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June 21, 2004

Cable Lineups

Dear Vanessa --

How are you set for cable out in Chicago? Ever since I upgraded to digital cable (obligatory if you want a digital video recorder), I've mainly been exploring the program lineups at Ovation and History International. By the way, do we refer to these as "networks"? "Channels"? "Stations"?

Both outfits seem to own no more than a hundred hours of programming, which they shuffle and repeat month after month. Ovation calls itself "the arts network," and its offerings are generally much peppier than PBS's. I got a lot of pleasure out of two different Howard Goodall music-history series. One, called Big Bangs, focused on turning points in Western music history -- the invention of the piano, of notation, of equal temperament, etc. The other was Choir Works, a series about choirs around the world. For these shows, Goodall visits a boys' choir in Oxford, a gospel choir in Nashville, an a capella choir competition in South Africa, etc.

Goodall himself is a flip and deliberately-outrageous presenter in a style that may amuse the Brits but that seems bizarre to us. (He came up as part of the Richard Curtis/Rowan Atkinson generation, and seems to have crafted a successful career for himself as musician, composer and media personality.) But he's clear and intelligent; his explanation of equal temperament -- not an easy thing to make sense of -- was the best I've ever run across. He's enthusiastic and respectful too, and seems to know when to get out of the way of the music.

I see that Ovation will be broadcasting Goodall's "Choir Works" series the week beginning July 11th. Part one will show on Monday the 12th at 10:30 a.m. EST; part two on Tuesday at the same time; part three on Wednesday; and part four on Thursday. Ovation is showing part one of "Big Bangs" on Thursday, July 8th at 11 p.m., and on Friday, July 9th at 3 a.m.

I can recommend another Ovation standard in perpetual heavy rotation too -- a quietly brilliant hour-long documentary called Bare. It's about minimalism as a living style. Who's it meant for? What's it like to live with -- Zen bliss or utter madness? The show, directed by a British woman whose name I wrote down then lost, doesn't try to be comprehensive. Instead, the filmmakers pay low-key visits to a half a dozen owners and designers, and let what they find speak for itself. A gay couple adores their gleaming pristine cube of a house -- but keeps it tidily austere only by cramming nearly all their possessions into one basement room. A straight couple enjoys the feeling of chic and style, but decides to move into a traditional space once they have kids. Etc, etc -- fascinating stuff that just happens to provide gratifying confirmation of your worst suspicions about style nazis.

I see that Ovation will be showing "Bare" several times this week: at 8 p.m. EST Tuesday, and then later that evening at midnight; at 9 p.m. Thursday; and at 1 a.m. Friday.

Oops, gotta run. More about History International later. What are you watching these days? I'm always grateful for TV recommendations.



posted by Michael at June 21, 2004


Michael, you don't want to know what I've been watching on TV. Actually, I haven't watched anything in a long while but the last time I got addicted it was to... America's Next Top Model. I'm so ashamed but I couldn't stop! I kept hearing myself murmur silently in my head, so no one else could hear, "So that's what the pretty girls do when they get together!" I have to say that I got a lot of pleasure watching these drop-dead gorgeous girls humiliate themselves before a national television audience and then have their hearts stomped by the haggish Janice Dickenson (why is she famous?) and the utterly vacuous uber-Mommy Tyra Banks.

Posted by: Vanessa on June 21, 2004 11:22 PM

"Storm Stories" on The Weather Channel is sometimes pretty compelling! :) They manage to make a tornado into an hourlong Peyton Place---or like an episode of "City Confidential" on A & E.

"The Countdown" with Keith Ohbermann (sp?) on MSNBC is pretty entertaining news---although I guess you love it or hate it.

Posted by: annette on June 22, 2004 8:35 AM

So called "design shows" are my habitual anti-depressant. Watching the next "Trading spaces" or "While you were out" episode can cure any average professional designer of self-doubting blues. C'mon, if these suckers can buy into rooster/hen template trim on their living room walls and praise the guy for this monstrosity, my life doesn't seem such utter disaster after all!

And I admire Debby of Paited House fame (Oxigen) for her solid professionalism and optimistic if a tad sarcastic attitude.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 22, 2004 9:18 AM

"...the utterly vacuous uber-Mommy Tyra Banks."

Utterly vacuous I can agree with -- but uber-Mommy? Uber-tyrant rather!

Tatyana - Trading Spaces has the exact opposite effect on me. It gives me the blues, the inadequate blues. Admitted: for all their skills, the designers can, and often do create an unholy mess; but the skills! the skills they have...and I don't.

Posted by: ricpic on June 22, 2004 10:12 AM

Design skills are the matter to learn; it's an occupation and not an artistry, even though it helps to posess a spark.
Let's say you're not in medical professions. Would you feel inadequate for not making correct diagnosis?
Hire a professional designer (not that I'm self-plugging, of course)...

Posted by: Tatyana on June 22, 2004 10:42 AM

"The show, directed by a British woman whose name I wrote down then lost..."

That's writin', son. Obviously, you could have googled the name - instead of being so charming and conversational. Deft, I say, deft!

Can't watch design shows - the sloppy work hurts my soul. Am waiting for the reality design show called "we came back six months later, when everything had fallen apart." Friend of mine swears he saw a show featuring a designer who sawed through and removed several feet of a load-bearing beam to "open up the space." I don't really doubt this report.

Myself, I'm currently into field dog trials. These probably don't translate for people who haven't worked with gun dogs. Rednecks stand around and then now and then a dog runs off in a field for a while, then returns. Probably about as exciting as "The Honey Hole" is to non-fishermen.

Posted by: j.c. on June 22, 2004 11:59 AM

America's Next Top Model: Janice Dickinson is a Goddess. How could anyone so stupid be so confident and arrogant at the same time?

Posted by: JT on June 24, 2004 3:24 PM

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