My complaint to Channel4 about the loss of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

My complaint is about Channel4’s apparent decision to scale back showings of Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Late last year a friendly and satirical rally organized by Comedy Central and headlined by Jon Stewart, Steve Colbert and other Daily Show performers drew tens of thousands of people in bitterly cold weather. More recently Stewart’s intervention during the lame duck session of Congress was credited with securing virtually unanimous agreement for a bill covering the exceptional healthcare needs of 9/11 First Responders–people who dug in the rubble of the World Trade Centre in their country’s time of need.

The Daily Show has become an essential key to understanding US politics and popular culture, and for that reason I admire Channel4 for bringing it to us in the UK.

It also happens to be the best political satire programme in the world.

Please restore daily broadcasts.

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How not to sell a television set

So I’m watching television.  We used, oh twenty years ago now, to have a nice little Sony Trinitron 21″. it was a cute as pie, but it started to get a bit elderly. Then we had a big old horrible second hand thing my American boss sold me before he was shipped back home.  Then it died and we now have a cheap crappy television somebody bought new about three years ago.  It’s a CRT telly, but it works and we have a gadget that kills all power when we put it on standby.  Whch is most of the time.

It’s that weird bit between television programs, where they sometimes try to sell you stuff.  The sound level goes up so I reflexively hit the mute button on the remote control. There ought to be a gadget that does that automatically, don’t you think?  As I understand it the advertising companies use compression techniques to make more noise while staying technically within the noise limits set for broadcast television audio by the regulator.  Well whatever that means, when there is a program break on commercial television in the UK the noise level goes through the roof until you hit the mute button.

I like to watch the pretty pictures.  So I stare vacantly, smiling pleasantly as silent cats, silent cars, silent washing machines, silent pretty girls, silent hunky men, and silent insane cartoon characters gambol on the screen trying to make me want to buy stuff.  I know how this part of the game is played.  “No”, my brain says, while I smile in guileful concupiscence at the gorgeous, seducative maidens who, by the magic of television, seem to say “yes.”  And my body says “yes”, of course, which is nice because at my age “yes” is no longer a word your body says five or six times a night.  The motor is still throbbing away under the bonnet, but I miss the constant purr of my younger years. So I get a bit of a buzz from the insanely pretty girls who are paid to try to sell me stuff on the television.

Sometimes a really funny advert appears.  These are ads that could have been deliberately calculated to make me laugh like a drain for weeks.  This bloke jumps out of an aeroplane, the ground whizzes up and you can see every blade of grass.  The grass stalks turn into a forest and a male mandrill, baring his frightening teeth, stands princely on the forest floor while the camera dives over his shoulder to a stream, down the stream at huge speed until it opens into rapids, where human maniacs in brightly colored lifejackets shoot the white water.  Suddenly the camera zooms to the river bank, where a praying mantis stares in that fixated manner peculiar to their type.  The camera somehow catches a glint in one of the optics of the mantis’ eye and expands it to a sumptuous cloudscape.  An aeroplane can be seen laboring through the clouds, and the camera again zooms, this time getting into the cockpit, barging past a pretty flight attendant who accidentally scalds the pilot with tea, shouldering through the cabin door to the back of the plane where, equipped with the latest Stupefikon 90 digital camera, a skydiver is waiting to jump.

Now about five seconds into that ad I’m already sure that this absolutely gorgeous  sequence is intended to persuade me to buy a new television.  The rest of the ad, of course, is wasted, because the visuals are so good that they convince me that my crappy cheap television is really incredibly good, thank you.

There’s a variant on this, involving George Takei.  Incidentally George is looking amazing for his age.  I recently went on a long bus journey with my daughter and we giggled like schoolgirls when a young Japanese man got on the bus.  He bore a certain familiar resemblance, and was drop-dead gorgeous so I said “don’t look now, but that young Japanese bloke looks exactly like a young Sulu.”   Of course I manages to turn my whisper into a hoarse shout which I was convinced Sulu heard all the way from the back of the bus, but he maintained his legendary helmsman cool and piloted the bus all the way back home without doing much more than sitting there at the front and blushing a bit.

