Protests Only Work When It Hurts…

It’s funny the things that will come up when you’re in the process of moving. During me and my wife’s latest move from the foothills of North Carolina to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I happened across probably one of the more disappointing moments from this year (at least until possibly the election in November)…

Springsteen.png

Now, the seats weren’t fantastic – in fact, they were at the other end of the arena from where the stage was situated. But they were square on with the stage and would have offered a great opportunity to see much of the crowd enjoying the show from Bruce, one of the legendary performers in rock history (I could tell stories about seeing him in 1980 for a six-plus hour show, but we’ll save that for another time). My wife and I were eagerly anticipating the show as it had been many years since either of us had been able to see “The Boss” in action.

Then the North Carolina General Assembly and asswipe Governor Pat McCrory got their panties in a bunch.

In February, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance extending protections to the lesbian/bisexual/gay/transgender (LGBT) community. A part of this ordinance – and the issue that sparked the most controversy – was the provision for allowing people to use the restroom of their gender identity, rather than that of whichever sex they were born. In essence, the ordinance allowed those who were in the process of shifting from one sex to another to use the restroom of that other sex (male transgendered individuals could use female restrooms and vice versa).

The response by McCrory and the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature (which has been gerrymandered to make it virtually impossible for a balanced legislature to occur – witness the THREE TIMES that the federal government has called the state’s legislative districts unconstitutional) was immediate. Convening a special session of the General Assembly (one outside the normal working times of the legislative body), McCrory and his henchmen pushed through HB2, a bill that was so overreaching in its aim it was destined for the “unconstitutional” bin almost from the start.

Not only did that bill immediately set that “all people” had to use the restroom of the birth sex, but it also removed the right for minorities and the LGBT community to sue through the state court system for discrimination. It included a provision that prevented individual cities from enacting their own laws that differentiated from state statutes. With many Democratic representatives protesting by leaving the voting floor, the statute passed through the General Assembly with only about 12 HOURS of overall discussion.

This was the end of March and, within days, the impact was felt. Several local productions in theaters around the Tar Heel State reported that the rights holders to significant stage productions (plays) were pulling their approval for performance over the bill. The streaming provider Hulu pulled the production of a program they had set for airing out of North Carolina over the bill and PayPal suspended expansion of its operations center in the state. This was but the tip of the iceberg, however.

allstarcanceled

Many entertainment artists have also pulled out of shows that they were scheduled to perform, including “The Boss,” Pearl Jam, Boston, Bryan Adams, Ani DiFranco, Ringo Starr, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato and Cirque du Soleil. The real thunder came down, however, over the past couple of months, first with the National Basketball Association’s removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte. Then, just yesterday, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) removed SEVEN championship games or playoff sites from the state, citing the law as the reason. All totaled, the loss of business regarding all of these repercussions could total to as much as half a billion dollars by the year anniversary of HB2’s passage, with the NBA All-Star Game accounting for about $100 million of that total, and could even impact future business in the state.

The reason this came back to me was not only a result of the move. Finding that ticket stub for an unused concert was simply the catalyst for a reply to model Kate Upton’s Twitter hissy fit over athletes not standing for the National Anthem. Of course, over the weekend was the opening weekend of the National Football League season (and the 15th anniversary of 9/11, just coincidentally) and, following in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s continuing protest against inequality in the United States, some players either did not stand for, knelt in protest or displayed the “Black Power” salute as the National Anthem played. This bunched Upton’s panties, who stated, “This is unacceptable. You should be proud to be an American. Especially on 9/11 when we should support each other.”

The continued attention being drawn to what has now become a movement (hey, if a subject catches the nation’s attention for more than two years – yes, it’s been that long since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, widely considered the spur – it is a movement) is only done when a protest has an impact. Kaepernick has been vocal in the past regarding the issues of black people in the United States and their treatment at the hands of law enforcement, but no one was paying any attention to what he was saying. It wasn’t until his act of defiance of not standing for the National Anthem – and attention was drawn to the fact that he was doing it – that there became a national conversation (admittedly sometimes not about what Kaepernick wanted to talk about, as with Upton’s attempt at using her First Amendment rights by silencing Kaepernick’s, but still there was discussion).

nflprotest

For a protest to have an impact, there are a couple of things that it should have. It has to have some financial teeth, some fiscal bite, that pushes some to reconsider their positions (it also has to have a side that understands those fiscal implications – apparently North Carolina Republicans are morons if they issue this response). Along with that, it should have some emotional impact on people. There were plenty that were upset over Springsteen’s decision to not perform in North Carolina, just as there are more than likely many upset that Demi Lovato didn’t come to North Carolina or that LeBron James won’t be making an appearance during the NBA All-Star Game in the state. A protest only works when it hurts, either physically or emotionally. That is what makes a protest enact the change that comes about (eventually) with issues.

