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Review: Law and Order Special Victims Unit

Posted in entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 10, 2018

When Law and Order: Special Victims Unit began in the late 1999, I only watched it sporadically… basically whenever it was on. I’ve continued that same viewing behavior throughout the years. I’ve recently found that Hulu has 19 seasons streaming and I’ve decided to start watching it from the first season. So far, I’m into the third season. Let’s explore.

Sometimes silly with repetitive plots

The first season for this series started out extremely rough. Not only did the show not really know how to handle each of the characters in the squad room or how often, this season focuses almost entirely on Olivia Bensen and Elliot Stabler. It also didn’t really nail down its visual format until episode 3. It’s understandable I guess when it’s a new show. I’m uncertain how this show has managed to make it to 19 seasons considering the show is limited to sex crime which includes, rape and statutory rape and rape and rape. Did I mention rape? Sure, the circumstances are different in each episode. Sometimes the victim is dead, sometime the victim is alive. Sometimes the victim is alive, but then gets killed. The base stories are always similar. The perp might be the guy next door, a priest, a friend, a co-worker, a rich kid, a poor kid or whomever makes the most sense for the episode.

Cases that don’t belong in SVU

I also find that there are many cases that end up on the SVU desk that have no place being there. They aren’t even sex crimes, S5 E2 for example. I thought that when SVU determined the case wasn’t a sex crime that it got handed over to another appropriate division? Why would you waste valuable SVU resources (which are quite limited) on a case that isn’t sex related when there are other cases that need SVU’s attention. SVU has certainly had cases handed to them mid-investigation when a sex crime was uncovered. Why doesn’t this go the other way? Just have the writers hand it over to another division and introduce a new plot at that point. Just be sure to do it early in the episode. If you want realism, handing over unrelated cases certainly fits that bill. Having SVU hang onto a case just because they started with it makes no sense. See BAD writing below for more about this.

Early Seasons

The first season is both a mix of sex crimes and personal stories, sometimes intermingling. I thought the show might continue heading this direction, but it’s moved away from this direction as the seasons have progressed. Even by the second season, the stories mostly focused on sex crimes. I also thought the show’s writing would have stabilized into a regular format. Not really. Not only is the writing inconsistent in quality, the show displays a number of fairly egregious technical problems (booms in camera, booms in reflections and even a sound guy captured in frame — S2 E21). I’ve watched a wide array of series and have not encountered this many egregious technical snafus by halfway through third season. You’d think by the third season they’d have solved all of these silly filming problems.

I am also surprised to find the writing in many episodes is subpar. It’s a police procedural, how hard can it be to sweat the details?

When the writing is bad, it’s B A D …

Throughout the seasons leading up to this point, the show has touted each of the detectives to be the best and the brightest at what they do.. ‘An Elite Squad’ as the show announcer states. While I realize as a detective you can’t do anything about the things you don’t know, glossing over details you do know is not only stupid, it’s negligent… and it can get people killed. I realize this is “just a show”, but each episode attempts to tell a story that purports to be realistic (at least by Hollywood standards).

Well, this next episode’s writing is particularly awful, though it’s not the only episode. Not only does it show that the detectives are insanely inept, they probably shouldn’t even be detectives when they gloss over such visibly simple, but incredibly important details.

S3 E17 – Scourge

As a synopsis, in S3 E17, Emily Deschanel’s character ‘Cassie’ is assaulted and potentially raped in her own apartment. The detectives come to find that her apartment is bugged with 4 cameras watching her every move. How the cameras got there is a mystery yet to be solved. Over the course of the episode they find a stalker named Terry who’s been stalking her since college. He’s recently moved into secretly filming her by bugging her apartment with cameras using the stolen credit card of the landlord where Terry lives. After being let into Terry’s apartment by the female landlord and discovering a shrine to Cassie, Benson and Stabler have a conversation with this female landlord, who claims to be Terry’s girlfriend. Okay, let’s stop right here. This is major story strike #1. Not only did Benson and Stabler choose to ignore this statement from the landlord, they proceed on the assumption that Terry is the attacker based on the shrine alone. Not following up on this landlord conversation is not believable, but I’ll let it slide for the moment.

Later, the detectives grab Terry from Cassie’s viola performance at an arts center and pull him into the interrogation room at the station. During the course of the interrogation, Terry states that he is not the landlord’s boyfriend. He also states that he loves Cassie and would never hurt her. Strike #2. The guy’s been stalking her since she left college. If he wanted to hurt her, he would have done so long before she (and he) moved to NY. So, right here Benson and Stabler should have stepped out of the room and had conversation discussing the inconsistent statements between Terry and his landlord “girlfriend”. She says he is, he says she isn’t. The first thing this says to me is that the landlord girlfriend is either lying or she has a personal problem. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely now suspect enough to follow up on this lead. The landlord “girlfriend” is also very likely a stalker intent on going after Terry. On that new information, the investigation should have turned attention to the landlord girlfriend and brought her in. Who would have more intent to harm? Terry, who idolizes Cassie and who’s been stalking her for years or a distraught woman claiming to be a “girlfriend” and who’s seems angry at Cassie? This is where this episode writers jumped the shark. Strike #3. Also, where was the psychologist in this episode?

Not only do Benson and Stabler miss this crucial clue that practically slaps them in the face, what does it say of their detective skills? This missed detail makes them seem like rookies. This TV show, up to this point, has prided itself on making these detectives, particularly Stabler, look to be articulate, intelligent investigators and sticklers for details. So, how could they possibly miss this clue? It’s one thing if the writers don’t tell the characters (or us viewers) crucial details and, instead, reveal them at the end. It’s entirely sloppy detective work when the characters have the information in hand and do nothing about it. Both Stabler and Benson have followed up less important clues in other episodes. They should have followed up on this one. Bad writers, bad.

Benson is also particularly sensitive to missed clues leading to the death of someone. She continually beats herself up about these. Yet here, not only did the show not acknowledge this missed clue leading to the death of Terry, it ends before we find out what happens to the perpetrator. The show also, way out of form, treats Terry with all the dignity and respect as that of a piece of human garbage. Prostitutes in other episodes have gotten more respect (and coffee and donuts) than Terry. This show, up to this point, has always been sensitive to any victim. Terry didn’t deserve his fate, even though he had stalked Cassie. Terry’s death could have been prevented if Benson and Stabler had simply followed up on the inconsistent statements back when Terry was in the interrogation room. The show didn’t even acknowledge this deficiency of the detectives.

S5 E2 – Manic

And the inconsistent writing quality continues… I don’t understand why in S5 E2 that the episode opens with Stabler breaking down doors with cops (even before Benson arrives). What’s the deal with that? I thought they were detectives, not street cops. The point to becoming a detective is to sleuth the situation after-the-fact. Are the NYPD cops somehow now so short-handed that they need help from detectives in breaking down doors and apprehending suspects? Also, why is Stabler the one there doing this? Is he getting so disenchanted with being a detective that he feels the need to go back to the front line? Also, he’s in a hoodie seemingly without wearing a bullet-proof vest. Seriously? He’s also the one taking the lead and calling the shots.

Worse, after all of the breaking down doors and entering, we find a kid who’s head has been grazed by a bullet and who has not been sexually molested and is very much alive. We come to find that the kid had taken a drug that caused him to go manic and kill two kids. At this point, Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) should have referred this case to appropriate Narcotics division and gotten it off of SVU’s desk. Does he hand it off? No.

Horrible writing.

Weird Endings

One of the things that irks me of the first 5 seasons is the odd cliffhanger endings. I’m guessing that this is a thing that the producers like. Well, I dislike it… A LOT. We watch through an episode where Benson and Stabler, Tutuola and Munch run around chasing and apprehending the perpetrator, yet at the very end, the screen fades before we find out the perp’s fate? Isn’t this supposed to be Law and Order? We get the Law part, but where’s the Order? Meaning, once the show catches the perp, aren’t we supposed to get see the adjudication proceedings? That’s the payoff. We want to see exactly how the perp gets sentenced. We don’t want to be left hanging after the fade. When we don’t get to see this payoff, as viewers we feel robbed. This makes watching seasons SVU frustrating and unsatisfying.

