Saturday, January 30, 2010

How to report the TV news so that it's totally awesome

Me has this report:

Here is British journalist and comedian Charlie Brooker with this hilarious deconstruction of how to report the TV news. Don't forget the "obligatory shots of overweight people with their faces subtly framed out!"

Thanks to Sam for tweeting this link.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Highlights from Directions Business Conference 2010

Communications consultant and former CNN reporter Jackie Shymanski (left) and a roundtable of famous RRC students.

Another year, another fine RRC Directions Business Conference.

I always enjoy the conference for the networking: gossiping, griping, teasing, joking around, wine consumption, and spontaneous bursts of hugging - uh, maybe that's all just me - but this year I also had the good fortune to happen upon a pretty fine slate of guest speakers.

Among the highlights:

1. Jason Wortzman, Granny's Poultry

Jason walked us through his brilliant career as a chef in France, India, Israel, London, and Winnipeg, and in marketing some of Manitoba's classic brands, like Bothwell Cheese and Granny's Poultry.

I get hungry listening to people talk about food, which explains why I found myself craving Italian black summer truffles for the rest of the day.

Highlights from his speech:
  • "When you get the experience, go back to your hometown, and embrace all of the local ingredients. Eating local and regional cuisine is a philosophy, not a food."
  • "The most important, affordable way to get your message out in the food industry is through your packaging and logo; they have to tell a story."
  • "PR, special events, community relations, interactive Web design, online ordering, and contests are all important elements in a marketing plan."
  • "Get a PR agency to make everything you do a big story." He used the word "spin," but I won't.
  • "No amount of marketing will save a bad product."
Coming soon to Granny's:
  • A new logo and re-branding of Granny's. Or is that a re-granning of Brandy's? Says Wortzman: "It's a revolution rather than an evolution of the brand."
  • Granny's Wing Stix in Dijon rosemary and honey mustard flavors.
  • Heritage turkey flocks: more expensive, premium turkeys with darker meat, more protein, and a pronounced flavor.

2. Kyle Romaniuk and Chuck Phillips, Cocoon Branding

Kyle and Chuck are brand advocates - brandvocates, I tell you! - who talked about all things branding in their presentation: research, strategy, profit, value, growth, innovation, culture, and the creative environment.

I didn't take many notes, because I prefer to have my mind become one with the brandscape (insert Avatar reference here), which it did, especially when the guys talked about their new Oi sofa.

The sofa, try to follow me here, started out as "a concept of a brand." What if, they asked not too long ago, "products could adapt to people's lives, needs, and ever-changing sense of style?"

The answer was Oi: a sofa in a box that you can build into the sofa of your dreams. All you do is attach the interlocking blocks into the arrangement of your choice, place them on the base, and rearrange them when you get sick of the old configuration.

Yeah, you can really buy it - for $2,849 USD - but if you don't have Kenton Larsen money, you can also follow Oi on Twitter.

Sofa King good: Kyle Romaniuk talks creative environment.

3. Rachel Shane, Red Wagon Entertainment

As it said in the title of her presentation, Rachel Shane made it from Portage and Main to Hollywood and Vine, starting her career by fetching coffees and makin' copies on the Mask of Zorro to having a film in development with Leo DiCaprio.

Highlights from her speech:
  • Rachel's down-to-Earth presentation was befitting of her hometown: "Being from Winnipeg - you're friendly," she said.
  • Will all movies in the future be in 3D, like Avatar? "Yes," she deadpanned. But she followed that up by saying that all "action" movies would likely be 3D with romantic comedies continuing to be 2D, the way romantic comedy fans like them.
  • Rachel quit law school at UBC after one year in order to work in film. "I didn't want to be another asshole lawyer driving a BMW," she said. "So I moved to L.A. where everyone is another asshole lawyer driving a BMW."
  • Most embarrassing movie with which (or witch) she's ever been associated:

4. Apple surprise x 2!

One for me, one for my imaginary manservant, Ruprecht.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ad and PR students go Postel on the Edge Gallery campaign

Inside the Edge.

Art, commerce. Commerce, art.

This semester, the Ad and PR majors will be putting together three group campaigns for client Serena Postel (see her video, below) and the Edge Gallery and Urban Art Centre.

The gallery is a non-profit organization located at 611 Main St., offering artist-members opportunities to put on exhibits, concerts, and creative workshops.

The students' aim is to drive memberships - artists, students, and corporate - and build awareness among everyone else who might want to go check out one or more of these events.

We visit the gallery on Monday afternoon to meet our client; afterward, the majors have just over eight weeks to put together and present a series of recommendations for implementing a promotional strategy.

The Ad and PR majors will be presenting their campaigns to the client and first-year students in the guest-lecture slot on Thursday, April 8 at 11 a.m. in the Great-West Life Lecture Theatre (the majors' second-last day of CreComm ever).

Big thanks to CreComm grad, advisory committee member, and owner of RAS Creative RoseAnna Schick for recommending the Edge Gallery as a client.

Not My Wave from Serena Postel on Vimeo.

Update: our visit to the Edge:

The front entrance, facing Main Street.

Serena and "the kids."

I believe the children are the future.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Don't smoke - we know who you are!!

If you are "Hungary" for great food or signage, look no further than the Regina Hungarian Cultural & Social Club.

I love the very idea of this sign on the men's room door, which claims to know who's doing the smoking. But if you know who's doing the smoking, why hang the sign when you could just give the offender a knock to the noggin?

And why put the quotation marks around "No?" And phrase the rule as a prediction?

A miracle of graphic design and communications...but, I swear to God, the crepes, schnitzel, and perogies kick ass!

I'm alive! Memories of my drive from Saskatchewan...

I had a helluva time doing stand-up at the German Club of Regina this weekend.

Best joke: "This is cool being at the German Club. Before this, the only German Club I ever heard of was the one that invaded Poland in 1939."
Worst joke: "I'm from Winnipeg, so my lucky number is 13. The number of players on the Saskatchewan team when they won the Grey Cup! Oh, yeah, they lost the Grey Cup. Sorry."

If the beer flowed, and the dancing erred on the side of polka, the ride home was a nightmarish wake-up call of darkness, snow, and despair.

Drive from Portage la Prairie to Winnipeg: three hours.

I did, and still do, need a drink...

I am alone in the universe. Except for that car coming right at me.

The ice planet of Hoth.

Look: nothing!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dear Leno'Brien: thanks for the memories!

Conan's pain is late-night TV's gain.

It doesn't matter whether you're on Team Coco, Big-Jawed Jay, or Carson Daly - just kidding, there's no such team! - for the first time in recent memory, late night matters again.

