Monday, November 24, 2008

The Great Programming Conspiracy

When it comes to prime time television programming, I seem to be cursed. Every time I latch on to a particular show, inexplicably, it typically gets cancelled within two seasons.

The reason I am going on this little rant today is because I found out that two shows in my weekly diet, PUSHING DAISIES and ELI STONE are going the way of the dodo. Obviously, it is chalked up to poor ratings and probably more accurately, a lack of proper promotion. It isn’t like these shows were lacking for content. I think the bigger issue is that many of these shows that get cancelled within a season or two do not connect with the mass audiences. Many of the jokes leave the average couch potato staring blankly, waiting for a fart joke or some time-proven slapstick. It is because of this that I fear that my latest weekly fave, THE BIG BANG THEORY will probably vaporize within a year, too.

PUSHING DAISIES, I thought, was a great premise. It had great use of color, excellent character development, and a cast composed of people you could really feel for; even Chi McBride’s über-cynical Emerson Cod. And the odd guest stars were always a welcome treat, especially Paul Reubens’ olfactorily-enhanced Oscar Vibenius. Quirky, yes, but it took on the challenges of relationships in a fresh, twisted light, much like its sister shows, WONDERFALLS and DEAD LIKE ME. All three of these, it comes as little surprise, were all the brainchild of Bryan Fuller, a man who also seems to have a curse, since everything he gets on the air has a relatively short lifespan, only to become cult classics when released on DVD.

ELI STONE, on the other hand, was probably a victim of its own implausible plot. A lawyer with a brain tumor, who could die at any time, has danger-ridden visions of the future (because of the tumor), and tries to adjust his life to avoid or quell the danger before it happens. The first season was great; lots of recognizable faces (Natasha Henstridge from SPECIES, Loretta Devine from GREY’S ANATOMY, and Victor Garber of ALIAS among them), and heartwarming stories lined with sardonic humor. It should be noted that Garber was also on a program about two years ago that I thoroughly enjoyed, JUSTICE, but was cancelled during its premiere season. See, I’m cursed.

Anyway, ELI STONE, like I said was bound by its own premise. At the close of the first season, the title character received an operation, thus eliminating the cause of his visions. Then, miraculously, during the early part of the second season, his brother starts having visions. Whoa, did you see that shark??? Anyway, I kept watching it, because I liked the characters, not that I could really relate to them in any way, but I liked the fact that they all seemed to be working really hard to better their own lives. And that alone is a great message to send to people sluggishly draped over their furniture, who are still waiting for that punchline.

I don’t know. Maybe I want a little more out of my television entertainment. That, or I just have REALLY bad luck. But like I said, I’ve latched on to tons of TV shows over the years that didn’t have legs. Even growing up in the 1980s, I aligned my loyalties with programs too ludicrous to continue to exist, like AUTOMAN, STREET HAWK, and MISFITS OF SCIENCE. Sure, I also watched those ratings-hounds, like THE A-TEAM and KNIGHT RIDER, but I mostly watched them so I had something to discuss with the kids at school. Hell, even in the late 80s, when FOX TV came into existence, some of my favorites included PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE, HERMAN’S HEAD, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BEANS BAXTER, and THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (I don’t think this one was a FOX show, but it had the same sensibilities as a FOX program).

Again, I do have my tendencies to follow the occasional network hit, like FRIENDS, BOSTON LEGAL (which dies in two weeks), DOCTOR WHO (does that count?), LOST (which had a pre-ordained lifespan), and HAWAII FIVE-O (which aired its final episode what, 30 years ago???). But it will always be those little shows that come in, make their statement and then vanish into the ether, that always hold a special place in the recesses of my memory.

