Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Evolution of Television

Or something like it...

Fitting Network TV for a Toe Tag

By Mark Harris,

For 20 years, Ted Harbert worked at ABC. He started there right out of college in 1977, when the network, along with CBS and NBC, was the only game in town and was the hit factory responsible for Happy Days; Charlie's Angels; Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. By 1996, when Harbert was running ABC, those glory days were ending. All three networks were still colossal, but Fox had established its beachhead, and cable's market penetration was almost complete. The '80s had seen the rise of MTV. And CNN was by then a big deal, not just an incinerator for Ted Turner's extra cash. ESPN was competing aggressively. Individually, none of these channels got much of a rating most of the time, but the damage was starting to add up.

"People would say, 'Oh, they're nibbling away, they're nibbling away,'" Harbert recalls. "And we would always say, 'Well, they can nibble, but they're never gonna really take us.' And then they took us."

Today, Harbert is president and C.E.O. of the Comcast Entertainment Group. He oversees The Style Network, G4—a six-year-old channel aimed at young men who love videogames—and C.E.G.'s most recognizable offering, E!, which features celebrity news. E! ranks 31st among the most-watched basic-cable channels, which means that, in general, less than 1 percent of America's 112 million TV households are watching it during prime time. Yet Harbert is probably sleeping better these days than his former colleagues at the broadcast networks.

When Harbert talks about television, it's with the sober clarity of someone who has looked at life from both sides now and has seen that only one business model is working. Cable networks target just those viewers who want what they have to offer. Broadcast networks want everyone. And the business of wanting everyone has never been worse. At the end of last season, ABC, CBS, and NBC reported their smallest combined audience ever, an event that has become a gloomy yearly occurrence. Meanwhile, cable—counting both basic channels and pay services like HBO and Showtime—now receives 55 percent of the total viewership.

It may be time to perform an autopsy on network TV, which some have pronounced officially dead at age 60, the victim of a lifetime of big spending, hard living, and bad planning. Here's the coroner's report: The evening newscasts have been mowed down by cable's heat, spin, and round-the-clock immediacy. In prime time, nobody watches reruns anymore—and reruns, along with syndication, used to be the only way comedy and drama series, the heart of a network's prime-time business, made money. (The way they make money now is...well, the networks will get back to you as soon as they figure that out.)

Speaking of old-school, half-hour sitcoms: Once, 50 of them were on the air at a time. Today, they're all but gone. Suddenly, people just stopped liking them. Prime-time news magazines? Barely holding on. "Protected" time slots? Viewers accustomed to Web surfing and channel flipping at hyperspeed aren't going to watch a new show just because they're too lazy to change the channel after The Biggest Loser. The audience for daytime soaps, a profitable staple since TV's infancy, has shrunk so dramatically that the form may vanish within a few years. This is all very bad news for a medium that hasn't come up with a fresh format since 2000, when CBS launched Survivor, the gold rush in reality-TV competitions. (P.S.: Survivor isn’t what it used to be either.)

It's unlikely that a broadcast network is ever again going to create a megahit like The Cosby Show, which at its mid-’80s peak drew as many as 50 million viewers an episode. For several years now, TV's top event has been Fox's American Idol. Last season, it drew 28.8 million viewers a week.

Conversations about the future of television tend to vault way past next week or next year into a world where schedules don't exist and 10,000 programming options are all available at any moment, half of them fully interactive. (Not enjoying this episode of Law & Order: Moonbase? That's OK—you can change the plot!)

It sounds like fun. But in reality, the number of cable channels has topped out. And the number of households that subscribe to basic cable—about 65 million—hasn't budged for a decade. That's roughly 58 percent of all American TV households and it's a much higher percentage of the total households that advertisers actually care about. People who have something to sell are attracted to viewers who have already demonstrated their willingness to buy something (like cable TV). The cable business is booming: Annual advertising revenues have jumped from $8.1 billion in 1997 to a projected $28.6 billion this year.

So before the death knell tolls, let's consider some ways broadcast TV might be reborn.

