Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Big Reason Most TV Shows and Movies Suck

We went to see "The Last Mimzy" over the weekend and before you ask "Why?" I'll only say my fiancee and I were taken in by the trailers which hinted at an "E.T."-like classic story with novel special effects and neither of us felt like being intellectually challenged on a Sunday. Needless to say, we probably should have Tivo'ed the trailer and watched it over and over 120 times instead of seeing the actual movie. I think the most entertaining thing about it was playing "Count the Product Placements!" In fact "Mimzy" featured the most blatant non-joke product placement possibly in the history of cinema. Way to go Intel. I think ticket prices should be discounted based on the number of product placements. In the case of "Mimzy" the theater should just send us a check for $32.50.

Anyway, my point wasn't about product placement or how execrable "The Last Mimzy" was. Mimzy, like most movies and TV shows suffered from the "stereotype of running time." That is to say, "this is a movie and therefore it should run about this long." Or "this is a TV show and therefore it should run this long." Unfortunately, many stories need a lot more than 90 minutes to unravel their plots and characters. By the same token, many films need only a few minutes. I suspect "Norbit" might have been better as a five minute YouTube clip. We'll watch as long as we're entertained and engrossed.

While lately TV shows have become serialized in their approach to storytelling ("Heroes," "24," "Lost," etc.), they're still missing the point. TV shows like these run as long as the network can suck money from them. Most of today's serial shows have a central mystery and this lack of a known run length must drive writers crazy. Will it end this year, next year, or five years from now? How much filler do we need to add? How much can we flatten this story arc? Alias seemed to suffer from this. The first two seasons hinged on discovering a lost artifact. When they found the lost artifact there was really nowhere to go except off the air. "Lost" is a good show but it's heavily padded. Some scenes just lay there, bereft of plot or meaning, but they help stretch the series out.

The last example I'll share is local TV News. Some nights there is truly not enough news to fill the 30 minutes. This means we get fluff stories about colorful senior citizens and pets that can sing. How about we make a rule that local TV news is as long as it has to be. No more real news 15 minutes into the broadcast? Well, then sign off and let's move on to the next thing.

Zillow Real Estate Wiki: Why We Need Editors

The Zillow Real Estate Wiki is a good idea. But it's also an example of why a wiki might work best in a closed system. Zillow's intent is to create a comprehensive resource for home buyers by letting everyone contribute, but the result is more like a combination resource guide/marketing tool/crap sandbox. They need professional, dedicated editors.

Looking through the A-Z list there are many entries that are simply place names, for instance "Illinois." Click on it and at present you get nothing. I'm not sure what I'd expect to find by clicking on "Illinois" but I would expect to find something. Someone obviously created an entry and then got bored or wasn't sure what to do next.

Another entry is called "Az Realtor." As you might guess, some realtor in Arizona decided to get some free marketing. Very altruistic of them.

So while I am a fan of wikis in general, I am also a fan of good editing and content approval. Wikipedia has a strong editorial component, which I've encountered when attempting to change my company's listing. It was annoying, but I ultimately respected the fact that the editor wanted to make sure everything was kosher. Zillow needs that kind of editorial commitment and then the might have something.


Sad, Disgusting, and Intolerable

I have been reading Kathy Sierra's "Creating Passionate Users" blog for a while now and have always enjoyed their unique and insightful content. Recently Kathy was threatened by some people who I hope are simply harmless, immature, misogynistic losers who think they're being funny (they're not). Needless to say the anonymity of the Web allows them to remain unknown and to this point, unfound.

In the meantime Kathy has understandably cancelled speaking engagements and remained locked in her home since there's no way for her to know how real these threats against her are. You can read the whole story on her blog, which has (hopefully) temporarily been put on hold.

I hope these idiots are found and charged appropriately for threatening Kathy's life. This kind of behavior should never be tolerated.

Warren G. Harding Invented the Internet: The 20 Greatest Historical Myths

An interesting list of The 20 Greatest Historical Myths. My favorite:

Edison invented the electric light
Thomas Edison is known as the world's greatest inventor. His record output - 1,093 patents - still amazes us, over a century later. Astonishing, except for one thing: he didn't invent most of them. Most Edison inventions were the work of his unsung technicians - and his most famous invention, the electric light, didn't even belong to his laboratory. Four decades before Edison was born, English scientist Sir Humphry Davy invented arc lighting (using a carbon filament). For many years, numerous innovators would improve on Davy's model. The only problem: none could glow for more than twelve hours before the filament broke. The achievement of Edison's lab was to find the right filament that would burn for days on end. A major achievement, but not the first.

If you want to see Edison in an even worse light, see the excellent movie, "The Prestige" in which Edison acts as the film's heavy.

The 20 Greatest Historical Myths