I’m putting those unused Bruce Springsteen tickets back in the desk as a reminder to myself for a couple of reasons. One, something has to be lost (in some cases) for a protest to have its desired effect, and Two, there is the ability to protest at all levels, from the richest of us all to the poorest. It will be some time before the protests of the actions in North Carolina and the national discussion of inequality are adequately addressed, but hopefully it is sooner than later.

Advertisements

Rail Against a Theocratic Government? Start with The GOP’s Vision for the United States…

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the Republican Party was one that stood up for business interests, be they the street corner “mom and pop” shops or the monolithic companies such as General Motors or General Electric that employed thousands of workers. They stood for a strong defense, a military that was prepared to do battle anywhere but wasn’t wasted on piddling matters that weren’t of our nation’s interests. They also could, at one point in their history, be the spark of what were some of the great movements in the United States, changing what would be the course of our nation.

So what happened to the “Grand Old Party,” the GOP, the Republicans? Religion, and in particular the zealous “Religious Right” is what happened to them. (And this guy? Your guess is as good as mine…)

Over the past few weeks, a couple of states in this country – both with Republican leadership in their legislatures and Republican governors – have passed some of the most heinous laws this country has seen since the Jim Crow days following the close of the Civil War.

Bathroom

In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory (who has that same sheepish “look what I got away with” bullshit smirk that President George Bush [Bush II] had) signed into law HB 2, officially titled the “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.” Much like other Republican bullshit laws like the “Patriot Act” or the “Troubled Asset Relief Program,” HB 2 was a move by the GOP-led General Assembly to thwart an ordnance that was passed by the city of Charlotte – and only applicable in that city, it must be stated – that allowed for transgender persons to use the bathroom facilities of the sex that they identified with (as such, a man in the process of switching to being a female would use the ladies’ room and vice versa). Calling a special session of the General Assembly to Raleigh (at a minimum cost of $42,000 per day for a state currently running a budget deficit), the GOP felt this HAD to be addressed.

The law specifically outlawed transgendered people from using the restroom of their changed sex, saying that they had to use the facilities of the sex they were identified with on their birth certificate (which of these GOP assholes is going to be the guardian at the gate?). Not only was this an abomination, the General Assembly went further in stripping the rights from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people (LGBT) from state anti-discrimination protections (although they were never mentioned in any discrimination laws previously), including job protection and housing requirements. Finally – and as a last “fuck you” to the people of North Carolina – the General Assembly made it law that no city can raise their minimum wage over what the state deems correct (this is irritating enough on its own).

North Carolina doesn’t take the prize for being the biggest bigots on the block, however. Mississippi voted through the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act (see what I mean about bullshit titling?),” through a bicameral system dominated by Republicans. In that act, the bill allows for the out-and-out discrimination against LGBT people by businesses based on religious reasons. The bill was signed into law by another Republican, Governor Phil Bryant, and is now in effect in the state.

TheProblem

Other states with Republicans running things have gotten wise and decided it wasn’t worth screwing up business dealings with other states for the potential to have such “religious freedom” laws on the books. Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Maine and Ohio have decided that the ability to have businesses welcomed in the state, movies and television shows filmed inside their borders or athletic events contested in their arenas is better than being a social outcast. This is something that North Carolina is learning and Mississippi will probably be learning soon.

In North Carolina, the National Basketball Association is considering the removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and the All-Star Game Weekend festivities from the city, with Basketball Hall of Fame member Charles Barkley seconding those statements. The NCAA is looking at its 2017 and 2018 college sports tournaments, which could host at least 20 games at venues in the state, and whether it will hold those games at those arenas. PayPal has decided against opening a global operations center in Charlotte over the passage of the law (which was to have provided 500 jobs) as Apple, IBM and Google have also lined up in opposition to the law. The streaming television provider Hulu pulled production of its pilot for a new show, Crushed, from the state and, on Friday, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro, citing the oppressive new law as the reason. All of these individual items could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues and it is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The Republican Party enjoys talking about how they dislike the theocratic government of Iran or the hideous atrocities that groups like ISIS inflict on their people in the name of religion, but let’s start with them as a zealous religious group that would look to install a theocratic reign of terror should they be allowed everything they would like to see installed (nullification of Roe v. Wade would just be the beginning). The different “religious freedom” laws are about as ludicrous as it gets as NO ONE is infringing on the freedom of ANY religion in this country. Last I checked, you could freely walk around the streets of Anywhere, USA, with a Bible, Book of Mormon, Qur’an or Torah without anyone accosting you. You can gather anywhere – a park, a home, a school or even an actual house of worship that isn’t taxed by said government – without the danger of having the government shut it down. You can even – shock of shocks – WEAR A PENDANT DECLARING YOUR FAITH openly in public. So quit with this bullshit of “religious freedom” and call it what it is – the new way of saying “racial or personal bigotry.”

Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the GOP has slowly been eaten away by the “religious right,” and it has been a slow process. It started against those who were “different” – minorities, gays (this was also the time of the Stonewall Riots in 1969), “foreigners” (screw the fact that many in this country were maybe one or two generations removed from being a foreigner themselves) or “hippies” who were against the Vietnam War. As the 70s came along, that “Religious Right” became capitalized as the GOP discovered that it was a sizeable force that presented several things that a political party likes – a solid voting bloc that won’t sway and, in most cases, quite affluent to be able to support the party financially.

That “Religious Right” became the “Moral Majority” that spewed its vile verbosity across the country in the 1980s, perpetuated by President Ronald Reagan and George Bush (Bush I). With such hucksters as Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts (who once famously said that “God would call him home if he didn’t raise $6 million” in a certain time frame – when it didn’t happen, no one called him on his bullshit), Benny Hinn and others piping their drivel across cable networks, their power continued to grow (never mind that they couldn’t keep their privates in their pants if their lives depended on it). While it might seem it calmed in the 1990s, it only changed its face into the Neo-Conservatives.

ReligiousRight

Those “conservatives” (and I will use that term because there are SOME conservatives out there who are aghast that their GOP has been overrun by religious zealots) have destroyed what was once a party that did things, that tried to run a country. These “conservatives” now want to deny everyone anything (including gay marriage and any other rights), put Christianity as the only religion of the land and, in essence, become the same theocracy they say they preach against (they have their “perfect leader” in Rafael Eduardo Cruz). This isn’t a political party, this is a religious movement that is impersonating a political organization, not the Republican Party or GOP that was around after World War II.

Fortunately, the world is changing. There are fewer and fewer of these brain-dead religious zealots pandering to a close-minded bigoted electorate who still want to look in the bathrooms and bedrooms and keep an eye on what people do, but it isn’t dwindling quickly enough. It’s time to let the GOP know that their archaic social stances will keep them from ever being considered seriously as a political entity. Within a generation, either the GOP will have grudgingly entered the 21st century or they will have died a painful death (they may very well be in those death throes now). If it brings an end to this bigotry masquerading as “religious freedom,” then I’m all for it.

“The Man in the High Castle” Is Captivating Television

It has been some time since we took a look at some of the new offerings from the movie, television or music worlds and that is a good thing. First of all, I’m not going to waste your time telling you about something that is completely awful (I know I said Quantico wasn’t very good, but it hasn’t been canceled yet…that means some people must like it). If I am going to take the time to offer up something, 9 out of 10 times it is going to be worth checking out (or at least I think so). That is what we have when we look at a new offering that has just been released.

HighCastle

There is a completely new world out there when it comes to the streaming services. The days of when these outlets simply provided a way to catch the latest movies or watch an old show (or a new one) are causing rapid changes in what they offer. Part of their attractiveness is that they can be watched over virtually any device. In the beginning it was just computers, then the outlets branched into tablets, cellphones and video game devices. Now, the HDTVs that come out (with the spanking new 4K technology and “smart” TV capabilities) have one or more of these streaming outlets pre-programmed on them.

Maybe it is because of the above that the streaming outlets made the moves they did. Such outlets as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu Plus have decided to swan-dive into the deep end of the pool and produce their own shows rather than just offer the other networks’ material (and, in most cases, pay out the ass for the programming). Since I wasn’t around for the start of House of Cards or even Orange is the New Black, I am trying to find something that I can get into that is new to many (and can take over while I wait for the spring session of Blindspot and the second season of Mr. Robot to start) and it appears that Amazon has the next big thing.

Released on November 20, The Man in the High Castle is a ten-episode series that was foisted on the public all at once, meaning you can take it in the traditional episodic doses or can fully immerse yourself in it through a “binge.” This method of “broadcasting” (hey, it’s the only term I can think of that applies) has its pros and cons; it does allow you to blast through it in one big marathon but, if you take it one or two episodes at a time, you might forget that you are watching it and not go back to the series (confession:  I DVRed The Player, meaning to watch it but never did. It was canceled two episodes into its run). With High Castle, I sincerely doubt that someone is going to forget they have it in the library.

The series is based on the book of the same name written by one of the great minds of U. S. literature, Philip K. Dick. Dick, who wrote the science fiction classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that eventually became the basis for the classic 1982 film Blade Runner (one of my personal favorites), this time steps into the alternative history genre and has the same impact there that he had with science fiction. The person who brought High Castle to the air, Frank Spotnitz (best known for his work on The X-Files), also deserves kudos for producing an excellent product.

The year is 1962, ten years removed from “V-A Day,” or the day that Nazi Germany and the forces of Imperial Japan defeated the United States in World War II. As a part of the peace, the Nazis take over the Eastern part of the United States virtually all the way to the Rocky Mountains, renaming it the Greater Nazi Reich; the Japanese, for their efforts, take over from the West Coast to the Rockies with their Japanese Pacific States. Between the two, running the ridges of the Rockies, is a Neutral Zone to separate the Nazis and the Japanese that has become an area to provide living space for segments of society (minorities, homosexuals and other “deviants”) that would otherwise be persecuted or even killed for who or what they are.