1. Accept the fact that niche is the new normal.

The most popular cable networks average fewer than 3 million viewers a night. But add up all those little niches, and how much of an audience is left? Even TNT and USA, the two cable channels whose original programming most closely resembles that of broadcast networks, are carving out distinctive spaces for themselves. Turner Networks president Steve Koonin has successfully promoted TNT as a network for drama and TBS as a home for comedy—two old-school broadcast mainstays. But, he says, "Within the wide berth of comedy and drama as prospective brands, we're looking at where there are underserved audiences, and we're finding them in family viewers, African Americans, women, and action lovers."

When groups that vast are being won over by cable, broadcast's claim that it reaches for everyone starts to ring a little hollow, especially when cable networks are making shows that are just like broadcast series, except a little better. To be fair to the networks, the playing field isn't level: Small cable channels can impress advertisers simply by growing. Networks can't—so a show with a viewership of 4 million is a hit on USA and a flop on CBS. But the differences are diminishing. In the spring, Koonin took an aggressive gamble to make this clear: He scheduled Turner Networks' upfronts cheek-to-cheek with those of the broadcast networks.

"Koonin was brilliant," says Brian Terkelsen, of the brand consultancy MediaVest. "In my opinion, that was the turning point. We'll all look back and say the one riff that he did onstage that week shifted everything for cable and broadcasting. What he did was, he got up there and said, 'If I were to tell you the story of two networks, and one had a talking car and a steroid in a unitard who was beating up an average guy in a game show, and the other had an Academy Award-winning actress in her second season and a Golden Globe winner in her fourth season, which would you think was which?'" Koonin then unveiled slides of the cheesy shows—NBC's Knight Rider and American Gladiators—and the classy ones: TNT’s Saving Grace and The Closer. Point made, brutally. "If anybody in the room didn't think, 'Holy shit! It's all changed,'" Terkelsen says, "they’re morons."

2. Know your brand.

"There are an awful lot of channels available to people in the average digital home," says FX president John Landgraf. "So if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing." FX, he says, "appeals to people with a certain taste for edgy, innovative quality." He has established the brand with material that's positioned exactly halfway between what the networks and pay cable offer. Its signature shows—Rescue Me, The Shield, Damages, Nip/Tuck—tend to be hard-driving adult dramas that are one big step raunchier, bloodier, sexier, cooler, and rougher than the broadcast networks' cop/lawyer/doctor equivalents.

It wasn't a smooth road for the network, which was founded in 1994. "FX toyed, in its earlier incarnations, with various branding strategies," Landgraf recalls, "from live television—its original motto was 'TV made fresh daily'—to a time when it was much more explicitly appealing to men." Back then, it often looked like the NASCAR channel. To redefine itself, FX had to make casual viewers expendable in order to build its rep with committed ones. "We want to have somebody's favorite show," Landgraf says, "not everybody's 10th-favorite show."

Rebranding to that degree isn't without its risks. Several years ago, Bravo became a haven for young, hip, gay-friendly consumers with lots of disposable income. That meant walking away from the (few) viewers who knew it as a poor man's PBS, a repository for dusty filmed productions of Swan Lake. If the one-two punch of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Project Runway hadn't succeeded, the channel could well have gone down for the count. Similarly, at Turner, Koonin canceled TNT's most popular offering—wrestling—in order to make its metamorphosis into a drama-driven cable network credible.

Those gambles paid off because Bravo, FX, and TNT all followed through swiftly to build on their initial hits. Likewise, AMC, which specializes in old movies, didn't waste a minute after critics acclaimed the first season of its original show Mad Men: It began developing other dramas, knowing its newfound audience needed more reasons to stick around. Without moves like that, a rebranding effort can quickly give rise to skepticism. A&E spent big money to buy reruns of HBO's The Sopranos because it wanted to be seen as the kind of network that would air a show like The Sopranos. But it's not; it's the kind of network that would air reruns of The Sopranos and take out the bad words.

In many ways, the networks themselves already have specific brand identities; they just don't admit it. For decades, CBS has had the most elderly demographic among the major networks. ABC specializes in comedies and light dramas with strong female appeal, from Desperate Housewives to Grey's Anatomy to Ugly Betty. Fox—with the exception of American Idol—is largely aimed at guys, whether via action dramas like 24 and Prison Break, Sunday-night cartoons, or the never-ending, shaky-cam glimpse of night-shift squalor that is Cops. The fledgling CW is building on Gossip Girl and America’s Next Top Model to chase young women. NBC's struggles are not unrelated to the fact that it's still trying to be all things to all people: When you offer programming like 30 Rock to a smart, affluent audience but also rely on diet contests, game shows, and To Catch a Predator to fill prime time, you can't blame viewers for not knowing what to expect.

