Search

Non-Traditional Television in the 21st Century

How new video outlets are replacing video as we once knew it

How Aziz Ansari’s Master of None Is Changing What We Know About Television

When you think about some of the most successful comedies over the last 20 or 30 years, they’ve followed a pretty similar structure to reach their peak. Shows like Friends, Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory feature a group of white people who sit around all day, have relatively mundane problems and have a laugh track that tells the audience when to laugh.

The Office, Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock thrived in an NBC-comedy era when the utter ridiculousness of the workplace was enough to make people laugh, albeit with a mostly white cast as well. And those in the HBO sphere, mainly Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage, were successful because they could be raunchy enough and stay in their own lane without stepping on the toes of the network, cable comedies.

But none of these shows really did a deep dive on issues of race, love and family, rather sticking to topics far safer because it was what the audience wanted. At the tail end of 2015, however, one comedy attempted to change the landscape of the television era, comedy and diversity on TV.

Enter Master of None, a dark comedy written by and starring Aziz Ansari. He plays a slightly more exaggerated version of himself, Dev, a struggling actor living in New York City who is a first generation Indian-American. While the show is focused around Dev, Ansari’s character only begins to scratch the surface for the complexity of characters.

One of Dev’s best friends, Brian Cheng, is Taiwanese-American whose parents emigrated to the United States like Dev’s. One of my few criticisms of the show is that Brian’s character never feels fully fleshed out, but there are moments where Cheng and his father give us a glimpse into the relationship between father and son in a way that only immigrants truly understand.

Denise, one of my favorite characters, is an African-American lesbian woman whose personality shines next to a curious individual like Dev. She continues to offer insight about sex and relationships throughout the season, and watching her confidently flirt with a woman at a work function never feels like Ansari is trying to make a forced point about having a lesbian character.

Arnold, the only straight white male on the show, serves as Dev’s right-hand-man and eating buddy. The two spend a ton of their time discussing Dev’s issues over food, but Arnold, played by Eric Wareheim, doesn’t fit the convention for a normal looking white guy on television in 2016. Wareheim is 6’6”, probably 275 pounds, has a massive beard and shows his sensitive side far more often than most white, male characters do.

The last main character is Rachel, Dev’s love interest but an important character in her own right as she doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of “boring, pretty, white girl” like most other shows would have her represent. She’s featured in the first scene of the show having sex with Dev, when the condom breaks and they’re forced to go to the supermarket to buy Plan B. While most shows would ease into a scene of that nature, Ansari wants the audience to know that he doesn’t want this show to fit into the mold of a conventional comedy.

Throughout the show, issues of contention in America are brought up. Perhaps my favorite episode is when Dev and his friend Ravi go to an audition specifically looking for Indians to play a stereotypical Indian role. When Dev finds out the producer can only pick one of them despite both actors being qualified for the role, he tries to wine and dine Dev by taking him to a Knicks game and to the VIP area.

Dev is conflicted; part of him knows that the producer is totally trying to kiss his ass, but a major part of him feels as though he should stand up for other diverse actors so they don’t fall into this situation as well. Dev is right to feel conflicted, as minorities are seriously underrepresented.

In a 2015 Diversity Report published by the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, they found that 77% of characters in cable scripted shows were played by whites, 14% black, 3% Latino, 3% Asian and 3% mixed for 2012-13. For digitally scripted shows, the only major difference was that 12% were played by Latinos and 6% by blacks.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 3.50.46 PM

To say that Master of None is bucking this trend would be a major understatement. Ansari’s goal is seemingly to produce content this is completely different and fresh from the current offerings on major networks. In the fourth episode, “Indians on TV”, Dev consults Busta Rhymes and asks what he should do when Dev knows the producer sent a racist email to see if Dev could “curry his favor.” Busta responds in a way that only Master of None could make sound so serious and so funny at the same time:

“Oh no no no no. Cause Indians eat curry? I mean that’s some disrespectful shit. Kinda fucked up, bro. I mean so, he’s bringing you to the game, to butter you up, looks to me he’s trying to curry your favor… This is what I think. You’re a minority trying to come up in the game. You got a rare opportunity, especially because you got the leverage in this situation. I don’t think you should play the race card. CHARGE IT to the race card. “

bustaaziz

Busta’s probably right; Dev has been treated so poorly as a minority actor that he finally has a chance to take advantage of the producer to meet celebrities and sit courtside at Knicks games. These are the types of crossroads the show tries to get at at least once or twice every episode: Does it make more sense to do what’s morally right or what you would ultimately reap more satisfaction from?

