Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

I started watching ABC’s Shark Tank less than a year ago and since then, I haven’t been able to stop.

The concept of the show is simple: product inventors and/or owners of nascent businesses stand in front of five millionaires and billionaires–would-be investors in their business, or “sharks”–and pitch them on why they should invest their own money in exchange for part ownership (i.e. equity) in a company they’ve never heard of run by someone they’ve never met before.

Most of the presentations are what I’d call “professionally cheesy” (or “cheesily professional”?). They’re rehearsed little 30-second intros that tell the sharks the name of the company and tease what it does or makes, finishing with a flourish in the form of a catchy slogan often uttered in unison. (Jelly company Mango Mango went with, Are you ready for this jelly?) At some point during the little song and dance the entrepreneur(s) (or “treps,” for brevity’s sake) reveals what share of their company they’re selling and for how much equity, e.g. $50,000 in exchange for 20% equity in the company.

Depending on the product, there’s usually a short demo of how it works or what it does, after which the floor is open for sharks to pepper the treps with questions about manufacturing costs, margins, annual sales, their background, and anything else germane to a potential investment.

The better presentations–and the ones most likely to whet a shark’s appetite–are the ones where the treps A) know all the answers to the sharks’ questions and B) have good answers. By good answers I mean the company is profitable, the margins are high (i.e. the product sells for a high price but costs very little to make), and sales have increased year over year.

(One pet peeve of mine related to the Q&A portion is that almost every trep’s answer starts with, “So,” as in, “How much do you make it for and how much do you sell it for?” “So…right now it costs about $5 a unit to produce and we sell it at retail for $9.99.” I know it’s just a stall word in a nerve-wracking situation to let them gather their response, but they do it every time!)

Where was I? I blacked out. Ah yes, the sharks. Each has their own distinct business background (click the links in each shark’s name to learn more), personality, area(s) of expertise, and investment strategy. Episodes features five sharks from a rotation of six. The sharks, far more than the treps, make the show what it is. For the uninitiated, the sharks are:

  • Mark Cuban. The moral compass of the show. Usually very supportive and free with advice even if he doesn’t make a deal with the trep. Calls out his fellow investors for bad deals that don’t favor the trep. Occasionally calls out treps (2:20 mark) whose products/companies he deems specious, irresponsible, or who are on the show for free advertising and not actually seeking a partnership. (Cuban also forced Shark Tank‘s production company to change its policy re: taking 5% of all businesses that appear on the show, regardless of whether a shark chooses to invest his/her own money. What a guy.)
  • Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary: Shark Tank’s answer to Simon Cowell and the show’s constant reminder that it’s not a charity—it’s about making money. On almost every episode Kevin will eschew equity and request a royalty deal where he recoups his investment upfront by taking a cut of every unit sold until he’s paid back in full, then taking a smaller royalty for each unit sold “in perpetuity”—meaning FOR-EV-ER.
  • Robert Herjavec: The nice family guy—but don’t jerk him around or he’ll say things like, “I’m a very nice guy, but don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” Also loves kids and dogs.
  • Lori Greiner: A Chicagoan (listen to the accent) and big player in the QVC world—which is the driver behind most of her deals, as in “This will sell very well on QVC.” (Incidentally, I had no idea QVC was such a huge moneymaker but based on the size of some of the checks she writes, it’s doing a-OK.)
  • Barbara Corcoran: The wacky older woman on the panel–wacky like a fox, that is–also with ties to QVC.
  • Daymond John: Tends not to stray too far from his forte, fashion. Will regularly mention that he started out selling hats on the street (he founded FUBU).

Any time I talk about Shark Tank (which is often) to someone and they’ve actually seen the show, the response is almost always “You watch it, too? I LOVE Shark Tank!”

On May 2 ABC aired a behind-the-scenes special, “Swimming With Sharks” (click the link to view the special) that gave fans a look at the sharks when the camera wasn’t rolling, and some dirt about some of the show’s biggest deals (and non-deals)—as well as some of the stinkers. Below is a recap of each company update:

