Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Open Letter to Craig Ferguson

Dear Mr. Ferguson:

I'm just now settling into your landmark episode with Stephen Fry. The one with no audience, and no other guests. I've listened to your monologue and I want to comment a bit.

I remember in the glory days of talk shows, the excitement of watching The Mike Douglas Show, with his round panel of guests. Or how my parents used to make Johnny Carson their Must See TV. And Tom Snyder, whom you mentioned, always seemed to be very interesting, with interesting guests.

Somehow the art of the talk show, the late night variety anyway, has devolved into some kind of bizarre game show schtick. Funny bits that used to be on the "variety" shows seem to dominate. The "talking" is mostly pre-rehearsed and for someone selling something. It's a bit too formulaic and predictable.

For the record, I hated Craig Kilbourn, and his sophomoric take on the talk show. I never ever watched his show.

But I started watching yours almost immediately. I was, and have continued to be, enchanted by the cheeky monkeys and the puppets and the brazen honesty that you bring to this late-night landscape. I was well into the pace of watching you with pleasure every night when that upstart Fallon came on the scene. And, I have to admit, I was swayed at first into watching him. He seemed to be very astute with the Mac and iPhone and the tech-savvy crowd, of which I am a part.

Then, he branched off into comedy set pieces and too many lame audience games and REALLY bad musical guests, so I've fallen off watching him. Never really liked Leno much. It feels like his time is past (a long time ago), and after the shabby way that NBC treated Conan (another flavor that I only perused occasionally), I can't watch Leno ever again.

But, to me, it always seems like you're struggling. The struggle seems to be what you know in your heart to be a good show, versus what the standard format of a late night show is, or what CBS censors tell you, or whatever. The times when you've hit the show out of the park is when you follow your heart and do what you want to do with it.

I, for one, am glad that you got away from the lame comedy skits and "remotes" from somewhere they are not. The new reality (at least the one I know on the Web) is about honesty and authenticity, and that seems like somewhere you could really excel.

What you have over Fallon, well aside from your dashing good looks and big one, is the art of the urbane and literate. I was (and continue to be) thrilled when you put in the surrealist Dali as a regular bit. It was such a wonderful innovative bit of television, and one area that no one else really covers.

The best interviews you do are with guests who interest you. But with all the hoo-ha that is also going on, you have time to ask about three questions before you have to get to the next guest or next musical act or next signoff. I personally would much rather you have a guest for an entire show, and do whatever you want with them.

Mind you, not every guest is as interesting as Stephen Fry. But there have been many, many times in the past where I've really wished you could talk to someone longer.

Even the people who do have "talking" shows: Larry King, or Joy Behar (as you mentioned), or Charlie Rose, still seem like they are constrained to a format, all official and strained. You and your guests have always felt like you are sitting in your living room, chatting. That's awesome.

In fact, in my dream world of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, I would LOVE to have no warm-up comedian, no audience even. Just you and the guest. You, released from that crazy constraint of suit and tie, dressed in shirt and jeans, or whatever you're comfortable in, kicking back in a big leather armchair.

Maybe you could have one day a week with the boring guests and the musical acts and the audience.

But what a treasure a regular show with no audience, no schtick, no nothing but talking would be.

Most of all though, I am a loyal audience member of yours. I know others who feel the same way. I think everyone would say: Follow your dreams for your own show. Do it before you get bored. Break new ground. Let Tom Snyder live again. Or, even better, let YOU live with your passion.

Be honest and real and unscripted. (Don't even waste the damn cards.) People know the difference between pre-arranged schtick and actual talking.

It is a new world. Late night television needs to keep up. NBC is a mess. Letterman is happy with his format. Be happy with yours, and it will make us happy. Even if that means changing it completely.

Whatever that means to you, we'll keep up and we'll enjoy it. (Love the Spanish word of the day, btw.) Engage our minds with literacy. Delve into scientists and inventors and whoever it is that makes you interested, not just the latest actor or actress to plug their movies. More authors! Whoever. Whatever nobodies you want to interview. Be honest, be real, we'll follow. Trust your instincts. Trust your audience. We are there for you.

Oh, and I am glad that you finally got on Twitter. Love ya!


