Worst Good Eats

Or should that be “Good Eats, Bad Cooks”?

I am thrilled and intrigued.

Which is just what They want, of course. But that’s fair enough. It’s nice to see some evidence of competence from time to time.

What I’m talking about is the upcoming season of Worst Cooks in America.

There are no major changes in the offing. Still sixteen bad cooks competing to improve their skills. Anne Burrell is still the face of the show. And a few minor variations to keep the whole thing from devolving into an unwatchable photocopy of the last half dozen seasons.

But, oh, those minor variations.

Foremost among them: Anne’s competition in training up the contestants this time around is Alton Brown.

This is going to be fascinating to watch.

Alton’s on-screen persona isn’t competitive. Despite the years hosting Cutthroat Kitchen, he still comes across primarily as an educator.

Which is, naturally, what the Worst Cooks participants need.

But will there be room for a few patented Alton historical and scientific digressions? There must be a lot that never makes it to the screen. I’m sure the competitors get plenty of one-on-one coaching from the instructors, and Alton’s methodical approach should be very helpful for whatever subset of the group who are capable of following directions.

But still. Entertaining as it might be to see how the gang takes a discourse on the chemical properties of gluten or the history of saffron, will it help their cooking?

And, given that entertainment is the name of the game here and the overall story arc of the competition between Anne’s and Alton’s cooks, are we going to see a few well-placed items from the Cutthroat Kitchen archives show up? How would Anne’s cooks manage with a corkscrew-shaped skillet?

Even if Alton plays it straight, though, his sense of humor may be the only thing that gets him through the season. And, if this season’s selection of cooks are truly as horrible as in years past, we may all need to play the Alton Drinking Game to survive.

Here’s hoping for a season of golden Brown deliciousness. We’ll find out on Sunday.

It’s About Time

Oh, noes! The next Doctor is going to be a woman! Oh, the horrorz!

There’s a lot of that sort of thing floating around the Internet these days. Makes me want to find a wall and apply a forehead to it it. Repeatedly and forcefully. Maybe mine, but those of the people making the comments seem more in need.

Okay, I know there are some non-SF fans reading this, so let me take a moment to explain.

Doctor Who is a long-running show from the BBC–it’s been running since 1963, albeit with a rather long hiatus in the 1990s and early 2000s. I won’t attempt to summarize nearly forty years of storytelling; the important thing here is the title character. Over the course of the show, The Doctor has been played by twelve different actors. Doctor Who is not, of course, the only show to replace a star. What made it nearly unique is that the change was written into the show: acknowledged and made a part of the character.

From a storytelling standpoint, it was a brilliant idea, and undoubtedly a major contributor to the show’s longevity. Changing performers without trying to find someone who looks and behaves like the previous person in the role allows writers and actors an opportunity to take the character in a radically new direction every few years. Even better, the backstory developed to explain the changes has been a rich source of story ideas.

Every Doctor’s retirement since Tom Baker’s in 1981 has been accompanied by speculation that the newcomer might be a woman. That’s apparently Baker’s fault. Supposedly (and I can’t validate this), when he announced his retirement, he wished his successor, “whoever he–or she–might be,” good luck.

But until now, every Doctor has been male. Old, young, or somewhere in between. Oh, and white. Let’s not forget that.

Suddenly, everything’s changed.

Well, no. Not really. The Doctor will still be The Doctor, dedicated to preserving Earth and the universe from the forces of…well, not necessarily evil. Perhaps “chaos,” “entropy,” and “greed” would be better tags.

It’s been a long time coming, but remember what I said about “radically new directions”? It’s time to let the show and the character do something new. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt a quite literal chill of excitement watching the trailer introducing Jodie Whittaker.

In the end, it comes down to storytelling. If the writers use Ms. Whittaker as a plug-in part and keep retelling the same old stories, it’s a waste. If she’s used as an excuse to show some same-sex snogging, it’s a lost opportunity. But if they truly embrace the chance they’ve been given, we’ll get a freshness we haven’t seen since the show’s reboot–pardon me, “relaunch”–in 2005.

