Why I Will Not Be Watching Star Trek: Discovery (At Least Now)

Tonight is the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery (FB). The first episode will be broadcast on CBS; for the rest, those in the US must subscribe to CBS’s exclusive pay-streaming service, CBS All Access. I’m a long time fan of Star Trek, and avidly devoured all of the TV series from the point where I could choose my television: the animated series, ST:TNG, ST:DS9, ST:V, and even ST:Enterprise. But I’m not going to be watching Star Trek:Discovery beyond the first episode (and possibly not even that). I think that were Gene Roddenberry alive, he wouldn’t be watching it either.

Here’s why.

In how CBS has chosen to broadcast Star Trek:Discovery (ST:D), I feel they are not being true to the Star Trek vision. Gene Roddenberry emphasized in Star Trek an optimistic attitude, a view of the world where barriers between people did not exist. The class distinctions were gone, and race, gender, orientation, religion, and similar divisions were not factors. All of the other instances of Star Trek on the small screen were egalitarian in their broadcast: if you had a TV, you could watch them, be they on NBC (TOS), the UPN network (Enterprise, Voyager), or syndicated (TNG, DS9). But for Discovery, this isn’t the case. Those without Internet access or those who are not paying for streaming service (read: most cable and satellite users) are disenfranchised. They can’t watch the show. Those with Internet access can, but only if they pay. This reduces the audience to a particular wealthy demographic.

That’s problem enough for the Emmys, as I’ve discussed previously. They no longer serve to encourage excellence in Broadcast TV (or basic cable).  Let the plebeians have crappy TV; those with the means can pay to watch the quality stuff on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and … Streaming provides the wealthy audience that buys stuff, or pays the network directly for their programming.

But for Star Trek? Putting Star Trek on a streaming platform creates the exact class distinctions that Roddenberry fought against. It is a pure grab for money and revenue from technically savvy Trek-fandom who have more money than they need — money CBS feels free to separate from them. Much as I want ST:D to succeed, it should be on a mainstream broadcast or basic cable channel: the CW or SyFy, not pay-streaming.

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Emmy Awards: Relevance and Privilege

Over on Facebook today, a friend of mine posted a very interesting query: “So of all who watch the Emmy’s year after year…. do you actually have access to all those networks and shows that are nominated?”. This dovetailed with a feeling I had watching this year’s Emmys: What happened to the days when most people could see the Emmy winning shows on broadcast TV? This year there were very few network shows nominated, and even fewer winners. In fact, many of the winners weren’t even broadcast on channels one could get on traditional over-the-air, cable, or satellite TV as part of the basic subscription packages. They were on channels that, like HBO, you had to pay premium prices for, or channels like Hulu which you had to have an Internet subscription to watch.

Thinking about this further, on my Facebook, I asked: Wouldn’t it be great if we could get an awards show for excellent on channels that everyone could see: free channels or those included is most basic packages. That would encourage those channels to be excellent, not just those that can command premium prices.

But, driving home, what I realized is something unspoken about the Emmys: We may celebrate diversity behind the camera — especially this year. But we don’t have diversity in front of the screen. The inclusion in the Emmys of premium channels and channels that depend on the Internet have an unwritten presumption of a form of privilege: the privilege that provides the means to pay for premium subscriptions, to have Internet service, to pay for the extra devices, to pay for the computers and such. Many of the poor in this country don’t have those means — our rush to the Internet has simply passed them by and most people don’t care. There is no requirement of Universal Internet Access, like there is for phone service.

In our push to recognize quality in premium channels, we are sucking the quality from the accessible-to-all channels. And in doing so, we are dumbing down those channels and hurting the entire viewership of TV.

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It’s a Bundle of 💩

An article in today’s LA Times by the usually reliable David Lazurus prompted this rant, especially as Lazurus opined that Disney’s move to its own streaming service was yet another death blow to expensive cable bundles. He opined that it would be better for consumers. I respectfully disagree.

