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31Jan/11Off

New Superman: A superb choice from ‘The Tudors’

You may know the new Superman: Henry Cavill from "The Tudors." Photo credit: Warner Bros.

The news that Henry Cavill will be the new Superman in the movies will come as no surprise to his fans. It’s about time this gifted man got the big roles.

Fans have seen him act passionately, age persuasively and sizzle seductively on “The Tudors.” Cavill’s casting as Clark Kent should help bolster sales of that Showtime series, which lasted four seasons.

Cavill wasn’t Henry VIII — Jonathan Rhys Meyers shattered the usual image of that monarch in “The Tudors.” But Cavill gave a fine, multidimensional performance as Henry’s pal Charles Brandon.

Cavill has done other television: “Midsomer Murders,” “The Inspector Lynley Murders.”

But the other credit I suggest is the movie “I Capture the Castle,” which reveals Cavill’s sensitivity and charm. He played Stephen Colley, a thwarted young man. I highly recommend “I Capture the Castle.” This lovely film from 2003 deserves more far attention.

That isn’t Cavill’s problem anymore. This is shrewd casting. What do you think?

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30Jan/11Off

Egypt: Christiane Amanpour, Fareed Zakaria revise guest lists

Christiane Amanpour is moderator of "This Week." Photo credit: Ida Mae Astute/ABC

ABC’s “This Week” had planned a show on Ronald Reagan, but the Sunday morning show has revised the schedule because of the crisis in Egypt.

Christiane Amanpour will report live from Cairo. She also will talk to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian ambassador to the United States; and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Carter.

The program airs at 11 a.m. on WFTV-Channel 9.

ABC’s senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper leads a panel discussion with Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera Washington bureau chief; ABC News’ George Will; ABC News senior foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz; and ABC News contributor Sam Donaldson.

Over on CNN, Fareed Zakaria has lined up an interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, who is often mentioned as a possible successor to Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. ElBaradei is a Nobel laureate and former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Fareed Zakaria GPS” airs at 10 a.m. this morning and repeats at 1 p.m. today.

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29Jan/11Off

‘Mega Python Vs Gatoroid’: So astoundingly bad that it’s fun

Tiffany, left, and Debbie Gibson attend the New York premiere this week of "Mega Python Vs Gatoroid." Photo credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The Everglades has faced many crises but never one as astoundingly goofy as ”Mega Python Vs Gatoroid.”

This campy disaster movie, which unites pop princesses Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, crash-lands at 9 tonight on Syfy.

An animal-rights activist (Debbie Gibson) frees illegally imported snakes into the Glades. A determined park ranger (Tiffany) comes up with an unusual scheme to counter the snake threat: She feeds gators steroids.

The gators morph into King Kong-size creatures that stomp down city streets. (You’ll spot several Orlando landmarks.) 

“Mega Python” is a strange concoction, a mix of cheesy special effects, trashy dialogue, improbable situations and snarling female protagonists.  

Tiffany and Debbie hurl rhymes-with-witch at each other repeatedly, then slap each other at a fund-raising party. “Mega Python” is into recycling – those scenes look something from “Dynasty.”

Tiffany has more bad dialogue to chew on, and her park ranger takes the crisis personally. “These snakes destroyed my home, they ruined everything,” she whines. “We need a bigger gator.”

Both actresses give performances as cheesy as the special effects. Along for the wacky mayhem are Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees, Kathryn Joosten of “Desperate Housewives” and veteran actor A Martinez.

“Mega Python” wipes out a good chunk of the cast, because the characters never know when a giant python might slither by. And it’s hard to a fight a gator the size of aircraft carrier.

But the actors keep straight faces throughout; they let the viewers do all the laughing. “Mega Python” will take a bite out of your troubles for a couple of hours.

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28Jan/11Off

WFTV anchor Liz Artz is leaving for Atlanta

WFTV anchor Liz Artz. Photo credit: WFTV.com

WFTV-Channel 9 anchor Liz Artz has left the ABC affiliate after four years. Today was her last day.

