Thursday, April 28, 2005

And still another message to "The Parents Television Council". RE: The V-Chip and the TV Ratings System.

Once again as I said before, "When I started writing this column, it wasn’t to be an anti "Parents Television Council" forum".
CHILD OF TELEVISION: My message to "The Parents Television Council".CHILD OF TELEVISION: Another message to "The Parents Television Council". RE: Crossing Jordan
CHILD OF TELEVISION: And another message to "The Parents Television Council". RE: TIME Magazine "The Decency Police"

Recently the PTC has released two editorials the first one was "The V-Chip is No Magic Pill". No where in the article does it mention a flaw with the technology with the V-chip. L. Brent Bozell sites two reasons as to why the chip is useless,

"For starters, most parents have no idea how this V-chip works, or know that their TV set even contains one. A survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that only 15 percent of parents they surveyed have used the V-chip. Many of the survey's respondents (39 percent) didn't realize that their new TV sets were equipped with a V-chip, while others (20 percent) knew they had a V-chip, but haven't used it".

The PTC should use their web site to educate parents on how to use the V-chip. I can sum this us with, "It's a poor workman who blames his tools" It was parents groups who insisted that we have TV ratings and the V-chip. Finally, as I said in CHILD OF TELEVISION: "V" is for Chip.

"Parents are outraged over the fact that little Timmy mastered the V-chip faster than they did, but find it funny that little Timmy can open Mommy’s child proof bottle of Prozac when Mommy can't figure out the child proof cap herself. So something that could kill little Timmy takes a back seat to a TV show".

L. Brent Bozell's other point is,

"More important, however, is what the industry knows but isn't saying: the V-chip is worthless. Even if parents know how to use it, for the V-chip to be effective in blocking programming, it needs to identify the content descriptors listed at the beginning of the program -- such as "V" for violence, "L" for harsh language, "S" for sexual material, and "D" for sexual dialogue."

This proves that there is no problem with the chip itself. His issue is with the ratings system and the fact that the networks pick the rating for the show. Forgive my skepticism, but since there is an ongoing battle between the morality and children's advocates who want to see more restrictions, and the creative talents, who by their nature will want to express their creative freedom, push the envelope and defend their First Amendment Rights. I would like to see some examples as to why you think the ratings system is useless.

Ask and ye shall receive.

L. Brent Bozell followed up with "PTC Study Finds TV Ratings System A Failure". Where he said,

"The ratings system is a failure and consequently the V-chip, which depends upon reliable ratings to work, also is a failure. It cannot be relied upon to consistently and accurately block offensive programming since parents can't rely on the ratings to identify potentially offensive content," (Again this proves that there is no problem with the chip itself.)

The PTC study (That looks like a PTC Commercial) is very detailed and may have some valid points, but I have to question the credibility of the people who put the study together since the PTC has a specific agenda. One reason for me questioning the study comes from this April 18, 2005 Reuters article PTC: Nets' ratings mislead "The TV ratings are meaningless," said PTC President Brent Bozell.

"Most television programs showing foul language, violence and inappropriate sexual dialogue or situations do not use the appropriate content descriptors."

Here is one of the examples.

"It cited censored profanity on ABC’s "America's Funniest Home Videos," which had a PG, or parental guidance, rating but no language warning."

If the un-scripted profanity is censored, then why does it need a warning? The PTC study has many examples of un-scripted censored profanity like this (many on Reality Shows) padding their statistics and they list the words that were censored making the study more offensive that the shows themselves. I would think that the PTC would be thrilled that the Networks are bleeping foul language.

To quote Author: Aaron Levenstein, "Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, April 22, 2005

Algebra, Role Models and Fictional Characters. (Click PODCAST)

I had an algebra teacher in college who wanted us to look at subtraction differently so as to better handle some of the algebra problems. He told us not to look at subtraction as "take away" as we were taught in elementary school. "Addition and Subtraction are the same thing. Addition is the adding positive numbers, while Subtraction is the adding negative numbers. It's the same thing" I can apply the same idea to role models.

