Movies & TV / Columns

Two Tivos To Paradise 7.27.07

July 27, 2007 | Posted by Al Norton

Hello Friends. Welcome to the birthday edition of Two Tivos To Paradise! One year ago today the first Two Tivos went live on 411mania.com and the TV world has never been the same. Ok, that’s hardly true, but my world sure has been a helluva lot different. I look back at my first few columns, especially the debut, and am shocked by how bad I think they are; not that my current work is up for any awards but I will readily admit it took me a few weeks (or months) to find my voice.

Special thanks go out to Leonard Hayhurst, who included some of my letters in his Ask 411 Movies column and encouraged me to apply when there were openings on the writing staff. Obviously a huge thank you goes to Ashish for keeping this site running, and also to all my fellow 411mania writers for continuing to set the bar so high.

It goes without saying but I will say it anyway – just about everything I have accomplished, here and otherwise, would not be possible without the incredible support and encouragement I receive on a daily basis from Tina, my Mrs. Tivo.

If I had not started this a year ago I would never had gotten the job with Boston Now, which has opened so many cool doors in terms of access to shows as well as to their cast and crew. This really has been an incredible year for me creatively and I thank you for reading every week as well as sending me your thoughts, even when you don’t agree (or maybe especially when you don’t agree).

To celebrate Two Tivos turning one, I wanted to do it up big and think I succeeded, finagling my way into an email interview with one of my inspirations and idols, ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons. His Sports Guy column appears multiple times per week on ESPN.com as well as in ESPN The Magazine, and his book, Now I Can Die In Piece was a NY Times bestseller. Aside from being an incredibly funny and talented, he is quite possibly the most influential pop culture writer for men 25-45.

TTTP: How much non-sports television do you watch each week? What do you have season passed?

BS: I’m ashamed of my TV habits because I watch way too much crap and not enough good stuff. At the same time, the TV industry is in a major slump – especially right now, the summer shows have just sucked. Couldn’t they throw us a bone and bring back Temptation Island or have a 90210 reunion show or something? They just keep trotting out more and more crap. (Oh, wait, Temptation Island and 90210 were crap, I forgot. But at least they were good crap!) Also, it’s so hard to get invested in one of these serial shows because you never know if the network will pull the plug – after what happened with Reunion, I’m scared off by any show that builds towards a cliffhanger. So what I’ve been doing is waiting to see if the show makes it, then catching up on DVD – that’s how I handled Friday Night Lights this summer, as well as Kidnapped, a show that actually did get cancelled but works splendidly as a DVD purchase.

Anyway, my TiVo Season Pass includes: The Wire, Lost, Sopranos (RIP), SportsCenter, PTI, NBA Hardwood Classics, Survivor, 24, South Park, JKL, SNL, the Red Sox, any Real World show (I will always support the franchise), and most recently, Hidden Palms, an atrociously enjoyable show that just got cancelled. I used to have Entourage on there but finally cut the cord a few weeks ago after the confusing Medellin mock-documentary when they dressed Adrian Grenier like Tony Clifton, had him talk in a horrible accent and didn’t appear to be going for irony… that was the final straw for me. I still end up watching it every week but banned it from my TiVo.

TTTP: Has being a Father effected your viewing?

BS: Tremendously. Instead of hearing sports shows in the mornings when I’m surfing the ‘net and going through e-mails, I get to hear Sesame Street, Curious George and Maisy. Although lately, I’ve become fascinated by Elmo on Sesame Street – he’s like the Magic Johnson of kids TV, he can play multiple positions, make everyone better and doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Also, I think Grover is like Norm Nixon – a solid point guard who was rendered completely obselete once Magic/Elmo came into his own. I also can’t believe how secretly gay Ernie and Bert are. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but were they always that way? Every time they sing that “In My Room” song I get nervous. My wife and I made up fake lyrics for that song that killed us… we had to stop singing them once my daughter started repeating them. And don’t even get me started on how they mis-use Cookie Monster. I might need to write a Sesame Street column.

TTTP: Even though you write for ESPN.com, do you feel pressure to keep up with regular TV? Does watching ever become more a chore than a hobby?

BS: Absolutely not, I would never force myself to watch a show for the sake of a column. For instance, I never understood the American Idol thing – when you think about it, I should probably watch it because 25 million people watch it, so I’m passing up free material and some good jokes that nearly anyone reading my column would get. But I can’t stand that show. I just think it’s retarded. “Hey, here comes Season 8… and you’re not gonna believe this, but we found some horrible singers… and Simon’s gonna make mean jokes about them!” I just don’t get it. American Idol eludes me. I understand why some would enjoy it, but 25 million people? Why aren’t those people watching a quality show like the Real World/Road Rules Inferno?