To this day, one of my favorite (and arguably the best-constructed) television shows in history is THE PRISONER, which itself lasted only 17 episodes. So I guess I should just suck it up and enjoy these little nuggets while they are around. I will leave the rest of America to wallow in its self-loathing ambience of FAMILY GUY, CSI, and 24, while I wait around for the next INSIDE SCHWARTZ.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Psychos ‘R Us or The Problem With MySpace Fan Groups

We have all been a fan of something at one point or another, be it for a sports team, a music artist, a film or television show; something. And most of the time, there are official fan clubs for victims of said vice. With the onset of the Internet came a new means of fan expression, which is the online fan group. Now the doors have been broken down and fans of whatever can join these exclusive (though most of them claim to be inclusive – as in, open to anyone, but if you’re not really a fan, you don’t belong there), no matter where they are in the world. The Internet has created a new country, of sorts. One nation under a colon-right parenthesis.

Along with the Internet and fan groups eventually came MySpace, a lovely little gathering place where music artists and film-makers can promote their wares free of label interference. It’s also a happy meeting ground for people who don’t want to interact in the real world. Eventually, MySpace hopped on the fan forum band wagon, and now it seems that everything on the planet, from Super Mario Bros to toilet paper has some form of forum where fans can get together and have online conversations relating to that one topic.

Modern forums, however, take a more personal stance, and use the vice to lure people in to become “friends” based on a mutual admiration of the given topic. These devolve into day-to-day life (a la SIMS) conversations that have little to nothing to do with the primary thread of interest. And this is where public forums go wrong. Once you cross the barrier into everyday nonsense, you automatically assume that everyone reading is your “friend” and actually cares about that which you are discussing. This type of conversation neither fosters new membership, nor does it really help anyone outside of simple catharsis, which is what I thought the point of a blog was…silly me. Sometimes these forums get back on topic, but mostly, online forums have replaced the mid-day soap opera.

Wow, three paragraphs of setup; I’d better get to my point. I, too, have been bitten by the online fan group bug, and on occasion, have been known to pop in, give my support or two cents on a given topic, and ultimately try to help cultivate mutual appreciation for the topic or kick-start a conversation. All in good fun, as they say. However, I have also been privy to several online forums, particularly housed in MySpace, where the good nature and mutual respect of others devolved into bizarre contests, where members would puff their chests and compete with other members, with the air of “I’m a better fan than you, because…”. I’ve also witnessed MySpace forums where they say that they are open to both sexes, but when you try to get into a conversation about a particular artist, the comments turn very “girly”, and discuss an artist’s looks rather than any meaningful insight. It is times like this when you see that many people are “members” of a forum, but only 10-20 are actually active, thus nullifying the actual “size” of the conversational party.

Now, I normally wouldn’t have a problem with this, because usually, I would just call it a day and leave the group, allowing them to wallow in their own self-righteousness. However, thanks to MySpace, these fan groups now have the ability to promote themselves directly to the artist. This becomes a problem when the artist, thinking nothing nefarious is afoot, directly opens a line of communication with the fan group. Why is this a problem? Well, to put it simply, fan groups are there to appreciate an artist, not the other way around. There are several fan groups out in the world that share their appreciation without the need for personal contact with the artist. However, these MySpace groups feel the need to shove themselves in the artists’ faces and eventually start asking for favors that cross the boundary between fan and artist.

I completely understand the overwhelming honor it is to receive a personal message from someone you admire, and I think it is even more special when you get an opportunity to meet the artist, but there are MySpace groups out there that actually demand acknowledgement from the artist. And THAT is simply wrong.

There is a MySpace group out there that was founded about a year ago. It was designed to pay homage to a band the members “discovered” during a certain band’s 30th Anniversary Reunion Tour. Honestly, I believe the group was actually formed, because the singer of this band is the son of the singer of the band that celebrated its 30th Anniversary last year. (NOTE: I am evading the use of these band names, because I don’t want this cropping up on a Google Alert and getting picked up as a piece of “press.”)

Here is the mission statement for the main page, minus the artist’s name, of course:

I am making it my mission to help promote BAND NAME HERE as much as possible and to that end I am creating this group for everyone who loves the band and wants to help support them. We already have a few successful road trips under our belts all around Europe and one or two in the US too! We get actively involved in promoting the band on regular occasions. It's all going on in here! Welcome to the SILLY FAN NAME group page and I hope that you enjoy it in here even half as much as I do! ROCK!!!