Character Musical Chairs

The ADA characters seem to come and go. At first it was Angie Harmon as Abbie Carmichael as a crossover from Law and Order, then she disappears in replacement with Stephanie March as Alexandra “Alex” Cabot. Before March joined on, it was a random array of ADA characters in and out with Angie Harmon in a lightly recurring role. In fact, I would have preferred to see a guest star in the ADA role every week. It’s not realistic, but it allows the show to hire a guest star whenever an ADA character role is infrequently needed. It’s not that I don’t like Stephanie March as an actress, I just don’t like the Alex character who’s ideas blow with the wind… or more specifically, whichever the way the writers need her to blow to make the episode work.

Stephanie’s acting of Alex certainly comes across as staunch, righteous and indignant as a DA’s office defender, sometimes to the point of endangering people’s live. I always felt that ideology was wrong for the role. Angie Harmon’s character was a whole lot more right for it. Not sure why the show went with March over Harmon in the early seasons.

Then there was detective Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd) and several medical examiners before the show settled on Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie).

Also, the first psychologist Emil Skoda (played by J.K. Simmons) disappears for a random second replacement with George Huang (played by BD Wong)? In fact, I liked Emil Skoda better because he at least he acted normal with reasonably normal dialog. The George Huang character has both an oddly soft speaking style, a condescending tone and pretentious dialog as to be distasteful. Why the producers thought this character might be a better choice, I have no idea. You do want your main characters to be likeable, right?

Duds

With any series, there are always duds. In the case of SVU, there’s a first season episode that stands out: S1 E12. In fact, it’s so bad I couldn’t make myself watch the whole thing. It’s about a rich guy who gets killed leading to some Russian females as suspects. This episode is jam packed with Russian stereotypes.. to the point that they hired white American actors and asked them to put on fake Russian accents. It was not only cringe inducing to watch, the episode was highly boring. Skipped this one. If you can’t do it right, don’t bother. This is not the only episode this bad. I’ve skipped 2 others in addition to this one in 3 seasons. I guess that’s not a bad track record, but a good TV show shouldn’t have any worth skipping.

World Resets

More bad writing here as this style of episodic TV is one of my biggest pet peeves. Here we have a story about Stabler who assigns a protective detail to Benson (against her wishes and unknowing to her) because a former case perp has come back to haunt and target her. When Benson finds out about the protective detail, she becomes distraught and distrusting of Stabler (her partner) to the point where she avoids him. By the end of the episode, Benson isn’t on speaking terms with Stabler and she is sitting at home alone crying, fade out. The next episode, Stabler and Benson are happy as larks working together just fine like nothing ever happened. This lack of continuity in character relationships drives me nuts. How can you have two characters who have this level of falling out and then the next episode it’s like the world has reset and nothing has happened? There has also been no further mention of this issue in later episodes. So, what gives SVU? If characters have a falling out, then carry it over into the next episode…. or fix the problem before the episode ends.

Note that similar issues occur between many episodes. This example above just happens to be one of the most egregious I’ve seen to this point.

Overall

Many of the stories are watchable if not predictable, but be prepared for the problems described. Also, how many stories can be written about rape? Most SVU stories are about female rape victims. Even in the 3 seasons that I’ve watched, I feel the stories are already treading dangerously close to one another. I’m unsure how the show has managed 19 seasons worth of original stories. Though, the episode about a male being raped by 3 women brings up a very good point at a time when it wasn’t considered possible. This story is a bit hackneyed. I would have preferred a more legitimate story rather a private male dancer who took money to please the women who allegedly raped him. Ultimately, because he was a male dancer for pay, the women got away with the rape. This episode would have been far more interesting to watch if the male could have conclusively been found to have been raped without the extra mitigating circumstances.

With SVU, it seems the writers like to add circumstances to the plot to intentionally make it more difficult for the DA to prosecute or simply to further convolute the plot. I’m not trying to imply that cases of rape are easy to prosecute in any way. But, some cases are likely to be easier than others depending on the circumstances. SVU should show cases of all difficulty levels. Some unwinnable, some practically handed to them on a silver platter and many somewhere in between. It seems the writers preferred creating stories about the most difficult end of the spectrum (i.e., extremely hard to impossible to prosecute).

I’ll need to watch a few more seasons before I can give a conclusive rating. However at this point, I’ll give Law and Order: SVU a 2.5 out of 5 star rating. Most of the positive portions of this rating is due to the stellar cast. While the story writers may not get the stories right each time and there have been a number of technical filming problems, these well cast actors have amazing on-screen chemistry and give it their all each and every episode. They also do a spectacular job even with the crappiest of stories and dialog. Even as good as the actors perform and as decently written as a few of the stories are, the mounting technical problems combined with too many sucky stories, poor endings and near constant cast changes drags down this rating.

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ABC’s Lost: What really happened?

Posted in entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on March 15, 2014

For 6 years, we tuned in to find out what the next episode would be. For 6 years, we wondered as the premise got stranger and stranger. In the end, we finally see all of the plane crash victims that we knew together one last time in death. So, what really happened?

Common Theories

A lot of people theorize that they were dead the whole time. Others believe everything from seasons 1-5 were real events. Other theories are somewhere between these two. None of these scenarios fit exactly with what I believe happened. Keep in mind that these theories below are mine. If the writers choose to revisit this story and alter their vision of what really happened and how it happened, then that’s up to them. Any new stories they put forth could also negate the below theories. As the show sits today, here is my theory.

Were they dead?

Yes. They were dead before the plane crashed on the island. In fact, they probably died from a crash at sea. If they were supposedly dead, then where were they and what where we watching? Though they were dead from our Earthly plane of existence, they did seem very much alive. You’ll need to understand the writers’ use of the jumbo jet plane archetype is a literal metaphor (and pun) for carrying these people to the next ‘plane’ of existence. Once you realize that the plane is merely a metaphor, then you’ll understand the entire show. Even the title ‘Lost’ is both a pun and a foreshadowing of the main characters’ ‘awakening’ when put into context of the story.

That flight literally moved each of the victims to the next existence plane which allowed them to continue their lives right where they left off from their former reality (in excruciating detail), just as though the plane had really crashed. Let’s start off understanding that plane of existence. The next plane is supposedly the plane of imagination and creation (and as a way point for the next step in our journey). If this territory seems unfamiliar, you should probably research more on the 7 or 12 or 31 planes of existence theories. In the next plane from ours, you can create a realistic universe of your own choosing. So, the island represents this plane of existence. The island had rules because the person who imagined the island created those rules. It looked, smelled, felt and tasted like a real island because that plane of existence was just as real to those involved.

In the case of people new to that plane, they are not yet aware that they are dead (from the Earthly reality) and continue onward ‘living’ their lives as though they were still alive in the Earthly plane. The reason the physicality of the island mirrors our physical human reality so closely is that all people who recently die end up there. Because each person’s essence is so heavily tied to the Earth plane for so long, it’s natural to bring that familiarity into the plane of imagination and creation and then recreate those things most familiar exactly as it were (people and all). Hence, the Island.

The Glitch

In that plane of existence, things will be a little off kilter here and there (like the cat glitch in the Matrix). For example, the smoke monster, the island barrier, Jacob, people randomly appearing and disappearing on the island, items they need randomly appearing and disappearing, being cured of illness, time travel, magical events, etc. These are all manifestations of someone’s imagination and/or of being in that non-physical plane of reality. Because none of the people realized they were effectively in a dream reality, they never ‘woke’ up to it… all except Desmond. He didn’t wake up, but he could manipulate parts of that island reality. In fact, he may have been the ‘constant’ who unknowingly created the island from his imagination after having died sometime earlier. Assuming Desmond was the creator of the island, he couldn’t wake up before the rest of the characters or the Island might drastically change.

Note, the characters discount or disregard the glitching because that plane of existence is less rational than the Earthly plane. So, events that would seem way out of place here on Earth are more readily accepted in that plane. Acceptance of the glitching is part of the awakening process.

Why strand them there?

That’s a good question. Let’s understand that they would have ended up in that plane of existence simply by their physical body dying. However, for no other reason than the writers needed a place to put the plane crash victims to create this story, placing them all into Desmond’s plane of existence was as good a place as any. If you have a bunch of dead people, to the writers it seemed to make sense and it produced a good enough show.

But, they left the island!