No more can talk-show guests simply tell stories about Robin Williams being "quite a prankster on the set," or say, "I have no idea what we're about to see" when they set up a clip. No, now they actually have to weigh in on their allegiance in the late-night wars, take a side, and have the courage of their convictions to defend it.

Sadly, it looks like things are beginning to wind down, though we can look forward to Conan's last show tomorrow night, the renewed Leno versus Letterman feud when Leno returns to the Tonight Show, and the return of Conan when he lands at another network and launches a new show (minus the masturbating bear).

And the great, national pastime will become a ratings watch, as we spend our time wishing, hoping, and praying that Leno has a major crash and burn, proving that NBC was wrong yet again.

As the dust clears, here are the winners and losers as I see them:

I. Winners:
  • Jimmy Kimmel

One of the greatest things I've ever seen on TV is Jimmy Kimmel slamming Leno on his own show, to the apparent horror of Leno and his audience.

And that was the day after Kimmel did the first part of his show as Leno himself, a scathing impression it was, complete with chin, lisp, and witless banter, Leno-style.

I didn't know that Kimmel had it in him, but he does, and now I'll watch his show forever.
  • Conan O'Brien

Before this whole mess, the general consensus among Conan fans was that his Tonight Show was pretty weak, and nowhere near the brilliance of his work on Late Night - a show on which I interned as a researcher in 1994.

I worked on Conan's show with Maggie Wright, daughter of then NBC President Robert Wright. Every day, she had another bad-news story about Conan's chances as host: "They've offered Late Night to Greg Kinnear," she told me one day.

Had Kinnear actually taken up NBC on the offer, Conan would've lost Late Night 15 years ago, and that would've been that.

But now, Conan's become a modern-day folk hero: the nice guy screwed over by "the man," solidifying Team Coco's brand loyalty and ensuring that he has a dedicated fan base for all time. Way to screw the pooch, NBC.
  • David Letterman

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and Letterman has served it up to Leno night after night after night, culminating in the above clip, where he mocks Leno's fake high fives with the audience, and accuses him of stealing his material, Howard Stern's material, and Howard Stern's announcer.

Letterman was in Conan's position 15 years ago, so he can relate - but, even better, Letterman is a performer who is funniest when he's angry, as Sarah Palin, John McCain, and now Leno know only too well.

Over the past two weeks, Letterman's sermons from the desk have grown more and more biting. On a recent show, he reminded his audience that Leno once hid in a closet to listen in on an NBC conference call. Later in the show, Kiefer Sutherland showed up in a dress, and made a joke about coming out of the closet "with Jay Leno."
  • Craig Ferguson

Just as funny as always! Sorry, Jay, this man - not you - has the funniest monologue on TV.

II. Losers:

  • Jay Leno

Only Jay would practice damage control by trying to position himself as a victim, which he's done with depressing regularity and ineptitude.

In the above clip, he reaches the lowest of the low, asking people not to blame Conan O'Brien. Uh...I don't think anyone was blaming Conan.

In the wake of the scandal, Conan's ratings have skyrocketed as Jay's brand has sunk to greater depths with each passing day. Now everyone can't wait for Jay to fail at the Tonight Show, which - let's hope - he will do as quickly as possible.

Get ready for a rocky return to the Tonight Show, complete with syrupy speech and waterworks from the guy who's used to people loving him and can't seem to understand why they've stopped.
  • Carson Daly
No one's ever really thought about Daly before this mess, and now they're only doing it to point out how no one cares about him one way or another.

His lack of impact on anything and anyone was parodied on last week's SNL and Letterman helpfully pointed out that the difference between not having a show and having Carson Daly's show is negligible at best:

Runner up for irrelevance: Jimmy Fallon, whoever that is.
  • NBC
The network that once had the Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Cheers, Friends, and invented must-see TV is now a sad shell of its former self.

NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has become a household name for all the wrong reasons and NBC Universal Chairman of Sports (no kidding!) Dick Ebersol took the network from low-class to no-class, slamming Conan and Letterman at once as "chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn't beat in the ratings."
  • The Daily Show
So, let's say the biggest story in late night ever happened and Jon Stewart only mentioned it on his show once. That would be, like, totally lame, right?

Time was, we'd get "comedy" on the Daily Show. Now we get Stewart mugging at the camera and shouting in lieu of "punchlines."

I think Stephen Colbert is just the man to replace him. Wait a I smell a new late-night feud?

Let's sit back, relax, and watch the fireworks, shall we?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's your five-year mission, Sulu?

The USS Enterprise's mission statement was so heavy, they had to call in William Shatner to recite it.

Get a life. Or a purpose. Or a room. Or a mattress.

And once you do, then what? Why, it's time for you to write a personal mission statement!

When it comes to personal mission statements, or maybe just mission statements in general, you're probably in one of two camps:
1. "Hooray, I now have direction and meaning in life!"

2. "Boo, mission statements are for losers!"
It's true that some people are overly serious about having a personal mission statement, taking decades to write it, only to find that when they're finally finished, they have no home, friends, or gainful employment.

PR guru Sarah Evans stands by hers which, she says, took her five years to compose:
“I run unabashedly free through this one life, without fear. I embrace the unexpected. I believe in abundance. I live.”
It also doesn't help that most corporate mission statements reek of corporate jargon, platitudes, and empty promises and only exist because they were the least offensive choice on the list of possibilities.

There are exceptions, like Disney's no-bullshit mission statement: "To make people happy."

By the same token, not having a mission in life seems kind of empty, like if the USS Enterprise was just supposed to "fly around space and look for crap." Sure, it could be done, but that doesn't mean it ought to be.

Who among us, really, couldn't use more help in making life decisions, getting motivated, and keeping our chins up? Can I have a show of chins?

PR class mission statement '10

It's with that spirit that my students write a mission statement for our PR class each year. Of course, it also has something to do with learning how to put together a PR proposal and/or advertising plansbook, but it's mostly for the fun and camaraderie of it all.

Here's how it works:

Each student composes one mission statement for themselves and their group's magazine (the big project this semester), then takes a shot at writing one for the PR class. I shortlist the candidates to five or six and the rest of the class votes on them.

Every year, we get some surprises, like last year when Jenette's was, "To kill Kenton Larsen." OK, I made that up, but it was something like that, and so well delivered that we all died laughing and made her say it three times.

Today was a similarly fun experience with class one's own Eman the Wingman writing the first mission statement that you can't just say, but must also act out.

The mission statement: "To propagate, not contaminate."

The actions: when you say, "to propagate," you sweep out your arm, as if addressing a large gathering of friends, Romans, and countrymen; when you say, "not contaminate," you sweep your arm in front of you in "the serious actor" pose: elbow pointing down, fist at the chin, and solemn frown.

Maybe you had to be there.