Now, based on that, one would think this is an altruistic forum designed to actually help the band progress. Nothing wrong with that. However, there is much more going on in this forum than anything a band would want to associate itself with. Shortly after forming, the administrator of the forum began bombarding other fan sites message boards and even the band’s own MySpace Comments section with a recruitment pitch, which gets re-posted several times per month:

For all the new fans just logging in - the SILLY FAN NAME fan group is actively recruiting new members at the moment. It's a great place to hang out - you get loads of news and updates, meet loads of other awesome BAND NAME fans, there are competitions, photo's, video's, music and MORE. We are also very active in supporting the guys through various promotions and PR campaigns so if you want to help spread the word - come on over!You will find us here:

Again, we see that it looks like that it is a great group to be a part of. Competitions, loads of news, and are active in promotion! Hell, sign me up. Slow down. Unfortunately, all that glitters is definitely not gold, and there is a sickening, almost inhuman underbelly to this group.

Let’s begin with competitions. Yes, there are competitions, open to everyone (who has a MySpace account and is a member of the fan group). However, most of the prizes are obtained from begging, prodding, and sometimes lying to the band. I’ve actually witnessed it happening. And the band, not wanting to disappoint (or lose) fans, obliges, providing prizes that would be considered somewhat collectible on the secondary market. So, the MySpace group has its little contests. Who wins? One of the 10-15 ladies in the group’s inner circle. These are the ONLY people who ever win the contests. This is in addition to the fact that the group’s moderator usually keeps the most choice “prizes” for herself.

News and Updates? Well, occasionally they offer news, but 9 times out of ten, they stole it from one of the actual fan-run websites devoted solely to promoting the band. Many members of the MySpace group are also members of other forums on these fan-run websites. Sometimes they share information, and sometimes they just keep it to themselves.

Active in promotion? Sure, I guess you can say that, once in a while, they do little promotional campaigns to try to spread the band’s name. However, they are limited to the fact that there are less than 20 of them doing it, and many of their promotions are coordinated without the label’s or management’s knowledge. A lot of times, these promotions are completely for naught, such as begging a radio station relentlessly to play the band, when the station isn’t even aware of the band’s existence. Sure, you could say this is a way to introduce the band to the station, but many times, either you are stepping on the radio promoter’s toes (you know, the guy whose job it is to have a relationship with the correct stations) or you are simply annoying a DJ who wants nothing to do with you, because he’s got a set playlist from which to choose songs, as directed by the mafia…I mean, Clear Channel. Other promotions they do actually involve the label, but usually, they are online, street-team related projects that merely act as free advertising for the label.

Again, I guess I still am not making my point clear. What exactly is the problem with this MySpace fan group? Quite simply, they started out appreciating the band, but now, they want the band to appreciate them! Last year, they organized a special meet-and-greet with the band after a performance in Amsterdam at a pub down the street from the venue. They gave the band Xmas presents and took a lot of pictures. No big deal. Then, a couple months back, the group celebrated its own 1-year anniversary party at a pub where the band’s lead singer often played solo shows. Therefore, they prodded the band to come out to celebrate with them. Thankfully, that never came to fruition.

The band is performing once again in Amsterdam, but this time, the band’s management arranged a meet-and-greet in conjunction with one of the fan-run websites, at the same pub, and this MySpace group is all up-in-arms, claiming that they were usurped, that they should be treated to such information directly from the band, that it’s “THEIR” pub, and that there is some kind of conspiracy surrounding it, with the band not being notified or anything.

Got news for ya, kids, standard meet-and-greet procedure is that the band USUALLY doesn’t know anything about it until the week before, or the week of the event. I know this, because I spent several years as a music publicist.

Now, what makes this situation really disgusting is that most of these “ladies” (I put it in quotes, because I have a hard time considering them as human beings) are already going to be attending four of the other performances leading up to the Amsterdam gig, where they will surely have plenty of time to visit with the band.

