Friday, June 18, 2004

ON THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER APPRECIATION FRONT: Sure, you can criticize them for the kind of crap they cover--celebrity scandals, and big, dramatic trials, though nobody picks on the 24-hour news channels for covering the latter. But the stuff they do they do really well. I got the new issue in the mail and within it you will find an excellent demolition of Mark Geragos defense of Scott Peterson. The one that claimed Laci's baby was born alive and thus that Scott couldn't have killed her because it meant she was alive past the day she disappeared or somesuch. I am predisposed to root against Geragos from his appearances on several early evening talk shows.

And there's an amusing Jennifer Aniston episode: "Gals always want guys to be romantic--and Brad Pitt outdid himself when he booked a table pour deux at the posh dining room atop the Eiffel Tower in Gay Paree. And when Jennifer joined him in the City of Lights, he whisked her up the tower, announced his romantic surprise--and was furious when wifey gasped, 'Oh, no we're not! You know I'm afraid of heights.' Snapped Brad, 'It's not like we're eating outside on the ledge!' But Jennifer was freaked, so Brad canceled the reservation and they dined quietly (I'll bet very quietly...) back at their hotel." Gotta love celebrity stories involving celebrities being unimpressed about celebrity things. There's also something there about Brad trying to get Jen a role in the Ocean's Eleven sequel, but Julia Roberts and Zeta-Jones quashed it.

Plus how can I not love a periodical that lets me know this happened:

Yes, that's William Hung in a Freddie Mercury leotard. The most amusing thing about American Idol continues to be that one-joke William Hung is the most famous person to come out of that show.

A little more magazine watching: the new SI mentions this in a story about Dwight Howard (which I assume isn't online; SI feature stories, like most of the National Enquirer, are rarely online): "When Dwight Jr. looks at the NBA logo, he imagines a cross superimposed over the slaloming outline of Jerry West." Which would make a weirdly cool t-shirt. The back could say, "By this sign, play basketball." Or even the original IN HOC SIGNO VINCES. Dwight wants to bring the word of God to the NBA, apparently. Good luck with that.

I found the article I couldn't find yesterday; Kevin Drum didn;t link to it, but it was spotlighted on his site--you know, The Washington Monthly. It's here. A snippet:

[Mike] Lazzo's team saves money in other ways. Instead of using high-priced actors, the writers themselves do some of the voices; friends of theirs and non-traditional talents supply others--for example, "Sealab" features the voice of left-wing pundit and Newsday columnist Ellis Henican as the supremely stupid character Stormy. Instead of shelling out for high-tech pieces with baritone voiceovers for their bumpers--the packaging that runs just before a program is going to start--they used simple white-on-black text in informal dialogues with their audience--telling stories about what went on in the office that week, or featuring pithy quotes from the online message boards. When they wanted to promote a specific show, it was done in-house for as cheaply as possible--their promo guy gleefully showed me a typical spot, consisting of white text superimposed over images of jumping flames, bragging that it cost "about $1.99" to make. This sort of pride in spending as little as possible on everything is a common theme at Williams Street. In his disarming Southern drawl, Lazzo explains that at most networks, the enormous costs of producing television shows means that network executives favor safe choices, but, at Adult Swim, "We've designed the system to be inexpensive enough to make risky choices."

"That's one of the things that Mike does, and one of the things that we're glad that he does--he don't give a shit," says "Sealab 2021" co-creator Matt Thompson. "He's like: 'Well, they'll watch it or they won't. Then we'll do something else. If they don't like it, it only cost us 5 dollars to make the damn thing.' He just didn't care, and there's something really cool about that. Because, the audience, all those people? They don't care either. And that's why advertisers have jumped on board and said 'This is where we can sell our cheese!' Because what other block of programming on TV can actually bring you the demographic of the 'I-don't-give-a-fuck' kids?"