Increasingly, we’re moving to the ala carte method of pricing. Airlines such as United are touting “Basic Economy”, where you get a seat and nothing more, and pay for any other privilege. TV, which used to be simple, is now an increasing number of services to which you must subscribe separately — which hides the total cost of all you see. Add your internet service provider fee to what you pay for Netfix + Amazon + YouTube Red + Hulu + CBS All Access + …. you name it, and your total can quite likely be more than that of cable, but you don’t see it. Sometimes, there is an argument for simplicity: A single price that bundles together what you would likely want.

Perhaps it is because I am older, but I don’t want to have to manage all of these separate fees. I want that simplicity. Alas, this means that much of new TV that is on these streaming services is lost to me. I’d love to watch Star Trek: Discovery, but I don’t want to have to deal with CBS All Access to do so. I’d love to explore some of the Netflix exclusive series, but don’t want to deal with yet another service and how it fits into my system.

All of these systems that increasingly use the Internet as their delivery mechanism are an exploitation of privilege, and a way of strongly focusing on a privileged audience. Much of US likes to forget that not everyone has fast streaming access, or can afford all the computer systems required for access, or the newer TVs. Low-income minorities, seniors — who cares about them. As long as we can reach our middle and upper class well educated audience — with the buying power — that’s what we want. Let those plebians watch the shows that can only be in the Cable and Satellite bundles.

So I disagree with the Times. I think the move of Disney to its private streaming service is a grab for more profits, and yet another way of targeting messages of consumption to those with the means to consume. Quality TV is no longer the opioid of the masses; it is the crack of the rich.

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Pre-Labor Day Sale on News Chum! Get It Here! New Low Price!

Observation StewLabor Day weekend is less than a week away. Here’s some tasty news chum to get you through the week:

  • Relaxen und vatch das blinkenlights! Back in the 1960s, you knew it was a computer if it had loads and loads of blinking lights. In fact, a popular meme (mimeographed educational memo exaggerated) going around read: “ACHTUNG! Alles touristen und non-technischen looken peepers! Das machine control is nicht fur gerfinger-poken und mittengrabben. Oderwise is easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowen fuse, und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. Der machine is diggen by experten only. Is nicht fur geverken by das dummkopfen. Das rubbernecken sightseenen keepen das cotten picken hands in das pockets, so relaxen und watchen das blinkenlights.” I mention this because the Lost in Space computer prop has recently been reconstructed. What caught my eye for this article was (a) that the Lost in Space computer was later used as the Batcomputer, and (b) that the TV shows of the 1960s used surplus, 1950s-era Burroughs B205s whenever they needed something cool and blinkenlighty.
  • The Nodpod. Ever attempt to fall asleep on an airplane or vanpool? Your head droops forward and back as your neck gets sore. There’s a proposed solution. The nodpod. The NodPod, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, claims to provide a more comfortable, upright snooze by holding your head at a 90 degree angle. The cushioned sling attaches to your headrest (without blocking the screen of the person sitting behind you) and can be adjusted to keep your noggin snug in place.
  • Lint in our Oceans. We’ve all seen lint in the lint trap, and worried about how dryers are destroying our clothes through friction. Washers have the same problem, especially for clothes made of plastic — and polyester is plastic. Microfibers wash off, go into the oceans, and harm sealife. The linked article purports to solve the problem through a magic ball that captures polyester microfibers. Potentially interesting.
  • Scary Math. Does math scare you? How about mathemagic involving the (horrors) number of the beast (not his better half, 333, or the neighbor of the beast, 667). I’m talking about Belphegor’s Prime, a supposedly sinister numeric palindrome that has a NUMBER of odd qualities. Or at least that’s what one mathematic trickster would have you believe. The number known as Belphegor’s Prime is exactly, 1,000,000,000,000,066,600,000,000,000,001. For those without the fortitude to stare directly at the infernal number, that’s a one, followed by 13 zeroes, followed by the traditional Number of the Beast, 666, followed by yet another 13 zeroes, and a trailing one. Learn all about it here.
  • Kosher Frozen Custard. If you’ve ever been to St. Louis, you likely know about Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard — a classic on Route 66. Did you know it was Kosher? Here’s the story of how that came to be.
  • Daugs in Northridge. IHOP has been on the move in recent years: it vacated its long-time location on Reseda Blvd for the former Rosies at Tampa and Nordhoff. So what is happening with the former IHOP? It is becoming Daug House, a restaurant for craft hot dogs. Dog Haus emphasizes community engagement and support through the outreach programs which connects with organizations around the area, such as schools, churches, nonprofit organizations, and little leagues. The menu includes all beef skinless Haus dogs, hand-crafted Haus sausages, a proprietary grind of chuck and brisket Haus burgers, sliders, sides and desserts. While we’re on the valley, here is Eater LA’s list of great Valley restaurants, almost all of which are clustered around Ventura Blvd, because we all know that for the foodie crowd, there is no life in the valley north of US 101.
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News Chum Stew: Onesies and Twosies

