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Notes from inside the belly of the TV beast

Experts, friends, colleagues and supervisors have all given me the same advice about this thing they refer to as a “welcome post”: “Whatever you do, Zurawik,” one longtime friend and new-media expert says, “don’t get cosmic. Don’t give in to your obsessive need to try and go deep every time you step up to the plate. Singles and doubles – just go for a nice, clean base hit. In your first post, focus only on what matters most.”

Ok, probably nothing matters more to prospective readers of this blog than the fact that I am only slightly less obsessive than Adrian Monk, the defective detective of cable channel USA’s Monk. That means I will be posting a lot and at weird hours until I find a rhythm or crack up with all the extra work and stress I have just taken on.

But that can mean good things for readers. For example….

Next Saturday night and Sunday morning, if you check in with me here at about 1 or 2 a.m., you will find a review of Michael Phelps’ performance as host of NBC’s season opener for Saturday Night Live. And those of you who have been reading my stuff since I became the Sun’s TV critic in 1989, know I will tell you what I really think -- whether it is nice or not. But I guarantee you this is going to be one of the first and best places to find that review.

The headline on this blog promises that is will be about the “business, culture and craziness” of TV. In 23 years of writing on a daily basis about TV, the one thing I can say with certainty is that the answer to just about every question about the medium is MONEY. I will deal a lot with that.

In a post later this week, I will explain how the decision by cable operators to move AMC’s Mad Men to the digital tier of channels (to make more money) has severely affected ratings for this brilliant production.

As for TV as culture, were this blog up and running last week, I would have tried to connect the dots between TV shows like the ABC Family channel’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager and the pregnancy of the unmarried 17-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate.

Last month, when the ABC Family series premiered, I wrote a piece saying that like the feature film, Juno, such series send a message to teen girls that getting pregnant is a sure path to becoming the center of attention from family and friends. That's an especially danergous messages to teens who are feeling marginalized or neglected.

I welcomed such conservative analysts as Brent Bozell taking my piece and running with it on their Web sites to generate spirited online debates, but I wish for our own business reasons at the Sun, we were having those discussions here.

And that goes the same for a debate at Daily Kos over a piece I wrote ripping HBO’s film Recount for playing fast and loose with the facts of American history,. Ditto for another discussion at informationweek.com on my analysis of Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama as being more of the TV Age than the Internet Era despite all the cyber-buzz his campaign generates.

Enough, already, you will have to come back to find out how I characterize the “craziness” of TV – and what I really think about a politician like former Governor Robert Ehrlich sitting at a TV news desk, or whether Alan Ball’s new HBO drama, True Blood, is better than the late HBO drama, The Wire.

My review on True Blood ran yesterday in the Sun…I’m wondering what you are thinking of the show -- particularly if you have read the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I admit, despite being a Buffy fan, I am not an expert on the genre. 

In the Sun, I write primarily for a section called “You,” and that’s another reason this blog exists: To answer your questions about TV. Just post them here as comments if you want, and we'll  get the conversation started.

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