It is a tenuous peace between the two international powers, however. An aging Adolf Hitler is in failing health and, as Himmler and Goebbels jockey for position to take over from him, the Japanese grow concerned that Hitler’s death would result in warfare that would force them out of the former United States. Since the end of WWII, Germany has become a technological powerhouse, developing the hydrogen bomb and planes that fly from New York to San Francisco in two hours, while Japan has languished in its imperial peace. This is an important part of the program, but it isn’t the only plotline to pay attention to as the show continues.

The show opens up with a young man, Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), visiting a factory in New York City on the seemingly innocent premise of looking for a job. He strolls through a totalitarian Times Square replete with the Nazi swastika burnished on video boards and flags and, upon reaching the factory, finds the manager. As we sit in on their meeting, we discover it isn’t for a job in the factory; Joe is being hired to drive a truck across the Greater Nazi Reich to Canon City, a town in the Neutral Zone, for The Resistance, a rebel alliance looking to oust the Nazis from the country.

After demonstrating his will to do the job, Joe gets the keys from the manager just as Nazi troops raid the factory. While the bullets fly, Joe is able to get away from the factory intact, but everyone else is not so lucky. The Nazis summarily execute everyone who was in the factory save for the manager, who is taken into custody and, as we find out through the first episode, tortured mercilessly.

As Joe is doing this, we go to San Francisco where another part of the story is developing. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), who has assimilated nicely into a post-war Japanese society (taking aikido lessons and embracing their medicinal and cultural offerings), is stunned to meet up with her half-sister who tells her she has a great new job. Later in the evening, Juliana and her sister meet again under much more dire circumstances; Juliana’s sister hands her a package and cryptically tells her to take care of it before running away. As Juliana hides in the shadows, Japanese soldiers execute her sister in the street.

Running home, a perplexed Juliana (why would soldiers kill her sister) looks in the bag her sister gave to her. In the bag is a film entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy and, after viewing the reel, Juliana discovers it is an alternate reality film based on what happened if the Allies had instead won World War II (you with me so far?). Spurred to action by watching the film and the death of her sister, Juliana leaves her boyfriend (Rupert Evans) who hides that he is part Jewish, a crime punishable by death even in the Japanese Pacific States, and heads for Canon City with a ticket procured for her sister to make the trip.

The remainder of the first episode brings our protagonists to Canon City. Blake has what might be called an uneventful run but discovers that, out on the Great Plains, hospitals are crematoriums for the sickly and elderly instead of healing (remember, that’s Nazi Country). Juliana has her own issues, with a female passenger on the bus she is taking to Canon City mysteriously stealing her belongings but not the movie reels. The first episode ends with a twist that I honestly didn’t see coming and, after seeing it, nearly made me rocket into the second episode rather than allowing the first one to sink in fully.

Beyond the point that we have several different plotlines intersecting in this one hour – the impending death of Hitler and the potential for war between the Nazi and Japanese, the trips of both Blake and Crain to Canon City to do what isn’t exactly known and the film (is it possible it’s true?) and its purpose – there is an attention to detail in creating the false reality of “this” divided U. S. nation that is remarkable. There are far too many things to point out that helped to convey the dread and dismay of the conditions of living in such a situation and, with the supporting cast, all viewpoints are offered (Crain’s mother hates the Japanese for killing her husband; Blake meets a police officer who was in the U. S. military but now accepts his fate with the Nazis). It potentially indicates that there are some deeper analogies that we might see in the future of the program.

The Man in the High Castle also showed me that there is a new reality to the future of television. Unrestrained by broadcast guidelines or traditional “broadcasting times,” these shows being put out by the streaming networks are quality works that should demand a great deal more attention from the viewing public. If every program was of the high quality that High Castle is, then there would be a greater impetus to “cut the cord” from normal cable and network broadcasting, which have become staid with their product.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out these streaming channels, you’re missing out on what could be a bountiful arena of choices for your viewing pleasure. You’re definitely missing out on one of the best programs of the year with The Man in the High Castle; I’d suggest climbing onboard the wagon soon for both the show and for the streaming channels.

The Coming Downfall of Broadcast Television

Roku4

There have been some things that have been consistent in the average person’s life when it comes to entertainment. The theater has been around since the Greeks and Romans put plays on in their massive outdoor amphitheaters and musical concerts have almost the same longevity. The change has come in the way that those things – acting and musical performances, along with sporting events – have been delivered to the populace.

In the really “old days,” the only way to partake of these artistic or athletic endeavors was in a live setting. With the creation of radio, it became possible for people to join in on a concert or sporting event from several hundred, even thousands, of miles away. When television came along in the 1920s, the picture was added to the radio broadcast and became the preferred way for people to witness events from thousands, even millions (remember the moon landing in 1969?), of miles away. As technology improves, however, many of these avenues are becoming extinct or may become extinct over the next decade or so.

