Greg Daniels is the Executive Producer of The Office on NBC, which is the funniest show on television right now, and in my book, the best sitcom since Seinfeld (really? yeah, I'm pretty sure). There's a very interesting chat with him up on the Washington Post's website.
Greg Daniels: It was hard to adapt this show because the British series is so perfectly executed and tailored to Ricky G, who also co-wrote and co-directed it. The pilot was close to the British series because I adapted it before casting the American actors, and after casting I didn't want to open the whole process up to network notes. Once we got past the pilot though, we came up with new stories and wrote the first six. Then we shot the first six, and after that I edited the first six. It was after they were completed that we learned the most about what was working and how to tailor things more to Steve. By the time the second season started, we had also been blessed by Ricky and Stephen Merchant and the critics and the lovers of the English show, so some of the pressure was off and we could start to play around a little more.
I posted once before about Jonathan Katz doing a faux-call-in show for NPR's Next Big Thing. Transom.org has a really cool behind the scenes look at the making of those segments, which features lots of audio from them. Man, is this stuff great.
There's been quite a bit of invective flying around the blogosphere on the subject of The Clipse (and their ilk) and the Indie Rock Community. Pitchfork Media, the website reviled by every indie elitist for being so absurdly indie elitist, has made some moves towards hip-hop recently, not least of which was picking The Clipse's "We Got It For Cheap: Vol. 2" mixtape as one of the best albums of 2005.
For those who don't know, the Clipse are a rap duo from Virginia Beach, affiliated with superprodcers The Neptunes. Their big hit, "Grindin'" was typical of their near-total lyrical obsession with cocaine dealing. They are the kind of guys who brag about learning to deal drugs as small children from their grandmother.
Anyway, the charge against the indie hipsters from the hip-hop hipsters goes something like this:
For a long time, the rock intellegentsia was uncomfortable with hip-hop. They were OK with Public Enemy (political lyrics, noisy beats), and some were into the whole Native Tongues thing (presence of jazz, less mean stuff). Then when hip-hop hit the mid-90s P. Diddy era, they checked out.
Indie rock & the rock snobs embraced hip-hop in the late 90s, with the "alternative" hip-hop movement, which decended from the Native Tongues. Folks like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, et al. Later on, folks like Jurassic 5 and Black Eyed Peas took this thread and made it astonishingly corny, but the indie rockers notice for a while -- they didn't actually care about hip-hop any more than they cared about country music when they owned a couple Johnny Cash compilations and that Loretta Lynn CD that Jack White produced.
Of course, eventually, the indie rockers figured out that BEP and J5 weren't "cool." So they dropped them like a hot potato (there are still some J5 holdouts, but whatever). Their quest to find "authentic" hip-hop took them towards white rappers, like Aesop Rock and Sage Francis, who made up for their lack of flow/voice/blackness with complex lyrics and a lot of talk about how hip-hop they were.
At some point, the hipsters figured out that this white rapper stuff was distinctly uncool (this whole time, they were thinking the opposite). So they switched up. All of a sudden, they were advocating for new twists on hyper-traditional street hip-hop, stuff like Camron and the Diplomats, and the Clipse. This was "authentic hip-hop," in their eyes. This allowed them to like Jay-Z (or at least Reasonable Doubt), even though his music was good to dance to, and Beanie Sigel even though it was violet but not revolutionary. And that's where we stand today. End scene.
The argument on the hip-hop side is that this represents some kind of racism on the part of the indie rockers. They're defining blackness or authenticity in association with drug dealing and violence. Then they're living vicariously through this blackness/danger, like everybody's always saying 15-year-old white suburbanites do with 50 Cent records.
My personal inclination is to agree with the hip-hop side, but as a white guy, who hangs out with indie rockers most of the time, I feel like I have a bit of insight into it.
Indie Rock critics are used to tremendously shattered genres. Shoegaze-agro-jazzcore or whatever. They've also developed, over the past thirty five years, a very specific perspective that allows them to glorify pop music as an art (which was tough, especially in the beginning).
One of the things that gets rock critics off is aesthetic purity. Robert Johnson is 1000% Robert Johnson. The Sex Pistols are 1000% the Sex Pistols. Johnny Cash is 1000% Johnny Cash. They reward artists that find their genre niche, their identity niche, and really do the s**t out of it. When this idea moves from Pioneers like the above to the super-sub genres, it means doing the heck out of those super-sub genres... the Strokes got famous for really really being The Strokes, even if what that is is kind of limited. (I don't mean to suggest that derivativeness is part of this, although it can be).