3. Don't count on "flow" unless all your programming is aimed at the same audience.

Zip through FX's schedule, and at some point, you will see an episode of Rescue Me, followed by another episode of Rescue Me, and another and another. And when Bravo is hard-selling one of its hits, the word overkill is not in its vocabulary. "The great thing about our shows is, people want to see them again," says Andy Cohen, Bravo's senior vice president for original programming. "A lot of times, we'll premiere an episode of Top Chef and then rerun the episode right when it's over. And people stay tuned! Some of our shows are really like crack," he laughs.

This practice makes sense in two ways: It's cost-efficient and it builds loyalty. The tactic used to be dismissed as killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, until people noticed that the goose kept on thriving. Now it's just a matter, as Cohen puts it, of "feeding the beast."

Since embracing the episode-marathon strategy several years ago—as a way to pump life into Project Runway, which was struggling in its first year—Bravo has seen ratings for its flagship shows grow every season. The fourth cycle of Top Chef, which aired in the spring, outperformed the third, which beat the second, which outdid the first.

The broadcast networks used to count on that kind of steady growth in the first few years of one of their hits. But recently, scripted series like Ugly Betty and Heroes have started losing viewers after just one season. Given that alarming turnabout, you'd think the networks would be doing everything in their power to build the equity of a potential new hit. But no. Their schedules, set in stone decades ago, remain inviolable: news and chitchat before noon, soaps and talk shows in the afternoon, local and national evening news and infotainment later in the day, talk shows at bedtime. Some of these programming blocks justify themselves economically, but others aren't as cost-effective. Daytime soaps occupy a large swath of airtime that could occasionally be used to repurpose a network's prime-time schedule cheaply and efficiently.

4. Content counts.

Discussions at the networks about what's depleting their viewership tend to focus on familiar culprits: YouTube. The internet. Xbox. The iPod. Too many options. (Capitalism can be so unfair!) This leads to brainstorming sessions about making TV more like the internet, resulting in a lot of overexcited press releases announcing how one-minute "minisodes" of your favorite shows will be exclusively available on a network website, or Twittered to you line by line as they're being written, or beamed directly into your cerebral cortex via Bluetooth.

Enough already. Competition from other media is real, but it's also a convenient excuse to not focus on programming. You don't hear American Idol's producers whining about how the internet is draining their audience, because they know that their audience is on the internet. Viewers go there to talk, read, kvetch, and gossip—about American Idol.

Creating substance-free shows because you think your audience has no attention span is a sucker's game. And streaming shows for free is, so far, doing a lot more for viewers than it is for a network's balance sheet. Instead, the networks should try to make TV shows for people who want to watch TV shows. There seems to be no shortage of viewers out there: For all the hand-wringing about how new media are sapping television's audience, the average viewer of online video in April watched fewer than eight minutes a day. By contrast, the average household has its TV on for eight hours and 14 minutes daily. That's a record. (One that should make all of us rear back in horror, but that's another story.)

5. When you say the TV season is 52 weeks, you have to mean it.

Madison Avenue is still fond of the old-fashioned idea of fall as a launchpad for a new TV season, and so are many viewers. But does that mean the networks should continue taking summers off? Sure, they run original programming in July and August, but "original" in this context generally means a series so odd that they couldn't find a place for it in the regular season, or Celebrity Circus, or 85 variations on foreign game shows (this summer's flavor of the moment).

It's a bind, since a real commitment to top-quality original programming during the summer costs money that the broadcast networks don't have right now, but a diet of reruns and cut-rate schlock may cost them viewers. According to Comcast's Harbert, when broadcast execs ask for new shows year-round, "the finance guys say, 'You're killing me!' And the programming guys say, 'Yeah, but if I put on repeats, they're going to have terrible ratings, and we'll have no promo base for fall.' And everybody's right."