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Big Time Streamy FAIL

Someone said to me recently that wanting to be in someone's web series is the new "can I show you my script?" in Los Angeles. Everyone and their brother has a web series, similar to how everyone used to shop their scripts around town. The difference being, mostly, that web series ARE getting made. We can make them. It's faster and cheaper. You don't have to rely on monolithic corporations to give you the greenlight. And all of that is wonderful.

And while podcasting and the web series craze started around the same time, it's the web series (another word for video podcast, or vlog, or vlodcast, or video series, or podcast with video) that has really taken off. So much so that while the audio podcasts seem to have been left in the dust, now video podcasts/web series have their own awards show: the Streamys.

That's great. I'm happy for them. And, truthfully, the nominees do seem to have talent and deserve to be there. There are many of my favorites which were also left out, but I suppose that's true of any awards show.

Strangely, for an awards show in its second year, it's already branched off part of the awards, the tech version, to another day. Those were earlier this week. Tonight, we had the Streamys, main event.

Boy was it exciting! The website boasted a red carpet at 4 pm, the awards themselves at 5:30, just like the Academy Awards! Don't know about anyone else, but when I tuned in at 5 pm, all I saw was a black screen (on the Web, where it all was due to broadcast live).

No matter. Who cares about red carpet ho-has anyway? The awards are what matter!

So we wait. Until 5:30 pm PST, popcorn in hand, for the awards show that celebrates our peers, the best of the best on the Web.

What do we get for our trouble? Far too many lewd, crude and obnoxious jokes for my taste. Two streakers! (which actually did liven things up a bit). Nearly naked people grabbing at celebrities, although that was just David Faustino, who used to be a celebrity, didn't he? Yeah. The Streamys was like that.

In fact, that moment, when hot sweaty bad-joke-spewing David Faustino tried to grab Felicia Day, a suffragette for actresses on the Internet if there ever was one, that moment really sums up the Streamys. Hot sweaty naked twerps trying to be funny disrupting the rest of us from getting on with the business we are developing here.

The Streamys, in short, didn't take themselves seriously, while the web series creators, who know better, take themselves very seriously. Felicia Day, who dedicated her award to geek girls everywhere (like me!), really represents the best of the web series phenomenon. She wasn't getting cast (for those who don't know the story) in traditional media, so she worked on her own to develop The Guild, which became a huge Internet phenomenon.

The Guild now has its own DVDs, is in its third season, and has it's own Twitter following, Knights of the Guild. It's brilliant.

I don't know who puts the Streamys together, who votes on them, who selects the nominees. I do know a few things about the awards show broadcast, though: it was quite possibly the worst award show I've ever seen (and I've seen MANY). It was only broadcast over the Internet, and someone had left a mic on, in addition to the one monitoring the action onstage. So throughout the THREE HOURS AND TEN MINUTES that this thing droned on, the entire time, we could hear some twerps near this other open mic, chatting, eating food, conversing with someone nearby. It was beyond irritating.

In addition to that major faux pas, tech things kept going wrong. Footage was supposed to run that didn't run, or the wrong footage ran, or the whole screen went dark. Nearly everything you could imagine going wrong, did. Lame skits seemed to run on for days. So much so that you nearly forgot you were here to watch some awards being handed out. I was arguing with someone online about whether or not the show even HAD a director. If so, PLEASE fire that person, and never let them direct another award show.

Dreadful. No pacing, no flavor.

There were moments, deep into the show, when real celebrities took over and gave the show something worth watching. Kevin Pollak, honored for his show, Kevin Pollak's Chat Show (which I think I'm going to go catch up on once I finish writing this), went on a rant as he was presenting "Best Guest Star in a Web Series." "Go produce your own web series! Best Guest Star?" It was wonderful and funny. The nominees, though, were people like Tony Hale and Nathan Fillion, no shabby acting talent here.

Chris Hardwick in what may or may not have been scripted, pulled out a mic of his own (better sound) and ranted about the creators of web series. Also brilliant.

In one of my favorite moments, the super talented (last seen in Dollhouse) Fran Kranz walked onstage. Then they ruined it by having a stupid bit where he awkwardly got a pie in the face. Yawn.

