television


26
Jun 20

750 quick words on Trek

I’ve lately been idly listening to Star Trek while doing other things. Today we met the Klingons for the first time again, which means we’re on episode 26, a third of the way through the run of the original series … and it’s just about ready to get good, I guess. They had a narrow window through which to reach out and impact the world, when you think about it.

The third season is almost universally panned, the first 10 or 12 episodes of the series have a few interesting moments, but once you remember that this is the series that bred continuity into the zeitgeist, it was woefully inconsistent. And that’s even after allowing for the production values of the day and the new genre they were helping to pioneer. It’s all over the place.

This is how you met the universe’s running baddies on a Thursday in mid-March of 1967:

And the next week, this episode plays itself out. Kirk and Spock beam down to head off the enemy threat. The locals aren’t bothered at all and perceive no threat. (It’s an allegory, you see.) The threat appears, and John Colicos is warm and real and full and does a lot with a little, to be honest. Now the good guys are trying to blend in with the locals to subvert the threat. This goes poorly, and Spock told you so, what with his cool calculations and his odds.

There’s a fanfic out there somewhere that reveals he was just making up numbers, and, when confronted by this charge, he runs away crying. There has to be. After all, one of the dramatic devices they routinely revisit is Spock telling everyone who will listen just how bad the odds are. And, of course, they emerge from the problem relatively unscathed, minus a few red shirts. No one ever calls him on this. Ever.

So Kirk and Spock, having failed to talk the backward and humble-looking Organians into coming under their protection, try to take matters into their own hands, but then then Organians stop all of this by making both the Federation members and the Klingons hot. Ow!

Because, I guess, having people mimic a warm stove eye was as inexpensive a special effect as the show runners could pull off.

Someone out there has compiled some of the original shots next to the 2009 remastering, which is what I’m watching on Netflix. This is a fine and fun bit of side-by-side video.

Note how George Takei is playing Sulu when they first come under attack. Note how Colicos is almost licking his lips, “A shame, Capitan. It would have been glorious.” It’s a moment at the end of the episode that’s so beautifully, rhythmically paced that it sets the whole mood for the ever-changing archenemy-cum-tense-ally. It’s a shame it took 30 years to get him back into the franchise.

And, too, note how not every update is a good one. Specifically, when the humble Organians return to their natural form. In the original it is a brilliant white light. In the reworked version they take on the lighting effects of a bad rave.

It was good for it’s time, this episode, I’m sure. It’s hailed as a classic, and it holds an 8.6 rating on IMDb. But today its interest is purely historic. This one sequence goes a long way toward guiding the rest of the entire franchise:

It also sets up the biggest plot hole in the entire Trek universe. If the energy beings abhor conflict and can stop it this quickly, the Federation should have drawn any number of enemies to this planet, playing this out over and over, creating new allies across the quadrant. Or the galaxy. Or whatever they called it that week. (They were really loose with the language in the early days. It’s amazing that fans found it in their hearts to forgive the show for that.)

Also, this episode figures into one of the big musical hits of the late 1980s.

And a segue like that lets us wrap this up with our favorite game, The Passage of Time. That episode originally aired in 1967. That song was a hit in 1988. We’re (much) farther removed from that song than they were from that episode.

Within the franchise, the time between us and the debut of Deep Space Nine is greater than the time between the Deep Space Nine’s beginning and the episode above. Deep Space Nine debuted in 1993.

Remember, this was an allegory then, but what is it today?


17
Apr 20

Let’s go back in time, but only a little

Last night I held another IUZoomington meeting with a true television legend, Rick Karle. The man won 24 Emmy awards in sports and then decided he’d go over and try some news. There’s more to it than that, there always is. But he’s one of those people students need to hear from. He’s been doing it longer than they’ve been alive, after all.

I told the story about the first time I met him was on the phone, when I was in undergrad. I was calling in scores from a women’s volleyball or basketball game or something. It was a big deal. An OMG, Rick Karle, kind of deal. But, then, he’s from a place where, as a colleague of ours put it, the people on the local news are among the community’s celebrities. And it’s true. Also, the guy’s just good at what he does. Always has been.

So it was nice to see him last night. He talked about what he sees from interns and new reporters coming into the business, and what our gang should be doing to show off the right sorts of things.

Most of the people in the session tonight were sophomores and juniors, but they, and the seniors, all lost a lot in having their campus experience shut down in March. The next four or five weeks of TV would have been really valuable for them, so I’m trying to make it up to them some kind of way.

It’s really nice that so many of the people I know in the working media are so generous with their time to talk with them. (This is the third or fourth one of these I’ve done in the last few weeks, and some of my colleagues in the school are doing others, besides.) It’s a small business, and no one ever forgets where they came from, which is a nice perk.

