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Omar comin'! Omar! Omar comin'!

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The Wire is the greatest television program ever made.

Podcast: Ask the Optimist by George Saunders

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Show: 
Bullseye

Our most ambitious production ever -- an adaptation of George Saunders' hilarious story "Ask the Optimist," from his most recent collection, The Braindead Megaphone. Produced by me (Jesse Thorn) with video & puppetry by Brian Hogg for Hoggworks.

You can view piece in video form above, or in listen to the radio/podcast version below. We convinced George's publisher to let us run this piece by arguing that it might "go viral," so please share! And for some perspective on George's work, don't miss this interview I conducted with George and ran a few days ago, or this show, which features an older interview with George.

Featuring an all-star cast:
The Optimist - Andy Daly
Mad - Jen Kirkman
Hurt But - Jonathan Coulton
W - James Adomian
Small Penis - John Hodgman
Not Altogether Hopeful - Maria Bamford
Turkey - Jonathan Katz
Ralph, the New Optimist - Dan Klein
Judy - Xeni Jardin

Please share your thoughts on this program on our forum!
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You might also enjoy these past interview programs:
Moustaches, Etc with Andy Daly and Richard Montoya of Culture Clash
On the Road with John Hodgman & Henry Rollins (MP3)
Analog & Digital with John Vanderslice and Xeni Jardin & Mark Frauenfelder

Podthoughts by Ian Brill: "Bionicast"

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Remember when Jordan said that Comic-Con, where studios try to get passionate fans to become even more passionate about movies and TV they haven’t seen yet, was all about the privilege to be advertised to? Aaron and Marc the hosts of Bionicast are the types of fans that Comic-Con is made for. I started this “fandom trilogy” (which was not planed out but whatever) with a Doctor Who podcast and its four decades of sci-fi entertainment to draw from. Then I profiled a Firefly podcast that kept the alive the spirit of a franchise you can polish off in a week. I end it with a podcast that had six episodes in before the show even aired. As soon as this on iTunes I wondered how could there be a podcast dedicated to NBC’s Bionic Woman, a show that (at the time) most of the world hasn’t seen. What if the hosts ended up not liking the show? My questions have been answered. Sort of.

The show is a great example of the modern fan culture. Two hallmarks of today’s fandom provided the impetuous for the show. One is the competitive nature of fandom. Aaron and Marc declared themselves the first Bionic Woman podcast (true) as well as the best (I don’t want to listen to any others so we’ll say that’s also true). The second is the abundance of Bionic Woman that was already out there. There was enough hype and rumors to get any good fan salivating. It starts by having one of the executive producers of Battlestar Galactica, with Katee “Starbuck” Sackoff in tow, “reimagining” (which Hollywood holds at a higher value than “imagining”) another ‘70s sci-fi property. Then they throw some previews up on-line and do a panel at the hallowed grounds of Comic-Con. From there all fans have to do is come up with speculations to what the show will be about as well make some connections using the casts’ IMDb pages to other sci-fi shows (Robocop’s Miguel Ferrer has a meaty role on the show).

That’s what the hosts of Bionicast do for most of the 90+ minute episodes of their podcast. They get to indulge their own geekery. NBC apparently cooperated with the show at first, they got to see the unaired pilot, but that cooperation dried up pretty soon. In lieu of content like interviews with cast and crew the two guys talked about what they knew of the character from NBC’s promotional materials and then ended each show with half-hour discussions of other sci-fi shows they like (the original Bionic Woman show did not fall under this category). It seemed the concept of a new Bionic Woman show, as opposed to the actual show itself, was a way for these two guys to digest the vast amount of TV, film and comics sci-fi and fantasy fans have been soaking up lately. Battlestar Galactica plays a major part of these discussions. Later on when the actual show is reviewed Marc says that he wishes most of the creators of Battlestar Galactica end up working on Bionic Woman. At the point I just had to wonder why these guys just didn’t start a Battlestar Galactica podcast, since that’s where their true passions lay. Then I realized there are enough of those and in the world of fandom it’s not as cool to be the 82nd Battlestar Galactica podcast than it is to be the 1st Bionic Woman podcast.

