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Televisual Break: The Dying Manhattan Coffee Shop (and the Case of Philadelphia) March 3, 2010

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Taking a break from film/TV/web series today to talk about an issue dear to my heart: the urban coffee shop. Specifically, the dying Manhattan coffee shop (and how Philadelphia is better).

I originally wrote this for Splice Today, but decided to re-post here after hearing from a friend, Madison Moore, that Esperanto, a 24-hour shop in the West Village/NYU-area had closed. Esperanto was, terrible service aside, a wonderful anomaly in Manhattan coffee shops: you could stay for hours, anytime, get a meal, free wi-fi and dessert all in a very central location. These stores are a dying breed.

Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

ORIGINAL: In my view, a city is defined by its coffee shops. As Madison Moore explored last week, coffee shops are meeting places to ogle and be seen, work and eavesdrop. They make the city less lonely.

New York has always, in my mind, been associated with coffee shops. Growing up in Jersey, I would go to the city with friends and go out on the town, but also coffee shop around. On break from college in Michigan, I’d do the same. It’s not just me. A generation of people has grown up with television shows and films romanticizing this experience—for me Woody Allen films, FelicitySex and the City and even Friends all played a part in creating this New York imagery.

No more. New York coffee culture is dying, especially in Manhattan. I used to be able to venture down to the Village, East or West, and find a café to sit and do work. I had numerous options. But on a recent trip to the city, I found myself hobbled by obstacle after obstacle. Coffee shops serving food and free wi-fi stopped offering one or the other, wi-fi networks in general were either not working or closed down, and because of the relatively small number of cafés, any decent place was too crowded to find a seat.

So what, right? (more…)

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FAME: Kade Style (Anniversary Cut!) February 26, 2010

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Posted at Gawker; Ronebreak; Philebrity; Arthur Kade (with commentary)

It’s been one year since Arthur Kade, ex-financier turned cult Philadelphia personality, embarked on his journey to fame! How’s he doing? Certainly, most of my friends still have no clue who he is, but Kade himself says he’s known on every continent on Earth, even — even! — the great continent of Alaska.

Sure, Kade has partied with the few celebs who ever come to Philadelphia, and he’s been on Gossip Girl for several seconds. Just this week, he debuted — spoke! — on Showtime’s La La Land. Of course we’ve all heard about his reality show in development with IMG and book deal with Trident Media. Although, when we contacted IMG, we found it difficult to find someone to confirm the Kade show; some didn’t know what we were talking about. And Trident Media never responded to our requests for comment. But who are we? Kade’s likely telling the truth, but maybe he isn’t top priority at either firm.

Now, our news! In honor of Kade’s anniversary, my Penn colleagues Heidi Khaled and Brett Bumgarner and I cut a short, ten-minute version of our documentary on Arthur Kade, Fame: Kade Style

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Will We Ever Pay Homage to Nancy Meyers? February 24, 2010

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It’s quite possible the contents of this post will lose me a great deal of respect among my colleagues and perhaps bar me from tenure at most reputable institutions. But I say, why not propose a ridiculous idea?!

I’m wondering whether Nancy Meyers, Hollywood’s purveyor of feminine fantasy, might one day achieve the same level of respectability as the king of melodrama, Douglas Sirk. Meyers is not popular in my immediate social circle, and up until recently I’d thought of her films mainly as cinematic cookies, acceptable only in moderation (of course, as with real cookies, I gorge anyway).

But then Manohla Dargis gave me a way of out my cycle of self-doubt. Thanks, Manohla!

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“Real Girls” Are More Diverse, Less Frivolous February 22, 2010

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Last week, I wrote about how influential Sex and the City had been to various web series creators. Along those lines, I asked the creative team behind a new (gay) series about women, The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else, to talk about how they developed their show and what the philosophy behind it was. Carmen Elena Mitchell, the executive producer and writer, wrote me back and filled me in on the behind-the-scenes planning. The show premiered last week.

The main goal behind The Real Girl’s Guide was to offer an alternative on Sex and the City (particularly the film).

