Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2008-10-08

Librarians on The Colbert Report

As comedian/pundit Stephen Colbert knows, the greatest enemies of America right now are the Communists. Where are the most pervasive Communists? In the library, of course! Books free for all? Internet free for all? The horror! Colbert tackles this tough issue and encourages Americans to fight Communism on last night's episode of The Colbert Report, braving the trenches of the Rutherford, NJ, Public Library to interview some of the most dedicated Communists of all: LIBRARIANS.

To see Colbert's chilling account of Communism in today's libraries, click on this link and download the video. Then go out and shop.

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2008-07-20

The Real Life League of Real Superhero Stories

It took 70 years, but it seems that pop culture has finally finished digesting the Superhero and begun to regurgitate the idea in the form of stories about how weird the idea is. With this past week's progressive sample release of Dr. Horrible, the Whedon's Supervillian Mad Scientist Musical Laundromat Love Story, the release of Hancock featuring Will Smith as a drunk, disillusioned superhero, and the momentous unveiling of the first trailer for the hotly anticipated film version of breakthrough graphic novel Watchmen, stories that essentially ask "what if superheroes were, like REAL or something?" are bigger than ever.

Watchmen, which follows cataclysmic events in the life of a second generation of superheroes, some of whom inherited their characters from their parents, is very heavy stuff; in addition to giving graphic novels a much needed shot of legitimacy that has yet to wear off, it singlehandedly broke open the world of superheroes by actually exploring how the world might react if people actually dressed up in spandex and fought crime. Now, some people actually do dress up in spandex and fight crime, but we'll get to that later. The idea of Superheroes in a real world, or at least acting something like regular people without all the stilted superfriends-speak and unironic catchprases, keeps coming up again and again, from my favorite show Venture Brothers (which owes much to Ben Edlund's Tick) about the weak, self-absorbed but super-scientist grown son of a seemingly superhuman titan of achievement, to Disney's surprisingly unawful tween-targeted Sky High, about the freshman year (at a floating superhero high school that might as well be called 'Superwarts') of the son of the world's mightiest superheroes, who also happen to be high-powered real estate agents; and of course, The Incredibles, which could somewhat fairly be described as Watchmen recast as a sitcom. All these projects break one of the cardinal laws of Superheroes: no attachments other than a single love interest, and for darn sure NO OFFSPRING. Just crossing the family dynamic with the superhero tropes provides so much wonderful friction that it's certain there are superhero family dramas (and superhero family sitcoms) in development. Seriously, how long can it be before someone decides to remake The Greatest American Hero?

However, as the Incredibles explored a bit, there is enormous potential in the ridiculousness in the world of Superheroes, or, as Warren Ellis and boingboing have redubbed them as a result of DC and Marvel attempting to enforce their recently-renewed 1979 'Superhero' trademark, Underwear Perverts. One of the most inspiring films in this area is the underappreciated Mystery Men, based loosely on a spinoff of misunderstood genius Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot Comics. There's a scene in Mystery Men where the main characters are auditioning potential new members of the team; and the parade of goofballs and their elevator pitches about their superpowers (The Waffler carries Truth Syrup, which is Low Fat) looks to me like a really fun idea for a library program. Have a panel of superhero judges to see superhero auditions, or give kids time to make their own costumes and form their own super squad and shoot a commercial for their services, with awards for awesomeness, ridiculousness, and outlandishness. With the right group, that could be an absolute blast. Maybe you could even get a real costumed hero to come inspire the audience.

Because there are real-life superheroes, of course. You may well have heard of Angle Grinder Man, who freed the booted cars of London, or heard Terrifica on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, a woman who protects the drunk girls of the bars of NYC (and has an arch-nemesis, Fantastico). Mexico has Superbarrio, protector of the weak and organizer of labor rallies, and here in Michigan we have FoxFire (not a web browser), who helps those in need as part of a shadowy organization known only as the "Nameless Few". Some of these people are bringing attention to their cause, others are tongue-in-cheek but not entirely kidding, some are sweetly earnest, and others are downright serious. If you can stand a bit of a web time warp (and a well-intentioned but not very comprehensive resource), you may wish to check out the World Superhero Registry to see if a caped crusader is available in your area.

Regardless of intent, the superhero is here to stay, and these ideas have left their Marvel & DC cradles and made the leap into the real world. They're even spilling out of their rightful place on the Graphic Novel shelf and storming Dewey's fortress of Solitude. In addition to numerous scholarly works about superheroes, a new book coming this october explores the plausibility of Becoming Batman and what it would realistically take to reach Batman's level of martial arts and technological prowess. Next up is a book about parenting twins, and how to activate their wonder twin powers.

