Archive for March, 2010

“The House of Tomorrow” by Peter Boganni

Now that spring has sprung at Chapel Hill, when you need that well deserved break from studying in the UL, why not curl up in the quad on a sunny day with a good book that has nothing to do with your Poli 100 class? It is certainly one of my favorite activities, at least.

This week, the book I curled up with on the quad was “The House of Tomorrow,” the debut novel from Peter Bognanni. I know you should never do this because one should never judge a book by its cover, but I picked it up from Bull’s Head because I really liked the cover art. I started reading it and found myself quickly getting sucked into the world of Sebastian and his batty grandmother, the two of whom live in an isolated geodesic dome in the middle of the woods, cut off from everything that will not lead them on their supreme path.

The main plot follows Sebastian, a sheltered 16-year-old orphan who lives with his grandmother in the woods. Now, Nana isn’t your normal over-the-river-and-through-the-woods grandma; she’s obsessed with the futurist philosophies of her former lover and teacher, R. Buckminster Fuller. They live in a geodesic dome in an attempt to fulfill his vision of a “spaceship earth.”

Fun Fact:  The term Spaceship Earth might ring a bell from your childhood… EPCOT perhaps? Yes, indeed.  That geodesic sphere “Spaceship Earth” was designed based on Fuller’s plans and is the most famous geodesic structure in the world.

Anyways, back to the book. When his grandmother suffers a stroke, Sebastian is forced to encounter the real world and there he meets the sarcastic and hard-to-love Jared Whitcomb, a heart-transplant survivor who is altogether quite obnoxious in his attempt to be all things “punk.” Together, they form an unlikely duo and an equally-as-unlikely punk rock band (The Rash), and make plans to take the local church talent show by force.  Of course, plot twists and complications arise, and well, you’ll have to read it yourself to find out what happens.

Bognanni’s characters are a little out there and most of the situations are rather far-fetched (the youth minister’s daughter running an escort service from her bedroom window?), and if you are looking for some semblance of realism, then this isn’t the book for you.  Even if you aren’t looking for realism, this book isn’t quite “fantasy” enough to justify some of the character or plot decisions. But what the novel lacks in reality, it makes up for in heart.  Deep down, it is a very sweet story about growing up and discovering who you are. While it was sometimes hard to wrap my head around some parts, I did enjoy this book and it’s a fairly quick read, so I would recommend it for a nice sunny day when studying for that Econ midterm has got you seeing spots.

Rating:  3.5/5

Until next time, keep it nerdy.

– That Nerd Girl, Samantha Ryan

The Upfront Series is a series of blog posts leading up to the eponymous annual May ritual conducted by the television networks. Part 1 investigates the fall-out of the WB/UPN merger in 2006.

Since it’s almost April, it’s really not too early to be looking ahead to May Upfronts. Of course, by that logic, it’s really not too early to be looking ahead to exams, summer school, internships, vacations and Harry Potter Status Day on Facebook (May 3rd. Be there.) But I digress. What are Upfronts, you ask? Why, let me explain.

Every year in the middle week of May, the television network executives gather in New York City to unveil their new fall programming schedules. Often, this is the time that primetime shows find out whether they are renewed, getting the boot, or moving to a new timeslot.

For a television fanatic like yours truly, Upfronts are a wild, emotional ride.

Some years are more exciting than others. Take, for example, 2006, the year that the WB (owned by Warner Brothers) announced its merger with UPN (owned by CBS), to create the CW. I don’t know how many of you were emotionally attached to shows on UPN – I know I was addicted to Kristen Bell’s feisty “Veronica Mars” (yeah, that’s right, K. Bell played a teen sleuth before we all forgot her as Sarah Marshall). But I was more enamored with what the WB had to offer – at the time, “Gilmore Girls,” “Supernatural,” “7th Heaven,” “Everwood,” “One Tree Hill,” “What I Like About You,” and “Reba” are the ones that stuck out most.

More importantly, though, the WB had concocted a legacy of what it means to be a teen drama. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Felicity,” “Angel,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Roswell,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Charmed” and “Popular” have done more for network television than they’ve ever been given credit for.

