Pop Culture with Paul Farhi: Tina Fey, 'Lost,' '24,' TV nets doomed? MacGruber bombs, more

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Paul Farhi
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; 1:00 PM

Paul Farhi explores the latest in the world of pop culture, trends and daily news.<br><br>Today: Good riddance to "Lost," the world's most over-analyzed and tedious TV series, and fare thee well to "24," which deserves the sentiment. Plus: Are the broadcast TV networks really doomed? Don't be so sure. And: "MacGruber" bombs. Didn't we warn you?<br><br>

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Paul Farhi: Greetings, all and welcome back...This just (well, late this morning) in: Tina Fey has been named the winner of the Kennedy Center's 2010 Mark Twain Award for humor. Congratulations to Ms. Fey. And I think I join an entire nation in saying, Huh? The Twain award is a kind of lifetime achievement trophy. The recipient is a Hall of Famer, and Tina Fey, for all her talents (she's a terrific writer and performer) is not yet a Hall of Famer. She's certainly not in the company of previous Twain winners like Pryor, Cosby, Newhart, Carlin, Reiner, Jonathan Winters, Neil Simon, Lorne Michaels or Lily Tomlin. Okay. So your mission today: Make the case for Tina or tell us who's more deserving.Back to our regular programming. So, two major TV series became former major TV series in the past two days. I'm not really sorry to see "24" and "Lost" go to the great Nielsen graveyard, but for different reasons. "24" had played out its string. It had a very good (and at times, great) run, but eight seasons of Jack Bauer is quite enough. The show went out with its usual zest and gore last night (great production values were always a "24" hallmark; it truly expanded what's possible in action series TV).As for "Lost," buh bye and good riddance. I disliked it for the very reason its very devoted fans loved it. The show lazily piled complication upon complication, plot twist upon plot twist, mystery upon mystery, with no effort at resolution or even a logical framework (I'll admit "24" took a few corner-cutting liberties with the time-space continuum, too, though to me these eye-rollers were always one of its unintentionally comic pleasures). "Lost" was like one of those dreams that seems so interesting when you're having it but falls completely apart when you start describing it. In that sense, it was like a European art film--all symbols and meanings signifying something deep and meaningful, except no one could really say what. As for all the tedious buzz: The Onion said it best, as the Onion does so often. Something to ponder: Would "Lost" have survived for six seasons without all the digi-chatter? On a straight ratings basis, I don't think so.Speaking of network television: Let's re-examine a continuing theme on this channel--the notion of its immiment demise. I'm starting to think the demise part is right, but I'm no longer so sure about the imminent part.Bad news: The networks' share of the "core" (i.e., advertiser-desired) 18-49 year old audience slumped to 12 percent this season, an all-time low (meaning: 88 percent of this audience was elsewhere on any given night). That's horrible. But here's the very, very good news: The networks have begun selling airtime for the fall shows and analysts are predicting they'll get as much as a 10 percent increase over last year's ad rates (resurgent car companies are helping here). Think about that--10 percent more for delivering less and less. Nice business!Yes, eventually, the network ecosystem may crash. At some point, advertisers will stop paying huge sums for neglible audiences. But it hasn't happened yet, and it's not clear that that day is imminent. Maybe the elevator can keep going down (11...10...9 percent) without consequence. For years.So, maybe the networks, aren't dead. Maybe they aren't even dying.In still other news: "MacGruber" bombs big. Its opening weekend gross of $4.1 million probably dooms it to an honored spot on the growing list of failed "Saturday Night Live"-related movies. It's not quite a "Stuart Saves His Family"-style disaster, but if tries hard it could be a "Ladies Man"-style debacle. At this point--17 years removed from "Wayne's World II," the last sketch-to-movie hit--the SNL brand may be toxic to moviegoers. (Random trivia question: Will Ferrell appeared in three SNL-related movies, all bombs. Name 'em and win a suitcase full of diamonds* No fair Googling, Yahoo-ing or Bing-ing).(* Legal disclaimer: No suitcase or diamonds will actually be awarded. I mean, come on. Seriously...)Okay, let's go to the phones...