When we used to play on the playground and one of the kids would say an ethic slur, repeating words that they heard grown ups and the older kids say, a teacher would address the child with, "That word is very hateful. Do you want people to think that you’re a racist?" Not fully understanding what she meant we asked, "What’s a racist?" The teacher responded with, "Ah? Archie Bunker. You don’t want people to think that you’re an Archie Bunker." To be fair, Archie was more of a bigot: One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ. A racist is: A person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others. Archie would freely admit that blacks were better singers, dancers and athletes. People used to criticize Archie saying he was a bad role model. I always thought Archie was great role model. He was a perfect example of what I did not want to be. Parents considered Bart Simpson a bad role model. I say Bart is a great role model. He a perfect example of how kids should not act. By the way, Bart Simpson is a cartoon character that adds a second degree of separation from reality. Fictional characters should not be seen as role models anyway because their purpose is to drive the story many times requiring them to be larger than life. When I have created characters for scripts, I never asked if this character will be a positive role model, nor do I ponder how can I make my script undermine the morals of America's youth. I create characters that I hope the audience likes, identifies with, and will want to see week after week.

Parents Television Council Research and Publications Director Melissa Caldwell discussed Indecency on CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on March 30, 2005. PTC Video Clips -- Playing: Melissa_CNBC.wmv Ms. Caldwell said in regards to Desperate Housewives, "My solution is, show consequences if you are going to depict that kind of behavior." The characters on the show do have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Since the show is done in the style of a soap opera, most story lines do not get resolved in the course of one episode. But eventually they will have to deal with the consequences of their actions and just like in real life, some characters learn their lesson and some don't. Lets face it, does the audience really want to see Archie Bunker, Bart Simpson, Frank Burns, J.R. Ewing, Boss Hogg, Karen Walker or Gabrielle Solis see the light and walk the straight and narrow? I don't think so. In fact that's a sure-fire guarantee that the show will "Jump The Shark". Don't forget even Superman had his flaws, and he was also a pathological liar.

I was talking to a friend on how some people refer to showing bad behavior on TV as glamorizing the bad behavior. I said, " That's as ridiculous as saying that Archie Bunker glamorized bigotry". My friend pointed out that in a way Archie did glamorize bigotry. He reminded me that there were people in this country that idolized Archie and tuned into "All in the Family" every week to hear Archie say what they are thinking and not knowing that the character of Archie is mocking them. CHILD OF TELEVISION: Where’s Norman Lear now that we need him? Should the writers of these shows factor in this clueless demographic? I say no, because were still talking about fictional characters but I will make an exception with some characters that may influence young kids’. Behaviors like Fonzie getting a library card. A television program show is a form of story telling where there are good guys and bad guys (Don't make me bring up that period in the 70s when "Tom & Jerry had to be friends), and many is the time when the audience likes the bad guy best. Besides, before we go after fictional characters I think we should look at how real people in the media like Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Pat Robertson or Ann Coulter influence adults.

I’d like to revisit this topic. So please send me your comments so we can have some intelligent discussion on the subject.

To quote William Shatner on SNL, "It’s just a TV show! It’s just a TV show!"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, April 15, 2005

Never leave the house without watching the morning news. (Click PODCAST)

Every day of my life started with the morning TV news. Except this one morning in the summer of 1985. I woke up that morning to sound of BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. It came from one of the neighbor’s apartments. It sounded like someone was moving furniture. I went back to sleep. I woke up again to sirens. An ambulance pulled up to my building and I went to investigate. The noise I was awakened to earlier was my upstairs neighbor falling down a flight of stairs and breaking her leg. She asked me to help her track down her husband who had all the insurance information. The problem was that he was working a Swap Meet somewhere in Oxnard, an hour north of L.A. The EMT told me that they were taking her to Cedars-Sinai. I told her that would meet her at Cedars then I got into my car. I noticed cops all over the neighborhood but didn't think much of it. I'm driving west and I pass this one cop driving east he gives me a good look. I didn't give it much thought because I was in a hurry. Then lights started flashing and the sirens are going off. I pull over so the cop can pass me and he didn’t.

Over the loud speaker I hear, "Get out of the car and put your hands on your head". I do what he says and then ask, "Is there a problem officer?" "Oh yeah", "You did a lot of things", the cop said. It's 110 degrees outside and this cop wanted me to put my hands on the black hood of his squad car that was so hot. Egg frying hot. I cheated and just had my hands hover about half an inch over the hood. The cop started going through my pockets, then throwing its contents on the ground. He then noticed that my hands were not on the hood of the car. So standing behind me he grabbed my wrists and forced them on the hood of his car, of course when you touch something that hot you have an involuntary reaction and jerk back. I jerked back. "E-YOW!" And I knocked the cop over on his ass. He jumped back up and drew his gun and shouted, "I said put your hands on the hood!" Okay, flip them over when they’re done.

He takes my keys and starts’ searching the trunk of my car when Good-Cop drives up. He comes over shakes his head, tells me that I can get off the car and asks me not to report his fellow officer. No problem there. I was just so traumatized and embarrassed by the incident that I was glad that it was over.