2006-2007: Fan Favorites?

Fans of each of these shows worried whether they would make the cut to the CW. Who knew what UPN President Dawn Ostroff would turn her nose up at when she took over as head of the CW?

So fans rallied the way that fanatics of the Aughts often do: they created online campaigns, pelted the WB’s mail slots with physical mementos of their shows and bought DVDs in hordes. For the most part, it worked. Ostroff was too chicken – and still is – to experiment and create television that viewers may actually enjoy. She opted to keep every single WB show except “Everwood”; she renewed the already-cancelled “7th Heaven”; accepted “All of Us,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Girlfriends” – the most popular UPN comedies – into the CW clan; and strung along UPN ratings-darlings “America’s Next Top Model” and “Friday Night Smackdown.”

One new show debuted on the CW: “Runaway,” a drab family drama with an even drabber premise. “Runaway” made it to episode 3 before cancellation. I have a saying I picked up from a friend in high school: I’ll try anything twice. Usually, this means I’ll give any show at least two episodes before deciding whether to stick with it or dump it.

I turned “Runaway” off halfway through the pilot and never looked back.

2007-2008: One Year Later

The 2007-2008 season was far more interesting for the CW.

“Gilmore Girls” had ended a season too late. “Veronica Mars” had been cancelled a season too early. New comedy “Aliens in America” looked promising and comedic, in the vein of “Everybody Hates Chris.” “Reaper” looked halfway decent, a potentially modest hit that could find a cult audience. And book-adaptation “Gossip Girl” was garnering a lot of buzz.

“Gossip Girl,” of course, became one of the most talked-about shows of the season, due to its so-called racy sexual risks. I know Josh Schwartz, the man behind “The O.C.,” also created “Gossip Girl,” but I find “The O.C.” to be much more daring than “Gossip.” Obviously, Fox aired the four seasons of “The O.C.,” and Fox has less-strict standards than the C Dub. But by christening “Gossip” as this daringly bold show when it was stringently obvious that its predecessor had already broken that ground, Ostroff came off as desperate for viewers.

Well then again, she had reason to be. After one year, her network had half the audience the WB did. On the WB, “Supernatural” hit ratings high in January 2006 with 6 million viewers and averaged about 3.81 for the season. Now, “Supernatural” flailed around the 3.14 million mark, a loss of nearly 20%. Worse, it slipped from ranking #165 for its first season, out of every other primetime show, to #216 for its second season. The other shows were hardly faring any better.

“Gossip Girl” has only ever managed about 2 million viewers on average. It is frequently beat out by “Supernatural,” “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill.” “America’s Next Top Model,” averaged 5.4 million viewers in its spring 2007 cycle on the CW; by spring 2008, that number had declined over a million viewers to 4.23.

2008-2009: Ladies First

By the CW’s third year in existence, 2008-2009, it became clear that the low viewership meant the network’s best bet at eyeballs would be to become a niche network. In other words, Ostroff decided to target teenage girls as her dominant audience and hope/ the advertisers played along.

During the 2008 summer hiatus, sophomore series “Gossip Girl” took off as the epitome of the network’s creative ability. Marketers played up the sexual encouters, revealing clothing, unmoral attitudes of the 17-year-old protagonists. Their efforts got the attention of the Parents Council, who protested the “inappropriate” OMFG campaign.

Dawn Ostroff smiled. Protests meant attention.

Ostroff’s development fall slate accordingly echoed the network’s newfound ideals:

  • A poorly-implemented rip-off/reboot of “Beverly Hills, 90210”
  • “Privileged,” an escapist but fickle drama about two spoiled teenage girls
  • “Stylista,” a reality show in which fashion enthusiasts vied for an internship with Elle magazine

Reliable Thursday night rocks “Smallville” and “Supernatural” received far less marketing attention because as male-driven dramas, they did not jive with the network’s new façade. The fact that their ratings were greater than any of the female-targeted dramas was hastily overlooked.