The article, by Justin Peters, also has a good history of American animation. I will quibble with this unjustified slam on the cartoons of my youth: "The 1970s and early 1980s saw a downturn in cartoon quality, as the airwaves became cluttered with shows about innumerable latently homosexual superhero teams, or crass marketing tie-ins like Mattel/Filmation's "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" or Marvel's "G.I. Joe"--shows not only specifically designed to appeal to children, but also to sell them low-quality action figures and accessories." The "latently homosexual superhero teams" I have no idea about; he may mean that because Ace & Gary are animated like the Hanna-Barbera Superfriends, the Hanna-Barbera Superfriends were latently homosexual. Which is not a premise I would find tenable. But, look: just because a cartoon fulfills an advertising function doesn't mean it does nothing but advertise. Even advertisements do things besides advertise. And is there that much difference between a multimedia merchandising phenomenon that starts as a cartoon, like the Powerpuff Girls, or one that starts as a toy, like the Transformers? Not much, to my mind, and to say one is better than the other is just to say you like cartoons better than toys. I think. If things are crap they should be judged as crap based on their content, not their origins.

Here comes the "cartoons were better in my day" part: The Marvel/Sunbow/Hasbro cartoons were really fun adventure cartoons, maybe not intelligently written, but not dumb, either. They contributed several notable characters to our cultural lexicon: Destro, Cobra Commander, Optimus Prime, Starscream, Megatron. Zartan maybe; some others. I have no idea these characters are not more widespread. Save some hip hop lyrics and that one Optimus Prime appearance on Family Guy, there's been very little media penetration by the cartoon stars of the 80s. I wonder if this is due to Hasbro holding them a little too close in a legal sense.

USA Today had a really great Abu Ghraib story today. Josh Marshall digests it for you.

Finally, more Lakers drama. Apparently Jerry Buss wants to keep Kobe at all costs, which means letting Phil Jackson go. But Shaq has made it quite clear he doesn't want to play for anybody besides Shaq, which is leading many people to think when push comes to shove it'll be Shaq leaving the Lakers, not Kobe. And they'd have to trade Shaq away to do that, as improbable as that sounds. Lang Whitaker comments:

Kobe is obviously younger than Shaq and probably has more NBA years left in him than Shaq does.

But I can't fathom willingly getting rid of Shaquille O'Neal from your team. He is the most dominant player of all time. If it means getting rid of Kobe, I'd get rid of Kobe. I've said it so many times I'm sounding like a scratched CD here, but I think Shaq is perpetually the most valuable player in the NBA. Would any team not want Shaq, even if they already have a good center?

Anyway, the Lakers seem determined to get rid of him. What could be fatal to their efforts to trade him, however, would be if Shaq comes out and announces that he will not play for the Lakers next season under any circumstances. The other teams can lowball the Lakers, knowing they'll have to take the best offer on the table just to move Shaq.

He then follows up with some potential trades:

Shaq to Dallas for Dirk Nowitzki, Antoine Walker and Josh Howard
This works under the cap, and if Shaq really is on the block, it'll take a blockbuster to get him. Who's the one owner out there that's not afraid to pull the trigger on a huge deal? Yep, that's you Mark Cuban. The question here is why move Dirk Nowitzki? He's about six years younger than Shaq and the best player on a really good team. But with the team they have now, the Mavs aren't winning a championship. Do you sacrifice Dirk's potential for the immediate impact of Shaq?

Shaq to Orlando for Emeka Okafor, Grant Hill, Juwan Howard, Drew Gooden and Tyronn Lue
Shaq still has a house in Orlando and has talked about returning one day, and Shaq and Tracy have always talked about wanting to play together. Maybe that day is now. This gives L.A. a bunch of good players, which they need, and a young center that will be a great player for years to come, and Shaq and Tracy get to team up in Orlando.

Shaq to Utah for Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Arroyo, Raul Lopez, Greg Ostertag, Matt Harpring, Mo Williams, Mikki Moore, Gordan Giricek, Jarron Collins, Raja Bell, Curtis Borchardt, Aleksandar Pavlovic and Michael Ruffin
Won't happen, because Utah would be left with just Shaq and Tom Gugliotta, but that's what it would take to work under the cap.

So--yes--you could trade the entire Utah Jazz for Shaq. If you were wondering.

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