First to go was radio. The normal terrestrial radio – replete with commercials – lasted for over 100 years before the advent of satellite radio came along. At first, many said “I’m not going to pay for radio,” but, as time, technological improvements and personal choices came to the fore, people decided to pay for satellite radio. Today, SiriusXM and its array of channels challenge terrestrial radio across the board in the ability to deliver breaking news, sporting events and musical events and artists’ recent musical output. It doesn’t bode well for the future as more terrestrial radio stations become “automated” – basically eschewing live DJs for stale canned programming to reduce costs – and the satellite stations boom, basically destroying an industry 100 years or more in the making.

A similar situation is happening in the world of television. Just a little younger than the radio industry, television has been a staple of U. S. households since it was popularly mass-produced in the 1950s. Over the past 60-plus years, television has not only brought to those around the world important historical moments – the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the standoff at Tiananmen Square, the bombing of Baghdad in the first Gulf War – but has also brought hours of entertainment through movies, musical concerts, comedies and dramas.

Those traditions are quickly changing and nothing shows it more than the recent announcements from two powers in the television world, one a major network and one a cable powerhouse. It was announced on Monday that CBS Television Studios would be bringing a new entry into the Star Trek universe come January 2017. While not commenting on what tack the new series will take, it does have the power of Alex Kurtzman, who produced the 2009 theatrical version of Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, behind it.

The crossover of Kurtzman from the Big Screen to the Little Screen isn’t the important change, however. CBS has already stated that the premiere episode of the new Star Trek series would be broadcast on its regular network airwaves. Following that, the premiere and each new episode would be seen on CBS’ brand new on demand outlet, CBS All Access, and would not be broadcast on the traditional airwaves ever again.

After this announcement regarding the CBS/Star Trek partnership, it was announced on Tuesday that longtime cable television giant HBO and former The Daily Show front man Jon Stewart had joined forces for him to issue commentary during the upcoming 2016 Presidential campaigns. So what will be the name of Stewart’s new show that will premiere next year? It won’t be a show and it won’t be on HBO, fans; it will be “short form digital content,” or online efforts, with Stewart offering commentary that will appear over HBO’s on demand and streaming outlets HBO NOW, HBO GO and other arenas.

What do both of these legendary entries do? Sidestep the traditional broadcasting arenas in favor of online or “streaming” outlets, signifying that there is a coming downfall of broadcast television.

NetflixLogo

Since the beginning of the 21st century, this transition has been pretty easy to see coming. Netflix wormed its way in with its creation in 1999, initially offering only DVDs to customers as an alternative to the “big box” movie rental outlets such as Hollywood Video or Blockbuster Video. Not only did Netflix crush those outlets with its business plan, they soon grasped onto the idea that they could do television just as well as the traditional broadcast networks. Such now-acclaimed dramas and comedies as House of Cards and the resurrected Arrested Development got their start in 2013 on Netflix and the acclaimed Orange is the New Black premiered in 2014. Since these and other shows premiered, Netflix has earned over 50 Emmy nominations and won 11 times.

After Netflix showed the way, there were many who followed. Hulu and Amazon Prime Video now have their own streaming video networks in addition to their usual movie rentals and they have made their impacts not only on broadcasting but on awards shows with their own original programming. Even the traditional networks, such as what CBS has done above, have entered into the digital arena.

ChromeCast

If you’re going to have the non-traditional broadcast sources, you have to have a way to get it to the people. With Roku, ChromeCast, AppleTV and software on the Xbox and PS4 video game systems, there are ways to use an internet connection to pretty much see anything that might appear on network television that same day or within a couple of days of a program’s original broadcast (if it is on the network’s digital outlet, then the next day). The combination of these internet streaming options plus the drive to sever the ties with cable could very well doom the traditional network outlets and cable television.

Cable television, as traditionally offered by Comcast, Time Warner and several other outlets, offers different packages for homes in their areas. Households can pay anywhere between $20 (for the barest bones package that basically only gives the local broadcast networks) and $300 (for every bell and whistle available, not to mention internet access and/or phone) for cable television programming. If people were able to make the choice to buy the channels that they like and want – say a Netflix here, an ESPN there, etc. – and pay drastically less than what they pay for cable, people will do that in a heartbeat.

Cable broadcasting will more than likely end when those device providers – Roku, ChromeCast and the others – start providing “bundles” of channels at a low price for their viewers (this might also be the saving grace of broadcast television in that they could negotiate rights, much like they already do with the cable companies, with the streaming providers). These “bundles” could offer local television station programming, a sports channel or two, a movie channel and a news channel for next to nothing. You could have a sports package, a movie package or a news package to go alongside the local channels that can be picked up with a digital antenna. Then there is always the fallbacks of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon that could bring the programming.

There is one problem that could be present for those looking for the utter devastation of cable. Live televised sports still provide the most viewers in television – look at the numbers for football’s Super Bowl or for soccer’s (the rest of the world’s football) World Cup. The individual leagues have been looking to this, however, and have come up with streaming options that could easily make their way to a streaming home.