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The Mark Twain Prize: Tina Fey? Really? I like "30 Rock" and what she did on "SNL," but isn't it a little early in her career for this?

Paul Farhi: Hi. Once again, hilarious technical difficulties have ensued. Sorry for late start. Again. Next week: Back to the old chat software. Technology: AAAAARGH!!Yes, I agree. And there are so many more deserving folks.

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Too Soon?: Giving Tina Fey the Twain Prize seems like giving Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. Sure, they'll deserve it, but it seems a little early. Aren't there people like Carol Burnett that have entire comedy careers to honor?

Paul Farhi: Yes, again this is no slight on Tina Fey, who is a fine performer/writer, etc. But her? Not--let's do the random listing of just the women here--Joan Rivers, Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, Phyllis Diller...

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Broadcast Networks: They aren't doomed, exactly. But the more they equivocate about their actual viewers, the worse their revenue picture will be. This latest uproar about Nielsen (no longer providing live viewing numbers, so media buyers are furious) shows the lengths to which the broadcasters will go to defend a failing business. The more revenue suffers, the less they'll invest in quality programs, so the lower the ratings, so the lower the revenue--it's a death spiral, or a race to the outhouse, or something.

Paul Farhi: But, see, it's NOT a failing business as long as those media buyers are continuing to fork over billions every year. Billions. For a failing business, it's failing upward.

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Harrisburg, PA: What up, P-Far? Agreed about the extended navel-gazing that accompanied Lost, but the series finale was really great. Wasit the greatest finale ever? No. Was it one of the more thought-provoking and challenging (and entertaining) finales ever? Yes.Which unfortunately is more than I can say about 24. Take the good feelings that came out of that Lost finale, and then consider the exact opposite- that's what 24 did last night by Hour Zero. What an armpit of a finale! After ripping off from themselves, The Dark Knight Returns, and the Bourne series (which itself was influenced by the early seasons of 24), and we're left with a cynical set-up for 24: The Movie.Oh yeah, and apparently L&O bowed last night, or something.

Paul Farhi: No spoilers here for those who haven't seen the "24" finale, but, yes, kind of disappointing. But I haven't gotten my hopes up about finales ever since "Seinfeld's" last episode disaster and "The Sopranos" so-so sendoff.

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so many more deserving folks: Like who?

Paul Farhi: If my intro had published, I would have invited you to suggest names. So I'm asking you now: Who? I'll spot you two: Seinfeld and Jerry Lewis.

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Doomed networks: Yes, they are indeed doomed, and they have been ever since the invention of the VCR, which irreparably damaged their fundamental business model. The proliferation of cable channels struck another massive blow, and now the streaming of videos on the Internet is the coup-de-grace.

Paul Farhi: the network audience.

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MacGruber bombs: But the Post gave it 1 and 1/2 stars. If it totally bombed wouldn't it have only gotten 1 star? Or just 1/2 a star?

Paul Farhi: I'm not sure I'm making a value judgment (well, I can't because I haven't seen it). I am making a business judgment. The opening weekend gross of $4.1 million suggests it's headed for the same sorry box-office territory as almost every other SNL-related movie ever made (exceptions: "Blues Brothers" and the "Wayne's World" movies).

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flash sideways: oh just go ahead and put up the damn intro -- we'll pretend it's a flashback...or something...

Paul Farhi: I guess it will be an "out-tro" at this point. Or a "mid-tro."

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Seinfeld Finale: Why do you call that a disaster? I thought it was brilliant -- the four of them sentenced to jail for their indifference to everyone around them. It was perfect karmic payback. Not only that, but bringing back the characters they'd wronged and ending with a reference to the first line of the first episode (the second button on the shirt) was a thank-you to the fans who'd paid attention.

Paul Farhi: And 12 years after the fact, I just learned (from you) about the first-line reference. Was not aware of that. Cute, but still not funny.

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"Lost": I also did not like the constant analysis heaved at the show, but I will also admit that I was and remain a huge fan of the show. Does that make me a bad person?

Paul Farhi: Haha! No, of course. Maybe there should have been a t-shirt for people like you reading: "I love 'Lost' but I'm not one of THOSE people."

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So I'm asking you now: Who?: Dave Chappelle, if they could find him...

