Oct 30, 2006

Put Out the Fire

Couple of really quick housekeeping things first:
  1. I realized I didn't put any kind of ranking on the tv shows on my last post like I do on my movie reviews page (link to right).
  2. I realized no one cares anyway. So I didn't change it.
  3. I have heard that a couple of these shows are in trouble in the ratings, which should clear up my schedule soon.
  4. I didn't mention any of the Spring shows we watch -- 24, American Idol, Scrubs.
Now on to the post....

I was thinking recently about the jobs I have held. I am not counting teenage or pointless summer jobs (Ponderosa, AMC theatres, school board film library, Sea World). I am referring to real jobs. I have worked in four main industries: Government (UCF Student Government for 2 years), Education (2 UCF jobs, 2 teaching internships, substitute), Sales (Rhodes furniture), and Religion (church, BCM, Defender). As I thought about it, these four industries are pretty big deals in our country. And even though they may seem quite different, they are actually VERY similar. In fact, I can honestly say that I have either heard this following speech - or some variation of it - from people in each of these fields.

When you are faced with a situation with an unhappy or complaining person, it is important to think about this. You carry two buckets with you: one is filled with water, one is filled with gasoline. You have two choices. First, you can douse the fire this person is lighting with water, diffusing the situation and showing them there is nothing to worry about. Second, you can douse the fire with gasoline, causing it to flare up worse - and showing this person there is something to worry about. This shows them that there is disunity in the staff, that there are problems, and that they have an ally in their complaints on the inside. You should try to help put out the fires, not make them worse.

I have heard that exact speech several times. I have seen that attitude portrayed many times. It is a common practice in all four of those industries. How did it become so universal? Well, I know for one that John Maxwell uses it in AT LEAST one of his leadership books. Every leader loves that story, because it keeps the fire from reaching them, and it puts the responsibility for controlling fires on the lower staff members. However, after thinking about that mentality for a while this past weekend [don't ask how it started], I realized that I have a real problem with it. Actually, I have three problems with it, and they lead into each other.

FIRST - Fire is not always bad - Think about this. Fire is a good thing many times. No, when it is rampaging through the forests on I-95 and destroying homes, it does not seem so good. But, in addition to making such yummy steaks and burgers, fire has a lot of good uses. Here are a few.
  • It purifies. Fire is what is used to purify metals, to sterilize tools. It burns off the impurities. Busting out the Bible, it is what God will use to purify - and what He uses all the time. Gold, silver, steel all must go through a fiery purification process.
  • It cleanses. Nature uses these rampaging fires as a way to cleanse itself. Humans are not fond of fire burning their neighborhoods. But look at any nature show about Africa. The Serengeti goes through cycles of drought, fire, rebirth, growth all the time. The fire removes what the land cannot support. It is a useful thing for removing the excess. This is even used in a controlled manner by builders and developers as they clear land
  • It warms. Try spending a night outside during the winter without a fire (at least in those places that have winter). Fire provides warmth for people, for food. We can even see this symbolized through the romantic candles, that give a couple the feeling of warmth, of intimacy.
All of that is to show that fire is not always bad or evil. To immediately demand that someone put out a fire is to cut short something that may be useful or necessary. You need to be able to identify the fire: its type, its purpose, its potential. This leads into the 2nd point.

SECOND - The wrong people are giving the orders - On the road I drive every day to and from the kids' school there is a testimony to days of yore. Right next to Snow Hill Road, there is a large forest fire watchtower. It used to be that the rangers would sit in that tower to look for and get information about fires. It is not used much now, since most of that land is now full of houses. But it still stands for now. That tower reminds me of how most of the people in authority operate. They live high above the day to day operations, and ocassionally look out over their locale. If they see a glimmer of flame, they quickly send off their firefighting underlings to put it out.

But from high in that tower, it is hard to tell if that fire is a campfire, a bonfire, a glowing grill, a candle, or a wildfire. The person on the ground is the one that can identify the fire. They are the ones who should be able to tell what is a danger and what is not. They are the ones who can see if there is a dangerous amount of underbrush springing up, that may need burned off so that the trees don't get choked out. The lower level staff are the ones who can tell if it is an electrical fire, that will cause more damage when water is dumped on it. There also is a chance that the person in leadership is the reason the fire got started -- their ineptitude or laziness or poor decisions or selfishness.

The people in the tower just look out and see the trees, the "big picture." They have been told that getting your hands dirty is something you do when you get started, and then eventually you get big enough to get out of that. They become more useful "casting the vision" and "providing leadership." And they are scared of fire - because they cannot control it. It is something primal and wild and random and unplanned. So, like Frankenstein's monster, they chant, "Fire Bad."