It was worse than watching awards at your junior high. Grow up, people. Realize this is our industry. Treat it like the business it is. Respect yourself AND your audience. Isn't that what podcasting/video blogging/web series is all about? I was embarrassed and ashamed of most of these people.

One of the highlights for many other people (though I was so zoned and bored by that point, I could hardly care) was when Auto Tune the News came on, and auto-tuned film clips. When they later beat Rocketboom in their category, all seemed right with the world.

The other award winners were uneventful to me. If you care, I'm sure www.streamys.org has the results. Just don't watch any of the awards show. You'll thank me later.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Be Interesting. Be Real.

When confronted by Twitter for the first time, many newbies freeze. What do I write?

One of my favorite Twitter users, @unmarketing, recently blogged about when to blog and when not to (http://www.un-marketing.com/blog/2010/04/09/frequently-futile-how-often-should-you-blog/).

Now that we've all become content creators (whether we like this realiity or not), it's become imperative that you understand the answers to these questions.

For so long, we sat by passively as others churned their content at us. I remember in the early days of the Internet, big media companies and advertisers scoffed at the prospect of people actually wanting to create their own content, instead of having it done for them. Many of them have since gone out of business.

I mean, really, what could we nobodies have to say that would rival the relevance of Jon and Kate Plus Eight, or the latest mistress out of the woodwork from Tiger Woods? Yeah. Pretty much ANYTHING you have to say is more interesting to me that that crap. I know I'm not alone in believing this.

There are a million things that happen in each person's day. (And yes, some people choose to blog/Twitter about all of them. I don't recommend this.) The color, the flavor, the tenor of your day, though, is specific to you and your perception of it. And that's what I want to hear about.

FAR too many blogs and Twitter posts hover around the "how do we make money from this crap?" tangent. They aim their posts at marketing something to you. I avoid these posts/blogs like the plague. I care about them as little as I care about Tiger Woods.

Realize that we are in a distinctly different time now. Our mission, all of us, is to take what is valuable from our lives and broadcast that to others. Podcast it, blog it, Tweet it, LiveStream it, however you've gotta do it, just do it. But consider editing a bit. Just because the world is now your blank slate, doesn't mean that we are all hungering for each salivating morsel of it.

Play by plays of each sandwich you make probably can take a blog pass. But that encounter you had with the grocer that made your day? THAT I want to hear about.

In short, what is important to you? should be the top Twitter question. If you retweet others (and you should), it should be something that moves you. If you #FollowFriday others (and you should), it should be people whose posts really make your week better. That is how we show our interconnectedness. (If I value you, and you value someone else, perhaps I might get something out of their Tweets too?)

Those who haven't yet jumped on the Twitter bandwagon might not understand this. Or those, like the collosal jerkoff Conan O'Brien, who made such a big show about following one person (without realizing all it said was, to a mass audience: I don't understand Twitter at all.) It's not about one to one anymore, or even one to many. It's even more than many to many. It's like we are all part of a giant rushing stream, and we are compelled to contribute our important part.

Sure, if you want, you can get all uppity and protect your Tweets (also not understanding Twitter), but it's all about the discourse now. Shy folks, private souls need not participate.

We are twisting and molding and shaping our future right now. From the hands of those who would shovel crap down our throats. We can make it whatever we want. But to do that, we have to distinctly and clearly voice what is important to us.

Implicit within that is also one of the rallying cries of the new age. We, the imperfect, are taking over this world from those who would force perfection on us. So we have podcasts using shitty mics, and blogs with typos and Tweets that are typed when we are drunk. Yep. We do that, and it's ok. In fact, it's great. Imperfection is what is valued now.

Adam Curry talks about the new authenticity. Being real and honest and true is the currency of today. Mainstream media has forgotten what truth is all about. We need to remind them. Constantly.

Unmarketing was talking about some people's need for a "blog schedule" (every day, or every week, or every Friday). He was at SXSW. He wants to post whenever the spirit moves him. And you know what? That's ok. In fact, that is how it works today. You share something when you have something to share. I'll still be paying attention to you, once it's there.

I don't demand perfection from you, and I hope you don't demand it from me. Let's just get real together, shall we? Cause we all can make the world a better place that way.