Being John Malkovich 2: Being Lara Bingle

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th July 2012.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel to the Spike Jonze comedy Being John Malkovich. It finally premiered on TV a few weeks ago but so far I’m not impressed. Being Lara Bingle has none of the indie charm of the original and I’m still waiting for Josh, Sharon or Hermonie to find the portal that leads literally into Lara’s head. I guess when that happens we’ll finally find out if one can breathe in a vacuum.

Masterchef…insert fireball here

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 17th July 2012.

I’ve really been enjoying this current season of Masterchef. Based on the latest ratings, it looks like people are finally starting to tune in during these final weeks of the competition. I was addicted to the first season and I think that this year has been just as fun. The contestants are likeable (I’ve learnt what happens to disillusioned physiotherapists) and the format is familiar and comfortable.

I’m so used to the Masterchef format that I’ve become immune to their cliffhanger commercial breaks. No longer do I get frustrated when an important announcement is interrupted by a fireball explosion.

In fact, Masterchef has started to creep into my real life. This morning, when I got to the front of the queue at the coffee cart at work I simply made a fireball whooshing sound and then came back three minutes later to tell them what I wanted.

The show has also been useful for expanding my culinary vocabulary. I now know that caramelisation means to burn something, a roulade is a sausage made with clingwrap, a klosh is the sound it makes when you drop it and a deconstructed dish is what happens if it gives you food poisoning.

Published in: on July 19, 2012 at 10:28  Leave a Comment  
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Saving Your Favourite TV Shows: Too late for Terra Nova?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th March 2012.

Fans of the Network Ten family sci-fi series, Terra Nova, were disappointed to hear last week that the dino-drama had been cancelled after one season. Filmed in Queensland, the show was more expensive than your usual one hour drama with an average episode budget of US$4 million. Despite having Steven Spielberg, who mined similar storyline ground in Jurassic Park, attached as Executive Producer, Terra Nova drew ordinary ratings.

A campaign to save the show was launched in December by its small but loyal fan base, spurred on by the series’ lead actor, Jason O’Mara. Fans were encouraged to send plastic toy dinosaurs to FOX Entertainment President, Kevin Reilly. Unfortunately, this was not enough to save Terra Nova, however, there is a slim chance that the show may be picked up by another network or distributor. The current internet rumour is that Netflix, a major player in the US on-demand streaming and DVD rental by mail industry, may give the show a reprieve.

There are still a couple of episodes yet to air in Australia. Considering the axe has fallen (for now), expect to see them late at night between Proactiv ads and Flavorwave infomercials.

This isn’t the first time that fans have banded together to try to save their favourite shows from cancellation. Here are my favourite success stories.

Way back in 2000, the success of The X-Files resulted in several short lived shows involving aliens. Roswell, a teen drama revolving around a trio of stranded alien siblings, was facing the chop after its first low rating season. Starring Katherine Heigl, before she became really annoying, Roswell was granted a second and third season after fans banded together to send 3000 bottles of Tabasco sauce to WB Network executives. This was the first time that the internet had brought fans together to save a TV show.

A few years later, a post-apocalyptic action drama series entitled Jericho premiered in 2007. Starring Skeet Ulrich of Scream fame, the show focuses on the township of Jericho, Kansas following a nuclear attack on the US. Low ratings led to the series’ cancellation after one season but outraged fans had different plans. Inspired by a line of dialogue from the final episode where a character repeats a famous quote from a military general in the Battle of the Bulge (“Nuts!), fans rallied online and sent over 20 tonnes of nuts to the offices of CBS.

Jericho was miraculously renewed for a second season, however, the show’s ratings continued to be peanuts, so to speak, and it limped on for another seven episodes before being put out of its misery. A third season appeared in comic book form.

Before the internet and email, people used to write on pieces of paper and physically send them to each other as “letters”. As crazy as that sounds, a letter writing campaign by fans saved a little known science fiction series known as Star Trek.

