News Column

TV Talk this week: Readers' pet TV peeves, and 'Ray Donovan' impresses

June 30, 2013

YellowBrix

June 30--Most of the time, I prefer to write about all the intelligent writing, insightful storytelling and impressive acting that make this one of the most creatively rewarding periods in television history.

Examples of that abound: take "Mad Men," which just completed its sixth season with an outstanding finale episode. And "Breaking Bad," which is coming back Aug. 11 to conclude its run as an already-classic example of TV at its best. Or "Downton Abbey," which won't be back until January 2014.

Oh, and by the way, Paul Giamatti will be appearing in Season 4, as the playboy brother of Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). Let's just take a moment to applaud the imaginative "Downton Abbey" casting director who thought, "Who'd be good as a playboy?" then answered, "Paul Giamatti." You have to admire that kind of out-of-the-box thinking, and I relish the opportunity to see Giamatti show off his debonair stuff.

But let's put all those good feelings aside. Because now it's time to rant. And I'm not just talking about having to endure another season of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," and its grotesque stereotypes about rural Southerners. Or the Discovery Channel deciding America needs to see a reality show called "Naked and Afraid," in which each week, one man and one woman are stranded and left to fend for themselves in some rugged location.

Did I mention they're both naked?

A few weeks ago, I shared a couple of my TV pet peeves, and asked readers to email me some of theirs. The response was fast and furious. Well, if not furious, at least irked.

How irritating can TV get? Here are some of the main offenders, judging from reader comments:

ONSCREEN CLUTTER: You're sitting there, glued to the tube, waiting for the dramatic climax. Just when the moment of truth arrives, an animated logo pops up at the bottom of the screen, nagging us to watch some other, completely different show. It would be nice to stay in the tense mood of the show you're actually watching at this moment, but there's a cartoon critter or a bobbing head bouncing around the lower half of the TV. What do we have to do, run a few strips of masking tape across the bottom of the screen?

SOCIAL MEDIA SCREAMING: As one reader put it, he can't abide "the constant 'Go to Facebook now to chat' or the (bleep) Twitter bird # ..." I feel his pain. It's one thing for shows to clomp all over the screen with encouragement to go online. But when comments about the show you're watching from Twitter show up as you're watching, that's a whole other level of iffy. I'd mind it less if what we saw was a genuine Twitter timeline, rather than the inevitably cherry-picked likes of, "OMG this is AWESOME," as tweeted by @BIGFAN. Programmers, if you really want to encourage viewers to follow shows on social media, why not include the less fawning comments that appear? How about something like "OMG #NakedandAfraid is an insult to the medium"? That would add some social media spice, don't you think?

STOP THE MUSIC: I was surprised by how many readers complained about the background music on shows drowning out the dialogue. Personally, I haven't noticed this, but lots of you have.

STUPID RUNNING TIME TRICKS: This is an oldie, but still-baddie. Networks continue to noodle around with show running times, most notably allowing shows to end a minute or two past the hour. Say you set your DVR to record a mystery airing from 9 to 10 p.m. Just as the killer is about to be revealed ... the recording ends, because the show ended at 10:02 instead of 10 p.m. As one reader fumed, programmers who ignore the hour mark make "life difficult for people with DVRs. I wish there was a way I could hurt them and cause them to lose ratings."

THE WAITING GAME: For years, cable channels such as USA and TNT tended to be the guiltiest of breaking up a show in midseason. A series might begin a new season in the winter, then take an extended break, and return to finish up the season in the summertime. Personally, I find this a model of diminishing returns, especially if a series has any kind of ongoing storyline. When USA premiered the first half of "Suits" Season 2 last summer, and waited until this winter to wrap it up, I found I'd lost considerable interest in the law firm's internal drama and power struggles. More troubling, the broadcast networks are starting to copy the cable habit. NBC made viewers wait months between the first and second halves of "Grimm" Season 2. Similarly, the network aired a "midseason finale" of its freshman series, "Revolution," in November 2012 and brought it back to wrap up Season 1 in late March. That's a long time to wait.