THIRD - The end result is half-baked - As these fires are being put out, we are unwittingly putting out much more than a flame. We are killing off good ideas, passion, innovations. Think about it.
  • A church member is unhappy about the way the Church in general deals with special needs children. He comes to a staff member to voice that and is immediately doused. So he slinks off. Maybe, if that fire was tended better, he would have come up with an effective and helpful method of creating a Special Needs minstry. Instead, the problem (which was genuine) still exists, the member (who was sincere) is still frustrated, and the church missed the boat.
  • A mother does not like the way that her daughter in high school has never been taught how to write a paper. She goes to the assistant principal to mention it, and is doused. The teachers never require the students to learn to write, and those students are uneffective in college.
  • A young government page wonders why high ranking officials can take so many personal privileges with taxpayer money. He says something to his supervisor about it, and it doused. He's told that it is part of the process. That page grows up to be a Senator, and gets arrested after two terms for misappropriating funds - something he was taught early on was okay.
  • A saleswoman comes to her supervisor and says that her customers are coming back to complain that their products are breaking after six months. He asks if they have a warranty. Since they don't, they are told the company won't do anything about it - that is why they were encouraged to buy the warranty. The company never has to raise its standards of construction.
Do you think those things don't happen? In today's world, we love mediocrity. We don't want anyone to be too lazy or uninvolved, but we don't want them to be too committed either. Think about each of those fields.
  • In politics, we want our politicians to feel strongly about things that appeal to a lot of people - but not to offend anyone with anything they say. Why have they all moved to the middle?
  • In business, we want our young workers to be ambitious - within the guidelines. If they get too creative with their ideas, or too "out of the box," they become a threat.
  • In religious circles, we want our members to be there at events and services, to get involved in our established activities. But we don't want them to be too passionate about their faith or beliefs - or to voice displeasure or disagreement when they see things in the church don't match God's Word.
  • In education, we want parents to join the PTA and to send in money for stuff and to help their kids with homework, but not to get toooooo invovled. Those parents are labelled stage parents, and are seen as problems because they want the rules bent for their kid -- even if they are just wanting their kid to get the best opportunity possible.
As a result, we are stuck living out these lives of mediocrity. We wonder why there aren't any truly amazing politcal leaders, or so few visionary business people, or many truly dedicated teachers, or insightful theologians. Most of them probably got put out just when they got fired up. We see this in sports - where teams continue to hire the same guys (Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Phil Jackson) hoping they can recapture their old glory. Most of the new guys coach to not lose - they aren't gutsy and inventive.

Is there a cure? Who knows. I know that trying to get the people in power to change is not going to lead to a very satisfying outcome. I guess the lesson is that sometimes, instead of putting out a fire, we should try to let it burn and control it instead. See what it leads to, and if necessary put it out. But see what is up first. The other lesson is that if you get water dumped on your head, don't let it put you out. If you feel strongly about something -- something positive you have to share, or something wrong that needs to be fixed -- keep on trying, while being respectful of the leadership you are under. Don't give up - sometimes it takes a while for a fire to get going.

Oct 17, 2006

The New Lineup

I have now watched at least one episode of every show I planned on watching this year. So, without further ado, I will give my takes on them, and what I see in their future. I am sure the execs at the major networks are nervous. I am doing this list in alphabetical order -- NOT in the order of what I think of the shows. (NOTE: I wanted to try some other shows like Six Degrees, Shark, House, Battlestar Galactica, and Vanished - but I had to draw the line somewhere.)

30 Rock - Behind the scences of a SNL-style show starring Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski - Only one episode of this one has shown. Here's the biggest problem with it - it isn't funny. I guess that helps it establish its realism - since the show it mimics isn't funny either (don't want to spoil that review, though). Some of the Tracy Morgan scenes are funny, but Alec Baldwin is pretty much playing his typical smarmy, clueless businessman role that has popped up in varying degrees for decades (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Cooler, Friends, SNL). And Jane Krakowski, who NBC forced Tina Fey to add at the last minute because she's prettier than Rachel Dratch (true story), flat out sucks. She isn't funny, she isn't pretty enough to make her worth the switch, and she just seems out of her league. - Prognosis: Not Good, maybe it will last the year.