But investing in shows—and thus in audience building—is a smarter long-term strategy. It's no accident that cable hits like Lifetime's Army Wives, USA's Burn Notice, and TNT's The Closer all launched in summer, allowing cable to perform its annual raid on broadcast viewers.

6. Don't break faith with your audience.

Broadcast networks routinely spend three months promoting a show that they then cancel after two airings. Or they get a few million viewers hooked on a serialized drama and then drop it midway through a season, leaving fans hanging. This simply never happens on cable, where if a series gets a 13-episode order, those 13 episodes are damn well going to air, even if it's just because there’s nothing else to take their place. Every time the networks reshuffle their grid in a spasm of quick-fix panic, they disenchant more viewers.

7. If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.

Ben Silverman, NBC's head programmer, may fret when one of his network's shows struggles against a basic-cable hit like Bravo's Top Chef or the Sci Fi Channel's Battlestar Galactica. But his boss, NBC Universal C.E.O. Jeff Zucker, will rest easy, because his company also owns Bravo. And the Sci Fi Channel. And a whole lot more. The notion that the "500-channel universe" is a pie being cut into ever-tinier slivers ignores the fact that the vast majority of what we watch fills the coffers of a small handful of megaliths, just as it always has.

Take a closer look at that pie:

  • Besides Bravo and Sci Fi, NBC Universal also owns USA, the highest-rated ad-supported cable channel; MSNBC; CNBC; ShopNBC; Oxygen; Telemundo; and one-third of A&E Television, itself a conglomeration that includes A&E, the History Channel, and the Biography Channel.
  • Disney owns ABC, ESPN, SoapNet, ABC Family, its own one-third share of A&E, and half of Lifetime. It also, of course, owns the Disney Channel, the top-rated basic-cable outlet of any kind.
  • Viacom and CBS, though now traded separately on Wall Street, are both controlled by one man, Sumner Redstone. CBS owns Showtime, the Movie Channel, and half of the CW. Viacom’s list of properties includes MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Spike TV, BET, and Comedy Central.
  • Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. owns Fox, Fox News, FX, and, well, everything with the word Fox in it, from Fox College Sports to the Fox Reality Channel.
  • Time Warner owns the other half of the CW, as well as CNN, TNT, TBS, TCM, HBO, Cinemax, the Cartoon Network, and TruTV (formerly CourtTV).

So a half-dozen companies own not only five broadcast networks but also a majority of the cable channels that anyone actually watches—including all 10 of prime time's highest-rated cable networks, which together accounted for more than 18 million viewers a night last year. To anyone worried about where network viewers have gone: They may have left the building, but they haven’t escaped the compound.

8. Lowered expectations can be your best friend.

The current chaos in TV has a silver lining: In an era of on-demand options, streaming video, full-season DVD releases for latecomers, multiple airings of the same show, and the inexorable march of DVRs, the definition of success is more slippery than it used to be.

Eventually, a modernized ratings system will capture and aggregate all of these viewers, which will primarily help series that appeal to a young, I-want-it-when-I-want-it audience. By contrast, a show whose viewers could make up an AARP convention isn't going to benefit much from this brave new world. The ratings for 60 Minutes, for example, grow by only 3 percent when DVR use is factored in.

But until that's all sorted out, there's plenty of room for spin. In a TV universe without a center, if nothing is really a hit, then everything is. If you can't crack Nielsen's top 10, you can tell Madison Avenue that you wildly overperform among viewers with lots of disposable income—and you get as much as a 40 percent jump in audience when you take into account DVR use, as is the case with The Office. AMC's Mad Men counts as a hit because it's great, it wins awards and critical raves, and until recently, it was the only show of its kind on the channel, so there was nothing to compare it with.

The History Channel's Ice Road Truckers (a reality series devoted entirely to truckers driving across large expanses of ice) is a hit because it outperformed anything the History Channel had ever aired and demolished the image of the channel as a musty attic full of newsreel footage about Hitler. A show can even claim hit status because of the magazine covers, text-message traffic, and internet buzz it generates: From the amount of attention paid to the CW's teen soap Gossip Girl last season, one wouldn't know that it ranked 150th out of 161 shows and drew just 2.4 million viewers a week.