After two seasons of exploring the universe in a starship made of plywood, Kirk and Spock were about to be cut loose to go where many failed shows had gone before. A fervent letter writing campaign convinced NBC to green light a third series, albeit with a lower budget. This third season of Star Trek ultimately failed in the ratings and led to its cancellation, however, it also brought the total number of episodes to 79, which allowed the series to be syndicated. It was the continuous repeats of Star Trek in syndication which led to its immense popularity amongst nerds everywhere.

Terra Nova may be dead as a dinosaur but fans of Ringer, Gossip Girl, The Mentalist and all three CSI incarnations should start planning their internet campaigns now. Ratings for these shows are down and the axe is being sharpened. Start looking for quirky things to post to your friendly TV network executives today.

Published in: on March 26, 2012 at 07:42  Leave a Comment  
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TV Review: The New “It’s A Knockout” Sucks

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th November 2011.

On Sunday night, one of my favourite eighties TV shows was resurrected. With minimal fanfare, It’s a Knockout returned after a twenty four year absence.

Originally airing from 1985 – 1987, It’s a Knockout was hosted by Fiona McDonald and Billy J Smith. At the beginning of each episode they would enter the stadium in a golf cart and introduce a series of ridiculous challenges which pitted teams representing four Australian states against each other.

A guest referee would oversee the proceedings. Minor celebrities at the time filled this role, including Grant Kenny, Ricky May and Jon English, as well as Network Ten contracted talent such as Jason Donovan and Cameron Daddo.

The program was recorded just up the road from my childhood home, at Englefield Soccer Stadium in Dural. Surprisingly, I never attended a taping but remember being amazed by the stories from my school friends who went along. I recall being outraged at the time that audience members were split into groups and forced to barrack onscreen for a particular state.

I was particularly impressed that one of my next door neighbours was a cheerleader for the show. I ran into her several years ago. She is now the nursing manager for the intensive care unit of a major Sydney hospital. I bet she doesn’t have the It’s a Knockout gig on her CV.

The latest incarnation of It’s a Knockout is hosted by HG Nelson, Brad McEwan and Charli Robinson. The latter’s job is to interview the contestants and generally make everything seem so much more fun and hilarious than it actually is. Nelson and McEwan have a reasonable chemistry but their banter seems quite disconnected from the rest of the show, as if their segments were shot on a different day to the competition.

This is reminiscent of the similarly themed Wipeout show, which also featured two wise cracking hosts who were very obviously standing in front of a green screen in a studio far away from the stadium.

Both Wipeout and It’s a Knockout are filmed offshore, allegedly to take advantage of less stringent insurance regulations and contain costs. Wipeout and its various international editions, including Wipeout Australia, are shot in Argentina. Kuala Lumpur is home to the new It’s a Knockout, which is interesting, because when I think of whacky game shows, I definitely do not think of Malaysia.

The rebooted It’s a Knockout focuses less on the contestants and more on the action than the original incarnation. For me, this is counterproductive as it’s the human element which draws you in. Without some level of connection to the teams, the players just become Japanese game show cannon fodder for trips, spills and falls.

Gone also is the live audience split into four state groups. In its place is a small but excitable audience in a tiny grandstand. Presumably tourists who don’t care about whether NSW wins or not, the audience claps and cheers at the right times but based on the wide shots of the stadium, anyone in the grandstand would probably not be able to see the majority of the events. It is quite possible that the audience wasn’t even there for the games. With some clever editing, you would just need to shoot a couple of minutes of crowd reactions and send them home.

The continuous spruiking of a certain fast food brand was also annoying. Call me old fashioned but I prefer my ads in the ad breaks.

I know that It’s a Knockout is just another zany TV show but I’m being particularly critical because this one was a childhood favourite. The failed resurrection of Hey, Hey It’s Saturday last year and the imminent relaunch of Young Talent Time in 2012 prove that the TV networks are desperately running out of new ideas.

The problem with brushing the dust off old eighties programming such as It’s a Knockout is that its intended audience, nostalgic Gen Xers such as me, may have adored the show twenty five years ago but have now grown up. I’m no longer interested in Plucka Duck, precocious kids lip synching badly and people dressed up in ostrich costumes riding bikes. If the networks must go back to the eighties well, bring back the original shows as late night reruns.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:16  Leave a Comment  
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