Friday, December 14, 2007

All I ask for is a small show and a smaller screen to watch it on

Like a lot of other people in this profession, I watched Gossip Girl when it started airing on The CW because I've been reading the books for years. (Some of the books are better than others.) I have to say I'm not fully enamored of the show. I find the pacing slow and Blair's clothes better suited to a ten-year-old, and a great lack of the wit and humor that comes through the books. Although I've stopped paying attention to the show, I am still paying attention to the media that surrounds it, because it's fascinating.

Averaging 2.5 million viewers an episode (info culled from BuzzSugar), Gossip Girl is far from being the top-rated show on television. It's not even the top rated show on The CW (that's America's Next Top Model, which gets about 5 million viewers an episode). Comparitively, CSI gets 18-20 million viewers an episode, Chuck about 7 million. I realize that's comparing apples and pineapples because the target audience of CSI is not the same as the target audience of Gossip Girl, but it gives some perspective. Think about how many more shows get higher ratings than Gossip Girl and now comes the information bomb: Gossip Girl is the #1 show downloaded from iTunes. How does a show with a fraction of the number of viewers of Grey's Anatomy (which is popular with the same crowd that watches Gossip Girl) beat it out for downloads? I don't have definite answers, but I do have theories...some probably more educated than others.

1. There is a hunger among television viewers for portable viewing. Maybe there are groups of high schoolers crowded around someone's laptop in the hallway before classes begin. Maybe viewers bring eps to school for their friends whose parents don't let them watch. Maybe they'd rather watch it on their iPods without parents around.

2. The gadget marketing in the series really works. There is some serious Verizon marketing going on there. Verizon beat out a couple of other companies for exclusive right to product placement...which surprises me because I swear those were T-Mobile Sidekicks I saw in the first episode. Warring phone companies aside, if Blair and Serena can watch videos on their phones, why shouldn't the rest of us be able to?

3. It's one of those shows that's slow to catch on. This is a phenomenon I see with young adult novels; adults don't want to pick it up because it's marketed for teens and therefore must not have an ounce of intelligence but once they pick it up they can't put it down. Adults who tune into the show around episode 4 or 5 want to catch up but it's not available via OnDemand so they download it from iTunes. The problem with this idea is that episodes are available for free on the CW's website, but you can't visit the CW's site from your iPod unless you've got an iPod Touch.

4. SOMEONE out there is listening to consumers when we say we want more than just one way to watch TV.

With its interactive features, from Second Life (I don't even have time for a first life!) to a music feature on the CW's site, Gossip Girl is going where no show has gone before. It took American Idol a few seasons to really become a brand and not just a TV show, but Gossip Girl is waving the brand flag right out of the gate. It's something none of the other CW shows, even the ones with higher ratings (Smallville, Supernatural, etc.), have done yet. Of all the fall 2007 releases, Gossip Girl was the first one to be picked up for a full season, even before ABC's much-touted Pushing Daisies. This makes me think that the CW execs can see a bigger picture of the show than I can...which would make sense, considering they get paid to see the bigger picture regarding their shows. More than what happens with Blair and Serena, I'm interested in seeing where the brand and the viral marketing go.

crossposted at Pop Goes the Library

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Review of The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Copy picked up at Book Expo America.

The Plot: On Wednesday afternoons at 1:45, everyone in Holling Hoodhood's seventh-grade class at Camillo Junior High either goes to Hebrew school or Catechism. Everyone, that is, except Holling, who is Presbyterian. On Wednesday afternoons Holling receives Shakespeare lessons from the toughest teacher in school, Mrs. Baker, who is out to get Holling (or so he says). Despite his better efforts Holling finds himself falling in love with Shakespeare's language. As Holling's seventh-grade year progresses a series of events including yellow-toothed rats, yellow tights with feathers on the butt, running like Jesse Owens, and cream puffs combine with Shakespeare to change the way Holling views his family, his friends, and himself.

The Good: This is a highly literary work that's also a joy to read. And if you've ever participated in the endless debates about what the Newbery and Printz award mean in the grander scheme of children's literature, you'll know that's saying something. First, the historical setting also has meaning to Holling and his family; the book is set in 1967 because that zeitgeist is an integral part of Holling's thoughts and actions, not just because it can be set in 1967. Second, for all the seriousness that is the Vietnam war and Shakespeare there is quite a lot of humor, often slapstick, that will definitely appeal to the middle-school crowd. Holling is witty and intelligent but also your very typical seventh-grader. Girls confound him. School lunches are terrible. His older sister is moody. The first thing he learns from Shakespeare is not the beauty of love and freedom, but how to curse. As the work progresses, Holling sees that his teacher can be human (even realizing that teachers aren't born behind desks with red pens in their hand) and the Perfect House his father maintains is...slightly less than perfect.

Dare I say this is one of the greatest children's literary accomplishments of 2007? Even if it isn't, all's well that ends well.

crossposted at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cool stuff I get to do: An Evening with Scholastic

No pictures of the event because I've got no idea what happened to my camera, but, a write-up.

When NCTE had its annual meeting at the Javits Center in mid-November, Scholastic held a wonderful event for teachers and librarians. They invited several of their authors (alas, not J.K. Rowling) to come and speak to a group of us and read from their books. Afterwards, we were all invited to see the Scholastic Living Room and celebrate Brian Selznick's National Book Award finalist, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Other authors in attendance were Pam Munoz Ryan, James Cross Giblin, Christopher Paul Curtis, Sharon Robinson, and Jaclyn Moriarty. They were all wonderful readers and Christopher Paul Curtis especially is always a joy to hear in person.

The Scholastic Living Room is a beautiful room about the size of your average NYC studio apartment which overlooks Broadway. There's comfortable furniture, nice plush carpeting, and the walls are covered in art from some of Scholastic's most enduring works, including Harry Potter, Madeline, and Where the Wild Things Are. We were able to walk around the room, drink champagne, and meet the authors. Everyone in attendance received copies of the authors' books for signing. Brian Selznick was very nice when I told him I was ashamed of not having yet read Hugo Cabret. So many books, so little time, as we all know too well in this profession.

Thank you so very much, Scholastic, for your generous invitation. I had a fantastic time and have developed an intense desire to curl up in the living room and read and eat cupcakes from the Dean and DeLuca across the street. Um, not that I don't have a desire to curl up with a good book and a Dean and Deluca cupcake on a regular basis, but that living room just makes the idea that much more enticing.