Observation StewLast night, we had a Shabbabaque at Temple (“Shabbat” + “Barbeque”). There was a bunch of food leftover, and so I brought some home — the sliced tomatoes and roasted zucchini — and threw it into a crockpot. That’s a great thing to do with leftovers: make a stew (and I intend to suggest formalizing that next year*). Just like at the Shabbabaque, I’ve got loads of leftovers — onsies and twosies of news articles — that don’t make a coherent dish. Perhaps they’ll make a good stew. What do you think?

Jewish Summer Camp

Food and Eating

Local Returns and Departures

The Body

History

What’s Left

 

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Weekend News Chum to Fill your Loving Cup

Observation Stew’tis the weekend, and that means it is time to clear out the accumulated links that didn’t them… well, at least those I remembered to send back home from work. In the spirit of the day, feel free to share these stories with your sweetie.

 

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The Word Is… 📺 “Grease Live!” on Fox

Grease Liveuserpic=televisionLast night, I watched Fox’s attempt at doing a live musical, Grease Live!. I’m not going to attempt a full review with synopsis and notes on all the cast and crew. Rather, here are some jumbled observations on the show. I thought about dividing them into the good, bad, and ugly, but I couldn’t separate the bad from the ugly.

  • I don’t think the director knew what this show wanted to be when it grew up. At times, it seemed like a stage show and the theatrical production. At times, it seemed slavishly devoted to the movie version. At other times, it veered off into its own direction without explanation. In doing so, it didn’t quite satisfy the fans of the stage version, but also didn’t satisfy fans of the movie version. The failure, I believe, is one of managing of expectations. Promotion of the show before airing should have made clear the goal: a live version of the classic movie; a live version of the original stage show; a refreshed version of the movie; or something else. This would have greatly helped the audience who were either expecting a live version of the stage show (based on what NBC had done), or were expecting the movie.
  • I thought the performances were universally strong: the actors could sing and dance, and there were no significant gaffes. I think, for the leads, it showed off their talents well and may lead to more consideration for stage roles. The only exception was when the leads attempted to ape the performances of their movie equivalents too closely.
  • The interpretation of some of the songs made me wonder if the director understood the show at all. In particular, “Freddie My Love”, while performed flawlessly, made no sense as done. This was a song about a teen girl leading servicemen on, getting them to send her presents with no intent of having a real relationship. So incorporating it into a USO show was just … wrong, so wrong. Similarly, “These Magic Changes” … which a really a song about a fellow learning guitar, became this weird relationship song in the show. They completely cut the words to the “Mooning” number.
  • I can understand the desire to give Frenchie a song in the show, especially when you have cast a good singer. But the song you gave her was from the wrong period and didn’t fit the style of a show. Much better might have been an “I want” song earlier on, because this is a character who really doesn’t know what she wants.
  • I wasn’t sure about the opening. I did appreciate the singer and showing the extensiveness of the sets. But I think the show could have equally gone with the traditional stage opening (at a reunion of the class) and have had equal impact.
  • I found the interstitials with Mario Lopez interesting, and a great way to emphasize the live nature of the show.
  • I did, however, appreciate the closing. NBC has done away with the curtain calls, but I think for a live show you need them there. I would have superimposed the names of the actors and characters, however, as there wasn’t a program.
  • As you know, Saturday we saw A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. One person commented over on Facebook that they didn’t like the show because of its dated attitudes towards women. Although the script to this show attempted to do a little updating in that regard, the basic show Grease does demonstrate — and almost promote — a number of bad traits: expecting women to put out, belittling nerds, cultures of violence and hazing, and such. Some (such as I) can just put them into the historical context; however, it is something to think about when making the choice about what to highlight. I’m not sure whether Grease is even correctable, but it is a reflection of its times.