Oh, I almost forgot, they are also planning (unwittingly) to piss off every other fan attending the Amsterdam show by somehow rigging their way to the front row. You see, one of them had this “great” idea of making black t-shirts, each adorned with one letter in the band’s name, and standing along the front row, so the band can see its own name bouncing back at them. Sure, it sounds novel, but they aren’t taking into account that they JUST MIGHT NOT be the only fans of the band there. This venue holds 1900 people, and the show is almost sold out. Also, this band is the headliner. So what does that tell you? Methinks there will be a fight or three!

But, back to the meet-and-greet. Apparently, the group moderator became so flustered by the lack of acknowledgement that she sent a whining email, crying directly to the band. And, do you want to know something EVEN MORE pathetic and disgusting? In an effort to retain those fans, and not upset its 10-15 MySpace Fan Group members, the band has agreed to do something special for them. This is REALLY sad, because two of these “ladies” already possess articles of the band members’ clothing, and one of them , I have no idea how she got this, but one of them has one of the customized speaker cabinet covers for one of their amplifiers! Am I jealous? Maybe a little, but to be fair, I DON’T ASK FOR ANYTHING besides maybe an autograph and a photo with the artist. I don’t need more than that to be satisfied with the experience. Apparently, this fan group thinks it has transcended the notion of “fan” and deems itself members of the band’s inner family.

And now, I present you, the most frightening bit of evidence, depicting this “fan group” in its natural habitat. I’ve removed their names, because…well, because it’s just a nice thing to do in a situation like this. (For the record, the only words in this I inserted and capitalized were PSYCHO, SILLY FAN GROUP, FAN WEBSITES, BAND MEMBER, PSYCHO MODERATOR, BAND, DRUMMER, and PSYCHO WHO DOESN'T POST. Everything else, they did themselves.) So, grab some popcorn, cue the Bernard Herrmann music, and enjoy.

PSYCHO 1: It seems like a nice gesture, although I do hope they will still meet us SILLY FAN GROUP after the show. This meet & greet in the afternoon sounds like a publicity stunt..not quite the atmosphere we are after methinks? I wíll go, of course..

PSYCHO 2: Honest to God ! This whole meet’n’greet sounds like a nightmare !!
I mean, if it’s been posted on just about every forum, it’s gonna end up with hundreds of people being there !!
I’m sure there’s a better chance of meeting the guys earlier on ! Tho, it is a bit sad (very selfishly speaking here...) that they’ve become so popular, that they can’t do a meet’n’greet.......

PSYCHO 1: I was trying to be nice about it, but YOU SAID IT SIS! I am actually horrified that this was posted so publicly. This was OUR nice little tradition that is now made public. BAH. I feel I should go to show my loyalty, but I don’t look forward to it much.

PSYCHO 3: that’s what i thought when i saw that post on FAN WEBSITES (and it will surely appear at facebook maybe...) - it’s gonna be so many people there.. :(
i just hope they will meet us before of after show. somehow i think we still ARE kind of special fans for them... or no??

PSYCHO 4: I really don’t know what to make of this but judging by how popular they are in Holland I’d imagine it will be mobbed. Seems a bit strange to do this when they really don’t need to do that much promotion with the gig mostly sold out. Lets see what PSYCHO MODERATOR makes of it, I say!

PSYCHO MODERATOR: I am horrified!!! That was OUR place! We set that meeting up last year and I asked them if they would meet US again this year - not the whole bloody world and his wife; Added to the no response to emails situation I can only assume they are backing off from us. They have probably been advised to by "management". I know they are planning on celebrating BAND MEMBER’s birthday after the gig so they are probably heading off to a club or somewhere. Well, we knew it wouldn’t last too long - that once they were a bit bigger............
AND - why are management sending the information to FAN WEBSITE and not us??! I feel a little let down I have to say. I made that happen last year - that was all because I set it up - I don’t understand why they could not give us a heads up :-(

PSYCHO 1: I hear ya all. BUT I have unwavered faith in the boys themselves. I think with them being on a break, they are not as much hands on with the plans that are made for them. Anyway we can ask them about it after the French shows. I KNOW they would never piss us off deliberately.
And PSYCHO MODERATOR, I don’t think they are close to big enough to forget about the old school fans. I think they have a bit of a distance to go for that. I just don’t see it. To my mind, things are not THAT different from one year ago. And they have never been very diligent with the e-mails before... I say let’s NOT PANIC! It will be OK!

