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Thank You ABC

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I find it ironic that on the same night that ABC is about to air a White House exclusive promo, something which I think borders on a wrong-headed move (understandable, predictable, but still wrong-headed), I am about to praise them for something completely different.

The fact that I am about to praise ABC is surprising for another reason, namely that I think we’re down to watching only one show on a regular basis on that network: Lost. I’ll come back to Lost later on, even though I’ve written about it separately in the past.

Last season (shortened by the brilliant Writers Strike) we watched two additional shows religiously on ABC: Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies. We watched both religiously this season as well, until they were both unceremoniously dumped, mid-season (along with Dirty Sexy Money, which we’ve never seen).

We both loved Eli Stone (though it took Lois three episodes to come to that, while I loved it from the first scene). We looked forward to every new episode, and were never disappointed.

I liked Pushing Daisies way more than Lois did, and I’m thankful that she humored me and didn’t make me feel guilty about wasting her time when I eagerly watched it each week. The cartoonish colors were brilliant and lush (solidifying the fantasy feel of the show), and the dialogue had cracker-jack fast quips that always had me in stitches. The writing was in the style of the West Wing and Studio 60 (no wonder Kristin Chenoweth signed up).

I wasn’t surprised that Pushing Daisies was canceled. I was surprised that Eli Stone was. I was shocked that both were canceled without warning, mid-season. Both were serials where important plot-lines unfolded each week (as opposed to episodic shows, like Law and Order).

At best, you’re leaving extremely loyal viewers with a dangling, highly unsatisfying ending. At worst, you’re cutting off a promising show because it didn’t perform quickly enough, which could be short-sighted, given the rough start each show had during the previous Writers Strike shortened season.

I totally get that it’s a business, and they have the right and the experience to do exactly what they did. I also get that none of the three shows that they canceled were topping the charts. I also know that ABC wasn’t promoting the shows all that hard either, and certainly didn’t give them a chance to grow a base. But, again, it’s their decision.

So, after that long-winded (typical) introduction, why I am thanking and praising ABC today?

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Pushing Daisies was set to record an episode on my DVR (from my season pass) on a Saturday! I hadn’t seen a single commercial announcing its comeback, nor seen anything online either, so I assumed that they were running repeats (after all, none of the networks are noted for airing first-run shows on Saturday any longer). Stupidly, I deleted the recording from the queue!

Yesterday, Lois was reading a magazine, and she said to me “Did you know that last week they aired the Series Finale of Pushing Daisies on TV?” Oops! I logged on to ABC and saw that not only was the finale available, it was the third (and last) new episode since the series was canceled.

So, I was sort-of glad I had deleted the recording on the DVR, because I would watched it without knowing that there were two additional episodes leading up to it.

In the unbelievably typical whacky world of TV networks foray into online streaming, only the last two episodes were available on ABC. The first of the trilogy was already gone from their site. I was able to find it instantly on another site, in poorer quality, but with zero commercials.

After watching that episode, we watched the last two on ABC, in 720p HD. The quality was awesome. I’ve mentioned in the past that Lois is rabid about avoiding commercials. Even she didn’t complain about the maximum of one 30-second commercial in each break. ABC is notorious for inserting more commercial breaks into their online programming than the other networks (Hulu, which features both NBC and Fox, shows dramatically fewer commercials per show).

Even so, I was glad to watch the commercials, because ABC was delivering value to me, and this was my desired form of payment. That made it all the more bizarre that they removed the first of the episodes. Given the choice, I would have gladly watched commercials for that one as well, but instead, they drove me to another site where they derived zero revenue from me, instead of the few pennies they otherwise would have earned.

However, here’s the kicker to the story. By getting me to visit ABC at all (in this case through the magazine article), I noticed that they were offering a streaming episode of Eli Stone that was new as well! It turns out that this is the first of the final four episodes of that show. We watched that too, and loved the episode, and can see that they too will wrap up the series to our satisfaction, now that they have the chance to do so.