This thinking oftend doesn't translate all that well to hip-hop. Hip-hop records and artists tend to be very self-contradictory -- that's part of their appeal. Thug/lover archetypes popularized by LL and later Tupac, for example. Rapping and singing on the same track ala Ja Rule and 50 Cent. Hip-hop artists also tend to want to appeal to a broad audience. Most of Jay-Z's records have lots of different sounds, and lots of different ideas of what Jay-Z is (gangsta, dealer, lover, party animal, etc).
There are of course artists with very specific and clear identities and aesthetic focuses... and guess what? They're the ones being celebrated these days. The Clipse are the perfect example of this. They have this thing they do -- which is be snide and scary and rap about drugs. They do it GREAT. Camron and the Dipset are the same, plus an added aesthetic distinction -- they have a very unique and interesting style.
Of course, this idea really helped a lot of past rock critics' darlings, too. Kool Keith leaps to mind. The Def Jux-y guys. Jurassic Five even.
I think the main difference now vs. three years ago is that rock critics are getting more comfortable with the idomatics of hip-hop. There was a time that they could only deal with the anger if it was "political." They're getting over that. Most of the critics darlings still have either very hard, agro sounds or softer, native-tonguesy sounds, but that's changing too. And everybody likes Kanye, right?
I guess my thesis here is that there is some racial weirdness in this, but it's less than it once was, not more. This is more of a symptom of a classic problem -- applying rock standards to another genre/culture. But it's a step in the right direction.
Per Variety. Futurama is ironing out a deal now.
More evidence that the future of media is tied to things people like, not things people will tolerate.
"The network had made its peace with 'King' wrapping up," says 20th Century Fox TV prexy Gary Newman.
Then the call came: Fox execs had gone through an 11th-hour change of heart and wanted "King" back after all...
"When you're lucky enough to create a franchise that resonates with audiences, you have to do everything you can to preserve them -- and support their longevity," Newman says.
King of the Hill, by the way, has probably been the most underrated show on television since it's inception.
The comic essayist Fran Leibowitz has been promising to come out with a new book for the past 20 years or so. In the meantime, we have to make do with her infrequent appearances and once-in-a-blue-moon magazine pieces. It's unfortunate, because she's one of the funniest writers of the past fifty years or so. She refined her bohemian-but-tough New York intellectual Jew model to a sharp point, and rode it to great, well-earned success in the late 70s and early 80s. Her books are very funny even today.
She'll be on City Arts & Lectures this week, a rebroadcast of a live stage presentation. It airs (and streams) on KQED-FM in San Francisco at 8PM pacific, and I believe on the variety of other stations that carry CA&L, including KWWS in Walla Walla and KUSP in Santa Cruz. Well worth seeking out.
Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric was stabbed twice, apparently while trying to help a woman in his apartment complex deal with her drug-crazed son. By all reports, he will be just fine. He writes in his blog:
Thanks to everyone who sent nice things or said nice things on the message board. I am being well tended to by my lady and my mom. I tell ya, it was by far the scariest thing that's ever happened to me. I'll give a more detailed post about the events in days to come. love to you. Timbo.
Tim & Eric have been really good to us at The Sound of Young America, helping us out whenever they could. Amazing to think that comedy heroes are real life heroes, too.
We wish the best to Tim.
I invited artist Marc Horowitz onto The Sound of Young America a few years ago, after I read an article about one of his projects in the San Francisco Chronicle. He had rented a burro, and was traveling around San Francisco, offering to help people with their chores. It was wonderful.
More recently, he's gotten some excellent notices for a piece which involved running a quarter mile of extension cord out his window and into a park, where he made coffee for anyone who wanted some, and another in which he traveled the nation, having dinner at people's houses.
Marc's website is ineedtostopsoon.com, and he's blogging his different projects there. He has some intruiging new ideas, including a short film montage of people in the moment that comes between giving the cashier your credit card, and that card's approval.
What I like about Marc is his commitment to thinking of cool things, then doing them. There's not enough of that in the world.
You can now call The Sound of Young America to give feedback... 206-984-4FUN. Really.
You may or may not get The Straight Dope in your local alternative newspaper, but no matter -- it's still worth a trip to straightdope.com.
On this glorious website, Cecil Adams informs the Teeming Masses of the answer to any number of Highly Important Questions. Like this week... How was ice made and sold in pre-industrial times?
Kelly was nice enought to send me this picture she painted from the intro segment of the Python video.
Although it was the Monty Python podcast that inspired me, I was listening to the podcast about the future as I painted. I guess I was thinking in the future everything green would become red. I think I might title it something like "The Grass Isn't Always Greener...."
If you have any artwork inspired by the show, send it in!
Even if you've just got a thought to share, please share it. And remember that we've got voicemail, now, too... 206-984-4FUN