She is familiar to viewers as the anchor on weekend mornings; she also reported three days a week.

In an e-mail, Artz wrote, “I’m headed to Atlanta. For the first time in my career, I’m moving for someone else, not myself. My husband has a great opportunity there.”

She said she is considering several job offers.

“I’m looking forward to this new adventure, but I will miss Channel 9,” she wrote. “I will miss all the people who work there. It truly has been an incredible four years.”

She praised news director Bob Jordan. “I appreciate the way Bob pushes us,” she wrote. “We’re all better for it.”

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28Jan/11Off

Charlie Sheen: Did he hurt himself laughing too hard?

Charlie Sheen in 2009, when he wasn't laughing too hard. Photo credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Charlie Sheen was rushed to the hospital today with abdominal pain, according to reports.

But “Extra” explains, thanks Sheen friend Steve Brodersen, the source of the problem: a hernia injury worsened when the “Two and a Half Men” star laughed too hard at the TV.

“I’m not dying,” Brodersen quoted Sheen as saying.

Which is a relief. Because I’d sure hate to see the Sheen-is-acting-bad watch turn into the Sheen-is-dying watch.

Sheen could have surgery soon to repair the hernia, “Extra” reported. Sheen denied that drugs were involved, “Extra” added.

No word on what he was watching.

Could it have been his own CBS sitcom? It airs at 9 p.m. Mondays on WKMG-Channel 6.

There’s not a lot to laugh about in Sheen’s personal saga. But today’s explanation should produce a few chuckles, at least.

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27Jan/11Off

Memories of Hyperdevelopment: Chongqing Trip Report

By Jacob Dreyer

Like any good Shanghai resident, I am more or less terrified by the China that exists outside of metro line 3. However, I had been obsessing for months about the municipality of Chongqing, a radically unusual city even by the standards of contemporary China. When I found that I had a spare weekend, I finally took a trip there to explore. Instead of describing my trip, or offering a journalistic take on the city à la Christina Larson, whose piece in Foreign Policy does that more competently than I could hope to, what follows is a series of meditations on Chongqing’s urbanism, in text and images. A Buenos Aires to Shanghai’s Paris, Chongqing has the air of being a forgotten or undiscovered metropolis, completely overshadowed by a more worldly and prominent counterpart. Shanghai’s new cityscape has received thorough attention from photographers such as Greg Girard, but Chongqing hasn’t yet been the focus of such work.  Here, I’ve tried to initiate such an exploration of the city.

The development of Chongqing is unprecedented in modern Chinese history: for its scale, for the ambition of its planning, for the rapidity with which it has sought to transform the rural into urban. Not an urban melting pot, Chongqing is a boiling cauldron of energy, analogous to the local specialty, hotpot.

Chongqing hotpot, originally developed by the bangbang men, those whose duty it is to haul loads up endless stairs, froths with heat. The heat setting on this was intermediate.

This incarnation of Chongqing (on a scale so much larger than even that of its earlier heyday as a wartime capital for the Guomindang) is a city seemingly summoned entirely from the imagination, a reflection of the most pressing desires of the urbanizing multitudes of China’s hinterland.

From the Jiangbei airport, I taxied downtown, staring out of the car’s windows all the while. Out of the mist and fog, a million steeples and towers arose—the metropolitan region of Chongqing has approximately 32 million inhabitants. Sliced away from Sichuan province in 1997, it is part of the central government’s attempt to develop the west. There are so many poor people in China that it would be incomprehensible for all of them to come to Beijing, Shanghai, or the booming factory towns of the Pearl River Delta that include Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Therefore, the government is trying to develop inland metropolises, most notably Chongqing, in order to provide the urban structure perceived as necessary for development. The result is a ghost city, one rendered more ephemeral by the cloud of smoke hovering over the city, one of the most polluted in the world. In Chongqing, myriad phantom possibilities are left half-realized in the form of architecture.