Major League Baseball’s MLB.tv is something that is offered year round (usually using the feeds from the local team’s affiliate) and the National Football League recently broadcast one of their games between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars not only from London, the United Kingdom but also exclusively streamed over the internet. If the individual leagues can figure out a way to remove the broadcast networks from the equation and monetize their offerings, they will be the first to “cut the cord.”

And this doesn’t even add into the mix the expanding world of mobile programming, or watching traditional television on your cellphone…

The moves by CBS and HBO (and others, to be honest – the situation is rapidly changing) to bypass the traditional network broadcasting routine for straight-to-digital broadcasts signifies a seismic change, a strange new world for the future of television broadcasting. Will the other companies in the industry catch up? Will the cable companies be able to make adjustments in their offerings? Will the streaming channels and the devices that provide them take the idea of “cutting the cable” all the way to the logical fruition of cable’s destruction? The coming years will provide the answers.

“Blindspot” A Grey Story That Keeps You Guessing; “Quantico” Misses the Mark

If the calendar has passed the Autumnal Equinox, it must be time for the newest television shows to hit the airwaves of the traditional television networks. Usually these new programs are retreads of past tropes (cop shows! buddy comedies! fish out of water situations!) or are as intriguing as watching a hangnail, which is pretty much the reason that many viewers have left the traditional networks for the various cable, pay networks (HBO, Showtime, etc.) or the growing streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.). Still, there are a few shows that will break out for the networks and make it worthwhile to watch commercials.

It is estimated that the major television networks call for somewhere between 20-60 “pilots” to be filmed that will give them a crop to go over and decided which are worthy of airing (or, on the other hand, give them fodder for what used to be the “slower” summer schedule). Cable networks may be counted in this as, once a network has decided to pass on a particular project, it may be revived by such networks as TBS, TNT, FX and others for their channel. This doesn’t stop the cable networks – nor the pay networks or the streaming services – from doing their own thing, however, so it’s conceivable that there could be somewhere around 100-150 pilots out there, of which potentially just 20-40 make the cut.

In 2013, there were a grand total of 26 new series’ (comedic, dramas and reality) that premiered on the major television networks. Of that number, only seven (including the outstanding The Blacklist and the iffy Brooklyn Nine-Nine) survived to come back the next season. In 2014, the number of premieres stayed almost the same (25) as did the survival rate (8). For 2015, the number has dropped to 17 and, by the end of the year (hell, maybe by the end of October), we’ll probably have a good idea as to how many of those will come back for a second season next fall.

One of those that should have a long shelf life (or the potential is there for it to have one) is the new NBC series Blindspot (Mondays at 10PM Eastern Time). From the start, the show lays down its premise very well – after Times Square is cleared out due to a duffel bag left in the street, an amnesiac woman emerges from said bag completely covered in intricate tattoos on her naked body – in that this Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) is the key to something. That’s where the story gets a bit grey, though, and it serves to pull the viewer into the program while giving out drips of information along the way.

FBI Special Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), the lead investigator following Jane Doe’s – rescue? capture? recovery? you’re really not sure – apparently has a tie to whoever tattooed Doe as one of the decorations on her back addresses her to him by tattooing his name on her directly. Weller discovers after questioning Doe that she doesn’t have any recollections of who she is, who was the artist behind her tattoos or why she was in the bag in Times Square. As Weller – and the audience – finds out deeper into the program, these aren’t the only mysteries that Jane Doe brings to the table.

In the premiere episode, one of Jane Doe’s tattoos – a few lines of a Chinese dialect hidden behind an ear – are translated by Doe (amazing the FBI agents around her, including Weller) as an address in New York City. Heading to the address with Doe in tow (who is understandably quite interested in figuring out what the hell is going on), the FBI finds that a Chinese national is plotting to blow up the Statue of Liberty. At the same time, we learn a bit more about Doe as, while she is attempting to stop a man from beating his wife in the apartment complex, she shows off hand-to-hand combat moves that would make Jason Bourne proud in taking down two attackers.

The investigation – into both the Chinese national’s plot and Doe herself – continues, where we learn that Doe COULD be a “black ops” agent trained by the Navy Seals. Meanwhile, the FBI team rushes to the Statue of Liberty, where Weller and Doe take the terrorist down as Doe unlocks a part of her memory – her undergoing weapons training with an unknown bearded gentleman – and prevent the attack from taking place.

While we won’t get into the gist of the second episode (a fascinating story about a former military pilot who hacks a drone to carry out attacks on U. S. soil against those who wronged him), you’ll get enough from the first two episodes to see that this is a show that will have some staying power. Overall it is a “grey” story in that the characters all have some faults that they have to work through, the heroes aren’t all wearing white hats and the bad guys aren’t all twirling their mustaches. For Weller, it is the disappearance of a childhood friend that drove him to join the FBI; for other agents on the team, it is in how much they can trust Doe; for Doe herself, it is who she actually is and if she’s actually a force for good or a tool put in place to cause eventual catastrophe.