So, what were the results of this new attempt at female-audience domination? Well, “Stylista” aired all 9 of its episodes, after which the CW declined to order more due to low ratings. The more promising “Privileged” limped through its freshman year before the CW axed it. And “90210” pulled in an average of 2.24 million viewers throughout its first season – a colossal bomb that would have been pulled after the first airing on any other network.

What did the CW do? Renew it. And decide to revive “Melrose Place” from the ashes.

2009-2010: Potential?

Closing in on the end of its fourth season, I think it’s okay to say “Melrose Place” is a bomb. But who really expected a success?

The one “creative” decision that has paid off for the CW is the book-to-screen adaptation of “Vampire Diaries.” Riding the coattails of the “Twilight” trend, the “Vampire Diaries” is actually the most successful show on the network right now, pulling in between 3.5-4 million viewers a week.

“Gossip Girl,” which still defines the netling, is struggling to meet the 2 million-viewer mark.

Recent midseason replacement “Life Unexpected” performs fairly well, sometimes crossing the 2 million mark or else settling comfortably into the audience level of its time slot co-habitant “One Tree Hill.”

“Supernatural,” which was meant to be a five-season run from its inception, has been renewed for a sixth year. Series creator and executive producer Eric Kripke stepped down when said announcement was made, handing over the reigns to Sera Gamble. “Supernatural” draws about 3.2 million viewers a week.

“Smallville” has been renewed for – who saw this coming? – it’s tenth season! There’s really no killing Superman. Still, the sci fi drama pulls in the viewers, despite being shafted into the Friday Night Death Slot this year.

“America’s Next Top Model” continues to struggle, but as long as the viewership remains above 3 million (a far cry from the 6 million it averaged in its first cycle in 2004), the CW drags its existence along.

One significant alteration the CW made to its schedule this year was to drop its half-hour comedy block. The CW now stands as the only broadcast network among the Big Five (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox) to not air a single half-hour comedy. Even more importantly, though, this signals the decline of the “black sitcom.”

From 1995-2006, UPN served as an outlet for the black audience, while most networks were either too proud or too scared of failure to cook up a show starring black people. UPN’s greatest hits included: “All of Us,” “Eve,” “One on One,” “Girlfriends” and “Half & Half.”

Let’s play a little game, shall we? Let’s take a moment to count the number of television programs on network primetime today whose casts are primarily black.

Take a look at thefutoncritic’s Spring 2010 Primetime Grid and we can count together:

… I came up with zero. You?

Obviously, this is a big step backward for the minority trend on television. Think back to the 1970s and 1980s and early 1990s, when shows like “Sanford & Son,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Jeffersons,” “Family Matters,” and even “The Bernie Mac Show” and “The Steve Harvey Show,” were popular with all audiences. You could go so far as to say “Cosby” and “Jeffersons” helped define pop culture of their eras. What’s going to define black television now? BET?

But I digress. The CW is no more to blame for the failure of minority television than any other network.

So what can we learn from all of this?

  1. The CW’s attempts to market itself primarily to the advertising demographic of 18-34 and 12-34 is a bust. Yes, the WB was successful at creating soulful dramas that attracted predominantly teenaged female audiences. But the WB didn’t target these audiences necessarily; they kept them in mind. That is a key difference.When the CW creates an original drama that has male leads, we will know they are taking a step in the right direction. Until then, I trust the network will continue churning out crap like “90210” and “Melrose Place.” Which brings me to my next point…
  2. Original thinkers are sparse at CW headquarters. How many shows are still leftovers from The WB and UPN? 4: “Supernatural,” “Smallville,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “One Tree Hill”How many shows were adapted from book series? 2: “Gossip Girl” and “Vampire Diaries”How many shows are reboots of old series? 2: “90210” and “Melrose Place”So that’s the network’s entire primetime schedule: leftovers from the WB/UPN, book adaptations and reboots.

    How many original drama series are on the network at the moment? 1: “Life Unexpected.”