Well, yes and no. Because that plane of existence can manifest anyone’s imagination, it’s easy to have characters end up back at home. That doesn’t mean they were really there. What the characters saw was merely a shadow world created by that character in the imagination plane. That’s why the real world always seemed just a little bit odd, somewhat unnatural and unreal. So, anyone they interacted with was simply a dream character. Because not one of the characters ever woke up, they never knew they could learn to manipulate their own world in any way they saw fit. But, if they had awakened, they would also know that they’re dead. So, for the writers, it would have revealed the ending too soon to have any one character actually ‘wake up’.

Some of the people died on the show

Yes, they did. But, they were already dead? Yes, those characters who died on the island suddenly realized they were already dead and moved on from that plane to the next plane earlier than the rest of the characters. Because ‘moving on to another plane’ is a different event from physically dying, all of the characters who thought they were still ‘alive’ perceived that person’s exit as a death. If they were to perceive another character’s death in any way other than by our plane’s means, they would wake up to the fact that they’re dead. It also makes perfect sense that some characters might figure it all out sooner than others. There’s no need to stay on the island once you know the truth of it.

What was the island?

Was the island a type of Purgatory? Not exactly. Purgatory assumes you believe in Christianity. Purgatory is defined as an intermediate state between death and Heaven. A place to purify before reaching Heaven. If the Island were Purgatory, that would assume all of the characters were destined for Heaven. In fact, there were plenty of characters there that didn’t seem to deserve entry to Heaven for the things they had done in life. But, who am I to judge that for them?

Instead, it’s better to adopt the wider view of planes of existence outside any single organized religion’s ideas. These views define planes as, yes, intermediate planes after death, but more than that. There are anywhere between 7 and 31 planes. I won’t get into further details about this topic as it’s well beyond the scope of this article. There are plenty of books describing these planes, what they are and why they exist.

Anyway, the Island is one of these planes and a type of ‘waiting room’ (if you subscribe to the Catholic view, it might be considered Purgatory) for people to make peace with their old life allowing them to ‘wake up’ to their new existence slowly before moving on. It’s a place to let you replay events from your physical life and unshackle yourself from the confines of a physical body to transition to the next plane. Think of the Matrix and waking someone up there. It’s kind of the same thing, but you get to wake up on your own rather than by taking a pill and finding yourself in a new reality immediately. The island is simply that stopover point that leads each of those people to the next step of their existence.

Note that during season 6, their existence was defined to be ‘Purgatory’, but by season 6 the characters were beginning to wake up. During seasons 1-5, the characters thought they were still physical. In their reality, that was all an illusion. The only thing real during seasons 1-5 was they were in that waiting room that appeared to be an island. In fact, they were in an alternate plane of existence where imagination and creation makes things appear real.

Why 6 years?

Understand that time in that plane of existence is meaningless. 6 minutes, 6 hours, 6 days or 600 years could all pass in the blink of an eye to us. Time doesn’t work the same in the next plane of existence. To us, we watched 6 years of episodes, but to the characters it may have seemed to happened in less then 30 days. Time is relative to where you are.

Why not all 250+ passengers?

Those specific few people were likely chosen by Desmond to live out their reality on his island or simply found their way to that island because Desmond wanted it to happen. The rest of the 250 passengers ended up in their own different realities, perhaps living out their own lives as if the plane had crashed, but others could end up making a world back at home with their families. The unseen victims of the crash made their own realities outside of the island reality and we didn’t get to see their lives unfold. Some of those people might also have moved on faster than those we saw on the island.

They weren’t dead until the very end?

Yes and no. They were dead in our reality. But, they weren’t dead in their plane of existence. A plane that is outside of our existence (or at least a plane that we cannot get to in our current tangible form). Because their bodies had died, their essence moved on in what appeared to be a body that looked, acted and dressed just like the living counterpart. The theory is that when you die, you continue to see yourself as your last physical body even in the next plane of existence. That is, until you slowly wake up to your new non-physical existence.

At the very end, the characters were finally awakened to their own Earthly death. A death that happened before the island. Once they awakened, they could realize the truth of it and return to the Earthly plane as ghosts. For whatever reason, they all awakened in unison, that or it was simply just time. Though, to them, the island was still just as real as any event on the Earthly plane. But, to the Earthly plane inhabitants where their physical bodies had died, they had died at sea in the plane and that’s all their Earth families ever knew.

In essence, Lost was a show about ghosts living in an alternate plane of reality.

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Dear TV Show producers, Let ‘V’ be a lesson to you

Posted in streaming media, TV Shows by commorancy on June 10, 2011

As was predicted in Randosity’s earlier Boycott V Series article, V has officially been cancelled by ABC as of May 13, 2011 (Friday the 13th).  This was not a good day for the V series cast and crew as they had just lost their jobs.  Oh well, such is life in show business.  However, this cancellation goes to prove yet another experiment a failure at the expense of what could have been a good series.

Since V’s second season launch in January, the producers and/or ABC had made the insane choice to not allow V back onto Hulu, iTunes, Amazon or any other streaming media service (including ABC’s very own streaming TV web site).  So, that meant no way to watch back episodes or catch up on missed V episodes.  This also meant as people began missing episodes, they couldn’t catch up and said,  “f-it” and moved on.

Lessons Learned

When your series targets the exact age demographic of people who do watch their TV series via Hulu (or any other streaming site) and also when you decide to cut these exact viewers off from your show, it’s the kiss of death.  V is, unfortunately, a perfect shining example of what not to do with streaming media and a TV series.  Don’t shun streaming media, embrace it.  Embrace it with open arms and nurture and foster its growth.  As a producer you want, no, you need viewers.  The more the better.  It doesn’t matter if you have to rip the video of each episode and personally seed the file yourself on bitorrent.  Do it!

What you don’t want is, well, exactly what the producers did to V.  Don’t bite the hand the feeds you.  Worse, the show began to feel the effects of its lower and lower viewership (and ratings) and began making more and more desperate, drastic and insane story choices to try and recoup viewership.  It didn’t work and the choices killed off main characters from the show, yet didn’t do anything to increase viewership.  This only made the show worse and more pointless.  But, these story choices were simply a side effect of the stupidity of not allowing streaming sites to stream (or back catalog) the series.  You can’t change the story to attempt make up for the ‘no streaming’ decision.  To get viewers back, the producers would have had to rescind that decision and allow the show back onto Hulu, iTunes and Amazon.  But, by April  it was already too late to rescind that decision and gain the lost viewership back.

Back Catalogs & Advertisers

Still, any show should allow a back catalog of episodes to be available on streaming sites for even just a few months to allow viewers to keep up with a show (even if the shows aren’t available to streaming for 30 days).  A back catalog of older episodes allows viewers to take their time catching up and feel good about the time when they watch.  Sure, these views may not give the immediacy of the Neilsen ratings, but so what?  That system is so antiquated, it needs to die.  Instead, we need a new ratings system that takes into account real viewers from streaming sites and next day views.  Skip the ‘night of’ viewership numbers and go with a model that resembles how people are actually watching TV today.  Internet enabled TVs are not going away and neither are mobile devices.  Hello advertisers like Proctor and Gamble, get with it.  Same day viewership of TV shows is over.  That day has passed.  The future of TV is through next day viewing or even month later views.  That’s where the advertising revenues will be had.

So Long ‘V’

It’s unfortunate that the producers felt the need to make stupid choices like ‘no streaming’.  It was a gamble that simply didn’t pay off.  It turned the series into a shambles through poor story choices.  Oh well, V has had its short-lived day.  Tomorrow is another day and with it new TV shows to sink your time slots into.  But, let’s just make sure they continue to do it on our, the viewer’s, terms.

To the producers, embrace change or perish.  That’s the prime lesson to take away from the ‘V’ experiment.  Yes, the V ‘no streaming’ experiment was truly a failure.

A call to boycott ABC’s V series

Posted in computers, entertainment, itunes, science fiction, streaming media, TV Shows by commorancy on January 20, 2011

[Update: V has been cancelled as of May 13th.  Bye ‘V’.].

I have personally decided to boycott watching the new V series. No, not because the series isn’t good. It’s a reasonably good series, so far. No, it’s also not for any creative or story reasons you might think. The reason I have decided to boycott the V series is that whomever owns the rights or produces this series has decided to no longer allow streaming of new episodes in any form or on any Internet site, like Hulu or iTunes.