QUICK CANCELLATIONS: With networks fighting harder than ever to hold their share of the audience, an underperforming show doesn't get many second chances. If any. Several readers complained that they don't even want to sample a new series -- particularly one with a serialized storyline -- because they don't know when it will be canceled. That was certainly the case with ABC's "Zero Hour," an ambitious drama about ancient conspiracies and contemporary skulduggery, starring Anthony Edwards. The show debuted in mid-February, and was yanked from the schedule March 1. The remaining episodes have shown up recently, airing in the dead zone of Saturday night.

TURN IT DOWN: Viewers have been hollering for years about commercials that air at a volume much louder than the show they're watching. Finally, the Federal Communications Commission issued rules requiring commercials to have the same average volume as the programming they interrupt. This regulation, known as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, went into effect in late December. But readers say they're still getting blasted by brassy commercials. One reader lamented the general "outright NOISE foisted upon us by immature sound engineers raised on video games," even on "a simple animal show about cats on Animal Planet" that's "flush with added noise such as crashing, boing-oing-oings, zip-whistles, extra meows, etc. What the ...?"

PET PEEVE POTPOURRI: Other annoyances included laugh tracks on sitcoms; characters in cop/detective shows who don't wear seat belts in cars; commercials that are repeated over and over again; commercials in shows that stream online; and commercials featuring actors appearing in the show you're watching. As one reader wrote, "On 'Mad Men,' I don't want to see Christina Hendricks for Johnnie Walker. She should be Joan."

How about it? Did we overlook any of your pet peeves? Feel free to email me (kturnquist@oregonian.com) with other nominees for the TV Pet Peeve Hall of Fame.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE GOOD STUFF: Just in time to take up the slack left by "Mad Men" and "Game of Thrones" comes "Ray Donovan," a promising Showtime drama that feels like a mix of "The Departed," "Michael Clayton" and "The Sopranos."

Those are admittedly some big names to follow, but based on the first few episodes, "Ray Donovan" could be a worthy successor. Created by Ann Biderman, who gave us "Southland," "Ray Donovan" is named after its lead character, a "fixer" extraordinaire. As played by Liev Schrieber with a fascinating blend of gravity and volatility, Ray travels all over Los Angeles, getting celebs out of sex scandals, drug scandals and assorted other tight spots.

The fact that Donovan is as adept with a persuasive argument as he is with a baseball bat is just the first hint that he's a complicated guy. We get a sense of how he got that way when we meet his father, Mickey (Jon Voight), a veteran of the Irish mob back East; his brothers, Bunchy (Dash Mihok), a victim of childhood clergy sexual abuse, and Terry (Eddie Marsan), a former boxer whose career left him with Parkinson's; and Ray's wife, Abby (Paula Malcolmson, of "Deadwood"), an East Coaster with an accent and attitude to rival Carmela Soprano.

The cast is uniformly excellent, the setting and characters compelling, and the story's just getting started. Better get in on it from the beginning. ("Ray Donovan" premieres at 10 tonight on Showtime).

MEANWHILE, IN RADIO LAND: Some changes are coming to the OPB radio schedule. As has already been announced, the longtime show "Talk of the Nation" is leaving the weekday lineup, as NPR is stopping production.

Beginning Monday, "Here & Now" moves to 10 a.m. weekdays with an expanded two-hour format. Host Robin Young will continue, and she's joined by new co-host Jeremy Hobson, who comes from a previous gig at "Marketplace Morning Report," and has contributed to such programs as "All Things Considered" to "Wait ... Wait ... Don't Tell Me!"

The expanded "Here & Now" will air on OPB radio from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Fridays. "Science Friday" with Ira Flatow will continue to air at 11 a.m. Fridays.

"The Takeaway," with John Hockenberry, will move from its previous 10 a.m. slot to the 9 a.m. weekday spot.

In addition, OPB radio has two new programs coming in July and August. "Dinner Party Download" will air at 2 p.m. Saturdays. It's described as "public radio meets Vanity Fair." A recent episode description includes guests actress Greta Gerwig, The Roots' Questlove, author Carl Hiaasen, and Kathy Griffin giving etiquette advice.

Also coming to Tuesdays at 9 p.m. is "OPB Presents: Playing On Air," featuring notable actors performing short (five to 20 minutes long) plays, and interviews with the artists.

-- Kristi Turnquist

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(c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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