  • Breathometer ($50): A device that plugs into smartphones and works with a mobile app to perform a self-Breathalyzer test. Per the special, Breathometer expects $10 to 12 million in sales in 2014.
  • Lollacup ($15): A children’s drinking cup with a weighted straw that allows kids to drink even when the cup is not right side up. Profits from Lollacup netted the trep couple who started the company with their $1M dream home.
  • Simple Sugars ($22): All-natural sugar scrubs. Was doing $88,000/year in sales pre-Shark Tank, finished 2013 with $2.1M in sales.
  • Bubba’s Boneless Ribs: A patented process for removing the bones from ribs (without losing the essence of the rib, of course). $200K in first ten days after appearing on Shark Tank.
  • PRO-NRG ($2): A Brandon Jacobs-backed energy drink eventually repackaged as a protein water–after Daymond’s investment and intervention. Per its founder, they’re over $1.5M in sales. During their presentation Mr. Wonderful repeatedly referred to the company as “Pro Nerg.”
  • Stella Valle: A jewerly line made by two female U.S. veterans. $2.5M in sales post-Shark Tank ($50K before).
  • Tipsy Elves ($60): Intentionally ugly Christmas sweaters. No sales figures given.
  • Grace & Lace ($20-36): Lacy women’s socks designed to be seen partially while wearing boots. No sales figures given.
  • Tree T-Pee ($6-7): A mini tent designed to put around trees keep in water from sprinklers to save water. After appearing on the show the trep scored a deal with Home Depot.
  • Voyage Air Guitar ($429): A guitar that folds in half. Working with Kevin, the trep licensed his product to Fender. No sales figures given. Despite their business partnership, the trep and Kevin seem to genuinely dislike each other.
  • Wicked Good Cupcakes ($8): Cupcakes in a jar. Kevin’s royalty deal of 45 cents for every cupcake sold paid off. They’re selling $265K/month.
  • Toygaroo ($40/month): “The Netflix for toys,” lost $200K and went out of business in six weeks. Per Mark, Kevin and the trep had different visions and that caused the company to go under.
  • Copa Di Vino ($3): The trep rejected the sharks on two separate episodes. Mark called him a “gold digger” who was only on the show for the PR. The $300K investment the treo was seeking at the time of his second appearance would have been work $3M today. Now doing $25M in revenue. Trep has a private jet, apparently. Good for him.
  • ReadeREST ($9): A ridiculously simple magnetic hook on which to hang reading or sunglasses. $8.2M in sales so far.
  • Scrub Daddy ($7): A scratch-free scrubbing sponge. The most lucrative trep in Shark Tank history is expected to finish 2014 with $16M in annual sales, and is projected by shark investor Lori to do $30M next year. Within the first hour of their episode airing, Scrub Daddy had 30 to 40K website hits.

Some other thoughts from the special:

  • Mark, according to Robert, is worth more than the rest of the sharks combined ($2.6 billion per Forbes), which I didn’t realize. I’d imagine in some cases, though not all, this gives him an advantage when negotiating against the others.
  • “We are the Mick Jaggers of the business world,” according to Robert. Um…
  • Mark mentioned that it was a family show and people come up to him and say their 9-year-old daughter is obsessed with valuation. Adorable.
  • “Buying a nicer car isn’t as powerful as taking care of my children,” says Robert. He’s so quotable!
  • Interestingly in the “shark on shark” interviews the two female sharks said Mr. Wonderful was a teddy bear, while the guys called him a jerk (excluding Mark Cuban, who wasn’t interviewed, probably because they actually hate each other in real life).
  • We can certainly debate the “realness” of Shark Tank, the vibe I got from all the shark interviews is that it’s genuinely competitive and that none of them wants to be bested by the others. And while this might be viewed as a bunch of rich men and women gambling with these treps’ companies like they’re at a high stakes poker table, the treps stand to gain the most if one of the sharks bets big on them.

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I really enjoyed the first episode of the new season of Comedians in Cars Getting CoffeeJerry Seinfeld’s web series. The featured guest was Louis C.K., a comedian I admire for both his comedic chops and his business savvy.

As is standard on the show, Jerry and his guest talked shop. Aside from the stark contrast in style between the two—Jerry is known for his clean-as-a-whistle humor while Louis C.K. is anything but—the two comedians have a lot in common. They both have or had their own eponymous TV series, they both started out and continue to do stand-up, and they both seem self-aware enough to know how big a part luck (in addition to their immense talent) has played in their success.

During the 20-minute episode, Louis tells a couple of funny anecdotes, including one about grounding his boat the first time he takes it out, and being ship-wrecked for an entire day with his young daughters. He tells another story about going to the movies stoned and sneaking in candy. In that one, he mentions that for this mission he hired an Uber car to drive him to the theater. (Uber is a new-ish car service app.)

I don’t know the first thing about shooting a TV show, but I happened to notice that the camera was not on Louis when the word “Uber” was said (if you watch the episode, it’s at the 15:04 mark). And while Uber made sense in the context of the story, something about its mention seemed fishy–meaning I suspected it was a paid product placement by Uber edited into Louis’s story after the fact. (It was also possible that I was simply piecing together the words “Seinfeld” and “Uber” after recently reading an article about how Jerry’s wife overpaid for an Uber ride for their kids during one of Uber’s price surges. That or the news of Uber’s kitten delivery promotion back in October took up permanent residence in my brain.)

Whatever the impetus, I was suspicious about the Uber mention and was left wondering if anyone else had seen the episode and felt the same way, so I took to Twitter and wrote this:

Like most of my tweets, it didn’t receive much of a response.  At that point I let it go for fear of sounding a little too obsessive about something so meaningless—but not before I told a few people about my product placement theory, including my co-worker.