The PR class mission statement hall of fame

"To learn Kenton's ways so that we may one day take his place."
- Ray Brickwood (class of '08)

"You can't spell party without PR."
- Will Cooke (class of '09)

"Share some laughs, share some beers, share some work (just kidding, that's plagiarism!). Share some tears, shake some hands, walk away the better for it all."
- Thor Blondal (class of '10)

"To propagate, not contaminate."
- Eman the Wingman (class of '11)

Find your purpose

If you want to find your purpose, check out FranklinCovey's Personal Mission Statement Builder, and listen to Avenue Q's "Purpose:"

Gotta go find my purpose!


I've just been emailed the best mission statement I've ever heard:

“To do the shit I need to do so I can go to bed on time.”

The first mission statement that's truly applicable to everyone!

Monday, January 18, 2010

McNally Robinson bookstore: can and should it be saved?

Cheer up, bookstore.

We may soon be closing the book on bookstores.

At least that's what crossed my mind yesterday as I spent a couple of hours shopping at McNally Robinson's Grant Park location.

I love shopping for books, and at that bookstore in particular, but my goal yesterday wasn't shopping for shopping's sake: I had over $140 in McNally gift cards and I thought I'd better spend them before the store closes for good.

Of course, I have no insider information whatsoever that this location will shut down soon or ever, but by now everybody knows that the bookstore recently filed for bankruptcy protection, closing two of its stores - including the big one at Polo Park - citing a bad economy and competition from e-books and the Internet.

The Free Press' Morley Walker says the store was "expanding too fast" and taking on "too much debt."

(Disclaimer: the Polo Park McNally store never had the magical vibe of the Grant Park location, or the old Portage Place location for that matter, so it didn't surprise me that it would be the one to close: too much "stuff" and not enough "vibe.")

So, I spent my gift certificates and $40 more on ANNA and Monocle magazines, two travel books on Iceland, Ken Auletta's Googled, Mike Thomas' Second City Unscripted, Carie McLaren's Ad Nauseam, and Bob Newhart's 1967 comedy CD, This is It (not to be confused with the Michael Jackson film!).

With my purchases in hand, I felt like a noble conservationist, the Jack Hanna of the bookstore set, doing my part to save an endangered species.

Then I thought about it:
  • I used gift certificates for the bulk of the purchase, which means that McNally Robinson already had that money when it filed for bankruptcy protection.
  • I take my Kindle out on the town constantly, and complete strangers ask me to see it. When I hand it over, they're wowed and instantly want to buy one. My friend just ordered one for her dad, and another friend - an avowed book lover - ordered the large and small versions of the device.
  • Finally, I've downloaded the free Kindle app onto my iPhone, which allows me to start reading a book on the Kindle, then continue to read it on my iPhone right where I left off. Cool! But am I helping to shut down bookstores while I'm at it? Not cool!
The argument

I love technology and I love books, so what am I supposed to do? I've recently expressed this dilemma to some of my friends, and been surprised by the two very different reactions that I've been getting in response:

Reaction 1:
"We have to shop at McNally Robinson as much as possible to keep the store afloat."
Reaction 2:
"I've been ordering books from Amazon for 10 years, and if McNally couldn't see this coming and can't run their business so they make money, that's their problem."
I can see both arguments.

On one hand, my consumer needs are being better met than ever before. I order and download stuff from Amazon at least 10 times a year, which I've been doing since pretty much the birth of the site.

Unlike a lot of people, I've never had a problem with entering my credit card number online, especially after discovering that Amazon actually works: the stuff often arrives at my front door just two days after I order it - from the U.S. and the U.K.

After hundreds of orders, I've only ever had two problems: once sent me an empty CD case instead of one with a CD in it, and once sent me five Magnetic Fields CDs I ordered - twice!

I actually tracked down a customer service number, called the company, and the kindly gentleman said, "Since the cost would be prohibitive to send them back, just keep them." No problemo, kind sir!

McNally, on the other hand, is a local institution. It's made for browsing and impulse buys (unlike websites, which aren't). There are always great friends and interesting strangers hanging out there. It's the best place in town to buy local books, and go to the book signings to get them autographed. The people who work there know their books. And it just feels nice to be there.

But I used to feel that way about music stores. Now, I still browse in the few remaining music stores - HMV, Music Trader, Into the Music - and I still love them, but rarely do I make a purchase of any significance: I've got thousands of CDs at home, not to mention song downloads on my iPod and iTunes, and free music videos on YouTube, so how much more music do I really need in my life?

The iPod showed us that everyone could have the exact same music collection, but what really mattered was the device. The Kindle does the same for books - people notice the device, but no one asks you what you're reading on it; for all they know, you're staring at a blank screen.

The future of the bookstore?

The best hope for the bookstore is to play up the things we love about it - the experience! - link it to the convenience of buying books in a variety of formats, and to find new ways to get us to pay for the privilege.

Maybe the future of the bookstore will be something along the lines of a library meets book club meets coffee shop meets social club meets entertainment venue: you pay an annual fee to read, borrow, print, or download anything you like, attend events, drink coffee, and hang out with your friends.

If the act of reading isn't about the content, then it's got to be about the device or the bookstore. If it's not about the bookstore, then before we know it, McNally Robinson will only be in the business of selling nostalgia.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Objectified, fetishized, and sexualized - and that's just the toothbrush

Objectified: every object is sexy.

Are you taking your toothbrush for granted? For shame.

I got Objectified today. Not in that way. I downloaded Gary Hustwit's very cool documentary about the functionality, serenity, power, mystery, and magic in a toothbrush, a chair, a potato peeler, and every object on Earth that's designed by anyone.

The movie examines our relationship with these objects and the value we bestow on them by going deep into the world of the people who design them for a living, and who regularly must consider such existential questions as, "What do we want from a chair?"

It's not as simple an answer as you might think.

The film opens with a mass-produced plastic chair coming off an automated assembly line - the process is hypnotizing, so it's a little surprising when a human being becomes involved, carefully whittling away the excess plastic to make sure that each chair looks right and does what it's supposed to do.

Mass production meets craftsmanship. Let's party!

Gleeful nerds unite!

Hustwit also made the excellent documentary, Helvetica, about everyone's favorite typeface. Objectified, like that film, is full of clever artists, eccentrics, geniuses, and gleeful nerds, who can laugh at themselves for deeply contemplating the minutiae that most of us wouldn't give a second thought.

Maybe they take the bullet so we don't have to.

