Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Death in the (TV) Family

When I learned about the passing of Dick Wilson, TV's Mr. Whipple from the Charmin ads, I cannot say I was overly saddened, but it did make me pause and reflect on some of my wasted youth in front of the television and how TV advertising has changed.

Mr. Whipple, along with Mrs. Olson, the Folger's coffee lady, and Madge the Manicurist for Palmolive dish soap, were staples of TV for two and a half decades. Dick Wilson made 504- that's over 4 hours!- Charmin commercials. Mrs. Olson and Madge also had TV lives that spanned more than a generation. The ads must have been successful because you don't keep going back to the "Ladies, don't squeeze the Charmin," well if the TP ain't moving off the shelves.

Today these ad campaigns wouldn't last more than a TV season and that says as much about how we watch TV as it does about the ads themselves. In the 1970s when Madge had her customers soaking in Palmolive I would have had to get up off the couch and turn the channel to make her go away. Since there were only two other channels I left it on and Madge and the others were begrudgingly allowed to come into our living room. Today with the clicker and the Tivo and downloading episodes from the Internet who watches commercials- especially one's with characters like these three?

The other thing that strikes me about these characters and ad campaigns is the complete lack of irony and sense of humor. In reviewing these spots you can just see comedians like David Letterman waiting to skewer them. In fact an early Letterman memory of mine had him making fun of the Florence Henderson Wesson Oil commercials. Today if a TV spot isn't quick hitting eye candy then it won't last.

So, I am sorry Mr. Whipple, Mrs. Olson and Madge your time has come and gone. I am sure you will live on in You Tube land where people can get there nostalgia and irony in two clicks.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Religion-part 1

I guess it should come as no surprise that organized religion is having an influence on the film business. I am not talking about films like Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ or Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, but rather the impact from new modern day mega-churches and television ministries.

Over the last 10 years I have had more and more students come to class with film production experience not from their high schools but through their churches. Many churches have youth groups devoted towards filmmaking. Many of those same churches also have expensive cameras, switchers capable of creating a live TV broadcasts, and advanced editing suites.

Who would have thunk it?

I have seen my share of church-produced films and I have yet seen one that made me really take notice. What I have seen is a lot of young people having fun, going on outings and generally making a high end home movie. Not bad really, but like most home movies, of no interest to anyone who isn't part of that family.

So I don't really know what to make of this church based filmmaking. I assume it is a way to get more young people interested in the church. But what is the goal? I don't see it as a training ground for young filmmakers. Is it the modern day equivalent of an ice cream social? "Hey everyone come over to our sanctuary and let's make a movie?"

By contrast a student recently showed me the trailer for a feature film his high school made. And based on the two minute trailer it was really terrific. I could see the student filmmakers learning craft and taking something from it. It was not a home movie. Maybe this is an example of the separation of church and state.

I dunno. More on this topic later.


Sunday, November 18, 2007


This is a picture of my friend Craig walking the WGA picket line in Los Angeles earlier this week. His TV show, Unhitched, for Fox is on hold due to the strike and Craig walked the line in support of the writers.

The day before Criag sent me the photo a former student and teaching assistant of mine who is now in Los Angeles e-mailed me to say she, too, was walking the line in support of the writers. Eliza Hajek is not a celebrity actress but an up and coming editor. She was offered an assistant editor position on Grey's Anatomy, but the show and job is on hold due to the strike.

I think these two stories really highlight some of the overlooked issues of the strike. While Craig is a successful actor who has money in the bank (though I am pretty sure he still owes me $50 from 20 years ago) and can ride out a strike, Eliza and her brethren are a few pay grades lower and while not living paycheck to paycheck, still need to pay the bills. I am glad to see them both on the line putting a different face on the battle between the writers and producers. And for everyone's sake I hope the strike ends soon.