Chongqing skyline on a clear day.

A dream zone, a purgatory, a vast terrain linked by every manner of transportation—cablecars, monorails, and boats.

Wharfside.

Chongqing is, like Southern California, a series of independent and discreet urban centers that converge around a megalopolitan core (although this core itself is difficult to recognize as such). The city’s culture seems deliberately perverse: a mountain city, the central metaphor is of stairs, and endlessly climbing to reach a new and essentially meaningless place.

Hongyadong public art installation, recalling the history of the city.

The intense air pollution means that sunlight is scarce—ironically a benefit, as white skin is deemed beautiful in Chinese culture.

I alternately walked and drove past the endless tower blocks, jostling down the pavements seeping with mud. It was hard to comprehend the reality of 32 million separate destinies playing out within a one-hour radius of Jiefangbei (the liberation monument—liberation here from the Japanese, though I like to consider the possibility of a city as a form of liberation). This toxic realm, the food repulsively spicy and oiled, the air unbreathable, cigarette smoke everywhere, even inside of taxicabs—Chongqing was a poisonous hive, swarming with beauty. The thickness of the air, a naturally occurring climactic condition augmented by human activity, made the streets full of misty wraiths—as in Dickens’ London, the fog was so heavy that some days during my visit, I could see no more than 3 feet ahead, even in broad daylight. In the never-ending labyrinth built around a Yangtze littoral, millions of devious plots were incubating—strange glances, ramshackle residences, the pavement periodically interrupted by bonfires.

The murky air made it hard to know where the city ended and the countryside began; perhaps nobody knows, for it is constantly in flux. The urban blankness of highways and tower blocks quickly fades into the monotony of the rural without a beat.

Residence seen from the platform of the Jialing cablecar. It becomes clear how the government's advocated “forest Chongqing” can take shape: the city and the junglish mountaintop merge into one in the architecture of Chongqing.

Chongqing is a vicinity, a concept of organization. As Jacques Derrida wrote of LA, “[this city] is not anywhere, but it is a singular organization of the experience of ‘anywhere.’” [1] As such, its expansion will be continual and multiple, as the space continues to contort itself into an ever more complex form, one that even as it seems to be a simulacra of other cities (Chongqing, like Shanghai, has a Xintiandi; it even has two Wangfujing’s, one more than Beijing) resembles nothing in particular—a smudge on the horizon, a boiling cloud, a city that proffers utopia and dystopia at every corner.

[1] Referenced in Messianic City: Ruins, Refuge, and Hospitality in Derrida, Puspa Damai, Discourse 27.2 and 27.3, p. 68. Wayne State University Press:Detroit, 2007.

All images taken by the author.

Jacob Dreyer is a writer and photographer based in Shanghai. His work can be found online at www.dreyerprojects.info.

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27Jan/11Off

Barack Obama’s State of the Union: Nearly 43 million watched

President Barack Obama shakes the hands of congressional pages after Tuesday's State of the Union address. Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama was the winner of Tuesday’s ratings race.

His State of the Union address drew 42.78 million viewers across 11 channels.

Last year, Obama attracted 48 million viewers to the State of the Union address. Obama’s address to Congress in February two years ago averaged 52.37 million viewers. President George W. Bush’s State of the Union in 2008 was seen by 37.51 million. 

Obama had 9.28 million viewers on NBC.

He had many viewers on the cable news channels: Fox News Channel with 4.96 million, CNN with 2.98 million and MSNBC with 2.5 million. Fox had the edge with the 25-to-54 age group, which is most important to advertisers: Fox News with 1.63 million, CNN with 1.2 million and MSNBC with 836,000.

There are several interesting wrinkles in the post-speech analysis. Fox News had more viewers for the analysis — 5.44 million — than the actual speech. So did CNN, with 3 million viewers. MSNBC pulled in 2.35 million viewers.