I love any documentary where smart and thoughtful people speak at length about anything, and Objectified doesn't disappoint:
  • French designers and brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec speak about their divergent natures - one's hidebound and moody ("the porcupine," they say) and the other is more diplomatic ("the fox") - and passionately opine on one of their inventions: a chair that not only looks great, but serves its purpose well: to allow drunk Australians to plunk themselves down without hurting themselves.
  • Braun designer Dieter Rams provides good advice for designers, writers, and advertisers everywhere: "Good design should be about as little design as possible." (While you're at it, check out his awesome Ten Principles for Good Design).
  • Designer Karim Rashid suggests that, because laptops only last a few years, they should be made out of sugarcane. Sign me up.
  • Designer David Kelley says that the goal for all designers should be to design things that don't wear out, but get better with use: like the briefcase that his father gave him and looks better and better every day he uses it.
Objects and the environment

As the film progresses, it expands its scope from "stuff" to sustainability, advertising, and psychology: what are the objects you would take with you if your house was on fire and you only had a few minutes to get out?

Of course, there's an inherent conflict between designer and marketer: a good designer should consider what will happen to an object when it wears out or gets thrown away, but a good marketer wants people to buy and consume his or her product in greater quantities all of the time.

Consider, for instance, what a toothbrush would look like if it was designed to last a lifetime. In the film, we see a group of designers doing just that after one of them discovers a toothbrush that they designed washed up on a secluded beach in Fiji.

Future advertising assignment!

Leave it to my favorite advertising columnist and author, Rob Walker, to come up with some of the film's wisest insights, not to mention a future assignment for my ad class.

Walker openly dreams of an ad campaign that would get people to enjoy the things they already own.

"We have so many things we don't even think about," he says. "At the end of the day, what really has value?"

I'm not sure. But I do know that I'll never take my toothbrush for granted again.

Objectified is available on DVD, and for download on iTunes and Apple TV.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Flavorless Oscar Meyer campaign "doesn't get better than this"

Get lost, kid: there's a new campaign in town.

My flavorless ad campaign has a first name: it's O-S-C-A-R.

Oscar Meyer is unveiling its new TV spots - part of a new $50 million campaign - during the Golden Globes on Sunday, but is forgoing its usual jingles and themelines for something decidedly more McDonald's.

But instead of "I'm Lovin' It," Oscar Meyer is embracing, "It doesn't get better than this."

It does, actually.

Like the McDonald's campaign, the Oscar Meyer themeline is so broad that you could use it to advertise anything you'd like: batteries, underwear, Gatorade, legal services, tractors, porn, get the idea.

Whenever a generic, feel-good ad campaign like this comes along, I imagine the boardroom pitch where the ad agency (in this case, New York's McGarry Bowen) wins over the client not with new and resonant creative, but by serving up a heapin' helpin' of something so vague, inoffensive, happy, and bland that it's the only thing that all concerned can agree on.

As Tracy Morgan says in his autobiography, "It's easy to find the middle of the road when the highway is eight lanes wide."

Speaking of: there's nothing more MOR than the new song written for the campaign by Joy Williams, who has written tunes for American Idol contestants. Although it features a glockenspiel - the magic ingredient to every song - it makes Sheryl Crow sound like Morrissey by comparison:
"It's pure bliss, my world is brighter, sheer happiness when we're together - it doesn't get better, it doesn't get better than this. Whoa-oh-oh-oh."
If I were more cynical, I'd suggest that the "we" could only mean "me and my wiener," given the product category, but I'm not, so I won't.

You can hear the song ad nauseam here and - while you're at it - fill in your answer to the provocative question, "It doesn't get better than (blank)."

I said "Jay Leno," and signed it "Conan." See what I did there?

"It doesn't get better, it doesn't get better than..." belch.

Ten things that crossed my mind at last night's Tegan and Sara show

1. Is that Tegan or Sara?

2. Ultimate cage match: Tegan and Sara versus the Watson Twins. Winners fight the Proclaimers.

3. I wish that guy behind me would stop breathing, coughing, and spitting on my neck.

4. I wonder what Dave, Jimmy, and Conan are saying about big-jawed Jay right about now?

5. Tegan and Sara demographic: screaming, 16-year-old girls. Me: grumpy, old, bald man. Cue hilarity.

6. When someone asks, "Where do we go?" you should respond by shouting "Ah-ah!"

7. A glockenspiel makes every song even better than it already is.

8. Tegan = talkative. Sara = silent.

9. If I adopted Tegan and Sara, bought a big, multi-colored bus, and we went on the road together as the Larsen Family...that would totally rule.

10. Well, I'll be durned: singin' twins!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hey, kids, reading is...creepy and hellish!

Hell probably doesn't exist, but if it does, it will look exactly like this poster, which I ran across today outside HMV at Portage Place.

Hey, kids: buy books at HMV and read about fascinating and cool things like: V for Vendetta, Twilight, True Blood, John Lennon, the Da Vinci Code, King.

Come to think of it, kids: just go play some video games.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How can you tell that a man is in love?

They should've called it one day of Han Solo.

I finally watched 500 Days of Summer, a ridiculously fun and bittersweet movie that came out so long ago that this might qualify as the most ridiculously late "news" item of all time. And I knock newspapers!

But I have to say that the filmmakers got something just right:

You can only tell that a man is in love, first, when he sees Han Solo's reflection in a window and it winks back at him:

Kind of reminds me of that creepy Viagra ad:

And, second, when Hall and Oates' "You Make my Dreams" plays in his head and it turns into a full-scale Busby Berkeley number:

If Mark Hamill appears when a guy looks in a window, or a guy dances openly to Private Eyes - run for your life.

The last time I'll ever be able to do this "hilarious" bit on The Beaver magazine

The Beaver is changing its name. Something about it being mistaken as porn by online filters. Go figure!

I used to do a bit on The Beaver magazine in my stand-up act. Sadly it will expire in about another couple of weeks, if that. The bit and the act.

RIP, The Beaver. And RIP this "hilarious" bit:
"Think about this scary fact: kids growing up now have computers in their rooms from which they can access porn anytime they like. A porn portal! And I resent that... because when we were kids, we used to have to work hard for our porn!"

"We'd have to put on a disguise. Sneak around the store, look for the dirty magazines section. Take one off the stand, tip toe to the checkout. Lower your voice: "How much for the Beaver magazine, kind sir?" Sneak it home, wait for my parents to fall asleep, and get out my flashlight."

"And then it was, "Ahhhhh - what have you got for me The Beaver magazine! What!? It's a Canadian History magazine!? OK, I guess I'll read about the invention of Medicare."

"Six hours later, I'd wake up drenched in sweat, "Wow - Tommy Douglas was the greatest Canadian!"
Wah, wah, wah.

Long live "Canada's History" magazine!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Norm MacDonald's prescient warning to Conan O'Brien

Note: the above video seems to be fading in and out. You can see it at its source here.

Conan should've listened to Norm MacDonald when he appeared as a guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien less than a year ago.

