Bye bye, cable

If you’re not sitting down, you should be. Because what I’m about to tell you is going to rock you to the very foundations of what you believe to be true about me.

Beau and I are turning off our cable TV.

Why? Because it’s spendy and mostly crap. How many Sundays have I watched myself fall into a shameful HGTV spiral of House Hunters International,, Property Virgins, Holmes on Homes, and Design Star? Folks, I don’t even own a house! Plus, those are hours I could be writing or reading.

The most useful part of our cable subscription is the DVR we have, a fussy, uncooperative little thing that cuts off shows, decides what and when to record, and so forth. We never watch shows when they are broadcast–except maybe America’s Next Top Model.

With the rise of Hulu, we feel pretty confident that the things we love to watch throughout the year will stay on our radar. Other stuff we’ll catch on Netflix and on DVD.

The only thing I’m sad about is losing True Blood, but I’ll forget all the spoilers by the time the DVDs come out A YEAR FROM NOW. (Lame.)

Wish us luck! If you have any cable-free tips on TV watching, please send them our way.

Confidential from MTV

Found in a trash can at MTV in NYC:

The Hills spin-off ideas (rejected)

Speidi Sense
Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag host a John Edwards: Crossing Over-style spirit encounter show, trying to reconnect celebrity guests with the beloved departed pets (except fish).

The Patridge Family
Audrina Patridge marries (now ex-)boyfriend Ryan Cabrera and they embark on a Giuliana and Bill-style quest to get pregnant.

Lo Life
Lo Bosworth flirts with disaster as she tries to find love while rehabilitating teens in the juvenile detention system.

Speidi Cents
Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag host a Suze Orman-style money management program for twenty-somethings and new families.

Stephalupagus!
Stephanie Pratt, dressed as a giant pink mastodon, hosts a children’s show that teaches kids to stay away from drugs, alcohol, and carbohydrates.

Jenner Bender
In a Punk’d style comedy show, Brody Jenner’s friends take him out and get him drunk repeatedly, then dress him in drag when he passes out. They drop him in an unfamiliar part of town with only a Cricket cell phone and a greasy five dollar bill to make his way home.

Speidi Scents
Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag retreat to Santa Barbara, where they try to launch a fragrance line a la Tori and Dean Inn Love.

A Man in Every Port
Whitney Port and her sister Jade star in a Bachelorette-style competition show where suitors attempt to woo both sisters–while they are challenged to avoid giving a rose to the same guy!

The Ballad of Justin-Bobby
On a Kung-Fu-like search, Justin-Bobby rides his hog across America, stopping in small towns along the way in order to commit various acts of unprovoked douchebaggery.

Kell Hath No Fury
Kelly Cutrone oversees the management of a series of mob hits against each former cast member of The Hills in a Running Man-style competition show where there can be only one winner.

Beau’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer exit interview

You may have heard that Beau recently completed the Herculean task of watching every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me. It was kind of an agreed-upon prerequisite for living with me. I’m very proud of him for not only sticking it out, but also finding much to love about the show.

Beau and I sat down last night to talk Buffy, just one night after he watched “Chosen,” the show’s final episode, in our bedroom. Here’s what he remembers about Buffy:

Ten Favorite Episodes (in no order)
“Once More, with Feeling” (Season 6)
“Hush” (Season 4)
“Two to Go” (Season 6)
“Doppelgangland” (Season 3)
“Killed by Death” (Season 2)
“Help” (Season 7)
“Halloween” (Season 2)
“Witch” (Season 1)
“Life Serial” (Season 6)
“Storyteller” (Season 7)

Favorite Season Overall
Season 7

Favorite Character
Anya, the 1100-year old ex-vengeance demon

Least Favorite Character
Faith

Favorite Big Bad
Glorificus the Hell God

Favorite Little Bad
The Gentlemen from Hush

Best Buffy Hair
Season 7

Worst Buffy Hair
The bob in Season 6

Character He Most Aspires to Emulate
Willow

Character He Would Make Out With the Longest
Angel

Saddest Moment
When Xander leaves Anya at the altar in “Hells Bells”

Marry, Boff, Kill: Angel, Riley, Spike
Marry: Angel, Boff: Riley, Kill: Spike

Favorite song from “Once More, With Feeling”
“I’m Under Your Spell”

Will he read the season 8 comic books?
He’s thinking about it, even though it’s supergeeky.