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2008-04-28

The Frederatorian Armada

Remember when Hanna-Barbera was brought back from near death in the 90's? Like Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio in The Abyss? Fred Siebert was Hanna-Barbera's Virgil Brigman. He slapped the life back into the studio by creating the What-A-Cartoon! showcase for new shorts, reorganizing the personnel and modernizing their process, resulting in scads of great shorts that spun off several great shows for Cartoon Network including Cow & Chicken, Powerpuff Girls, and Dexter's Lab.

With the Hanna-Barbera brand saved, Fred then founded Frederator Studios in 1997, and their first project was Oh Yeah! Cartoons for Nickelodeon, another showcase of shorts featuring many of the same animators and directors who had produced work for What-A-Cartoon. Oh Yeah! has spun off 3 series for Nick so far, most notably the wonderfully awesome My Life as a Teenage Robot (created by Rob Renzetti who storyboarded some of the best episodes of Dexter's Lab) and Megahit work of genius The Fairly Oddparents, created by Butch Hartman. Farily Oddparents is Nick's second most-popular show, only surpassed by the mighty Bob l'├ęponge; it's a powerful mix of wish fulfillment, brilliantly mutated character tropes, mind-blowing voice performances, and a self-aware formula that never seems to get stale, with a seventh season of episodes just beginning to air. The loud characters and slapstick potty moments (Supertoilet!) successfully scare off most adults, but Cosmo and Wanda just kick so much ass on so many levels that you musn't dare write off FOP as pablum.

While Fred excels at pulling together fresh teams for these showcase incubator series, and the newest Frederator project, Random Cartoons, is another installment in Fred's trademark genre. Frederator has also produced the Nicktoons Film Festival, an open call for shorts from animators of all stripes. The best shorts are aired on TV and the possibility of being the next Frederator star looms large for the participants. Fred is serious about crowdsourcing and his methods have brought TV some of the most innovative and hilarious cartoons of the past 15 years.

However, Fred (who was also MTV's first creative director, producer of the early MTV and Nick animated IDs, and savior of Nickelodeon with the Nick at Nite concept) is no one-trick-pony; Frederator's online offerings rival their TV projects, and Frederator gets it right so much more throughly than almost anyone else in the TV business it's a little shocking. For instance, check out one of Frederator's 65 blogs, including Fred's official blog or the Fairly Odd Blog. While it's still unique for a studio to essentially insist that each project has a corresponding blog, the best parts of the Frederator online presence are their web-native projects.

Channel Frederator takes Fred's trademark approach -- welcome all comers -- and ports it online into a channel full of new cartoon shorts that anyone can submit to and a podcast of the best stuff. There's also annual Channel Frederator Awards (voting is now open for the best of 2007) and one truly standout original series of shorts: The Meth Minute 39, by Dan Meth. The Meth Minute can best be described as the Wario Ware of cartoons; short, hilarious, usually inappropriate, steeped in pop references, and with many sets of recurring characters. The latest episode of the Meth Minute features Ultra and the Lazer Hearts, who exist to hang jokes upon the truly outrageous carcass of Jem and the Holograms. One of Meth's most-forwarded shorts is the undeniably NSFW Dog Video Dating, and the first episode, meme-tribute Internet People, became a bit of a meme of its own. Even the Meth Minute 39 is in on Fred's crowdsourcing mission, currently running a contest to find the best viewer-created short using meth minute characters, with a cash prize.

In addition to the awesomeness of Channel Frederator is ReFrederator, a simply amazing daily podcast that features a different vintage cartoon each day, along with some incredibly knowledgable posts. The work the ReFrederator folks are doing is nothing short of miraculous; acquiring, digitizing, and archiving priceless but usually commercially worthless cartoons in a modern format that's simply one of the very best podcasts on the whole dang intertubes.

However, the absolutely best thing that Fred has done recently has been to discover a guy named Pendleton Ward and give him the chance to make Adventure Time. Go watch Adventure Time right now, and be forewarned that the next time you see something really awesome, you just might find yourself using 'ALGEBRAIC!' as an expletive of awesomeness.

Frederator Studios is doing totally RHOMBUS work all over the place; but Channel Frederator is merely the anchor of Fred's newest corporation, nextnewnetworks, which takes Fred's proven old/new media flexibility and mastery and stretches the definition of a video network in a very forward-looking direction, towards nichier audiences and snappier, shorter, more frequent programming. See Ultra Kawaii (so cute it hurts), Threadbanger (for DIY Fashionistas), Vette Dogs (for corvette owners) or Total MMO (for Massively Mutliplayer Online gamers). Fred will rule the world someday, perched atop his shiny red armada of networks and viewer-created content flying in close formation. Submit now and you can say you were a Frederatorian before it was compulsory!