    If the CW wants to follow the success of the WB, which I personally believe would be a great step for them to take, they need to think more originally. “Dawson’s Creek” was hardly the first teen drama on TV, but is still a cherished series today, more than a decade after it began airing, because its legacy is one that teenagers of any generation can relate to. It broke new ground in its protagonist, its storytelling, its love triangles, and most significantly, its characters. Which brings me to my next point…

  3. Characters. Want to know why I can no longer stand “Gossip Girl”? None of the characters are likeable. I grew tired of Blair’s selfish antics, which were fun for a season but monotonous and unimaginative two years later. I’m sick of “I’m Chuck Bass” and Serena’s bad decisions; of little Jenny’s popularity contest; of Rufus and Lily; and of Nate, even though I can’t remember what the hell his character even does for the show, which is bad enough.The CW has yet to create an impressionable original character for me. Lux on “Life Unexpected” has a shot at becoming memorable, but until the show improves upon its own plots – I feel like I’ve watched the same episode three times by the point of episode 5 – I have no encouragement to keep watching. None of the “90210” or “Melrose” girls are likeable, enviable, someone I’d want to be friends with or keep up with.I think characters should be someone you want to know in real life. Who on the CW do I want to know? Dean Winchester on “Supernatural” may just be the only one. (Gasp… a male?! Run, CW execs, run!)
  4. Audiences enjoy laughing. Yes, the CW’s attempts at comedy failed. But since they seem stuck on the hour-long format, why not give a shot at a dramedy? “Gilmore Girls” was equal parts drama and comedy, and look at how well that blend worked out.With the success of ABC’s “Modern Family” this season, all of the networks’ development slates include more comedy than they did a year ago. Take advantage, CW. People are willing to give the half-hour laugh fest another shot.
  5. Girls like to watch guys. This is not groundbreaking science, CW. Try creating some male-centered dramas, à la “Supernatural” and “Smallville.” Take a cue from the “Vampire Diaries” even. Just please stop throwing out nonsense like “90210” and “Melrose Place” without creating likeable characters and bitchy girls.

Well, there you have it. Tune in next week for more network analyses and 2010-2011 predictions from the Upfront Series.

– Sonya Chudgar

And the winner is… John Hughes

John Hughes, 1950-2009

The Academy of Arts and Sciences made history this year. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the best filmmaker award for The Hurt Locker.  The Academy picked Mo’Nique for her role in Precious, becoming only the fourth African-American woman to win an Oscar.  And Avatar won the award for best cinematography.  Strange though, that most of it was created in a computer…

But one of the biggest winners of the night came from someone who never won a gold statue.  A surprising tribute was delivered to the late John Hughes from stars of his biggest films, including Matthew Broderick, Molly Ringwald, Macaulay Culkin and Ally Sheedy.

Frequently underestimated and criminally unappreciated, Hughes was the ultimate Hollywood outsider. He didn’t make movies in New York or Europe either, choosing instead to film in Chicago.  In case you’d forgotten, Chicago is in the Midwest.  You could even go so far as to say that Chicago was a character in Hughes’ films, as it does in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (‘86).  And of course, Steve Martin wants nothing more than to get back to the Windy City in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (‘87), even if it means going cross-country with John Candy (“Those aren’t pillows!”).

Hughes will always be known for making ‘80s teen movies.  But if anyone doubts his status as a great filmmaker, please observe that movies like Sixteen Candles (’84) or The Breakfast Club (’85) didn’t exist before Hughes and nobody’s made any quite like them since.  Hughes was one of the first writer/directors to deal with the teenage American experience with honesty and realism. He showed the brutality, even cruelty of teenage life and he did it with a light touch.  I’m still mesmerized when Cameron begins violently kicking the hood of his father’s Ferrari in Ferris Bueller.  My stomach turns when it punches through the garage window.  And of course, it’s funny, too.

I never got the impression that Hughes was living out his lost childhood through his films and I couldn’t begin to comprehend why he made the films he did.  All I know for sure is that he did make them and he made them well.

John Hughes was 59 when he passed.  If he had lived a bit longer, I’d like to believe that a biopic about his life might end this way:


JOHN HUGHES walks onto stage.  “Everytime You Go Away” by Blue Room plays over scene.  Hughes takes the lifetime achievement award from STEVE MARTIN.  He waves to the audience.

FREEZE-FRAME: Hughes smiling.


– Jonathan Michels