Paul Farhi: Chappelle, BEFORE Chris Rock? Naw...

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Bourne series (which itself was influenced by the early seasons of 24), : Er, the Bourne movies were based on the Bourne books first publised in 1980.

Paul Farhi: On the other hand, "influenced" is a pretty weak word here. Those movies were superb in their own right.

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Washington, DC: What did you think of the 24 finale? I enjoyed it right up until the end. [I'll give the obligatory SPOILER ALERT.] As usual, they crammed 30 minutes worth of resolution into 15 minues. But my problem is that Jack didn't cause anything to happen in the end. Everything plot-wise was resolved by other characters (Taylor, Logan). Kind of a weird choice considering the show revolved around the character of Jack Bauer.

Paul Farhi: I think that's a pretty good take. SPOILER ALERT: Jack is a pretty passive player in the whole mishegas (I mean, he's literally on his back). You'd have thought he'd have a much more active role in the final resolution. But, then, it does set up the movie pretty well, doesn't it?

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Defensive about Lost: Paul, you naughty boy -- I think you're purposely trying to provoke those Losties to up your chat ratings ! Don't fear there are plenty of us who grew frustrated with the show but our questions and commenst almost never were allowed to see light in the, "Liz and Jen Lost Lovefest", this site sponsored for years !

Paul Farhi: You're saying "up [my] chat ratings" like it's a bad thing! And hats off to Liz and Jen; they created quite a franchise out of "Lost" talk. TWO of the four most viewed stories on our web site yesterday were 1) their analysis of the "Lost" finale; and 2) their chat about their analysis of the "Lost" finale.

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really?: You think Joan Rivers is funny, at all, much less deserving of a MT award? Twain was witty. INTELLEGENTLY funny, not snarky. Fey is witty.

Paul Farhi: I would agree with you, if you were referring to Joan's late career horrors (her red-carpet snark, her endless cosmetic surgery jokes/obsession). But she's really a great female comic pioneer. She was a nightclub sensation for many years, then a movie writer- director, then a talk-show host. She's been AROUND.

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who before Tina Fey?: I would say Elaine May, certainly.

Paul Farhi: Been a long time since she was heard from. Kind of an early '60s phenom as a performer, no?

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The Airless Cubicle: you better have a plot outline meticulously spelled out some place your writers can consult, or you're going to end up with a "Flash Forward" to non-renewal.

Paul Farhi: I always thought that was one of the weaknesses of "24." They'd be smoking for the first 8, 10, even 12 episodes of a season and then they ran flat out of gas, which is when they'd start throwing cougars into the mix. I had the impression that they were working furiously to make up stuff right on the spot.

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(Love's Labour's) Lost: "TWO of the four most viewed stories on our web site yesterday were 1) their analysis of the "Lost" finale; and 2) their chat about their analysis of the "Lost" finale."It's the Post's discerning readership that really separates it from other newspapers.

Paul Farhi: That's digital democracy, I guess. The People know what they want.

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Tina Fey: Isn't it pretty obvious that Fey is getting KenCen "award" for political reasons (her helpful attacks on Sarah Palin)? She cannot be getting it for her long, long career of comedic excellence.Pretty shabby to drag the KenCen "award" into the political muck like this. I think that Mr. Twain would have a thing or two to say about this.

Paul Farhi: Interesting point. But no, I don't think so. I mean, I think her imitation of Palin certainly helps her credentials (and may well be the thing she is most remembered for). But it's SATIRE. She made fun of a political figure who happens to be a Republican. Amy Poehler made fun of a political figure who happened to be a Democrat. It's kind of what satirists do.

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Lost: was proof that stories need to spiral IN towards resolution, not spiral outward, out of control. I gave up after 2 1/2 years: I can't imagine watching the same spiraling for six whole years!

Paul Farhi: a lot of people did the same as you. And well put: "spiral in" is what we expect of drama. Spiraling out of control is, by definition, something to be avoided.

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look at the historic awards: The Twain award has never been a "lifetime acheivement" award. It is given to a current comedian tapping into the cultural times.