TTTP: Do networks send your previews in the hopes you might say good stuff about their shows in your column? Ever get anything and wonder why someone thinks your readers would watch this?

BS: Yeah, I always get PR people trying to send me advance DVD’s and stuff, especially for sports-related shows. The worst is when it’s a show that sounds absolutely awful and ludicrous on paper – it always makes me think, “Should I be insulted that they think I would like this show?” And the answer, obviously, is “Yes.”

Besides, I hope people know me well enough by now to know that I’d never pimp a TV show just because someone sent me a DVD. I’m extremely picky about recommending books or TV shows or websites or movie rentals, I just feel like you build up a certain amount of trust with readers over the years; if you violate that trust even once, it’s ruined. So last year, when I finally got into The Wire (way too late, I know) and eventually wrote that the fourth season was the single greatest season in the history of television, any regular reader knew that I would never casually throw out a statement like that, or make such a proclamation if it wasn’t 100-percent genuine. And it was. I think it’s the most important TV show of its generation, but it’s really hard to get that point across without coming off like a self-serving, holier-than-thou a-hole.

(With that said, The Wire is the most important TV show of its generation. So there.)

TTTP: I don’t think I have ever seen you mention Buffy or Angel in your columns, even though they are pretty major pop-culture touchstones for people in their 20’s and 30’s as well as high quality shows. Was it the subject matter that put you off? Don’t say anything about suspension of disbelief because you watched Ken Howard play a former NBA player without a problem!

BS: I have no defense. My taste for TV shows is exceptionally strange and I couldn’t even begin to explain it. I never watched Buffy, X-Files or Angel, and I have no plans to watch Heroes – I’m not a big “suspend your disbelief” guy (and how dare you slander the great Ken Howard!). And yet, I love 24 (except for Season 6, which never happened). I loved 90210 and Melrose Place but couldn’t stand One Tree Hill or Dawson’s Creek. I never understood the CSI thing, but I’ve watched every HBO Autopsy Show ever made. I love Survivor and hate Amazing Race. I’d rather watch re-runs of Seinfeld, Curb or Larry Sanders over watching new episodes of 30 Rock or Scrubs or My Name Is Earl – shows that are really good, but shows that aren’t great, so I’d never go out of my way to watch them. With sitcoms, I only want to watch the best possible ones. See, I told you I don’t make sense.

TTTP: Have you seen any episodes of the new Battlestar Galactica? I think it’s the best show on television but is cursed by having to deal with the fact that the name the got it on the air in the first place is what keeps so many people from taking it seriously.

BS: Haven’t seen it. I hear the name Battlestar Galactica and think of the ridiculously bad 70’s show with Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch and the smoking-hot brunette whose name escapes me. (Marla Jensen? I want to say it was Marla Jensen.) Are they still on the show? I’m guessing no. I always thought those were great porn names – “Dirk Benedict and Dick Hatch.”

TTTP: Speaking of which, what are some old shows that you can’t figure out why people love? I got a lot of emails when I suggest that the original BSG was not a guilty pleasure but simply a bad show; you would have thought I had suggested that Rebecca was funnier than Diane (which I have done, by the way – not the show with they were on it but the characters themselves – but that’s another story).

BS: Shows hit people different ways, especially the older ones… you’re always going to piss someone off when you diss a show, you know? (I’m sure there are people absolutely furious right now that I touted Elmo at the expense of Grover.) What’s interesting is that some popular shows age horribly and it’s hard to explain why, whereas other shows age exceptionally well. For instance, Family Ties and Growing Pains were two of the best sitcoms of the 80’s, but both of them aged badly and they’re unwatchable now, except for the opening credits and the theme song, as well as the chance hear someone repeatedly called “Boner” on a TV show. But Cheers is just as good as it was 25 years ago, and in some way, even more remarkable. Same for Larry Sanders, which still holds up 100-percent. By the way, Rebecca ruined Cheers. I’m sorry to break this to you.

TTTP: I was pleased to read you are getting into Rescue Me finally – what took you so long?!?. Personal feelings for Leary aside, he is phenomenal on the show and somehow makes you buy into all these hot women wanting to sleep with him. As scary as this may be, the conversations at the firehouse are some of the best insight into the male mind that current TV has to offer.

