M Is for the Murders That She Ordered: TV’s Best and Worst Moms

Susannah is off being feted for Mother’s Day; I, on the other hand, am cheerfully/crabbily boycotting. This, then, seems the perfect Bacon nod to Mother’s Day: celebrating those TV moms who did it right and side-eyeing those who could have used a refresher. Or a visit from Social Services.

Let’s look at some heroes first:

10. Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox), Cougar Town: Heaven knows she’s a tad on the clingy side–we expect a whole episode to be built around Trav finding a NannyCam implanted in roommate Kevin. But when push comes to shove it turns out Jules knows when to back off (even if she doesn’t want to) and when to step in. What makes her a compelling candidate for the good list, however, is all the mothering she does of the Cul-de-Sac Crew that makes up her little constructed family. No one in the neighborhood is going without wine, advice, or hugs while Jules is on the job. (Well–maybe Tom.)

9. Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Downton Abbey: We love our PBS costume dramas, with Downton Abbey the latest obsession. Isobel Crawley’s progressive ways make her not only an encouraging, inspiring mother to reluctant heir Matthew, but, in the ways she’s searching out to let him be lord of the manor while keeping a toe in the career she’s so intensely proud of, the mother to a new age. Plus, she’s got the cojones to toe-to-toe with Dame Maggie Smith’s fearsome Dowager Countess of Grantham without even flinching.

8. Virgina Chance (Martha Plimpton), Raising Hope: Virgina might seem an odd choice, given that she gave birth at 16 and then raised a son for whom a Wal-Mart level job was a huge step up, but the pilot demonstrated that Virginia’s someone you want on your side. Between walloping the serial killer who would become the mother of her grandchild on the melon with a household appliance and tenderly singing said granddaughter to sleep, Virginia’s got all the mothering bases covered in her own way.

7. Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri), Doctor Who: Jackie’s another tough initial sell–it certainly takes the Doctor a while to warm up to her. As her layers are peeled back, however, we find a fiercely protective Jackie who fought on after being widowed to raise a girl so brave and resourceful she can hold her own with a Time Lord. On top of that, Jackie’s observant enough to worry about how Rose’s journeys are changing her. “Let me tell you something about those who get left behind,” she tells someone perceived as a threat to her daughter and the Doctor, “because it’s hard, and that’s what you become: hard. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that I will never let her down, and I’ll protect them both until the end of my life. So whatever you want, I’m warning you, back off.” We’ll take Jackie’s tough love any day of the week.

6. Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), The Simpsons: She’s brought down tyrants through the hearth arts (scotching Mr. Burns’ gubernatorial campaign with one well-placed entree). She’s shielded Lisa from the Simpsons Gene. For the love of Pete, she’s homeschooled Bart Simpson. Marge has given up a lot to put her kids first, but she might be rewarded one day by being the mother of a president. And Bart Simpson.

5. Patty Chase (Bess Armstrong), My So-Called Life: The anchor of a show that was too good for this world, Patty could bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and nurture Angela through all the heartaches great and small that come from just trying to grow up in this world. And in her spare time, she could do the same for Rayanne and Rickie. We wish Angela had been our friend in high school, mostly so we could hang out at her house and have Patty mother us.

4. Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), Friday Night Lights: If mothers are judged solely on how their kids turn out…well, they shouldn’t be. But if they were, Tami’d better hope Gracie Belle turns out well, because Julie Taylor is working our last nerve. But the Julie saga is actually a perfect example of why Tami’s a great mom–by turns sympathetic and demanding, she gives her kids all the support they need to succeed and then insists that they work hard to be all they can be. Then she does that for an entire town of kids. Add to that her example as a wife and professional (well, most of the time), and she’s top-notch.

3. Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad), The Cosby Show: Claire’s the head badass in charge, and everyone in her house knows is. She’s head disciplinarian, head cattle prodder, head listening ear…she might be the #2 dance leader in the house, but you get the idea. To be fair, the dream life the Huxtable kids live has a lot to do with their socioeconomic status, but Claire is an equal partner in providing that, too. And she does it all with class, sass, and, yes, being a badass. If I could choose one of the moms to be instead of one of the moms to have, it might be Claire.

2. Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Tortured, torturing. Shooting, being shot. Taking on the military-industrial complex to save her son, who will lead the glorious revolution against our robot overlords. Sarah’s not just mothering John Connor, people–she’s giving up her hopes and dreams, and maybe her own life, to save us all.

1. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), Gilmore Girls: She may every once in a while be a little overindulgent, but Lorelai’s determination to give her daughter the childhood she herself never had sets off a cascade that starts with a teen mom raising her daughter in a potting shed and ends with Stars Hollow’s Most Beloved Girl Ever graduating from Yale. Along the way, we see one of the warmest, most supportive mother-daughter relationships ever shown on TV. We might want to be both Lorelai and the daughter she raised.

And to those moms you might not want to emulate:

10. (Tie) Lucille Bluth and Lindsay Bluth Funke (Jessica Walter and Portia de Rossi), Arrested Development: One makes her youngest son so codependent that when trying to escape her he mistakes the warning “Loose seal!” for her name and loses a hand. She then uses his prosthetic replacement in…happy times and leaves it in the dishwasher for him to find. The other merrily ignores her daughter until she wants to date said daughter’s high school boyfriend. The apple doesn’t fall far from the funny, funny tree.

9. Mom (Tress MacNeille), Futurama: On the surface, a sweet, bustled woman who just wants you to be happy because she loves you so much. Underneath the corset, a corporate overlord who just wants to suck the life (and all of your money) out of the entire galaxy. Don’t disappoint Mom–she might slap you. Or send her army of killer robots to express her displeasure.

8. Lianne Mars (Connie Bohrer), Veronica Mars: Imagine a mother who gives up every vestige of her old life, including being able to see or care for her teenage daughter, in order to protect that daughter from nefarious folk. A candidate for the best moms list, right? Sure, until she returns, drains her daughter’s college savings going to fake rehab, and then steals a very hard-earned paycheck on her way out the door a second time. Veronica became a better person with Lianne out of the picture anyway.

7. Colleen Donaghy (Elaine Stritch), 30 Rock: Highly critical. Ridiculously demanding. Acid-tongued. Unaffectionate (“Tell him his mother loves him. But not in a queer way”). The anti-matchmaker. And almost sure to bring all of these delightful qualities to the next generation (“I see you brought the bag…that my bastard grandchild will come in”). Like some of our moms on the best list, Colleen did the best with what she had, but now that she has more she’s happy to use it to keep twisting the knife.

6. Ellis Grey (Kate Burton), Grey’s Anatomy: It seems like we should have felt sorry for Ellis Grey, given that her career as one of the foremost cardiothoracic surgeons in the world was cut short by early-onset Alzheimer’s. And maybe we would have, if she hadn’t treated her husband with contempt, cheated on him and then pushed him out of their daughter’s life. Or expressed nothing but disappointment in Meredith, while spitting on her dreams at every opportunity. Oh, and then there was the time Ellis slashed her wrists in front of her daughter, just to manipulate a lover. Meredith drives us up a tree, but she comes by her crazy honestly.

5. Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), Weeds: We’d like to watch this show more regularly, but we can’t get over the intense discomfort we feel when Nancy puts her children in grave danger not only because she’s running a weed business, but because she’s just so bad at it. We can understand being scared about losing her lifestyle along with her husband, but in what world did exposing her children to criminals and druggies become a better choice than downsizing and getting a crappy desk job?

4. Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), Justified: Well, she’s all about family, you have to give her that. A rural version of the Godfather, Mags is willing to use anyone to further her Kentucky kingdom, and that includes selling out her sons, pitting her sons against one another, manipulating her sons, putting her sons in danger, asking her sons to commit heinous crimes…and if they don’t obey to her satisfaction? She smashes their fingers with a ball peen hammer. Sure, she feels deeply sad when things go badly for said sons, but you’ve also gotta suspect she’s got one of those poisoned mason jars set aside for everyone in the family, just in case the need should arise.

3. Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), Damages: Patty would like you to know that she loves her son very much, albeit in her own heartless, extremely demanding way. That’s why she lies to him about his paternity, disowns him, has all of his belongings removed from her home, attempts to bribe his pregnant girlfriend, and has said girlfriend arrested for statutory rape. At least she was pretty understanding when, in return, he tried to run over his mom with her own car.

2. Betty Draper Francis (January Jones), Mad Men: Look, I can understand how soul-killing it might have been to try to live the traditional roles that were imposed on women in the 50s and 60s. It’s not all the smoking and drinking and dieting she does while pregnant, or even the frequently administered spankings that make her such a bad mother, because, hey, it was a different time and who didn’t let their kids play with dry cleaning bags back then? It’s the fact that she allows her bitterness about her strangled life to manifest as resentment of her children. Most of the other moms on this list at least manage to pretend to show some affection towards their kids every once in a while. Not Betty. When she’s not ignoring hers completely or telling them to go away and watch TV, she’s shutting them in closets, telling them to go bang their heads against a wall, or force-feeding them sweet potatoes in front of her new in-laws. But perhaps the worst thing she’s ever done was petulantly fire Carla, the maid who was the closest thing to a loving caregiver those poor kids ever had.

1. Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand), The Sopranos: She’ll probably end up on every bad mom list you’ll see, and she’ll even probably come in at #1 on most. That’s what happens when you compare your children to dogs, fake a stroke to manipulate the entire family, ruin your daughter-in-law’s relationship with her own family, make it clear you think your son will tire of his wife…yeah, Livia’s a peach. Until another TV mom tries to persuade family members to kill her own son, Livia’s likely to be the undisputed queen of the damned. Where’s the Hallmark card that says, “I’m Glad We Got Over Your Putting a Hit Out on Me–Happy Mother’s Day?” In Livia’s cold, dead hands, that’s where.

Emmy Hoorays and Horrors

We here at TV Bacon have some issues with the Emmy nominations. This is…not unusual. We remember with something less than glee 2002, when the Academy saw fit to honor Ray Romano for acting. Still, nominees tend to be bifurcated between glorious and ghastly–after all, 2002 was the same year they recognized John Spencer. Below we outline the most exciting moments and the most egregious omissions of the 2008 nominations.

The Horror! The Horror! 

Maybe They Think Masturbation Means Chewing Your Food: The exclusion of Pushing Daisies from the Best Comedy Series lineup is nigh unforgivable. Granted, we’re not convinced this show belongs among comedy company either, but voters had no trouble nominating it for 12 other awards as a comedy. So, having some of the best writing, directing, actors, music, costumes, production design, editing, and hair and makeup means you aren’t as good as Entourage. Nice. Also, where is the cinematography nod?

Game’s The Same–Just Got More Fierce: The Wire got as many nominations as According to Jim. One of the greatest achievements in American television history ends with two total Emmy nominations. Two. Total. Across five stellar seasons. So…convince us the Emmys mean anything.

Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton Get Sacked: Yes, only five people watch Friday Night Lights. Yes, even people who don’t watch the show heard the bad buzz surrounding this season’s ludicrous murder plot. Chandler and Britton still turned in some of the most subtle, detailed, wrenching performances on TV. Thank goodness Boston Legal was there to provide James Spader’s fantasia courtroom grandstanding and Candice Bergen’s ninth nomination instead.

Bear McCreary Must Be in A Galaxy Far, Far Away: We love Battlestar Galactica, but even we’ll acknoweldge that the episodes that fell within the eligibility period were perhaps not the strongest the show has ever put out (we’d hold out more hope that they might be recognized next year as they sign off, but…The Wire). Maybe we should celebrate that a show on the Sci Fi Channel about spaceships gets any nominations at all, let alone six, let alone one in a major category (Drama Writing). Even though it’s a travesty that Mary McDonnell goes unnominated while the likes of Mariska Hargitay get in again, episodes focusing on her character fell outside of the eligibiity period. But no matter how hard we try, we can’t understand how Bear McCreary’s epic, innovative work scoring this show can go unrecognized. We threatened previously to unleash Katherine Heigel if this happened, so batten down the hatches and bar the door against Katie.

