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December 06, 2010 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-12-06

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, December 6, 2010 - 7A

Avant-garde TV

Brewing boredom

Within the walls of the
United States Capitol
Building, Congress
has been hard at work passing
legislation in the best interest of
the American
public. Though
many may
have a cynical
view of our
lawmakers and
their partisana
interests, last
week Congress
was passed CAROLYN
an important KLARECKI
* mandate -
not a repeal
of "don't ask, don't tell," not
progress on the DREAM Act,
but instead the very impor-
tant CALM act, or Commercial
Advertisement Loudness Mitiga-
tion Act.
This new mandate will require
the FCC to regulate volume levels
on television commercials, which
can sometimes be absolutely
blaring compared to the volume
of the actual program. Such
complaints have been growing
steadily for some time, but they
are nothing new. Objections over
commercial volume have been
around since television's incep-
tion in the 1950s.
When people caught on to
television's commercial inten-
tions, a vehement distrust of
commercials arose. In 1963, the
Wall Street Journal reported on
the issue, saying that the FCC
had uncovered a problem of truly
major significance.
This came only shortly after
the revelation that some incred-
ibly popular 1950s quiz shows
were rigged - people were
disposed to distrust television.
This skepticism was manifested
in a number of ways before the
commercial problem even came
along, including a protest of
laugh tracks, which were seen as
another way television promoted
a false image. At the time, this
was a serious issue. CBS actually
took action by briefly prohibiting
the use of laugh tracks in comedy
In my opinion, the criticism
- and cynicism toward the medium
in that era was turned around
largely due to one man who took
an experimental approach to tele-
vision and came out with some-
thing pretty special. This man is
Ernie Kovacs.
Kovacs is best known for his
. "Silent Show," a half-hour com-
edy in which he played Eugene,
a Chaplin-esque character who
wandered through a surreal story
guided only by music and sound
effects - no dialogue. Even the
commercials were without dia-
logue. "There's a great deal of
conversation that takes place
on television. From way in the
morning 6 a.m. ... to all hours of
the night. I thought perhaps ...
you might like to spend a half
hour without hearing any dia-
logue at all," read the opening
credits of the "Silent Show."
The show was wildly praised.
It was clever, it was funny and
it was artistic. Kovacs employed
humorous sketches, which would
later inspire shows like "Monty
Python's Flying Circus" and "Sat-
urday Night Live." Chevy Chase
famously thanked Kovacs for his

influence in his Emmy accep-
tance speech in 1976. The success
of "Silent TV" prompted silent
episodes of "77 Sunset Strip,"
"Gilligan's Island" and "The
Patty Duke Show." Most impor-
tant, the show was highbrow and
Similar to "Mad Men," viewers
felt smart when watching "Silent
Show." It was a creative experi-
ment unlike anything else on TV
at the time. Kovacs enjoyed clas-
sical music and used it in many
of his programs. Newspapers
compared him to Salvador Dali
and James Joyce, and he was in
television. He received heaps of
fan mail, preserved in the Ernie
Kovacs Papers, praising his show,
offering him ideas for sketches
and sending him drawings and
photographs influenced by his
surreal TV show. He made true
avant-garde TV.
However, though his comedic
influence is still seen today (Craig
Ferguson and David Letterman
both cite Kovacs as an inspira-
tion, though Kovacs is better,
trust me), it's quite obvious that
silent TV never caught on in the
long run. In fact, we see that
I'm with the
Are Too Damn
Loud party.
shows have gotten even louder.
But the recent passage of the
CALM Act got me thinking about
Ernie Kovacs and his silent enter-
tainment. TV isn't so different
today from how it was in the late
1950s. We're immersed ina period
of television disillusionment
where instead of quiz show lies,
we're fed the lies of reality TV
and sensationalism. Our televi-
sion casts the craziest people and
manipulates them into fighting,
calling it "real" - "The Bachelor"
has been known to fill the house
kitchen with lots of booze and not
much else to make tensions flare.
Some of the contestants on "Cash
Cab" aren'tcjust picked off the
streets, but are screened or even
recruited prior to their appear-
ance - and the cash Ben Bailey
hands them at the end of the show
isn't even real. And promos have
been known to take a show's best
and juiciest material out of con-
text with thrilling voiceovers tell-
ing you, "You won't believe what
happens next," only to manipulate
you into watching sub-par and
predictable television.
So while the CALM Act solves
one of the problems that Kovacs
managed to fix through "Silent
Show," much of our distrust has
yet to be addressed. We don't
necessarily need another "Silent
Show," but we could certainly use
creativity, innovation and experi-
mentation in the vein of Kovacs's
avant-garde programming. At the
very least, let's keep our fingers
crossed for a bill banning the
laugh track.
Klarecki has taken a vow of
silence. To "speak" with her, you
must e-mail cklareck@umich.edu.

