "Here is where we stand: Last week Jack and Renee finally had sex, and it was a truly romantic and beautiful thing, except for the sniper. A lesson that we all, as Americans, should take away from this tragic episode is: close the blinds."

Hahaha. That would have solved everything! And Dave's right--I hate it when a sniper interrupts, ahem, activities that way.

Due to technical concerns, Paul's chat will continue at a later time today.  It will temporarily stop now.  Please log back on to the chat later today for the rest of it.  We are very sorry for the inconvenience. 

It didn't work for Gwyneth Paltrow, though. Or Madonna. Maybe the accent has to be genuine to raise the perception of intelligence.

Yes, and I'm not sure Ali G's accent does a whole lot for the British-accents-make-people-seem-smarter school, either.

Depends on the accent. Have you seen EastEnders on WETA? They have the Alabama version of the British accent. (Nothing against Alabama! But you know what I mean.)

Well, I'll defend Alabama accents here. The old Southern Gentleman accent can sound awfully nice. Particularly if the Southern Gentleman is a lady.

Correction: you just did a ONLY SLIGHTLY AMUSING TV show; big deal

Everyone's a critic. Fine. But what about when they do a really, really funny show (it happens, you know)? Should they  get to congratulate themselves MORE at the end?

I have XM in my car. On the 8's I listen to WTOP, otherwise it's XM. No commercials! I haven't listened to DC101 in 5 years now.

XM, streaming, iPods, podcasts, etc.--as I said, lots and lots of competition for plain old radio. Losing audience was inevitable. It's like when cable came in to challenge the three broadcast networks; "fragmentation" was inevitably going to happen and there wasn't much the networks, or radio stations, could do about it.

Those who are sick of that one can adopt the more recent substitute, "nuke the fridge," inspired by the latest (and, oh please, the last) Indiana Jones movie.

I missed that one (the movie AND the would-be catchphrase).

Yes, we will have 3D ads... I don't think I like that prospect for a lot of products.

Hoo boy. Not gonna touch this one. But I think some creative types in the ad business are already way ahead of us...

How many people who use the term "jumped the shark" actually know WHO jumped the shark in the first place?

Maybe not many. It refers to an episode of "Happy Days," in which Fonzie goes water skiing and, yes, jumps a shark. Why this got to mean what it now means mystifies me, because "Happy Days" was never really so good that it COULD jump any sharks. It pretty much stunk from the beginning and remained consistently lousy.

I for one appreciate the candor of Fox in saying that they couldn't make the money work. Better than a phony "we thought it was time to move on." The show hasn't been innovative for a while (remember when everyone debated whether it was okay for Jack to torture a bad guy?). And you know the old show biz motto: Always leave 'em wanting more. On the broader issue: I wouldn't say that this signals the end of action shows in general; there will be others. It is true that reality shows are cheaper to make than scripted ones, but they aren't a slam dunk any more (indeed, they never were). People will find good shows, or shows that push their buttons.

It's not black or white, and I shouldn't make it seem that way. I think it might be fairer to say that expensive action series aren't dead, but it's now much, much riskier to make them. The payoff can be very big with a hit, but the downside is a very expensive flop. Reality shows offer a much more cost effective risk-reward proposition.

I thought the commercials for the Asbury retirement village were a joke, but they seem to be real. Who thought this would be an appropriate name for a location to spend your remaining years? The calm tone of the voice-over woman pronounces it as if it was spelled with two consecutive S's, with the second S being short. "Close to kicking the bucket? Prepare your body for the trip at Asbury." What if your plans are cremation?

Hey, I've been to Asbury. It's a really, really nice place. You could do worse!

The comment about everyone wanted to be the channel that housewives play in the background resonated. The most boring radio station of all has to be 94.7, the new one. They keep insisting they're playing "today's fresh music" and then playing, like, a Dave Matthews song from 1995. And yet every darn song they play, I'm like, ohmygosh, I love this song! I'm 34, female, and if I had kids, you bet I'd be home with them. I used to listen WHFS, for pete's sake. SIGH.

Then the programmers have hit their demographic target square on the bullseye.  "Fresh" is aimed at 34-year-old women. I'm really quite serious.

Apologies for this chat, folks. The gremlins have eaten whatever we laughingly referred to as our "technology." This is unacceptable and will be fixed. If you haven't lost permanent interest (I wouldn't blame you and I might even join you) please come back next week and we'll have  or act together by then. Or else. In the meantime, as always, regards to all...Paul

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Paul Farhi
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