Friday, January 22, 2010

From 60 to 59: One less excuse.

Now that Democrats, through their hubris and inaction, have lost their in-name-only "Supermajority" in the Senate, they may think they have one more excuse for dragging their heels on the Progressive domestic agenda: meaningful health care reform, responsible regulation of the financial sector, environmental management, etc...

But in reality, they have one LESS, because the plain fact is Democrats NEVER needed a Supermajority to accomplish the goals of an effective public option. Because while creating a government organization from scratch IS vulnerable to a filibuster from Republicans (who, on a side note, I always felt were bluffing), expansion of existing programs, such as Medicare, is NOT and can be accomplished through reconciliation with a simple majority.

The lesson of the Massachusetts election is clear - Democrats need to get off their asses and get this accomplished before the midterm elections or they really WILL be in trouble.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Video Recording's a Bitch, Isn't it Jay?

So either he was a disingenuous liar in 2004, or an out of touch hack here in 2010.

Actually why choose one. Leno's both. Sad.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another Annoyance About the NBC Thing

Just thought of something annoying: NBC is SO rock bottom that they pretty much don't have anywhere to go but up. And any uptick in their fortunes after this Conan debacle is going to be used by the parties responsible (Jeff Zucker, NBC, Jay Leno) as evidence that they were doing the right thing in letting Conan go and moving Leno back to the Tonight Show.

It's like doing a rain dance in January and saying it's responsible for rains in April. It's just something that was going to happen. NBC is increasing it's number of new pilots from 11 to 20, and has signed deals with a variety of big name producers (J.J. Abrams, Brian Grazier, etc..), so they're rushing to restock their stable of narrative dramas. This will result in a resurgence of the network audience, hungry for substance after four months of Leno Spam.

But mark my words, if Zucker keeps his job (and he really shouldn't), when the NBC's fortunes do start to turn, however slightly, he'll be the first to point to the bonfire he's been dancing around and take credit.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New Dominos: Worst Pizza Ever.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm actually a bit of a food snob, and wouldn't normally eat this so-called "food." But I also take a kitchy pleasure indulging in junk and fast food from time to time. And so...

Anyone watching TV these days has perhaps seen Dominos Pizza's new advertising campaign, a mea culpa to the public where the company's management admits to previously having bad pizza. Having been bombarded with these ads over the course of the past several weeks, my roommate and I finally succumb to our curiosity and went by a Dominos to pick up two medium pies and give it a shot.

It's hard to express in words what a bad idea this was. (But here goes...)

Even before my teeth sank all the way through my first bite, the pizza was already nauseating, though I wasn't able to identify why until my second bite. At first, I wondered if the green peppers had gone bad, but, while they were lifeless and seemed as though they had been frozen, they weren't the source of the real problem. There was a rotten, artificial odor that pervaded the surface of the pizza. And then I figured it out: the crust.

More specifically, the new "garlic and herb" coating they've added to the crust. It had the taste and smell of artificial butter topping and slightly rancid oil, mixed in with stale garlic powder. A quick visit to Dominos' ingredients page confirmed my analysis:
Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Folic Acid), Water, Malt, Sugar, Whey, Malted Barley Flour, Yeast, Soybean Oil. Zzesty Blend: Butter Flavored Oil (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Soy Lecithin, Artificial And Natural Butter Flavoring, Vitamin A Palmitate And Beta-Carotene for Color), Imitation Parmesan Cheese (Water, Modified Food Starch, Casein And Or Caseinate, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Cellulose Powder, Salt, Sodium Phosphates, Stabilizers [Mono And Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Carrageenan], Natural Flavor, Lactic Acid, Sorbic Acid [As A Preservative]), Onion And Garlic, Spices, Salt, Lactic Acid, Butter Flavor, Tomato Powder, Bell Pepper. Dextrose, Citric Acid, Extractive Of Paprika And Lemon And Orange Oil With No Greater Than 2% Calcium Silicate And/Or Soybean Oil Added to Prevent Caking, Corn Meal (used in preparation).
Not one, but TWO forms of artificial butter. "Zzesty" blend? What, because you were afraid of being liable for using "zesty?" How pathetic.