  • One area they did attempt to update the show is by making the school integrated. Given that this is a show in a particular historical context, I found it jarring — especially in that the integration they were showing for the time wouldn’t have happened back then. If you’re going to update race integration, you need to update the rest of the attitudes. I’ll note that other shows can bring in diversity without problem, because they are of an unspecified time and place, or are clearly imaginary. [Further, if you are going to integrate the cast, what does it say when all your leads are white. Look at the poster, folks.]
  • Despite the story problems, the technical craft was excellent, especially the quick changes such as between the slumber party and the USO show. This clearly demonstrated that complex productions can be done live; further, if you do them live, you’ll draw in the audience (especially when you do it against other new run shows). NBC, the gauntlet has been thrown.
  • For the most part, I appreciated the cameos, especially Didi Cohn and Eve Plumb. However, using Boyz II Men for Teen Angel was just wrong: they didn’t get the style right, and they made many of the words hard to hear.
  • They cleaned up quite a bit of language: not only did the pull the “pussy wagon” line from “Greased Lightening”, but the line about being an athletic supporter was gone, the Sal Mineo line was gone from Sandra Dee, and they pulled the Fangool!. This is Fox, folks. One expects a bit of raunch. You hear worse on the Simpsons.
  • Another odd change, seemingly for no reason: They moved where Sandy and Danny met to Salt Lake City, and changed Sandy’s name to Young from Dubrowski. Why? It destroyed the double entendre in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”, and had no fathomable reason other than to imply she was Mormon, and thus couldn’t drink, smoke, etc. It was unnecessary. Note that the movie did the name change as well, changing the name to Olsson. I also noticed they changed the year to 1959, for no reason other than to include the rocket jokes.
  • Kudos to Vanessa Hudgens for her great performance, especially considering that her dad passed away that morning.
  • They coped quite well with the unexpected SoCal rainstorm. Good thing they had those umbrellas handy.
  • While watching the show, I’ll admit I was mostly hate watching. C’mon, it was on Fox. But looking back, I don’t think it was as bad as all that: the performances were good, and the technical craft was excellent. For someone who knows Grease, the story changes were jarring; for much of the audience, they probably enjoyed it.
  • I haven’t decided yet on whether to get the cast album: I liked the new orchestrations and the vocal performances, although I didn’t like the new song for Frenchie or Boyz to Men. I also have at least 4 versions of Grease in my music library: the original Broadway cast, the revival with Rosie O’Donnell, the revival with Laura Osnes, and the movie soundtrack. Do I need a fifth? Then again, I have at least 6 versions of Gypsy: Merman, Lansbury, Midler, Daly, Peters, and LuPone.
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Week End News Chum: Threading a Connection

Observation StewFor some, this is the start of a 3 day weekend; for others, just the normal weekend craziness. Whichever it is, it’s been a busy week. I’ve been accumulating a lot of articles of interest, but none of them have themed into groups of three, or proved to be the start of a single-subject rant. So let’s toss them into the crock-pot of discussion, and see if we can at least come up with a thread to connect each to the next:

Lastly, I’m sure you think I’m crazy in the head for trying to thread all these disparate articles together. Speaking of crazy in the head: how’s this for a headline: “Doctors dismissed his pain as migraines. Then they said he had 24 hours to live.” Did that get your attention? It got mine. The connected article was about something I mentioned last week: undetected subdural hematomas. Scary.

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