To those crying doom and gloom, I say, “Give it chance. If it sucks, stop watching.” And to those who are complaining because we still haven’t gotten a Doctor of color, I’d add, “Hang in there. It’ll happen. And I’m quite sure it won’t take another forty years.”

On the Air

Baseball has had an uneasy relationship with the media since the early days of radio. Game broadcasts started on an irregular basis in the early 1920s. By the 1930s, games regularly appeared on the air, but teams banned broadcasts of away games. The New York teams blocked all broadcasts until the late 1930s, fearing that radio would reduce attendance at games.

Accommodation with television followed a similar pattern of hesitant acceptance. Sources place the first TV broadcast of a major league baseball game as early as 1939, yet regular national coverage didn’t begin until 1953. Even then, concerns about negative effects on attendance led MLB to block broadcasts within 50 miles of any ballpark.

Blackouts have been a recurring theme. As broadcasters offered increasingly larger payouts, the emphasis shifted from protecting in-stadium attendance to protecting broadcast exclusivity. Today, most games are carried on regional sports networks, whose areas of coverage are contractually defined to the inch. Since satellite and, in some cases, cable carry multiple regional networks, MLB requires the carriers to black out out-of-market games to protect the local market’s exclusive rights.

As an example, suppose a satellite subscriber in Boston has purchased a plan that includes all of the sports networks. The New England Sports Network has exclusive rights to the Boston Red Sox. That means that any other network will be blacked out when the Red Sox are playing. Our hypothetical fan, who purchased the all-networks plan so he could follow, say, the LA Dodgers will have to watch the Dodgers/Red Sox games on NESW, whether the game is in Boston or LA. If NESW isn’t carrying the game, the fan won’t be able to watch it at all, because the LA network will still be blacked out to protect NESW’s Red Sox monopoly.

MLB has been widely lauded for quickly catching on to the possibilities of the Internet as a forum for broadcasts. They’ve also been widely panned for extending their blackout policies to the Internet. The MLB.TV package allows fans to view broadcasts on the Web, mobile apps, game consoles, and pretty much every other gadget capable of displaying video. It not only carries the same local blackout policy to the Internet, but extends it.

Suppose our Boston-based Dodgers fan subscribes to MLB.TV so he can watch games on his iPhone while traveling. He’s on a business trip to Sacramento while his Dodgers are playing an inter-league game at home against the Oakland As. Our poor fan won’t be able to watch the game because the A’s broadcast region includes Sacramento. If he’s lucky, his hotel will offer the A’s broadcast, and he can watch the game, albeit without the services of the Dodger’s legendary broadcaster Vin Scully. Poor fellow!

Still, it could be worse. Next time he takes a trip to Des Moines, Iowa, he’ll be lucky if he can see the Dodgers at all. There are no MLB teams in the entire state of Iowa, but six teams have broadcast rights–the Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, Twins, Royals, and Brewers–not that local cable providers in Iowa carry any of those teams, let alone all of them. But if the Dodgers are playing one of those six teams, our guy is out of luck.

Even when our poor fan isn’t blacked out of watching his favorite team, it’s still not all sunshine and roses. MLB.TV’s rights to rebroadcast games online doesn’t include rights to show the commercials. No, that doesn’t mean that the online broadcasts are commercial-free. MLB.TV supplies their own commercials. Remember, MLB and the individual teams are being very well paid by the networks for the rights to televise the games. Then, individual viewers pay for MLB.TV. But since they can’t show the networks’ commercials, MLB supplements their income further by selling commercial time on MLB.TV.

Unfortunately for our loyal Dodger fan, there are fewer than ten advertisers. If you don’t count MLB itself, for most of the season, there are no more than six. And each advertiser has one commercial.

Figure that there are twenty to twenty-five commercial breaks in a typical game (one after each half inning, as well as one each time a relief pitcher comes in; there may also be an occasional break due to an on-field injury). That means the viewer will be traumatized by nearly two dozen airings of each commercial every game he watches.