Aside from that nauseating topping, the crust itself was doughy and flavorless, the sauce sparse and under- seasoned, and the cheese thin and lacking any punch. The pepperoni should have been called "meat rounds" - it lacked any discernible taste and had the consistency of plastic - and the vegetables were just sad. The only topping which even remotely had any flavor was their Italian sausage, but even that was only just mediocre - no spice at all.

And when I say "nauseating," I'm not being hyperbolic. I felt sick after eating the pizza, which I only finished because I was 1) really hungry and 2) hate wasting food, even when it's only "food." Even now, hours later as I write this, I still feel sick and lethargic.

The sad thing is, they had a real opportunity here. It's been well over 2 decades since I've had a slice of Dominos pizza, but this new ad campaign was so refreshingly "honest" that it actually made me curious enough to give it another try. Even though we KNEW it was going to be awful, we wanted to see if they had made it slightly more palatable.

But instead of simply improving the product by using higher quality ingredients and preparation methods, they decided to go with a gimmick. Herbed crust. And in doing so, they actually took a step backwards, made their pizza worse, and ensured that I, and undoubtedly others, will never eat Dominos again.

And some of us will even go on to blog about it.

(Hashmarking #newpizza sends your Twitter comment right to their "Pizza Turnaround" webpage. Like so!)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

NBC Still Believes the Emperor Has Clothes

One can only shake their head at NBC these days. The degree to which their executives are unable to accept responsibility and see the obvious is truly astonishing. Rather than coming to the simple realization that Jay Leno isn't anything special and should be let go, they're going to continue attempting to put a square peg in a round hole.

Back in 1992 they screwed up royally by not giving The Tonight Show franchise to David Letterman. The end result was that they split up their monopoly on late night. So while Leno may have been "winning" the late night wars against Letterman and Nightline, at best he was only ever capturing just over a third of the viewing audience, an audience that had been overwhelmingly watching The Tonight Show exclusively when it was the only game in town.

What followed was 17 years of mediocre, middle-of-the-road comedy. Ironically, during Leno's early, lean years, he and Jerry Seinfeld purportedly would sit around and make fun of the very sort of pablum he churned out night after night. Meanwhile, Letterman was proving his worth by being able to create and maintain a competitive late night franchise at CBS from scratch. The only good thing to come out of the Leno Tonight Show was the arrival to the scene of Conan O'Brien, a virtual unknown at the time who ended up, after a rocky first year, creating cutting edge, absurdist late night comedy that appealed to a young audience, and paving the way for the likes of the Farrelly Brothers, Todd Phillips and Judd Apatow.

On to the present, and NBC's complete lack of class and common sense. As of today, according to some sources, they have to decided to give Leno back the Tonight Show and fire Conan. To make matters worse, they are now blaming Conan for the ratings failures of the Tonight Show, refusing to lay any of the blame at the feet of the IDIOTIC decision to replace hour-length narrative and reality programming with 5 nights-a-week of Jay Leno. Even though Leno's show clearly was going to dilute the appeal of The Tonight Show from the get go by presenting what was an identical show an hour and a half earlier. Plus, Leno was a complete disaster, revealing that he is, in fact, simply not funny. The audacity of this revision of history makes one's head spin.

So who or what is to blame? Back to some history. When Jeff Zucker took over as Entertainment President in 2000, NBC was the number one network, and now it's in fourth place. Plain and simple, the buck stops with Zucker.

