Monday, February 14, 2005

Blue Moon

I think it’s like when people who’ve been complaining about strange medical symptoms in freaky combinations to uncaring disbelieving doctors finally find someone who puts it all together for them, and even if it’s a hideous, disfiguring, terminal illness, shout “Eureka! My problem has a name!”
Mine is called a Perigee-Syzygy, which in case you didn’t know is what happens when the planets are all lined up in a certain order and then the moon stumbles over like a drunk on a bender and shortens the distance between the itself and the earth. Worse than getting a cocktail spilled down your shirtfront, when this two-part configuration of planetary doh-si-doh-ing occurs, according to experts, calamitous events are sure to unfold.
I should know. It happened to me.
Though I have to begin by saying that this sequence of circumstances isn’t happening solely to me – or even mostly to me – but it’s certainly one of the more disappointing developments that has occurred in the life of yours truly in recent months.
It was that damn magazine – the one with the improbable four name title (I mean – really! four!) that promised to bring Toronto the very latest news on the very latest bits and pieces, stuff and nonsense, nicks and nacks and pricey treats that Toronto apparently couldn’t live another nanosecond without.
It seems now that regardless, Toronto is going to have to learn to carry on sans the assistance of these luxury lists and content itself with the single edition that flew off the presses and into the hands of the approximately 14 people who could be bothered to pick up their free copy. Not to mention the other poor saps who may have made the cardinal error of paying at a bookstore for what was essentially a piece of cake to find free in some salon, boite or other plush place.
But like so many cataclysmic events, it all began so well.
Back in late September I stumbled onto a request for writers for a start-up luxury magazine and couldn’t re-write and post my resume fast enough. It turned out the Editor in Chief couldn’t reply fast enough either – within a couple of hours, I had a request for samples and then an assignment… really. Truly. For money. For publication. For real.
And that was only the beginning. As I tippy-typed my little fingers off for that editor, he in turn rewarded me with more assignments, more stories and began asking my advice on matters of “this one or that one?”; he was from Calgary – and I, who after 12 plus years can barely find my way home from the corner store, was his Toronto guide. And you know what? I wasn’t half bad.
It was fun. And silly as the magazine may have been, it was a pleasure to interview the subjects, write the copy and to help with putting together a brand new, real-live, grown-up magazine.
Long story short – we got the magazine out. I personally wrote 13 pieces (so many we actually credited the dog with a couple so as not to make the contents page look overly me-ish) and helped with the final edit of the whole magazine, as well as some judicious re-writing of some surprisingly sub-standard prose. (From professionals! But que sara – I was happy to help. Thrilled even.)
In the course of all of this, I ate many a contra-ed meal at many a super restaurant (Splendido, Ultra, Sassafraz) had a manicure and pedicure on the house at a glamourous Yorkville spa, and was asked to write some radio commercials for one of my story subjects for which I was rewarded with a pair of diamond earrings.
Nice gravy if you can get it – but the actual wages for my work never materialized.
We even had a launch party complete with free drinks and ‘amuse bouches’ and annoying media types at a completely irritating place frequented by the far more trendy than I. It was all happening is what I’m trying to say, though the money could still only be counted as amongst the missing.
The Editor in Chief was at a loss – he was sick at heart and embarrassed as all get-out, but the head office types in Calgary just kept insisting the cheques were in the mail, about to arrive, nearly there, next week, tomorrow… any minute…
Never actually.
And even then the publishers asked me to write some more for their Calgary mag – assuring me that I would hardly have time to blink before I’d be shoring up my bank account with some Calgary-flavoured dough.
I declined.
I even blinked.
But nothing happened.
What did happen was that little by little, the EIC found out that no one had been paid: not the printers (to the tune of several tens of thousands of dollars) not the writers, not the photographers, not the distributors. Not the rent on the office, or the leases on the equipment. NO ONE. And while all that was going on, the Calgary publishers were complaining about the divas like myself who refused to write for free. Me and my high horse were dissed from here to there, the Editor was chided for being unable to find folks willing to work for the princely sum of 20 cents a word… or zero cents a word as it turned out.
The horrible story is still unfolding; my friend the Editor in Chief is quitting in horror and disgust, the work commissioned for the second edition will go unpaid, the printers can whistle for it and the distributors presumably can just chalk this one up to ‘stuff happens’.
But the Calgary guys continue to connive – and the word is that some weasely character is attempting to put out the same stuff under a different name – trying to avoid the mountains of debt and the crowd of creditors – clearly hoping against hope that there really are a whole whack of suckers born every minute, and maybe even discovering they’re right.
But for anyone looking to be paid for their efforts or to be connected to quality, the guys at Adcomm Media are the guys to avoid.
So maybe it’s not a Perigee-Syzygy. Maybe it’s not an accident, a mistake, or just plain bad luck. Maybe it’s just plain old bad guys doing plain old bad business.
And though granted, this sort of stuff isn’t exactly on par with a disaster-provoking Mercury retrograde, or a meteor crashing through your roof – for those of us who worked for Toronto Living Luxury Magazine and scanned the heavens searching for an answer, this is at the very least, a very blue moon indeed.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Blog Equivalent of Jumping the Shark: What I saw on TV last night