“We got into this conversation about the world of Sex and the City…the world of rich, white, straight fashionistas. And it started me thinking – what’s the inverse of that world?,” I was told. “Perhaps a more ethnically diverse world where materialism is not valued, where being straight is not ‘assumed,’ where a woman’s goals do not end at getting married or finding the perfect pair of ridiculously expensive shoes.”

Interestingly, however, it’s about more than just the story. Real Girl’s also provides opportunities for actors of color who are often typecast by traditional media. This is something I’ve heard from other web series producers.

Below, the creators talk to me about finding financing, producing extra content to engage fans, what’s good about The L Word, troubling about Sex and the City, and what a “web series” is!

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Finding a Comedy Audience in a Crowded Web Series Market February 19, 2010

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Originally posted at Ronebreak.

[Note: I had a very insightful interview with MyDamnChannel’s CEO and a representative from FTVS’ 15 Gigs, both of which are really thinking about how to scale the web series market. I’ll be posting more of that interview in the coming week.]

Online comedy hasn’t been kind to television studios looking to break in. Remember Turner’s SuperDeluxe or NBC’s DotComedy? FunnyOrDie and CollegeHumor still run the game, but competition’s always bubbling up.

Fox Television Studios and its digital arm 15 Gigs’ have decided they need a more targeted push for their series Iceman Chronicles, so they’ve partnered up with comedy upstart MyDamnChannel, who’s looking to expand its library including such hits as You Suck At Photoshop and IKEA’s Easy to Assemble.

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Web Series Remix “Sex and the City” February 17, 2010

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Anyone who’s looked into web series knows most shows are marketed like traditional television shows are. Pitching a show to Hollywood, you come up with an easily digestible equation: Glee = High School Musical + The Simpsons (or some other “transgressive” show) or Flash Forward = Lost + Heroes (Season 1). You get the idea. If they aren’t hybrids, most shows are pure derivatives (Cashmere Mafia = Sex and the City, basically), or slight variations (Parks & Recreation = The Office + female lead). This doesn’t mean they’re bad, but, as Todd Gitlin argues in Inside Primetime, in an industry with so many unknowns, relying on past success is key. Shows that stand out entirely, like Arrested Development, are rare.

Same with web series. I just did a write of a show that was Twin Peaks + funnier. Or how The Crew is The Office + Star Trek. I’m surprised at how often Dallas and Dynasty get mentioned as influences by web series creators. As with TV, it doesn’t mean the shows are bad; all culture relies on variations of known stories.

Still, I’m amazed at how important Sex and the City has been to web video. It strikes me that, aside from perhaps The Office, no mainstream show has been as influential to creators.

So what’s the deal and how have producers worked with the canonical series?

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Barry Miller, of “Fame” Fame, Decries Fame Today February 12, 2010

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I don’t get too many celebrity commenters on this site — except if you count the president of the American Medical Association. So it’s no surprise that when Barry Miller, known for his star-turn as Ralph Garcy in the original Fame (1980), started commenting anonymously on my blog, I would fail to notice.

Miller had a huge beef with last year’s Fame (2009), a disgust he broached in a USA Today article about the original cast. But while Miller declined a formal interview to USA, he left his thoughts, under the name Johnny Lagoon, all over my blog.

And they are interesting!

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“Avatar:” On Second Viewing… February 8, 2010

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I’ve been posting and tweeting a lot about Avatar, if only because it’s now the highest grossing film ever — or not, depending on how you calculate it (NYMag‘s Vulture blog has the best solution, which now places Avatar at around #3 or #4) — and only recently has it been unseated from its #1 spot in the weekend grosses (Dear John of all movies!). It also has a whole lot of representational baggage, meaning there are a many ways to interpret it, each one related to some political project or another.

After seeing Avatar the first time I came away a little disappointed. But I decided to view it again in IMAX 3D (my first viewing was on a smaller 3D screen), to see it as many critics saw it. Does it impress on second viewing and on the biggest screen imaginable?

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Graduating from YouTube Hard Without Big Media Support February 3, 2010

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Increasingly as the supply of content online rises, getting your work and/or yourself noticed is a major challenge.

Graduating from a site like YouTube, even after gaining a high profile, is even more difficult. Suddenly producers find they can’t push their products/themselves alone. They need the big media.

