Hit & Run: Television will eat itself
Tuesday 22 September 2009
As per last year, Mad Men and 30 Rock won the awards for Best Drama and Best Comedy respectively at Sunday's Emmy Awards in LA. The shows are set a few New York City blocks from one another, and – despite a chronological separation of almost 50 years – have more than just Midtown Manhattan in common.
The subject of US TV drama's big critical and commercial hits used to be police, political or legal procedurals: Hill Street Blues, The West Wing and LA Law each harvested four Best Drama Emmys in their time. Winning comedies were once based around families (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Cosby Show) or friendship groups (Friends, Cheers).
Now, however, the media is as much a part of life as crime, the family or the local bar, and as such warrants its own televisual genre: the media procedural. For instance, 2009 audiences are sufficiently self-aware to admire Mad Men, a drama about an advertising agency, which shows just how marketing professionals play on the hopes and fears of audiences.
30 Rock, meanwhile, is a television comedy about the making of a television comedy. Its creator and star, Tina Fey, is a former head writer on Saturday Night Live, of which 30 Rock is a thinly-veiled version. 30 Rock frequently squeezes humour from the backstage tension between art and commerce, as head writer Liz Lemon (Fey) does battle with her corporate-minded boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). It has won the Emmy for Best Comedy three years in a row.
Among other examples of the media procedural is Entourage, a sitcom about a friendship group – but one that happens to centre around a young movie star. It was recently recommissioned for a seventh series. And the latest series of Curb Your Enthusiasm, about a comedy writer called Larry David (written by and starring a comedy writer called Larry David), shows him putting together a reunion episode of Seinfeld, with the Seinfeld cast playing themselves.
It's no surprise that critics enjoy television shows about the media, nor that the Academy's members vote for dramas and comedies that reflect their lives behind the scenes. So is this trend a response to the sophistication of audiences, or does it demonstrate writers' lack of imagination? Viewers remain unconvinced by the prize-winners – Mad Men gets just two million Americans tuning in each week. At their peaks, ER and Friends each boasted over three times that number.
The BBC's Little Dorrit also had a great night, taking seven Emmys. That was a critical and commercial success – but then it could hardly claim to demonstrate greater imagination than the media procedurals: Dickens published the novel on which it was based in 1857. Tim Walker
Yum and dumber: the new mega-burgers are no joke
For months now the fast food industry has been sticking two salty fingers up at the recession as empty pockets lead diners to cheaper food. So what do you do when you're on to a good thing? You go big, of course. Really big. The "salad era" prompted by Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me is over – in gloomy times it is grease, not greens that get the tills ringing.
At McDonald's, burger lovers are even "supersizing" the unsupersizable. How do you make a Quarter Pounder bigger? Easy – slap on another 38 grams and call it a Third Pounder, above. The gut-busting sandwich, made of Angus beef, is proving a hit in the US as the chain tries to bite into the growing market for "posh" burgers.
Burger King has never shied away from promoting the considerable heft of its products and recently unleashed on its American customers an item called the Meat'normous Omelet Sandwich.
But for a lunch that threatens not so much to clog ones arteries as to petrify them we turn to KFC for a new snack so alarming that when it was quietly trialled in two US states this month many people believed it was a satirical swipe at the growing trend for bigger, badder burgers. But it's only too real: the Double Down Chicken Sandwich encloses two slices of bacon, cheese and the chain's "Colonel's Sauce" not inside two buns but – wait for it – two deep-fried breaded chicken fillets.
Let Hit & Run repeat. That's a chicken burger with chicken on the outside (because bread's waaay too healthy). Fortunately, there are no plans for the Double Down, the Meat'normous nor even the Third Pounder to make it big on this side of the Atlantic – yet. Simon Usborne
Man-ogrammed shoes are the Pitts
Until now, H&R has overlooked Brad Pitt's frequent but relatively-minor crimes against fashion. Now, at a Spanish film festival, he repays our forbearance with this: a pair of "man-ogrammed" evening slippers with "BP" spelled out in golden frogging. Que?
Let's rewind to Pitt's presumed state of mind earlier that evening. "Black suit, black shirt," he says, checking his reflection in the hotel mirror. "No tie. And shoes? Those new ones with my initials on. Mine and Beatrix Potter's and Bob Paisley's and British Petroleum's. Sweet." Brad, Popsy, we'll spell it out. They are Bad Pumps. A Bit of a Pose. Beyond Parlous. Susie Rushton
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