I asked Jonathan Friedman, an NYU senior in Gallatin studying “Successful Media and Entertainment in a Digital Age,” about why he believes Master of None has had such a powerful impact on the future of television and diversity in Hollywood. Friedman, like myself, set out to understand why this show in particular has been such a rousing success compared to other shows of similar nature.

For starters, Friedman believes “the show is actually funny. Right now we’re in this era where there’s a lot of dark comedies that are barely comedies that are more so just vehicles for talented people that write and are funny… Aziz just drops this show that happens to be hilarious and actually laugh-out-loud funny.” He’s right; often times shows that are supposed to have this much impact are supposed to be dark and serious, while Master of None is funny without trying too hard to be funny.

We also discuss the issue of diversity on the show, a not so hidden move from Ansari by having three out of five minority main characters on the show. Friedman makes a really smart point about that: “The diversity on that show is refreshing… It’s interesting because it starts a lot of conversation where the divide is ‘Is this forcing me to see an unrealistic, diverse world where people wouldn’t actually be friends… or is this just showing you what the world looks like when it’s not just a white-dominant world.'”

However, this white-dominant television world is shifting. He points out numerous shows where casts are entirely diverse, such as the Fox hit Empire, Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off The Boat, and Blackish, as well as other shows where minority actors are in leading roles, such as the ABC hit Scandal, where “we can have a black female lead on this show and people are still going to go crazy for it”. While those statistics provided by UCLA are only two years old, there’s already been a tectonic shift in the past two years.

On the issue of whether television is shifting away from cable entirely, we disagree. He argues that cable television will always have a place, citing networks like FX and AMC creating hit shows that are thriving in their own right. I can’t imagine cable networks are going to splurge on big name actors and massive budgets to produce content that people can’t binge-watch on Netflix or Hulu, but this won’t occur for at least another five or ten years if it does at all.

Why does any of this matter? Because one show, Aziz Ansari’s brainchild Master of None, can spark debate over the direction of television, how to successfully discuss issues that other television shows refuse to, and the shift of diversity on television all in one masterfully created ten episode first season. It remains unclear how Ansari plans to tackle new issues in Season 2, but for now he’s sparking great debate in the golden age of television. Even if you can watch that television on your laptop, iPad or mobile device.

Buzzfeed and Gawker Are Killing Our News

On Tuesday afternoon, the first Gawker headline was “The New Republic Made a Good Tweet and Deleted It. “ The article is 50 words about a tweet that says:

GawkerTweet

Yes, Gawker’s first story is about a tweet from New Republic that says “fuck me daddy” and was ultimately deleted.  Other articles feature Rahm Emanuel enjoying Hamilton, an Icelandic man resigning amid a yogurt crisis , and the chance to freak out on a drug called flakka. Legitimate news source? Maybe it once was, but this is absolutely killing the news.

Currently, Gawker’s biggest legal battle is against Hulk Hogan (yes, the ex-WWE wrestler) because they posted his sex tape online. Hogan has asked for more than $100 million in the suit, while the “news” outlet refuses to pay more than $2 million to compensate Mr. Hogan. Do real news outlets need to focus their time on settling with ex wrestlers over an $100 million sex tape scandal?

While Gawker focuses on limiting the damage from sex tapes, Buzzfeed continues to churn out listicles at an alarming rate. The image below, taken from the Buzzfeed homepage just after 4:00 P.M. on Tuesday, shows the dichotomy between the site’s legitimate news aspirations and constant nagging from millennials demanding digestible content.Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 4.12.21 PM

On the left side, the site boasts its “really stupid, really great pictures”, tips, tweets and vines about utter nonsense. The middle panel focuses on hard-hitting news, like a political sex scandal and Syrian refugees, and the right panel seems to be a jumble of funny faces, foods, and of course Donald Trump.

I have absolutely no idea what the site is attempting to accomplish, but having the words “hangry” and “Syrian refugees” that close to one another on the site is making a mockery of the current journalistic landscape. Even though Buzzfeed has created some excellent longform pieces and is improving their news coverage, cluttering their homepage with listicles and cat videos oversaturates their real journalism.

Ultimately, the prompt asks whether Buzzfeed and Gawker are saving or killing the industry. With Twitter and Facebook generating the majority of clicks to these sites, it’s hard to have a definitive answer. Readers that want hard hitting news are clicking around these sites, but rather following a favorite journalist on social media and reading only their work, regardless of what site it is on. Until listicles and other forms of content take a backseat to news on these sites, Gawker and Buzzfeed are nothing more than clickholes that pretend to focus on news. In reality, they fall completely flat.