The big media wasn’t there for out YouTube star William Sledd.

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List of Gay and Lesbian Web Series Up! February 1, 2010

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I’ve been meaning to do it for months, and I finally took the time to compile a list of gay and lesbian web series (mostly independent) and it’s up!

Here’s the list.

Some interesting things to consider/remember.

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Lost About “Lost,” YouTube Tries to Help January 30, 2010

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Fine Brothers - Lost Video
Original at Ronebreak

I don’t follow Lost. I don’t mean I can’t follow it, as in I watch it but don’t understand. I mean I’ve completely given up trying to watch the show. Around season three I tried once again to get into it. No go. Too complex. Too many peculiar things happening. What is up with this show?!

Let’s say you’re better than I and you’ve managed to keep up. Maybe you played the Lost ARG years ago (the Lost Experience) and stopped watching for a bit. Or perhaps you’ve watched passively and largely forgotten about the plot over the show’s hiatus.

Good news! (more…)

What Can U.S. Series Learn From Telenovelas? January 28, 2010

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Thanks to The Atlantic and Racialicious for linking to this post!

Gawker has a post about the cancelation of Ugly Betty, lamenting the end of a “once-great” show that, they say, lost its punch and became de-camp’ed and Americanized as it progressed (Betty glammed up, became good at her job, got a promotion, a man, etc., American myth of success, etc.).

They then make an interesting argument about the cycle of American television shows, and how many shows do not benefit from the U.S. “series” model: where shows go on ad infinitum until the ratings plummet, once everyone hates the show.

Gawker’s suggestion? (more…)

YouTube’s Black Stars: A Look Back (and Ahead) January 25, 2010

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Over a year ago I conducted a little more than a dozen interviews with black vloggers on YouTube. While I never submitted the paper (draft version here) to an academic publication, I did use some of the interviews for an article on The Root. That article focused on the more popular vloggers, but recently I’ve been wondering what happened to the rest of the people I interviewed. Have they grown their audiences? Are they making money?

YouTube remains a mixed bag for minority vloggers, though I tend to air on the side of optimism. Several personalities have achieved stable and even growing audiences, as you’ll see below!

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Television and Abortion: Two Shows, Two Different Paths January 22, 2010

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Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

Two broadcast television series this week featured prominent narratives on teenage pregnancy and abortion. A rare coincidence, indeed — or perhaps not, giving it’s the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. In Private Practice (“Best Laid Plans“), a rich black family’s 15-year-old daughter, Maya, gets pregnant and grapples with having the procedure. In Friday Night Lights (“I Can’t“), Becky, a minor but regular character, is a working class sophomore in high school also dealing with the same issue, albeit with much less parental guidance (her single mother).

Both shows, in my opinion, feature good storytelling and try to do justice to this difficult issue, in ways that suggest networks are finally moving forward on an issue still most famously explored in 1972 in an episode of Maude (later again on Roseanne).

Television (film too) is infamous for its silence on abortion. If a character gets pregnant, it’s an easy bet she’ll have it. So ironclad is the pregnancy rule it ruins all the drama from the plot point. Pregnancy = baby. Major characters rarely even discuss it (Sex and the City, season 4 did); “abortion women” leave shows quickly. Even adoption is rarely broached. So both Friday Night Lights and Private Practice deserve credit for even using the “A” word, several times, and actually dealing with the issue head-on.

The shows take two different paths. Yes, unbelievably, on broadcast television, a character actually goes through with the procedure.

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Did “The Wire” Presage Politics Post-2008? January 20, 2010

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Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

Get ready for reason #573 why The Wire was the best television show of the aughts. In the wake of Scott Brown’s upset in the Massachusetts special election for the U.S. Senate, I’ve been thinking a lot about the cycle of politics. I’ve been a pretty steady proponent of the politics of idealism and, borrowing from Tony Kushner, the ethical responsibility to hope, but the aftermath of Martha Coakley’s defeat may test my resolve. Where can I find the blueprint for my incipient cynicism? The Wire, of course!