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2008-03-24

All Kids Back in the Pool

Last time, I couldn't shut up about Adult Swim's awesome adult-oriented cartoons, but Cartoon Network has also done some really great stuff that is actually intended for kids over the years, creating some truly wonderful series that appeal to kids and adults alike, almost single-handedly pulling children's animation up out of the bottom the barrel where it had languished for the 80's and the early 90's. Shirt Tales, I'm looking at you.

Once Turner had established Cartoon Network with existing content, they began seeking out new animators to produce pilots for potential new series to be full funded and owned by Turner and Cartoon Network. Most of these pilots were shown under the What A Cartoon show, and the life these new talents brought back to the rotting husk of Hanna-Barbera became the driving force of a new generation of properties. A seminal episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast featured short clips from several of the first new Cartoon Network Projects and had villains from Space Ghost's past vote on which show would be picked up for production. The three shows were Genndy Tartakofsky's Dexter's Laboratory, Van Partible's Johnny Bravo, and cartoon supergenius Craig McCracken's The Powerpuff Girls. All of these shows were eventually put into production and became staples of CN's lineup, but Wunderkind Craig McCracken's Powerpuff Girls became the breakout hit, combining hip newness and formulaic familiarity with truly outstanding writing, in-jokes worthy of the muppet show, outstanding voice acting and some brilliant new characters.

Powerpuff girls peaked in the early noughts with a pretty good theatrical film, but their iconic characters and relatively positive female leads still carry a strong following, especially among the adults who were won over by Jim Venable's (who has a new CD) shockingly modern breakbeat-laden score and Nemesis Mojo Jojo's utterly hilarious and spot-on sendups of the worst expositional speeches of the Superfriend's worst enemies. One of the best episodes of Powerpuff Girls is Meet the Beat-Alls, a Beatles tribute epsiode that likely flew right over the head of anyone born after 1990 but includes some simply brilliant gags, including a girlfriend for Mojo Jojo named Moko Jono, who is a 'performance criminal'. Yes, there is a joke about the number 9.

Dexter's Lab also had an awesome run; not as marketable or cuddly as the Powerpuff Girls, it resonated perfectly with geeks and dorks and nailed the odd-couple dynamics with dweeby honor-student scientist dexter and his ebullient pony-loving sister DeeDee. Tributes to Mecha Anime, Pete's Dragon, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, and countless other relics of 80's culture instantly endeared the show to Gen Xers until a shark-jumping production staff shakeup brought the show to a swift end. One of Dexter's Lab's hidden treasures is found only in some episodes: The Justice Friends, a set of shorts, directed by Craig McCracken, that bring together three of our nation's greatest superheroes (Major Glory, Rock God Valhallen, and the Infraggable Crunk) into a small apartment to face the challenges of everyday life. It's pure genius and also saw the best appearances of recurring McCracken in-joke characters Puppet Pal Mitch and Puppet Pal Clem. Dexter is available on DVD, and the early seasons would be an awesome addition to any DVD collection. One of my favorite episodes is 'Omelette Du Fromage', where Dexter uses a hypnotic learning device and a french language record to study for a test. The record skips, and Dexter wakes up with 'Omelette Du Fromage' as the only thing he is able to say, which of course (SPOILER) leads him to international stardom.

Another pilot from What A Cartoon! that didn't exactly get picked up is Larry and Steve, an early project from Seth MacFarlane that features a dumb guy who sounds almost exactly like Peter Griffin and a cultured talking dog who is just a brown, skinny Brian Griffin. Even though Turner passed on Larry and Steve, MacFarlane was later contacted by Fox and asked to develop Larry and Steve into a pilot that would follow the Simpsons, ultimately becoming Family Guy.

One of the other pilots from What A Cartoon that got picked up years later and is still a bit of an odd surviving standout in Cartoon Network's lineup is John R. Dilworth's Courage the Cowardly Dog, a creepy, edgy, and very unsettling show about an excitable dog, his loving owner Muriel, and her crabby husband Eustace, who live in Nowhere, where lots of weird stuff happens, usually putting Muriel in danger and requiring much yelling and dancing around from Courage. One of the very best things about Courage the Cowardly Dog is a short video with a new theme song by Nerd Rock Supergroup They Might Be Giants. It's stuck in my head; now it's your turn!