After helping my neighbor in the hospital, I came home and turned on the news. The top story was that the "Night Stalker" had struck the night before in my neighborhood. On the screen was the latest Police Artist rendering of the suspect. The drawing was of a guy with brown hair, brown eyes and a tan. The picture looked more like me than it did Richard Ramirez, who would be captured months later.

I learned 3 things from that incident:

1. That young cop was probably more afraid of me than I was of him.

2. I’m half Puerto Rican, but since I pass for white I can't play the race card.

3. Never leave the house without watching the morning news.

To quote The West Wing’s Leo McGarry (John Spencer), "That’s the price you pay when you look like the bad guys".
For all of you "Wing Nuts" this quote comes from Episode 45 Title: ISAAC AND ISHMAEL Original Air date October 3rd 2001

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, April 08, 2005

Never Judge a show by it’s Pilot: The Office.

It's no secret that I love Sit-Coms and I am concerned about the status of the sitcom today. CHILD OF TELEVISION: Where’s Norman Lear now that we need him? When I first heard that there was going to be an American version of the British comedy series "The Office", I thought that this was a bad idea. In my defense when I first heard this news, it was in the wake of a failed attempt to do an American version of the British comedy series "Coupling". I can list a dozen reasons as to why the American version of "Coupling" failed. One reason is dialogue, that was almost copied word for word from the British series, was delivered as zingers. Another reason is that a British show does not have to meet the same network standards and practices that American shows do.

As time went on I started to become cautiously optimistic when I heard that "The Daily Shows" Steve Corel was going to star in the project. Then later I got to see some of the previews. It looked like they were maintaining the integrity of the original series by shooting the show documentary style and not having a laugh track. The pilot episode closely resembles the pilot of the original series with a few changes necessary like geographical and cultural references. I also found the American version slightly more P.C. The Character of Michael Scott can and should get away with his inappropriate sexual and racist comments because he is clueless to the fact that he is out of line. I am sure there are some who have already started their letter writing campaign claiming that the show glamorizes sexism and ethnic humor. All in all I liked the show but I never judge a show by it’s pilot.

The second episode, (Diversity Day) was edgy and funny. I liked that Michael Scott never learns his lesson nor does he have any redeeming qualities. I’ve met people like that. Also the episode does not need to have a moral. Unless you count that there are morons in the corporate world. These are elements in British Television shows that are appealing to American audiences. Look at the success of "Absolutely Fabulous ". Personally I’ve worked for people like Michael Scott and I like seeing them depicted as the dimwits that they are. Unfortunately, as in the "Dilbert Comic Strip" no one ever sees themselves as the stupid boss, they just see their stupid boss as the stupid boss.

If "The Office" stays true to original premise and does not get watered down or dumbed down it may have the potential of joining the ranks of other American Sit-Coms based on British Sit-Coms like "All in the Family", "Sanford and Son", and "Three's Company". This will not be an easy task. When "All in the Family", "Sanford and Son", and "Three's Company" first aired in the 1970's most Americans were not familiar with their British counterparts, "Till Death Us Do Part", "Steptoe and Son" and "Man About the House". Today British shows like "The Office" and "Coupling" can been seen on BBC America or on DVD, so American versions of these shows face built in expectations from their audience. Perhaps instead of just copying a successful British show we need study why these shows are appealing to American audiences because I know more and more people are tuning in to BBC America for their entertainment (and their news too).

To quote Robin Williams on Dennis Miller Live, "This country was founded bypeople who were too uptight to stay in England!"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Monday, April 04, 2005

What will Gene Greytak do?

Gene Greytak and Pope John Paul II

Just before my wife and I began our power walk though Hollywood, we heard the news that Pope John Paul II was near death. Donna started to tell me about seeing the Pope on one of his many U.S. visits. I asked Donna, "What will the actor who plays the Pope do?" She said, "Well he had a 26 year run". She also commented that, "Only in Hollywood could someone ask that question". I reminded her of the famous "What will Vaughn Meader do?" She didn't know what I was talking about. Of course she's much too young to know what I was talking about.

When we got home, I went online to find who this actor who plays the Pope. His name is Gene Greytak and he has his own web site. Mr. Greytak and Pope John Paul II have a lot in common.
Both men are Catholic, however Gene has been married for 53 years.
Both their mothers are Slovac.
Both men have their vestments (Pope Garb) made at the same place, and the are the exact same size!
Gene has had the blessing to impersonate the Pope for over 17 years and carries and official letter of permission from the Vatican.