The Wire‘s central thesis was simple: short-term politics and the quest for power kills long-term progress and social justice. From gangs to government, the media to schools, the same rule applies. Everyone, sadly, violates the rule. They think about themselves and the system never gets fixed. This is the fundamental cynicism of The Wire: it perfectly diagnoses how groups and institutions kill hope.

But it appears Washington has few Wire fans. (more…)

Why Has Showtime Abandoned Gays? (Death of the “Gay Show,” Part II) January 19, 2010

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Showtime went from the Queer as Folk channel to the home of such butch programming as The Tudors (however awesome it is). This essay was originally published at SpliceToday: comment there!

I’m continuing my discussion of the state of gay representations on television with a look at Showtime’s evolution in original programming. (UPDATE 3/23: On last night’s premieres of Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara, Showtime showed a bit more gay: Marshall, Tara’s gay son, started dealing with politics at school; on Jackie, the narrative suggests Thor, the other, uglier gay, might take Momo’s place as “gay best friend.” Signs of change or too little too late?)

We only need to look at Haaz Sleiman, television’s hottest gay character, who is on the job hunt, cast off Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, to see what has happened to the network.

Showtime once was the gay network. Remember five years ago, during that brief period when it housed the two most sexually explicit gay dramas ever—to this day—on television, Queer as Folk and The L Word? Bravo was also a gay network, with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Logo was starting up, but Showtime was where the action was.

Not anymore. (more…)

Where Did The “Gay Show” Go? (Part I) January 16, 2010

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I’m assisting my advisor, Katherine Sender, on an undergraduate gay media course here at Penn, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of gay representations, particularly on television, for decades the chief battleground for gay media advocates.

Right now, gay characters are in abundance, but series focusing on sexual minorities are a dying brand, relegated to gay networks of lesser quality, Logo and here!.

We live in an odd time. (more…)

The Life of Films: Black People Watched “Traitor”! Sophisticated Urbanites Heart “Milk”! January 10, 2010

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The market for "Traitor" in Atlanta

Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

The New York Times has an interesting interactive feature out that maps the top 50 rentals for 2009 based on the Netflix queues from a dozen US cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Milwaukee, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Altanta, Seattle and Denver. The list is a bit skewed because these are all fairly cosmopolitan areas — Benjamin Button and Changeling are at the top of the list — though that probably reflects what I assume is Netflix’s popularity in urban and suburban communities to begin with.

The list reminds us films have long lives. The press focuses almost solely on opening weekend box office returns and forgets films go to the rental market, DVD sales, pay-cable and OnDemand. Often these venues are great for films that couldn’t get people in theaters but are nevertheless intriguing or enjoyable. Movies by and about minorities sometimes can find audiences unwilling to shell out $6-$12+ for ticket (the gay film market has operated for years on this assumption).

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Why Is ‘Sherlock Holmes’ So Dark? January 2, 2010

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Original at SpliceToday!

No one ever accused Guy Ritchie of choosing smart scripts. Ritchie consistently excels at snappy transitions and vibrant action sequences blending fast and slow motion.  Still, I’ve always liked Ritchie for his appreciation of “talk”: His characters speak fast, often unintelligibly. Unlike, say, Woody Allen, who appreciates “dialogue,” Ritchie’s protagonists talk for the sake of talking. It’s a good formula. It’s interesting.

Unfortunately, in Sherlock Holmes Ritchie zips too quickly past his best and most chipper talk as if to get it over with and back to the action sequences—which are plentiful and very earnestly directed. I expected lots of action in this film, but it was mostly wearisome.

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Daniel Day-Lewis Ruins ‘Nine’ With British Sturm und Drang January 1, 2010

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Original at SpliceToday!

I’d been anticipating Nine for months. And though perhaps my expectations were too high and couldn’t be met, I was underwhelmed.

Nine had a big job to do. It had to be fun and entertaining like the musical, and serious and emotionally deep like its source material, 8 ½, Federico Fellini’s masterpiece. Writing a musical based on one of the greatest films of all time is a pretty stupid idea, especially one as artful and sophisticated as 8 ½. Nine does an okay job, though, and it’s certainly entertaining holiday fare, gorgeous to watch and somewhat pleasing to hear. But as a story, it fails to reach its own expectations, let alone mine.

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