Fast forward to this week, when that same co-worker told me that she’d watched recently the episode of CICGC after the Louis C.K. one and that there was a much more overt mention of Uber. The car Jerry was driving with his guest, comedian-actor Patton Oswalt, broke down. (In each episode, Jerry drives a super-rare antique car. That episode featured a DeLorean.) Ostensibly stranded on the side of the road, Oswalt used his Uber app to hail a car (with a close-up of him using the app on his phone), and the show “restarted,” now featuring an Uber car instead of the DeLorean that had broken down. The Uber car that came to pick them up was a Honda, which makes sense considering the show’s sponsor is Acura (and Honda owns Acura).

Now it was clear that Uber had been a product placement all along, and that Louis C.K.’s Uber mention was simply laying the groundwork for the Oswalt episode.

I have nothing against product placement, per say, but it’s a little tough to stomach considering the show is already book-ended by two Acura commercials written by Jerry Seinfeld himself.

Seinfeld was notorious for using brand names in so many of its episodes, though it was never clear whether they were paid because they seemed so organic to the story. Off the top of my head I can think of quite a few (incidentally all snack-related): Junior Mints, Snapple, Twix, O’Henry, Yoohoo, Snickers. Not to mention the not-so-ringing endorsement for the U.S. Postal Service and its finest employee, Newman.

In a new world where everyone’s trying to get native advertising just right on sites like Buzzfeed, Uber didn’t quite hit the mark for me because it seemed too forced and didn’t quite match the laid back, informal environment the show tries to cultivate.

Although come to think of it, I just wrote a 600-word blog post mentioning Uber multiple times–and some of you probably hadn’t heard of it before. So maybe it wasn’t as far off the mark as I thought.

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I know what you’re thinking: What’s the deal with this blog post? Does Jerry Seinfeld really need more appreciation?

Without listing his résumé, I think we can all agree that Jerry (who I’ll refer to by first name as not to confuse him with his somewhat popular TV show, Seinfeld) is about as successful as a human being can be within his chosen profession.

That being said, anything else he does for the rest of his life, in comedy anyway, will inevitably be less successful than Seinfeld.

Since his show went off the air in 1998*, Jerry’s body of work might be considered unremarkable. He participated in a 2002 documentary, Comedian (about being a comedian), in which he retired his old stand-up material and started his comedy career from scratch (apart from his obvious name recognition). He wrote, produced and starred in the animated Bee Movie (grossed $257 worldwide) and NBC reality series-slash-game show The Marriage Ref (canceled after 19 episodes over two seasons). He appeared throughout the seventh season of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm for a faux Seinfeld reunion. He’s toured his stand-up act. And now he’s got a web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, a talk show about, well, you can figure it out.

*While most hit shows stay on air past their prime these days, Seinfeld was still putting up huge ratings numbers in its ninth and final season. As Jerry told Louis C.K. on CICGC, “My show was about four single people living this certain type of lifestyle. We didn’t want to do Kramer’s fiftieth birthday party.”

“Man, I gotta get on that internet,” Jerry once quipped on Seinfeld. Now 59 years old, he certainly seems to have gotten a hang of the web. In addition to CICGC, he recently participated in a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), where he discussed with his fans everything from cars to failed Seinfeld scripts (Jerry buys a handgun?) to the revelation that the secret behind Seinfeld‘s success was that Jerry was actually the straight man to Kramer, George and Elaine.

It’s not that I appreciate Jerry Seinfeld because he can still achieve success four decades after he started his career. I appreciate him because he’s still trying new things. The media, especially the internet, can be a cruel place, even for its most treasured celebrities. Jerry Seinfeld, or any other performer of his status, has very little to gain from putting himself out there again and again.

Maybe it’s an addiction, and he simply can’t help himself. It’s the idea, which Jerry himself has talked about, that he simply can’t stop looking at the world from a comedian’s perspective. So many little things in life will always be funny to him, and he’ll always be looking for ways to articulate and disseminate those funny moments in a stand-up routine or a script or simply a filmed conversation with a fellow comedian.

In his Reddit AMA Jerry he hinted at a new “big, huge, gigantic” project he’s working on with Larry David, which has fans like myself intrigued. Will it be as successful as Seinfeld? Probably not. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that, in Kramer’s words, Jerry’s out there, and he seems to be loving every minute of it.

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Will They Or Won’t They?

WARNING: This post contains some minor spoilers about the current season of Fox’s New Girl. If you’re like Frank Costanza (“I like to go in fresh!”), we suggest you tune out from this blog post.

Will they or won’t they?

That’s the question TV viewers have been trained to ask themselves from the moment a they start watching a new show in which there’s a not-so-subtle attraction between two of its main characters.

Spoiler alert: They almost always will.

And so, the better question becomes: When those characters inevitably get together, does that moment then become the driving force behind the show moving forward (making it ever better), or does it signal a peak from which there is no other direction but down? Or, to put it another way, do two main characters getting together ruin your favorite TV show?

I had a chance to debate this point with some co-workers recently regarding Fox’s third-year sitcom New Girl. We all love the show, but I expressed concern over the show’s direction, now that two of the show’s four main characters have become an item. (Incidentally, do people still say “an item”? Nevermind.) My co-workers, on the other hand, thought the new coupledom would have no negative effect on the show’s funniness.