In the broadcast world, Tuesday’s ratings did not include the speech. CBS averaged 10.88 million viewers. Here’s how the other networks fared: NBC with 7.69 million and Fox with 4.75 million for “Glee” and Disney-owned ABC with 4.08 million. The CW averaged 2 million viewers with new episodes of “One Tree Hill” (1.89 million) and “Hellcats” (2.15 million).

The biggest entertainment show was CBS’ “NCIS” with 13.4 million. NBC’s “Biggest Loser” drew 8.58 million viewers and put the Peacock Network on the top in 18-to-49 age viewers.

In Orlando, the top programs were “NCIS” with 159,400 viewers and “The Biggest Loser” with 127,600. Both started about 15 minutes late because of weather coverage.

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26Jan/11Off

Stations repeat the alert about bad weather

Jason Brewer of WESH-Channel 2 was among the meteorologists warning viewers today. Photo credit: George Skene/Orlando Sentinel

Central Florida’s television stations repeatedly warned viewers early this evening about dangerous weather.”We’ve got a lot of weather to get through,” WESH-Channel 2’s Jason Brewer said.

“We wouldn’t be on the air like this, harping on this if this weren’t important because this storm has a lot of wind, rotational energy,” WFTV-Channel 9’s Tom Terry said.   

WKMG-Channel 6’s Tom Sorrells warned that the rough weather would arrive in Orlando about three hours earlier than expected, and that downtown would get the worst of it from 6 to 8 p.m.

WESH and WKMG preempted their network evening newscasts for weather. WFTV shifted Diane Sawyer to sister station WRDQQ-Channel 27.

Shortly before 6, WOFL-Channel 35’s Glenn Richards advised Volusia, Seminole and Orange viewers to stay indoors.

Central Florida News 13 showed a camera along Interstate 4 at State Road 417 shaking. Ali Turiano marveled, “Look at that camera shake. It’s unbelievable how insane the wind has been.”

Studying the red on his map at 5:55, WESH’s Brewer predicted the storm would be “a big big story not only for the next hour but the next  three to four hours.”

At 6:10, WFTV relayed the news that that a car accident in the Ocala area — one was dead and two were injured — could be weather-related.

At 6:23, WOFL said the Florida Highway Patrol reported 22 accidents in Orange and Seminole counties.

WFTV’s Terry reminded viewers, “We gave you a whole lot of notice it was going to be a very busy night.” And it was 6:35.

WFTV also got  a vote of confidence from viewer Paul Perez of Marion County who had taken shelter with his family in the master bedroom closet. “We were watching Channel 9,” he said. “And when we saw the updates and all that in the graph, man, we went for cover.”

WFTV anchor Martie Salt called the January storm “a very rare weather occurrence,” and Terry agreed.

WESH’s Tony Mainolfi relayed the news at 7:23 that a tornado warning for Brevard County continued until 8:15. WFTV delivered warnings to people along certain streets in Brevard.

The stations continued with weather coverage after 8 p.m. WOFL, WESH and WKMG stayed with the weather rather than cut to network programs. WFTV employed a split screen between ABC’s “No Ordinary Family” and a weather map. Shortly after the 8:15 warning ended, the stations returned to regular schedules.

At 8:10, WESH’s Mainolfi called it “a very, very busy afternoon and evening” with multiple tornado warnings.

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25Jan/11Off

Jayde Donovan’s next TV partner: ‘love guru’ Donny Deutsch

Jayde Donovan of XL 106.7. Photo credit: Handout art

Orlando deejay Jayde Donovan has another gig on national television lined up.

Last year the XL 106.7 star co-hosted “Live With Regis and Kelly” with Regis Philbin – and won raves from Philbin.

Next up: Donovan co-hosts “Love Calling,” an interactive, half-hour special that will air live at 11 p.m. ET Thursday on Bravo.

Her TV partner this time: Donny Deutsch — described by Bravo as “a successful media mogul turned love guru.”