Paul Farhi: Not really. Or maybe not mostly. Most of them have been given to comics who were long past their peak or even semi-retired, but had a lifetime of great work: Newhart, Cosby, Carlin, Jonathan Winters, Reiner, Neil Simon. And so on.

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Talk About Books?: Books are part of pop culture, aren't they? Let me attempt this question: Have you read any of Steig Larsson's "Girl With the Dragon Tatoo" triology? Want to venture an opinion about Patrick Anderson's Book World review of the third novel, released this week, calling the book a masterpiece? Even USA Today is sort of trashing the latest as a rush job of sorts, or a book that seems unfinished, perhaps because the author died suddenly before having a chance to refine the story.I have hopes. I'm really enjoying the first book right now and have heard great things about the second.And, the foreign-language film version will be followed this summer by the two sequels, also in Swedish. David Fincher is lining up the American remakes.

Paul Farhi: I've heard/read many times that they're excellent. I'm just intrigued by the outline: A Swedish detective? What's that about?

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Tina Fey KeCen award: Well, from the Kennedy Center's own description of the prize, it sounds like Tina Fey fits the bill. She has had an impact on American society and is a "social commentator, satirist and creator of characters" just like Twain. The award isn't solely about comedy.

Paul Farhi: Well, yes, that's certainly true. And again, no slam on Fey. But again, aren't there others who fit this same description, have for many years, and should be honored before her? I think the Kennedy Center is trying to stay "relevant" (and/or "hip") with this choice. Can't entirely blame them for that, but I do think there are more deserving people.

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Obvious Choice -: Woody Allen.

Paul Farhi: Interesting! Sure.

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Girl With A Dragon Tattoo: I was skeptical, but they are REALLY good. Addictive, almost. I sped through the first two to see what happened, and now I want to go back and read it slowly for all the detail I know I missed. Great, great reads.

Paul Farhi: Today's pick of the Pop Culture Book Club, it appears!

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Reading books ?: Whoa dude, what kind of chat are you trying to turn this into ?

Paul Farhi: Oh, sorry. I forgot...

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Kennedy Center: If they really wanted to be hip, they should make their name one word: KennedyCenter. See? Now that's cool.

Paul Farhi: How about just KenCen? Almost a rapper's handle...

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Fey: Tina Fey has had a life of TV privilege and it's due to SNL producer Michaels. She's gotten much more than she deserves from SNL and the NBC TV network and everything else. She's not universal and neither is 30 Rock -- it's fringe that NBC, for some favoritism reason, keeps holding onto. A Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett she is not. There are many more much more deserving.

Paul Farhi: Again: Nothing wrong with Tina. But there's better, or at least more deserving.

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Lindsay Lohan: My prediction: in one year's time she will be a contestant on "The Surreal Life".

Paul Farhi: tabloid fodder for tabloid fodder's sake. Why does anyone (let alone Larry King, who did a whole hour on her the other night) care?

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Mysteries and Pop Culture: Your comment about the Swedish detective brings to mind something aggravating for a longtime reader of mysteries. It used to be about the puzzle (even in Sherlock Holmes) but now the detective has to have some distinctive quirk (s), odd occupation, strange nationality, off-beat business or dysfunctional family. The gimmickry is supposed to excuse the poor quality of the mystery solutions.

Paul Farhi: Well, Sherlock had a few quirks, too, no? But, yes, I agree in the sense that a good mystery is as important to me as a good character.

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My prediction: in one year's time she will be a contestant on "The Surreal Life".: Really? What about Celebrity Rehab?

Paul Farhi: Yes, better. She certainly won't be making any Disney movies any more.

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Not tonight dear: You know who I'd like to see get the Mark Twain award ? Hal Holbrooke. He's played that same damn character for like 35 years and deserves something imho.

Paul Farhi: Well, um, Holbrook is a dramatic actor, not a satirist or comedian. So I guess the Twain award is out. He DID get an Oscar nomination for "Into the Wild," though (and he was great in that, as he is in just about everything).

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A rapper called Ken?: Ken Bigglethwaite, straight outta Compton.

Paul Farhi: I'll take your word on this, as I am unfamiliar with Mr. Bigglethwaite's oeuvre. Or even his recordings.