Hadar, is there a point to all of this ranting? Yes, there is. First, this took nearly zero effort on the part of ABC, as the shows were already shot and in the can (as they say). Putting them online is a matter of decision making, not really a matter of scheduling them for broadcast where ratings and revenue come into play.

But, ABC didn’t really make money off of you Hadar (you say). Perhaps, but not necessarily true! First, for Eli Stone, since there are three episodes left, I have now set my DVR to tape them on TV. 70% of Americans still don’t have a DVR, so there will be plenty of people watching Eli Stone (Saturday night at 10pm!) with ABC hopefully making more money than they do with normal filler programming on that night.

As for Pushing Daisies, both Lois and I found the wrap-up of the series satisfying. Lois turned to me after the finale and said “You should buy the DVD of this season”. I said “You don’t even like the show!”. She said “I really liked the way they ended it, and I wouldn’t mind owning it!”. So, if we decide to, we’ll be buying both seasons (to have all of the episodes). I can guarantee that we would never have purchased either season the way it was previously ended.

I said I would come back to Lost, so here goes. Lois and I never watched Lost when it first came out. We weren’t even tempted. After the second season, David and Wes bought us a gift of the first two seasons DVDs. We got hooked. We bought Season Three on DVD the second it was available. We watched Season Four on TV, but also bought two copies of the DVDs when the season was over, one for us, and one for David. We’ll buy Season Five as well, and Season Six next year.

The point is, fans can be created after the fact with all of the time-shifting, social networking, word-of-mouth, gifting, etc. When shows are cut off prematurely, they’ll never get a chance to participate in that ecosystem.

For the past two years, one of our favorite shows has been Chuck on NBC. It too was practically canceled, until enough fans online saved it at least for part of next season. I’m hoping that decision will pay off for NBC, because we’re definitely looking forward to seeing more episodes. At least Chuck ended with a proper season finale, which was engaging enough to have been satisfying as a series finale as well, if it needed to be.

By the way, even though we watched every episode of Chuck every week, we also bought two copies of each season’s DVDs. So, we fast-forwarded through the commercials, but we still sent in our cash…

Anyway, thanks again to ABC for making the remaining episodes of Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money (which had more fans than the first two, not including us) available, both on TV, and online!

Wes and Hadar’s Excellent Adventure

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Many more people participated in one or more of the activities I’m about to list. Only Wes and I enjoyed every single one of them, hence the accurate title. 🙂

Wes flew up on Thursday morning and I picked him up at Newark Airport. We headed straight to the city and met Lois and two friends for lunch at Westville. We met there at 11:30am because the place is tiny and fills up fast. Only one of the five of us had ever eaten there, so it was a new experience for the three four of us. The food was fantastic! I had the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken. Here are pics of three of the dishes, starting with mine:

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Lois, Wes and I relaxed and caught up with work/email, etc. Then we headed for our night at the Highline Ballroom to see our favorite group, Girlyman. That evening was covered extensively in this post.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed up to the house. Wes had never seen it. We logged on there and all did our own thing until lunch. After lunch, Wes and I headed to see the new Star Trek movie. Lois was intending to come as well, but we had a problem with the dampers again, and she called the HVAC people and waited for an emergency technician to arrive. Sorry Lois!

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes and I both enjoyed the movie. I would be lying if I said it was great in any way (other than the special effects, which were stunning), but it’s action-packed, moves at a very quick pace, is an inventive story, etc. I agree with the comments I had heard about the movie before I saw it, that you don’t need to be a trekkie to appreciate the movie, but that it pays homage to the original in so many ways that it’s extra satisfying to a real trekkie. Kudos to JJ Abrams and the entire creative staff of the movie for pulling off that difficult balancing act!