Thank Goodness Things Have Changed Since the 60s: Three acting nominations for Mad Men, and they’re all for men, in spite of the complex, beautifully acted female characters on the show. It’s not like television is overflowing with outstanding roles for women, leaving no room for the likes of Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, and Christina Hendricks.

Evacuate the Children!: Classical Baby: The Poetry Show. Hannah Montana. High School Musical 2. Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: The Untouchable Kids of India. The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Even with a couple of classy entries, this might be the Emmy category with the lowest batting average. We weep for the future.

Lest We Forget: So much for the greatest generation. Ken Burns’ epic, moving, historic documentary on World War II received nominations for writing, directing, sound, and editing, but is nowhere to be found in nonfiction series or special. Inside the Actors Studio, which was nominated, interviewed Charlie Sheen last year. Well, he is an Emmy nominee. As is his personal hairstylist.

Even A Stopped Clock Is Right Twice A Day: Kudos and Huzzahs

And This Award You Just Got? It’s A Cookie: 17.5 nominations (including one for Kenneth’s the Page’s webpage) for 30 Rock…and they probably deserved more. Where’s the recognition for costume design for Will Arnett’s super-short robe? Shine a spotlight on Tina Fey and turn a wind machine on her–she might be on stage a lot come Emmy night.

Better Award Winning through Chemistry: Bryan Cranston was robbed during his time on Malcolm in the Middle, never winning for his warm, rubbery Hal. Here’s hoping that his performance as a terminally ill teacher who becomes a quietly angry meth dealer garners him the Emmy he so deserves. Don’t mess with him, voters–he can melt you in a bathtub.

Perhaps This Will Make Him Feel Warm and Safe and Loved: With a loaded Lead Comedy Actor category, we worried that Lee Pace’s mild, sad, lovestruck piemaker would be overlooked. Finding his name on the list was better than than a cup-pie with urban honey baked into the crust.

He Knew Which Palms to Grease: It wasn’t for his role as The Wire‘s corrupt ex-mayor, but Glynn Turman’s nomination for In Treatment is a huge–and most welcome–surprise in a category that often recognizes movie stars regardless of the size or quality of the role they play. Frankly, we thought he’d lose out to Robin Williams. Now we just want to see Turman beat him.

No More Kings–Just A Bunch of Emmy Nominees: John Adams was uneven as all get-out, but the wide range of supporting actors breathing life into the architects of a new country took our breath away. From the always-brilliant Tom Wilkinson as an earthy Ben Franklin to a surprising David Morse as George Washington to Laura Linney as the backbone helping to hold a country together, the characters surrounding Adams outstrip the second president.

Because We Know Patty: FX’s bold, beautifully shot Damages seemed to suffer from all the things that usually keep shows from being recognized by the Emmys. First, it’s really good. Second, it’s on basic cable–HBO’s award-grubbing budget is probably bigger than FX’s total budget. The intricate mystery doesn’t lend itself to the Emmy screening process. And yet, quality wins out for a change. Let’s hope the same holds true for the final victors.

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE: The Politics of Dancing

I’m not gonna lie–I’ve really enjoyed Fox’s summer reality hit So You Think You Can Dance over the past few years. Maybe it’s the summer heat melting my brain, or maybe it’s that the competitors on this show actually have to be enormously talented to succeed. It’s a lot of fun to watch people who are good at something do it well.

Unfortunately, I’m having to give a lot of thought to whether I’m going to watch this week’s performance episode tonight–even with the possibility of two dances per couple!–after an unpleasant trend that’s been growing for at least a couple of seasons bloomed into full-blown yuck last week. While dancers from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds have been cast and succeeded on the show, discussion of hip-hop and jazz styles is often…less than sensitive. Judges trying to describe desired effects in krump or hip-hop numbers by affecting what they think are urban or African-American speech patterns or gestures is not a good plan. Telling dancers performing a jazz number that they’re African warriors is weird enough (what, everyone in Africa is the same? What is an African warrior, anyway?), but seizing the word “animalistic” to describe how “African warriors” should move is even more problematic.