In the famous appearance, MacDonald tells Conan he's been "outfoxed again" by Jay Leno:
"Your agent's like...remember that discussion we had where you said "I'll never have to fucking follow Leno again?"
Uh, yeah, Conan remembers:

The recent announcement by NBC - that Leno will move to O'Brien's starting time to do a 30-minute show and Conan will be moved back half an hour to 11 - is hugely humiliating to Conan.

I don't think there's any way in hell that he'll stick around NBC, for these reasons:

1. FOX has already said the network would give O'Brien a show. O'Brien has already worked at FOX on the Simpson's.

2. ABC has no late night entertainment show at that hour and, in the past, has proved willing to move Nightline.

3. Conan idolizes David Letterman. When NBC screwed Letterman over, he went to CBS, where he's been successful for years. Inspiration for Conan!

Dear Bill Carter: please write a sequel to the Late Shift.

Update: I just noticed that Dave Shorr scooped me on this. Curse you, Dave Shorr!

Special K sells hope like Dove soap

Isn't this special?

When I was a kid, Special K was for men, women, and children; you'd eat it for breakfast one day a year when you got sick of the Corn Flakes you'd eaten for breakfast on the other 364 days.

In recent years, it's been pushed at women as a dietary plan under the banner, the Special K Challenge!

Now comes a new campaign called, the Victory Project, which features "real women" in the same vein of the famous Dove Real Beauty campaign, functioning as a catch-all beauty, health, and fashion destination, like a What Not to Wear and Queer Eye sponsored by Tony the Tiger.

Talk about proving the old marketing adage, "Don't sell soap, sell hope!"

Special K even asks U.S. women to audition to be a cast member on the site, to show the path "from plan to victory." How does the plan work? By eating a lot of Special K multiple times a day, of course.

This has been the goal of the cereal and beverage industry for some time: the golden prize that comes from getting users to be "repeat users;" the thinking being that it's easier to get someone to drink Coke at breakfast who already drinks it at lunch than it is to get someone who doesn't drink Coke at all to start doing it.

This is why there are recipes on the side of cereal boxes, the reason that cereal bars exist, and the reason why a diet and fashion plan with cereal at its heart is a marketer's dream come true. If it works, of course.

The Times quotes Jose Alberto Duenas, Kellogg's vice-president of cereal marketing:
“We’re trying to be faithful to giving real women a place to declare victory without the piece feeling overwhelmed by what the brand brings to the table. If you want to make a connection, you have to give consumers a chance to take part of the spotlight. Authenticity is what we’re looking for.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Your advertising is in my art!

Is it art or advertising?

That question has plagued mankind since the beginning of time, even before Andy Warhol painted 32 Campbell's Soup cans in 1962 - one painting for every flavor that Campbell's offered at the time.

Warhol also painted portraits of Coca-Cola bottles, which he explained by saying:
"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too.

"A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the president knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."
Winnipeg is a mosaic, why not Jack Daniel's?

I thought about the old "art versus commerce" debate this morning when I had coffee with Winnipeg artist, Dimitry Melman Komar, perhaps best known for his City of Winnipeg logo and coat of arms mosaics at City Hall and the Sugar Mountain jelly bean mural at The Forks (download the pdf here).

Dimitry is an interesting guy; he was born in Moscow and immigrated to Canada at age 18, where he studied art history and design at the University of Manitoba. He also trained in France, and learned about mosaics in Italy, Spain, and Morocco.

When he creates a mosaic, he does so with painstaking detail, creating each one the only way it can be created: one piece at a time. It is, without a doubt, art.

Flipping through his portfolio, I couldn't help but notice the above Jack Daniel's mosaic among the art, which he did as a private commission for a client. Interesting that the person could've commissioned a mosaic of a loved one, a pet, an original work of art - anything! - and he (it's gotta be a guy) chose Jack Daniel's.

Now that's brand loyalty. And art!

Should more ads be art?

If more people - advertisers and the target audiences who buy their products - thought of campaigns as "installations" and we created them the way that Dimitry creates mosaics, we might not mind the advertising clutter as much as we do now.

However, it's also true that advertising has a job to do - sell, sell, sell! - and there are those who say that once it becomes too much about "art" and not enough about "selling" that it's time to quit your job in advertising and become a painter.

But where's the money in that?

There's nothing wrong with subtlety, depth, and resonance. The problem is that it's hard for an ad agency to justify "art" to a client, who - go figure - may not see the need to forgo short-term sales for long-term positive effects on the soul.

Actually, it would be nice to have both. I'm sure that there's a sweet spot that exists somewhere between, "God, that's dumb," and "too hip for the room." The Beatles proved that it exists, but maybe there's a reason that precious few other bands ever have.

The best solution may be to just sign up for some of Dimitry's mosaic workshops, which include "snacks, wine, and music in a supportive, nurturing, and fun environment."

If that's not art, I don't know what is.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brooklyn soda in da house and on da floor: Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda

Manhattan Special before...

...and after.

Would you like a little soda with your caffeine and sugar?

On my last visit to New York, I took Bobby Pinn's great Rock Junket Tour - a walking tour of the East Village - a rock, punk, and glam all-inclusive.

At the end of the tour, Bobby gives you a homemade brochure with his list of must-sees in the city, including riding the Cyclone at Coney Island and having an egg cream soda at the Gem Spa.

Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda to go

Having gleefully thrown my neck out on the Cyclone and gulped an egg cream soda at the New York Dolls' old hangout, I wanted to accomplish the next item on the list, which is to drink a Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda.

The beverage is surprisingly difficult to find: I couldn't track it down at a single New York deli (where the brochure said I could), and when I emailed the company, I got back a grammatically incorrect auto-response that said that I couldn't get it in Winnipeg or North Dakota.

But my prayers were answered recently when my mother came back from Brooklyn - home of the Manhattan Special since 1895! - and scored me two bottles of the stuff, one of which I brought to school today for a student taste test. More on that in a second.

"The story"

In advertising these days, everything is about "the product story" and Manhattan Special has a good one:
"Take a little pride and a little loving care, that's what has been going into the production of Manhattan Special since 1895.

"As the original and award-winning Pure Espresso Coffee Soda, we have satisfied loyal consumers with our family's secret recipe for over 100 years.

"Our unique blend of the world's finest coffee beans (which are hand brewed to perfection), along with the use of pure cane sugar, has allowed us to create a truly delicious coffee experience!"

Although the company uses my least-favorite advertising word, "unique," who can resist the allure of "secret recipe," "100 years," and "truly delicious?" Not me!