Other Comments
Beau says he really started liking the show once they went to college in season 4, and that it kept getting better after that.

He also says, “I will be watching the whole series again.”

And he also says, “And I love you, Angel.”

“And Tara. And Anya.”

Organizational Change & Development in Tabatha’s Salon Takeover

Bravo has been running a lot of this show lately, and since I’ve been laid up (or, more accurately, laid out, like a cadaver) with a wrenched back, I’ve watched a bunch of episodes. And I’m kind of hooked. I was initially sort of reproachful about the show’s premise–├╝ber-wench Tabatha Coffey (formerly of the first round of Shear Genius) goes into a failing/miserable/grody hair salon, knocks everyone around, and teaches them but good. But you know what? The manager in me really likes this show a lot.

Tabatha does go into salons that are basically on their last curling iron, and yes, she does brusquely put people in their place, and she can be a little terse. But she’s also encouraging, fair, professional, and, in the end, she turns the salons into high-functioning team environments focused on customer service.

It’s a journey that–well, let’s just say it’s one I’m familiar with.

Organizational dysfunction is actually so common it has become “function.” Workplace environments are chock full of people with issues, people dodging responsibility, people viciously guarding their little fiefdoms, and people hating each other. Even the best teams I’ve worked on have had these elements to them in some proportion; at worst, it’s all there’s been. This is why the workplace is such a common setting for sit coms. (And why The Office is funnier if, you know, you work in an office. See also Dilbert.)

There are a few pretty consistent things Tabatha has pointed out in her salons:

1. Clutter is the devil. A lot of the salons are a physical mess, which is often a symptom of emotional and intellectual messes you can’t see. Cleaning things up and getting things organized is an important part of the transition, and it puts everyone in the salon in a good mood.

2. Leadership is not optional. Several of the salon owners I saw were reluctant to be real leaders. One was basically an irrational tyrant who felt her job wasn’t to “coddle” her employees by giving them pats on the back; the rest were all mousy or immature versions of real leaders who were afraid of being disliked. Tabatha helps them understand the difference between being liked (or feared) and being respected.

3. Dead wood must go. In organizations, people who don’t carry their weight are often buffered by the high-performers around them, so they can coast along without putting in much effort for a while. Tabatha roots these low-performers out, gives them a set of standards and expectations, and then gives them a chance to improve. If they don’t, she cuts them loose–or, better yet, gives them an opportunity to quit on their own when they realize the salon is evolving beyond their ability to participate.

4. Clients come first. A few of the salons I saw had strong teams in them; it’s just that the teams were more focused on having a good time with each other than they were on giving their clients what they want. Tabatha refocuses their work away from that unhealthy dynamic toward perfecting services first, then developing the internal team second. And really, the internal team development is the responsibility of the salon owner and manager, not the team itself–Tabatha reinforces this.

Tabatha, after her week in the salon, comes back about six weeks later to see how things are going. Most of the salons have hit their stride and do much better, even if they’ve painted over Tabatha’s repainting and refurnishing. (But that can be an important “reclaiming” of the territory by the owner.) At least 1 owner completely restored the salon to its’ pre-Tabatha operations, including terrorizing her staff and demoting her only functional leader in the team. It was sad to see. But it was clear that owner just wanted out of the business and she was hellbent on making her salon fail.

Whenever people have to work in groups, things get nutty. I think when artists work together in groups, it can get nuttier pretty quickly. Watching this show has reminded me about the importance of remembering what a leader’s responsibilities are, and that even when we don’t want to, we always have to do the difficult things we are called upon to do.