The podcasts produced after Bionic Woman starts enlightened me about an important facet of today’s fan. It explained why these networks create so much material about a show months, maybe even a year before the show actually airs. For this review I watched the first episode of Bionic Woman. It’s a perfectly mediocre sci-fi show, with only the performances by Sackoff and Ferrer being reasons to tune in. The hosts of Bionicast weren’t ecstatic about the show but I could tell they were being charitable to the show. After all, they had already put this amount of effort into discussing the show, what does it matter if the show is any good? It’s when Aaron and Marc discussed the ratings of the show on the episode dedicated to the second episode of Bionic Woman did I see why that network hype was so important. Producers and studios can engineer a situation where they not only get viewers, not only fans but agents of a show. The hosts sounded like young studio execs when the split hairs over the show’s TiVO ratings and how the show captured the treasured 18-34 male demographic. These guys are already willing to fight for a show that only excites them because of the pedigree and concept, not for the actual execution. I can already see the strongly worded on-line petition that springs up if the show gets in trouble. The podcast itself is free advertising for the pilot. Its reasons like that why found Bionicast a perfect snapshot of today’s sci-fi fandom.

Back-to-Back Home Runs

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Yesterday the Sklar Brothers came by for an interview (to be heard later on TSOYA), and we fell into talking about sports, and specifically, the intersections between sports nerddom and comedy nerddom. I was inspired by their passion, so here's A Baseball Post.

First of all, congratulations to Jacob Mustafa, owner of the Nothing Can Mustafas Now in the Maximum Fun Fantasy Baseball League. You may know Jacob as the editor of TSOYA The College Years. After Rick Paulas' Paulas Poundstones and Paul Reiser's Mojo Reisers spent the season locked in a tight 1-2 battle, the Mustafas triumphed after a shocking last-week ascension. Jacob earns the right to hold the Saint Mary's Park 1992 Trophy (pictured above) for one calendar year, until next year's champion is crowned. He will also, in accordance with Rotisserie Baseball tradition, be doused with Yoo-Hoo brand chocolate drink.

And in further baseball nerd news... if you're looking towards a long fantasy-baseballess winter, here's some good news. Baseball Mogul, the nerdiest and best baseball simulation game available, is now free. Well... last year's version is free. I try not to have the game installed on my computer, because I am inclined to spend ten and twelve hours at a time managing my team, adjusting ticket prices, signing free agents and drafting high schoolers. The good folks at Sports Mogul stop giving away the game at the end of the World Series, so act now.

Podcast: The College Years: The Dee Dee Ordeal

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The College Years is a look deep into the vaults of The Sound of Young America. Take a journey with us sporadically as we post a new program or two from our salad days.

It's showtime, and Dee Dee Ramone is missing. Listen as the guys find hilarious ways to stall (including another visit from the world's most ambitious rock star, the Evil Computer Bent on World Domination) and, ultimately, begin to insult the Ramones' bassist for his failure to keep his appointment as a guest on TSOYA.

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Podcast: George Saunders

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George Saunders' satirical fiction won him a prestigious MacArthur "Genius" grant in 2006. His new book, "The Brain-Dead Megaphone," collects his recent non-fiction writing. I sat down with George for a live stage conversation about his life & work at the Beverly Hills Public Library Auditiorium. This is our first ever interview which includes a metaphor which begins, "If the brain can be said to have a sphincter..."

Don't miss our first interview with George, which you can hear here. Also, stay tuned for more Saunders-iana next week, as we offer some of his works in audio form.

Please share your thoughts on this program on our forum!
Download This Show (MP3)
Subscribe in iTunes
Review the show in iTunes
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Our intersititial music is provided by Dan Wally

You might also enjoy these past interview programs:
What's Wrong with This Country (George Saunders & Henry Owings)
Miranda July
Worlds of Wonder (Chris Elliott & Terry Gilliam)

Myths about "30 Rock"

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Since 30 Rock won an Emmy, a lot of urban legends have spread about the show. Here are two of the most egregious:

* "The show started poorly." No, it didn't. It was always funny, you just had an attitude at first, and/or didn't get it. Is it tighter than it was in the first episode? Yeah, sure, like any sitcom. But it was great from the start. You're just covering your ass.