Deutsch may be best known for hosting the CNBC talk show “The Big Idea.” Donovan will be there to set up the interactive segments for Deutsch and assist him, a Bravo spokesman said.

“Nothing is off limits as Deutsch gives his no-nonsense advice about dating, relationships and love,” Bravo said in a release. “Deutsch will answer viewer questions via phone, email, Twitter, Facebook and video conferencing.

You can send those questions to Deutsch these ways:

Twitter handle: @donny_deutsch

Facebook: facebook.com/DonnyDeutschFanPage

Email: bravotv.com/lovecalling

Text: Text CALL + Your name & message to 27286

Phone: 855-44-DONNY

If “Love Calling” rings up big ratings, Bravo probably will make “Love Calling” a series.

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24Jan/11Off

The PRC and PR: Baffling Messages in Times Square?

By Christopher C. Heselton

Amid all the fanfare and fear-mongering over President Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States last week, the Chinese government has also launched an advertising campaign to enhance its national image in America. The campaign includes a 60-second ad showing on a mega screen at Time Square, New York, a 30-second segment at Gallery Place, Washington DC (DC’s “Chinatown,” though it’s a rather small one), and a series of 15-second advertisements airing on several news networks over a multi-week period. A host of Chinese celebrities, models, entrepreneurs, astronauts, and other household names appear in these advertisements, standing and smiling at the camera with their names and significance to China written on the screen in English. For a look, here are both of the segments that began running on BON last week, which also appeared on several major US networks:

At first glance, this attempt at promoting a favorable view of China to the American public seems like an utter failure. Many in the blogosphere and media have claimed the ad to be a major flop because it is too distant from its American viewers (see, for example, “China’s Latest PR Fail?,” “Pro-China Ad Makes Broadway Debut,” “Wary Powers Set to Square Off,” and this excellent discussion at Kaiser Kuo’s Sinica Podcast [9 minutes in]). The advertisement has little action or movement, no dialogue, awkward phrasing, and the celebrities and renowned figures in it might be familiar names in China but are virtually unknown to most Americans. When asked by a CCTV news crew if she recognized any of the figures in the advertisement, one New Yorker at Times Square replied, “I know Yao Ming and some of the models, but not a lot” (though the last four words were not translated on CCTV). While from a Chinese standpoint, the message of the ad may seem to be that these great people are Chinese too, for many Americans the message is not as clear since most of these names are unknown and not very memorable. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, David Wolf, Chief Executive of Wolf Group Asia, said that the advertisement even gives a negative impression to many Americans, by invoking China’s “material strengths, which worry America.” The advertisement is a confusing and unusually baffling piece, and, in this sense, it does seem to be unsuccessful in giving Americans a truly new sense of what China is and assuaging American concerns over a rising China.

I think, however, that viewing these advertisements purely as a public relations campaign aimed at the American public is missing a large piece of the picture; we also need to consider the Chinese popular and political audience. In this respect, the advertisement has two possible intents, in my opinion. The first possibility is that the advertisement is intended to serve as a mark of national pride for a Chinese domestic audience. This is one of the most ambitious and highly publicized attempts to enhance the image of China in American minds since the 2008 Olympics. Unlike the Olympics, when the PR push was in Beijing, this time the message is airing in the very heart of the United States. This is something that the Chinese media has seemed to emphasize as a point of pride and demonstration of China’s progress. Thirty-odd years ago it would have been almost inconceivable that the Chinese government would have the desire and ability to take out an advertisement in Times Square. The message seems to say to Chinese audiences, “Look how far we’ve come! Our faces and our celebrities are in the cultural center of the US.” Of course, it’s not as nearly as exciting as China’s aerospace missions, but still acts as a badge of progress to display to the Chinese public (in some ways, it could also be seen to have similar purposes towards an American audience, though the message likely isn’t as clearly received). The commercial’s desire to reach Chinese audiences is made clearer with its use of well-known celebrities instead of nobodies. The designers of the ad claimed that their aim was to literally put a human face on China. If that were so, they could have shown a variety of everyday Chinese people—but instead they chose to feature a large group of Chinese notables that are virtually unrecognizable to most Americans, though highly recognizable to most Chinese. This suggests to me that the ad was meant to reach Chinese viewers, and not just Americans.