The company's website is full of comments from satisfied New Yorkers, and is beloved in the tri-state area as something of a high-octane Pic-a-Pop. One typical comment (I couldn't resist correcting the typos, though I know I'm not supposed to do it in a direct quotation - sorry!):
"What goes better with a Panella sandwich but an ICE COLD MANHATTAN Special? That was living. We would plan shopping days with my grandmother, who would bring us to get the sandwich en route to placing her shopping orders at each shop keep. Some days we would pick up 1/2 lb of Procutto and mozzarella at Morris' Itatian Latticini, go next door to the bakery, and eat in the back where my grandmother was friends with the bakers. Don't ever change that classic recipe. I've since moved out of state, however I am blessed to be able to get your coffee treat."
In 2008, the New York Times said that Manhattan Special was, for New Yorkers of a certain age, a first rite after nursing (the full story is here) and talks about the death of its founder - a mysterious homicide that still hasn't been solved. Ah, "mystery," the secret ingredient of every successful product.


Given the high degree of brand loyalty, it was with high expectations that I popped open the strangely heavy, 828 ml bottle of Manhattan Special the second I got it home. However, since the bottle made the trip back from New York on a plane, and the contents are pressurized, it sprayed me in the face and spilled all over the floor.

I eventually wrestled it into submission, but not before noticing that the beverage smells a lot like the Nonsuch exhibit at the Manitoba Museum. Honestly, the beverage, not the floor, has the pungent aroma of oiled, wood floors after being washed with Pledge.

Drink up, Johnny!

The ingredients listed on the bottle: pure coffee, carbonated water, sugar, caramel color and preserved potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate. No floor polish, then? Hmmm....

Thankfully, there was still some left over after the bottle exploded, so I tried it, expecting it to taste like it smelled: Mr. Clean meets Coke Blak. Instead, I took a sip and experienced a rush of caffeine that made me go blind, black out, and wake up naked in a strange back alley.

OK, not really, but that's what the experience brought to mind over the two seconds the beverage took to get from my mouth to my stomach, where it then began battling the other stuff that was hanging out there in a no-holds-barred cage match.

The student taste test

I wanted to share this delightful experience with my first-year students on their first day back to school today, so I brought along a decanter of Manhattan Special to class - yes, it exploded, again (sorry to Jess in the front row and the carpet).

I poured a shot-glass portion into a styrofoam cup for each student, expecting them to gag and pass out like me. I was even planning to post their hilarious quotes here.

But something surprising happened: they actually liked it. Go figure.

So tonight, I'll drink the last glassful of the stuff in my fridge to toast to a new semester and give it one more chance to awaken my inner caffeine and sugar demon. If that doesn't work, mark my words: I'm drinking all of the Coca-Cola and lemon-fresh Pledge in the house.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Welcome to the magazine project, whatever that is

What SI might look like on an Apple tablet computer. An Applet?

As our first-year students embark on a CreComm tradition dating back to before even I was a student - "the magazine project!" - the New York Times "Magazine" asks the pertinent question, "What is a magazine?"

It's a good question, given that a magazine is no longer read as often in the medium that the word was born to describe. The answer?

Well. Errr. It's a. Hmmm. It's...complicated. Thank you Facebook and Meryl Streep!

The article suggests that the word "magazine" was used in the 90s as a stopgap, like "bookmark," while we got ourselves used to this wacky, new online medium. Instead, the article suggests, online magazines are now "communities," "websites," "curated news aggregation," or "aggregated blogs."

So, when you embark on the magazine assignment this year, take heart at knowing that this might be one of the last years we ever call it a "magazine" and that you may have already have done a magazine project in the form of your own blog.

As for aggregated blogs? That's sooooo last semester. This semester, we embark upon something new altogether, which I propose we call "The existentialism of magazines project:"

Who's with me?

My favorite quotes from Tracy Morgan's autobiography

I am the new bald.

And, in an effort to read as many books about stand-up comedy as I possibly can before school starts up again tomorrow (boo, I mean, yay!), I stayed up late cramming in Tracy Morgan's autobiography, "I am the New Black."

Though I'm quite sure that I'm not the primary target audience for this book ("I see you brand-new white, blond, blue-eyed 30 Rock fans!" says Morgan on page 176), I got some laughs out of it, and read it in record time: even less time than the few hours it took me to read Paul Shaffer's book.

I'm a fan of Morgan's stand up. In comedy writing class each year, I like to point out that he is the only comic I know who becomes funnier as his delivery becomes more stilted, so I was delighted to find out how Morgan explains his delivery himself.

That quote, and these others, are my favorites from the book:

1. On his comedy style

"My (comedy style) was to elevate my insult by acting it out. It's like putting an accent on top of an accent and then telling a joke. If you don't get what I'm talking about, then you probably don't understand what's funny about my funny at all."

2. On white versus black audiences

"When you do comedy in front of a white audience, and you're not good, they just sit there. Black real loud and usually they throw stuff."

3. On reality TV

"The kind of easy fame that comes from reality TV has made fame crackheads out of people who might have had a normal life, and it's made people without talent think they can be stars. Handing fame to someone like that is like giving a drug addict your bank card and PIN."

4. On the Tracy Morgan Show being cancelled

"After sixteen (episodes) aired, NBC pulled out. Here's how I found out: I was waiting for the show to come on one night, and a fucking infomercial came on instead."

5. On a woman hating you versus being fed up with you

"Once a woman is fed up, there's nothing you can do to regain her love. If she hates you, that's fine, you've still got a chance. Fuck that; if she hates you, you're still in!"

6. On meeting Chaka Khan

"Chaka Khan tried to tongue-kiss me. I'm serious - Chaka just leaned in and went for it, and her breath smelled like Bacardi and franks. When she came back from the bathroom, I pointed at her and said, "See! There she is! She just tried to kiss me!"

7. On meeting Prince

"I grabbed him by the back of his neck, pulled his face close to mine, looked him right in the eye and said, "I have to tell you something, man. My father loved "Condition of the Heart."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Prince said. "Motherfucker, get out."

8. On why his character on 30 Rock works

"Tracy Jordan is more familiar to people than some of the other characters on the show. How many people who watch 30 Rock are friends with top network executives? Not many. How many people know crazy black motherfuckers? A lot!"

9. On comedians

"Comics are not happy clowns. They are dark people, all of them, no matter how they grew up or what color they are. Anyone who has devoted his life to comedy and making people laugh wants to see that joy reflected back at him by rooms full of people, because he's never seen that kind of happiness anywhere else."

10. On other big-name comics

"Anybody can be Ray Romano, anybody can be Seinfeld. It's easy to find the middle of the road when the highway is eight lanes wide. I grew up on Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, and fucking Eddie Murphy."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Two showbiz sagas of love, letdown, and Letterman

Showbiz is hard...

...and glamorous!

Is there no business like show business, or is "the biz" just a boulevard of broken dreams?