BS: I held off because of a longstanding grudge against Leary for pimping Bill Hicks’s act. It’s a quality show. Although I’m convinced that the extra leeway that FX gets (and the extra-extra leeway that HBO gets) needs to be factored into any discussion about the best shows. Try watching The Sopranos on A&E without the swearing and nudity and with toned-down violence, or even The Wire on BET. It’s much harder to come up with a great show on network TV, everyone continues to discount this. It’s like if some guys used steroids and HGH in baseball and others didn’t, but we weighed all of their stats the same… oh, wait, that’s been happening for 15 years. Bad example.

TTTP: Is it just me or is Scott Baio Is 45…And Single pretty decent? His sidekicks are a bit much, and there is no question he proposes in the last episode, but Baio seems to be taking it pretty seriously, and that elevates it way beyond most of the dating shows. Actually, I guess the fact that it’s not so much a dating show as a therapy show that makes it work.

BS: Scott Baio was one of my childhood heroes for the way he stood up to the Fonz, as well as the way he consistently elevated his supporting cast on the ABC team in Battle of the Network Stars. So I’m horribly biased here. But it’s a very well-done show and even a little sad to watch. I feel bad for him. He must be perpetually furious that Matt Dillon stole his career.

TTTP: If Criminal Minds gets better without Mandy Patinkin, will the Ewing Theory be applied?

BS: Nah, you have to be a true superstar to qualify for the Ewing Theory. The best TV example ever was when 90210 fired Shannen Doherty and Tiffani Amber-Theissen loved into the Walsh house with her new boob job that she had gotten right after Saved By The Bell was cancelled, and this momentous event coincided with the watershed “Uh-oh, Dylan’s drinking again” season. That will never be topped.

TTTP: Why are there no good shows about pro sports? I have always thought it was reproducing the games themselves, or even the locker rooms, so I why not have a show that just deals with their lives in the off season?

BS: I wrote a column in 2001 called http://espn.go.com/page2/s/simmons/011010.html “The Curse of Coolidge” asking that same question, and that was six years ago. Now it’s become more complicated after the NFL killed “Playmakers” – nobody wants to piss off the leagues, and if that’s not enough, games are a huge obstacle because you can’t have a sports show that doesn’t have realistic game scenes, so how do you fake a major league baseball game, or an NBA game? Maybe when they master CGI, it can happen more easily. I’m looking forward to the day when they can digitally alter the gym in The White Shadow to make it seem like it was longer than 50 feet.

TV Pick Of The Week
Sunday night marks the start of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, with this year being the 20th of this fantastic summer tradition. Things kick off with Oceans Of Fear, a documentary about the 1945 USS Indianapolis tragedy, made famous by Robert Shaw;s Jaws monologue. Richard Dreyfuss narrates the special, and each night next week features shark related programming. If you are planning on going swimming anytime soon you may want to watch at your own risk, but everyone else shouldn’t miss Shark Week on the Discovery channel.

Two Tivos To Paradise, Weekly Update
30 Days, The 4400, After The Catch, Antique Roadshow, The Apprentice, Battlestar Galactica, Best Week Ever, Big Love, Bones, Boston Legal, Brothers And Sisters, Burn Notice, The Closer, Criss Angel Mindfreak, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Dead Zone, The Deadliest Catch, Desperate Housewives, Destination Truth, Entourage, Extras, Eureka, Everybody Hates Chris, Fast Inc, Ghost Hunters, Grey’s Anatomy, Hex, Heroes, The Hills, House, How I Met Your Mother, Jericho, Justice, King Of Cars, Laguna Beach, Last Comic Standing, Law And Order, Law And Order: Criminal Intent, Law And Order: Special Victims Unit, Lost, Medium, My Name Is Earl, Monk, The New Adventures Of Old Christine, Next Food Network Star, The Office, On The Lot, One Tree Hill, Painkiller Jane, Project Runway, Psych, Real Time With Bill Maher, Rescue Me, The Riches, Rules Of Engagement, Saturday Night Live, Scrubs, Shark, Shear Genius, The Sopranos, The Soup, Supernatural, Top Chef, Top Design, Ugly Betty,

Additions : None
Deletions : None.

Here ends another edition of Two Tivos To Paradise. Next week we’ll be back to the usual format, including waymore news than you’ll know what to do with! Feedback is welcome and encouraged at [email protected] Have a great week – see you next Friday!

Sources for this week’s column include Daily Variety, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, and Hollywood Reporter as well as the web sites for those publications.

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Al Norton

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