The only thing that might derail Blindspot is if it becomes an episodic “Terrorist of the Week” show. Sure, we need to know what happened to Jane Doe, but the team doesn’t need to stop a terrorist from destroying the Five Boroughs every week or stop some sort of crime. Through the usage of the tattoos covering Doe (that seems to be the directional after they are translated by the supercomputer built by the scientist working with the team), we’d like to see them give us more information about the characters and have them grow along with our knowledge of Doe. As long as Blindspot can keep me guessing, I am going to be hooked on the show.

The same cannot be said for the new ABC show Quantico (Sundays at 10PM Eastern Time). The open of the program introduces us to first generation Indian-American newbie FBI agent Alex Parrish (superb Indian actress Priyanka Chopra), who is lying amidst the rubble of a massive terrorist attack in New York City (apparently it has become OK again to depict the Big Apple as the target of terrorists, but that’s an argument for another time). After being plucked from the wreckage by fellow agents and New York’s finest, they put her to the task of identifying from her FBI training class the person who is responsible for the attack.

Here is the first problem with Quantico. From the Incident Command Post in New York, we are whisked back to when Parrish heads off to training with the FBI at its namesake headquarters. Along the way, we are quickly introduced to other members of her class:  a gay man, a Muslim woman, a “legacy” whose parents were both FBI agents and, of course, a hunky guy that Parrish meets on the plane to Quantico and has sex with in his car upon hitting the ground in Virginia (Parrish doesn’t believe she’ll ever meet the guy again; she’s slightly surprised when he shows up in her training class).

The problem is the constant “time hopping” back and forth of the program. Just when you’re beginning to get a gist for what is going on in “real time” (the terrorist attack), you’re pulled out of the situation and plopped back to when the major players were at Quantico undergoing training. While there are moments that push along the plotline (SPOILER ALERT:  a suicide in the premiere episode, driven by an exercise in investigation, brings out plenty of information), the overall feeling of the “school days” of the FBI agent-wannabes is that’s where the writers and producers want to push the “sexy” side of the story, with more emphasis on individuals hooking up than their coursework. Instead of concentrating on one side or the other, you’re never really sure what is supposed to be the main story that is being told by the writers.

By the end of the first episode, it is pretty easy to deduce what is going to happen. Parrish, as she is shocked to learn, is believed to be responsible for the terrorist act and is taken away in cuffs and leg irons on the order of one of her FBI instructors Liam O’Connor (Josh Hopkins). While they are driving away from the scene of the crime, the driver whips out a stun gun and zaps the guard sitting beside the driver and busts Parrish out; the driver is Parrish’s Quantico class director Agent Miranda Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis), who informs Parrish she is being framed for the terrorist attack and has to find out who actually did it (it is still a member of her graduating class from Quantico) and who is setting her up to take the fall.

The major problem that I have with Quantico is that I normally don’t like when my television programming is 50/50. You’ve got to be able to pull me in with a solid story and a raison d’etre before you start pushing different storyline arcs at me. In the case of this program, the writers have admitted they wanted to do a soap opera-style Die Hard; for me, that’s a no-go. I’d rather have the action than the bed-hopping, backstabbing and other “intrigue” that shows up in the soap opera genre. Put this together with the “time hopping” and I have to admit that Quantico is either something I’ll watch in passing or won’t bother tuning into again.

It’s Time for the VMAs, But Who Really Cares?

On Sunday evening, something that used to be a “calendar” event in the music industry will take to the Microsoft Theater (formerly the Nokia Theater) stage in Los Angeles, CA. For the 32nd consecutive year, the MTV Video Music Awards will take place, honoring the best video work in the recording industry and the performers who have given us their best (?). In reality, however, the MTV “VMAs” and their “Moonman” award have become a gauche award because nobody really cares about them anymore.

When MTV hit the airwaves in 1981 (in fact, on August 1 the station celebrated its 34th anniversary), it was a brazen broadside against the staid, stoic music industry and the radio industry and stations that would “make or break” careers in a heartbeat. The first video aired on MTV, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” seemed like a four-minute manifesto of what was the intent of the new channel. Record companies and their artists for years had put together promotional videos that, for the most part, were only seen by a handful of people at the record companies and in the radio industry. When MTV came along, that suddenly changed.

Bringing together these hundreds of videos (literally…pretty much anything on MTV in the early days was seen quite often due to the lack of material), MTV slowly built an audience and, at the same time, became the place where new artists made their breakthroughs. Such artists as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Men at Work, Bow Wow Wow, Duran Duran and the Human League were getting their attention not through traditional radio play but from the constant airing of their music videos on MTV. The biggest move by MTV in its early years may have been the exposure it gave to black artists. Eddy Grant, Musical Youth and a young man embarking on a solo career by the name of Michael Jackson (among others) benefitted greatly from the exposure that MTV provided.