Depends on what book you read.

I spent the last 24 hours in la-la land, soaking up true, showbiz stories from two books: Letterman sidekick Paul Shaffer's "We'll be Here For the Rest of Our Lives," and former L.A. Times reporter William Knoedelseder's "I'm Dying Up Here."

The common link may be David Letterman, but the two books couldn't be more different in tone.

Shaffer's book is an idealized, romanticized version of showbiz, chronicling how a young kid from Thunder Bay became a big player in the Big Apple; Knoedelseder's book is about the underlying heartbreak that makes even the greatest showbiz success story bittersweet at best.

We'll be Here For the Rest of Our Lives

Shaffer's book is the easiest entry point for the Canadian reader. In the chapter "Blame Canada," he asks why so many brilliant comics are Canadian and comes up with this thesis:
"Canada is cold as hell. That means we stay inside and watch Canadian television. Watching Canadian television makes sane children crazy. The only alternative, of course, is American television. So if you take the factor of the freezing cold that keeps us inside and combine it with the less than thrilling nature of Canadian TV, you wind up with a nation hungry for truly funny comedy."
It's "that Canadian thing" that makes it easy to feel a kinship with Shaffer, and imbues his book with an entertaining and warm aura. True, the book doesn't have much of a narrative thread, but Shaffer's first goal is to entertain us with showbiz anecdotes, not to simply tell us his life story in the order that it happened. At that he succeeds.

Of course, it all starts for Shaffer in Thunder Bay, similar in climate and culture to Winnipeg, where he grows an appreciation for all things Vegas, New York, Hollywood, and showbiz.

He idolizes James Brown, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Ray Charles, and the girl groups of the fifties, is obsessed with the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon and the Ed Sullivan Show, and even credits Winnipeg's the Guess Who for playing Thunder Bay and being "the ultimate cover band," playing Penny Lane better than the Beatles themselves:
"Lead singer Burton Cummings was so proud of his authentic Liverpudlian pronunciation of the word customer - "in Penny Lane the barber shaves another coostomer" - he'd say the word twice."
His description of his parents sounds something like a description of my parents, and maybe your parents too: the typical, suburban, middle-class Canadian family coping with the Canadian climate through "social drinking and its ensuing merriment," and living their lives "as they imagined Sinatra lived his."

It's in this familial backdrop that Shaffer learns to play the piano, memorizing songs to play at his parents' parties, and developing the shtick he does to this day as Letterman's sidekick: mocking show business at the same time he's celebrating it.

Shaffer isn't the deepest writer around, which he admits early on, but he's a lovable and amusing name dropper of the highest order, so we get lots of breezy showbiz anecdotes:
  • He meets Bob Dylan on Late Night with David Letterman, and - to his surprise - all Dylan cares about is getting the show's human mascot, Larry Bud Melman's, autograph.
  • Shaffer warms to Gilda Radner with whom he works on Saturday Night Live, and finds out that she's slept with Winnipeg-born magician Doug Henning, for whom Shaffer also provides piano accompaniment. In anger, Shaffer tells Radner the secrets behind every one of Henning's magic tricks.
  • He speaks of meeting his idol, Jerry Lewis with Richard Belzer. Turns out that Lewis is so obsessed with Law and Order: SVU - the stories, the camera angles, everything - he can't talk about anything else.
  • Shaffer comically takes the blame for Mel Gibson's famous "problems with the Jews," cutting into his leg with a pair of scissors - accidentally - on the Late Show.
Although Shaffer spends most of his time working on the Late Show, Letterman is a distant character in his book, so there aren't any revelations about Dave's backstage sexcapades, which is in keeping with Shaffer's always diplomatic tone - even convicted killer Phil Spector gets the star treatment from Shaffer, who says he still considers Spector a musical genius and friend.

Shaffer's book is a light and fun read that doesn't stick with you much longer than the time it takes to consume it - in my case, about three hours.

After reading the book, you're mostly left with the thought that Shaffer is a nice Canadian boy who hasn't forgotten his groovy homeland and is still having a swingin' time at the epicenter of showbiz.

I'm Dying Up Here

Knoedelseder's book, I'm Dying Up Here, takes place early in Letterman's career, the mid-1970s, when he, Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Andy Kaufman, Tom Dreesen, Elayne Boosler, Robin Williams, and Richard Pryor took the L.A. comedy scene by a storm.

At first glance, the book appears to be fond recollections of the good and bad ol' days from today's established comics, which it is at first. Unlike Shaffer's book, however, Knoedelseder digs deep into the workings of that era's stand-up scene and finds plenty of dirt beneath the glitzy veneer.

As the book moves along, it morphs into the story of Mitzi "Paulie's mom" Shore's Comedy Store, which was the era's much-ballyhooed hot spot for new comedy talent: a young comic would show up from somewhere, audition for Shore, get stage time, be scouted for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, do the gig, and become famous.

It didn't happen that way for everyone, but it happened often enough to ignite the dreams of would-be comics everywhere, who would risk everything to be the next Freddie Prinze or Jimmy Walker, two Comedy Store comics who had network sitcoms before they even turned 20.

The Comedy Store's system worked for awhile, but it was ultimately too good to be true. Shore thought of her club as a college, not a business, and refused to pay comics to perform, a fate all too common for stand-up comics.

So, the comedians formed a strike group called Comedians for Compensation and elected Dreesen as their leader. He comes off as the book's hero: a comedian who was willing to sideline his own career so that lesser known comedians could win the right to be paid.

It's here that battle lines are drawn - Letterman and Leno, among others, siding with the strikers and Garry Shandling and Yakov Smirnoff crossing the picket lines.

"I wish him all the success in the world," says Dreesen today of Shandling. "He's a funny guy and a good writer, but as a human being, as a man, I don't have any respect for him."

Ultimately, the comics win the right to be paid for their work, but not before a mysterious fire breaks out at the Improv, the Comedy Store's main competitor.

Even worse, a well-liked but troubled comic, Steve Lubetkin, kills himself by jumping off of a building with a note in his pocket that says, in part, "My name is Steve Lubetkin. I used to work at the Comedy Store. Maybe this will help to bring about fairness."

Lubetkin's suicide sends Richard Lewis into a 15-year bender, he's so wracked with guilt at having not been able to stop the tragedy. His comments about Lubetkin and stand-up are among the most insightful in the book:
"People in this business give too much power to to those who judge them, and it's so damn destructive. It keeps you from doing what you can do. The best way to deal with it is to work on your craft, surround yourself with good friends, be able to love people and get love back, and keep your fingers crossed."
This tragic tale provides the backdrop to some of the great successes of the era: Letterman's killer first night as guest host of the Tonight Show, Robin Williams' breakthrough on Mork & Mindy, and Andy Kaufman's starring role on Taxi, among them.

