Thursday, 29 December 2011

How Being Erica took Product Integration Too Far

Wonder what Being Erica's Erin Karpluk is trying to sell us here?

Being Erica has been circulating well in my library, especially for those who are in their teens and early twenties and female.  I never got into it and found the time shifting tedious (I am not a lover of fantasy anyway).  I am also not a member of the target demographic.

See below an article in the National Post about product placement.  As mentioned, I also found the neverending commercials to submit a pizza eating video annoying and troubling.

This was the year I stopped watching Being Erica. Technically, 2011 may be the year everyone stopped watching the quirky CBC dramedy, as the show just concluded its fourth and potentially final season, with all the storylines tied up in a tearful Christmas bow.
Or so I hear — I didn’t actually make it to the finale. I broke up with Erica, my TV BFF, because she tried way too hard to sell me a car.
The Toronto-set program is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, but I’d never miss an episode, drawn in by Erin Karpluk as an underachieving-yet-loveable thirtysomething who, over time, manages to turn her regret-filled life around with the help of a therapist that allows her to time travel. (What’s not to love?)
It’s charming, critically praised, and has done well internationally, with distribution in 160 countries and plans in the works for U.S. and U.K. versions.
Perhaps all the success went to its head, though. The product placement, a.k.a. “branded entertainment,” became obvious in the third season, when Erica’s friend and business partner, Julianne, bought a car that got a lot of enthusiastic screen time — a development that also happened to earn numerous marketing accolades.

The trend continued this season, with Julianne quitting coffee to acquire a taste for Tetley Infusions iced tea. And during (official) commercials, McCain/Being Erica spots called on viewers to audition for a pizza-eating cameo with extra cheese.

The proverbial last straw, though, came with the fourth season’s eighth episode, which begins with Erica (inexplicably) test-driving a car with Julianne. There’s a salesman in the back seat extolling the virtues of the vehicle. Here’s some dialogue:
Sales guy OK, time for the coolest feature — let’s park between those two [closely spaced] cars.
Erica What? There? That’s a little bit tight. I kinda suck at parallel parking.
Sales guy Trust me, so do I, which is why the Focus can parallel park itself!
Erica No way.
Sales guy Way.
I didn’t even finish watching the episode.
The lesson here is one I hope TV’s creators will take to heart, and it is this: Having your quirky indie show characters speak ad copy will render your program unwatchable.
I’m no fool. I know that shows need sponsors. I know about torrents and PVRs and budget cuts. But how are viewers supposed to remain loyal to characters who will so blatantly trade our affection for a dollar?
None of this is new, of course. Since E.T. ate his first Reese’s Piece in 1982, marketers have been devising new and creative ways to get ad messages out of the commercial-break ghetto. It’s now a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. We know American Idol is Coke and The X Factor is Pepsi based on the logos on the judges’ tables. We know Jack Bauer drove a Ford in 24, a show in which Cisco Systems had a supporting role in saving the world.
Some shows can get away with the integration of brand and story — as opposed to simple placement — that Being Erica attempted so jarringly. 30 Rock is frequently cited as an example, as its spoof context allows for brand mentions that serve both the advertiser (by communicating favourable messages about the product) and the audience (by being funny), as in this scene in an early episode where Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) brings up product integration to Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit):
Jack Look, I know how this sounds.
Liz No, come on, Jack. We’re not doing that. We’re not compromising the integrity of the show to sell —
Pete Wow. This is Diet Snapple?
Liz I know, it tastes just like regular Snapple, doesn’t it?
It’s not uncontroversial, but at least it’s meta, and it works here. Similarly, Seinfeld’s classic “Junior Mints” episode, in which Kramer drops a candy into the open chest of a man undergoing surgery, may not even register as paid placement, so natural was the mint-driven action in the context of that show.
Being Erica, unfortunately, does not have the advantage of being a cynical comedy or an action show where product placement heightens the camp (oh hello there, Jack Bauer). Quite the opposite, it’s an earnest show on a public broadcaster about being your best self.
Not everyone can pull off explicit product integration, and shows like this one should think twice before trying.
When the U.K. version comes out, I plan to watch it, but I can only hope that Erica’s British counterpart knows how to parallel park.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