It also had a way of destroying careers. The 1981 Grammy Awards were dominated by a Texas newcomer named Christopher Cross, who earned the top four awards (Record of the Year for his eponymous LP, Album of the Year, Song of the Year for “Sailing” and Best New Artist) and seemed poised for a long career in the music industry. Due to his pedestrian features and roly-poly physique, however, Cross wasn’t the typical “MTV artist” and he quickly disappeared from the scene following his sweep.

A couple of years into their existence, however, the honchos at MTV were faced with with the dilemma of continuing to grow the channel and coming up blank. In 1984, the powers that be at MTV came up with what they thought would be the cure (no, not the band). Producing their first ever MTV Video Music Awards, the channel looked to give the same gravitas to music videos that the Grammys bestow on music or the Oscars give to cinema. Over the years, the show has provided MTV with some of its most outlandish moments while also being its most watched event.

Who doesn’t remember Madonna’s rendition of “Like a Virgin” at the very first VMAs? Or Madonna’s girl-girl smooch with the randy Britney Spears in 2003? How about Kanye West barging in on Taylor Swift’s “Moonman” acceptance speech in 2009 (one of the few times I actually felt sorry for Swift)? The clothes, the music and sometimes even the videos made the MTV Video Music Awards a spectacle for the youth of the era. Over the past few years, though, the futility of the VMAs has been mentioned and whether it is the iconic “happening” that it was in its earlier incarnation.

Part of the reason for that is in the maturation of MTV itself. About 15 years ago, MTV decided that it wanted to be more of a lifestyle channel for the young and hip rather than concentrate on music alone. To achieve this goal, MTV began to put on its airwaves things that weren’t the “traditional” fare for the channel. A host of reality and game shows were the start, followed by fashion and “home” shows (anyone remember “Cribs”?).

The reality trend that took over in the 21st century allowed MTV to pretty much switch over to just the reality shows, including the vapid Jersey Shore and other scripted programming (none worth mentioning). Lost in the mix? Music videos, the thing that borne the channel (part of that was in the fact that the record companies, looking to tap another potential revenue stream, wanted to start charging MTV for showing the previously “promotional” videos). Hence, here you have a channel which was formerly the “groundbreaking” arena for exposing new artists through their music videos – in fact, naming their station AFTER MUSIC TELEVISION – not even showing them anymore.

Videos themselves also seem to have disappeared for the most part. Back in 1982, Duran Duran released Rio, their second album. Using the new MTV format, the group was sent by their record company, EMI, to Sri Lanka and Antigua to film an unheard of 11 videos for the record. Those videos not only served to be a major part of the programming for MTV in its early years, it also established Duran Duran as megastars in the music industry and provided the group with a career that still exists today.

Today, videos are seldom done and, if they are, it isn’t for promotional purposes. More often than not, they are done by popular artists that have no need to garner additional airplay for their efforts (think of why Swift, who has somehow crafted a career in music, continues to put out videos that no one has ever seen) or as a “vanity project.” There isn’t a purpose anymore for the music video because there isn’t an outlet for it to air on (sorry, YouTube doesn’t count).

Which brings us back to this year’s VMAs. Of the nominees that are on the list, I’ve seen exactly two of the videos – Mark Ronson’s collaboration with Bruno Mars on “Uptown Funk” (outstanding song, great video and it probably won’t win shit on Sunday) and Florence and the Machine’s “Ship to Wreck” (a band I can’t get enough of that also won’t sniff a “Moonman”). The rest could be cartoons for all I know because there isn’t an outlet to show them anymore. The untalented Swift is nominated for nine awards while Ed Sheeran has six, with a smattering between Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce and the “Video Vanguard Award” (think Lifetime Achievement Award) being handed to West.  Without an outlet, however, why hand out awards for something that will basically become a popularity contest?

Imagine, if you will, Hollywood continuing to crank out movies and television shows but every theater on Earth not showing them and no television networks to put the shows on? (This one could become reality with the advent of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu starting to film their own projects.) Would there still be a slew of awards shows for basically something that doesn’t exist anymore?

As a former DJ and music aficionado, I used to sit with bated breath each year for the VMAs (and the Grammys, for that matter), not only to know who won what but for the outstanding musical performances that it brought to its stage (never enough rock, always too much pop). Nowadays the videos are all things that I haven’t seen and the “musicians” (and that term is a stretch in many cases) and their music are so over-produced they cannot perform their music live. Thus, you have to wonder if anyone even cares about the MTV VMAs anymore.

Sure, there will be some prepubescent teenagers who will watch as Miley Cyrus, this year’s host, tries to show how “adult” she is through some pseudo-sexual act she’ll perform onstage; Swift will still constantly look like a deer in headlights as she facetiously mouths “Me? Me?” after winning her umpteenth award and there will probably be some spat – usually between warring rap parties – that blows up backstage into a story. It’s time for MTV’s Video Music Awards for 2015, but does anybody really care anymore?