So the good news for networks is that it may be possible to stop the bleeding. The bad news is that the patient can't be cured. For 50 years, pop culture has moved in only one direction—toward more options, fewer mass phenomena, and greater consumer control. And there's no turning that around, especially with a generation of viewers that sees no meaningful distinction between a broadcast network and a cable channel.

What that means isn't just the end of a few old business models, but the end of TV as we've known it. America's most unifying cultural medium for the past 60 years has now followed music and movies in surrendering its mass appeal in order to cater to a populace organized entirely by self-defining niches. Welcome to the new era of post-popular culture, in which there's something for anyone, but nothing for everyone. What on earth will we all talk about tomorrow morning?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sure Fire Ways to Get Laid

Time to finish that heart to heart we were having on Sunday about how to get hot action. Now remember ladies and gents, these are guaranteed ways to get laid... so use wisely.
  • Knock on their door with a blindfold and a pot of something (soup, sauce, air, whatever)... instant sex.
  • Just say this: "You got a condom? Never mind, I've got this candy bar wrapper." Tada! Done deal!
  • Send them the following text message: "I want you in my mouth." Let them take as they will, but yeah... you'll get them in your mouth. Delicious.
  • Buy one of those witty French Connection shirts that say: "Wanna FCUK?" Because yes, let's!
  • An old classic for you: "Let's go swimming in my pool, and by pool I mean bathtub, and by swimming I mean sex." Seriously? Where do I sign up for lessons!
  • Sing! Sing! Sing! If it worked for Amy Adams in Enchanted, it will damn well work for you. Now shut up and sing!
This list is to be continued... but until then, go forth and try out these guaranteed get laid techniques!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get A Clue...Mr. Body is So Out!

I love the classic game of clue. Summer hours zipped by as the Richer Sleuths (that includes you Aly) would sit around speculating Ms. Scarlett's plot to kill Mr. Body with the wrench in the study while Col. Mustard slipped through the kitchen's secret entrance across the house.

But apparently that test of logic isn't flashy enough for this they released clue on steroids! Introducing Clue...Millennial Edition.

Some noteworthy changes: Ms. Scarlet is now Kassandra, Colonel Mustard is now Jack, Plum is now Victor a billionaire video game designer among others, "There’s no Revolver or Billiard Room this time… but could it have been Scarlet with the Barbell in the Spa? Open up the tabloid-style instructions to get the scoop on the updated rooms, weapons, and guests. A deck of Intrigue Cards adds suspense to your game with cards that can help you solve the crime faster… or result in a second victim! Narrow down which rumors are true and which are just hearsay—and get caught up in the scandal of the century!"

Natalie Portman's Shaved Head

Ever hear of Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head? Not just a costume for the 1984-esque film but a band name too.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Doppelgänger Saga Continues!

We're now friends on the FB! If you all remember the Jon Greenberg's the missing link!

Abscence Makes The heart Grow Fonder

BURBANK, CA, August 14, 2008 – Warner Bros. Pictures today announced that it has moved back the release date of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” to Summer 2009.  The sixth installment of the blockbuster Harry Potter franchise will now open day-and-date domestically and in the major international markets on July 17, 2009.  The announcement was made by Alan Horn, President and Chief Operating Officer, Warner Bros.

Cutting Into Renee's Rumba!

I hope this is not the case! I love Angie but Renee makes this character!

Want to see Lara Croft teamed up with James Bond? Then get ready for the sequel to the Thomas Crown Affair, The Topkapi Affair.

Moviehole is reporting that Angelina Jolie has been offered the female part in Pierce Brosnan powered, spy movie sequel. Rene Russo was the female lead in the first one, and while she’s a nice actress bringing in Jolie would be quite a significant upgrade.

The script for The Topkapi Affair is based on a 1964 Peter Ustinov film called Topkapi. Ustinov’s version was a caper movie about a small-time con-man mixed up with world class jewel thieves and Turkish intelligence. How that will be changed and adapted to fit Brosnan’s Thomas Crown character is anyone’s guess at this point. If they’ve got Angelina Jolie though, expect the female part in the film to be significant. Of course just because they’ve offered it doesn’t mean she’ll take it, but I’d love to see Brosnan and Jolie paired up on screen.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Paris for President

I think this is the video Jen tried posting earlier but got taken off YouTube. If not... it's still funny.