Heroes -
A huge comic book on screen featuring Ali Larter, Adrian Pasdar, and a ton of others - We love the show, but almost pulled the plug on it. The 2nd episode was so violent we shut it off. But we gave it another try and really got hooked on it. The stories are twisty turny like Lost, and are definitely influenced by comic books. And just like a good comice, it gives you tons of "wow" moments, and then leaves you wanting to buy the next issue. They do this better than Lost, in my opinion. Heroes (by the same team as Lost) gives satisfying answers each week, and then those answers make you more intrigued as to what they mean. The superpowers the people have are cool too. And the last two minutes of the 10/16 episode were about the most awesome I have seen in a looong time. - Prognosis: With the ratings it has, and the buzz, this one will last for a while.

How I Met Your Mother - A man tells his kids about, well the title; starring Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan, and some other people - This show was one of our weekly shows last year, pretty much moving into our top five with Lost, 24, Scrubs, and American Idol. Then they ended the year by putting two star-crossed characters (Ted & Robin) together and splitting the two "meant-for-each-other" characters (Marshall & Lily) apart. And the show lost its mojo. There are still some funny moments (usually from Harris' Barney - an incredibly funny, crass, egomaniacal guy) and the story telling is done well. But the rhythm is off. The show needs to reunite the split Marshall and Lily. And we already know that Ted doesn't marry Robin (told in the very first episode). It is still a fun show, but just is starting to veer into uncool territory. - Prognosis: They best be careful or we'll never find out how Ted meets his wife.

Jericho - America has been hit with nukes, and the residents of Jericho, Kansas are trying to figure out what's up. Starring Skeet Ulrich, Gerald McRaney. I hate nuclear war movies. I could only stomach the Terminator films because the "future wasn't set." I grew up as Prez. Reagan was spending the USSR into oblivion, and the threat of nuclear war was very real. I was so freaked out by the concept, I have avoided that genre. Heather wanted to watch this show, and I opted out -- until I watched parts of some episodes. Now I sit in there "not watching." The unknown drives the show: who attacked, what's all the mysterious pasts of the characters, how bad is the damage, why did the enemy attack Denver. And it is good television without unnecessary emotional yanking or gore. We'll see how the show goes as more info is unveiled - or as it refuses to clear up the mystery. - Prognosis: take a clue from Heroes and reveal while mystifying. If it tries to be Lost, it will not last.

Justice - CSI meets the courtroom; starring Victor Garber, Eammon Walker - We really like this show. It shows a high priced lawfirm as they deal with cases from start to finish - including high tech forensics and recreations. Garber's law firm owner is a pip - totally self absorbed and supremely confident. All the lawyers seem sure they know more than everyone - and so far they do. Prognosis: Not sure. Baseball hiatus didn't help, and it isn't offering anything so different that it stands out.

Lost - The third season of the castaways; starring Matt Fox, Evangeline Lilly, lots of Others - Last season seemed very claustrophobic and usually didn't shed much light on the mystery. In my opinion, they have revealed more stuff in the two episodes this season than most of last year. It seems like the people running the series have listened to viewers and are trying to reveal good nuggets each week - and start to draw some lines between the mysteries. Probably our favorite show. Prognosis: At least another couple years.

Monday Night Football - New network, new broadcast team - I have tuned in most weeks so far to catch the football game. I will say this, ESPN will never be accused of being subtle. Everything about them screams. Their broadcast team, their pregame team, their postgame team. Everyone is yelling or singing loud or causing a huge ruckus - even the graphics are loud. And Joe Theisman is an idiot - he rambles and is one of the worst broadcasters. But then little quiet Tony Kornheiser will speak up and you can hear an intelligent, well thought out comment. He's good, and the only part that needs to be louder. Prognosis: What? You think they'll ever get rid of football?

My Name is Earl - Dumb & lucky white trash tries to make up for past wrongs; starring Jason Lee, Jamie Pressley - I watched every episode last year and found it hillarious. This year hasn't been any different. Earl has been crossing fewer things off of his list this year and they are still crossing the line, and that has helped to allow stories to be even more developed, which is fine by me. This is one show I wish would be an hour long because it is that funny. Prognosis: It's funny, people are watching, good news all around.

Saturday Night Live - Late night sketch show: Starring Who the Crap Cares - This show is one that makes me wonder who is running things in the network world. It just flat out stinks. What a horrible horrible show. I have popped in and out from time to time, but it is the worst show on television. That makes it even funnier that two shows are about it. Prognosis: This year will be the test of what kind of blackmail Lorne Michaels has on the brass at NBC.