New Canadian Television Series - Bomb Girls

I am very excited to see that a new Canadian television mini series has been developed.  Bomb Girls will present an important part of World War II history - the role of women in the Canadian war effort on the home front.  Women were able to take on roles that had not been available to them before.  I also have a special interest in this since I worked for many years at the Ajax Public Library.  At the beginning of World War II, a munitions factory was built where the Town of Ajax is today.  The Town sprang up to accommodate the workers and many stayed after the War.

I know that this will be popular at my library when it comes out in DVD. The British series Land Girls goes out very well so it will be nice to have a Canadian version of the time to complement it.

(From the T.V., Eh website)

Global’s commitment to creating powerful original dramas continues with the prime time debut of its new six-part series, Bomb Girls. Premiering Wednesday, January 4 – 8pm ET/PT, the drama profiles the life-altering experiences of five brave Canadian women who risk their lives working in a munitions factory during the Second World War.

“What I love about Bomb Girls is the unique perspective it offers on the constant conflicts and difficult personal choices these women faced in such a high-stakes environment,” said Barbara Williams, Senior Vice-President, Content, Shaw Media. “How did their lives change so profoundly? Why did it all matter so much? Bomb Girls brings the remarkable journey to life.”
The series entertains viewers with a wartime persona that is rarely acknowledged yet played an integral role in the country’s rich history; it reveals the necessity of the ‘bomb girl’ along with her significance. Leading the ensemble cast is legendary Oscar® nominee Meg Tilly (Agnes of God, The Big Chill), who makes her return to network television after 18 years, taking on the role of Lorna Corbett, the Victory Munitions factory supervisor.
Joining Meg Tilly are Jodi Balfour (The Sinking of the Laconia) as free-wheeling socialite-turned-bomb girl Gladys Witham; Charlotte Hegele (Murdoch Mysteries) as wide-eyed preacher’s daughter Kate Andrews; Ali Liebert (Hellcats) as tough-talking Prairie girl Betty McRae; and Anastasia Philips (Skins) as kind-natured Vera Burr. Commissioned by Shaw Media’s original content team, the series is produced by Muse Entertainment and Back Alley Films.
The series also stars Antonio Cupo (L’Ombra del destino) as Italian-born factory worker Marco Moretti; Sebastian Pigott (Being Erica) as Gladys’ fiancĂ© James Dunn; and Peter Outerbridge (ReGenesis) as Lorna’s husband Bob Corbett.
This gripping dramatic series set on the Canadian home front tells the remarkable stories of the women who risked everything building bombs for the Allied forces fighting on the European front. Bomb Girls delves into the lives of these exceptional women from all walks of life – peers, friends and rivals – who find themselves changed profoundly as they are liberated from their home and social restrictions to join the work force for the first time and face previously unimaginable risks in the process.
Shot on location in Toronto, Bomb Girls is executive produced by Muse Entertainment’s Michael Prupas (The Kennedys, Pillars of the Earth), along with Back Alley Films’ Janis Lundman (Durham County) and Adrienne Mitchell (Durham County). Mitchell also serves as co-showrunner along with Michael MacLennan (Flashpoint, Queer as Folk) who is executive producer and serves as the series’ head writer.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Lost Doctor Who Episodes Found