PSYCHO 5: What the frikkety do da is this all about?!
I do feel really bad for you though PSYCHO MODERATOR...i thought they would have at least mailed you so you had a heads up - i do feel that’s bad craic. Have they forgotten who you are and what you’ve done for them? I hope we’re missing a clue to the mystery of manners here.

PSYCHO 2: I think there’s something odd about this....1. How does the BAND management know about the pub??? None of them were there last year!? So I’m thinking the idea must come from the guys themselves...2. Have they even checked with the pub if they’re prepared for the potential massive invasion of fans?? If even 100 people show up, there’s gonna be problems with the space (if it’s the same pub we were in!). I remember we were less than 20 people, and we filled up more than 1/4 of the pub!

PSYCHO MODERATOR: Thanks - to all of you for your comments! As I said before - I never "expect" anything from them - why would I?! I didn’t do this to get favor with the guys - I did it because I believe in them and want them to do well! BUT. I was miffed. Very miffed. Am even more miffed now that I know that they are doing a meet and greet at someone ELSE’S behest in OUR pub.
PSYCHO 1 was right. Apparently they never knew about it until this evening and only because SOMEONE (who shall remain nameless!) contacted them and basically told them about the kerfuffle. So - I got an email from DRUMMER - who said that he had only just heard and that he knew that we met up there and it was something his manager must have set up (but he didn’t even seem sure about that). He also said he hoped it wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes!! I wasn’t going to lie to him so I told him there WAS a lot of consternation about it as (in total fairness I think) we considered that OUR pub as our night there last year was very special for all of us. I told him that the thing we/I was most miffed about was that every other site except us was informed. I also said I assume it meant the meet and greet I had requested was not on the cards but they probably never even got that request now I think about it. So. The upshot is I told him I WAS very glad he had contacted me anyway~ I mean he didn’t have to! And they do have a lot of OTHER fans. So at least they felt it was important enough to warrant an email and now I feel a bit better! You were right PSYCHO 1! You did say so earlier on the phone to me as well - and it appears that it is just a coincidence. Some coincidence though huh?! I don’t know if I will go or not - I mean I WANT to - but I really wanted to get a new group picture for the page - and I can’t see that happening really - I also wanted to get a pic of us all in PSYCHO WHO DOESN’T POST’s tee shirts with them - but I guess we can do that without them! They still look after their fans very well at gigs and everyone should have the opportunity to have a meet and greet with them - we were just very lucky last year that it worked out the way it did and was organised so far in advance. I should have maybe realised they had not received my message about it - I just thought they didn’t want to do it or hadn’t decided about it yet. Silly me. He who dares wins!

PSYCHO MODERATOR I am not saying too much now as I can’t. We may not have to stand in line all night. Not sure exactly yet but something nice is heading our way ok?? And I will NOT be posting it up here - I will be contacting everyone coming individually. As with our secret meeting last year, there has been a suggestion made but it has to be kept quiet. Sorry - I know I am being very mysterious! We may not have to be in Amsterdam QUITE so early but I think it might be a good idea to still plan to be there that early.
So - don’t be holding your breath or anything but all the guys and their manager are upset that we are upset as there really was just a lack of communication but they are trying to sort something out for us specially (cuz they ROCK!!!).

So, am I out of line? Am I seeing something that isn't really there? Or are there some MySpace groups out there that take the term "fan" to mean a little bit more than it's root "fanatic"? Seriously, this sort of behavior reminds me of something you would see on an after school special, or one of those freaky PG-13 movies that star complete nutters. The Crush and Swimfan come to mind. I will leave you with this frightening nugget. The primary difference between those movies and this fan group is that in the movies, the "ladies" are obsessive teenagers. This fan group is comprised largely of housewives and single "ladies" in their 30s-50s. Scary!