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Say Goodbye To That 2300 Baud Modem!

I saw an article in today's Washington Post that made me wildly sentimental - AOL is moving closer to dumping its dial-up service, a decision that is probably past its time, considering that just this week, even my own 72-year-old mother-in-law, who is still highly suspect of the internet, dumped her AOL dialup account in favor of Verizon Fios high speed service.

I don't know many people who these days would have the patience for using a dialup modem for all of their internet service, but back in the day, (turn on the fog machine) AOL was the advanced way to get around online! Gather around, kiddies, and let grandpa tell you a story...

I bought my first real IBM-compatible personal computer computer at Lincoln Computer in Gaithersburg in 1991... It was custom built just for me, and if memory serves, it cost about 1200 dollars. The unit had a 386-SX processor, a 40 MB hard drive, and came with either 1 or 2 MB of memory... The 2 MB cost extra, but I sprung for it! It also came with a standard 5 1/4 inch floppy drive and a newfangled 3 1/2 inch floppy drive! All of this fit in a horizontal desktop box, which fit in a horizontal slot on the new computer desk that we also bought.

I remember discussing my new toy with one of our engineers at WMAL, an all-knowing technical whiz named Burt Cohen. Burt asked me what operating system I had for it, and I told him I had both DOS and Windows 3.0, although I hadn't yet quite figured out what Windows did, and I was comfortable working in DOS with its relatively easy-to-remember written line commands. Burt advised me to stick with DOS, because "Windows is just a fancy version of DOS, and it's a piece of crap"! Back then, most people operated in DOS, and had the option of booting up Windows... Most folks did not transition full time to Windows for several more years.

As for going online, I had three basic options... I could dial directly into local bulletin boards, which were a localized and very basic precursor to the internet... or I could dial into Prodigy, which was a very basic news site and a precursor of AOL.

Since modems ran at 2300 baud (1/20th as fast as today's 56K modems), there was no way you could actually look at pictures online, let along hear audio, so Prodigy would, one line at a time, paint a drawing of, say a famous person to go along with a news story. Prodigy also offered my first version of e-mail, which was little used, except by fellow computer geeks.

And then along came AOL. Robin and I were charter or near-charter members of AOL... I do not recall the exact details of how you paid for the service, but I do recall that you paid by the minute, with about 300 minutes per month for a set price. There was also a much more expensive option for unlimited service, but no one bought that... The one thing AOL provided was a "gateway" to the internet. I didn't know what the internet was, exactly, but who needed that when you could read the news and download software and send e-mail on America Online? We had AOL for years and never really fiddled around much on the internet... as strange as that may seem!

Eventually, the internet did catch on, and then companies started to scramble to come up with programming and technology to take advantage of broadband. It's been several years now since we dropped our dialup service, and switched, at first to DSL and then to fiber-optic high speed service. Frankly, it took an article about the end of dialup to take me back to a time when dialup computer service was the coolest thing EVER.

You millennials don't remember the space race OR life before the web. I'll tell you now that you missed a lot of excitement!

Jenny! Get me my walker! I'm late for Bingo!

Dylan Drama 2.0

There has been another attack on an innocent, this time they were playing with their Wii. Sources have confirmed that the aggressor in this incident is not, in fact, Dylan (as originally suspected).

Check out the evidence for yourself.

