Thursday, March 10, 2011

Two-and-a-Half Mein Kampf

Let's face it, despite Charlie Sheen's epic meltdown, CBS isn't going to scrap Two-and-a-Half Men. Say what you will about this low-brow, highly scatological sitcom, it's a deeply entrenched, long-running series on a failing network with few other hits, and it generates tons of revenue.

So obviously they'll try every means possible to continue it, short of bringing back Sheen, because even in Hollywood you can't tie a nice bow on a stream of anti-Semitic epithets and pretend it never happened. They'll have to replace Sheen with a similar hard-drinking, womanizing sleazeball character -- a cousin or some other extended family member who can stumble out of the woodwork and be introduced into the setting without too much suspended disbelief. It's a time-honored way of getting a few more years out of a wheezy sitcom, like when Sandy Duncan replaced Valerie Harper years ago because of her salary demands. That show was actually called Valerie's Family and it still didn't stand in the way of killing off the main character in a convenient auto wreck.

Actors like John Stamos and Rob Lowe have been mentioned as possible bad-boy replacements, but Stamos is too likeable and Lowe is contractually bound to another series. If CBS were really on their game, there's only one replacement to consider for Sheen: Mel Gibson.

Think about it: you've already got a show that panders to the lowest mouth-breathing element of the television-watching public, one that's featured an underage character constantly exposed to sleazy adult situations since early boyhood and whose puberty we have been forced to observe. It's a PG-13-rated version of Sheen's lifestyle, served up to the viewing public like luke-warm porn. Why not go all the way, and capitalize on Gibson's volatile persona, put him in that beach house with the fat, sardonic maid and the milquetoast brother and the withering Beverly Hills social X-ray of a mother and just let him go at it about the Jews and the Muslims and Hollywood sugar tits and cops and...I think you get the picture. It'll be ratings gold, because there's nothing America loves more than a spectacular flameout. Let's frame this one in the perfect incendiary setting and be done with it.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

All the News that Flits

If you have any doubt that the newspaper as a medium is dead, just pick up a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle.

At about three-quarters the size format of a normal paper, it's so wispy it hardly qualifies as a pamphlet. It contains so little content -- and by that I mean paper material, because let's not even talk about the articles picked up from other news feeds -- that it would take at least two to provide enough kindling to build a decent fireplace blaze.

But there's another aspect to the demise of the modern urban newspaper. Like most publications, the Chronicle has an online version: the S.F. Gate. You'd be right to expect that this is simply the evolution of journalism in the 21st century, and that the paper's web site is the inevitable electronic descendent of what you once found in news racks all across the Bay Area. But you'd be wrong.

That's because the demands of constantly updating a web site to accommodate breaking news and developing stories have transformed this once iconic paper -- one held as the gold standard when I attended Journalism school in the 1970s -- into little more than a content mill. And a sloppy, hastily slapped-together one at that.

Take a look at this little gem, from today's S.F. Gate: Iconic kisses -- it purports to list the top iconic kisses in human culture. The first image from a Greek vase is misidentified as a man who kisses his wife when he "comes home from work" to see if she has spent the day knocking back ouzo, when actually it depicts Spartan love between a grown man and a boy. That's almost beside the point, though: just about anyone could rattle off a list of iconic kisses: Prince Charles and Princess Diana at their storybook wedding, Bette Davis and George Brent in Dark Victory, Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss at the Last Supper, even Adrian Brody smooching Halley Berry at the Oscars. But some unknown screen kiss from 1896? Do they even know what the word iconic means?

This kind of lazy content milling can be seen on a daily basis on sites like, where teams of content generators spew "articles" like The 7 Things to Never Say at a Job Interview or Islands to See Before You Die.

As someone who once started each day with a cup of coffee and a fresh newspaper, I'd made the adjustment, some time ago, that online news was simply Newspaper 2.0. But it was just today, stupidly, that it really hit me that the eradication of physical newspapers has set in motion an unexpectedly complete dumbing down of the remaining local news culture. What's left?