Dear Diary

Okay, I admit it. The Vampire Diaries is the best new show this fall. (That I’ve watched. I need to get in touch with Modern Family and Cougar Town, though.)

How do I love The Vampire Diaries? Let me start by saying I did not want to love it. I did not need to watch another show about vampires, feeling it was well-covered territory with Buffy, Angel, True Blood, and Moonlight (plus, yuck). Like zombies, I was sure the vampire Zeitgeist had peaked and jumped the shark, jumped the pufferfish, jumped the minnow, even jumped the plankton.

I was ready to move past vampires. I was ready to move past vampires who go to high school, vampires who have a soul/conscience, vampires who are barely-tamed animals with no soul, vampires who long to be human, and vampires who both love and eat humans. I was over glamours, I was over longing looks through the shadowy afternoon, I was over men who look like they need to eat a cheeseburger instead of a cheerleader.

Plus, there’s a witch! It’s like, hello, did you crib right from Buffy or what??

And then I watched The Vampire Diaries. And I threw all my rules out the window. Isn’t this what love is supposed to do to us? Make us shame ourselves for constructing false expectations and futile boundaries?

Here is my systematic list of why I love this show:

1. It’s a killer. A whole bunch of people have died on the show, unlike a lot of vampire predecessors. Among them have been some pretty important main characters, as well as your typical out-for-a-drive-on-the-wrong-road crowd. And then people have become vampires, and they get killed right away, and cool characters get killed right away, and basically there’s a lot of “animal attacks” in the town and people getting bloody and dying. That’s hot. It means anything can happen on this show.

2. Only the men take their clothes off. This is probably courtesy of Kevin Williamson, who helped create this show, but there’s a lot of PG-13 going on here, and it’s all boys all the time. Also, most of them are really hot. I say that because it seems like no matter what flavor of boy you prefer, there’s a slice of beefcake for you on this show. My favorite is Mike, but Beau prefers that angular looking vampire Sebastian.

3. It’s moody. The lighting on this show is amazing. Although it takes place in Virginia, it’s the darkest version of Virginia you’ve ever seen. The colors are both richly saturated (the greens and brows of the natural environment) and starkly washed out (buildings, faces, interiors). There are also intense, intense shadows on the show, which seems almost as if it’s light by diegetic lighting alone (that would be like using only light from the lamps in a living room shot and not supplementing with traditional film lights off-camera). The characters end up living in this world where their faces and bodies are always partially cloaked in shadows.


Look at how dark & rich & shadowy that shot is!! Yum.

4. It rocks. The soundtrack uses hot music that I love. It’s like they plugged into my iPod and either took bands I’ve liked for a while, or anticipated my tastes as well as or better than Gossip Girl has.

5. It’s actually kind of scary and suspenseful. The writers do a really good job of keeping the surprises real and the plot moving forward into new directions. Unlike Buffy, which always felt as if it were snowballing toward an inevitable, inescapable conclusion, I have no idea what’s going to happen on this show, and I really appreciate that.

6. It’s only a little Dawsony. While the characters have slightly precocious dialogue, it’s not as self-referential as Williamson’s other show. The characters, instead, seem pretty “now,” not too wise beyond their years, but wise enough to speak more eloquently than your average walking gland.

You can catch up with The Vampire Diaries next week on your local CW station when they run a week-long marathon of the season so far. Enjoy!

The Hills Are Alive. But Just Barely.

I can’t believe I haven’t yet had time to talk to you about the return of The Hills.

I’m sure you’ve been concerned about what’s happening on the show now that Lauren Conrad has gone off to pick trash up off the beach, write YA novels, and design clothes for Kohl’s.

I have been too. Friends, I’ve been worried.

When I first got in touch with my love for The Hills, I went back and got caught up on the show that spawned it: Laguna Beach. That’s when I first met Kristen Cavallari. In that show, Lauren quickly became one of the moral and narrative centers of the show. When she left, Kristen took over and pretty much killed it.

