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Friday, December 22, 2006

New Public Broadcast Head Not All That Into Public Broadcast

Tell me which sitcom this is -- there's this guy with kids and he doesn't always see eye to eye with his wife. He has crazy relatives and works with this crazy guy and makes funny faces as the wackiness ensues. He gets into all sorts of trouble and misunderstandings, but by the time the credits roll, he's glad he's got his family.

Yeah, it's a trick question. I just described 99.9% of sitcoms ever made, from Life of Reilly to The Jetsons to Everyone Loves Raymond. There isn't a lot of 'outside the box' thinking in the TV sitcom business -- it's not the home of visionaries. In fact, it'd be hard to argue that the people who come up with the shows that make up this 99.9th percentile are even funny. The incoming president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and producer of the sitcom, According to Jim, really illustrates this point well. His show is unoriginal and his sense of humor is questionable.

Media Matters:

On December 20, President Bush installed via a recess appointment TV producer and National Review Online contributor Warren Bell on the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Bell's appointment only intensifies the widespread and longstanding concerns regarding the partisan makeup of the CPB leadership under Bush and their apparent efforts to compromise the political independence of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), and other public broadcasting outlets. Indeed, while Bell appears to have no experience in public broadcasting, nor interest in the service, he is an avowed conservative and Bush contributor with a record of inflammatory remarks regarding Democrats, women, minorities, and underprivileged people. For instance, in May 2005 he wrote, "I could reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi, and I would, except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain." Remarking on using a TiVo to shield his children from birth control ads on television, Bell said, "A little vigilance is all it takes -- well, that and a couple hundred bucks for a TiVo. Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms."

While I can't prove it, I suspect Bell to be the genius behind inspired punchlines like "Now that's gonna leave a mark!" and "Wait if I'm here and you're over there, then who's... AHHHH!" He ought to be a great fit for the cooking shows and Three Tenors crowd.

But at least he knows his funny, right?

National Review Online:

Okay, men are funnier. Way funnier. Not even close. Male writers, male actors, male stand-up comedians. All funnier. Of course, there are exceptions. There are female performers who are fantastic, pioneers like Lucy and Roseanne who set the standards. I worked for two seasons with Ellen DeGeneres on her ABC series, and I said at the time that Ellen could read the alphabet and get 26 laughs. That is not hyperbole — she really could do that. I am not just trying to stay off a Writer's Guild hit list here — there are many women writers who are spectacularly gifted, inventive, and funny.

But there are a lot more funny men. And the funniest woman of all time in any aspect of the business probably doesn't crack the top ten of all-time funniest people.

I don't know of very many people who wouldn't put Gracie Allen in the top ten funniest people of all time. But I guess I better defer to the expert -- Jim Belushi is now funnier than Gracie Allen.

Not that it matters much, there's not a lot of funny on PBS. For every Fawlty Towers, there are ten Are You Being Served?. A sad fact is that british comedies are as lousy as their american counterparts in pretty much the same ratio. The land of Monty Python's Flying Circus was also home to Benny Hill.

The problem is that Bell's not really all that into public broadcast. In keeping with the Bush policy of appointing the worst possible person for any given position, someone who thinks PBS and NPR should be shut down is now the head of CPB. This was the logic behind appointing John Bolton, who hates the United Nations, as ambassador to the UN. Media Matters again:

In a letter sent Tuesday to the [Senate Commerce Committee's] ranking members, a married writing-and-producing team that worked with Bell for two years on "According to Jim" stated that they often heard him say that federal money should not be "wasted" on programs like public broadcasting.

Jeffrey B. Hodes and Nastaran Dibai said the topic came up during political discussions that frequently arose in the show's Studio City production offices. They served as executive producers on the ABC comedy before leaving in 2005.

At one point, "We said to him, 'How would you change CPB?' " Hodes said in an interview. "He said, 'I would dismantle it.' "

For the Bush crowd, that means this guy is perfect.


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