After the first wave of new shows were gaining popularity and establishing Cartoon Network as a source of awesome new cartoons for kids, a second wave of shows came down the pipe, the most popular and enduring of which was Ed, Edd and Eddy, a simple show about the interactions of a group of weird kids on a cul-de-sac. With an amazing and in many cases unheard-of voice cast, every archetype of neighborhood kids represented, and a somewhat nostalgic view of what kids do for fun that still resonates with today's elementary schoolers, the Eds pursue scam after scam in hopes of obtaining enough quarters to buy each of them a cheek-stretching jawbreaker. Danny Antonucci is one kick-ass guy (skip to :40), and his rat-finky, rubbery, wiggly ensemble of characters generated a boatload of awesome episodes, ending without really getting stale. Also of note is the show's unique scoring, using a small band of trumpet, trombone, sax, clarinet, bass, drums, and a guy whistling to give the episodes a cohesive, immediately recognizable sound that's definitely outside the musical vocabulary of most elementary school viewers.

In addition to these shows that are no longer being produced, Cartoon Network has three current shows that are very popular with both kids and cartoon geeks of all ages and have introduced characters that will be beloved for decades to come.

First, after Craig McCracken finished PowerPuff Girls, he and his wife and Powerpuff Girls Producer Lauren Faust created Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, one of my very favorite shows that again combines laugh-a-minute comedy for elementary schoolers liberally peppered with shout-outs and in-jokes for the over-20 crowd. With more outstanding voice acting and one of TV's most convincing and coolest female characters in Frankie Foster, the show tackles some relatively meaty themes about friendship, growing up, marketing, rules and authority without the kids even really knowing what's going on. It's a joy to watch and each new episode is eagerly anticipated by millions of kids. Two seasons are on DVD and there is some really WANT-worthy merch out there... if you're willing to set foot into Hot Topic.

Another great show that just wrapped up but is still in heavy rotation is Joe Murray's Camp Lazlo, about a group of relentlessly positive campers (and their relentlessly negative spoils) at a summer camp that never seems to end (they even had a halloween episode once). Murray was previously responsible for the underappreciated work of genius Rocko's Modern Life (which featured a theme song by the B-52's), about a Wallaby that worked at a Comic Book shop, and many of the character tropes from Rocko make an appearance at Camp Kidney (home of the Bean Scouts of Jelly Cabin) on the shores of Leaky Lake, again nostalgically hearkening back to childhoods that don't really exist anymore, complete with the girl's camp across the lake (Acorn Flats, home of the Squirrel Scouts) and the constant threat of a Bean Scout earning enough badges to graduate to Tomato Scout, which requires an immediate trip off to boot camp. Camp Lazlo isn't on DVD yet, but it's expected soon and is actually a good thing to show kids who will be going to camp because A. it includes the basics like swimming, counselors, off-limits marshmallow shacks and the infirmary, B. it exposes them to personality types they'll be likely to meet at camp, and C. because any real camp will shine in comparison to Camp Kidney.

Finally, there's a new show on Cartoon Network that kicks so much ass it's just amazing it was ever greenlighted. It's called Chowder, and it's about an apprentice to a chef in a weird world where everything revolves around and is named after food. The brainchild of C.H. Greenblatt, who previously storyboarded for Spongebob and Billy and Mandy (and was the voice of Fred Fredburger!), Chowder brings an awesome, schoolhouse-rock reminiscent look and a completely alien set of social norms together and just riffs on the results. Again filled with plenty of in-jokes for grownups (the chef, Mung, adds a huge clock necklace to a soup, explaining that it adds Flava), a real highlight of the show are the voices for Chowder, Gorgonzola, and Panini, done by some truly talented kids that inject so much life and authenticity into the show it's impossible not to smile just listening to them deliver their lines and screams and bellows. Chowder is still in its first season, so no DVD yet, but new episodes air thursday nights, and if you've got cable at your library, a Chowder-watching party with some weird snacks would be a pretty cool event for a school night.

Most of the creators of these show have blogs (although the Foster's blog is apparently abandoned), and if you look at the comments, you'll find scads of Gen X and older cartoon geeks just gushing about what these talented folks are doing. Just because it's on Cartoon Network doesn't mean it's only for kids!

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2008-03-13

Donna Martin Needs Work

Well, it worked for Degrassi: 90210 Spin Off. And considering one of the 90210/Original!Degrassi rumors is that Spelling created 90210 after watching/ being unable to buy Degrassi, it just makes sense that there may now be a 90210:TNG.