TV Critic Andy Greenwald

It wouldn’t be an understatement to suggest that the 21st century is the golden age of television. After all, there is more content (and great content) created at a more rapid pace than ever before, with cable networks, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon taking the lead in this creation. With more choices than ever, sometimes it gets overwhelming to figure out what to actually watch on TV during your down time. There are tons of TV critics working in 2016, but the rise and success of Andy Greenwald, especially as a staff member of Grantland, make his story a particularly fascinating one compared to his television-watching counterparts.

Greenwald grew up in Philadelphia and attended Brown University, and bounced around different publications including The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, MTV and Complex. His most recent job, TV critic at Grantland, was his most public and visible role he’s held. For those unaware, Grantland is the brainchild of ex-ESPN writer Bill Simmons, with the goal to give readers a place to consume sports, news and pop culture on one site.

grandland_rip

The site was a raving success, and Greenwald developed from a writer into an editor, podcaster, and fan favorite for his candid writing and honest looks at some of today’s most watched television shows. Unfortunately, Simmons and ESPN could never quite compromise on Simmons’ level of vulgarity and disrespect toward the network, and the two parted ways. But while Grantland closed down, Simmons took his army of writers and editors over to his new site, The Ringer, of which Greenwald will continue to play a major part under Simmons.

The main reason’s for Grantland’s close, to put it bluntly, was ESPN’s inability to control the direction of Bill Simmons’ creative endeavors. No ESPN outlet had ever taken as many creative risks in terms of focusing on television, movies and pop culture, and Simmons was able to do this, as the Columbia Journalism Review article states, because Grantland had “no idea how to manage journalists who have followers of their own.” Simmons fit this mold perfectly, as his podcasts, longform articles and religious-like following was unlike any other ESPN personality.

Like Simmons, Lara Logan had a similar fate. 60 Minutes allowed her to have sympathetic interviews with military officials, different from the normal tone the show maintained. Simmons was the same way, writing in colloquial language and saying “we” for his favorite sports teams like the Boston Celtics or New England Patriots. But ESPN couldn’t handle his attitude, and Simmons effectively took his entire Grantland team and all the traffic they generated for the site with him.

During Greenwald’s time at Grantland, he was able to provide coverage of television shows more extensively than any other sports-writing site was able to. In an interview with Rami Malek, lead actor on the hit series “Mr. Robot”, Malek says “I’ve been watching the show and the podcast, and it’s really been great. You’ve been very smart, very intuitive in what you’re talking about, you seem to get our show, sometimes better than I get the show.” Greenwald doesn’t appear to be pompous in his interviews, and his writing articulates his thoughtfulness and care in watching each show.

Perhaps my favorite piece he’s written, and one of the many reasons I wanted to focus my blog on the shift of television, is titled “Notes on the Death of the American Network Sitcom”. It’s a brilliant, smart piece that delves into networks failing to make the right choices or having to satisfy the needs of a larger demographic, but this paragraph sums it up perfectly:

You know what’s a popular network sitcom? The Big Bang Theory. In its eighth season, the show averages more than 16 million viewers a week. You know what else is a popular sitcom? The six-year-old Modern Family. It wins all the Emmys and is watched, without fail, by 10 million people. You know what else is a popular network sitcom? Nothing. Literally nothing.

How many sites would let their writers have this much creative freedom to bash the very beat that they write for? And this is why Grantland throughout its four year run was such a success, hiring smart people like Greenwald to do the heavy lifting for their niche topic. I can’t wait to see what else Greenwald does for The Ringer, but don’t expect it to conform to traditional sports or pop cultures. Just know it won’t focus on sitcoms.

 

 

 

 

LiveLike: The Future of Virtual Reality and Television

When the future of television is discussed, newer outlets like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are generally discussed, as well as larger platforms like the AppleTV. All of these are amazing new ideas to help the viewer receive as much content as possible, and in the case of the three television and movie creators, the ability to watch on iPads and mobile. But while these were once considered innovative, a new type of technology is here to blow the television viewing experience out of the water.

Within the last few years, virtual reality (VR) has become the most popular technology development of the 21st century. Major companies are starting to invest billions of dollars to ensure their company is at the forefront of this technology, but it still has an extremely long way to go until it reaches anything close to the peak. Venture Beat highlights what to expect for virtual reality in 2016, but this graph above from their site shows the enormous landscape.

The one I’ll be focusing on is LiveLike, a platform that “enables broadcasters and sports teams to deliver immersive, live sports viewing experiences.” It’s a brilliant concept, as it allows sports fans to feel as though they’re sitting at the stadium with friends by using the technology.