Two classic 1960s episodes of the BBC science fiction series "Doctor Who", thought to have been lost forever, have been found, the British Film Institute said Monday.
The missing episodes, dating from 1965 and 1967 and starring William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton respectively in the title role, were bought at a village fete in southern England in the mid-1980s, the BFI said.
The copies are thought to have originated from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The BFI said the copies had been in the private collection of a former TV engineer. They have now been given to the BBC archives.
"Doctor Who", which ran from 1963 to 1989 and was revived in 2005, is one of BBC television's top entertainment programmes.
Some 106 episodes dating from between 1964 and 1969 are missing from the BBC archives due to a tape-wiping policy which was in place for much of the 1960s and 1970s.
Video tape was expensive at the time and so transmission tapes were wiped in order to be reused.
"Doctor Who" was sold around the world during the 1960s. Top BBC programmes were transferred on to film for foreign broadcasters, the corporation said, and the BFI sometimes manages to recover these copies.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Cultural Anxiety Grips Your Local Library

By Heather Mallick Toronto Star Columnist
A Pirates of the Caribbean DVD in a public library is absurd, budget chief Mike Del Grande says, given that you can find the dreadful (adjective mine) thing in any of Toronto’s fast-disappearing video outlets. At a time when libraries are facing huge cutbacks, offering Hollywood films is “program creep.” Del Grande is right, as far as it goes. Toronto’s big, beloved library system is intended to “lift” the local reader into a higher sphere. Libraries are a self-improvement scheme just as miners’ book clubs were in the poverty-stricken colliery towns that D.H. Lawrence was so desperate to escape. Lawrence’s novels are difficult, gorgeous, obstructive things that are taught in university and anyone who voluntarily borrows one from his local library and reads it through is arguably the better for it. Presumably Del Grande is saying that libraries should offer Lawrence novels rather than a Bridesmaids DVD. We should offer both, is what the libraries say. DVDs take up 9 per cent of the library’s $17 million acquisition budget, and lowbrow stuff makes up about half of that. It is shameful on the face of it. It’s not that Pirates of the Caribbean, a film about a ride at Disneyland, is easily purchased, it’s that it’s impossible to outrun. I love American popular culture — Will Ferrell movies are a great joy to me — but I do draw the line at things like Pirates and Shrek, both of which have produced endless sequels of increasing stupidity. I sneer with confidence, as you can see. But what if you’re the 12-year-old daughter of new Canadians and you’re asking your library to “lift” you by helping you fit into Canadian culture — or the lack of it — by teaching you what the other kids like? And they do like rubbish in market-flooding quantities. Watching that Pirates DVD will let you into the Canadian club. And after that, reading novels by Lawrence, Douglas Coupland, Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields and Jeanette Winterson will be your intellectual ticket out. Toronto libraries are open to all and offer all, painful as that may be to the budget chief, whose job it is to be miserly. When you don’t read much, all reading is good, from the James Patterson industrial collective to those weird, slurpy Nora Roberts romances. “True fiction at it’s finest,” one Amazon reader enthuses. So they don’t teach you to punctuate or develop even basic critical judgment, but they give pleasure and keep you human. Library critics are also complaining about the amount of non-English language material on offer. Surely libraries should be a non-stop blast of English! But sophisticated libraries do what bookstores do: They give the customer what she or he wants, which will be French, Spanish, etc. The subtext of all this is brow — lowbrow, middlebrow and highbrow — and a fight over multiculturalism that the hard-right is fomenting. Also grinding away beneath the surface is the constant fear of dumbing down as a culture until we are sanding through our skulls to find . . . nothing at all. Libraries are at the centre of cultural anxieties, many of which are status anxieties in a time — I am not understating this — of finger-biting economic terror. How do we compare to our neighbours? Is my kid’s school better than yours? Did my kid get a better degree and eventually a better job? Did my references to Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley in Pirates endear me to my classmates? Am I a freeloading library devotee or a Thatcherite economic unit moving myself into a higher category? Is the left’s desire for total equality blocking my parental crusade to give my children an unfair advantage? I hear Del Grande with respect, booklovers with affection and Farsi readers with admiration. Each has a case to make. We thought Bay Street was the battleground for economic equality but it turns out that the local library — battered, pleasant, a bit smelly, and who knows where those germy books have been — is where civilized Torontonians have made a stand. The well-loved library, rather than snow-clearing, is our Last Chance Saloon.