One of them actually informed me that the WTOWT? concept is often referred to in TV criticism circles as “The Moonlighting Effect,” a reference to the 80s sitcom starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. It has been said that once Willis’ and Shepherd’s characters got together romantically, the show suffered a marked decrease in quality—and ultimately, in ratings.

*One of those co-workers later mocked me about how Fox’s Prison Break, a drama about, well, a prison break, should be included here along with the sitcoms in that the prison breakers had an on-again, off-again thing with freedom. Once they finally got together with freedom, the magic began to fade.

What hampered my office debate, thus making it unwinnable, was exactly that distinction: quality versus ratings. For example, I’m personally not a big fan of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory—I can see why people like it but I don’t find it LOL funny*—but it would be easy enough for anyone to “scoreboard” me by pointing to the show’s consistently world-leading Nielsen ratings.

*The median age of BBT’s viewers is 50, according to Nielsen so maybe, at 31, I’m not supposed to like it?

On the flipside, TV nerds (myself included) can easily point out the endless parade of quality programs that barely had a chance due to low ratings early in their runs.* My go-to example is Freaks & Geeks, a gem that barely eked out one season on NBC before cancellation.

*Netflix’s streaming catalog is a veritable graveyard of one- or two-season shows that were taken too soon.

Moonlighting may indeed be the bellwether for the trend of co-stars getting together (and the plummeting ratings that follow), but since I was only seven years old when that show ended, it doesn’t resonate with me. The quintessential couple of my generation (bordering on Generations X and Y) is Ross and Rachel.

The WTOWT? model worked wonderfully on Friends for years because it felt organic*. The show wasn’t just about Ross and Rachel and their relationship; it was about six twenty-something friends living in New York City in the 90s. Two of those friends, with a history going all the way back to high school, seemed to keep missing each other’s windows of being single. In the pilot, Ross was still reeling from the eventual end of his current marriage as Rachel left her fiancé at the altar (the pilot episode’s “grab a spoon” moment sets up and foreshadows their future relationship); Rachel was dating a jerk when Ross was newly divorced; Rachel becomes single again and realizes she’s “under” (i.e. not “over”) Ross, who comes back from a work trip with a girlfriend; finally, Ross finds out how Rachel feels about him, and realizes he feels the same way. In the show’s second season, fourteen episodes in, they got together. (Or as Phoebe puts it, “He’s her lobster.”) From there the on-again, off-again thing begins (“We were on a break!” et cetera) and continues for much of the show’s ten seasons.

*Equally organic–and fascinating–is how the writers decided to get Monica and Chandler together, as described in this great Vulture article

Meanwhile an hour later on NBC in the 90s, Seinfeld flipped the WTOWT? thing on its ear. Where Friends’ strength came in its ability to be a sitcom that was occasionally dramatic, Seinfeld was anything but. The series debuts with Jerry and Elaine as exes, and only really touches on their former relationship in a handful of episodes. Instead, the idea that two exes could remain such good friends* plays as a nine-season running joke.

*I wonder how many grown men dating in the 90’s tried to explain away a too-close relationship with their ex-girlfriend to their current girlfriend by saying, “You have nothing to worry about. We’re like Jerry and Elaine!”

Seinfeld even goes so far as to reference the Jerry-Elaine relationship on the show within a show, “Jerry,” when they’re pitching it to NBC for the second time in the series:

NBC Executive: And Elaine – I wouldn’t mind seeing something happening between you two.
Jerry: Definitely.
George: I tell you, I really don’t think so-called relationship humor is what this show is all about.
NBC Executive: Or we could not do the show altogether, how about that?
George: Or we could get them together. Woo!

I’m not as worried about New Girl as I might otherwise be, considering their brand of weird/random/gross/dumb humor is unlike any comedy I’ve seen on TV in a while. Beyond that, seeing these particular two main characters together is almost better than seeing them apart, because it’s exposed new and funny aspects of their respective personalities when they are part of a couple. I don’t know that I’d want to watch them figure out how to be an item (there it is again!) for six more seasons, but so far in this season, I think it has worked out nicely.

Blogger Tip: If you don’t already watch New Girl but want to check it out, seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix, though you’ll have to wait a while to see all the episodes from season 3 (click on this link to find out why).

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Playing Catch-Up

When I was a kid my mom would sometimes take my brother and me to visit her friend from high school, Lana. Lana and her husband Richard had a great apartment in Queens filled with assorted kitsch I can still picture twenty years later.

Lana and Richard have always enjoyed traveling, especially by train. (I’m serious. The day after our wedding, Richard commended my wife and me for how convenient our wedding venue was to a train station.)

Apart from countless train-related talismans, the apartment also featured Lana’s collection of Coke cans from around the world. And I can still vividly recall a photo of the two of them floating in a boat on the Ganges River in India.

Yet the most memorable aspect of their charmingly cluttered apartment was a library of VHS tapes, what seemed like a hundred or so, lined up in small wooden bookshelf beneath their TV. Lana recorded every episode of her favorite soap opera, General Hospital, on her VCR. But because the show aired during the day and she didn’t have always have time to catch up on the latest episode, Lana fell behind on her GH. Years behind.