Fans are able to sit in a suite and watch the game from the best angle, watch with their friends and talk over virtual reality chat, switch the camera angle for a better view at a given time, and look at live stats. Instead of using different devices on different screens, LiveLike provides an all-in-one experienced unrivaled by other sports watching options.

livelike-vr-sports

One area LiveLike is focusing on is about the entire experience. As CEO Andre Lorenceau states, it’s about “about being able to hang with your friends, doing stuff while there’s a two-minute timeout.” Instead of just focusing on watching the game, fans want to have something that no one platform is offering them: a chance to feel as though they’re actually at the game.

Because virtual reality is such a new source, it opens up the possibility for new revenue opportunities. Individuals who normally would be seen in a niche testing field now move front and center to some of the most important jobs in the technology industry. The article focuses a lot on traditional news outlets and journalists, but LiveLike is attempting to get rid of the traditional journalist or news reporter. Instead of using these individuals to report what’s actually going on, LiveLike takes over the entire process. Whether that will actually work is yet to be seen, but it will be interesting to see whether journalists get lost in the shuffle as virtual reality becomes increasingly more popular in our society.

When virtual reality becomes more important, television creators and providers need to become more wary of this. My focus this semester has been on how television is ever-changing, and this is a prime example of a non-traditional television outlet using incredible resources to change the way that individuals, specifically sports fans, are watching television. Will sports fans want their continued coverage from traditional outlets, or will the fan experience of something like LiveLike become enticing enough for these outlets could become replaced? We’ll have to wait and find out.

 

 

A Day in the Life

Political Advertisements Sticking to Traditional Television

Throughout this semester, we’ve learned about how news consumption is drastically changing away from traditional television and newspapers and moving to mobile, social media and apps. For political candidates, however, this is not the case. When my beloved Michigan basketball team played Iowa in mid-January, roughly 75% of the commercials aired were candidates positioning themselves for the upcoming Iowa caucus. In a recent article published by Cleveland.com, these ads have now shifted to New Hampshire. Ohio Governor John Kasich’s ads (both positive and negative) have aired an average of 44 times per day in February, with 14 unique ads in total.

The most telling part of the article are the three data visualizations provided to understand the aggressiveness of each Republican candidate in their quest to win New Hampshire. The first one shows how Jeb Bush has had 57,139 seconds of airtime from November 20th to February 8th, with Marco Rubio right behind him at 55,055.  Donald Trump sits third with 43, 457, and no other candidate has more than 11,000 seconds. This visualization is extremely effective in showing a pie chart breakdown of ad time, and shows how the rest of the candidates besides for Ted Cruz have spent a very small portion of their ad time focusing on New Hampshire.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 5.48.45 PM
Visualization from Cleveland.com provide by Infogr.am

This is no different than what John Snow did over 150 years ago, mapping out different cholera cases. Instead of having television and Internet to track the data, Snow’s only way of gathering his information was by word of mouth. What I found particularly fascinating was the recreation of the Cholera map, using data visualization tools similar to the visualization created from information about John Kasich’s political campaigns in New Hampshire.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 3.44.17 PM
Visualization from Cleveland.com provide by Infogr.am

These visualizations focusing on John Kasich, a little more advanced than Mr. Snow’s, show which words he uses most in his pro and ads that attacked him. In the pro ads, he focuses on jobs and the state of New Hampshire, with Mexico and time also mentioned four times. In the ads against Kasich, there’s a radical shift. Wall Street and banker are each used four times, while Lehman Brothers, billions and Obama are also used. The anti-Kasich ads don’t seem to have a constant theme, but these charts definitely help the voters understand what Kasich stands for and alternatively what the other candidates are attacking him for.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 3.50.32 PM
Visualization from Cleveland.com provide by Infogr.am

This is completely different from traditional journalism because the reader doesn’t actually see the ads, but rather gets an overview about what types of words are used in both the positive and negative ads. For the negative ads, I would have loved to see a breakdown of which candidates used which words in their ads, especially so I could go back and learn about that candidate’s view on a topic. The visualization doesn’t tell the whole story about Kasich, and that’s definitely a major shortcoming, but for a New Hampshire voter that wants to have a rough understanding of who they’re voting for, this is not a bad start at all.

However, as is the issue in John Snow’s case, it’s difficult “to represent the true impact of an event.” Some of the pro or anti-Kasich ads might have had more of an impact than other on viewer’s voting positions, which is a major shortcoming on for both Snow’s population-clustered map and this specific data visualization.