Smith - Slick theives; starring Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Amy Smart - Does it matter? I thought the show was great - kind of like a more intense Oceans Eleven - showing the gang on more than one heist. But it already got cancelled. And SNL is still on tv. Grrrrr.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - Behind the scenes of a late night sketch show; starring Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, lots and lots of others - We like it. It is undeniable that there is a severe liberal bent to it. And their is a lot of Christian bashing - which is uncomfortable. But the most interesting character is Sarah Paulson's Christian Harriet. Unlike 30 Rock, this show has come great acting, writing, and delivery. And unlike SNL, it is fun and worth watching. But no one is. Prognosis: I bet it will get cancelled at the end of the year.

Sunday Night Football - NBC's broadcast of the NFL; starring Al Michaels and John Madden - Basically, it is the same as Monday night, except without the noise (Stuart Scott) and the idiot (Michael Irvin) and the moron (Joe Theisman). This is a classy and intelligent broadcast - and has the best broadcast and studio team. But it has games waaaay worse than Monday nights.

The Class - A guy reunites his 3rd grade class; Starring Jason Ritter - This show is pretty uneven, and there are a lot of weird people in it. I'm not really sure where they are going with it. But we watch it every week, hoping that it gets better. And there are some funny moments. Prognosis: Trigger happy CBS? No chance.

The Nine - A group of bank robbery hostages, the aftermath, and the flashbacks; starring Tim Daly, Kim Raver - We really like how this show has started. There is a lot of mystery about what happened in the bank, if there is something else bigger going on, all that jazz. And the characters are pretty cool. I hope that it keeps it up. Prognosis: pretty fair, since it is following Lost and holding its own.

The Office - The lackeys at a paper company; starring Steve Carrell, Jenna Fisher - This show has really grown on me. At first, I didn't watch it or get it. Now, it probably has the most laughs per episode of any show on television. Plus, Steve Carrell's Michael is just sheer brilliance in his idiocy. Prognosis: sure bet, man.

'Til Death - Old married couple and new married couple live next door and clash; starring Brad Garrett - There is a theory that people who star in long-running comedies cannot do well in there next show (Seinfeld, Raymond). Brad Garrett is not going to disprove this theory. This show is horrible and stupid, and already got taken off of our DVR recordings. Prognosis: As bad as the show.

Oct 8, 2006

The Example of a Lifetime

Yesterday I had the chance to spend about an hour with one of my very good friends. I haven't been able to see her as much as I would like - she lives in Tampa and we live in Orlando. We have been friends for ten years now, and it was good to be able to sit down with her and just talk like old times. It reminded me of why she is such a special person in my life - and the life of my entire family.

She told me about the great things going on at her church - the one where I served for four years as college minister. She said that every Sunday night, there is a service called Late Night - it is designed for teens, college students, and young adults. They have a great band leading worship, and the church's student pastor speaks. She goes every week - and she said that she is just so blessed watching the students raising their hands and looking up to the sky praising God. It reminded her of Psalm 100 - how we should all praise God with singing and even dancing - if that is done to the Lord.

We talked about the country, and how sin is the reason the nation is so bad off. I told her about how Defender Ministries was doing, and she was so excited to hear about it - and how I get to write all the time for it. (She always loved to read what I wrote.) She told me she still exercises every morning, plays golf every Tuesday - and can still do a split. And we both were thrilled at how God worked it out for us to spend time together - she wasn't even supposed to be home when I showed up.

The thing about this friend of mine is that she is 87 years old. Her name is Dottie. When I graduated UCF in 1996, that September I moved to Tampa to work with the North American Mission Board as a Semester Missionary at her church and at USF's BCM. Part of my "pay" was room and board - at Dottie's house. For the next two years I stayed with her - and she basically adopted me as her grandkid. We had great talks and forged a great friendship that still lasts. My grandmother couldn't make it to my wedding, so Dottie was walked down the aisle as my "adopted grandmother."

What is so incredible about this lady is not all of what she has accomplished - which is amazing in an of itself. [Some highlights: she was a pilot, helped bring the Republican Party to Florida, served as a delegate for Reagan at the 1980 convention, knew Bob Hope, has flown around the world] But she is also the most generous and godly woman I know. Her house is always open to people in need (even though she has been burned by them before). She has given money to so many causes and groups. When I was college minister, she used to stock pizzas in the freezer, candy bars in the pantry, and soda in the fridge - so that my students would have things to eat when they came by. She loved it when they came by - even got lonely when they didn't show up for a while.

She also is the greatest servant I know. You know what she does on those Sunday nights? She works in the kitchen - and washes dishes until midnight after the service. And then she takes all the tablecloths home to wash them. Does the same thing on Wednesday nights. She collects aluminum cans and pans to donate for money for the local cancer hospital and for the church's mission group. She delivers food every week to shut ins in the area.