Of course, my knee jerk reaction is "Rob! You had to have gotten some good Hollywood mileage out of Veronica Mars. Why waste it on this?"

So I then started thinking about...spin offs that are superior to and/or vastly different from the original movie/TV show. So it is possible that Rob could create something awesome. (Me, I want it to star Brenda's lovechild, who was born in England, and the question is -- who is the Daddy? Dylan? Brandon? that guy she was married to for six seconds?)

There is the Korean War trifecta: serious/funny movie MASH, to half hour comedy yet not quite so dark even when they killed the baby MASH, to Trapper John MD.

Mary Tyler Moore (half hour sitcom) begat Lou Grant (one hour drama).

What else?

Cross posted at Tea Cozy.

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2008-02-24

All Kids out of the Pool

I am a Cartoon Network addict. I didn't used to have an excuse. But then, back in 2001, Cartoon Network launched [adult swim], a block of programming intended for viewers aged 18-34, originally only aired on Sunday nights. Adult Swim has been phenomenally successful, totally dominating its target demographic, revolutionizing programming for this audience, shattering basic cable records, and just generally being awesome. It's since grown to fill every night from 11 PM - 6 AM. Now, my cartoon addiction is hip and grown-up instead of dorky and neotenous. Right? Hello?

Adult Swim knows how to package programming to draw in viewers and keep them coming back; in fact, the programming block has become a sort of resuscitation chamber for good shows previously killed by mishandling or fickle programming executives. Matt Groening's Futurama, Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy, and Brendon Small's Home Movies were all canceled and then picked up as reruns by Adult Swim. Adult Swim's nightly positioning kept the audiences alive and buying DVDs, and before you knew it, Family Guy was back on Fox, Futurama had new episodes in production for Comedy Central, and Adult Swim themselves had funded production of new episodes of Home Movies. All are on DVD, most notably the new Futurama DVD Bender's Big Score, a movie composed of the first new episodes of Futurama since Fox canceled the series in 2003.

Adult Swim's format includes both 15 and 30 minute shows bracketed by simple text card bumpers that give a voice to the block's creators. The bumps show ratings from previous weeks, make fun of dumb posts on the adult swim forums, and drop hints about upcoming programs, having a conversation with viewers and engaging them in the production of the block and the further consumption of the content. These guys know how to talk to an audience that every advertiser wants to reach.

Adult Swim's original programming, much of it produced by Turner's Williams Street production shop, has also become a force to be reckoned with in its highly sought after demographic, producing shows that have pushed the boundaries of sharp writing, cheap production, poor taste, and gratuitous violence. DVD sales for Adult Swim shows have been strong and the sets are loaded with extras; adding some of this stuff to your collection can be an awesome draw for audiences that might otherwise find little of interest on the shelf.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force could be thought of as Adult Swim's flagship show; its cheap, grotesque animation, vivid characters, and brilliant writing set the tone for many of Adult Swim's subsequent programs. In a good way. ATHF Season 5 is airing now, and all 5 seasons are out on DVD plus the 2007 Feature Film Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, which cost $750,000 to make and netted over $5,000,000 in the box office.

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law represents characters from throughout the Hanna-Barbera stable of properties when they get into legal trouble, such as when mob boss Fred Flintstone needed to beat a racketeering charge, or when Secret Squirrel got picked up for indecent exposure. Not nearly as gross or over-the-top as ATHF, Harvey Birdman has 3 volumes on DVD and is a worthy successor to early Williams Street breakthrough animated talk show Space Ghost Coast 2 Coast, which was one of Turner's first experiments in producing cartoons for ostensible grownups. Harvey Birdman ended in 2007, but new episodes of Space Ghost Coast 2 Coast are now airing on Gametap, Turner's videogame download service. Harvey Birdman also has a Phoenix Wright-inspired courtroom videogame for PS2 and Wii.

Venture Brothers is my favorite Adult Swim show; loosely inspired by Jonny Quest but also by every action cartoon or superhero trope from the 70's and 80's, Venture Brothers has some of the best writing, characters, voice acting, and animation of Adult Swim's original shows, and it's one of very few AS offerings that has an ongoing story. Seasons 1 and 2 are out on DVD and Season 3 airs this summer.

Robot Chicken is the brainchild of Seth Green, who provides the voice of Chris Griffin on Family Guy, was Oz the Werewolf on Buffy, and played Scott Evil in the Austin Powers series. Seth writes and does tons of voices for Robot Chicken, which is essentially a micro-sketch comedy full of tv parodies performed by stop-motion action figures. There are 2 seasons on DVD, and the third season is currently airing.

