Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ghost Whisperer - Dec. 17, 2005


Making spirits bright

Jennifer Love Hewitt certainly encounters her share of dead people on Ghost Whisperer. Maybe they just want a close look at what she’s (not) wearing.

By Eric Kohanik

After watching a few episodes of Ghost Whisperer, I’ve come to notice a few fundamental things about it, and about all spooky TV shows.

For starters, spooky shows really seem best suited to Friday nights. Maybe it’s the whole Friday-the-13th thing. Or maybe, deep down,we all just need a good scare to start off the weekend.

During the 1990s, The X-Files used Friday nights as a launching pad for the first three seasons of its successful TV run. Decades before that, Rod Serling found Friday nights provided a perfect setting for the thrills and chills of The Twilight Zone.

There have been many other shows, too – everything from Millennium to Joan of Arcadia – that thrived on turning Friday nights into fright nights.

Medium has become an exception to that rule, of course. Patricia Arquette and her co-stars have found a sizable audience on Monday nights. I can’t explain that one. Mondays are scary enough without dead people haunting you.

The main character on Ghost Whisperer sees dead people, too. Jennifer Love Hewitt plays a young newlywed named Melinda Gordon. Ever since she was a kid, Melinda has been blessed or cursed, depending on your point of view, by visits from “Earth-bound spirits” – souls with unfinished business needing to be wrapped up before they can cross over into the great beyond.

That’s another thing about spooky shows. Spirits always have unfinished business that takes precedence over everyone else’s stuff. Just once, you’d think one of them would be considerate enough to make sure Melinda got her business finished first.

Anyway, Melinda always ties up the loose ends that are plaguing these spirits. And it often involves heart-tugging elements that require a bit of cheesy writing.

Spooky TV shows always have something cheesy about them.

Spooky shows also need a character who is skeptical of what’s going on. In Ghost Whisperer, that’s Melinda’s friend and business partner, Andrea (Aisha Tyler).

It helps, too, if there is an understanding spouse who also tends to go out into dark,stormy nights a lot. In Melinda’s case, that’s her husband, Jim (David Conrad).

While we’re on the subject of dark, stormy nights, that’s another thing about spooky shows. A lot of the really creepy stuff happens at night. In the case of Ghost Whisperer, that gives producers plenty of opportunities to put Hewitt into slinky, cleavage-popping nighties.

In spooky shows, it’s always the young, beautiful women with the least amount of clothing on that somehow attract ghosts, serial killers, aliens and all those things that go bump in the night. They never seem to seek out anyone in frumpy flannel pyjamas.

Then again, that would just be too spooky.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Bold New TV World - Nov. 26, 2005



A bold new TV world

Some day, American networks might just sell all shows directly to Canadian viewers. So,what will happen to Canadian broadcasters?

By Eric Kohanik

Canadian TV broadcasters are in big trouble.

This realization struck me the other day, after a couple of significant announcements by a trio of big TV networks in the United States.

First, ABC revealed that it will now be“podcasting” episodes of Lost on its website. Podcasts, of course, owe their existence to Apple iPods. Originally marketed simply as music players, these devices soon became vessels for downloading radio broadcasts that can be listened to later.

The next logical step in this iPod craze is video. Once it really catches on, everyone will have tiny portable TVs that let you import shows and watch them whenever – or wherever – you want.

Shortly after ABC’s announcement, CBS and NBC unveiled deals with American cable and satellite services to make CSI: Crime SceneInvestigation and the Law & Order spinoffs available via video-on-demand, for 99 cents US per episode.

VOD basically turns your cable or satellite box into a video player, letting you watch stuff at your convenience.

There’s also the news that TV programming will now be available on cellphones. And, at the other end of the TV spectrum, American networks are moving aggressively toward digital and high-definition television.

Add all of this to the fact that many showsare available on DVD or can be downloaded from the Internet, and you suddenly realize that TV is in the midst of a huge transition. And the new age of television will have newpools of money for American broadcasters.

So, why are the Canadian ones in trouble?

They’ve been lazy. Many have lagged behind technologically, not even embracing stereo television, let alone HDTV.

The far bigger problem, though, is content. Rather than creating a healthy appetite and marketplace for homegrown shows, government regulation and television welfare funds have led to shows that – with a few notable exceptions – are mostly just filler.

This isn’t about Canadian culture; it’s about economics. Canadian networks have become addicted to American shows because they’re cheaper to air and they can simply sit back and rake in the advertising bucks.

But Canadian channels don’t own the American shows they air. And so, the emerging revenue streams will flow elsewhere.

Some day, the TV broadcasts we see now will really be advertisements encouraging people to buy the DVD or download an entire season of uncut episodes. Eventually, the revenue from all of that could be strong enough that American studios and networks might simply see more profit in selling their shows directly to Canadian consumers, rather than through the lazy “middle men” that Canadian broadcasters tend to be.

When that happens, what will Canadian networks, which have become so reliant on American programming, be left with?