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My head is spinning . . . ..: Larsen to Lohen? Book World to Celebritology? Comments about Lost and Twain just falling by the wayside here!

Paul Farhi: We're all about diversity here! But thank you for playing hall monitor.

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King-Lohan: "... let alone Larry King, who did a whole hour on her the other night..."Well, at his age it takes a bit of time!

Paul Farhi: (And, no, I don't know why I watched a full hour of Larry King discussing Lindsay Lohan, either).

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Swedish detective--distinctive quirk : It's not a quirk. The author is Swedish and the books are set in Sweden. It would be odd for him to be anything but Swedish. And he's a journalist. Not a detective.

Paul Farhi: A journalist? I like these books already....

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lost and stuff: Dwindling ratings is not atypical for a long-running show. Didn't 24 get really good numbers it's first season or two?You know, I never watch the Sopranos but I read the finale didn't go over so well. So, why bother watching it all?

Paul Farhi: "24's" ratings actually went up, substantially, after its first two or three seasons. It was relatively popular to the end. It was also very expensive to produce. As we discussed in an earlier chat, it was cancelled not because of any real audience defection but because "the deal" no longer made any economic sense to Fox.

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Lost, et al: Do you think any network would air a series that was planned to run for only two or three seasons?Also, the networks get greedy, demand 22 episodes a year, the writers end up filling with a bunch of garbage while the viewers sift through trying to find the gems. That's why these non-network shows are so great. I'm already paying for HBO, so they know they have my money and don't need to worry about the ad revenue.

Paul Farhi: But HBO plays the same game that the networks do--i.e., it waits to see how well received its series are and then renews them if the ratings justify it. The scale is entirely different, however: HBO orders perhaps 10 episodes of a new series. The networks need a full season of 22 or so.

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Dude Really: Do you think Ashton Kutcher is dangerously close to becoming one of those, "famous for being famous", people ? Besides those camera commercials and a tabloid marriage, what success has this guy really had ?

Paul Farhi: I guess was his production. And maybe something else that I'm forgetting.

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Prizes: Maybe it is just me, but it seems a little silly to wait for someone to be on their death bed before honoring them with a prize. I'm not saying Fey does or doesn't deserve an award on her MERIT, only saying that not having her hip replaced yet shouldn't disqualify her from being recognized. It is on individual merit. Has she contributed to comedy and entertainment in a profound way. Many would say yes. For my money, Mean Girls is about as good a movie as one can find when it comes understanding the high school lives of girls.

Paul Farhi: A colleague (female and younger--much younger--than me) was praising Fey as a role model for young women in comedy. By which I think she means that she has been successful in a way that expands the possibilities for women in comedy. There's something to that, for sure. But we should also honor the greats of a full lifetime; otherwise, why give an award to Pryor or Carlin or Neil Simon?

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Kutcher isn't a tabloid trainwreck: He was in That 70s show for 8 years, and has been in several movies. I wouldn't say great movies, but I don't think he's been fired repeatedly from movie jobs. And he's produced a bunch of stuff. And I don't think he's a junkie. So... he's doing a lot better than Ms. Lohan.

Paul Farhi: And, yeah, he's kept out of trouble. I don't think we should praise that, though, or even reward it.

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Goodbye, Farewell and Amen: was the title of the excellent series finale of M*A*S*H*, which still remains as one of the most interesting successes in TV history. Imagine trying to do that series now, from an Afghanistan field hospital? (Hawkeye and Hot Lips would have to be much sanitized.) What a great ensemble cast they had, and even the dramatic episodes resonated.

Paul Farhi: Of course, "MASH" wasn't really about the Korean War. It was certainly SET in Korea during the war, but its spirit was of the Vietnam Era. And like all popular antiwar movies and TV shows, it began airing after the end of 'Nam.

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Paul Farhi: Folks, I'm going to have to call it a chat. Having to think about Ashton Kutcher AND Larry King in one chat has been too much for me. But I'll recover, thanks. In fact, by next week, I should be good to go again. Let's take a long weekend off and think about it. Maybe by then my Lost Introduction will have been located. Y'all have a peaceful and happy week. As always, regards to all....Paul.


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