Aaron McGruder's Boondocks was also brought to TV by Adult Swim. Like the comic strip, the show is not without its controversy, but the writing is awesome, the voices are fantastic, and every episode just kicks ass. There's one season on DVD now and new episodes still airing.

In addition to Adult Swim's comedy lineup, they also air quite a bit of Anime and are a major player in the economics of Japanese shows getting dubbed into English. Anime that has aired on Adult Swim is guaranteed to have a formidable audience and is much higher profile than the Anime that airs on other networks or is only available on video. The utterly brilliant and incomprehensible FLCL got its US start on Adult Swim, and the huge popularity of the Fullmetal Alchemist juggernaut was driven primarily by its AS exposure. AS was also the first US broadcast of the seminal Cowboy Bebop, and they continue to air the simply amazing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Cartoon Network also co-funded the production of a second season of giant robot enigma Big O, providing more episodes to a global audience. Most of all, Anime and Manga legend Rumiko Takahashi's Inuyasha, one of the biggest Anime shows in the US and Japan, airs solely on Adult Swim. Finally, two comedic anime, rarely translated for english audiences, have aired on AS: the utterly alien and unmissable Super Milk Chan, and the simpson-like but far more crass Crayon Shin-chan, which has 26 new episodes being translated. All of these shows now have a substantial US audience thanks to Adult Swim, and if they're not already in your DVD anime collection, they should be!

Phew, I knew I shouldn't have started talking about this. There is just too much good stuff on Adult Swim. Next time, I'll blabber about all the great shows on Cartoon Network that are supposed to be for kids!

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2007-12-05

All I ask for is a small show and a smaller screen to watch it on

Like a lot of other people in this profession, I watched Gossip Girl when it started airing on The CW because I've been reading the books for years. (Some of the books are better than others.) I have to say I'm not fully enamored of the show. I find the pacing slow and Blair's clothes better suited to a ten-year-old, and a great lack of the wit and humor that comes through the books. Although I've stopped paying attention to the show, I am still paying attention to the media that surrounds it, because it's fascinating.

Averaging 2.5 million viewers an episode (info culled from BuzzSugar), Gossip Girl is far from being the top-rated show on television. It's not even the top rated show on The CW (that's America's Next Top Model, which gets about 5 million viewers an episode). Comparitively, CSI gets 18-20 million viewers an episode, Chuck about 7 million. I realize that's comparing apples and pineapples because the target audience of CSI is not the same as the target audience of Gossip Girl, but it gives some perspective. Think about how many more shows get higher ratings than Gossip Girl. Now comes the information bomb: Gossip Girl is the #1 show downloaded from iTunes. How does a show with a fraction of the number of viewers of Grey's Anatomy (which is popular with the same crowd that watches Gossip Girl) beat it out for downloads? I don't have definite answers, but I do have theories...some probably more educated than others.

1. There is a hunger among television viewers for portable viewing. Maybe there are groups of high schoolers crowded around someone's laptop in the hallway before classes begin. Maybe viewers bring eps to school for their friends whose parents don't let them watch. Maybe they'd rather watch it on their iPods without parents around.

2. The gadget marketing in the series really works. There is some serious Verizon marketing going on there. Verizon beat out a couple of other companies for exclusive right to product placement...which surprises me because I swear those were T-Mobile Sidekicks I saw in the first episode. Warring phone companies aside, if Blair and Serena can watch videos on their phones, why shouldn't the rest of us be able to?

3. It's one of those shows that's slow to catch on. This is a phenomenon I see with young adult novels; adults don't want to pick it up because it's marketed for teens and therefore must not have an ounce of intelligence but once they pick it up they can't put it down. Adults who tune into the show around episode 4 or 5 want to catch up but it's not available via OnDemand so they download it from iTunes. The problem with this idea is that episodes are available for free on the CW's website, but you can't visit the CW's site from your iPod unless you've got an iPod Touch.

4. SOMEONE out there is listening to consumers when we say we want more than just one way to watch TV.

With its interactive features, from Second Life (I don't even have time for a first life!) to a music feature on the CW's site, Gossip Girl is going where no show has gone before. It took American Idol a few seasons to really become a brand and not just a TV show, but Gossip Girl is waving the brand flag right out of the gate. It's something none of the other CW shows, even the ones with higher ratings (Smallville, Supernatural, etc.), have done yet. Of all the fall 2007 releases, Gossip Girl was the first one to be picked up for a full season, even before ABC's much-touted Pushing Daisies. This makes me think that the CW execs can see a bigger picture of the show than I can...which would make sense, considering they get paid to see the bigger picture regarding their shows. More than what happens with Blair and Serena, I'm interested in seeing where the brand and the viral marketing go.