* "The show's success is largely due to Alec Baldwin." Yes, Alec Baldwin is funny. No, he is NOT the only or even main funny thing on the show. He is just the thing that you were already familiar with, Mr. TV Writer. Actually, Tracy Morgan is funnier, and Jack McBrayer is just as funny.

The television press made the same sorts of odd psuedo-attacks on the Office in the early days, which they now seem to regard as the greatest show ever. I think we're lucky to live in a world where these shows are on network television.

That said... I hope they straighten out the Rachel Dratch situation this year. She is one of my favorite comic actresses, but she was awful on the show last year. Not because she did a bad job portraying her various characters, but rather because her broad characterizations broke the tone of the show. She was performing them as written, but she consistently felt shoehorned in to the show's world. Wait... except for the cat wrangler. I liked the cat wrangler.

Anyway, I'm rambling. I shouldn't blog before 9AM.

Update: Todd Jackson has some great thoughts on all this on Dead-Frog.

Lupe Fiasco - Dumb it Down

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Lupe can rap his ass off, right?!

So... what was wrong with this?

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I keep hearing these rumors that David Letterman slammed Paris Hilton, or he wouldn't let go of the jail thing, or whatever. All I see is David Letterman being the greatest television host of our time, one of the funniest people ever, and Paris Hilton being a cypher as per usual. And then a commercial for perfume.

Gimme a break, America.

Below: Letterman and Sarah Silverman talk about it a bit, before continuing to both be talented and funny.

Podthoughts by Ian Brill: "The Signal"

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Since we spent time last week looking at a Doctor Who podcast, where the fandom has over four decades to mull over it, let’s look at a podcast dedicated to a show with far less material to work with but remain just as passionate. The Signal, hosted by Les Howard and Kari Haley, deals with all things pertaining to show Firefly and the film Serenity. The show lasted one season in 2002 but being created by the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon, it was guaranteed a healthy fan base. They managed to continue the show in 2005 with the film Serenity, although it didn’t too well at the box office (I remember when the film came out and it seemed most Firefly fans saw it in free screenings before the official release). As much as I enjoyed the show and film I finished the entire franchise in a week. What more could this podcast be discussing in late 2007?

Much of Firefly seems to be about expanding the world of these characters, commonly known as The ‘Verse. Role playing games get a lot of attention. I understood about 5% of the terminology the reviewers of these games used but I could tell they were informative and well researched. Fan fiction is another tool for Firefly fans to remain in The ‘Verse. I’m glad to say that the audio dramas featured on The Signal are a lot better than what I heard on Time Tales. The writing, foley work and acting all come together on these pieces and make for fairly entertaining five to ten minute segments. The Sept. 26th episode featured a private eye story that, while maybe a bit Mary Sue-ish, had all the twists and gratuitous sex you want out of a noir story.

The entire show actually sounds very professional in the way different segments are coordinated and introduced. I assume that the hosts had backgrounds in radio work but maybe not as on-air talent. I’ll be honest, Howard and Haley sound like…well, they sound like people who have watched a lot of Joss Whedon shows. They say mildly clever and cutesy things to each other and then sound tremendously satisfied with themselves while saying it. It reminded me of why I found the character of Xander on Buffy so annoying.

Thankfully when Howard and Haley are interviewing someone the affectations are thrown away and an actual conversation starts. The interview with sci-fi writer PJ Haarsma about his work with Nathan Fillion and Kids Need to Read was very enjoyable and illustrated a point about Firefly fans that I was happily surprised by. I expected a lot of moaning and groaning about short-sighted television executives and fickle American audiences. Instead I was glad to hear how many Firefly fans took their passion about a sci-fi series and turned it into real charity work. Many of these groups take it upon themselves to raise money for groups such as the one above or Equality Now. Fandom has made a lot of people shut out the rest of the world. Many Firefly do the opposite and try to make the rest of the world a better place and it’s good to know those groups have a hub like The Signal to make things go easier.

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