No more V on Hulu?

It’s not just Hulu that’s cut out of streaming for this show. It’s all streaming sites including ABC’s very own ABC.com site. You would think that since ABC owns the broadcast rights to the series and, in fact, are the ones who make the very decision whether V lives or dies as a series, that ABC would have the rights to stream this program online. No, apparently they do not. Very odd. It’s also not available on iTunes or Amazon either.

It almost seems like the producers are biting the hand that feeds them (in more ways than just one). Seriously, not even allowing ABC.com to stream episodes of V on their own site? This seems like the kiss of death for this series.

Rationale behind this decision

I have no inside scoop here, so I really have no idea what the producers were thinking. But, I can only guess that the reasoning is to force viewers to watch the show live on ABC (the TV channel) and only on the TV channel for its first run. So, on the one hand, this seems like a ratings bonanza. On the other hand, let’s explore the downside of this decision.

Viewer Demographics

Because V is very much a long continuous story arc format, if you miss even two episodes, you’re hopelessly lost. V isn’t a one-off monster-of-the-week series where you can watch an episode now and then. No, it is a long deep story arc that needs to be watched one episode at a time in order.

On top of the long story arc format, it is a science fiction program involving heavy uses of technology and intrigue. This genre choice automatically limits the types of viewers. So, the types of viewers that V tends to draw in are those who tend to be younger, tech savvy, internet knowledgeable types. Basically, the kind of viewers who tend to watch things on Hulu and download content from iTunes.

Producer miscalculation

So, on the one hand, the appearance is that this decision should allow the program to get higher ratings by forcing people to watch it live. On the other hand, Hulu and iTunes (and others) no longer have the rights to carry the back catalog of episodes to allow people to catch up.  If viewers can’t catch up, they’ll not watch it live either. If you get lost, there is no reason to watch as you can’t understand what’s going on anyway.  So, turn the channel and watch something else.

By alienating the exact demographic who tends to watch programs on Hulu combined with the lack of back catalog of episodes on Hulu for people to catch up with missed episodes, my guess is that this decision will seriously backfire on the producers. The ratings will, instead, drop and drop precipitously as the season progresses. In fact, I’d venture to guess that this decision may, in fact, be the sole reason for the death of this series. It’s clear that ABC won’t keep V on the air without viewers.  We know that.  But, you can’t keep viewers watching V by trying to appeal to the wrong demographic or by pissing on the fan base.

The streaming and Internet genie is out of the bottle.  You can’t go back to a time before the Internet and Hulu existed.  The producers seriously need to understand this. It’s unfortunate that the producers chose V for this experiment.  So far, V appears to be a good series and is probably worth watching. But, the producers also need to realize that removing choices of where and how this program can be viewed is not the answer. You need more viewers, not less.

Underground distribution

Of course, that just means that people will create xvids or mp4s of the show and distribute them via torrents.   So, instead of seeing legitimate views on legitimate sites with legitimate ad revenue, the whole thing now gets pushed underground where there is no ad revenue and views don’t help the show or the producers at all.  Not smart.  Not smart at all.

What is the answer?

The answer lies with Neilsen Ratings. In a time where streaming and instant (day after) releases are nearly common place, Neilsen still has no strategy to cover this media with ratings. TV ratings are still and only counted by live views. This company is seriously antiquated. It still solely relies on active Neilsen households watching programs live. Hulu views, DVR views and iTunes downloads do not count towards viewership or ratings. Yet, these ‘day after’ views can be just as relevant (or even more) today than live views. Today, counting only live views is fundamentally wrong.

Change needs to come with the ratings companies, not by producers trying to force the 70s viewing style in 2011. Neilsen needs to count all views of a program no matter where they are or when they are. The ratings game needs to change and must change to accommodate the future of TV. As TVs become Internet connected, this change will become even more important. Eventually, TV programming will be seamlessly delivered over the Internet. In fact, there will come a time when you ‘tune in’ and you won’t even know if it’s streamed or over the air.  In fact, why should you care?  A view is a view whether live or a month later.

Understanding Neilsen’s antiquated system

Of course, once you understand Neilsen’s outdated model, you can also understand why Neilsen is not counting any ratings other than live TV.  Why is that?  Because counting any other medium than live TV threatens the very existence of Neilsen’s service. Once broadcasters realize they can gather these numbers through Hulu, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other DVR and on-demand technologies directly, there is no need for Neilsen.  That is, once we’ve moved to streaming TV 100% it’s easy to get accurate counts.  Neilsen’s service was born out of the need to track viewers in a time when the Internet did not exist.  With the Internet, it’s much easier to track viewer activity and data in real time.  It’s also easy to get this information right from the places that have rights to stream.  So, with these real-time reporting methodologies, Neilsen really is no longer necessary.

Neilsen has always used an extrapolation methodology for its ratings statistics, anyway.  That is, only a tiny subset of homes throughout the country are Neilsen households.  So, when these Neilsen households watch, these small numbers are extrapolated to the larger population, even though there is really no way to know what non-Neilsen households are watching.  So, Neilsen’s ratings systems are actually very inaccurate.  Counting the numbers of views from Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other streaming sites and technologies are exact and spot-on accurate.  In fact, these numbers are so exact, they can even be traced back to specific hardware devices and specific households, something Neilsen’s rating systems have never been capable of doing.  This is why Neilsen is scared to count online views.  This is why Neilsen is no longer needed.

Goodbye V

It was nice knowing ya. My instincts all say that the fan backlash from this decision will be swift and final. If this series manages to make it to the end of the 2011 spring season without cancellation, I’ll be amazed. However, if ABC cancels this show before June, that won’t surprise me. So, unless the producers make an about-face really fast with regards to this no-streaming experiment, this series is likely already cancelled… it just doesn’t yet know it. I’d also urge anyone reading (and especially Neilsen households) to boycott the new V series and send a message to the producers that not offering streaming options is not acceptable and that your program is dead without them. I can tell you that I won’t watch this series again until streaming options become available. This is not really a problem for me as there are plenty of other TV shows available. The problem here is for the cast and crew. These people are dedicating their time, effort and livelihoods to putting this series together only to be screwed over by the producers. Such is life in Hollywood, I guess.

The reality behind Reality TV: Hell’s Kitchen Edition

Posted in food and dining, reality tv, TV Shows by commorancy on October 15, 2009

[Updated: February 10, 2018 — Seasons 14 thru 17 and Where are they now?]

Hell’s Kitchen

For those of you who like Reality TV shows like Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, realize there is even more reality than what you see on the tube. For example, in the first two seasons of Hell’s Kitchen, the winners didn’t actually win what the show promised during the seasons. The first season winner, Michael Wray, was to win his own restaurant, but the show didn’t deliver on that award. Instead, he was awarded kitchen equipment and a trip to the UK to study under Ramsay. He first accepted and then later declined the trip. The second season winner, Heather West, was promised a newly built restaurant in Las Vegas in which she would have an investment stake and help design it.  This prize also never materialized. Instead, she signed a one year contract to be Senior Chef at Terra Rossa (an existing restaurant) in Las Vegas. After her contract terminated, she left and became Sous Chef on Hell’s Kitchen during Season 6.  Still, not the prize she had won.

It wasn’t until the third season that Hell’s Kitchen actually awarded the prize to Rock Harper that it had announced all season. He became Head Chef of Green Valley Ranch’s Terra Verde. Of course, the question remains, was it just a limited stint for Rock like it was for Heather?  Only time will tell. Fast Forward… The award for Season 6 was to be ‘Head Chef’ at the Araxi in British Columbia. Unfortunately, the restaurant began to get cold feet at the start of Season 6 after seeing the contestants. So, Ramsay apparently had to talk with the owner to quell any fears that there would be a competent winner. Unfortunately, Araxi had already made up its mind. The winner of Season 6 (Dave) will simply become an ’employee’ and not ‘Head Chef’. So, once again, Hell’s Kitchen has not delivered on its announced award.

I also have to wonder about those other award winners (see updates below). Did they only somewhat win or slightly win? At least Hell’s Kitchen should award cash and tangible prizes. As long as the sponsorship remains, the prizes will be there. Top Chef got that one right at least.