When we got home, we both logged on again, and  I finally got the blog post about Girlyman published. We then headed for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Tarrytown (that we had never eaten at before). It wasn’t our original destination for dinner, but the two places we wanted to eat at were 30+ minute waits (you know, in this economy, where supposedly no one can afford to eat out any longer…). We were quite disappointed in our meals, so this place won’t be visited again by us. Oh well…

After dinner, we walked 200 feet to our real destination for the evening, Tarrytown Music Hall. We had 10th row seats to see Steven Wright, one of my all-time favorite standup comics. This was my first time seeing him live, but I’ve been a fan ever since he burst on the scene (probably longer ago than many of you are alive). 😉

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

As is typical of most shows at Tarrytown Music Hall, he didn’t come on the stage until 8:25pm (scheduled time, 8pm). It’s annoying, but otherwise, we really love Tarrytown Music Hall. He was fantastic. He did his routine non-stop for 85 minutes.

For those of you don’t know, he’s the king of dead-pan one liners. For the most part, they are based on word play. He never (OK, rarely) smiles, except for specific effect. In other words, his own jokes don’t appear to make him laugh (and that works really well for his type of material). He only told one vulgar joke, and I’d bet that none of the kids that were in the audience had a clue that it was vulgar!

He used the F-word perhaps 10 times, so in general, his act is pretty clean. He speaks softly, so the audience trained themselves (incredibly quickly) to come to a dead silence seconds after laughing hysterically, for fear of missing the next joke!

Here are but two (of hundreds of) examples of the style of humor that no one masters quite like Steven Wright:

I have a friend who has a stained glass eye.

24-Hour Banking. I don’t have that kind of time.

No two jokes are connected. Topics fly all over the place. It’s really funny to hear delayed laughter around you, when you realize that people are trying hard to process a joke, and finally get it, a few seconds too late. 😉

We had a great time there. Afterward, we drove back to the city and watched a bit of Conan O’Brien in his new gig as host of the Tonight Show. I also watched the first two nights on Hulu, and I think Conan is doing a marvelous job in his new time slot. Congrats Conan!

On Saturday, after breakfast and the obligatory emailing, Wes and I met Laura in the lobby and went on one of my patented long walks up the East River. It was the nicest day of 2009 in NYC (so far), and our walk was spectacular in every regard. It took us two hours and 10 minutes, and we loved every second of it (or at least I did!).

After a shower, Wes, Laura, Lois and I grabbed a cab and headed to Five Napkin Burger for lunch. None of us had ever been there before. So, what made me pick it for lunch? I subscribe to Fred Wilson’s blog (one of the top VC’s in NYC) and read every one of his posts religiously. He often writes about his wife, who blogs under the moniker The Gotham Gal. For whatever reason, I had never clicked through to her site.

The other day, Fred blogged that The Gothan Gal had updated the design of her site, and he was very pleased with the result. That’s the first time I clicked through. I liked her writing style and started reading a bunch of her posts. Then I came to this one about Five Napkin Burger! I decided to give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, as all four of us really enjoyed our burgers (all different kinds). Mine was an Italian Turkey Burger. Yum!

From there, the four of us walked back to Times Square, and went to see Angels and Demons. Thoroughly enjoyable. Substantially better movie than The DaVinci Code. We walked back to the apartment after that.

While I caught up on some email, Laura and Wes walked the few blocks to Red Mango and picked up frozen yogurt for a light dinner for the four of us. It was my first taste of it, and I liked it a lot. Chris (Laura’s husband), who was at the dentist while we were lunching and enjoying Angels and Demons, joined us for dinner, which he picked up for himself from the brand new Just Salad a block away from the apartment.

After dinner, the five of us grabbed two cabs and went to see the show Altar Boys at New World Stages. New World Stages is a fantastic space/building, a block off Broadway, that houses seven smaller theaters (Altar Boyz can seat 363 people). All of the shows are quirky (or at least have very quirky and provocative titles and posters). Wes picked this one.