The Great Chez Copa Challenge

Forget the bucket list, death is too far away for us. But we're not getting any younger and there's still a lot for us to do. Below is a list of 30 things to do before you're 30... and whether we choose to keep this list or invent our own, I think we have to do it. Note: this list is from MSN UK and so it may seem a bit British... but that's just because it is.
  1. Go traveling - Trust us, the minute you get settled into a career the likelihood of being able to take off a considerable amount of time to go travelling diminishes rapidly. After university, before starting a new job, take the chance while you’ve got it – you’ll regret it if you don’t…
  2. Get something published - Be it in your school paper, local rag, the national press or as the winner of a short story competition, there is nothing quite like seeing your name in print. But don’t think you have to be up for the Booker prize to get yourself published. If you are about as literate as a 13-year-old with a 3000 a day text message habit, try going online and becoming a ‘citizen journalist’ by contributing to something like the Guardian’s brilliant live sport coverage, or by posting one of your photos on the web.
  3. Watch these films - If you want to avoid being left out of every drunken discussion just before last orders are called, then the following films are required viewing: Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, Scarface, The Star Wars Trilogy (don't bother with the new ones), Godfather parts I and II, Psycho, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Trainspotting, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Top Gun, American Pie, Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Blade Runner, Kill Bill 1 & 2, City of God, The Deer Hunter, Se7en, Fight Club, Back to the Future, Alien and Aliens, Jaws, This Is Spinal Tap, Die Hard, Life of Brian, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Ferris Beuller's Day Off, Life is Beautiful, The Breakfast Club, Grosse Pointe Blank, Stand By Me, Chinatown, The Great Escape, The Outsiders, and Tango and Cash. Well, maybe not the last one.
  4. Live in London - Not everyone thinks moving to the capital is for them, but few people regret it when they do. A great place to establish yourself in your chosen career and get some fantastic life experience, London is a truly great city with some of the best sights and nightlife in the world. It’s also great for watching live sport, eating great food and shopping. And remember, when you finally move away, everywhere else will seem like a quiet, stress-free, inexpensive Utopia.
  5. Learn a second language - While your average Bulgarian street-sweeper seems to be able to speak about six or seven languages, we Brits are pretty poor when it comes to learning to speak in a foreign tongue. In fact, many of us can barely speak English. Knuckling down at school and in your twenties can give you a massive advantage in life, especially if it’s an in demand language such as Chinese or Arabic.
  6. Run a marathon - Running 26.2 miles might seem like hell to some people, but trust us, once you get started, it soon becomes addictive. Plus it will get you in shape and sort your diet out. Approach with caution and always consult your GP before starting a new exercise programme, but once you commit yourself we guarantee your life will never be the same again.
  7. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway - We realize that this could have been filed under ‘go traveling’, but three of us here at MSN UK will be heading to California to do this in the coming months (not together, we don’t like each other that much) and we like to brag…
  8. Have sex - This sounds like a given, but according to statistics around 7% of 30-year-old men and women are still virgins. And it's nothing to be ashamed of - you might be saving yourself for the love of your life. But really, you don't know what you're missing out on…
  9. Go to a music festival - Going without a bath and sitting around in the mud for three days isn't everyone's cup of tea, but you won't know until you've tried it, will you? Here in the UK we're spoilt for choice when it comes to worthy festivals; Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and T in the Park is just the tip of the iceberg.
  10. Try different foods - You might not like the look of foods such as oysters, snails and cuttlefish, but there is a reason they are so highly valued. You never know, you might just enjoy them.
  11. Get on the property ladder - Easier said than done, we know, but it's a buyer's market at the moment and more and more of us will come to rely on bricks and mortar to replace something that we’ve heard older people call ‘pensions’. Nope, we’d never heard of it either…
  12. Test yourself - Skydiving, abseiling, bungee jumping - never in a million years, you might think, but there are few better things for you than stepping out of your comfort zone and standing up to your fears. So whatever it is you think you can't do, we promise you'll feel proud of yourself after you've done it…
  13. Visit Paris - The most romantic city in the world? Go find out for yourself.
  14. Blow $500 in one night - Don't make a habit of it, and never spend more than you can afford, but if you do have the readies, then there are few better feelings than going out with a huge wad of notes in your pocket and knowing you are going to spend all of it.
  15. Get a savings account... and use it - Not the most exciting bit of advice you'll ever get, we know, but setting up a savings account and drip-feeding some of your wages into it every month is the best way to save for holidays, your first car, or that $500 night out…
  16. Do something for charity - Whether it is running a marathon, attending an event like Live Earth or sitting in a bath of baked beans, we can all do more for charity. Just pick your cause, and off you go.