Winners List Seasons 1 through 4

Season 1 winner
Michael Wray
Prize: Tatou in Los Angeles
Status: Not Awarded
Alternate: Study under Ramsay in London + Kitchen Equipment

Season 2 winner
Heather West
Prize: Her own custom designed restaurant in Las Vegas.
Status: Not Awarded
Alternate: Terra Rossa at Red Rock Resort Spa and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada

Season 3 winner
Rahman “Rock” Harper
Prize: Terra Verde at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, Nevada
Status: Prize Awarded

Season 4 winner
Christina Machamer
Prize: London West Hollywood in Los Angeles (Chef Ramsay owned) + $250k yearly salary
Status: Prize Awarded

Kitchen Nightmares

Kitchen Nightmares, on the other hand, is its own nightmare.  Of course, it doesn’t help that Ramsay attempts to save restaurants on the brink of collapse.  Needless to say, in the first 2 US seasons of this show and of the 13 he’s tried saving in New York, only 5 are still in business. Sebastian’s in LA has also closed. Most of the failed restaurant owners blame Ramsay and Ramsay blames the owners for not following his advice. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle combined with the economy. The downturn has taken its toll on lots of places, including restaurants. Fine dining is quite expensive. People are cutting back and eating more frugally. It doesn’t help that most of these ailing turned failing restaurants really had no regulars anyway. So, giving it a coat of paint and a new menu is probably not enough. Their reputation was already tarnished.

Of course, Kitchen Nightmares also pays to have people dine at the restaurant so that it appears as though it might succeed. The reality, of course, is far different. This is all Hollywood smoke and mirrors. After the cameras stop rolling and the production is no longer paying diners, the restaurant goes back to its old dismal self (bad sales and all). Basically, polishing poop doesn’t make it better. Kitchen Nightmares is now moving into its fifth season and counting.

Update for Kitchen Nightmares – 2010 Edition

Joseph Cerniglia found dead in Hudson River. According to witnesses, they saw someone jump from a bridge. Joseph was the owner of Campania restaurant that was featured on Kitchen Nightmares. At the time when Ramsay stepped in, Joseph’s restaurant was in debt by more than $80,000 to his suppliers. Ramsay tried to get Campania back on track, but we know how this works. After the cameras stop rolling and the paid diners stop, as stated above, the restaurant goes back to is old dismal money-losing self and falls back into the death spiral. Whether or not KN is responsible, in any way, for his apparent suicide has yet to be determined, but this is definitely a shocker.

Campania Episode on Hulu [Defunct Link: Here for historical purposes only]
 

Warning: Contains explicit language

Update for Kitchen Nightmares — June 2014

As of June 2014, Daily Mail UK reports that the Kitchen Nightmares series has officially ended. I’d say, it’s really about time. In it’s run, KN has tried to help many restaurants survive, recover and prosper. KN was primarily smoke and mirrors, TV cameras and paid diners. The truth is, more than 60% (and counting) of the restaurants Kitchen Nightmares has tried to save have folded. That’s not a particularly spectacular track record and just points to the fact that not all is a perfect shade of deep fried golden brown in Gordon Ramsay’s world.

Makes You Wonder

I have to wonder just how many more reality game or fix-it shows really work after the dust settles and the cameras are gone. With shows like Trading Spaces and Bridezilla, is it only about the cameras and drama? Does the ‘reality’ really mean anything. After the cameras stop, it’s really not that exciting. In fact, when the cameras are rolling, it’s not that exciting. That’s why they hire excellent editors to take random shots and intercut them together. For that reason alone, that’s how Tek, who was eliminated much earlier in Hell’s Kitchen, can reappear in an episode where she shouldn’t have been.

Smoke and Mirrors

Remember, Hollywood is all about appearances. Appearance is the only thing that matters. As long as its glitzy and offers some drama, Hollywood assumes people will watch. To some degree, I guess that thinking is valid. But, once you realize that it’s only smoke and mirrors, then it becomes just fluff. For me, that’s not really enough to keep watching.

Hell’s Kitchen Updates

Season 5

Winner: Danny Veltri
Prize: Head Chef at Borgata’s Fornalletto in Atlantic City
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Sous Chef position

Danny Veltri was to have won the head chef position at the Borgata’s Fornelletto restaurant in Atlantic City and, unfortunately, ended up as sous chef at the restaurant under head chef Stephen Kalt. Danny didn’t immediately appear disappointed in the change according to this NY Daily News story and wanted to learn from Kalt. Apparently, Danny stayed for only several months and then, after frustration set in, departed back to Florida to work at Flip Flops, his own and previously operating restaurant. So, once again, HK didn’t deliver its announced prize fully as described.
 

 
Season 6

Winner: Dave Levey
Prize: Araxi in Whistler BC for the Olympics
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Line Cook

Dave Levey didn’t stay long at the Araxi in Whistler, BC. After not receiving the head chef position that he was promised, he apparently only stayed just long enough to help with the 2010 Olympics. After that, Dave packed up and has returned to his native New Jersey to work at the Il Giardino restaurant where he had been previously employed prior to HK.

[Update 2013] Dave has since left Il Giardino and has moved to The Publick House as Executive Chef which is located in Chester, New Jersey or visit their direct web page at The Publick House Tavern and Inn. Apparently, both Il Giardino and The Publick House Tavern and Inn are owned by the Lubrano family according to this 2009 nj.com article. Apparently, this family also owns a third restaurant named Provesi in Morristown. Effectively, Dave is still working for the same restaurant family.
 

 
Season 7

Winner: Holli Ugalde
Prize: Savoy Grill in London
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Undisclosed sum of money

[Updated: 11/30/2013] Reader Morten writes in saying that, according to this Daily Mail UK article, Holli was not awarded the Savoy Grill position and apparently she’s ‘fuming’ and feeling ‘betrayed’ by Ramsay. Not sure what’s going on between these two, but whatever it is doesn’t seem appetizing.

The finals came down to Holli and Jay. Drum roll please… Holli Ugalde wins. This time the prize is likely something that can actually be awarded as this is a restaurant owned by Ramsay himself. Hell’s Kitchen always seemed to get in trouble when awarding jobs to contestants where Ramsay had no ownership stake in the restaurant. This season, the prize is a head chef position at Ramsay’s newly opened (reoponed?) Savoy Grill restaurant in London. Because Ramsay will own and operate this restaurant, HK will likely be able to actually award the prize fully.

Of course, that depends on the Savoy’s successful reopening launch to work. We’ll have to see, though, if that promise holds true for Holli. Of course, Ramsay may end up hiring both Holli and Jay should the Australian trip turn out better than expected. I’m quite sure Ramsay considered this in his decision when not only picking the winner, but also when he picked the two finalists this season. Pulling Holli and Jay together through an Australian trip may mean Ramsay will get 2 chefs for the price of one if the relationship holds and they both move to London together. It’s a long shot for Ramsay, but if it works, it will work out great. If it doesn’t work out, he still gets Holli.

But wait, there is now speculation that Holli is a lesbian. I’m not specifically seeing it in the photos from this web site. But, you can visit and be the judge. Is she or isn’t she? If so, then the Jay and Holli romance thing was all a sham as Ramsay (and HK) would likely have known this fact. You might also want check out Holli’s MySpace page which may have more details about this.

Oh, and if you didn’t watch the final episode closely, you might want to watch it again. Dave Levey makes a cameo complete with chef’s outfit, knit cap and arm cast. Although, if his arm hasn’t healed in 12 months, he needs to see a specialist.
 

 
Season 8

Winner: Nona Sivley
Prize: Head Chef at L.A. Market
Status: Awarded

Season 8 has now been over for quite some time, but I’ve been lax on updating this article.  The winner is… drum ro.. nevermind, this season is not worth getting excited over.  Between Russell and Nona, Nona wins, for whatever that’s worth. This season was an unmitigated disaster. The professionalism of this show dropped tremendously. The drama went way up and the fighting was at a boiling point nearly every episode. Yet, there was little actually boiling in the kitchen, other than Ramsay. Anyway, I guess Nona gets the position at L.A. Market, even though there’s was no clear executive chef material in any of the contestants. Good luck Nona, you’re gonna need it. With that said, between Jillian, Russell and Nona, Jillian was the most consistent cook of the bunch. Russell had a big mouth and liked to run it, but when it came down to meals, he just couldn’t cut it (or, in this case, cook it). We’ll see if Nona hangs around long at L.A. Market.  My guess is that, like past HK winners, she’ll do a couple months there as a token prize and then be off back home. Note that Nona apparently started work at the L.A. Market on January 1, 2011 January 25th, 2011.  So, Nona should now be working there as of this [latest] update.
 

