Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Format As Content

We had to get cable to get Internet service here, and since that fateful day all surfing leads to “E!” I almost don’t care what the show is—the format and the pace of editing capture exactly what my mind wants to do these days when it watches TV. NPR does PBS so much better, and the salutary slabs of information you get from the History Channel or A&E biographies I glean instead from newspapers and magazines or, more often now, from Wikipedia, in long, luxurious hyperlink loops. Maybe “E!” represents all that TV has left to do, as a medium, at least for the pre-TiVO/no-HBO set.

My favorite format is the one where a Greek chorus of B-list comedians and entertainment magazine editors dish on Hollywood stars to the accompaniment of what’s basically a Flickr slideshow of stills showing celebrities in the most banal contexts—celebrity stepping out of limo; celebrity accompanied by lover, soon to be sundered with cheap “rip effect”; aerial shot of celebrity home as price pops up with a cash register sound. The shows feel fast, easy, and off-the-cuff—you get the feeling they could knock out a dozen in an afternoon. I like them because they’re quick, and because they fit so snugly into the 10 or 15 minute increments I tend to watch TV in. But I also appreciate how clever they are in foregrounding form over content. What these shows offer is basically an attractive interface to photos and information you could get just about anywhere—in that way they’re more like web browsers than content providers, talking templates.

Unlike “ET” or “Access Hollywood,” which pretend to be glammed up real news and leave the insertion of irony to you, the E! shows draw a lot of their humor from a sort of running meta-commentary on how ridiculous it is that we care about this stuff at all. What saves them from garden-variety pomo irony is that the smart alec commentators are situated on the same food chain, hungry to cross into the spotlight themselves, so the laughs are familial, insidery, almost loving: it's the janitor who sweeps up after the elephant making gentle fun of his charge.

This is a post about the problem of form in poetry.


John Sakkis said...

but i can't help thinking that the E! "talking heads" stuff is just a bad rip off of the original VH1 "We Love The 80's" stuff...

and then have you seen the Mcdonald's commercial where they also use the "talking heads" format to sell their newest hamburger...it's all so very hip.

rodney k said...

Hi John:

I think the guy from VH1's "Behind the Music" even narrates some of the E! shows--True Hollywood Stories or something like that.

Dan B. said...

aren't the pre-tivo/no HBOs the folks who live by the railroad tracks and keep their belongings in a plaid nappie?

(speaking as a proud no HBO my own self. here's no Showtime in your eye!)