I hesitate even to mention it, so rife with pathetic lowbrow meaning is the exercise, but I’m finally ready to admit to one of my guiltiest pleasures: I like TV.
There. Done. Out. I make no apologies.
In fact, so much do I like it, and so much do I watch it, I’ve been thinking of getting into TV reviewing. What with the magazine folding (ha) without my getting paid and money looking scarce once again, why not? Why should my insights and opinions go to waste? And to watch television and be paid for it? Money for old rope! Especially when gems the quality of last night’s viewing schedule appear in the TV Guide.
It went like this: between 8 and Jon Stewart, my evening was laid out for me in 3 hour-long blocks (changing the channel a couple of times my sole contribution to programming): ‘The Antiques Roadshow’, ‘24’ and my new favourite show of all time: ‘Supernanny’.
The evening began with the weakest of the three programs – the American version of The Antiques Roadshow.
Long a fan of the British edition – since the beginning, or nearly, I believe – I understand how the brilliant concept was deemed a natural for American TV. All those attics, all those antiques… all those viewers – people like you.
And thank goodness PBS stepped up and took over before one of the networks could attempt to jazz up the concept for the requisite non-Public Television shorter attention spans; the predictable snacking needs and the bathroom breaks of their North American audience. Still, it comes a distant second to the original in charm, grace and humour – and why they chose to hire a juvenile host who if she were a teacup or even a saucer, wouldn’t be a collectable yet let alone an heirloom, is beyond me. Let’s have an antique introduce an antique! Why mess with success?
And another thing: I can’t help but feel the motivation of many viewers is seriously suspect; every time one reads an article or sees some sort of other-media promo material on the phenomenally successful program, the focus seems always to harp on the assumed joy of a nasty audience waiting for the ‘gotcha’ moment when a prized family possession is revealed as worthless. There’s even the suggestion that the happy revelations, the pride in the history of a family object, or the thrill of a genuinely surprised participant presented with a valuation upward of six figures, is nothing when compared to the naughty Schadenfreude-ian glee of being there to see the shocked and heartbroken reaction of some guest sap haplessly hanging on to a dud.
Shame! Watch the British show again; enjoy the subtlety, the equal pleasure in win, lose, place, or going home with something considerably less valuable than a Constable, a Chippendale or Spode. You’ll learn about tact and graciousness – and how to take shockingly wonderful news with approximately the same reaction as being offered a biscuit with your tea: “Really? A million pounds for Granny’s chamberpot/a piece of shortbread? How nice.”
But American or British edition, an hour is an hour and it’s over all too soon (though I could do with seeing a little less of the truth of North America’s obesity problem presented in shorts and voluminous Disneyland t-shirts alongside the Navaho blankets and Civil War era six shooters, and a little more of the suit and tie, Barbour jackets and threadbare wooly twin sets side by side with the Ming and the Majolica) and time to switch over for the opening sequences of ‘24’.
And here I think it’s only fair to admit a certain conflict of interest: a close friend is one of the stars – I won’t tell you which, but she’s tall, dark and pretty and her name rhymes with ‘Halberta’ – so I’ve been watching the espionage-tinged, Saturday-afternoon-matinee-cliffhanger-style series since the start without missing an episode. I’m hooked! And seriously, my friend is such a good actress that I truly forget most of the time it’s her. (When she cried last week, I had a moment, I kid you not.)
There have been surprises galore on ‘24’ and I really don’t know what will happen next (she won’t tell me) but each week I get sucked in all over again: will he, won’t he? Is the world going to end? Are the nuclear reactors going to blow? Is humanity safe for another six days and twenty-three hours? Tune in next time…
(There’s also the added fun of hearing some of the juiciest insider gossip you never normally hear – and that even the tabloids never get – that makes watching the other actors a naughty exercise in “No! Really…?!” . Heh heh… I know something you don’t know…!)
But, with apologies to ‘Halberta’, my newest guilty pleasure is the network reality show ‘Supernanny’. I saw it for the first time last night and I have to tell you it’s brilliant! Some of the most satisfying television I’ve experienced since Ken Whatchamacallit got handed his ass on Jeopardy.
The concept is simple and actually not all that innovative; I’ve seen (in shortened form) some of the same sort of parent/child transformational stuff filmed for segments on network news magazines, and even a Canadian Life Network version with a long-haired shrink counseling perplexed parents in a kitchen.
But they all pale in comparison to the Supernanny with the cockney accent who whisks into the homes of troubled families, observes their embarrassing screaming, hitting, tantrum-throwing interactions, (and we’ve all been there) offers immediate tips and ideas for correcting child behaviour and parental disciplining techniques on the spot, then checks back a few weeks later to see how it’s all working out.
I can’t say it enough – it’s just great. That JoJo is a miracle worker.
Horrible, spoilt, screaming monsters transformed into obedient, mannerly children, and all with nothing more than proper language and eye contact, the understanding of rules and routines, or failing that, a certain amount of time spent in the ‘Naughty Corner’. And for the parents, who seem to slam back and forth between confrontations exhibiting all the warmth and forgiveness of a hanging judge, and the backpedaling obsequiousness of weak-kneed lily-livers without the strength to knock the skin off a custard, JoJo knows all, tells all and disciplines the adults too with all the Poppins-like brisk and cheerful authority of a woman who knows what she’s about.
(Just watching JoJo crack serious bedtime issues with a pair of 3 year old twins even the softest heart could cheerfully have murdered did my heart good in a way that not even finding out the future of the world could hope to provide… even with 6 days and 22 hours left.)
There’s just something immensely satisfying about seeing everyone stop screaming. Simple – I could do it with a snap of my fingers. And though I admit I haven’t any children of my own to discipline, it is equally true that the onlooker sees more of the game… those who can’t do, teach… Hey - I can make the dog sit… and so on and so forth.
I’m sure other childless singletons felt the same as I did last night as the credits rolled on Jo Jo speeding off in her customized London taxicab – kids? Easy peasy.
And TV reviewing? Lemon squeasy.