 
Season 9

Winner: Paul Niedermann
Prize: Head Chef at BLT Steak in Manhattan
Status: Awarded

Season 9 has now concluded. The winner turns out to be Paul Niedermann who began his career flame broiling burgers at Burger King.  He has won the spot as Head Chef at the BLT Steak located in Manhattan. According to this ‘About Us‘ web page for BLT Steak, it does actually appear that Paul Niedermann did get the gig at BLT Steak. Mind you, this particular restaurant doesn’t appear to be any kind of super upscale establishment, but it at least appears to offer reasonable quality food.  Definitely a step up from Burger King, but perhaps not by that much. Yelp gives NY BLT Steak 3.5 stars.

Yelp consensus for BLT Steak NY — overpriced for the quality.

A quote from the BLT Steak’s About Us page:

Paul Niedermann

Head Chef, BLT Steak New York

As the Season 9 winner of Fox’s hit reality show, Hell’s Kitchen, Paul Niedermann recently traded Florida sunshine for the glittering lights of New York City. As Head Chef of BLT Steak New York, Paul brings Italian and Mediterranean influences to the kitchen, his culinary palette pairing light fresh food together with citrus and other influences from his time spent in southern Florida. He also brings, of course, a killer competitive edge.

Watch Paul talk about his experience in New York City and working at BLT Steak. [Below]

 

 
With that said, the runners up were Will Lustberg and Elise Wims. While I would like to discuss this specific show’s qualities, it has gone way too far down in recent years to really get excited by it anymore. So, for sheer informational purposes, here is the winner information.

Season 10

Winner: Christina Wilson
Prize: Head Chef at Paris, Las Vegas
Status: Awarded

Season 10 is now over and the winner is …. Christina Wilson. She takes her place among the other Hell’s Kitchen winners. The runner up, Justin Antiorio.  You can find out more details about this season at this Los Angeles Times article. Basically, it as a play between palette and passion.  I’m guessing that Ramsay is more a fan of passion than palette, but that’s a bit unusual considering that taste in food is everything. Passion is great, but if you can’t make creative foods that taste great, then you’re not likely to do that well as a successful chef. I guess Ramsay will have to deal with that now since Christina Wilson wins her spot at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the Las Vegas Paris hotel.
 

 
Yelp’s rating for Gordon Ramsay Steak Las Vegas is a solid 4 stars. A large number of the most recent reviews (as of 9/25/2012) are 5 stars with many people saying the steak is outstanding. Of course, in the restaurant biz, quality can change on a dime. That’s why there are sites like Yelp. So, there you have it. If you like steak, this is probably a great place to try. Albeit, it’s a bit pricey with the average price per guest around $85.

Season 11

Winner: Ja’Nel Witt
Prize: Head Chef position at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Las Vegas
Status: Not Awarded — failed required drug test

I’d been lax in updating this page, but there’s been some actual real-life drama involving the winner of HK season 11. So, the winner is Ja’Nel Witt. I won’t really get into how she won HK (it doesn’t really matter at this point). Instead, let’s get into the real-life drama. Keep in mind that I’ve been waiting for a story like this to break for 10 seasons.

According to TMZ, Ms. Witt failed her drug test that Caesars Palace required her to take upon assuming her winning position at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Las Vegas. After going through all of that hassle for an entire season (granted, it’s really just a couple of weeks time in real-life when they film the whole season), she was allegedly stupid enough to run some rails. Now she’s being run out of town on a rail. Yes, some things don’t stay in Vegas and it appears Ms. Witt won’t be one of those things. Yes, this also means Ms. Witt won’t be assuming the role at Ramsay’s restaurant.

Although, Ms. Witt won against Mary Poehnelt (the runner up). I’m hoping that Mary Poehnelt will end up taking the position and getting the money as it doesn’t bode well to give that to someone suspected of being a drug addict. Not the right role model to be endorsing here. Although, again according to TMZ, Gordon Ramsay still believes in Ja’Nel and he says his ‘door is always open’ once she ‘sorts out her personal issues’.
 

 
Maybe Gordon Ramsay has learned his own life lesson: even though it’s consumable, it’s not always about food. You’ve got to know that as cranky as Ramsay gets at raw scallops or an underdone Wellington, he’s got to be fuming over this. I think it’s time for HK to start doing drug tests all throughout the seasons to make sure the contestants aren’t coking while cooking.

Season 12 (Spring 2014)

Winner: Scott Commings
Prize: Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The prize was carried over from the previous season from Ja’Nel Witt’s drug test failure and awarded this season. Not sure why the show didn’t award it to the Season 11 runner up. Isn’t that why there’s runner up?
Status: Awarded
Runner Up: Jason Zepaltas

Season 13 (Fall 2014)

WinnerLa Tasha McCutchen
Prize: Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Atlantic City (thanks go to reader Kenny)
Status: Awarded. She served her time, but has since left to go back to 3030 Ocean (a previous restaurant) several times. She wants to become a private chef.
Runner UpBryant Gallaher

new Season 14 (Spring 2015)

Winner: Meghan Gill
Prize: Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Atlantic City
Status: Apparently awarded, but she waited over a year to start in 2015 and appears to no longer be there. According to the restaurant’s web site, the current chef is “Georgeann Leaming”.
Runner Up: Torrece Gregoire

new Season 15 (Spring 2016)

Winner: Ariel Malone
Prize: BLT Steak at Bally’s Las Vegas
Status: Awarded, but she’s no longer there.
Runner Up: Kristin Barone

new Season 16 (Winter 2017)

Winner: Kimberly-Ann Ryan
Prize: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at The Venetian Las Vegas
Status: Apparently awarded, but the chef listed for this restaurant is currently “John Kunkel”. Not sure what’s going on here.
Runner Up: Heather Williams

new Season 17 (Winter 2018)

Winner: Michelle Tribble
Prize: Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant at Caesars Palace
Status: Not Yet Known
Runner Up: Benjamin Knack

Commentary

Chalk this next commentary all up to TV smoke and mirrors. These winner “head chef” jobs seem just a tad strange. They claim to win a head chef position, but I rarely ever see the name of the winner listed on the web page for the restaurant. Then, inexplicably after a few months, the winner has already left the restaurant. It almost seems like the restaurant is embarrassed to state that they have a Hell’s Kitchen winner in the kitchen. It seems to me that the restaurants would want that publicity instead of shying away from it. It’s so odd.

As a chef, why would you put yourself through the grueling rundown of Ramsay’s tirades and not know if you’re actually going to win even if that door opens? This show has lost its steam. My guess is that all that steam is evaporating from Ramsay’s expletives rather than from the pots. Personally for me, this show has worn out its welcome. But, apparently, Fox keeps ordering more seasons… And, 2 HK seasons in one calendar year in 2014? What was that all about? At least they stopped that silly business during the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with Michelle Tribble since her win was only just aired on February 2nd, 2018.


Update for Previous Winners

Here is the “Where are they today?” and the “What they are up to?” section. I will attempt keep this information up to date as I locate information on each of the previous winners. If you see a news article updating an HK’s winners whereabouts, please leave a comment below. Stay Tuned and Enjoy.

Michael Wray (Season 1 winner)

We know that Michael didn’t win the prize that he was promised. Instead, he was invited to study with Ramsay in the UK. He opted out because he stated it would be hard on his family at the time. Since then, he has been head chef in two Los Angeles restaurants (Tatou and the Standard), but ultimately didn’t stay. He left the Standard after stating that it was a good job, but the duties kept him out of the kitchen more than he liked. After leaving those restaurants, he moved to Arizona to be close to his family and, later, in hopes of opening his own restaurant named the HK1. In 2009, after failing to secure the funding for his restaurant venture then to be named HK1, he has apparently joined the staff of an Arizona College to teach cooking. However, scouring colleges and cooking schools in Tuscon and Sierra Vista Arizona areas, I’ve been unable to turn up which school, if any, where he is teaching. If you’re a reader in Arizona and know where he’s working, please comment. After this, I have not been able to locate information on what he’s doing.