In the book's epilogue, Knoedelseder pulls off two minor coups, interviewing the publicity-shy Letterman (he agrees to talk at Dreesen's urging) and Mitzi Shore, "the Norma Desmond of comedy," according to the LA Times, and "the prisoner of her own memories," according to our author.

Ultimately, Knoedelseder's book is as gripping as Shaffer's is fun. For the ultimate true Hollywood story, read them both at one sitting.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happle New Year to me and my Apple TV

Not being one to enjoy binge drinking, expensive buffets, or open-mouth kissing with strangers, I wisely avoided doing all of the above last night, instead spending New Year's Eve getting to know my Apple TV.

And no, I didn't kiss it at midnight, though I won't rule it out for the future.

I know what you're thinking:

Yes, I drank some more Apple Kool-Aid, as my pal Dan Vadeboncoeur put it in a previous post's comments: I am guilty of being a fan of Apple products, primarily because they're simple and they work - unlike, say, the EQ3 furniture I once bought, "some assembly required." Six days later, I was a hungry, broken man, who still had no usable furniture.

Connecting Apple TV

Apple TV, as you can see in the above photo, is a little, square box that connects to your TV with an HDMI cord and to an electrical outlet with a power cord. It costs around $200, HDMI cord sold separately.

Once it's connected, you can rent or buy music, high-def movies, and TV shows and - here's what's really great - it connects directly to your iTunes library, YouTube, Flickr, podcasts, radio stations, and MobileMe, synchronizing everything wirelessly through your TV.

And, yes, it works - a lot better than the EQ3 furniture ever did.

The first thing you notice when you get Apple TV out of the box is that there is no power button, just a square box. You plug it in, it powers up, and loads a menu screen, so you can choose your language preference (I chose German - kidding!) and sync up your iTunes libraries, up to five computers per household.

Apple TV automatically shows up as a device in your iTunes library, and you click on the "sync" button, using the password that's generated automatically by the device. It's really easy to figure out, even for a technological moron like (mobile?) me.

It takes Apple TV a while to sync to iTunes, possibly because I have a million songs in my iTunes library and a handful of videos. After half an hour or so, I had it all synced up to two iTunes libraries, and the Apple TV home menu looked like this:

The first, three programs at the top of the screen are ones I loaded into iTunes: an iMovie for a family member's birthday, a classic episode of the Bob Newhart Show, and a 60 Minutes episode I like to show in semester 2 PR when we talk about "corporate culture."

Also noteworthy is that Apple TV doesn't just mush the content from all of the synced iTunes together; instead, you switch between computers, which is also pretty easy to do, just by selecting "shared movies" or "shared music" or shared whatever from the above menu.

For some reason, Apple TV didn't recognize my TV screen's 1080p resolution (whatever that is), so I needed to select it manually from the console's setup menu.

The hardware

It's weird that Apple TV doesn't have an "off" switch, especially considering that it heats up pretty quickly. Instead, you go to the main menu and select "standby" which puts the unit to sleep, though I discovered that it still updates its content when in sleep mode.

However, there's nothing in the manual that expressly says that you should keep it on or turn it off. It's only the heat that makes me say "off." The good news is that the console is virtually silent, and much quieter than my Shaw digital box, which never stops chirping and crunching, day or night.

The Apple TV remote control is so small, I'm sure I'll lose it within the week. The main downside is that there's no "stop" button on the remote, which means that I still have no idea how to stop the iTunes music from playing, other than by pausing it. There's also no volume switch, which means that you're still stuck using the one that came with the TV.

Buying and renting

One of the main features of Apple TV is the ability to buy and rent movies and TV shows, and it's a pretty strong selection. Not surprisingly, it leans heavily on current releases.

I'm especially happy to see loads of movies in the "documentaries" category, which I've never seen in the theatre or at BLOCKBUSTER, but I'm frustrated, if not really surprised, that there's no "foreign films" section.

So last night I played catch up, downloading HD versions of Up, Paper Heart, and - sorry - G.I. Joe (yes, it sucks really, really bad) for $5.99 each. I wanted to rent District 9 again, but it's currently only available for purchase at $19.99.

You get charged for the movies through your iTunes account; the movies start downloading immediately, and you can start watching once the download reaches "one per cent," which takes about a minute or two. If you rent the movie, you've got it for 30 days, but once you start watching it, you have to finish it within 48 hours of starting.

You can also download new episodes of network TV, including CBC, NBC, and HBO. Again, the selection is decent, but not exhaustive.

Remote luxury

Oddly enough, you can also buy music videos through Apple TV, but I'm not sure why anyone would bother, considering that every music video ever is available for free on YouTube, which brings me to one of the most interesting features of Apple TV: its built-in connection to YouTube.

YouTube's big problem, of course, is that viewers spend five hours a night in front of the TV, but only 15 minutes a day on YouTube (Read about it here).

One issue, as the above article points out, is that YouTube needs a better recommendations engine. Another is what the article doesn't point out: when people leave work and go home, they don't want to sit in front of a computer anymore, they want to sit on a couch in front of a TV.

So, in many ways, Apple TV is YouTube's dream come true: the ability for its viewers to watch clips on a widescreen TV, from the comfort of a couch, using a remote control. Luxury!

I started by watching Devo's great and disturbing video for Whip it! and just kept going with the YouTube recommendations from there ("I Ran," etc). True, some video that's passable on YouTube is too grainy to watch on a big TV, but - overall - I was surprised by the speed at which one can watch videos and the ease of the controls: absolutely no trouble connecting or streaming.

Over the last 24 hours, I've also surprised myself by playing my iTunes music library on shuffle through the TV - it actually sounds much better than the old stereo I've been using, a grad present from 1985. Go figure!

If you leave iTunes alone to play, eventually the screensaver comes up, and it's a real treat: the music keeps playing and floating photos from your Flickr account (if you select that option) of different shapes and sizes appear on the screen, gently gliding by until they spin around and start over again: perfect for your next party.

If you don't want to parade your personal pix in front of the friends and family, you can choose one of the built-in options, including my favorite: high-def pix of floral arrangements. Just pick up some potpourri, and you've got the ultimate smell-o-vision setup.


This is the first application of "on demand" which I've seen that makes it seem like a much more realistic and cost-effective possibility than our current "pay Shaw a subscription fee" model.

One thing's for sure: BLOCKBUSTER is about to start losing $30 a week from me, and that's before the late fees they supposedly scrapped (shamelessly going back on it after that famous "no more late fees!" ad campaign - boo).

Apple TV's movie and video selections are good, but not exhaustive enough to get me to abandon Shaw. Yet! But if I were Shaw, I'd be thinking about it...