Let’s look at the paper. We’re going back to this day 103 years ago, which seems apropos, in some respects given our particular moment in time. And this day 103 years ago, it was getting serious.

The sub chaser was the Smith, and it escaped the night. Sub chasers, I’ve just learned, were small, light and fast vessels. They built about 300 of them for U.S. service, and more for France. And there isn’t an easily found repository of what each did. But I did find one reference to the Smith, which sailed on an Alaskan patrol in 1923, so it survived the war.

The subhead of that story talked about the 20,000 Germans killed along the front at Rheims, 10,000 captured and 50,000 injured. Europe was about to enter the third year of this thing, and that’s the second item on the American story. It was a war brutal on a scale we can scarcely understand today. This would have probably been the beginning of the Second Battle of the Aisne, the Neville Offensive. This part was meant to be a 48-hour effort. It launched on April 16th, and lasted into the second week of May. The idea was an entire push across the lines in France, trying to knock back the Germans. Tactically successful, but without reaching its objectives. The Germans had something like 163,000 casualties from this push. The British, French and Russians had something like 350,000.

Of course no one could see that on April 17th, and certainly not from this far away. Across the way there was a message from President Wilson. War was coming. There was no escaping it now.

In between, a student got picked up, and written about in a way that would never happen today. Also, he wore his hair in a pompadour, which is really how you knew something was the matter with the guy.

There’s also a note that the high school was going to show a film, “How to Garden.” And the Republicans and the Democrats couldn’t get along in Indianapolis. There’s a note from a murder trial in a neighboring county, and a piece of propaganda about signing up for the Army and a railway man hurt his hand. But this brief talked about a really bad day.

On the second page there is finally a photograph. It’s showing you how they load lumber in Kentucky.

There are two fashion photos on that page. Then, as now, it probably only applied to a thin slice of the readership. There’s far too much worry about the war, about growing things, about how trains work, for people in their readership to spend time with handsome frocks of satin, georgette sleeves and satin collars and cuffs.

This is across the street from our building at campus.

In 1928 the Ritz Theatre was built in that spot. Later renamed the Von Lee, it had three screens. They played movies there until 2000. Now there are campus offices and a restaurant in the shell of the building. It is, quite literally, a facade.

Fred Bates Johnson did it all.

Really, all of it. He was a school superintendent, a journalist, a disgruntled journalist …

He felt this was still not enough and thought journalism was a “chancy” profession and that courses should be offered to train people in the field. He suggested to the late Dr. William Lowe Bryan, then president of Indiana University, that the university start a school of journalism.

After a faculty study of the proposal, Dr. Bryan asked Mr. Johnson to return to the I.U. campus to be the university’s first journalism professor.

Although a course in instruction in news gathering was taught in the English department for a short time during the 1890’s, Fred Bates Johnson succeeded in getting “The Course in Journalism” added to the curriculum of Indiana University during the year 1907-1908. Also at that time the university published a suggested four-year liberal program as a preparation for journalism.

So he became a journalism professor. Then a lawyer, a soldier, a judge advocate and a member of the Public Service Commission. So he basically started the journalism program that would, in 107 years or so, become The Media School. Thanks, ‘fessor.

And finally, remembering this is 1917 …

Two decades prior, the G.A.R. had hundreds of posts all over this state, and more than 400,000 members across the country. Three years after this notice Indianapolis hosted the national encampment, one of several Indy hosted, but the numbers were falling away fast. There were just 103,258 members remaining by 1920. In 1949, also in Indy, the G.A.R. held their last reunion.

Earlier in 1949 the last Hoosier soldier, 102-year-old John Christian Adams, passed away. (Adams was from West Virginia and moved to Indiana well after the war, but they count him.) The Harry Truman White House sent a wreath.

At that last encampment in 1949 six old men showed up, including James Hard and Albert Woolson. There was a parade. They reminisced. The Marine Corps Band played Retreat. Hard was the last combat soldier. He apparently fought at First Bull Run, Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg. And it is said that he met Abraham Lincoln at a White House reception. Hard died in 1953. Woolson was a drummer boy, but his unit never saw action. He lived until 1956 and was briefly eulogized by Dwight Eisenhower.

You have to move forward a long way before the past is really the past. It’s always been that way, we’ve just never been really keen on accepting it.


12
Mar 20

Tonight’s shoot

I worked from home today, which we’ll all be saying a lot in the weeks to come. I did go in this evening for a television taping. The sports crew was up tonight. They wandered in, wondering if this was the end of their year on campus. Our last in-person classes are tomorrow, and then there’s spring break and at least a few weeks of virtual classrooms.