Heather West (Season 2 winner)

Heather was to win her own restaurant in Vegas. She didn’t get this prize. Instead, she became Senior Chef at Terra Rossa at Red Rock Casino Resort Spa for one year. In 2009, she moved to Long Beach, New York where she became head chef of the Monterey Restaurant until September of 2010. From here, she’s moved around to various Executive Chef roles including at Jellyfish, Ciao Baby and R2 Events Corporation as a Corporate Executive Chef. She is now at Schafer’s in Port Jefferson, New York as Executive Chef where she’s been for 7 months.

new Rock Harper (Season 3 winner)

Rock Harper is located in Virginia. He has a Twitter account and a blog site called Rock Solid Creative Food Group. He also apparently hosts a podcast called the Chef Rock Xperiment.

new Christina Machamer (Season 4 winner)

Christina is located in or near Napa, California. Christina has a web site named ChefCMac.com. On this site she writes:

Today, I keep one foot firmly plated in the wine industry, consulting for Caldwell Vineyard and Eleven Eleven Winery, while working as a private chef for clients renting exclusive estates while visiting Napa Valley…. Click through to read more…

new Danny Veltri (Season 5 winner)

Danny Veltri’s location is currently unknown, but he may still live in or near New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In 2012, he was arrested for a DUI. He started his own catering service named Back from Hell catering sometime around 2012. It is unknown if he still operates this service. He was also chef for Gnarly Surf Bar & Grill in Smyrna Beach, which he also helped open. While Gnarly Surf Bar and Grill still appears to be in business according to Yelp, it is unknown if Danny is still involved in it.

Dave Levy (Season 6 Winner)

Where’s Dave as of 2014? He was briefly in jail, but was released on bail pending a hearing, reports nj.com. According to the article, he was a back seat passenger during a routine traffic stop sometime in August that led to discovery of narcotics in the vehicle. Dave was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance. Also, according to this same nj.com article, he was heading back to his restaurant job at Il Giardino ’86 (?.. eh, don’t think so.. see below). Of the bags that were consented to be searched, the officer found the bags to contain illicit prescription drugs (i.e., not prescribed to person in possession of them), a white powder substance suspected as a controlled substance, money and a ledger book which may have documented narcotic sales among other things. These bags were apparently not owned by Dave.

Purported by to this same nj.com article, Dave was apparently on his way back to Il Giardino ’86. I don’t know how that’s possible since Dave had moved to The Publick House quite a while back. Also according to this article and confirmed by Yelp, the Lubrano’s Il Giardino ’86 restaurant has now been 86ed (er.. closed). Its liquor license has been transferred to H2Ocean (not owned or operated by the Lubranos) now operating at the same location. Dave was likely on his way back to his executive chef position at The Publick House Inn and Tavern which is where he was as of 2013 and it is assumed it is where he still works unless this drug charge gets in the way.

new Holli Ugalde (Season 7 winner)

I haven’t been able to locate Holli’s exact whereabouts, but I believe she may be near Redlands, California based on her Twitter account. However, her Twitter account hasn’t been updated since 2016. She also has a web site located at www.chefholli.com.

new Nona Johnson (Season 8 winner)

Nona went by her maiden name of Sivley when on Hell’s Kitchen Season 8. She has lost weight, gotten married and is known as Nona Johnson. She has a Twitter and a Facebook account. She has been operating the Sizzling Peach catering service for at least 4 years. She and her catering service are located in Norcross, Georgia. Here is Sizzling Peach’s Facebook page.

new Paul Niedermann (Season 9 winner)

Paul Niedermann has left BLT Steak New York and is now located in Delray, Florida. Here’s a Delray Newspaper article talking to Paul from late 2017.

updated Christina Wilson (Season 10 Winner)

Where’s Christina now? In 2016, Christina moved to overseeing several of Ramsay’s restaurants both in Vegas and Atlantic city, she’s done a stint as Sous Chef on Hell’s Kitchen and she’s writing menus for Ramsay’s hotel rehab show, “Hotel Hell”. Since it’s now 2018, I’m not entirely sure what Ramsay has Christina doing. Apparently, she’s one of the rare HK winners. Apparently, she’s been able to milk the most out of her win on Hell’s Kitchen (and out of Ramsay) where most other winners have gone their separate ways in short order.

new Ja’Nel Witt (Season 11 Winner)

After not being able to claim her prize due to a drug test failure, Ja’Nel has created her own web site and describes how she got started. She’s currently located in Houston, Texas. The site says:

Chef Ja’Nel found her passion for food helping her mom in the kitchen as a little girl. After college she realized she could take that passion and turn it into a career. She initially earned her Bachelors of Science in Health and Human Performance, but then quickly followed her heart into the kitchen and has not looked back since. Click through to read more

new Scott Commings (Season 12 Winner)

As of 2018, Scott is located in Las Vegas. As of July 2017, he was located at The Las Vegas Room at the Downtown Grand. The Las Vegas Room is private rental dining room. It is presumed he is still operating this private dining restaurant. The Downtown Grand web site states:

This venue is available for private events and whether your preference is a romantic, 2 hour cocktail reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres or a formal sit down dinner, you’ll find a swanky, sophisticated scene in the Las Vegas Room. The Las Vegas Room is 1,700 square feet with a guest capacity of up to 100.

Scott is also working with The Freedom Beat also located in the Las Vegas Downtown Grand. On Feb 13th, 2018, he’s offering up a pre fixe menu with The Culinary Road trip, a monthly dinner he hosts. Cost is $38 or $48.

American Idol: Failure to launch (artists)

Posted in concerts, music, TV Shows by commorancy on May 31, 2009

While I understand the hype about this series (the competition and all), I don’t really understand why this show continues to exist.  Yes, we go through each season and whittle down contestents to the final two.  But, after the winner is chosen, then what?  Oh yeah, they get a recording contract.  What happens after that?

Spotting Commercial Viability

The ‘judges’ (and I use this term loosely) seem to think they know what’s best in the ‘pop music biz’.  Frankly, if they could discover real talent, they would be working for a record company locating and signing talent right and left and not hosting a silly variety hour show.   But, here we are… and here they are.  So, I must honestly question the sincerity and realism of this show.  The whole thing is staged, yes, to find someone who can sing.  But, it’s really there as a money maker for whomever is producing that show.   The underlying values aren’t to get someone signed to a contract.  The real point is  to put on a show.  And, thats what they do, for better or worse.

Judges

It’s funny that they pick judges who are has-been recording artsts and supposedly A&R people like Simon Cowell.  What’s funny about Simon is that his ability to pick talent has been extremely spotty.  For example, he signed and produced Westlife.  Westlife is a boyband that’s a meager shadow of N*Sync and The Backstreet Boys at best.  What’s even more funny is that THAT is really his BEST claim to talent selection outside of Idol.  Every other artist beyond that isn’t even worth mentioning.

So, how do these washed-up has-beens end up judging a show that supposedly prides itself on selecting quality talent?  Well, let’s examine Idol more closely.

Winning Contestants

Since 2002, there has been (in order), Kelly Clarkson, Rubin Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen (most recently).  Arguably, the biggest name to come out of the Idol circle is Kelly Clarkson with Carrie Underwood as a solid second.  The rest, well, what about them?  They may have produced records, but few appear to be listening.  This isn’t a good track record for Idol.

Let’s consider Kelly Clarkson for a moment.  Even she has had her ups and downs (mostly downs).  While Kelly has a resonably strong voice, the question remains just how commercially viable it is.  With a name like American Idol, you’d think that Kelly Clarkson would have taken the pop crown away from the likes of Madonna and Britney.  Yet, while Madonna’s star is fading, Britney has taken the crown over and firmly holds it as far as pop acts go.  Britney wasn’t even ‘discovered’ on Idol.  More than this, Kelly has a stronger voice than Britney, yet you see what that gets you.  Kelly isn’t even close to being in Madonna’s league and, while Britney has her own personal issues, her music producers provide a much better music experience than most of Kelly’s efforts.