Upon seeing the hip-hop routine pictured above–a hip-hop routine choreographed to Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love”–guest judge Adam Shankman (Hairspray) rhapsodized that the show’s deep exploration of this new thing, lyrical hip-hop, finally legitimized hip-hop as an art form. Leaving aside the dubious contentions that “lyrical hip-hop” is a newborn creature (dude, you produced the Step Up movies. Did you ever watch them?) or that So You Think You Can Dance is exploring the genre deeply, the assertion that hip-hop hasn’t been a legitimate art form up until now is pretty appalling. Coupled with previous judging comments about preferring “softer” hip-hop and wondering if America will be put off by more “hard-hitting” routines, the show’s attitude about what urban art forms might be about–and what we as the audience might think they’re about–is kind of dismal.

Between this and producer/judge Nigel Lythgoe’s constant harping about male contestants not being masculine enough in their dancing, the show is creeping dangerously close to some ugly places. And I don’t want to feel that way watching cheesy reality TV–I just want to watch a bunch of talented kids put on a show. Can’t we all just dance along?

2008: The Year of Casual Sexism?

New Year’s Eve always depresses me, as I feel compelled to look back over the lost year that was and contemplate everything I didn’t accomplish (it probably doesn’t help that I’m doing this while slouching on the sofa in my pajamas instead of partying with the glitterati). On the other hand, the next day cheers me up, as I can consider the fresh new year and all the ways I won’t screw it up (January 4: have already screwed up fresh new year).

It’s been quite disappointing, then, to be confronted in the fresh new year with multiple blithe instances of casual sexism in my TV viewing:

The Amazing Race: while struggling through a task that requires stringing a wedding garland, Big Strong Boyfriend chastises his partner for not being better at handling the flowers, what with her being a girl and all. This was very educational, as I had been unaware that possessing a vagina imbued one with magical abilities to make flower garlands. (I’d be more impressed that Snotty Girlfriend was able to come back with asking why Big Strong Boyfriend couldn’t row a boat better on a previous leg, what with being a boy and all, but her habit of calling other female racers bitches means she doesn’t have much wiggle room here.)

–ABC promos during college bowl games: I’d feel sorry for the announcers–I’m dismissive of Dance Wars: Hoohah versus Whatsit, too, and it can’t be fun to try to dredge up fake enthusiasm for such blatantly contrived garbage–if they hadn’t decided to solidify their manly, football-based credentials by linking their disdain so closely to the idea that only stupid chicks–and Other Persons of More Effeminate Natures, If You Get My Drift–were the target audience for the dance show. One can only hope they accomplished their goal of protecting the bowl audiences from getting their testosterone covered in sequins.

–MSNBC’s bizarre insistence on calling Senator Clinton by her first name. This may well be happening on the other 24-hour news channels, too, but the repeated use of “Hillary” to describe a major presidential candidate while still calling the candidates with dangly genitalia by their last names is dismissive, infantilizing, and insulting, and it just plain needs to stop. The woman has a last name–in fact, she has two. Pick one and use it, but stop calling her by her first name unless you intend to start talking about how Mike and Mitt are duking it out. Studies have shown that the tendency to refer to female athletes by their first names while persisting in using surnames for male athletes reinforces the privilege accorded to the “dominant” group–it’s hard not to think of that being an even more appalling state when dealing with reporting on American democracy. At least Keith Olbermann had the grace to notice this discrepancy on a graphic in his own show and seem upset by it.

Here’s hoping the year improves–and that the premieres of Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle don’t make matters worse. I can’t say I’m optimistic.

The 10 Best Television Moments of 2007

Oh, television. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

The year 2007 is drawing to a close, which can mean only one thing: lists! In consequence of which I present you with my list of the 10 best moments on television this year.