I’m only speaking for myself here, but how can this be a positive tactic for the advertisers? Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but after three-quarters of a season, I have sworn a binding oath that I will not fly on United Airlines, I will never shampoo with Head and Shoulders, never invest with Edward Jones, and never, ever, every buy a Land Rover*. I can’t be the only one who feels this way, can I?

* I’m still undecided about MasterCard. On the one hand, their commercial is just as annoying as all the others, and it’s repeated just as often. On the other hand, the commercial does promote the card in the context of their financial contribution to cancer research through Stand Up To Cancer. I’m sure MasterCard’s motives are just as basely commercial as any of the other advertisers, but at least they’re also promoting a worthwhile cause. I haven’t yet chopped up the one MasterCard I have, but it gets a little harder every time I see that commercial.

Can we hope for a more fan-friendly policy in the future, with fewer blackouts and less annoying commercials?

Bud Selig is retiring in January. His just-elected successor, Rob Manfred, has been Bud’s right-hand man for years. That could mean a continuation of policies already in place, including those related to MLB’s media presence, or it could mean major changes as Manfred moves to establish his influence, independent of Selig’s legacy. Manfred has a mandate to increase baseball’s appeal to a younger, presumably more Internet-friendly, demographic, but he’s also well aware that TV is probably the source of most of MLB’s profit. Keeping the networks happy has to be high on the team owners’ list of priorities, and that means it’s going to be high on Manfred’s list as well.

The blackout policy is under legal fire. Fans filed suit in 2012 against the blackout policy, charging that it violates federal antitrust laws. MLB has an exemption from many of the antitrust laws, but the extent of the exemption is up for grabs in several suits.

Change could be coming. Stay tuned–unless the festivities are blacked out in your area.

It’s Not a Right

It’s grumpy time again.

Can we please add “I can’t watch streaming TV” to the list of problems to never, ever, mention again? OK, can we please create that list, starting with that question?

There’s a lot of moping on the Internet today because HBO Go crashed for several hours Sunday, preventing the teeming masses from watching the season finale of “True Detective”. Oh, the horror!

Monday, HBO admitted that the root cause of the crash is that they simply lacked the capacity to meet the demand.

Just as a reminder: HBO Go is not a pure subscription play. You can only get it along with a cable or satellite service*. That means by definition, that the streaming option is not your only option for watching the show. It’s not even your only legal option.

* Despite public demand, HBO has no plans at this time to sell unbundled subscriptions. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Companies don’t decline potential revenue on a whim. Or at least companies that want to survive don’t do that.

“But I wasn’t home, so HBO Go was my only choice to watch it!” There’s a thing called a DVR. Your life will be ruined if you don’t see the show? These clever devices will rescue you by saving a copy so you can watch it when you get home. That way you don’t have to divide your attention between the show and the friends you’re hanging out with (so you don’t look like a jerk), the emergency meeting you got called into (so you don’t look like an unemployed idiot), or the car you’re driving (so you don’t look dead).

Some people are using this failure as a sign that we’ll never reach the ultimate goal: giving up cable and satellite in favor of an exclusively streaming television experience. Seriously. One failure of a service that’s only been working out its bugs for a few years, and people are ready to write it off forever? How many times has their cable service–which has had at least ten times as long to solve its problems–gone out since HBO Go’s launch in 2010?

Look, I’ll grant that–to the extent that watching TV is something you “have” to do–there are some legitimate cases for watching when you’re not near a TV*. But those are in the minority, darn it.

* I can’t claim to be free of sin here–I admit to place-shifting Mariners’ baseball games into my TV-free office. But that’s not going to stop me from casting stones.

Watching TV on the go is not a right–and remember that the US Constitution promises the right to the pursuit of happiness; it doesn’t promise that you’ll catch it. If your streaming service doesn’t work, call customer support and demand a pro-rated refund. If the providers have to cough up enough money, they’ll decide it’s cheaper to increase capacity to meet a higher level of demand.

Until that happens, try an alternative. Watch live TV at home. Record your show and watch it at your convenience–you can even download it to your mobile device. Talk to your friends, solve your boss’ problem, drive safely.

And don’t clutter up the Internet with your complaints.

Thank you.