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Tuesday, November 23, 2004



Assorted Seinfeld news and views:

...DVD boxsets of perhaps the greatest sitcom ever can finally be purchased in stores (and online) today, November 23, 2004 (just the first three seasons, for now)... Fittingly, "THE CONTEST" was voted the winner in AOL's all-time favorite Seinfeld episode contest (wanna bet?)... Look for a special limited-edition AOL CD in stores which features special Seinfeld show-related content along with AOL 9.0...

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My popculture analysis: Seinfeld's Fiendish Four were to the 90's what the Fab Four were to the 60's: Seinfeld ran for almost the entire decade, just as the Beatles' career did in their time -- all four rose to roughly equal stature during their time at the top, as did the Beatles (in terms of songwriting) -- the Seinfour's influence was felt in other popculture domains, just as the Moptops were -- there is even a promo-photo of the quirky quartet that uses the famed look of the "Meet the Beatles" cover, and a perSeinified version of the South Park characters. Note how both images show the characters in the same order -- Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer. Coincidence? Okay, maybe... but the Beatles too always had a pecking order (the press, and everyone else, always used the same order: "John, Paul, George, Ringo")...

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Another similarity with the Beatles, perhaps the most crucial, was how the Seinfabs evolved over the decade. As the sixties began, The Beatles were good, not great, which is why so many record labels passed on them - but they improved and evolved relentlessly until they became stellar showmen and deft songwriters, hitting their stride just when they got a shot at a mass audience. Same for Seinfeld. They were good at first, with witty wordplay and scripts with simple plots, but they morphed into more complex plot schemes and characters who hit their stride and full potential, just as their move to Thursdays helped their popularity soar. What started as a little show about nothing became ultimately a big soap opera about everything, with a steady stream of hilarious characters weaving in and out of complex plots that often relied on wild coincidence -- but we could suspend our disbelief through our belly laughs. Seinfeld evolved over the nineties, as any great show (or band, or species, or any organic entity) should. And the result was spec-tacular.

Now, thanks to the tech marvel called DVD, we can watch their entire evolution with the analytical lever of hindsight, aided by hours of bonus material. (Or, we can just watch, wonder, and wail with wild laughter.)

One final Beatle-Seinfeld comparison worth mentioning is how each character in each group seems to have a match, at least in spirit, in the other quartet:
JOHN/JERRY: the leader; broke up his group even though they were still popular and other members wanted to keep things going.
PAUL/ELAINE: the pretty one.
GEORGE/GEORGE: always searching for meaning; into dark humor; sarcastic view of life.
RINGO/KRAMER: the oddball; the oddest looking.

Speaking of Kramer, you can hear a new interview with his alter ego (actor Michael Richards), and relive some classic Seinfeld clips, at npr.org.

(In memoriam: late actress Gina Mastrogiacomo -- forever my feistiest, funniest female friend -- was part of the Seinfeld universe, playing a hilarious happy hooker hassling hapless George; in addition to that classic episode, she also was featured in the film "Goodfellas", and we all miss her immensely. Look for Gina on the Seinfeld DVDs; I believe she will be on one of the future releases. )

Tuesday, November 16, 2004



The PIRATE EYE system was reported this week on "Marketplace", as well as on "The Business" -- an excellent new show on KCRW (89.9fm in LA) that does for the Entertainment industry what Marketplace does for Business (i.e., cover with style, humor, and smart hosts).

The Pirate Eye device was recently tested successfully in Hollywood. (I wonder if it was at a screening of "Pirates of the Caribbean"; if not, these folks are irony-challenged.) Their software algorithm, according to the radio reports, can create an image that shows all pirate cams in a movie audience, with a box around each camera that is taping the film. Sounds like a boon to the film industry, which is scared to death that piracy will kill off sales, as it arguably has in the music industry. Large file sizes for films make downloading movies a hassle for many users TODAY, but as we all know, increased PC speed and bandwidth makes it only a matter of time before this takes a matter of minutes.

Will privacy advocates balk at forcing audience members to have their picture taken every time they shell out ten bucks to watch a flick? A Pirate Eye rep said during the story that "the only time an image is taken is when a camera is detected". Still, there are sometimes false positives, such as when certain cellphones set off the device (they should call this a "cellphoney"; you can use it guys, it's on me). Although I imagine these bugs might get worked out as the program's design is refined and tested further, the process of installing, using and maintaining these devices across an entire theatre chain won't be cheap -- and its potential success at stopping film pirates must be weighed against the cost of piracy.

In other words, like many touchy issues today, it comes down to PIRACY vs PRIVACY.

A possible compromise mentioned during the show: use dummy systems at some theatres, and real anti-piracy systems in others. Or here's an idea I had (again, it's on me): post several large stickers or banners that you can't avoid seeing on the way into the theatre, which warn potential tapers of the consequences as well as the success rate of Pirate Eye -- kinda like warning stickers on cars that brag about an alarm that is not really there. Or, up on the walls, tape photos of tapers who were caught taping. Or do all these things. Ah, the fine art of deterrence. I doubt most tapers, seeing all these warnings, will take the risk that a theatre is only bluffing -- but then again, poker IS the hot sport on TV these days. (Did I say SPORT? Wow, now I'm falling for their hype too...)