His movies credits include:
Sister Act
Hot Shots
Pretty Woman
Naked Gun 33 1/3
It's the Ticket

His TV credits include:
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Everybody Loves Raymond
Picket Fences
The Golden Girls
Night Court
In Living Color
Geraldo Rivera
Phil Donahue
Arsenio Hall
Comic Relief

Gene has also done many commercials, print work, personal appearances (including countless religious functions), and wherever he goes, he is always asked for a blessing.
I was worried that it may be inappropriate to write about this so soon. My wife reminded me that I was writing about a living actor and not a recently deceased religious leader.

If you (like my wife) are not familiar with "What will Vaughn Meader do?" Vaughn Meader was a comedian who did a perfect John F. Kennedy impression and sold many of copies of an LP called The First Family. A week after J.F.K.’s assignation, Lenny Bruce was booked into a theatre on the Lower East Side of New York. The audience wondered, what would he say? How can he say anything at a time like this? Lenny Bruce came out and stared at the audience. He unscrewed the mike and walked away from the spotlight. He stared at the audience, paced up and down the stage, and stared at the audience again. And what he said was this quote, "Vaughn Meader is screwed!"

Gene Greytak is a blessing in disguise.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, April 01, 2005

And another message to “The Parents Television Council”. RE: TIME Magazine “The Decency Police”

Photo for TIME by Jill Greenberg

As I said before, "When I started writing this column, it wasn’t to be an anti "Parents Television Council" forum".

CHILD OF TELEVISION: My message to "The Parents Television Council".
CHILD OF TELEVISION: Another message to "The Parents Television Council". RE: Crossing Jordan

I was reading Time Magazine's (March 28, 2005) article "The Decency Police" written by James Poniewozik. I thought that the article presented a fair and balanced look at the Television industry post Janet Jackson. Prominently featured in the article is "The Parents Television Council". After reading the article, I had to visit the Parents Television Council site. I was surprised to find that they were thrilled with the article. Here are some highlights.

"In addition to raising the overall issue of broadcast indecency, this week's Time was able to capture the essence of the PTC as the most influential advocacy organization protecting children from graphic and gratuitous programming.
As I'm sure you know, research is the foundation of all our work here at the PTC. And the core of our research is our massive computerized information database, which Time accurately described:"

My question to the PTC is, WHAT ARTICLE WERE YOU READING? CAN'T YOU SEE THAT YOU ARE BEING MADE FUN OF? Desperate Housewife Teri Hatcher's expression on the magazine's cover is mocking enough (Isn't "Desperate Housewives" on your hit list?). She got paid big bucks to pose for the cover and mock you. I’m doing it for free.

NOTE TO SELF: Get Teri Hatcher to autograph my copy of TIME magazine.

The article describes an analyst, Kristine Looney, taking inventory of every time the word "damn" was said on the March 13th episode of "Crossing Jordan". This data then goes into their "Entertainment Tracking System" along with other swear words, sexual content, violence, disrespect for authority and other negative content. Let me quote a section of the TIME Magazine article that the PTC also quotes on their site.

"The Entertainment Tracking System - it sounds like something the Pentagon would have if we had fought a war to depose Viacom's Sumner Redstone instead of Saddam Hussein. And in a way, the ETS is the nerve center of a war: The War on Indecency."

I sensed a hint of mockery with that statement, but the PTC saw it differently as they state on their site,

"How true this statement is. And together we're foot soldiers in this war; a war that really has only just begun. We have seen recent and dramatic victories. And thanks to you, the entire nation is now talking about broadcast decency. But the issue of responsible broadcasting and decency enforcement is not going away. Over the coming months, I assure you that the conversation will only get louder. The cover of this week's Time is a superb barometer of this."

You're right. You got me talking about it. I wonder if the PTC would be as thrilled if "Saturday Night Live" did a sketch about their organization.

NOTE TO SELF: Submit PTC sketch idea to SNL producer Lorne Michaels.

I'd say that since your organization does not know when it being mocked and your efforts are mainly dedicated to taking an inventory of swear words, sexual content, violence and disrespect for authority, you are in no position to judge the hard work of others. Unless you are taking the position that there is no such thing as bad press then... I'll stop writing now.

To quote William Shatner on Saturday Night Live, "I'd just like to say... GET A LIFE, will you people?"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

PS: So far the PTC has not returned my messages. If you share my concerns about groups like the PTC, I invite you to Check out Amanda Toering’s SpeakSpeak News