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2007-11-12

Useful web site: Updated strike chart

Following up on Liz's interview with Jeff Gottesfeld and information about the WGA strike, you may want to bookmark this link from TV Guide: UPDATED Strike Chart: How long before your shows go dark? Some favorites your patrons may ask about:

Grey's Anatomy: Eleven episodes will be produced. Seven episodes have aired, so there are four left.

Heroes: Eleven episodes will be produced. Seven episodes have aired, so there are four left.

Law & Order: SVU: Fourteen episodes will be produced. Six episodes have aired, so there are eight left.

The Office: Twelve half-hour episodes will be produced. Eleven half-hour episodes have aired, so there is one half-hour episode left.

Editing to add: From the LA Times: The TV grid covers daytime as well as primetime shows and original cable series (Entourage, Rescue Me, Battlestar Galactica, etc.)

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2007-10-30

Campaign '08: Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles for America's libraries

Back in the day, I used to watch CSI religiously because I sort of have a thing for crime shows. I still like Grissom and Co. as much as I ever did but they are no longer my top priority on Thursday nights at 9. The show that is now number one in my Thursday television heart is Supernatural.

Supernatural, abbreviated SPN by fans, follows brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) as they travel the long unmarked roads of the United States in a black 1967 Chevy Impala. They tell strangers they're on a road trip, but the truth is that they're saving humanity from demons, malevolent spirits, and whatever else Hell can cough up. Sam and Dean were trained by their father to be demon hunters after a demon killed their mother and nearly killed Sam in a fire when Sam was six months old. Growing up, their relationship was strained. Dean never questioned his role as a needed hunter, but Sam wanted to go to college and live a more or less normal life. When the show opens, viewers learn that Sam and Dean haven't spoken in over a year. Dean tells Sam (after breaking into his apartment at Stanford, of course) that their father is missing and Sam, being an honorable sort, joins Dean to find their father.

Four episodes into Season 3, we've seen Sam and Dean travel cross-country listening to what Sam refers to as "the greatest hits of mullet rock," bickering in ways that will be painfully familiar to anyone with siblings. More importantly, we've seen two smart brothers who are fiercely loyal to each other and their cause, and who are fully cognizant of the power of libraries.

Yes, I said libraries.

When traveling the country, Sam and Dean often need to know the history and legends of the towns they visit. By studying the past, they can often fix problems in the present. In many episodes, their primary source for background on the spirits they pursue is the town library. It seems only logical, then, that Jared and Jensen would be perfect candidates to appear on an ALA Celebrity READ poster.

If you agree with me (and Liz!), you can email Rachel Johnson at rjohnson @ ala.org (without the spaces) and suggest that Jared and Jensen would make great READ spokesmen. Because if Orlando Bloom on a bookmark can inspire my reluctant-reader sister to say, "I have to read more!" think of what TWO celebrities on a bookmark can do.

(Personally, I'd like to see them holding The Exorcist and Grimm's Fairy Tales, but as long as they're on a poster they can hold Pat the Bunny and The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo for all I care.)

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2007-09-06

Fall Listings

Wondering when the new shows will start? When old favorites return? Whether it's to make sure you are on the sofa watching in real time or to program your DVR, here are some resources for yourselves and your customers:

TV Guide's Premiere Calendar, also available in an easily printed PDF

The Futon Critic's listings for September

TV Squad's 2007/2008 Premiere Dates

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2007-08-23

Other Networks to HBO: Nyah, Nyah!

Although there are parts of this article about HBO's "shocking fall" from supremacy atop the heap of cable networks programming excellent, offbeat shows that make me roll my eyes so hard I fear I may injure them (the parts of the article do that, not the shows -- the shows rock my socks), overall, it's an interesting primer on how much the landscape of cable tv has changed since The Sopranos first bowed in 1999. Every major network -- and even some small ones -- have plunged headfirst into the bracing waters of creating original programming, and TV overall is better for it. Thanks to shows whose seasons start anytime, we no longer suffer through the doldroms of endless summer repeats. And thanks to networks willing to take a chance on offbeat or off-color program ideas, we have successes like Entourage and Rescue Me, neither of which would work as shows on the major non-cable networks (meaning, without the naughty words & the sex), and even interesting-sounding failures like John From Cincinnati. Of course, I am deprived of all of this cable-riffic goodness, because I don't have cable anymore. We got rid of cable nearly 2 years ago, when Nell was born, and it has definitely changed my pop culture consumption. But that's a whole other post!