A second possible intention of this marketing campaign—though I admit this is more speculative—is to gain the attention of both domestic and international political leaders. Although one of the top planners of this endeavor, Shen Zanchen, maintains that the timing of these ads with President Hu’s arrival was “purely a historic coincidence,” it is difficult to shake the notion that there is more than a passing connection. In my previous work experience with several Chinese Information Offices that are responsible for city marketing, the synchronization of political events and marketing campaigns often ran like clockwork. I recall one time in 2009 (I promise this is my only anecdote) while at a conference on Chinese city image branding, I asked the head of an Information Office for a major Chinese city how she chose the timing slots for the city’s advertisements, as I noticed they never seemed to appear during popular television dramas. She remarked, “We always put it on during the evening News Broadcast (????), because that is when the leaders are most likely to watch television.” The goal, at least for this particular propaganda chief, was to catch the attention of the political leadership—possibly for her own promotion, but also to gain prestige for her city and the mayor of that city (her boss) among other CCP leaders. And this increased stature does lead to concrete results, as political leaders often help broker investment deals. In fact, the success of city branding campaigns in China, and even Chinese endeavors in international marketing, is not just measured in terms of viewership and ads, but also in which political leaders participated in, attended, or viewed their efforts. This way of weighing the effects of regional marketing shapes how many people in China understand public relations campaigns.

In this case, these new ads seem to be directed at gaining the attention of Hu Jintao, Barack Obama, and other Washington political leaders. Two aspects of the PR campaign make this point very plausible to me. First, in the segment on “Enchanting Chinese Art” we see Song Zuying (???), the diva of propaganda, who is very popular among CCP leaders but largely ignored in mainstream music. This possibly shows an attempt to play on the favorites of many older Chinese officials. The PRC leadership might not be as intrigued, and might even be uncomfortable, if pop-icons like Jane Zhang (???), Kym (??), or Jason Zhang (??) were on screen, though they are more popular with a younger audience. Second, the display of the ad at Gallery Place in Washington DC is a somewhat unusual choice for a commercial promoting China’s national image. Gallery Place is not a particularly high-traffic portion of DC, if one’s goal is to capture a large audience, but the location happens to be very close to the White House and Capitol Hill, and is smack-dab in the middle of DC’s Chinatown, which is a popular eating spot for Washington politicians, bureaucrats, and aides. So, it seems to me that another possible intention of these ads is to gain the attention of political leaders directly. It is speaking to them—not just to a generalized American public. Regardless of whether or not this is merely my overactive imagination at work, I think that when looking at these advertisements we should also consider the political dimensions and political understanding of what public relations means.

I would, however, like to end on a positive note about this advertisement campaign, because these ads are unique. In the past, advertisements portraying China seemed to come in only a few forms: tourism promotions that displayed Chinese monuments and traditions, investment promotions that emphasized favorable business conditions, or international event promotions in which improving the national image was not the overt goal of the message. This recent set of advertisements seems to be the first attempt to explicitly market China to the US, showing a greater understanding of the importance of manipulating a national image to gain favorable international support. Moreover, it moves beyond hackneyed images of the Great Wall, quaint ethnic customs, or cuddly panda bears, but instead pushes a more modern depiction of the country and its people that places China in a light that Americans could find very familiar, despite the unfamiliar faces. For Americans whose understanding of China is limited to what they’ve seen in Kung-Fu films or media images of impoverished Chinese slums, these commercials offer something new.

Christopher C. Heselton is a graduate student in Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine. He has previously written for China Beat on “Rock is Not Revolution.”

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