Back then, before the Internet or DVRs, staring at a bookshelf full of unwatched tapes might have seemed daunting (the show’s been on since 1963 and as of 2013 has shot over 13,000 episodes). But Lana simply kept plugging away, happily reporting the year she was up to when we asked how far along she’d gotten.

It turns out, Lana was ahead of her time–in today’s media landscape, “time-shifted viewing” is all the rage. Why watch your favorite show on the network’s schedule when you can simply craft your own prime time lineup?

Meanwhile here in 2013, my wife and I have recently embarked on the modern day, VHS-less version of catching up on a show. Rather than working our way through a stack of black tapes with white sticky labels, we had the first thirty or so episodes of our new favorite show queued up on Netflix’s instant streaming service. And of course this takes up a lot less space in our apartment than it might have using Lana’s system.

(I’d tell you what show we’re hooked on, but we’re absolutely terrified of spoilers at this point. The other night we were in the middle of a commercial break while watching a different show on the same network that airs The Show That Shall Not Be Named and a promo for its next episode sneak-attacked us. After looking at each other for a split second with legitimate panic in our eyes, we did the LALALALALALA thing until we were sure it was over. It was a close one.)

Spoilers aside, we’re really into our new show. Thanks to Netflix, we binge-watched the entire first season and several episodes into the second over Thanksgiving weekend. But now we have a problem: we’re almost finished with the second season, and the third isn’t available on Netflix yet because it’s still in the middle of the season on TV.

Lucky for us, most TV networks have a system in place for people like us who want to catch up to a current season. Either using Time Warner Cable’s video-on-demand service, or by going to the network’s website, episodes from the current season are available for free.

But there’s a catch. Only the most recent five episodes of the show are available on demand or online.*

*The reason for this is a little complex, but I’ll do my best to explain succinctly.  When Netflix makes a deal with a TV studio for the rights to air a program on its service, it demands that the studio doesn’t make more than five episodes of a series available at a time elsewhere (i.e. on demand or online). By limiting it to the “rolling five” episodes, fewer people have the opportunity to catch up from the beginning after episode 5—once episodes 2-6 are available but not episode 1. Meaning would-be viewers would have to use a service like Netflix to catch up from the first episode of the season once the current season is over. Like I said, it’s a little complex. For more background, this article from Vulture explains the whole thing really clearly and in much greater detail.

Because we’re now nine episodes behind on the current season, season 3, and the network’s website only has episodes 5 through 9 available, we need to figure out a way to watch the first four episodes of the season. And we’d like to be able to do this for free.

Yes, we could suck it up and purchase the episodes for $2.99 on iTunes or $1.99 or Amazon Video. But is it worth $8 or $12 to buy individual episodes of the show when we’re already paying over $100 for a cable subscription and $7.99 for Netflix each month? Assuming we choose to attain these episodes legally, that’s probably what we’ll end up doing–meaning neither Netflix nor the network will profit by pushing us in this third direction.

Obviously it’s easy to complain about these things in the digital age, when not that long enough I would have basically no options for catching up on a show already in its third season besides having a friend who had watched the show from the beginning who could tell me what has happened so far. But knowing that a large chunk of Netflix’s business is reliant on people using their service to catch up on shows, it seems ironic that Netflix itself—by way of its contract with the studio–is preventing us from catching up on ours.

If we had started our catch-up process just a few weeks earlier, this wouldn’t have been an issue—we might have found ourselves completely caught up by the time the first episode of the third season aired (or at least somewhere within the five-episode window). But organically, we took exactly this long to discover our new favorite show, and now the only thing we’re caught up in is a spider web of media entities, a no-man’s land of prime time TV programming.

We have given Netflix our $7.99 in exchange for thirty episodes of our show, which we watched in an embarrassingly short amount of time. But now it’s time for Netflix to step aside and let us join season 3 in progress—before our show is irrevocably spoiled.

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Please note: This post has been updated from its original version, “Review: Hotel Impossible, Sandy Part 1.” In this revised version, I have included an update at the end of the post based on the “Sandy, Part 2” episode, focusing on the controversial Thunderbird Motel project.

I’m a big fan of the business makeover shows, including Restaurant Impossible and Hotel Impossible. As someone who doesn’t own my own business, but might like to some day, it’s interesting to see how someone at the top of their profession can quickly get to the bottom of why a business is failing.

But my biggest frustration with these shows, as I’ve written about before on this blog, is the projects they select. More often than not the biggest reason why a hotel or restaurant fails–at least on these shows–is the ownership. They’re typically lazy (kitchens or hotel rooms are filthy, obvious repairs aren’t made, the customer service is half-assed, etc.) or clueless (“We thought it would be fun to buy a restaurant!”). I have yet to see an episode where a hotel or restaurant owner is doing mostly everything right but is still struggling to turn a profit. While that would be decidedly less “impossible” to turn around, I might prefer that every once in a while to helping people who have been unable or unwilling to help themselves.