In the 9 years since, Zucker failed to create and grow a single, lasting narrative program, maintained only one reality show, The Biggest Loser (developed by Ben Silverman, who NBC then fired) and allowed their other successful programs, Fear Factor and The Apprentice, to whither and die on the vine. He had numerous chances to try to develop long term shows to replace exiting ones (Friends, ER, West Wing), and even had a handful of critical hits which could have done the job, such as Kings and Studio 60 (which ironically predicted the network's woes during it's run), but promptly cancelled them all after single seasons. He failed to acquire A-List shows such as Mad Men, letting other broadcast and cable networks pick them up and run with them, choosing instead to develop clunkers like the Friends-spinoff Joey and the meandering Las Vegas. Even going back to the proverbial well he failed to deliver, taking recognizable commodities such as Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman and creating properties that were, respectively, less than B-movie quality and mind-numbingly pretentious. And of course, recycling Leno at 10pm proved to be his most public failure to date.

It's easy to understand why Zucker has been such a poor choice to head NBC. He spent 12 years at the Today Show, where he helped make that brand a dominating number one morning show. Good for him. However, after 12 years of producing people talking about soft news and entertainment, that's ALL he was qualified to do. He hadn't the faintest idea how to create interesting and narrative programming. And because he produced a daily "news" show, he didn't have the attention span to understand that shows that rely on stories rather than sound bytes need time to develop an audience.

But Zucker's not solely to blame here. Jay Leno bears a huge share of this burden. Because "Emperor" Leno isn't wearing any clothes. He's NOT FUNNY. His 10pm show was even weaker than his Tonight Show in terms of content, and no amount of band riffs can cover up his over-reliance on typos, viral videos and making fun of unexpecting people on the street.

"Oh yes, Jay, show us how stupid people are by asking them simple trivia questions - you're quite the everyman. But don't attack the people in power who have created the educational void that's led to that ignorance - no, no, that would rock the boat! Comedians don't do that, right? "

Even the opening of his new show was unbearably egomaniacal. A montage of clips of Jay Leno growing up? Are you SERIOUS? Where was the ending shot of him awarding himself the Congressional Medal of Honor?

Meanwhile, back in the present, Conan O'Brien has been conducting himself with poise, humor and dignity, releasing a brilliantly worded (and quietly hilarious) statement of his position. And in response, NBC executives, Dick Ebersol in particular, have started hurling dirt at him, trying to scapegoat O'Brien for all of NBC's late night woes. Truly school on a Saturday boys... school on a Saturday.

But why? Why is NBC screwing over O'Brien so badly and not standing by him to try to maintain both the Tonight Show and NBC brands? It hardly makes business sense - the sanctity of the brand is far more valuable a commodity than short term ratings and revenue; it's obvious NBC understands this as they plan on losing $200 million on the upcoming Winter Olympics.

So why? Well, and this may be a stretch, I think it's personal. When Jeff Zucker was at Harvard he was editor of the Harvard Crimson, the school's newspaper, where he encouraged competition with the Harvard Lampoon. The Lampoon was always funnier, better written and more popular than the Crimson. And the editor of the Harvard Lampoon? Conan O'Brien*.

For Jeff Zucker, revenge is a dish best served pathetic.

Join the "I'm With Coco" movement on Facebook!

* Zucker and Conan both majored in History (Conan also majored in Literature). Conan graduated magna cum laude. Zucker... did not.

Sometimes Causes of Insomnia...

I'm a night owl/insomniac for several different reasons. Sometimes it's addiction to video games, sometimes it's procrastinating, and oft-times it's because I don't want to go to bed having not accomplished anything all day.

But tonight it's one of the really bad reasons. Because tomorrow is the inevitable. And I really don't want to have to face up to this particular bit of inevitable. Because of the inevitable which follows this inevitable. Because, despite it's ups and downs, I really enjoyed the bit before the inevitable. I, in fact, loved the bit before the inevitable. Very much.

Yet sleep must claim my weary eyes eventually, and, once rested, they shall feast on sorrow and water themselves... blah, blah, blah.

Happy New Year, indeed...