Ah, okay, well this one involves George, the real one, not the lovely cutie on our London bus, showing us all kinds of television pictures that look wrong, and saying “aha, if only you had four types of LCD in your television this sea wouldn’t look green, it would be blue.”  But of course, I haven’t got any type of LCD in my television set and I have never had a problem seeing blue things before.  Could it possibly be a doctored picture designed to look green?  Well, it’s an idea.

In my earliest childhood years I had no television.  When we visited my grandmother’s house I would see her television and being a child I would go back behind the television where I would see the wonderful mysterious controls marked “Horiz. hold”, “Vert. hold”, “Grid pot.” and the like.   It was amazing in those days because I was a child I could really perceive that Cliff Michelmore, the round-faced bald news presenter, was squatting inside the massive box that enclosed the tiny cathode ray tube.  When we finally got a television set, of course it was 405 lines and monochrome, as were all sets of the time until the introduction of the PAL system and color TV in the late 1960s. By 1971 or so my family had a color television which could render Mister Sulu’s face in a way that made him look reasonably human.

The Sony trinitron is still up there in my son’s room and he never uses it.  Perhaps I ought to get it going again.

Doctor Who, BBC One, 15 May, 2010: Amy’s Choice

Does Toby Jones (the Dream Lord) now count as one of those who have played The Doctor (albeit only the dark side)?

It’s a tribute to Simon Nye’s writing and Jones’ extraordinary performance that I can hear the Dream Lord’s scornful laughter in my head: “Of course he doesn’t, fan boy! He plays a hallucination. At least *try* to keep up, or have your ears filled with fluff from hiding behind the sofa?

A phone for PE teachers? Seriously?

Okay, I wouldn’t normally say anything about an ad, particularly a very stupid ad made by a company that doesn’t even sell into my country, but this is getting very annoying.

Most weekdays I pick up the Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow shows from MSNBC’s website. They’re running on what is known in the trade as interstitial ads, so if you want to watch a segment first you have to watch a 30-second ad.  Fine.

For a week or so now, however, the Rachel Maddow show has been intrusively interspersed with a particularly obnoxious ad.

The premise is “What if delivery people ran the world?”  Well obviously the world would be horrible if that were the case, but what the ad actually shows is people who look like rather dense PE teachers running around shouting into telephones and annoying the children.

It’s annoying enough to watch once–the stupid, brutal, mindless yelling idiot with the telephone, his slack-jawed henchmen and women importing an unwanted and very disturbing air of somnambulence and automatism to teaching.

But this is the problem: the stupid thing is 30 seconds long and is broadcast between every single segment of Rachel Maddow’s show.

Please, MSNBC, stop.  Find an advertiser prepared to make ads that don’t make people want to stab their own eyes out with pencils.

Countdown: Andrew Wakefield, Worst Person in the World

Check out Keith Olbermann‘s excellent Countdown program on MSNBC TV.  Tonight Keith nominated Andrew Wakefield “Worst Person in the World” for lying in his bogus 1998 paper declaring a link between Measles Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism.

David Attenborough: Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

David Attenborough’s new documentary, Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, was broadcast earlier this evening on BBC1 in the UK, and will be available on iPlayer for a few days.  Watch it while you can, grab the DVD when it’s made available.

Meanwhile even if you’re outside the UK (and therefore unable to see this documentary immediately) you might like to pop over to wellcometreeoflife.org to see the animation that forms the central core of one of the segments of  Attenborough’s 60 minute documentary.

Attenborough takes an ecological theme, starting with a reading from Genesis, in leading to Gen 1:28 implying that man has dominion over living creatures and can use them for his purposes, and moving on through Darwin’s “long argument”, which leads to a very different message: we do not have dominion over the animals, we are animals, and we are controlled by the same forces that control them.

CNN uses “hologram” effect in election coverage

In the CNN election coverage last night, November 4, 2008, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper were seen talking to life-sized holograms resembling the hologram of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in the film Star Wars.

The holograms were produced, as the Baltimore Sun reports, by pointing 35 HD cameras at each subject during the interview; green screen-style technology was then used to superimpose a three-dimensional image in a predetermined location in the studio.

The holograms were not actually visible in the studio.

I liked the effect, though really it’s something of a gimmick.  One practical side-effect of the process was that the background noise was filtered out, so that Will.i.am who was in Grant Park, Chicago was heard clearly despite the surrounding chatter.