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Ellen Gray – Television Critic For The Philadelphia Daily News (Part 2)

By Admin | October 24, 2007

Have you been to the Emmy Awards ceremony?

Sorry, but I watch the Emmys in my office here, typing a mile a minute in hope of finishing by deadline, which is usually shortly after the show ends. The Oscars are even worse. We do get pizza, though.

I did attend the People’s Choice Awards on a lark one year because it happened to be taking place a mile from the hotel where TCA was being held, and CBS credentialed a fellow critic and me.

We sat  between People and Variety, I think, in the first row of the press room, and I got to ask Tom Hanks a question. It was kind of a hoot, but not something either of us remotely cared about except for getting a look at the process.

Ellen Gray
Ellen Gray

A couple of years ago, I covered the Golden Globes, which involved a ton more security and a credentialing process that meant driving all over L.A. in the days before the show. Plus, even reporters are expected to dress formally, and if you’re not a guy, that means trying to find evening wear you can actually work in.

I was in the deadline pressroom, which meant that I was still pretty much watching the show on TV, occasionally running across the hall to the room where the winners were interviewed, then running back to write.

My deadline was so tight that I’m not sure what I filed had much more color than it would have if I’d been sitting in my office, but again, it was an experience.

Afterward, the Beverly Hilton, where it’s held, was so packed with people trying to get into the after-parties that I was at one point trapped a few feet from Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. I’m guessing they don’t remember that as well as I do.

As it was, the fire marshal shut down most of the parties for overcrowding within the first half-hour. I’d been invited to a couple, and actually made it into the HBO party (after enough people had left), only to find that no one would allow me to check my laptop.

So I hung out with a bunch of fellow reporters, all of us trying to keep an eye on our computers, while one at a time, we broke off to check out a report that Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, who were then a fairly new couple, were in one of the other rooms together.. We never found them, and we looked like one of those accountant drill teams, dressed for a formal occasion.

Do you restrict your kids’ TV watching?

Yep. Not so much anymore, since the older one’s in grad school. But my younger son, who’s in high school, has Down syndrome, and while high-functioning, does have a tendency to take certain things he sees too seriously.

So, when I discovered he’d been seeing some things on the Sci Fi Channel on Saturday afternoons that were giving him nightmares, I put the parental control on the main TV.

I grew up in a house where the TV was always on, so the rule I had when they were younger was that it didn’t go on before 8 p.m. And since their bedtime was generally 9, that automatically limited their viewing.

As they grew older, time wasn’t the issue: Neither’s ever wanted to spend the whole night or day in front of the set with video games and, in my younger son’s case, YouTube, being a much bigger draw.

Plus, there’s homework. Sometimes, they even read for fun.

Content, though, was always something I kept an eye on. When my older son was in middle school, he came home one day and announced that he was the only kid in his class at Germantown Friends, who wasn’t allowed to watch “Martin.”

I told him that was because he was the only kid in the class whose mother had seen “Martin.” And that that was the down side. On the upside, he also occasionally got to see episodes of “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” before his friends did.

What did you think of the Sopranos?

Loved the first season. After that, I think David Chase wasn’t really sure what he wanted to say, and though individual episodes were occasionally brilliant, the show lost its cohesive feel.

Can you give your thoughts on Al Gore’s new venture Current TV?

Honestly, I’ve only seen clips of it so far. I do like the little indicator that shows how much more time’s left on the clip, since like everyone else, I seem to have a shorter and shorter attention span.

I guess I’m not sure what they’re doing that YouTube isn’t. And in spite of myself, I find YouTube to be one of those rabbit holes you can lose yourself down. And I think I may have stolen that image from the New York Times’ Virginia Heffernan.

How many TVs are in your house? Are there any in the bedrooms? Do you have HD TV in your house? How big is the biggest TV in your house?

Let’s see: There’s a 32-inch LCD Sony Bravia in the library that’s our main TV. I finally broke down and went high-def last year, but that was as big as I was prepared to go. Before that, our biggest TV was 24 inches. Our house isn’t huge, and I don’t like TVs to overwhelm rooms.

There’s a 13-inch in the kitchen that I sometimes watch while cooking dinner, but I’d originally gotten it because it had a VCR, too, and I could catch up with screeners. They’re now all  on DVD, so I watch it less and less.

I have one of those portable DVD players, though, and I’ve been known to stick it on the counter while chopping vegetables. Because in this job, you’re pretty much always behind on screeners.

My husband has a small set in his basement study on which he watches reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “MASH.” And I have a 20-inch Sony in my study, which is a hobbit hole off our attic bedroom.

Since we got the HD, though, I hardly ever watch up there. But that’s the one with the DVR, and I have a Slingbox attached to it, so I frequently “sling” from my study to the library, plugging my laptop into the monitor connector on the Bravia and watching stuff I recorded upstairs, downstairs. I know, weird – but it works beautifully.

I don’t believe in TVs in bedrooms. Not for kids, not for parents.

Do you have a television in your office at work?

Yep. Plus cable, plus a DVD player. There’s also a VCR, but there’s been a tape stuck in it for at least six months, so I’m afraid it no longer counts.

There are also what appear to be a few hundred DVDs piled on my desk, which has two very crowded wings. And a ratty blue couch I salvaged from the building’s basement.

Right now, it’s covered with today’s unopened mail, which includes a large box from Fox that apparently has something to do with “The Simpsons.” And just FYI, I give 99 percent of the swag away to readers who come in and watch TV with me every fall.

Some people say the future of free broadcast TV is having it beamed to people’s Blackberrys and iPods, etc. Can you comment on that?

I hope it has more of a future than that, but I know I’m obsessed with getting TV onto my iPod, whose screen is far better than anything else I’ve seen out there in the PDA category.

I’m less interested, though, in getting network TV than I am in getting my Slingbox to talk to my iPod, which has wi-fi and would be the perfect mobile device for Slingmedia to develop for next, as soon as Apple opens up its software development kit early next year.

With the Slingbox, I could watch live TV or watch stuff  I’d already recorded or go in and set it up to record. If it just picked up a TV signal, that wouldn’t be much more than the tiny little TVs that have been available for years.

And while we’re at it, I want a Flash plug-in for the iPod so I can watch streaming video from anywhere, not just through Apple’s YouTube portal.

That’s the problem with technology. It just leaves you wanting more.

How many hours a week do you watch TV for work and how many hours for recreation/fun counting football games, news, etc.?

Honestly, it’s impossible to say, because the line’s so murky. Everything I watch is fair game for the column (except football, which I never watch, anyway, and which is the sports department’s domain).

A lot of what I watch is fun, but if I didn’t have this job, I doubt I’d be watching three hours a night then squeezing in one to three hours a day more of stuff I’d recorded while watching other stuff in real time.

And then how do you count DVDs? On weekends, I’ve been known to spend eight hours just screening stuff over the course of a couple of days, because there’s only so much time during the week. I try to bring home the screeners that don’t feel like as much work, leaving the hard stuff for office hours, but when you’re on deadline, even that distinction goes away.

What do you think about the quality of programming on public TV and the position of our local PBS station in the hierarchy of TV stations?

Public television’s such a tough nut to crack: underfunded, overpoliticized, not really sure of its mission. PBS doesn’t even consider itself a true network – it’s essentially a group of sovereign stations.

Of which our own Channel 12  is certainly among the weakest, if not the weakest, among those in major markets. I thought the Philly mag piece in which they kept trying to interest the reporter in all the things they were doing that didn’t involve programming television was very telling. They just don’t seem very interested in making television, and it certainly shows.

Copyright 2007 DailyInterview.net

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