This is only my list, of course, made up of shows that I watch (which is why you’ll find nary a reality TV moment). If your top ten list is different, feel free to leave a comment letting me know what I’ve egregiously omitted (or criminally overrated).

10. Finally finding out who was behind the attacks on Ellen and David on Damages (“Because I Know Patty,” Oct. 23 on FX): The first season of this under-watched show had more twists and turns than a bag of pretzels. The complicated characters and complex story that were gradually revealed, piece by tantalizing piece, had me on the edge of my couch cushions until they (finally!) revealed the circumstances that precipitated the violent attack in the pilot’s opening scene.

9. Ian McKellen explains acting on Extras (“Ian McKellen,” Feb. 11 on HBO): There were so many terrific celebrity cameos over the course of Extras, but of all of them, no one seemed to take quite as much delight in mercilessly mocking himself as Sir Ian McKellen. “You are aware that I am not really a wizard?”

8. Slap #2 on How I Met Your Mother (“Stuff,” Feb. 19 on CBS): I know, I know, most people would put slap #3 from “Slapsgiving” here, but for my money slap #2 was the real winner, coming practically out of nowhere during Barney’s torturous one-man theater performance. “It’s a masterpiece of awful! It’s genius how bad it is, I kinda wish you guys could see it.”

7. The opening scene of Pushing Daisies (“Pie-lette,” Oct. 3 on ABC): “At this very moment in the town of Coeur d’Coeurs, young Ned was 9 years, 27 weeks, 6 days and 3 minutes old…” So begins the most original television series to debut in years. The soothing voice of narrator Jim Dale and the sight of a boy frolicking with his dog in a field of hyper-saturated flowers lulls you into a sense of whimsey bordering on the twee… that is immediately shattered when the dog is shockingly run down by a car. It’s that perfect balance between the magic of fairy tales and the harsh reality of life (and death), along with Bryan Fuller’s delightfully dry dialogue, that makes this show a singularly unique experience.

6. The redemption of Mac McGill on Friday Night Lights (“Black Eyes and Broken Hearts,” Feb. 14 on NBC): There were a lot of great moments in season one of Friday Night Lights (just don’t talk to me about this season), but Mac’s humble confession to Smash –“They made a mistake, son, just like I did”–at the end of this insightful two-parter about the insidious nature of racism was the moment I fell madly, deeply in love with the show.

5. Tracy’s therapy session on 30 Rock (“Rosemary’s Baby,” Oct. 25 on NBC): Alec Baldwin just seems to get better and better on 30 Rock, consistently providing the funniest moments of every episode. The highlight, though, is still this scene in which his Jack Donaghy seamlessly role-plays no less than five appalling racial stereotypes from Tracy Jordan’s past, to the horror of the onlooking therapist. “Dyn-o-mite!”

4. Four of the Final Five Cylons are revealed on Battlestar Galactica (“Crossroads” Part 2, March 25 on SciFi): I’ll admit up front that I was not a fan of the lead-up to this reveal. Mysterious psychic messages delivered in the form of lyrics from “All Along the Watchtower”? You’re kidding, right? Alas, they were not kidding. But despite that, there’s no denying the way my heartbeat quickened when those four characters finally came together and realized who they were. Particular kudos to Bear McCreary’s masterful score, which is what truly gave this moment its zing.

3. The identity of the Face of Boe is revealed (or is it?) on Doctor Who (“Last of the Time Lords,” June 30 on BBC One and Oct. 5 on SciFi): I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know what I’m talking about, but let’s just say that this reveal, which came unexpectedly at the end of the season finale, had me (and my nine-year-old daughter) standing up and shouting “What? Oh my god! What?” at the television set. Bravo, Russell T Davies.

2. The flashback that turned out to be a flash forward on Lost (“Through the Looking Glass,” May 23 on ABC): Some people will tell you that they knew right away that we were seeing Jack and Kate in a post-island future. Me? I was blissfully ignorant until the very last moment. Yeah, probably the cell phone should have clued me in, but frankly, I’m glad it didn’t, so that I could be thoroughly blind-sided by Lost‘s greatest twist since the reveal of Locke’s wheelchair in season one’s “Walkabout.”