I fear the same fate for The Hills now.

The producers have tried to swap out Lauren for Kristen, but it’s a bad swap. Lauren played the show like an everywoman who experienced great privilege but never seemed to rely on it or need it. She was like us, only rich, and she still (seemed to?) worked her ass off in kinda crappy jobs (hello, intern at Teen Vogue much?). She was surrounded by craziness in the forms of trainwreck Heidi, vaguely-autistic Audrina, cracked-out Stephanie, megaloSpencer, feisty manbitch Brody, and coldtongued Lo. Lauren was always the nice person, trying to do the right thing, without putting up with needless lies or bullshit. Which mean that she was pretty busy.

Kristen is a whirlpool of the crudest form of selfishness. She’s like a Lauren Conrad knock-off: she looks a lot like her, but carrying her around on your arm would just make you look cheap and stupid. She’s mean, spiteful, quick to anger, vile, “a maneater” (thank god we resurrected that term), and an all-around horrible person.

When you put a truly horrible person into a sea of pretty unfortunate people, what do you get? Suddenly, a lot of tepid co-stars. Even the crazy people are sort of getting together over coffee to say, “Wow. That girl is actually crazy.” When crazy points a finger, you walk in the other direction, okay? That’s a life lesson.

So now we will spend 24 episodes watching Kristen Cavallari slowly tear down The Hills stone by stone, street by street, testicle by testicle. It’s really unfortunate. Just after two episodes, I was already wishing that, instead of bringing Kristen in, they’d given a starring slot to Lo Bosworth.

Lo, also of Laguna provenance, seems to have taken up the mantle of Lauren’s normalcy. She’s nice to everyone–even Kristen sometimes–and she’s gained a comparable level of grace under fire that Lauren always had (tear-soaked raccoon mascara incident notwithstanding). I like Lo now. I like that she’s gotten her shit together. I like that she doesn’t have stupid boy drama.

I’m also liking Stephanie. Yes! I’m serious. She can be crazy, but she’s a crazy who means well. She just often fails at it.

And that’s one to grow on.

Dear Diary, Today I Met the Greatest Guy…and then He Ate Me

So, I know that all of you out there have been waiting with bated breath for my take on the CW’s new series Vampire Diaries because:

a) I am basically a 14-year-old girl
b) I am virtually a PhD-level scholar of the current vampire Zeitgeist
and
c) You knew there was no way I wasn’t tuning into something set in a high school.

It’s all true.

And let me tell you: Vampire Diaries did not disappoint. In fact, I almost wished it wasn’t about vampires. The moody lighting and great cinematography set the show apart on their own; the fact that the soundtrack rivaled most Noxema commercials didn’t hurt either.

And: it was creepy. It was a little scary because people actually died in the episode, which sets it way far off from (barf) Twilight and most episodes of Buffy and True Blood. And the kids in the show are a little messed up. And it takes place in this creepy little New England town. So a lot of factors are coming together and making it work.

It does read a little on the Dawson’s Creek side, though, thanks to writer Kevin Williamson. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just means the kids talk a lot like grown-ups, which teenagers have the capacity to do (they just often choose not to).

The two vamps on the show are, of course, very Louis and Lestat in terms of their viciousness. One is your typically assimilationist loner who wants to be human while the other, the vicious killer, would rather eat his neighbors than have them over for coffee. And like oil and water, they really don’t mix. Ah! Conflict. Plus, they kind of have eyes for the same girl, who looks strangely like a girl they once knew a couple centuries ago…

While the tropes are getting tired, the delivery isn’t, and that’s what ultimately sets this show apart from absolutely horrifyingly bad drivel like Twilight (don’t even give me that crap that “it’s a good story even though the writing’s bad.” Folks, have you even read a book before?).

Plus, you know, like high school. It’s all, like, evil and stuff.