'Brew Masters'
lacks fizz of other
Discovery shows
Daily Arts Writer
As one might venture to guess,
Discovery's latest reality series
"Brew Mas-
ters" is about
one thing: beer *T
- lots and lots
of beer. Brew
The series
centers on Sam
Calagione, Mondays at
founder and 10 p.m.
president of Discovery
Dogfish Head,
a craft brew-
ery that specializes in custom
beer. From 2,700-year-old Turk-
ish recipes to a St. Patrick's Day
formula that incorporates pond
scum to turn beer green, this
Delaware-based brewery will
go to any length to achieve the
desired product. Its mission, as
emphasized by the Ralph Waldo
Emerson quote that hangs promi-
nently within its factory,isnto cre-
ate something that's never existed
before. And yet with a subject
matter as narrow as beer and only
beer, there's little room in the
show for a compelling story, mak-
ing this brewery a decidedly dull
one to watch.
The premiere begins in a some-
what promising manner. Sony
Records calls with a job for Dog-
fish Head: create a beer commem-
orating the 40th anniversary of
the legendary Miles Davis album
"Bitches Brew." From here, Cala-
gione and the Dogfish Head
employees work to create the.
perfect beer to coincide with
the re-release of the jazz album.
This takes them through the
subsequent steps of purchasing
ingredients, the science behind
brewing, the factory work (and
yes, this means all the not-so-
fun nuts and bolts of an assembly
line) and a meeting with Davis's

nephew, who has the final say on
any drink that puts his uncle on
the label. The end product fuses
honey and gesho root, a combi-
nation of African and American
ingredients to mirror the music
that Davis played so famously.
However, "Brew Masters" fails
to show any of the onscreen cama-
raderie and banter that made
the other Discovery series like
"Mythbusters" and "Dirty Jobs"
so successful. Calagione, who also
serves as narrator, seems awk-
ward and stiff outside his comfort
zone as head of the brewery. His
jokes, like "Beer is quintessen-
tially American, I mean, that's
why they landed on Plymouth
Rock," fall flat and appear out
of place in the larger context of
the show. Additional attempts to
prove their entertainment worth
are just absurd - Calagione and
his partner Bryan Selders unfor-
tunately feel compelled to dem-
onstrate mediocre rap skills with
clips from their hip-hop group,
the "Pain Relievers."
The show finds footing only

when depicting the process of
brewing quality craft beer. The
few scenes describing how to
design this new drink in a mat-
ter of weeks are intriguing and
educational. Additionally, craft
breweries are independent of
"Big Beer," which Calagione says
pulls in 95 percent of beer-drink-
ers nationwide. The economics
behind this dynamic give Dog-
fish Head the romantic air of the
little guys struggling against the
corporate machine. In this sense,
"Brew Masters" becomes a meta-
phor - it uses a privately owned
brewery to parallel the modern
American Dream.
Unfortunately, this idea is
only glossed over. The series as
it stands needs major reconfig-
uring. At the moment, we have a
jumbled assortment of historical
beer tidbits, unnecessary narra-
tion, hip-hop performances and a
factory full of workers who seem
a bit puzzled as to why cameras
are all of a sudden followingthem
around. We, the audience, are
equally puzzled.

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Ernie Kovacs is my name. Cigar smoking is my game.

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