1. Pam’s reaction after Jim asks her out on The Office (“The Job,” May 17 on NBC): Yes, Pam’s speech in “Beach Games” was terrific, but if you ask me the real highlight of the year was this moment, in which somewhere in the vicinity of a dozen different emotions flash across Jenna Fischer’s face over the course of a mere eight seconds. “I’m sorry, what was the question?”

Happy new year, everyone! And best wishes for a speedy end to the writers strike and a bountiful crop of new television in the upcoming year.

Why They Write

There’s just no getting around it: this strike sucks. It sucks for the writers, it sucks for the networks, it sucks for all the below-the-line workers, and it sucks for us, the loyal television viewers.

Now that I’ve finally burned through all those episodes of Heroes and Bionic Woman and My Name Is Earl that I’d stockpiled on the TiVo, my Now Playing List is a sad and barren place. A few episodes of Good Eats and Mythbusters, a lot of Ninja Warrior, and… that’s pretty much it. I don’t even have the heart to look at my To Do List because I’m afraid I might actually cry. Thank goodness for all those Doctor Who DVDs I got for Christmas, or else I might be sitting in a corner right now eating my own hair.

There is, however, one good thing to come out of the strike. Our favorite television writers are, for perhaps the first time in years, bored. And what do bored writers do? Apparently they take to the internet. To vent, to blog, to philosophize, and to just generally interact with their fans in a way that they don’t often have time to do.

One of my favorite blogs to come out of the strike so far is Why We Write, a series of essays by TV and film writers, talking about what inspired them to get into writing in the first place. Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the site has thus far treated us to stirring contributions from Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl), Steve Levitan (Back to You), Howard Gordon (24), and Carol Mendelsohn (CSI).

It’s a wonderful look into the hearts and minds of these writers. But more than that it reinforces the fact that there is one thing that binds us all together during these dark times: an abiding love of television.

They Have the Plant, But We Have the Power


Most of us who support the WGA strike won’t have the chance to go join a picket line. Or refuse to cross one. Or honk at one in solidarity. What can we do to encourage fair compensation for the writers and a timely resolution to this conflict for everyone involved?

  • Become educated about the issues. While TV Bacon is pro-WGA and will likely therefore present information to that effect, in a dispute like this there will always be some disagreement about the details, so look around and decide what you think.
  • Spread the word–you could join a community of support, use proGuild icons (someone’s made one for your favorite show), or just talk to people about what you think.
  • Sign a petition
  • Send snail-mail to the studios explaining your stance (you might want to consider some of this advice about how to be most persuasive by being “bilingual” in Fan and Viewer)
  • Participate in fan-organized statements of support, such as Fans4Writers’ “Food for Thought” campaign, 1000 Cranes for Heroes, or the Fan Union’s “Cheap Skates” push. There may well be a fan-organized effort for your favorite show.
  • Refuse to watch replacement programming. An immediate boycott of remaining new episodes might artificially depress ratings and screw up people’s jobs when the strike is over. Refusing to watch replacement programming, however, sends the message that when the writers who make your favorite show left, so did you. (Works better if you are a Nielsen viewer, although a TiVo might help, too.)
  • Decline to download content or view webcasts.

Perhaps most important, be in it to win it. Right now, everyone’s pumped up on the adrenaline that comes with sticking it to The Man, but this thing isn’t going to be over in a week. My personal favorite conspiracy theory is that the AMPTP wanted this strike so they could trigger force majeure and void out development agreements. If this is the case, they don’t have much incentive to run back to the bargaining table before the force majeure clauses can be fully invoked. This could be a long haul–let’s stick together to the end. Here’s hoping that end won’t be too bitter.

Life, the Universe and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Some people will tell you that television doesn’t matter. That it’s all self-serving crap, the lowest common denominator of mindless entertainment, and we should just say good riddance to those whiny TV writers and move on to more important matters.