In the most recent episode of Hotel Impossible, hotel guru Anthony Melchiorri takes his talents down to the Jersey Shore to help reverse some of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy last October. A worthy cause, or so it seemed.

The episode takes place about a week before July 4, the following summer after Sandy. As he arrives, Anthony seems genuinely shocked at the condition of the hotel he’s there to fix, the Thunderbird Motel in Seaside Heights, NJ (a.k.a. the town where Jersey Shore was filmed), nine months later. The rooms on the ground floor are still being gutted and he’s been told that 20% of the hotel’s inventory is not ready to be sold.

When Anthony questions the family–a couple in their fifties and a grown son and daughter–as to why so little has been done, they talk about how the insurance money was slow to come in. The patriarch tells Anthony about the Thunderbird: “You’re lookin’ at my 401K here” and that the hotel was meant to be the parents’ retirement.

Anthony goes in for a room inspection–a room the son has assured him is ready to be rented immediately–and finds the usual stuff he always finds: dirt, dead bugs, filthy shower heads, and, of course, a week-old pizza box in the fridge (with one slice left!). The son, Ray Jr., goes into the contrite routine we see often of hotel owners on the show, falsely accepting the blame but clearly believing it’s someone else’s fault, in this case housekeeping

Anthony, in classic straight-shooter Melchiorri style, tells Ray Jr. (who believes he runs the hotel), that he is not general manager material. Anthony leaves, and Ray Jr. follows a few minutes behind him, cursing Anthony under his breath. Later, Ray Sr. is recorded behind closed doors saying that he wants to chop Anthony’s head off–so there that is.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family gangs up on Anthony, telling him that they were too hard on Ray Jr. (Direct quote from Ray Jr.’s mom: “He didn’t have to chew my son sixteen new a**holes.”) As he usually does, Anthony gives the family a chance to cool down and explains that he’s there to help, and he can only do that if he’s completely honest. The family seems to get it, sort of, but Ray Jr. still won’t speak to Anthony. Given a chance to walk away from the project and cut his losses, Anthony chooses to stick it out.

Next, Ray Sr. and Anthony take a drive, having apparently patched things up after the whole “chop off his head” thing. Ray Sr. casually points out other real estate in the area he owns, explaining that his assets total about $40 million. Yup.

Anthony doesn’t start screaming at him (as some of us might have) but calmly asks him why, if the hotel was so important to him, he didn’t consider selling off some of his other assets to pay for the repairs. Ray Jr. replies, “I prioritized. I don’t like digging into capital.” Totally see his point. I mean, who does?

Later, Anthony has another closed door conversation with the family, where Ray Jr. asks him to delete the footage of the hotel inspection from the beginning of the episode that shows Ray Jr. in a negative light. Anthony refuses, saying the only way the footage would be deleted is if they cancel the show. Ray Jr. walks out.

Then, still behind closed doors, it is revealed that Ray Jr. was not actually being tapped to be the general manager, and that a new GM the family had already hired would be starting in a few months. This is the last straw for Anthony, who pulls his crew off the set. He declares that he never leaves a job unfinished, but that he can’t deal with the family’s dishonesty. He believes he’s being “played.” If that’s true, it’s hard to see what the family’s game plan was, since Ray Jr. blatantly told Anthony about his substantial assets without any probing. Nevertheless, Anthony is outta there.

The show ends with previews of Part 2 of the Sandy episode, which has Anthony helping other Jersey Shore hoteliers get back on their feet (plus a cameo by NJ Governor Chris Christie!). Disappointingly, the last scene of the preview has Anthony trying to reconcile with the family from the Thunderbird.

Meanwhile the family that owns the Thunderbird Motel is none too happy about how they were portrayed on the show, as scammers. If I came off the way they did, I wouldn’t be, either. Not to mention, $40 million doesn’t go as far as it used to.

The end of Sandy, Part 1, teased that Anthony would attempt to reconcile with the Braun family, who own the Thunderbird Motel. Reconciliation proved, well, impossible.

Ray Jr. was barely willing to look at Anthony when he tried to open a dialogue about restarting the project. Meanwhile Ray Sr. expressed, again, that he felt the family was blindsided and that Anthony’s crew had come in and wrecked his hotel. (This statement was confusing, as I don’t believe they actually did any work on the hotel apart from Anthony taking a week-old pizza out of the fridge in one of the rooms.)

Anthony and Ray Sr. shook hands and went their separate ways. However the dialogue continued between Ray Sr. and Anthony’s camera crew, who apparently brought bodyguards. Ray Sr. took offense to HI‘s “muscle,” and said he would bring his own muscle next time.

After they shook hands–which was about as forced as Ray Sr.’s previous handshake with Anthony–Ray Jr. asked whether HI still planned to use the footage from the beginning of the first episode, which he felt made him look foolish. The producer said that they would be using the footage, which was a different story than the one Anthony told him at the end of the first episode. Anthony had told him the footage would be deleted if the show was canceled–but clearly it was not…

I don’t feel great about the way things played out, especially considering that it seemed like Anthony lied (or at least misspoke) about the footage. While the Braun family clearly did not deserve Anthony’s help, they were basically used by the producers to create enough footage for an entire episode and didn’t end up getting a hotel renovation out of it. I don’t know about the waivers they might have signed or the legalities involved, but it seems kinda messed up.