About a week and a half ago, the Oviedo area lost their version of Dottie. His name was Frank Wheeler. He was older and died of a heart attack. For decades, he has been that kind of guy - he was on building committees at the church and was one of the cornerstones of the whole community. After he died, one of the McDonalds in the area had a note on its sign about it. I told Heather that you really made a huge impact when you are mentioned on the McDonalds sign. The entire city was touched by that man - even if they didn't realize it.

Dottie and Frank were amazing testimonies to me about how to live as a Child of God. Dottie and Frank walked with God for so long - and they still loved him and served people. If anyone could "retire" from being a Christian, it would be Dottie. But she still is just as much of an example as always - maybe even more so. When I look back at my life, and the people who made me who I am, Dottie is definitely one them. And by her living in such a godly manner every single day, she still IS one of those people. She is still showing me how to live like Christ. I'm proud to say I know her and that she is my friend. I hope that when I am 87, people can say stuff like that about me.

Faster Guns on the Screen

Since I missed my post last week, I'll do two today. Oh, what joy and rapture!

So the new television season recently started - some shows premiered just this past week. And there have already been three cancelled shows -- one of the we really liked. It makes me really wonder what is going on in TV Land (not ON TVLand). I'm trying to figure out what exactly the process of getting these shows together is. I guess it is something like this:
- Creative person comes up with concept
- Creative people write up the concept
- Creative people present concept to uncreative network people
- Uncreative people purchase concept and replace creative people with mindless drones.
- Mindless drones produce watered down version of concept
- Uncreative people show new concept to uncreative focus group
- Uncreative people tell mindless drones to ruin show
- Show premieres - no creative or interesting people like it
- Show gets cancelled

Is that it? I am completely baffled as to how after the entire creation, development, production, testing, and review processes NO ONE understands a show stinks. Do they just hope no one will notice? How can you POSSIBLY know a show needs cancelled after three shows? If it is THAT BAD, it never should have been put out in the first place. If it isn't that, it is some network exec being impatient with a show, and not giving it time to gain an audience. Here are some big questions I have about this.

1. What is the big hurry to cancel a show? Sometimes it takes a while for shows to hit their stride. For examples, Cheers is largely considered one of the best and most successful comedies ever. But it was a ratings loser for its first two or three years. It didn't pick up in ratings until Woody Harrelson joined the cast. By the time it went off the air, it was the number one show. In today's tv market, it never would have had a chance. It would have been axed in those first few years. The same story can be told for Seinfeld. I remember when it came out and it was only watched by a few people. One of my friends, Dave Senes, watched it and tried to get the rest of us to. A few years later, it was number one. So, if a show doesn't perform right away, it gets canned. There is not chance for it to catch an audience. Take Smith on CBS. We really liked the show. It was well acted, exciting, and had great promise. After three shows it was gone. I really think it could have done well - should have done well.

2. You got something better? If there was something better, wouldn't it have been on the lineup in the first place? Smith was pulling in over 9 million people. What could air that is going to pull in nine million people? I don't get it. So CBS had something THAT much better than Smith? NBC had something THAT much better than Kidnapped? You gotta figure they have at least eight or nine shows done by now. It would be better to run repeats and news magazines than those completed shows?

3. If you know it is bad enough to yank, why run it? This is the one that is the opposite of shows like Smith. When Fox cancelled Happy Hour, it was not even close to a surprise. Everyone thought it was stupid. So why did they air it in the first place? Shouldn't SOMEONE along the line said, "Hey, you know, this is just dumb dumb dumb." It completely baffles me.

4. Who do you blame? So, who exactly is to blame for a show like Smith that gets cancelled? Do we blame the actors? Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Amy Smart, Simon Baker, Johnny Lee Miller, Shorheh Aghdashloo. Not a bad cast. You really think they did it wrong? Blame the writers? The jumpy network exec? The one who greenlighted in the first place? America for not liking it? I am surprised the show didn't do better. But there were SOOO many new dramas and serials out this year, I think it just came down to too many options.

Obviously, I have no answers as to what to do. It just makes me wonder every year what happens. Three weeks to prove that a 22 week show is good. How in the world do you do that? That isn't enough time to get word of mouth going. That is the pilot (which is usually uneven) plus two weeks. Really, it is kind of like pulling a movie out of the theatre after one weekend. Kind of dumb, if you ask me. But you didn't, and neither did Les Moonves. Next Sunday, after I have had time to watch all of the shows I plan on watching at least once, I
will give you my assessment of the new season's offerings - both new shows and veteran ones.