Students are being encouraged to return home. We’re now well into the plans of how we work with 46,000 students on this campus, the 100,000-plus at all of the statewide IU institutions and the countless projects that go on at each and every one of them. Unprecedented is a word you’ll hear a lot. We’re making this work as we go, or some variation, is a theme everyone will hear a lot.

Grace and patience is something I imagine I’ll be saying a lot.

Sports kept it simple tonight. This was a sink in moment for a lot of us.

Michael Tilka, a senior, and IUSTV’s sports director for 2019-2020 signed off. It is surprisingly typical that he was talking about everyone else. That’s what he’s done throughout. He was, this semester, the longest-serving member at IUSTV. I hope that wasn’t the final sign off of his four-year run at IUSTV, where he’s won awards and helped others win awards. I hope it wasn’t the last time, because I would miss his demeanor and what he’s still capable of doing here.

What he saw his freshman year and what he’s leaving his senior year are remarkably different things. He, and the sports directors that came just before him, righted the ship. They developed the right kind of culture in the sports department. It is one of those things I’m always telling the student leaders will come up in a job interview. One of those questions that will give them an advantage, if they distill these experiences into an anecdote.

I sat in a post-production meeting with all the younger sports students tonight. I wanted to thank and congratulate them, as I so often want to do. They each went around the room and shared their favorite moment of the year — and I hope this is not the end of their year together, but it has that feeling. Some of the stories I knew. Some I heard for the first time. All of the memories got laughed at. They had a great time with it. Real bonding is taking place there. Michael, I think, realizes it’s a lasting culture he’s helped establish. Along the way, most importantly, he’s found his own mature voice.

I’m glad they didn’t ask me to take part in that favorite moment exercise. It’s hard to explain my favorite moment of a year when my favorite moment, each year, is always the same. It is gratifying to see the progress the students make, collectively and individually. Sometimes it is downright tangible.

I am proud of my friend Michael Tilka. I hope this wasn’t his last time on air at IUSTV, but if we don’t get these last few weeks back for him, and all of our other seniors, I am excited to see him go out into the world and continue his success.

#LEO


10
Mar 20

So, late this afternoon, news happened

Sometime late this afternoon the email came down from the university president that in-person classes would be canceled after next week’s spring break. Instruction will be online for at least two weeks, and the campus would be closed for all but essential functions.

And that’s how the planning, and a series of meetings, began. Meantime, my news friends reworked their entire show in about 90 minutes, which is a fair approximation of the real world. I couldn’t be more proud of how they handled it.

Here’s how it all worked. Charlee had the lead story and a package about coronavirus anyway, one that she was producing before the big change. Then she ran into the IU spokesman and stood him up for a few questions. She brought in the video. She told us where the good quote was and sat down to rewrite her work while another producer took the footage and found the quote. Meanwhile, still others were reworking the script and the tease and plotting out how all of the other little things would have to change when you rewrite your entire show at almost the last minute. I couldn’t be more proud of how they handled it.

I know I wrote that twice, but I meant it.

So … we’ll work on campus this week. The students will start drifting away for their regular spring break plans or whatever their new plans will be. And then we’ll all work from home for a while. But I’m sure we’re do several more series of meetings and emails and phone calls detailing out how all that will go.

There’s no handbook for this. There’s no previous example to fall back on. No specific contingency plan. We’ll all have to work through it with grace and patience. That’s what I started telling students today. That and how the news people could and should keep telling stories in the weeks ahead – a lot of social media interaction. I hope that they do. It’s the story of their times, and they ought to tell it to their audience.


5
Mar 20

They’re talking bass-kit-ball

It was another night for television. Television has been written, television was produced and the audience shall have television. They’re going to enjoy it, too, if they like sports.

And they always ask the question: when is it too early to start talking about the basketball tournament? The answer it is never too early. Especially since everything will be different after next week, and we’ll have to figure it all out again.

There should be a consequence, a good-natured one mind you, for bad prognostication. It isn’t a tar-and-feather circumstance, of course, but maybe it’s a wear-a-feathery-mascot-and-hold-a-sign situation. A you have to do the next TV stunt sort of resolution. Something we can all laugh at, like predictions.

Which, hey, that’s just good practice, I guess. Plus, someone is going to get to say they were right about one of these predictions. That’s what’s fun about playing Nostradamus. If time proves you right you can have the crew roll that prediction as a replay: I was brilliant! See! If your predictions don’t work out, you just gloss over the whole notion of it ever happening.

Some things from Twitter:

I thought about that for a while. That might not have been what she wanted to happen, but it’s my mother so of course she knew it would happen. In a way, then, that was exactly what she wanted to happen. In which case, happy to help!

This gives me an idea:

How much could a full-ceilinged aquarium weigh, anyway? Surely the house’s structural supports could manage that sort of challenge.

It’s not like jellyfish weigh much, after all.