Finally, Anthony goes back to the Thunderbird one last time. As a peace offering, he tells Ray Sr. that his designer had had three rooms and a front desk’s worth custom cabinets made for the Thunderbird already, and that if he wanted them, they were his (on the house). In a cliffhanger that only a reality hotel renovation show can have, HI cuts to commercial before we find out whether Ray Sr. will accept the free cabinets. I can tell you it was a VERY long ninety seconds waiting to find out if Ray Sr. would, in fact, accept the free cabinets. (He did.)

Oh yeah and a bunch of other stuff happened in Part 2, including some hotel renovations. Here are the TripAdvisor pages for all the hotels in the two episodes:

Thunderbird Motel: 4/5 rating on 17 reviews (but none since Hurricane Sandy)
Palm Villa Suites Motel: 3.5/5 rating on 51 reviews
Tradewinds Motor Lodge: 4/5 rating on 14 reviews
Charlroy Motel: 3/5 rating on 49 reviews

Did you watch both episodes? What do you think?

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“I thought I’d never see that girl again. But it turns out, I was too close to the puzzle to see the picture that was forming.” –Ted Mosby, in the pilot episode of How I Met Your Mother

Kids, way back in 2005 I started watching a new TV show called How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother has occupied a spot in CBS’s Monday night lineup for eight years, an impressive run by primetime TV standards. But in the months before the 2007-08 TV season, the fate of CBS’s two-year-old sitcom hung in the balance.

I was working in TV then and was paying admittedly too much attention to the news surrounding CBS’s 2007 upfront. (An upfront is an industry conference at which a TV network previews its fall lineup to whet the appetites of potential advertisers.) HIMYM was hardly a shoo-in to be renewed for a third season, but it was my favorite show at the time and I was really hoping it would be picked up. (It was.)

The show’s main character, Ted Mosby, was a 20-something living in New York City. He was on a perpetual search for the girl of his dreams, and spent a copious amount of time in the bar downstairs from his apartment with his friends. I connected with it immediately. I felt like it was to my generation, Gen Y, what Friends had been to Gen X.

Ted steals a blue French horn for Robin, a quintessential moment for the show.

Ted steals a blue French horn for Robin in HIMYM’s pilot episode. (Photo credit: tumblr.com.)

When I told people that HIMYM was my new favorite show–and that they had to start watching it immediately–I would often mention that the Ted character was just like me. After all, he was single and I was single. He was a hopeless romantic; I once made a girl a mix CD in high school. He lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; I lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was an architect; I had a job also. Like I said, we were basically the same person.

The show was tailored to my demographic; the cast felt like it was hand-picked for us ‘80s kids. The series was and still is headlined by Neil Patrick Harris, relaunching his career post-Doogie Howser, M.D. and coming off a hilarious cameo in the cult film Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.[1] HIMYM also features Alyson Hannigan, everybody’s favorite band geek from the American Pie movies, and Jason Segel, who was on the verge of becoming a star after some notable work on two one-season Judd Apatow TV series, Freaks & Geeks (NBC) and Undeclared (FOX). (Hannigan and Segel play the series’ perfect couple.) Even the show’s narrator, a future version of Ted in the year 2030, is voiced by former Full House star and America’s Funniest Home Videos host Bob Saget.

[1]In season 3 the show references Doogie’s pensive journal entries at the end of each episode. Also, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have each appeared on HIMYM.

I also bought in on the show’s “Ross and Rachel” characters, Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin (Cobie Smulders), who were relatively unknown actors at that point. By the end of the first episode I’d already developed a mancrush on Radnor, not unlike the one I had on Scrubs and Garden State star Zach Braff.[2] As for Smulders, she was perfectly cast as an attractive yet attainable love interest for Ted.

[2]Like Braff, Radnor wrote, directed and starred in his own film, Happythankyoumoreplease.

As the show’s title suggests, the premise has Future Ted (Saget) telling his teenage son and daughter (and the audience) the story about how he met their mother, about 25 years later. All sorts of New York City-centric randomness happens along the way—as it often does in real life—en route to Ted actually meeting the mother of his children. Each of the first few seasons left viewers questioning whether Ted’s current romantic interest would end up being be “the mother,” but as long as the show kept being funny and fresh, we were content not to meet her until Ted was good and ready.[3]

[3]Though Robin was ruled out as the mother in the pilot episode when Future Ted refers to her as “Aunt Robin,” it didn’t stop some of us from trying to find a loophole to explain how Robin and Ted still might have ended up together. They were just so good together!

Ted's kids losing interest in how he met their mother.

Ted’s kids losing interest in how he met their mother. (Photo credit: whatculture.com.)