  17. Get yourself on TV - Andy Warhol said we'd all get 15 minutes of fame, but for most of us 15 seconds would do. Swinging your arms around at Glasto like a maniac, sitting in a studio audience or getting accidentally papped, where will you get yours?
  18. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant - Britain is no longer the laughing stock of Europe when it comes to top-quality restaurants, so there's no excuse for still thinking of Pizza Hut as 'fine dining'. There are now more Michelin starred restaurants in the UK than you can shake a carving knife at, so get going. Incidentally, I haven’t eaten at one yet so if anyone wants to take pity on an impoverished journo like me…
  19. Quit your job - Just stick with us, this really is going somewhere. You know how we said you would only have one chance to take off traveling? Well, we lied. If you're fed up with your job, or just want a change, the solution isn't just going to just hit you on the nose. Take off for a while and get your thoughts together, you might even find inspiration along the way.
  20. Go to a live sporting event - Why wait until the Olympics come to the UK in 2012? Even if you are not into sport, going to watch a major event such as Wimbledon, the Six Nations rugby or the FA Cup Final is an experience in itself. So what are you waiting for?
  21. Have a weekend in New York - With your friends, family, or other half, there is no better experience than watching the world go by in the Big Apple and feeling like you are in every film you have ever seen.
  22. Read these books - You may need 30 years to read them all, but try and make your way as through as many of these as possible: The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Romeo and Juliet, the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave New World, On the Road, Catch 22, Trainspotting, The Wasp Factory, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, Great Expectations, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Treasure Island, The Beach, Cloud Atlas, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Ulysses, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Life of Pi, The Shining, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Shining, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Suitable Boy and many, many more.
  23. Own a convertible - Before the inevitable sensible motor with the kids' car seat comes along, invest in something with a bit of street-cred and enjoy your freedom while it lasts. Which isn't long.
  24. Buy something really expensive - When was the last time you really treated yourself? So long as you can absorb the damage, go crazy and spend at least one month's wages on something you really, really want.
  25. Buy wine worth more than $50 - At some point you are going to have to graduate from drinking cheap plonk to actual alcohol. And even though you don't have to spend that much to get a good bottle, it's nice to find out what a really good wine tastes like. And when it's as expensive as this, you are unlikely to buy too much of it…
  26. Sign up to Facebook - It's the social networking site that is spreading like wildfire and chances are you are already a member. If not, then Facebook and other sites like it are a great way to catch up with friends you thought you had lost touch with. Unless you hate them all or are on the run, in which case you could start a blog instead (under a false name, of course).
  27. Record your family history - Your parents and especially your grandparents are a unique link to the past, so find out all you can from them and write it all down - there will come a point in life when you want to find out where your family came from and what they did while they were here.
  28. Sign Karaoke - Singing is a great stress-reliever, regardless of how good your voice is. Singing karaoke is a great way to boost your confidence, just as long as you remember that most people will be as tone deaf as you are.
  29. Have a complete health check - You don't have to be old to get a serious illness, and investing in a full body MOT could save your long-term health or even your life. You may, for example, be one of the one million Brits with undiagnosed diabetes or be harbouring a condition that will cause you major problems in later life.
  30. Climb a mountain - There is no reason to stop at 30, of course, but climbing a mountain (taking all the necessary precautions along the way) is one of the best ways to see some of the world's greatest sights. And when we say mountain, we don't mean 'hill', so a gentle stroll up 300 feet doesn't count…
*Keep in mind that this list is from MSN UK and so for #4 and #21, we might just want to switch cities... or keep it the same, whichever floats your boat.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What an Extraordinary Pig

Piglet with monkey's face

Villagers were shocked after a monkey-like piglet was born in China.

Mutant pig /Quirky China News
Mutant pig

Curious locals flocked to the home of owner Feng Changlin after news of the piglet spread in Fengzhang village, Xiping township.

"It's hideous. No one will be willing to buy it, and it scares the family to even look at it!" Feng told Oriental Today.

He says the piglet looks just like a monkey, with two thin lips, a small nose and two big eyes. Its rear legs are also much longer than its forelegs, causing it to jump instead of walk.

Feng's wife said the monkey-faced piglet was one of five newborns of a sow which the family had raised for nine years.

"My God, it was so scary. I didn't known what it was. I was really frightened," she said.

"But our son likes to play with it, and he stopped us from getting rid of it. He even feeds it milk."

Neighbours have suggested the couple keep the piglet to see how it looks as it matures.

Friday, August 1, 2008