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2007-05-15

TV Upfronts

It's Spring, and a girl's fancy turns to the next season of delights on television. The NY Times' Virginia Huffernan is covering the networks' Upfronts at the artsbeat blog, and last week, EW.com published a preview of what's to come for the 2007-2008. Sadly, it looks like longtime Pop favorite Veronica Mars is on the chopping block. However, The Bionic Woman on NBC (check the preview here) looks like a worthy successor to Alias, Terminator 2, and Battlestar Galactica all rolled into one. In other words, my TiVo is set!

Update: more on the Upfronts from TVWeek.com. Just in case you need more.

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2007-03-10

Happy Birthday, Buffy!

Okay, this tidbit, more than anything else I've heard or seen recently, makes me feel a teensy bit old: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (TV iteration) is 10 years old today. TEN. Thanks to PopWatch for pointing it out, and big, big thanks to this excellent article in Flak for laying out Buffy's legacy so well. Buffy is a major cultural touchstone for so many of us in teen librarianship, and not just because of geeky hunk Giles. For me, it's that Buffy was deeply invested in strong girls coming of age, and as a strong girl who was coming of age while it was on the air, I was deeply invested in it. Even though the show had run its course by the time it went off the air, I was really sad to see it go, and it's a great comfort to me to see how many production & writing alumni of Buffy have graduated to many of my current favorite shows: Battlestar Galactica, 24, The O.C. (of blessed memory), Gilmore Girls and Grey's Anatomy. Share your favorite Buffyverse moments, quotes, and reminiscences in the comments!

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2007-01-14

24

Tomorrow morning, when someone comes into the library asking about 24, you can show them that you have the previous seasons on DVD.

And as you start chatting about the Jack, you can show them Jack Bauer's Kill Count. With video.

I'll leave my favorite kill in the comments, because it happened tonight.

Thanks to TV Squad for the link.

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2007-01-04

RIP, The O.C.

Well, the writing was on the wall when the fourth season of my cheesy, yet strangely beloved teen soap The O.C. opened this September to pathetically low ratings. Fox has now cancelled my beloved guilty pleasure, with the finale set to air February 22. At least they're planning for it, and they're not just yanking it with narrative threads all a-dangle. In memoriam (since I totally missed eulogizing James Brown & Gerald Ford while I was on vacation with my family), a handful of good things The O.C. introduced to the world during its tenure on the airwaves:

  • Nerd cool: let's face it, protagonist Seth Cohen (as played by the adorable Adam Brody) has brought sexy (okay, maybe a tepid "appealing" would be more accurate) back to nerdiness. A master stroke for skinny Death Cab-loving boys -- and the girls who never thought they'd love them -- everywhere.
  • Mix CDs: these are nothing new, but the six official mix CDs that make up this show's soundtrack kick major sonic booty. Featuring artists like the aforementioned Death Cab, Sufjan Stevens, Mates of State, and Imogen Heap, they are gateway listening to indie rock nirvana and are therefore must-haves for my library's collection, and quite possibly for yours.
  • Indie Rock Rocks: Well, duh. A major part of the show's appeal, for me, at least, was the fact that they played good music in every episode. And not just any good music -- good music on little labels like Kill Rock Stars, SubPop, and Sympathy For The Record Industry. It's a big deal for a major TV network to showcase long tail music. Let's give Fox some credit.
  • Showcasing Michael Chabon: I didn't include this in my five things, but Michael Chabon is one of my favorite authors. Even when he is so (justifiably) in love with his own prose stylings that he can't, you know, move the darn story forward, I forgive him and love him. Hi, Michael! Wonder Boys is another of my all-time favorite books; I think I might like it even more than Kavalier & Clay, which fellow O.C. viewers will recognize as a core element in the Seth Cohen Starter Pack, the gift Seth bestows upon his two would-be ladyloves in the first Chrismukkah episode. Which brings me to...
  • Chrismukkah! The all-purpose Winter Holiday for interfaith families (Seth's mother, Kirsten, is an ur-shiksa, a size 2 Nordic Goddess, married to a Nice Jewish Boy from the Bronx, Sandy) has enjoyed quite a boost in notoriety and popularity since The O.C.'s first season. As half of an interfaith couple myself, Chrismukkah really resonates with me, though my husband prefers his own coinage, Chanumas.

So long, O.C.! We hardly knew ye!

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