Beyond the glaringly obvious comparisons between Ted’s life and my own, I responded to the show’s propensity to capture the zeitgeist of being young and single in New York City. The show had a knack for portraying what it was like those of us who were figuring out what kind of person we wanted to become, while simultaneously figuring out what kind of person we wanted to be with.

In one episode, Ted finds an old shirt in his closet and can’t remember why he stopped wearing it, which leads him to contact an ex-girlfriend and revisit their relationship (“Return of the Shirt”). In another, Ted’s friends are tired of him constantly overthinking his love life and convince him to overdrink instead. He wakes up to a pineapple on his nightstand and a strange girl[4] in his bed, causing him to piece together his evening with his friends’ help (“The Pineapple Incident”).

[4]Further evidence that the show was pandering to my generation from the beginning, the “strange girl” is played by Danica McKellar, or Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years.

Meanwhile other early episodes explored relatable themes like coffee house baristas butchering your name (“Swarley”); trying to plan a New Year’s Eve party that doesn’t fall flat (“Limo”); saying goodbye to a relic from your younger years which might also signify a transition to full-blown adulthood (“Arrivederci, Fiero”); or starting a relationship with someone without technically ending the one you’re already in, especially late at night (“Nothing Good Happens After 2 A.M.”).

Yet somewhere along the way, HIMYM stopped feeling like the same show it once was.[5] Seasons 4 and 5 revolved around Barney’s romantic feelings for Robin, who by that time is Ted’s ex-girlfriend and roommate (occasionally with benefits), creating a scenario that is not only bizarre but altogether implausible considering all the history between them.

[5]I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped enjoying HIMYM. There was no “jump the shark” moment a la Happy Daysthough the final episode of season 4, “The Leap,” has the gang literally jumping from their rooftop to a neighboring one to symbolize their willingness to take a leap of faith in their lives and careers.

For a while I thought I was the only one who found the Ted-Robin-Barney love triangle strange, particularly because they all still spent so much time together. But I recently caught a few minutes of an episode from season 7 (“Ducky Tie”) where Ted runs into an ex-girlfriend, Victoria, from season 1. (Victoria, a baker Ted met at a wedding, was an early candidate for “the mother.”) Ted explains that he is no longer dating Robin, but that he and Robin and Barney, also an ex of Robin’s, still hang out all the time. Victoria, like many of the show’s viewers including myself, finds the situation incredibly weird.

"It's only awkward if we make it awkward."

“It’s only awkward if we make it awkward.” (Photo credit: TVfanatic.com.)

Beyond the Ted-Robin-Barney stuff, the balance the show had once perfectly struck as a “dramedy,” equal parts drama and comedy, no longer felt quite right to me. (That balance is what sustained shows like Scrubs, HBO’s Entourage, and more recently FOX’s Gleewhen they were at their best.) HIMYM‘s humor felt forced, while the stories weren’t compelling enough to stay tuned week after week.

In fairness, HIMYM did have a few clever storylines in the later seasons that were culturally relevant: Ted goes on a blind date with a woman without realizing (at first) that he’d blind dated seven years earlier (“The Blind Date”); Ted is kept as a back-up by a girl who already has a boyfriend (“Hooked”); Ted brings a girl home only to have her fall asleep right away, leading to Barney suggesting that she simply wanted a place to crash for the night rather than to hook up with Ted (“The Sexless Innkeeper”).

But as the writers sought to extend the life of the series–which they may never have envisioned lasting as long as it did–the search for the mother seemed to take a backseat to other storylines, leaving viewers like me to wonder whether we, like Ted in “Hooked,” were being strung along. (To their credit, the show addressed this over the summer in a hilarious promo which has Ted’s kids channeling the audience’s frustration with the lack of resolution on the meeting the mother issue.)

I eventually gave up on the show. Friends would ask me if I still followed it, including those who I’d turned onto the show in the first place. When I explained to one such friend why I now find the show unwatchable, he said, “Yeah, I know what you mean…but I’m pretty much committed at this point.” I imagine my fellow Lost fans might have felt the same way.

Ultimately TV is a business. Networks are always going to milk a show for all its worth, even if that means spreading out a story arc (e.g. how a character met the future mother of his children) thinner than it’s meant to go. Few shows actually leave their fans wanting more—two that come to mind for me are The Wire and Breaking Bad, each wrapping up after just five seasons, not to mention Dave Chappelle’s decision to stop making Chappelle’s Show[6]—because most networks (and showrunners) aren’t willing to walk away from money on the table.

[6]Chappelle famously walked away from a two-year, $50 million contract for a third and fourth season of his show. While many people dismissed him as “crazy,” he insisted that the quality of the new episodes he’d done was simply not up to snuff with the first two seasons. After Chappelle left the show, Comedy Central aired the new episodes anyway. Turns out, he was right.

The final season of HIMYM premieres on September 23 (8 pm), and, despite everything I’ve said above, I plan to tune in to see how it all ends. I haven’t watched a full episode since season 5, including last season’s finale in which “the mother” finally appears on screen. Maybe the writers have been saving the best for last, and Ted’s nine-year wait to find the mother will be as worth it for the audience as it was for him.

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