Outside of these ‘winners’, we also have non-winners like Jennifer Hudson (who’s at least as well known as Kelly Clarkson and she wasn’t even a runner-up) and she’s also an overall more complete ‘star’ than Kelly.  Then there’s David Archuletta, Chris Daughtry and Clay Aikin.  These four people are the proof that the judges cannot pick winners.  In fact, these 4 people should have won Idol, but didn’t.  Yet, they are still successful on their own.

Track Record

Just looking at Idol’s track record, you can see more of the Idol winners have failed to be commercially viable than have been successful (Fantasia who?  Jordin who? David who?  Rubin who? Taylor who?).  The point here, that the judges clearly are not capable of spotting talent.   Even when someone has real singing talent, is young and good looking, clearly that’s not everything that’s needed.  Otherwise, everyone graduating from Idol would have become an instant success… which, of course, has not happened.

I understand the fervor over this show and I understand that the point in watching is more about the competition than the outcome.   But, isn’t the outcome why we come to watch?  Don’t we actually expect the winner to become popular, make great music and usurp the pop crown from Britney?  After all, that’s what Idol started out promising.

Idol is Flawed

The premise of Idol is flawed.  The barometer by which they choose winners is in versatility in singing already commercially successful songs. The real barometer of talent is both in songwriting and performing.  Even though someone has a great singing voice, that doesn’t automatically make them a pop sensation.  Becoming a ‘Pop Idol’  comes with singing unique new songs.  Songs that have not been heard before.  Better yet, it proves talent when the person can both write and sing their own music.  Artists like Prince and Sarah McLachlan are capable of this.  To me, this is talent worth finding.  But, today, commercial pop music is more about the look and voice than it is about songwriting.  Music producers are far too prone to run to Taxi and buy a song or commission their favorite songwriter to write a song rather than having the singer write something.

For me, Idol would be a much more rounded show if they actually required the singers to also write all of their own material.  This would be a lot more time consuming, but requiring this would also show the true talent of the artist.  This premise would show a contestant’s ability to write music under pressure and, at the same time, perform that music admirably.  Using this model in the show would likely have changed both the contestants in the show and the outcome of the winners.  I would also have a lot more respect for the winners of the show.  I also believe the winners would have been far more commercially viable as artists than anyone Idol has, so far, produced.

Idol’s days are numbered

We are now going into the 9th season and I believe this show is wearing out its welcome.  Talent shows like this do come and go, so I expect this show go packing probably in one to two seasons.  If it lasts beyond 10 seasons, I’d be highly surprised.  I’m honestly surprised that it has survived this long with its dismal track record of spotting viable commercial talent.  Yes, the winners can sing, but can they produce an album that people want?  In 8 seasons, I’d say the answer to that question is unequivically no.  The spectacle of the live performance is great, but it doesn’t mean the contestant has what it takes to succeed in the music business. Clearly, Idol has failed at it’s primary goal.

Entertainment Awards: Why so popular?

Posted in awards, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on January 26, 2009

What is it about entertainment awards shows that make people want to watch?  Is it the women’s dresses, the celebrities or what?  Whatever it is, I really don’t get awards shows.  Further, I don’t get why news outlets feel compelled to show us these boring affairs.

What’s the point?

First, think about where you work.  Then, ask yourself if you have ever gotten an award simply for doing your job?  Rarely, if ever.  So, why does the entertainment industry feel compelled to pat themselves on the back by giving out awards?  If someone excels at doing a job well, that’s what the company paid you to do.  They didn’t pay you to do a poor job.  So, do you deserve an award for simply doing your job?

Celebrities are paid to act, sing, dance or whatever.  They’re paid to do it well.  In fact, the point to them paying the actor at all is to make sure the movie or music is done well.  Sure, some of the quality is in the hands of the producer, director, writers and other technical behind-the-scenes people.  But, a convincing performance is the basis for much of the quality of the entertainment.  Again, that’s what they are paid to do.

Red Carpet

So, why do people feel compelled to watch celebrities strut down the red carpet in their latest (borrowed, in many cases) designer fare?  Well, I can tell you that I am not one of those people.  I don’t want to hear about them, I don’t want to watch them and I certainly don’t want to read about them in the news.  For me, news is about events that matter.  That someone was handed a trophy for doing a job they were paid to do doesn’t do anything for me.  Watching someone thank every person who ever mattered to them (and possibly stumbling over their words, or on the carpet) doesn’t interest me overall.

Mutual Admiration Society

For whatever reason, Hollywood (and the rest of the entertainment industry) insists on foisting these annual awards programs on us year after year.  I always dread the start of the new TV year just for that reason.  I really don’t care that someone in Hollywood feels compelled to hand out a trophy (gold or otherwise).  I don’t want to watch them do it.  I don’t want to watch the entertainers who dot these extremely boring affairs and I certainly don’t want to be invited to any of these plastic mutual admiration events.

The Academy allegedly prides itself on its standards.  Yet, year after year it digs itself into deeper and deeper holes by picking only those stars who produced the most ‘popular’ films.  I can understand why some celebrities actually snub awards shows and refused to attend or accept any awards.  Then you have the other side where certain celebrities want nothing more than to be graciously accepted with open arms.  In fact, they try so hard that these awards outfits intentionally snub them time after time.  So, it’s less about how well you do and more about who’s butt you kiss.  And here I thought the awards were about how well you did? 

Awards Shows and their societal significance

Considering that the best thing that movies and music do is fuel more movies and music (by unloading large sums of cash to that industry), this entertainment is simply vacuous forgettable time wasters.  In a rare instance, Hollywood might produce a salient worthwhile work, but these are so few and far between that awards shows don’t need to exist.  These rare worthwhile informative works are the ones that awards are made of.  However, these cheesy Hollywood awards are given out so frequently to the wrong people, the awards themselves are meaningless trinkets.

Good Riddance

If the awards shows disappeared today, I wouldn’t even miss them.  It might put a few people in LA out of business who might otherwise organize such an event.  In time, society wouldn’t even miss them.   As it is now, the media feels compelled to shove these trite affairs down our widescreen plasmas.  However, I’d much rather see an actual educational and informative program than watching an hour and a half  of vacuous boring people serving meaningless trinkets to people who simply did their job (or kissed a butt or two).   I’m just confused by people who don’t understand that that’s an hour and a half (or longer) of your life that you will never get back when you watch these empty shows.  So, why watch?

Is Battlestar Galactica Christian allegory? Certainly appears so.

Posted in science fiction, TV Shows by commorancy on January 9, 2009

In Battlestar Galactica season 4, the writers’ religious allegory subtext is becoming ever more clear.  Not so much that the ‘Human’ Cylons look and act like humans, but it’s more about the underlying story subtexts.   Consider the story of 12 apostles vs the 12 cylon models.  Also, apparently, when the 12 models do come together, the world will change.  Consider that the human Cylons believe in ‘the one god’ vs the human humans who still believe in the ‘pagan gods’.   This is a blatant metaphor between our history of those Greeks/Romans who believed in the pagan gods vs those who believed in God (and Christ – Christianity).  Consider now that Baltar appears to have healing abilities and is also on an unknowing teaching mission.  Baltar also looks, at times, like BSG version of Christ.  In fact, the Cylons have practically hand picked Baltar to do their ‘one god’ spread-the-word bidding.

The story of finding Earth really is less of a goal than it appears.  Sure, Earth is the hope that the BSG survivors cling in order to start a new life.  But, inevitably, the Cylons will find any place that the humans choose to inhabit.  The whole story arc has set up so so many Christian religious allegorical undertones that I’m not thrilled by this aspect of the show.   The writers are at a crux.  They can either continue down the 12 Apostles + Christ path and conclude this show as a blatant metaphor for Christianity, or they can drop this subtext and turn it back into the Sci-Fi series that it should be.

Obviously, BSG is taking liberties with the Christian history in order to fit the context of the show, but it certainly appears that allegory is where BSG is heading.  I personally like Sci-Fi series that don’t try to bring real-world religious metaphors and morality plays as the show’s subtle (or blatant) message.  But, I guess the show writers are gonna do what they’re gonna do.  I’ll keep watching until this religious allegory arc becomes so unbearably tedious to watch, I’ll stop watching.  If I really want to read the Bible, I can read it for myself.  I don’t need to see it played out in a Science Fiction show.

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