Future of Television- Radio Piece

I did a 2:30 piece on the future of television. Hope you enjoy!

The (Mostly) Successful Way To Consume The News: NPR One

 

From the moment you open the NPR One app, the goal is to feel like you’re on an audio journey around your local area and even the world. “Your state, your stories, your NPR radio” is the slogan the app tries to portray.

The first story in the national news was about the caucus race in Iowa, talking about both the Republican and Democratic race and how it could lead to momentum in New Hampshire. Iowa’s race, I learned, is actually really just a “neighborhood meeting”, but it helps to shape the rest of the political race.

Without any real transition, the next story less than a minute later jumped to the current state of the Syrian regime. After jumping around, the Local Newscast immediately started with plumbers helping out Michiganders in the Flint water crisis. Two of the three stories focused on Detroit in the brief summary, with the largest issue facing the state of Michigan on the water crisis in Flint. For major news stories, a 45 second soundbite doesn’t quite do it justice.

NPRIowa
Precinct Chairwoman Judy Wittkop explains the rules during a 2008 Democratic caucus in Le Mars, Iowa. Dave Weaver/AP

I chose to ignore the Planet Money episode, and the first extended clip was about the Iowa Caucuses. Admittedly, I know far less than I should about politics and their specific importance at every stage of the Presidential Election. I learned that the only thing that matters is the number of people who go out and vote for these caucuses, and how important Iowa is in shaping the election nine months from now.

One of the points of emphasis Sara Sarasohn, NPR One editorial lead, mentioned is that “One of the biggest indicators of people coming back to NPR more often is the presence of a local newscast. If you hear a local newscast, you come back more often.” Disappointingly, the emphasis on my selected stories was probably 30% local, 70% elsewhere.

The craziest story I stumbled across was North Korean defectors who moved to South Korea and became TV stars. North Korea is by far the most tight-lipped country in the world, and so defectors discussing their past lives and creating a “North Korean Reality” segment is an extremely interesting tactic to make North Koreans seems relatable to South Koreans.

NPRSouthKorea
“There’s a lot of prejudice toward North Korean defectors in South Korea,” Han Seohee says. “So I wanted to show South Koreans that we’re living here and trying the best we can.” Haeryun Kang/for NPR

Some stories were far less interesting, like the history of the word groove and groovy that has been around for decades. University of Michigan professor Anne Curzan gave a very thorough answer relating it to records, but I cared much more about the political issues that I was offered. This is partially a problem, especially when local stations “don’t have much curatorial control over their stories that go into the app”. This is one area where the app could be improved, helping users find stories geared more to what they want.

My favorite part of NPR’s slogan/campaign is the goal to become the “Netflix of listening.” Netflix has recently dominated the market for television and movies, as my beat tries to explain, and users don’t even have to pay for NPR to receive the same type of content as Netflix. This business model should also be a massive draw to the younger demographic that probably would be less inclined to get their news from an organization that comes off as more stuffy and less “cool”.

Overall, the NPR One app is a great app to get sound bites of news and media in a digestible form. Most stories stay within a three to four minute window, giving users enough information that they have a full understanding but not enough where they feel as though they’re being bombarded with information. I was hoping for more local stories, but a good mix of local and national/international kept me entertained for the hour I was poking around on the site.

Grade: B+

List of Stories

-National News

-Local News

-What To Know About the Iowa Caucuses

-South Korea’s Newest TV Stars Are North Korean Defectors

-Groovy, baby: The rise and fall of the groove

-Clinton Runs As Wonk In Chief, Trying to Win Hearts With Plans

-Roundtable: Donald Trump’s Media Tactics

-ABC’s Bob Woodruff: The Unexpected Life

-Denmark’s Mixed Message for Refugees

-“Our obsession with tax cuts” had led to a crumbling infrastructure

-Book Diagnoses Darwin With Anxiety And Warhol As A Hoarder

-Karen Korematsu asks Michigan to honor her father’s fight for civil liberties

WOLV-TV Live Tweeting Event

When online video started becoming the new normal in the mid-2000s, everyone decided to jump on the bandwagon and create their own content. Below is one of those attempts at content through live tweets, a play-by-play/analysis on one of WOLV-TV’s racier shows, “Turned On”. The show features three hosts who pretend to be knowledgable about sex but ultimately just come off and brash and extremely annoying by the end. Fortunately for you, I sat through a 30-minute video and shared some of the best discoveries, photos and video (and the video is great, trust me) from the show. Hope you enjoy!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