Altar Boyz

Altar Boyz

Wes, Lois and I really loved the show. I caught Laura and Chris chuckling a few times, but I suspect (strongly) that they didn’t like it as much as the rest of us did. It’s very borderline whether any audience member will consider the show one of the following:

  1. Irreverent, but still uplifting and respectful of Christianity
  2. Blasphemous
  3. Some mixture of the two

Personally, I choose #1, with no hesitation, though I have no trouble accepting and understanding that many people could legitimately believe #2 is more accurate. Without a doubt, it’s blasphemous in it’s caricature of Boy Bands. But, in getting you to laugh at that, I believe it still very effectively gets across a message of the best of Christianity’s teachings. It turns out that Laura and her family made the show a birthday present for Lois, and Lois loved and appreciated every second of it!

Thanks M&M’s. 😉

We walked home from the show. When we reached the apartment building, I made the scandalous suggestion that Wes and I go across the street to my favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, for a nightcap. Laura and Chris decided to join us as well. Technically, the outside was closed already, but we’re regulars there, and they were kind enough to sneak us in. The inside was still officially open, but it was the most beautiful night, so we were glad to sit outside.

Three of us enjoyed frozen margaritas, and the fourth wisely picked a Banana Pinata for dessert, that the rest of us got to taste (and swoon over!). We then sat on our deck for another 40 minutes, soaking in the remainder of a perfect day.

This morning, we dropped Wes off at Newark Airport and headed down for our usual road trip down I95. Memories of a perfect weekend (uh, I mean, excellent adventure) still linger!

Wes, thanks so much for making the trek up from NC to spend such quality time with us! 🙂

No GLEE Here

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Now that the regular TV season is over, I’m a little more attuned to potential new shows to watch, particularly during the summer.

I really like Jane Lynch a lot, in particular her turns on Two and Half Men (one of my favorite comedies). So, when I saw a commercial for a new show called Glee, and saw that Jane had a prominent role in it, I figured I’d give it a try.

Somehow, I missed the pilot episode. I have bought a TV episode from Amazon Unbox in the past, so I get their weekly newsletters. This past week, they were offering a download of the Pilot episode of Glee, for free. Cool, the universe seemed to be looking out for me.

I downloaded the 847MB file (wow, that has to be some pretty good definition, right?). A few days later, after a little bit of arm-twisting Lois into checking it out, I popped in my HDMI cable to the back of my laptop, fired up the TV, and was set to enjoy this new show.

Even though I could hear the sound, the picture was blank. Sparing you the details, Amazon Unbox was clearly applying some DRM and HDMI cables respect DRM, so I was able to see the picture on my laptop, but not through the HDMI cable on the TV itself. I could have switched to component cables, but I was just annoyed, and I put something else on the TV.

The very next day I saw someone mention that they just installed the new Hulu Desktop application. I don’t watch Hulu all that often, but when I do, it’s quite a pleasant experience, so I decided to download the app, just to check it out.

Imagine my surprise when it started playing Glee by default! I stopped it pretty quickly. Later that night I told Lois we would give it another try, using Hulu instead of Amazon Unbox. Hulu didn’t have any of the DRM problems (which were strange to begin with on a free download). So, the show fired right up, with excellent resolution as well.

Sounds like a happy ending, no? No!

After torturing ourselves for roughly 15 minutes (with no commercials), we simply couldn’t watch another second of this show. It’s possible that they redeem themselves later on. People magazine had a very positive review of the show. We’ll likely never find out. Both of us felt immensely relieved when I killed it.

Since I had Hulu Desktop up, and had the HDMI cable plugged in, I ended up watching the very first episode of It Takes a Thief (from 1968), which was one of my favorite childhood shows. Lois was bored out of her mind, but at least it was pleasant boredom, as opposed to Glee, which was actively painful. I loved the show, if for the nostalgia alone. I’ll be watching more episodes, I’m sure, likely without Lois. 😉

Glee was an experiment. The Pilot debuted now, but the rest of the series will be shown in the Fall. This was a way to build some excitement in advance. Oops…