I am here to tell you that these people are wrong.

Television does matter. Maybe it’s not brokering peace in the Middle East or feeding the hungry or solving the appalling shortage of Hannah Montana tickets in the world (come to think of it, television’s kind of responsible for the Hannah Montana Crisis), but it is, in its own way, making the world a better place (Hannah Montana aside). It’s made my insignificant little world better, anyway.

buffyphoto1.jpgThree years ago today, my mother passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. The time leading up to her death was a terrible one for me, filled with worry, fear, grief, and not a little guilt. And during those difficult days, the one thing that gave me comfort and strength—more than my friends or my family or a religion I’d never been able to subscribe to—was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sounds a little silly, perhaps, but there it is.

You see, my mother’s illness happened to coincide with my discovery of Buffy in reruns on FX. And during the long, lonely days spent at my mother’s bedside, the one scrap of joy I could cling to was the promise of that next episode of Buffy waiting for me on the VCR. (This was during what I think of as the Dark Ages of Television, before I’d been indoctrinated into the ranks of TiVo disciples). On these days I’d come home from the hospital emotionally drained and mentally exhausted, no fit company for myself or my family. So I’d crawl into bed, turn on the TV, and lose myself in the story of the slayer who fell in love with a vampire. It may sound like a small thing, the comfort I derived from that hour in front of the TV, but believe me it was not.

It was just a TV show, but it made me laugh at a time when I thought I’d never find anything to laugh about again. It brought tears to my eyes—tears of both sadness and joy—at a time when I thought I had already cried myself numb. It showed me that people have an amazing capacity for strength, at a time when I felt weak and helpless. It reminded me that love is all around us, at a time when I felt bereft and alone. And it proved to me that there is magic in this world, at a time when everything before me seemed bleak and barren.

The universe is a big scary place for us mortals and sometimes life can be painful, or difficult, or mundane, or lonely. And in these times some of us turn to the stories on television for a little bit of much-needed solace, or hope, or excitement, or company. Television is important because it allows us to enter the lives of these fictional friends—familiar characters who enter our homes every week to make us laugh, cry, or fall in love—and, even if it’s just for a little while, our own problems don’t seem so insurmountable.

Such is the incredible power of story-telling.

Stories are integral to our very existence as humans. They illustrate our commonalities, point out our flaws, celebrate our triumphs, and bring us together. It is our need to tell stories that defines us and sets us apart from the other species on this planet, the very same need that drives us to create art, music, literature, film and, yes, television.

Every one of the stories we watch on television comes from the mind of a writer: an ordinary person with extraordinary imagination. Those writers deserve to be paid every cent they’re asking AMPTP for, but, more importantly, they deserve our respect.

The WGA Strike: Argle Bargle, or Fooferah?

strikepic.jpgHere at TV Bacon, we have friends who work below-the-line jobs in the television industry, and we are very worried about them. We buy DVDs and pay for cable rather than downloading content from “suspect” sources because we respect the fact that organizations fronting the risk on creative content need to make a profit to stay alive. We will miss the shows that won’t–and might never–be made (bacon is good without TV, but better with it).

All of that having been said, our position on the Writers’ Guild strike comes down to this:

Workers deserve fair compensation for the work they do. The system suggested by the AMPTP proposals does not meet the standards of what we consider fair compensation. So TV Bacon supports the WGA and their strike. Period.

We know these things are complicated–how do you assess profits in an era of vertical integration? What about showrunners?–but the bottom line is that writing is hard, financially risky work, and workers should be paid for the things they produce. We’re not expecting corporations to elect Joss Whedon King Potentate of All He Surveys or to gold-plate Aaron Sorkin or to canonize Tom Fontana. We just expect them to pay those guys and their ink-stained brothers and sisters for the things those writers produce. Using content like the webisodes created for Battlestar Galactica or The Office without paying the people who make them is wrong. Fair compensation for work is right. Collective bargaining to achieve fair compensation is neither greedy nor ignoble. We support the WGA.