For questions or comments about this Pirate Eye segment, or The Business show in general, you can email them at thebusiness@kcrw.org; segments should be archived at www.kcrw.com.

Saturday, November 06, 2004


EVENT REVIEW: NOV 4-5: Billboard Digital Entertainment Conference

by Don Rose

Billboard's Digital Entertainment Conference, put on in association with Digital Media Wire, was not the largest confab this year, but its more intimate size encouraged great networking, and all enjoyed informative talks and panels -- insightful commentary on technologies bound to dominate the near future.

In the handful of exhibit booths, my hands-down favorite belonged to MEDIAPORT, which allowed conference goers to enjoy their spiffy-looking perfectly-named "MusicATM". I love when a concept is easy to understand, and works as you imagine it should. I scanned their list of available artists, listened to a few songs, chose an album to buy (although they were nice enough to pick up the tab for those at the conference!) -- and presto, a CD popped out as well as a jewel case to put it in. Scan, sample, choose, pay, burn and go -- all in about five minutes or less; kudos indeed.

The only thing different between my Mediaport CD and a "regular" store-bought CD is the lack of an official label cover and inserts, just a generic color cover -- but the songs played perfectly in my home CD player, and for most people, that is the main concern. Plus, at ten dollars an album, the price is about as low as you can (legally) get -- about tied with the cost of buying online at iTunes and similar music services. For those who have no PC, or no CD burner (i.e., an older PC or Mac), the MusicATM is a home run -- or, if you just dont feel like going online and downloading, or if you just want a new CD right away, this should prove popular. Universities and coffee shops and other youth hangouts should prove a natural home for the MusicATM. The machine has ports for iPods, memory card, USB -- so you should be able to hook up just about any portable device to get your music. At $15,000 I can't quite afford to buy one of these babies, but for many companies/stores it should prove a great investment, and like all new technologies, the price is bound to fall.

And if you were wondering, I chose a Morrissey CD. And also "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" by BELLE AND SEBASTIEN; if the Beatles and the Beach Boys and Donovan got together and had twins (a messy visual, I admit), it would the B and S duo -- stellar pop tunes perfectly crafted and executed. Mediaport's machine contained music in many genres, I saw dozens of artists to chose from, some known and some lesser known. Other artists the machine had that reside on my personal fave list include Blondie and Nancy Sinatra.

Yes, there WAS other news at the conference. At the nighttime awards held at UCLA's Covel Commons, the INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR award went to XM SATELLITE RADIO. XM truly is the evolution of radio -- from AM to FM to XM, we are talking increasing levels of freedom, choice, and sonic quality. XM's new RADIO POD should prove interesting to watch, or should I say listen to; now radio-heads can take commercial free radio wherever they go for about the price of an iPod (but, unlike an iPod, one still must pay a ten buck a month fee to enjoy it, above and beyond the cost of the device).

If I had to vote for Trend of the Conference, buzzed about most, it would be: the rise of RINGTONES. Billboard even has a new CHART to monitor their popularity (a recent number one charttopper among ringtones: "LEAN BACK", a staple of clubs the past few months, and hence no surprise there). The sister hot trend: the RINGBACK, which people calling you hear -- yes, you heard right, the buyer of the ringback DOESNT EVER HEAR THE PRODUCT THEY BUY! But then again, we dont really see the clothes we wear either, once we put it on --- ringbacks, like clothes, are really a statement for others to enjoy and to tell others about ourselves.

So, in summary, I saw a glimpse, a glimmer, of the future at Billboard's conference, although that glimpse seemed more evolutionary than revolutionary -- for now. But heck, I never expect to witness revolutions at EVERY conference; that would be impossible. Revolutions are often the result of an incremental accretion of successive evolutions, so the best advice may be to keep your eye on the big picture -- that is where be a revolution or two may be waiting for the observant to observe. Perhaps this is what someone meant when he or she said "the revolution will not be televised"; you can't easily televise a revolution that takes place over months and years (and get good ratings). TV wants things that are happening NOW, that happen quickly, that can be packaged, shown and discarded to make room for the NEXT big thing before the old big thing gets stale. No, the revolution won't be televised, because television is the wrong medium. But here's a better prediction: the revolution will be blogged.

Is the MusicATM the next big thing? A revolution, or an evolution? Well, it does work great, and there are great ideas wrapped up in that machine -- and billionaire keynoter Mark Cuban (now a star of his own realityTV Trump-like show) did spend over an hour at the Mediaport booth -- so, you be the judge. One thing is for sure: people, especially youth, love their music, and especially love the ease of buying/storing/sharing digital music, and MusicATM makes it even easier for the "rest of us" to get access to that digital music revolution. So, perhaps the MusicATM is best viewed as an evolution within the larger revolution.

Now, 'scuse me while I go online to buy the ringtone, "The Times They Are A Changin"..... (assuming I can even find such a relic of the Old Epoch of music.........)... wish me luck!